Choosing a DZC Force, Part 4: The Shaltari

Hello again, Dropzoners, and welcome to the fifth article in our series breaking down the basics of Dropzone Commander!

Now that we’ve covered the game in broad strokes, we’re going to take a closer look at each of DZC’s five factions, breaking down how they play, their strengths and weaknesses, and contextualizing in terms of other games we’ve played in the past. If you’re looking to get into Dropzone, or are thinking about picking up a new faction but not sure which to grab, these are the articles for you.

Next up, let’s discuss the most advanced species in the galaxy, the inscrutable Shaltari!

01-Shaltari-Firstborn
The Shaltari Tribes
The warlike, ancient people of the Shaltari are Dropzone Commander‘s “precursor race.” The technology they shared with Earth took humanity to the stars, ushered in its golden age…and ultimately led to its downfall. As an effectively immortal species, the Shaltari are masters of both technology (such as teleportation and cloning) and devastating weapons utterly beyond the ken and capacity of mankind – all of which give them tremendous advantages over other, “lesser” species like the humans and Scourge. Shaltari infantry universally employ massive power armor suits during combat, alongside 30 ft. tall warstriders bristling with weapons and cloaked in force fields, making them a terror to any who dare stand against them. This combination of high tech, diminutive stature, virtual immortality, use of powered armor, and naming conventions based on Earth tribes reminds the Dropzone Commenter team quite a bit of Stargate‘s Asgard and Vanir alien races.

The angular, slim profiles of Shaltari vehicles really makes them stand out from the rest of Dropzone Commander‘s forces. The slim and bird-like forms of their aircraft, ringed with “wings” of metal round a massive gem, stand in stark contrast to the spindly, three-legged builds of their battle- and warstriders. While the Shaltari have no clear analog to popular sci-fi tropes like the four other factions do, the decorative but functional designs recall other ancient sci-fi races like Stargate‘s Goa’uld or Warhammer 40,000‘s Necrons and Eldar – an excellent pedigree for those who want a force that really stands out on the tabletop.

Core Features of the Shaltari
While the Shaltari are fast (like the Scourge) and have some of the greatest tech in the DZC universe (like the PHR), what really sets them apart from the other factions is their capacity for deception. Deception is part of every aspect of the faction, from aesthetics to gameplay. Visually and stats-wise their vehicles look frail, but in reality their force fields make them nearly as tough as their PHR equivalents. Their gate system of transport may seem to shackle their units with strict activation rules, when in fact it grants the Shaltari incredible ability to feint and snatch objectives. Their infantry is expensive and low in numbers, but they are point-for-point the toughest and most effective troops in the game. The simple fact is the Shaltari literally play by their own rules, which is what makes playing and learning their tricks so rewarding…even for DZC vets.

Beam Me Up
If we could only pick one thing that defines the essential character of the Shaltari as a gaming force, it is their gates. Unlike all other factions, Shaltari “dropships” do not transport nor are they assigned to any one squad or battlegroup; rather, they each act as a beacon through which infantry and vehicles are teleported into the battlefield. Shaltari gates are effectively shared with every other unit on the table, and can be activated alongside whichever battlegroup they are the most useful to at the time. Gates do not carry any units, but instead allow a unit to dematerialize through one active gate and rematerialize through that gate or any other active gate on the table, regardless of the distance between them (provided they have enough mass to move the units, of course).

02-Shaltari-Heavies-DSC06010

Needless to say, this single rule profoundly changes how one builds a Shaltari army. But what is surprising is how many ripples this sends throughout the army in play:

  • Unlike normal armies where transports must be purchased for every squad you wish to fly around on the table – even those squads that will only be flown in and dropped off once – gates can be tactically shared between multiple units. This allows a Warchief to save points when building a force without sacrificing opportunities for all his units to benefit from a dropship.
  • The fact that units do not reside in gates means that “transported” units can never be killed when a gate is blown up. Since gates are not assigned to particular squads, killing a gate does not strand units that rely on a transport to move (they can just fly in another).
  • Since Shaltari battlegroups technically share any active gates, a squad cannot resolve their movement and shooting before activating another squad – all squads must all shoot at the same time (due to the shared transports rule).
  • With proper gate placement, Shaltari infantry never lose a turn of searching for an objective in order to ride to their next destination; they can simply leave a building straight into a gate, then disembark from another active gate straight into a building with another objective and begin searching the next turn.
  • Fortunately for the other factions, Shaltari cannot use gates to instantly extract discovered objectives, but they are allowed to pass the objective to the gate they dematerialize through – which means Shaltari can pass objectives to aircraft (with a move of 30″ to boot!), and that they never have to put both the carrying unit and its transport into reserve when they leave the table, just the gate.

Understanding these nuances and strategies is the key to mastering and winning with the Shaltari – not to mention driving your opponents crazy.

The Warp Factor
As if gates were not enough of a threat, Shaltari vehicles are also incredibly fast – as fast as, if not faster than, the Scourge. Their army is loaded with skimmers, from the anti-armor Tomahawk and anti-air Kukri to the tiny scouting Yari and massive Caiman. All these vehicles have much longer ranges – the Caiman can shoot 36″ even when countered! – than their Scourge counterparts at the expense of a point of armor, but that downside is mitigated by the skimmer Accuracy penalty and their force fields (see below). Even their walkers are faster than any other force! This deadly combination of speed plus gates plus range gives the Shaltari amazing harassment and counter-attacking capabilities, because they can get guns wherever they need them, when they need them. And of course, being Shaltari, they can pull some nasty tricks, like teleporting Yari scout skimmers through infantry gates to provide anti-air and command card support while still getting a skimmer bonus….

All Shields Full!
Since the Shaltari are an ancient race with a pathological fear of death, it makes sense that their units are more protected than those of any other faction (save, perhaps the PHR’s Zeus). Every Shaltari aircraft and vehicle sports at least a 5+ Passive Countermeasures, which means they statistically ignore 1/3 of all hits they take. For veterans of other wargames that may sound pretty crappy…until you recognize that most armies don’t have a single unit with Passive Countermeasures in their army list! Even Shaltari Braves and Firstborn infantry in the game have limited Active Countermeasures – unlike every other infantry unit in the game – plus protection against falling masonry and taking more than 1 DP per hit.

03-Shaltari-outnumbered

Though their armor tends to be pretty light, lighter even than the Scourge, mathematically Shaltari units tend to look more like PHR it terms of overall survivability. What’s better (or worse, if you happen to be fighting them) is that these Passive Countermeasures can be improved by the Dreamsnare warstrider, or even granted to structures via the Totem Warspire. All in all, these are an excellent way to foil an opponent’s attack, especially those with a low number of shots like enemy armor or the PHR or Scourge factions.

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned
The downside to the Shaltari’s speed and power is points cost – being the best at most things is expensive! All things being equal, the Shaltari will find themselves outnumbered nine times out of ten, both in terms of infantry and vehicles, while simultaneously tempted to count on their shields and try to spread out using their speed and gate shenanigans. This is a patently bad idea – your shields are going to take the edge off, but concentrated fire will beat even the best Passive CM roller, and all it takes is one shot slipping past your shields to make for some dead space hedgehogs.

The key to victory is presenting as narrow a front as possible, much like the PHR, then overwhelming that front with your superior firepower. But unlike the PHR, you can also use guerrilla-styled tactics, attacking in that narrow front, then using well-placed gates to jump to another, weaker angle of attack or snatch an objective when they come after you. That ability to bound around the table, forcing your opponent to try and guess your next move is not only incredibly frustrating for your opponent, it also keeps your soldiers alive and makes your path to victory that much easier.

Haters Gonna Hate
04-Ramses-HatersA word of warning should you find yourself planning on getting this force; there are a very vocal minority of Dropzone players out there who really think the Shaltari are broken or unbalanced compared to the rest of the factions, based mainly on their tournament performance. This leads to nicknames for the faction like “Cheatari” or “Shametari,” not to mention a fair amount of grumbling in internet forums.

As “serious casual” players here at Dropzone Commenter, we have found Shaltari to be a challenge, but no more so than any other faction in the hands of a skilled commander. While it is indeed true that Shaltari do quite well in high-level competition, we also believe that the sample size we have is small and that the players in the competitive scene are quite skilled at making the most of this sophisticated force. Hawk has taken a number of remedies to these complaints, including recently adjusting many Shaltari units’ points cost to bring them more in line with the rest of the factions, and doubtless we will see equally tricky and powerful units for the other factions to help put the aliens back in their place. So go get the army you’ll be proud to buy, paint, and play, and don’t worry about the rest.

The Shaltari in 40k Terms
As the epitome of high-technology in the DZC universe, the Shaltari come off a lot like a cross between the Tau and Eldar. Like these two races, the Shaltari are defined in play the most by their tech: they have army-wide force fields, the greatest amount of directed-energy weapons, ridiculously good battle walkers, and gate technology enabling them to flit around the battlefield. And like the Eldar and Tau, their edge in tech is counterbalanced by very light armor, a low model count, and relatively few infantry in most armies.

The Shaltari in Warmachine Terms
The Shaltari don’t have as direct an anolog in Warmachine, but their combination of speed, synergistic combos, and raw power remind us of Legion of Everblight. Like the dragon spawn, most Shaltari units can’t hold up under sustained attack, but those that can, really can – and that toughness doesn’t come at the cost of speed or flexibility. Shaltari units have specific roles, and when employed in those roles they are peerless, much like the blighted.

The Commenters’ Opinions

DropzoneCommenterHS3Dropzone Commenter:

Though I love my Scourge and have been playing them since my very first game of DZC, I think the Shaltari are the force that fits my personal playstyle best. I have always preferred armies that are cagey and quick over those that are hard-hitting and straightforward. I believe I win most of my games by not rolling dice (or considering my luck, in spite of rolling dice), focusing on objectives, and second guessing my opponent. The Shaltari’s maneuvering is truly astounding, and their fragile but potent units reward solid strategy and amplify your ability to adjust tactics on the fly. I’ve already got a growing pile of gates, warstriders and Firedrakes anxiously awaiting me to finish up my Resistance so they can have my full attention….

DropzoneCasualtyHS2DZ Casualty:

The Shaltari was (and might still be) widely regarded as the best competitive faction in the game. If you know you’re going to be playing against them, field a force capable of adjusting quickly to the Shenani-tari (remember when I mentioned haters? – DZCommenter) mobility. Shoot down the gates (and Drakes), and kill the infantry from afar. Use units that have a high number of shots (be those shots aerial, or ground) to help mitigate their cellophane force bubbles. When your opponent has to roll those energy saves, make sure he has to roll a whole handful of them, because only one or two need to get through in order to flush those stunted little dingleberries right down the unforgiving toilet where they belong.

If you plan to field a Shall-Wintari force, then consider taking (and protecting) enough gates to keep your enemy guessing. You have ample ground AA options to keep those fast movers away from your gates. And as always…take at least one Firedrake.

Gather the Tribe
The Shaltari are a spectacular force, and arguably the most “advanced” army in Dropzone Commander. They break the fundamental rules of the game, and require a different approach to tactics and strategy. Such a force can be daunting for the newcomer to DZC, but like a fine wine or a life partner, the Shaltari only get better with age and experience. If you’re the type of player who loves to play mind games with your opponent, engaging in cat-and-mouse ambushes and underhanded fights, and sudden last-turn reversals where you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat – Shaltari are a great force for you.

Wow! We are nearly done with our series on the factions of Dropzone Commander. Next time, we discuss the fifth (or is it fifth and sixth?) and newest faction in the game – the patchwork juggernaut, the human Resistance! See you in a week, Commanders!

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