Monday, 7 April 2014

Dropzone Commander - rather impressed

To be honest  I was a bit unsure about Dropzone Commander (DZC) from Hawk Wargames when I first heard of it. “Not another Boutique game, small table, expensive small armies, bit faddy and altogether just another attempt to drag in GW players with a cloned version of 40K \ Epic Yawn”

How wrong I was

At least partly

It is a bit “Boutique”, and it does struggle with the expensive label, even though it is pretty much bang on the average as far as I can see. But GW clone – no way.

I first saw the models when they were displayed at Salute 2012, and they were beautiful. 12 mm (1:144 for the die-hards) resin sci fi, very highly detailed, and a full range for four factions, all beautifully presented. It is safe to say they were the star of the show. The models went on sale later in the year and reviews were pretty much universally positive, but also at this point they got labelled as expensive. I’m not quite sure how this happened, because in comparison to historical stuff in the same scale they were similarly priced – tanks about a tenner for three is not too shabby when an M1 Abrams is a similar price from Minifigs in 1:144. Maybe the need to add dropships put some people off, or maybe they had their own agenda, but the “expensive” label was used a fair bit, and some of it stuck.

Anyway, that leaves “faddy” and “GW Clone”. There was maybe a chance that the “faddy” tag would prove correct, take up was slow initially. That seems to have changed when out of the blue Hawk sprang a 2 player starter set on us. This contained a full rules book printed full size (not a mini or quickstart) two starter armies in plastic, plus a map sheet and ten card buildings and all the dice and counters you need. It’s a big box and full of stuff. The quality of the plastic models is remarkable, slightly simplified from the resin but only marginally, and easy to assemble and paint. Cost is £60, although you can usually save 10% or so by shopping around online, and is great value.

So “Clone”? Absolutely not! The rules are innovative without being off the wall, but most striking is the setting and the way the game is mission orientated. Unlike most rules, DZC is mostly concerned with urban combat. I feel most rules basically are written with the standard “two woods and a hill” terrain in mind. DZC is about fighting through the urban sprawl , although the rules for other environments are fine, cities is where it is at. This could be an issue except Hawk has released a set of low cost full colour urban buildings in heavy duty card, along with a series of street tiles, so terrain is cheap, attractive and easy to get hold of. The second point is about the missions and game dynamic. You win by doing things other than just killing your opponent, and you have to do it fast. Objectives are pieces of intelligence, items or individuals usually located in buildings. You have to get in, find them, and get out before your opponent does, and do it in six turns. This means that infantry are not just an adjunct to a tank battle, they are an essential part of your army, even if they are very vulnerable. No-one can win by just bringing the biggest guns. The problem is that the game is played on a 4 foot wide table, and the APCs and tanks only move 4 to 6” a turn, so it doesn’t take a genius to realise you can’t just drive to the objective, find it, and get back in 6 turns, and that is where the air mobility kicks in. Just about every unit is transported in dropships, allowing them to get to the objectives “Furstest with the Mostest” as Nathan Bedford Forrest would have said, and then get back out of Dodge before you get caught.  This opens up a whole new level of gameplay and strategy. Dropships are vulnerable to enemy fighters, so you need to provide protection or risk them getting shot from the sky, either by moving from ground based AA covered zone to covered zone, or by escorting fighters. The problem is these are themselves vulnerable to enemy ground or air forces. Another problem faced is that in the Sci Fi battlefield of DZC, it is a valid tactic to blow a building down rather than let an opponent search it and recover an objective. Buildings with objectives in them become the scene of frantic searches, vicious close quarter infantry fights, all with the threat of the building exploding around you as it happens.  About a half an hour in you suddenly realise this is a game about all arms cooperation and air mobility, and is deeply engrossing and tactically challenging. 

I know this may sound a bit strange, but of all the games I have played, DZC reminds me most of the old AK-47 Republic from PeterPig (the old version, before they sucked all the fun out). It doesn't have that wackyness nd unpredictability, but like AK, you have to be flexible and mission orientated to win. And it is fun

All in all Dropzone Commander is an excellent and different game, well worth a try, and the starter sets are a great way in. Highly recommended


  1. Not sure how anyone can say that Dropzone Commander not is expensive when 12mm infantry are coming in at 45p each. Pendraken are 15p each.

    1. That's an interesting point Derek, which will probably need a bit more than a comment to respond to, so I'll put something together as a full post and get back

    2. Since I posted I found the Siren Corps with twelve 10mm models for £8. That's 67p each. Very expensive.

    3. Yup - for four very specialist units that are in no way required. If you insist on concentrating on a single facet of the game - the price of infantry - you are missing the big picture, and if I may say so, the point.