Hello again, Commanders! Welcome back to the second part in our Command School series, covering the basics of building Dropzone Commander armies. Last week, we covered the theories of how to build balanced DZC armies, and this week we’ll get down into the weeds and talk about the most nuanced part of building an army – designing battlegroups.
The Art and Science of Battlegroup Composition
The real art of DZC army list building is planning battlegroups. The number and composition of your battlegroups determines your ability to act and react to your opponent during alternating actions, and so directly impacts your ability to win. However, they also need to fit the way you like to play: aggressive players may want to build “hammer” groups that are very focused on doing one thing very well, while players who are more cagey may want more generalist groups that spread capabilities throughout the list to give them maximum reaction ability. I tend to fall in the latter category, myself, but it all really comes down to personal playstyle.
I could write a much (much, much) longer article on the specifics of battlegroup crafting, but to preserve our collective sanity, let’s discuss the core decisions everyone needs to make when building their battlegroups.
How Many Battlegroups?
The number of battlegroups you can have depends on the game size you’re playing: 5 in a Skirmish; 6 in a Clash, and 7 in a Battle. No matter what size game you’re playing, however, you should always aspire to use the maximum battlegroups allowed, or hold it to 1 less than the max if you can’t make it all fit.
The reason to max out your battlegroups is to avoid giving your opponent an “activation advantage” – when you run out of battlegroup activations, they’ll be able to activate the remainder of their groups and you will have no ability to react to what they’re doing. If you had initiative that round, it’s even worse; for instance, if you had 2 fewer battlegroups than your opponent, and also took the first action, they would be able to activate fully half their battlegroups in complete safety and with full knowledge of where you were. That’s a tremendous advantage you want to avoid giving away.
The other thing you’ll have to plan for is the fact you can’t choose all your battlegroups freely; in a Clash or Battle Game, you must have at least 1 HQ group, 1 Armor group, and 1 Infantry Group. Translated into squads, that means in “normal-sized” battle you must have a Command squad, a Standard squad, and a Troops squad at the minimum.
The flip side of required choices is that in a regular Clash battle, you can only choose half of your army’s battlegroups without restriction. Granted, you can go light with your points investment in the required units (more on that in a minute), but you will rarely be able to build an “all-tank” or “all-infantry” army without some serious contortion.
Points Cost and Squad Limitations
Two easily-overlooked rules of battlegroup building is overall point value and squad limitations. With the exception of the HQ group, no single battlegroup can total more than 1/3rd of your army’s total points; generally, this is not a problem in most games (as you’re trying to maximize your activations… right?), but occasionally you will find your ability to use high-capacity dropships is limited in smaller games by this rule.
The other concern when building battlegroups is the number of squads within the group. Every group must have at least one, and (in a Clash, at least) a maximum of 3 or 4 squads. In many cases, the amount of squads in a group greatly impacts its capabilities; a single-squad group is often a “dead” activation that a savvy opponent can wipe out and gain an activation advantage later in the game, while a large group is predictable and can limit your ability to react to your opponent’s tactics. In a Clash, I generally favor two-squad battlegroups on average, using one-squad groups only when that squad is highly capable (such as a superheavy unit with lots of shooting like the Hades walker, a powerful commander like the Desolator, or a squad that fills multiple roles such as armor units with an AA-capable transport).
Specialists or Generalists?
Another fundamental question about battlegroups is what you want that battlegroup’s purpose on the field to be. The composition of squads within a battlegroup helps outline the contours of how it contributes to your overall battle plan.
Specialist groups tend to do one thing very well, often to the exclusion of other considerations. For instance, a battlegroup specializing in anti-tank will probably feature a lot of armor or gunships with high-E weaponry and good armor, while an assault specialized battlegroup will include one or more CQB-oriented infantry units plus Flame or other supporting squads to enhance their effectiveness.
Generalist groups, on the other hand, tend to spread or cross capabilities throughout the group to allow maximum flexibility during battle. For instance, when I build Scourge lists I tend to favor backing up my infantry squads with gunships, as it gives me a chance to attack the targets most dangerous to my infantry (building demo), as well as react to enemy moves, no matter what order I choose to activate in. Mixing a squad of AA tanks in with heavy armor is another classic generalist group – while mixing provides less devastating demo or AT power, it also provides vital cover to the tanks from enemy aircraft.
Proactive or Reactive?
The opposite axis of to specialist or generalist groups is whether you want the battlegroup to take a proactive or reactive role during the game. This question is not so much about the squads within the group as it is the battlegroup taken as a whole, and how you will activate them to execute your strategy.
Proactive battlegroups are typically built for – and oriented to – the mission being played. These types of groups are easier to use, since their limited capabilities make it easy to decide when and where to activate them. But they are also easier for the enemy to plan for during their own turns.
The best proactive battlegroups make themselves forgiving of mistakes – either through toughness (lots of units, high armor or DP) or redundancy (duplicates of the same unit) – to ensure they can complete their missions. A brick of 6 tanks and 3 AA vehicles in a heavy dropship is great for taking focal points, thanks to high armor values, lots of models, and the ability to fight enemies both on the ground and in the air.
Common proactive battlegroups: Infantry battlegroups; combat “brick” groups (Armor or Heavy-focused Special battlegroups); fleet battlegroups
Reactive battlegroups are built to counteract enemy actions and shore up weaknesses that develop during the game. Practically, this means units in these groups should be fast and/or airmobile (to let them move as quickly as possible to fill in where they are needed). These groups tend to be more difficult to manage, as you’ll probably keep them in an area where they can break in two or more directions based on what the enemy is doing.
The best reactive battlegroups favor focus and speed above all else. They have specific roles without necessarily being “mission-oriented.” For instance, a battlegroup of 2 CQB infantry units with a squad of Flame tanks, all mounted in dropships, are both focused on a particular role and are able to react to and disrupt enemy plans (in this case, occupation of buildings and objective searching).
Common reactive battlegroups: HQ battlegroups; Scout-focused Special battlegroups; Armor battlegroups with light armor; CQB-heavy Infantry battlegroups
From Battlegroups to Battle Plan
If you recall from last week’s article, I had built a new PHR list using many of the new infantry, which I think is pretty balanced:
Rather than analyzing the units and squads themselves, let’s pull this list apart to see how I think the army should function on the battlefield:
Battlegroup I: Hand of the Sphere (Generalist/Reactive Battlegroup)
Command Squad: The Command Squad, like most Command units, is a bit of an odd duck. The Zeus and Odin are both excellent AT units, and with the Neptune they are fairly mobile; however, their shots are not as essential for victory as the Zeus’ command value and use of cards. They’ll probably spend most of the game somewhere in the middle, probably supporting one of the Battle Pantheons, plinking away at enemy buildings or small armor groups.
Sirens: The Sirens are definitely a reactive squad – their job is to head towards the middle of the board and engage small, preferably isolated enemy units in CQB to prevent the opponent from grabbing “easy” objectives. If the enemy is very aggressive in CQB themselves, the Sirens will probably act as a second unit in my own objective buildings, where they can provide a second search roll and tie up attackers while the less-savvy infantry makes off with the objective. And of course, they can search for objectives or intel when needed.
Battlegroups II and III: Battle Pantheons (Generalist/Proactive Battlegroups)
These identical battlegroups are pure combat squads, who will probably spend most of the game close to each other. Neither squad is particularly good at any one thing – providing only 1 E7 Shaped Charge shot, one E11 shot for ground targets and 3 E7 AA shots for the air – but they are tough and can provide decent fighting power if they’re not too spread out. They’ll likely both stay close to the Command Squad in the middle, but can spread out if fighting a lightly-armed enemy like Resistance. Their survival is the least important of all units in my army, and I am willing to expend them as needed to protect more important units.
Battlegroup IV: Immortals (Specialist/Proactive Battlegroup)
AM Rifle Team: This small squad has a lot of shooting power; arguably more than the Battle Pantheons! Like all infantry, their primary objective will be to search for objectives, likely mid-table. However, with 11 E7 Shaped Charge shots between the squad and the Neptune, they can go to the wall with fair confidence of taking out a lone tank or two without fear of reprisal (perhaps only sending 1 base to the wall if I’m concerned about counter-fire).
The Angelos are exceptionally well-armed for transports, packing 2 E10 Demo-2 shots between them, so they can be used as attacking units or backup AT if the opponent is coming at me with lots of armor. Most likely they will stick to building demo and harassment so I can get objectives off the board.
Helios Squad: Since the Helios are a drive-on AA unit, they’re going to spend most of the game moving as fast and as far as possible to get into the fight. Their job will be to take out backfield aircraft threats in the early game (since they’re driving on from the board edge), and then cover midfield during the mid- to late-game.
Battlegroups V and VI: Pegasus Group (Specialist/Reactive Battlegroups)
Valkyrie Squad: These infantry are mounted in light dropships, able to jump over and out of buildings, have a CQB of 2, and are Scouts, all of which allow them to operate on the flanks without fear of being overrun when they get into trouble. They are my primary objective-searchers alongside the AM Rifle Team, so I’ll probably keep them out of the middle and count on their speed to get them the hell out of Dodge when things get too hot.
Medusa: The Medusa is the ultimate generalist unit, mounted in the best light dropship in the game. Her 10 E7 Focus-2 Strafe shots makes her commendable for killing enemy tanks or hordes, and her ability to contribute to nearby CQBs is a big boost to the Valkyries. Her Triton X can fire indirectly from behind buildings or heal the Medusa during play, so the pair can go on the offense or defense as needed.
I will probably keep the Medusa with her Triton on the flanks with the Valkyries to pick at the enemy flank attacks and to protect the Valks from incoming Flame tanks or armor as needed. Since she’s in a light dropship and super-fast on her own, she can also swing to the middle in the late game (once enemy Flame or template weapons are worn down) and act with greater impunity. Her Focus fire does not apply against structures, but she can probably act as light demo vs. weakened buildings using with pure brute force, making her useful in that role as well.
Now Get into Action!
I hope this article has helped you understand the fundamental framework of how to transform a handful of points and squads into an army well-prepared for fighting (and winning) games. Whenever you want to build a force, thinking carefully about your activation spread, the role you want each group to take, and the composition of units within that group will help you hit the field with a basic strategy before you place a single model on the table.
As I said – there’s a lot to discuss when planning battlegroups in theory, but nothing beats using them in practice. Murphy’s Law is in full effect in any tabletop game, and only testing a concept, refining, then testing again will help you find the right match for your playstyle and game plan. So get those models painted, out on the field, and start kicking some 10mm human/feral/alien/cyborg/parasite butt!
Catch you soon, Commanders!