Command School, Part 4: The Poor Bloody Infantry

Scourge Warriors

Welcome again, Commanders, to the latest installment of our Command School Series. In the past, we’ve covered some of the high-level “meta-strategies” of Dropzone Commander, ranging from list construction to battlegroup composition to effective use of alternating activations, but now I want to narrow our focus onto one of the most under-utilized aspects of the game: infantry strategy and tactics.

Infantry are the key to victory in DZC. We all know that infantry are the only way to find and pull objectives out of buildings, but I often see players essentially put them to the side once the objective game has been resolved. But infantry can be so much more influential on the field of battle than riding around in transports and carrying objectives – they can also be powerful assets to deny your opponent strategic victories, take and hold vital territory, and even take the fight to units much more powerful than themselves! In this edition of CommandSchool, we’re going to dig in to how to get the most from your infantry in the field, and hopefully surprise your opponents at the same time.

SUPPORTING THE MISSION

The first and most important job of all infantry is to support the main mission – namely, by locating and controlling objectives and intel in structures. While that may sound pretty specific if you’re new to Dropzone, you’ll realize over time that this specific task is what wins 80% or more of games…and only infantry models are capable of doing it. That makes them the most important units in your army. Period.

Objective Missions
Nowhere are infantry more important than objective missions, since only infantry have the capability to discover objectives. In these missions, every action you take and every unit you sacrifice during a game should ideally be in the pursuit of getting your soldiers safely into buildings to find (or fight for) objectives, and then to extract those objectives off the board.  If you keep this singular motivation squarely at the center of your strategic thinking, you will very likely win the majority of objective games you play.

Generally, during objective missions I do my damnedest to make sure my infantry can find and extract objectives as safely as possible. There are two primary methods of doing this: the first is to ensure they find those objectives as quickly as possible; the second is to make sure your troops can survive enough punishment to get the objective out safely without succumbing to CQB or Falling Masonry first. While doing both is safest option, it’s often prohibitively expensive both in points and opportunity cost, so let’s look at them individually, and which forces favor which methods.

Shaltari Firstborns and Spirit light dropship

If you want to find objectives fast, plan to double up small squads in light dropships at each objective. This way, you maximize your search rolls (since they’re made per squad) so you can get out fast, and any Falling Masonry rolls you suffer will be randomized between your squads, increasing the likelihood at least one squad will live to extract. This method works best for armies with low Troop numbers and/or fast, light dropships to best find objectives fast – Shaltari warsuits, PHR troops backed up by Mercury Drones, Scourge Warriors or Destroyers in Intruder Alphas, and 3 Resistance squads mounted in a Lifthawk carrying Jacksons are great at this sort of work.

If you want to make sure your infantry are able to survive assaults or demolition efforts long enough to discover your objectives, employ 3+ base squads of 5 DP infantry whenever possible. That means Scourge Warriors in Invaders mounted in a Marauder, UCM Legionnaires in Bears on a Condor, Shaltari Pungari Auxiliaries, or Resistance Fighters mounted in Battle Busses on a Kraken are your best bet.

It’s hard to describe how much more durable a 15 DP squad of infantry is over a 10 DP squad, but in my experience the difference in survivability is vast. Anecdotally, I nearly always lose a 2 base squad of Scourge Warriors to Falling Masonry or Flame by the time the building is at half-health, whereas I only lose my 3 base, 15 DP squads when the building itself collapses. This makes me much more comfortable sending these squads into hotly-contested objective buildings in the middle of the war zone.

Pungari Hax!

Also worth noting – following recent errata, Pungari have the Horde special rule, which that lets them roll twice for searches if they have 3+ bases left in their squad. In terms of this article, that gives them the advantage of high DP from big squads and multiple search rolls of small squads…yikes! I should probably curse the Shaltari for getting all the cheating abilities, but this one is just so cool and full of flavor, I’ll give them a pass.

(I won’t.  Scourge…Shaltari… and now these Pungari.  Nothing has changed. A good alien is still a dead alien.- DZ_Casualty)

Not all infantry is equally good at handling objectives, however. Troops with the Reckless Abandon rule (such as Resistance Berserkers and Scourge Eviscerators) suffer a ­–1 to all rolls to discover objectives, and so will have to spend on average one extra turn searching before they find what they’re looking for; more exotic troops, like Scourge Razorworms, have special rules preventing them from carrying objectives at all (it sucks not having opposable thumbs)! However, that doesn’t mean you should discount these troops entirely – rather, you can overcome their shortcomings by doubling them up with other, more effective squads (2 search rolls is always better than one) or by careful reading of the rules (Razorworms can’t carry objectives…but they can make Search rolls!). No matter what you do, never let an opportunity to make a search roll pass you by!

Scourge Razorworms (proxied)

One last thing about using infantry during objective missions: whenever possible, allow your least-useful troops or vehicle transport (aircraft transports alone can’t carry objectives) to carry objectives off the table! Since whatever carries an objective off the table must go into reserve (and thus is likely out for most, if not the rest, of the game), consider carefully who you leave to fight. If you have a healthy squad in an undamaged building, you might send the objective off with the vehicle transport; if you had multiple squads searching, you might send off the most-damaged one with the objective. Be strategic!

Intel Missions
The basic procedure for Intel missions is similar to that of objective missions, but intel is found automatically the turn after you enter a building, so you don’t need to send more than one squad to search for intel in a structure, and you don’t need to worry about holding onto intel (for the most part).

This mission type rewards players who spread out their troops, so load up on small squads in fast transports and keep those transports close so you can hop from structure to structure – if you can move from one intel-containing building to another in the same turn, you can analyze up to 5 intel markers per squad per game!

Keep in mind that a roll of 1 when revealing intel causes it to blow up, so cheaper squads are better than spendy ones just in case the dice turn on you – plus, more points means more squads to discover intel with!

Focal Point Missions
Many players eschew infantry in Focal Point missions, as FPs tend to be placed out in the open. However, infantry can be quite useful in these scenarios, thanks to their high DP, small size, and relatively high points cost. Even with machine guns and other light weapons in the mix, it takes a lot of shots to remove 15 DP worth of infantry from the board, particularly if you’re using cover, so don’t be shy when taking them out under the sky (see below)!

As an added bonus, opponents often make shooting infantry a low priority, especially in the late game, which means a rush into a structure or even into the open in Turn 6 virtually guarantees you’ll get all their KP scoring on the Focal Point when you consider the enemy’s depleted firepower in the late game. Just be sure not to tip your hand too early, or else they may be able to focus on and whittle down the infantry…but if they do, that provides other opportunities to move in ground vehicles and other scoring units while they shoot at your troops.

Infantry are particularly useful in Bunker Assault, where they double their scoring value when controlling Focal Points and can’t be hit by Falling Masonry (see page 49 of Reconquest: Phase 1).

Shaltari Braves and Haven APC

MOVEMENT

Generally speaking, infantry on their own have terrible movement (the average Mv being about 2”). While recent releases like Resistance Freeriders, PHR Medusas, and PHR Valkyries are changing this narrative a bit, troops are by and large very dependent upon transports to move about or to extract objectives from the table. Mastering infantry’s relationships with transports and structures is crucial to moving them effectively on the field.

Effective Embarking and Disembarking
The most important part of infantry movement you’ll want to master is the nuance of embarking and disembarking from transports and structures (DZC 1.1, pages 48 and 32). Though you’re probably familiar with the maximum 2 embark/disembark operations per activation rule, remember that disembarking directly into or from a structure within 1” only counts as 1 disembark operation rather than an embark/disembark – thus, you can disembark a ground transport from a dropship (1 operation), then disembark from the ground transport to a structure within 1” (2 operations) rather than having to disembark from a ground transport to the ground, then from the ground into the structure (3 operations). This rule allows you to “building hop” infantry by moving their transport within 1” of a structure to allow them to embark directly, moving 1/2 the transport’s Mv, then disembarking them directly to another structure within 1.” You’ll want to practice doing this as a matter of course.

However, there are specific situations where you can increases infantry’s movement even more. One trick you can pull with a squad mounted in a light dropship or ground transport not being carried by a dropship is to deploy your infantry as normal from their transport (e.g. 3” from the transport’s center point), move up to 1/2 their Mv, then embark into a structure within 1”. Most of us veterans are programmed to use the 1” drop directly into the building even if we don’t have to, so this can get you a surprise 5” entry into a building which a good estimator of ranges may forget to account for, or to get around a garrisoned wall (see “Going to the Wall,” below). Keep in mind, though, that using this strategy will forbid you from making anymore embarks or disembarks this activation, since you’ll hit your 2 operation cap.

Moving into the Open
Another surprise move that’s caught me from time to time is to move your infantry out into the open. “But Commenter,” I imagine you saying, “infantry are squishy and don’t have Countermeasures! They’re going to get wiped out if they leave the building!” But that’s often not the case; when you make this move with good timing, it can prove crucial to score points or extend the squad’s survivability.

PHR Sirens and Angelos transports

I usually only move infantry into the open in the late game, when enemy Flame and Area weapons are out of position or destroyed. Both these weapon types make short work of your little mans despite cover, so you’ll need to calculate the risks and fire arcs if your opponent is using them. I worry less about this when using units with the DF (Dispersed Formation) special rule, since they only suffer 1 DP per hit (Reconquest Phase 1, page 61). I don’t really sweat machine guns and other light weapons at all, as: a) many opponents forget they even have these weapons; b) infantry in the open are often overlooked as a threat relative to other units; and c) machine-gun-toting vehicles tend to be culled quite a bit by the late game.

The exception to the general rule of only going into the open in the late game is when infantry are facing the destruction of a building they are occupying. Getting caught inside a collapsing building is instant death for occupants, so if a building is within 5-10 DP of being destroyed, it’s probably a good idea to abandon the structure and take your chances outside. Make sure you move all these bases more than 1” from the building when you do, as models within 1” of a collapsing building are killed on a 2+ (DZC 1.1, page 31, “Destroyed Structures”).

GARRISONING

Most times, we use infantry in the most abstract way possible – as models sitting on top of a building, while they search for objectives. But garrisoning (AKA “going to the wall”) is a crucial part of infantry tactics on the Dropzone Commander field. Knowing how to tactically occupy, defend, and repel assaulters and dropships from a structure can make all the difference between victory and defeat.

Stuffing It Full?
Generally speaking, a structure’s Garrison value is right around most players’ comfort zones for the most infantry bases they want to risk putting in the building (since you lose all the infantry inside if it gets demolished!). The true occupancy of a structure is twice its Garrison value – this, obviously, is to mostly ensure that in the average garrisoned structure, there will be room for roughly equal-sized assault forces should the opposing player attempt CQB.

UCM Legionaires

However, there are some tricks you can use when garrisoning to potentially restrict or deny opponents entry – namely, by putting more units inside than the building’s Garrison value! I like using 4 unit squads for this purpose, like big squads of Resistance Fighters or Shaltari Pungari Auxiliaries, as structure Garrison values increase by 3s. While using this strategy means you won’t be able to garrison (go to the wall) with all your units, you will make it much harder for enemy units to engage you in CQB, since they will either have to come at you with a numerically inferior force and/or only have the option to use certain squads for the assault. And remember, if an entire infantry squad cannot all fit in the building, it can’t enter at all (DZC 1.1, page 32)!

An important word of warning if you choose to overstuff a structure: any building that full of infantry WILL become a juicy target for enemy demolition, so be certain either potential demo units are greatly reduced or out of line of sight before attempting!

Going to the Wall
The fundamental use of garrisoning is putting units on the wall, allowing them to shoot at models outside while taking cover. While shooting is certainly useful, the act of simply being on the wall provides a host of very useful defensive benefits which can deter, if not outright deny, the enemy a chance to assault the garrisoned structure. There are three crucial facts to remember when going to the wall:

  1. Any infantry unit, even those without ranged weapons, can garrison (a unit with a range of CC can “shoot” at enemy models touching the structure). troops may seem like they’re exposed to fire, but with both soft and body cover (DZC 1.1, page 32, “3) Shooting from inside a Structure”), counter fire will suffer both a -2 Acc penalty and a -1 penalty to damage rolls against your troops, which effectively neuters common anti-infantry weapons like machine guns.
  2. You can assign individual units to garrison walls individually, rather than whole squads (seriously – Dave was the person who reminded me of this rule!). Since enemy infantry cannot enter a structure by a garrisoned side (DZC 1.1, page 34, “1) Commence”), this means a structure containing 4 bases can be completely locked down from assault.
  3.  Troops enforce the little used “LZ is Hot!” special rule (DZC 1.1, page 44, “5) LZ is Hot!”). This means no aircraft or dropship’s LZ template can be within 3” of a garrisoned wall OR the roof of a garrisoned building, effectively blocking enemy infantry from “building hopping” (see “Effective Embarking and Disembarking,” above). Watch out for medium dropships carrying infantry transports, however – they will be able to stay outsize the hot LZ, drop their transports within the 3” no-fly zone, move and disembark infantry into an ungarrisoned side!

PHR demonstrate proper use of the Small Arms rule

Using Small Arms Fire
Going to the wall is a great time to make use of those handy anti-materiel rifles and RPGs on your infantry units, but unless there are other troops in the open, you’ll rarely get to use your assault rifles. Fortunately, most of these line infantry weapons have the SA (Small Arms) rule, allowing you to take a single higher-E AA shot at aircraft within 6” without losing the opportunity to shoot your squad support weapon! This is extremely handy, particularly if you’re on the wall when an enemy dropship moves in (since it’s AA, you can react fire!) or one that tried to move in on your occupied building but didn’t quite make it there. Using this rule, you can garrison troops along key bottlenecks of the map (say, between two buildings taller than 6” which can’t be flown over”) to create a “kill box” for passing enemy aircraft before they get to your forces!

Forward Air Controllers
A rule I often forget (because I leave my Scourge Corsairs on the shelf nowadays) is to make use of the Forward Air Controllers rule (Reconquest Phase 1, page 60). When possible, assign your longest-range or shootiest Troops squads to be your FACs, since they will already likely be taking superior lines of sight to make use of their attacks anyway. Infantry with Evasion countermeasures and / or strong shooting, like PHR Immortal Longreach Teams or UCM Mortar Teams, make especially good FACs since they can weather even more incoming fire and/or claim the high ground as early as turn 1!

USING INFANTRY OFFENSIVELY

Towards the end of the game, or in games without objective play, you may find yourself wondering how to get the most out of your infantry. The answer, IMO, is to “go dynamic” and start using infantry on the offensive rather than defense. Heck, it’s perfectly OK to take infantry for primarily aggressive reasons as well – mainly, because some of them just plain stink at finding objectives or intel!  Going on the offensive with infantry opens up a whole new set of considerations and strategies, which can really throw off the enemy if used well.

Aggressive Garrisoning
One way any infantry choice can go dynamic is by what I call “aggressive garrisoning.” In this strategy, you move your troops into a structure in an area you want to deny to your opponent – a key building still holding an objective or Focal Point, or a structure near a Focal Point where you think your opponent would like to land a dropship – then go to the wall. The point here is not necessarily to live to the end of the game (though that’s always a nice bonus); it’s to make the enemy’s life miserable and to enable your own forces to move with impunity.

I really like this strategy in Focal Point missions, as it’s an awesome way to use the rarely-used “LZ is Hot!” rule (see above) and deny that Turn 6 dropship rush so favored by Scourge and PHR forces. If done successfully, the least you’ll draw is machine gun fire (which will probably do little to nothing vs. your troops), but more likely you’ll divert enemy attention from other objectives if they really want to dislodge you. And if you spread your units to cover all or nearly all of the walls, you’ll be able to deny enemy infantry the chance to counter-assault you…thus preventing your opponent from just throwing their own less-useful infantry at the problem.

UCM Praetorian Sniper Teams

Shooting Infantry
The Reconquest: Phase 2 infantry we’ve been seeing over the last year, such as UCM Mortar Teams and Resistance Sappers, indicate a new phase of the infantry meta-game – the “shooting infantry” unit, dedicated to combat first over objective search and recovery.

What defines a shooting infantry unit for me is whether the unit has a comparable damage and number of shots to a vehicle for their points;  thus, infantry units with a missile launcher or anti-materiel rifle aren’t really “shooting” infantry (damage output, but not number of shots), while UCM flak teams or PHR Immortal Longreach Teams are, since they are light versions of AA or AT in their armies, respectively.

When using a shooting infantry unit, I aspire to stick them in a structure Turn 1, make the most of their range, and employ them where they can do the most damage. Since most infantry-carried weapons have relatively low E values compared to those on armor, that means your best bet is to use these units as second-line troops for demolition and area denial first, and to attack targets of opportunity second. For instance, since Immortal Longreach teams, which rock 5 E7 24” countered range Shaped Charge shots per base, can reasonably harass 1 DP vehicles and attack buildings, I would probably keep them about 1/3rd of the way across the table from my deployment zone in an non-objective containing building (to lower the target priority) where they could plink at light armor or objective-containing buildings in the enemy half with relative impunity. With Resistance Sappers, which Infiltrate and have Limited shots with infinite range, I would likely garrison in the tallest building on my side of the table, where I could wait in ambush for the perfect moment to set off an IED or drop a template as needed.

Assaulting Other Infantry
Perhaps the best use of infantry offensively is through CQB, where you can battle mano-a-mano with other infantry for control of objectives. Until recently, assault is the primary domain of most armies’ Exotic infantry – PHR Sirens, Scourge Eviscerators, UCM Praetorians to name just a few – though that is changing a bit with the addition of shooting Exotics like UCM Hazard Suits. But the nuances of CQB are such that I can’t cover that here…or even in a single article (that’s for another time!), so we’ll talk about that soon!

MUSTER THE TROOPS!

Infantry are a critical part of any successful Dropzone Commander force – but they are all too often criminally underutilized as true strategic assets. Using some of these strategies, hopefully you will find new ways to conquer the battlefields of the 27th century…and foil your opponent’s most carefully-laid plans! Rally the men, and get ready for assault, cause there’s work to be done…

Until next time, Commanders!

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