As I mentioned in my introduction, one of the things that surprised me most when I first wanted to get into Dropzone Commander was how damn hard it was to find any reviews of the actual game or articles about how it played, its strengths and weaknesses. This was really frustrating!
So in talking with the DZ Commenter team a bit about what our first article series should be, it struck me that a breakdown of the game itself was probably the best place to start.
The DZC Story in a Nutshell
Dropzone Commander (a.k.a. “DZC”) is a science-fiction wargame set in the 27th century, nearly 200 years after a human diaspora caused by the invasion of a parasitic jellyfish-like race known as the Scourge. The Scourge entered human space almost without warning, driving humanity from Earth and its most valuable colonies—known as the Cradle Worlds—capturing millions of humans for hosts in the process.
Those humans who escaped to smaller colonies spent decades regrouping, reorganizing, and forming a new government called the United Colonies of Mankind (UCM). Their goal was to build a new military machine and use it to drive Scourge from humanity’s homelands once and for all.
But not all humans stand united. Many fled Earth prior to the Scourge invasion, heeding the warning of a strange alien A.I. known as the White Sphere, and heading for quadrants of space unknown. When, generations later, the rest of humanity encountered these lost brothers again, they discovered a new society known as the Post Human Republic (PHR)—a society melding man and machine, practically alien in their thinking and culture.
Meanwhile, the humans stranded on Earth and the Cradle Worlds have spent centuries fending for themselves against the Scourge, giving rise to canny guerilla bands and brutal warlords collectively referred to as the Resistance.
The final force in the conflict is the Shaltari—a race of diminutive humanoids that were the first alien species to make contact with humanity, and have an on-again, off-again relationship with us. Their methods and goals remain inscrutable. While their gate technology made it possible for mankind to reach out to the stars safely, they also tried to drag humanity into various intra-species wars and conveniently disappeared right before the Scourge arrived. So there’s a fair amount of lingering resentment between the races.
At this point in the storyline (as of the newest game supplement, Reconquest: Phase 1), the UCM has begun the “Reconquest”—a massive campaign across eight star systems to recapture Earth and the Cradle Worlds from the Scourge. The conflict is so huge that it’s drawing in all the factions, and the outcome will likely change the DCZ universe forever.
The Defining Features of DCZ
If you’ve played other major tabletop wargames, like those made by Games Workshop or Privateer Press, Dropzone Commander can be a significantly different experience.
DZC is produced in the uncommon 10mm miniatures scale (a.k.a. 1:150 or N-Gauge in model train speak), which size-wise is roughly halfway between the more familiar 15mm of games like Flames of War and the eyestrain-inducing 6mm (1:285) scale used in Epic Warhammer 40,000 or X-Wing. The 10mm scale has been gaining in popularity lately, starting with DZC but now also with Warmaster and Planetfall.
It’s worth noting that despite the smaller scale, 4-foot-square or 4’ x 6’ tables are still the norm in DZC, and the number of models used is comparable to a standard 28mm game. This is good for painting and buying, but even better for game play. The smaller scale allows the game to place a larger focus on maneuverability and long-term strategy than most 28mm games.
DZC armies are broken down into battlegroups, which are composed of between one and four squads. Each battlegroup has a central battlefield role—infantry, armor, command, air support, and so on—which defines how it’s applied during the game. Building effective battlegroups and combinations of units is crucial because . . .
Alternating Activations and Initiative
DZC forgoes the classic “I go, you go” system for one of alternating activations and initiative. In each round, each player takes turn activating and resolving the actions of one battlegroup, squad by squad, and then play passes to the next player. This simple change adds a great deal of tactical depth, allowing a move/countermove style play that is much more fluid than, say, Warhammer or Flames of War.
“Kill as many opponents as possible” is the least-interesting and least-used type of mission in Dropzone Commander. Nearly all the games you’ll play will focus on finding intel, capturing and extracting objectives, or taking and holding focal points—and in many cases a combination of the three. Kill points are only used in the case of a tie, so the player who’s good at picking his or her fights correctly and playing to the mission is much more likely to win.
You may have heard the phrase “combined arms” in reference to wargaming before. It’s referencing the theory that armor and infantry used together make for a stronger whole.
Dropzone Commander takes combined arms tactics concept to heart more than any other game I’ve played. Every type of unit has a role in securing victory—infantry are necessary to search for objectives and to find intel, tough ground vehicles are vital for holding focal points, and dropships provide the mobility crucial for reacting and redeploying throughout the game. Only by building a force that considers all these elements will you be able to beat an experienced opponent.
More Definitive Outcomes
Ever get frustrated by games where you have to sort out modifiers, roll to shoot, roll to damage, then the other guy has to roll to save multiple times, only to end up with nothing happening? DZC makes combat much more decisive in little ways—there are few modifiers to attacks, virtually no saving throws, and most weapons are both strong and accurate. The end result is that engagements do not require tons of dice and multiple turns to resolve. Good tactics and timing is rewarded (and poor tactics punished) quickly and brutally.
True Air Power
DZC is the first tabletop game I’ve played with a truly modern take on air power. Dropships are the very heart of your force, allowing you to literally redeploy ground units up to 2 feet away in a single activation. The mobility provided by aircraft (particularly for infantry) is absolutely essential to completing missions and covering the greater scale of the game table. Additionally, fast movers (supersonic aircraft) move so fast they have to travel in straight lines, appearing only on the table to measure range to their attack target before disappearing again. The importance of airpower also makes anti-aircraft (AA) units a pillar of any good DZC army, because allowing your opponent to control the skies is tantamount to allowing him or her to own the game.
Just the Beginning
I’ll be covering each of the points above in much greater depth in future articles.
Next time, I’ll break down the fighting forces of Dropzone Commander—an overview of their strengths and weaknesses on the table, plus drawing some parallels between DZC’s factions and those of popular wargames like Warhammer 40k and Warmachine.
Catch you then!