Last year, a new miniatures gaming company – Hawk Wargames – launched a new 10mm sci-fi miniatures game – Dropzone Commander (and without Kickstarter!). Fans lovingly call it DZC.
I remember the vivid debates sparked by the “premium” prices of the Dropzone Commander resin miniatures and, even more so, the DZC resin terrain buildings.
With the new Dropzone Commander 2-Player Starter set however, Hawk Wargames brought down the entry costs to their game a lot! That box is indubitably a good deal. Good enough certainly, for the game to make in-roads into my local club, allowing me to have a go at DZC for the first time.
#1 – What Is Dropzone Commander?
What is Dropzone Commander according to Hawk Wargames?
Dropzone Commander (DzC) is a 10mm scale sci-fi tabletop wargame, devised for mass battles between two or more players. The rules are designed for efficient and dynamic games which can be played on a standard 4′x4′ table (although larger tables work well also!).
The rules are based on an alternate activation system, which keeps the action constant and involving. They are also scalable, and will cater for tactical skirmishes as well as titanic clashes of metal and firepower. This is accomplished whilst never sacrificing the character of individual units, and indeed all the colour and eventfulness of battle.
DZC is a 10mm game with a sci-fi background. That means tiny, tiny miniatures.
The fun part is, that you get to deploy your mini-tanks and infantry with dropship transports in the titular dropzones. Most missions revolve around infantry getting into buildings to secure objectives, while tanks, AA-batteries and other military hardware seeks to make life hard for your opponent.
It’s a simple enough premise, really, that promises two things.
- Battles on futuristic sci-fi cityscapes tables, full of buildings and roads, very different from the “one-hill-one-tree” battlefields of too many wargames.
- Battles that emphasize (smart) mobility and (re-)deployment strategies to win games.
In my own humble opinion, DZC fully delivers on the first of these, but not as much on the second.
DZC creates beautiful battle-scenes on your table with minimal effort. Yet the game-play of DZC, at it’s core, is surprisingly old-fashioned. Dropzone Commander doesn’t get nearly as much mileage out of fancy new-school rules like “alternate activation” as other games – like Infinity, say – do.
#2 – The Look of Dropzone Commander
Ok, the main reasons Dropzone Commander is fun are the miniatures and the terrain.
A lot has been written about the quality of the DZC miniatures. The quality and the sheer amount on detail on them is definitely impressive. More importantly, the four factions currently in the game (with another faction on the way) – the Human UCM, the Post-Human PHR, the gigereseque Scourge and hi-tech-tribal Shaltari – all have a very distinct visual look to them.
I’m even more impressed by the DZC paper-terrain from the DZC Starter Box and Cityscape Terrain Box. I was skeptical of paper-terrain at first, but the DZC buildings make incredibly cool tables in 10 minutes max. My 40K tables still don’t look as polished after years of playing!
#3 – Dropzone Commander Game-Play
As a game, Dropzone Commander played … ok.
It was fun, don’t get me wrong. Just not something truly groundbreaking.
The rules definitely aren’t bad. Far from it. However, given some of the excitement I’ve heard for this game, I was a bit underwhelmed.
Here’s what I thought about the rules playing them.
- Alternate Activation of Battle-groups (groupings of units) is – as advertised – a nice way to keep players engaged. However, given that most things (like how far a unit can move, how often a unit shoots) is still tied to the turns (the sum of all “activations”), it still felt mostly like an IGO-UGO game. DZC currently isn’t truly using the potential of the activation mechanic, e.g. double activations, surpressing activations, etc… , leaving player to largely go through it unit-by-unit almost as they would in .. say .. 40K.
- There are some odd clunky bits to the rules that pride themselves on simplicity. One example (among others): every weapon in the game has two ranges – firing against units with countermeasures and those without. But every unit, with the exception of infantry and buildings, also has counter-measures. Somethings simpler, like a single range-value for weapons and a general rule that you can use .. say .. double that range against infantry or buildings, would’ve done it just as well. “Facings” of units is similarly convoluted unit-by-unit rules, etc… There’s definitely room for streamlining things there, I believe.
- Parts of the rules have a certain spreadsheet-aesthetic and vocabulary to them, that could be better (again, in my humble opinion). “Resolving CQB” doesn’t sound like visceral, frenzied house-to-house fighting to me. It sounds like Accounting: the Board Game. Even with the best miniatures in the world, player imagination is still a key ingredient to any wargame. DZC could do better in that respect.
#4 – Verdict
In the end, Dropzone Commander looked fantastic on the table, with a fraction of the effort need to make a “great table” with other games.
Dropzone Commander plays, surprisingly, like old-fashioned miniature wargames of yore.
For all the fancy “alternate activation”, zero-deployment and Dropship-mobility, playing DZC felt similar (if simpler) to games like (but not limited to) 40K, where armies move towards objectives, duke it out mid-game, and scramble for victory points at the end.
The basic 6 turns don’t – for example – allow you to “re-deploy” and launch a new strategy mid-game, nor are there (love it or hate it) a lot of “unexpected” or “random” things happening to spice up the game.
Moreover, for the two human factions – UCM and PHR – in particular, the stat differences felt mostly cosmetic. They didn’t change the fundamental strategies of either army, or so I thought.
Innovative scenarios can go to great lengths to mix it up a bit, and the DZC rules definitely include plenty of those. For that reason alone, Dropzone Commander is definitely a game I can safely recommend to anyone to buy and try (and the 2-Player Starter is very good value).
Ultimately, I think, the game could really shine (and live up to it’s fantastic miniatures) if the designer(s?) dare to be a bit wilder with the activation system and add more ways for player to manipulate, to “play with” unit-activations through cards, commands, “surges” or similar things.
The potential is clearly there!
Share your thoughts!
- Have you tried Dropzone Commander? Play it regularly?
- What do you think of the game(-play)? How much re-play potential is there?
- What do you think of the terrain and miniatures?
Leave a comment and let me know!