Dropfleet Commander: Exclusive First Look

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Welcome back, Commanders! This week, we’re going to talk about something a bit different…At Gen Con 2015, the Dropzone Commenter team got an exclusive, first-in-the-world demo of Hawk Wargames’ upcoming space fleet combat game, Dropfleet Commander (heretofore abbreviated DFC)!

We had the good fortune to have Dave and Simon of Hawk walk us through how combat and movement work, and to talk about how some of the special traits of the UCM and Scourge fleets work, and even a little inside dirt on future plans for the PHR and Shaltari fleets! It was great fun, and we’re excited to share the full video of our chat with you now…

What Do We Know About Dropfleet Commander?
Designed by Andy Chambers (designer of Warhammer 40,000 3rd Edition and Battlefleet Gothic, amongst many, many others) and Dave Lewis (creator of Dropzone Commander), DFC looks to be a great blend of submarine-style space combat in the spirit of shows like Battlestar Galactica, capital ship battles like Battlefleet Gothic, and many of the best parts of Dropzone Commander (such as alternating activations, simple-but-robust mechanics, and deep strategy).

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What I admired most about the game that I saw during the demo was that DFC is not simply an Age of Sail naval game in sci-fi clothing, where broadside combat and sluggish turning is the order of the day. Rather, it seems to be much more modern in its take on naval tactics and combat, just as Dropzone Commander is with its focus on combined arms and air-mobile armies. Atmosphere, drift, point defense and a host of other modern rules were all in effect, which adds a lot of texture and the more “hard SF” feel we have all come to expect from Hawk.

What Will the Game Consist Of?
Off-video, I had a chance to ask Dave for more information on the game and models. All four of Dropzone Commander’s main factions – the UCM, the Scourge, PHR, and the Shaltari – will have playable fleets in DFC, with many of the hallmarks of their playstyle transferring over: UCM will rely on weight of numbers and brute force; the Scourge will have shorter ranges but intense attacks; PHR will be tough ships that unleash brutal firepower from the middle of the scrum; and the Shaltari will be fragile-but-tricky buggers who employ force fields and strange energy weapons to devastating effect.

Model-wise, the scale of this game is 1:15,000 – exactly 100 times the 10mm/1:150 scale of Dropzone Commander models! If you’ve seen the 12-foot long Avenger strike carrier that Hawk trots out to conventions sometimes, you’ll appreciate the true scale of DFC

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There will be a full range of sizes for ships of each faction, ranging from capital ships down to cruisers, dreadnoughts, frigates, and even fighters and torpedo boats. Beyond fleet ships, there are also a number of planned terrain sets, playmat(s), and a few extra-factional ships (like Resistance ships dating back to before the invasion) planned.

In talking with Dave, DFC will be launching with a mostly-plastic line, with frigates and cruisers appearing in plastic and coming with enough bits and bobs to build them in about 5 or 6 configurations each. More specialized models, like the capital ships, will continue to be produced in resin (I imagine, for economy of scale reasons) but the bulk of your fleets will most likely be plastic.

Breaking Down the Video
But enough jibber-jabber already – let’s talk about the video itself! I’ve written up my full notes to fill out the details of what you’re seeing in the video and side-conversations, along with timestamps so you can skip around. Enjoy!

The Basics of Combat (0:21)
Our demo pitted 2 UCM missile frigates (light class) and a cruiser (medium class) vs. a Scourge heavy cruiser (heavy class).

Orders and Range (3:10)
03-Dropfleet-Command-DeckIn the spirit of a naval game, DFC features orders, which represents general limitations to what you can do based on coordinating thousands of personnel. Orders like “silent running” (going adrift to avoid detection at the cost of shooting), or “weapons free” (firing all guns, likely at the cost of movement) are just two we saw in the demo.

Shooting is a bit different in DFC. One big change if you’re familiar with Dropzone Commander: all weapon ranges in DFC (with very few exceptions – see below) are infinite! Rather than using fixed ranges with countermeasures, effective weapon range in DFC is the sum of 3 different stats:

Range = Attacker’s Scan (sensor range) + target’s Signature (size, energy emanations) + target’s Spike (radar “blips,” caused by shooting weapons, using certain abilities/actions, etc.)

Thus, if using a ship with a Scan of 6” to attack a ship with a Signature of 12” which has a spike of 6”, the effective range of your attack would be 24” (6 + 12 + 6). Thus, defensive maneuvering is a combination of timing your attacks (to avoid causing spikes) + using orbital layers (high orbit, low orbit, or atmosphere) to “dive deep” away from attackers at the risk of being burnt up!

Attacking and Damage (5:30)
Damage is also handled differently in DFC, in that there are no to-damage rolls (a 500 ft. long railgun tends to damage anything it hits…). Rather, the attacker simply makes a lock (to-hit) roll to see if he hits, and the target makes a save against that hit (much like Passive Countermeasures in DZC or an armor save in Warhammer). A roll that is 2 above the target number is a critical hit, and disallows armor saves of any kind!

Special Weapons Rules (7:50)
Like Dropzone Commander, DFC will have special rules for some weapons. One we saw in our demo is the Burn-Through Laser, which can reroll successful attacks and hit again at +1 (e.g. if the weapon hits on a 3+, it can reroll and hit again on a 4+) – nasty! The Scourge also have a rule called “Scald,” which reduces the save of enemy ships within 6” by +1, due to the super-heated plasma fired at short range.

04-Dropfleet-AbandonedClose Action Weapons and Point Defense (10:00)
Two of my personal favorite innovations in DFC are how short-range attack and defense are handled. Since there is no close-quarters combat in space, ships instead sport Close Action Weapons – a generic stat representing short range missiles, cannons and other non-capital weapons used at point-blank ranges. Unlike other weapons, Close Action Weapons have a maximum distance of the ship’s Scan range.

Close Action Weapons are countered by Point Defense, which represents defensive turrets, chaff, and so on to shoot down incoming Close Action attacks. This is much like a Dodge save in CQB (made in addition to armor), which means large ships are vulnerable only to large volumes of Close Action attacks from formations of frigates and other light ships.

Crippling Damage (13:38)
Unlike multi-DP Dropzone Commander models, who can tote around partial damage for much of the game without dying, DFC ships that lose 50% or more of their DP become crippled. The controlling player rolls on one of three tables to see what happens – most results inflict additional damage, but they can also damage the ship’s maneuvering, lock values, weapons, armor, and so on.

Models and Game Size (15:45)
Much like Dropzone Commander, the standard-sized game will not require a ton of models – a heavy ship, 6-8 cruiser-class ships, and 4-8 frigates should be pretty standard. According to Dave and Simon, this equates roughly to the contents of 2 starter sets plus a bigger ship and a few smaller ones. Assuming the prices stay in line with Dropzone Commander, that means you’ll probably be able to build a full fleet for DFC for about $150 – expect an article akin to Building a Dropzone Commander on a Budget closer to release!

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Also worth noting – Dave mentioned off-video that instead of clear acrylic bases like we see in the video, Hawk plans to include custom bases with DFC ships, which will help you track spikes and possibly damage! My guess (totally conjecture) is this might be a dial base of some sort, like those on a Heroclix model. This, obviously, will be a huge boon when tracking spike activity and so forth.

Activations and Gameplay (19:00)
DFC also uses the battlegroup mechanic of Dropzone Commander, which will allow the same sort of tactics of move-countermove that define Hawk’s games. Off-video, Dave also described to me that the game puts a new spin on initiative and activations by using cards, which are secretly stacked up during the Planning phase to set the order of your activations. The goal is to simulate the planning and command decisions that need to be made in executing fleet-level actions, so it will force you to guess your opponent’s own activations – and decide your own – before the turn even begins.

Gameplay will also be focused on a variety of missions. This being Dropfleet Commander, ground objectives such as landing troops in certain parts of the board or conducting orbital bombardment will be a factor (though largely abstracted), as will orbital objectives that might work more like DZC’s focal points or more specialized goals (like killing the enemy admiral). This “combined arms” approach to space fleet combat is something I don’t recall having seen before, and there will be campaign rules to support success in a DFC game that will provide benefits to the following Dropzone Commander game on the ground.

Enough Talk Already! When Can I Give Hawk My Money?!?
06-Dropfleet-OverwatchAccording to the Hawk staff, Dropfleet will be launching with a Kickstarter in October or November of this year, with a focus on UCM vs. Scourge starter set, and unlocking the PHR and Shaltari starters as the campaign picks up steam. The UCM and Scourge ships sound like they are done (or nearly so – Dave mentioned the Scourge CAD models were “the hardest damned things he’s ever had to design”), with PHR and Shaltari coming together as I type.

The goal of the campaign is mainly for covering the production costs of plastic tooling and for building some sales data for the game itself before it ever hits. That latter part is particularly important; speaking from my own experience as a game company owner, game distribution companies seriously analyze Kickstarter campaigns and make orders based on how well a new product does!

Hawk is very concerned about making sure retail is protected and supported no matter what, so while there may be “a few” Kickstarter exclusives as part of the DFC campaign, Dave also mentioned there will be many more “retailer exclusives” to ensure that your FLGS has plenty of things to sell you once the game is out on store shelves. My guess is that means plastic in the Kickstarter and resin in the store, but only time will tell.

Speaking of retail, I didn’t get an estimate as to when DFC will hit stores, but my guess is that with the game at 90% complete already, we’re probably looking at a Spring 2016 release. Don’t quote me on that, of course…

Ready the Fleet!
In conclusion – I was very impressed with what I saw of Dropfleet Commander, and think this game has tremendous potential. The combination of nostalgia for fleet combat games like Battlefleet Gothic with the tight rules and interesting strategies of Dropzone Commander looks to be a heady mix indeed – and the sexy-as-hell models don’t hurt, either! DZCasualty and I are already planning on splitting two box sets to take our (in)famous UCM vs. Scourge rivalries into orbit…

If you want to see more pictures of Dropfleet (and the newest DZC models) we snapped at GenCon, please pop over to our Facebook page. We’ll be breaking further news over there as we get it, so gives us a Like if you want to keep up!

That’s it for this week, Commanders! Next week, DZCasualty will be back and talking about Dropzone Commander once again – this time, with some new and existing resources for you to make your games easier and more fun to play. See you then!

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