Dropfleet Commander beta test day!

If you’re lazy and just want to go straight pictures from the day, they’re all on the Tiny Plastic Spacemen Facebook page, but there’s also an Imgur album!

Wow, what a cool day. I don’t often spend a whole day gaming in a large room full of wargamers, but thanks to a friend who ponied up the cash to get the top ‘Admiral’ level of the Dropfleet Commander Kickstarter Campaign, I was able to attend the beta test day to take part in Hawk Wargames’ biggest day ever with 68 other folks eager to be among the first in the world to try out the Dropfleet Commander rules.

I haven’t been able to play that many Dropzone Commander games but the rules and gameplay are very very similar, with battlegroups and movement being pretty important to getting the right movement and advantage on your opponent.

I’ve been answering questions online so I’ll put the questions and answers here for those that are interested – but not too much detail, as the Hawk guys are still twiddling with the rules so not only are things subject to change, but it would be a massive betrayal of their confidence to share rules scans and all the details before the game is released. Suffice to say we enjoyed the games, it’s quite brutal and there’s lots of depth to the gameplay.

As soon as we registered, we were given random table numbers to sit down at. After a quick intro from Hawk Simon, we had our first games. Mine was UCM vs UCM using identical battlegroups – everyone had a full resin fleet (with UCM using a couple of the white metal show-only strike craft that were released last year). All the Scourge ships were completely resin, only UCM and Scourge fleets were used for the day but the beta test books have full statlines for all four factions’ fleets.

I won my game, amazingly, thanks to surprisingly bad armor check rolls from my opponent. We got to see how movement works and how scan and signature ratings add up to give you a shot on the enemy. We also were able to see the burnthrough weapons in action – they are brutal when you roll well! Real ship-killers.

After the first game, which took about an hour and a half, it was time for lunch, which was a fairly basic carb-heavy gamer’s delight of nacho chips, chicken burgers, pasta and curly fries. Tea, coffee and drinks were free all day, which was handy!

In the afternoon there was time for a couple more games, which I did with my Admiral buddy – I tried Scourge and he played UCM and after zooming up the middle of the board he hung back and blasted an entire battlegroup out of low orbit because he could hang back and get a firing solution thanks to my double move (which increases the ship’s signature rating significantly). My remaining ships tried to sneak on after that but were in the middle of a total wipeout when we decided to restart the game using the same fleets. We both hung back but a couple of goofs on my part (typical, bad tactics!) meant that I was still taken apart ship by ship while UCM lost a single ship and a few hull points off of a couple of larger ships.

We didn’t get to try orbital bombardment or ground combat purely because we didn’t have time and we were starting to get tired (looking at a 3-hour drive back as well!). These are very abstracted, as you can imagine each strike craft carrying hundreds of drop ships (only a few of which appear in a Dropzone Commander game) can unload a whole campaign’s worth (or more, probably) of DZC ground forces!

So to sum up our experience of the day: the game is fast-moving, not too complicated with the starter fleets and provides a deep experience that meshes well with the Dropzone Commander universe and game. The integration rules that allow you to merge DFC orbital battles and DZC ground fighting aren’t in the beta packs but hopefully we’ll get to test those as well. The rule are abstracted enough to keep the game flowing smoothly, but not SO abstract that you don’t really get a sense of what’s happening. With the signature/scan ratings, varying heights or layers of ship-to-ship combat and the fact you have to cover off cities/clusters on the ground, there’s quite a lot to the game, it’s not as simple a game as something like a modern naval wargame with just surface ships.

If you’re familiar with the Dropzone Commander rules, they’re written by the same guys, Hawk Simon and Hawk James, with additional input from the legendary Andy Chambers (yeah, the guy that wrote the Battlefleet Gothic rules among many other things for Games Workshop and Blizzard), all under the eye of Hawk Dave – you may have seen Dave and Simon on the many Beasts of War videos demonstrating and showing off the Dropfleet Commander stuff!

If you’d like to check out pictures from the day, they’re all on the Tiny Plastic Spacemen Facebook page, but there’s also an Imgur album!

Now, I said I’d post questions and answers I’ve had so far, so here we go:

It looks like there were 7 ships per side for the initial games? Is that about the average size they are going for?

Yeah these are the starter fleet sizes, the scourge have no carrier in the starter but otherwise each ship has a rough equivalent on the opposing side, with both sides having burnthrough guns. The scenario is a beginner one on the starter set maps (about 3′ by 4′ but not exactly) with 3 clusters or objectives, so signature ranges etc don’t matter a huge amount as it basically comes down to a big fight in the middle, but the normal scenarios on 4’x4′ maps have the objectives spread out much more, so signature/scan ratings really matter in the regular games.

Are those tables using the mats that the 2 player game will ship with?

The maps are about 23 x 33 inches, 2 per map, I think they’re printed on A1 size paper and they’re not double-sided but they let us take home these maps to continue testing the rules. I’m pretty sure these are exactly the 2-player starter set maps, the graphic is exactly the same from the KS campaign and if they are A1 they’ll fold down to A4 easily.

When you say the scourge ships they gave you don’t have a carrier, do you mean a strike or fleet carrier? Have you gotten a chance to play with strike craft?

I meant the Scourge starter fleet we used didn’t have a carrier or anything that could launch fighters for defense or bombers for your offense. Some of the big ships have special rules that limit your signature to a small spike and many of the Scourge weapons do 2 damage instead of the 1 damage of the UCM weapons.

They let us take home the maps that were used and the beta rules, which we’ve been asked not to share because they’ll change quite a lot before the game is published. So we can test the other factions at home, like the PHR my Admiral buddy will be playing. Statlines for all the ships to come are in the rulebook but are subject to change of course. I prefer the UCM to the Scourge (luckily, because I’m getting all the UCM stuff!), I had some nasty chain explosions take out a few ships when I played Scourge – a big ship got taken out and the 2 small ships in its battle group, plus a strike carrier, got taken out from its explosions…brutal!

We didn’t get a chance to do ground combat or torpedoes but did just about everything else they’ve mentioned in the videos. The integration with DZC isn’t in the beta rules bit it’s coming. There may be another beta day in May as well, so I’m hoping to be able to attend. It won’t have the model showcase or shop (finally got the hardback DZC book!) but hopefully the expanded rules and other tweaks will be available then.

Game play-wise, I have no problems with how the game or mechanics work but I’m not a super gamer or anything. My issues with Scourge come more from tactical placement and knowledge of the ships probably.

Did you get to use the UCM fighters/bombers? What role do they play?

Yeah, UCM is the only starter fleet with the Load characteristic, which denotes fighters/bombers, torpedoes, bulk landers or dropships. Everyone gets dropships in the starter fleet because that’s how the games of DZC start, but so far UCM is the only one that gets fighters & bombers.

So fighters add to any ship’s point defense value, they give you extra dice to defend against missiles and bombers. They’re really interceptor aircraft, if you’re familiar with modern naval warfare – interceptors like the F-14 attack bombers. Point defense is like the phalanx defense systems on a modern aircraft carrier, the Gatling guns the track and shoot down missiles heading for the ship. This is represented by between 4 and 6 dice that you roll for PD depending on the ship, any 5+ roll blocks a hit, and for every 2 successes you can block a critical hit. After that you still have your armor rolls you can do, so PD is really helpful and adding extra dice thanks to your fighters is very helpful. Your fighters have to return after a turn though, but you can just launch waves of fighters every turn…as long as your carrier is still chugging along.

Bombers are basically attack/strike fighters because they attack the ships, but for game purposes they’re called bombers. They can’t actually bomb ground targets. You launch them after the firing phase is all done and they can go quite a ways to attack an enemy ship, which can only defend itself by using PD, which is why fighters are helpful.

What were your impressions of the movement rules? Didn’t really see much of them in the videos so far.

They’re good, and are an important part of the game and tactics. They integrate really well with the Signature and Spike rules. You can do an all-out move and move up to double your Thrust rating, but that gives you a Major Spike (making it possible to hit you from farther away than normal), or do Silent Running to reduce your signature to zero by only moving up to half your Thrust, not turning and not firing, which makes it really hard to hit you unless the enemy can get really close. In between these options there are things like firing everything (Weapons Free), but you can’t turn and must move between half and full Thrust, or you can do up to a 90 degree turn and fire one weapon only, so there’s a lot of options that affect what you shoot and what can hit you after you activate a ship. Andy Chambers had a lot to do with the Signature and Scan rules, the other designers that did DZC did a lot of the other bits (if I’m remembering it right).

So Dropfleet fighters/bombers, is there a need to fly them back to their home ship or do you just remove them and launch more when fuel runs dry?

No they just fly back on their own, you don’t roll for them to make it back, basically just take the token or models off the map and relaunch them next turn. I’m definitely getting a launch asset pack, one pack of I think it’s 4 fighters, 6 bombers and 2 torpedoes should set up most fleets with all they need, but UCM players might want another pack because they have the most fighters/bombers.

Is there anything that stands out for how squadrons work?

Pretty much like DZC iirc, the ships have to stay within 3″ of each other and ships of the same type in a battlegroup are automatically in a squadron. You have to give the same order to a battlegroup, like ‘weapons free’ or ‘descend to low orbit’ or whatever but different squadrons in the same battlegroup can ignore an order and do their own thing. If they split off too far apart their strategy rating goes up, so when you flip over the activation cards you may go second when before you were tied on points.

Are there any details you could share about the roles? The one with the guns seems obvious.

I assume you mean the roles of each type of ship. Yeah, there are gunboats and ones that are just massive flying guns, but if you’re familiar with modern naval combat there’s many similarities, and the UCM I think have the most familiar-looking fleet style to modern navies, but the other factions have pretty cool ‘alien’ styles that are cool and unique in the same way that Shaltari have mostly forward-pointing weapons and the PHR have mostly broadside weapons. Some examples of different ship roles:

  • there are ships that are designed as escorts that add to the defense of nearby ships
  • some ships have Air-To-Air weapons so they are meant to fire within atmosphere at dropships (firing energy weapons in atmosphere gives you a penalty to hit)
  • some bigger ships have weapons that can fire normally at ground targets (rather than the standard rule of a 6 to hit ground targets)
  • some ships have a rule that let them use Active Scan for free (see below) without getting a spike token
  • dropships are able to ignore coherency rules and split off to drop their payload
  • some of the big gunships have guns that are designed to affect a particular size of ship, so instead of a 4+ to hit you would have a 3+ against that size of ship – so they’re basically like tank hunters

I assume we used the starter fleets but even those are a bit varied and like DZC once you pick up the other ships you see a lot more variety and specific functions.

For the missile one how do close action attacks currently work and can they combine fire?

Close Action weapons can only be done against ships that are within a ship’s Scan range, so that’s usually 6″ or so. Because they’re a separate weapon system you can declare them against any ship, so it’s easiest to just do their attack rolls apart from other attack rolls.

The one with the domes was supposed to add spikes to enemies last i heard, is that still true?

Every faction seems to have something with domes, spheres or shields, so I think those are the escort type ships, but you can an Active Scan which is basically like using active sonar in a submarine – this adds a Major Spike to your ship but illuminates a single enemy ship with a Minor Spike. This basically adds range to your friendly ships’ range, so you are able to shoot at that ship. Important for taking out something like the Berline which is basically a floating gun!

And is there anything noteworthy about the PD one aside from presumably adding to nearby ships PD?

Every ship has a PD rating, but each die only has 5+ to block an attack from missiles or bombers. If the missiles or bombers rolled a critical (2 higher than their target roll) you can only block the critical result with TWO successful 5+ rolls, and then your ship takes the critical hit effects immediately, then you roll normal armor saves for the hits that the PD didn’t block.


That’s it for now, but please check out the tons of pictures we took on the Tiny Plastic Spacemen Facebook page, but there’s also an Imgur album!

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