Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames – A Review

Dropzone Commander

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames:
4 / 5 stars      

#2 – The Look of Dropzone Commander

Dropzone Commander Cityscape Terrain

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.

YouTubeIf you’re looking for details on the game-rules of Dropzone Commander itself, Hawk Wargames recently launched an excellent YouTube channel going through all the different rules. Explaining them here is probably going far beyond the means of this review.

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

A Review of Dropzone Commander

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!

Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames:
4 / 5 stars      

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!

Z.

Images: All Images by Hawk Wargames.
Zweischneid

Zweischneid

I am Zweischneid. Wargame Addict. Hopeless painter and founder of Pins of War. I hope you enjoyed this article. Don't forget to share your favourite miniature pictures and wargaming videos at www.pinsofwar.net.
Zweischneid
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  • Lydran

    Of course DCZ is not a perfect game and some things could be better. But to make a real verdict you have to play at least ten games, because there is some kind of experience curve.
    Found somewhere on Facebook:
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    My group went through the following stages:
    1. Dropships are absolutely needed all the time.
    2. Dropships are pointless.
    3. (the current state). The player that use the dropships in the beginning correctly and then use them smartly for redeploying the last two turns win.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    I had the same experience, after three games I thought, that the whole concept wasn’t working at all.
    Personally I like the activation system but you need four Battlegroups to really enjoy it.
    One of my favorite parts is the fact that you can deny mission targets in several ways – enemy infantry is searching in a building to far away to sent your own infantry? Blow the whole building away! The enemy is trying to extract a mission target with an air transport – send an airfighter and play Black Hawk down!
    PHR vs. UCM is more than just a cosmetical difference on the game table. You feel it just after a few games with higher points (1250 to 1500) – both armies play different.

    At the end I agree with your 4 of 5 rating and I think that we will see that game growing because it is not very complicated and very fast. Of course it is no revolution but I like to play it besides Infinity (very complicated) and 40k.

    • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

      Thanks.

      And yes, I shall play it some more (I did play it with up to 6 Battlegroups. Cards and no Cards, etc..).

      In a way, I did want to write a review “early on” though, as I find it tougher and tougher to write an “introductory” review the more I play a game.

      I’ve been pushing a “DreadBall review” ahead of me for so long (and playing the game heavily), it only seems to get harder and harder to review the game in less than a million words and without too much jargon in ways that “people who haven’t played the game” can still appreciate and get something out of it.

      So in a sense, I think your point is valid for every game. If you really get deep into a game, you’ll find that the game will change (or how you play the game).

      But from a “should I give this a try or not” perspective, an “introductory review” (maybe that’s what I should call them) might actually be more useful for people?

      • Lydran

        I think that you need two or more reviews to really judge a game. For my blog I wrote a short introduction about the game setting and style but without a verdict and later two reviews about the rulebook (one for the english and one for the german version). I’m planning to write a real review after 25 or 30 games but of course you’re right – it will be hard to write it.

        I’m just thinking about “Infinity” – great game, but at the beginning it is really hard for new gamers with a lot of “broken mechanics” and you need a lot of experience to give it a right judgement. When I try to read articles written by experienced players I give up, because I understand only half of it.

        Maybe a three stage review would work.
        1) Your thoughts about the rules and setting before any games
        2) review after 5 games (still learning)
        3) review after 15 games

        That way the readers can follow you thoughts and your experience curve.

      • http://www.polyhedroncollider.com/ Polyhedron Collider

        Writing a review of a miniature wargame is always going to be difficult just because you can’t possibly cover every eventuality. I’ve got a review of Warmachine sitting in work in progress that is now 2000 words, I know I’m going to have to basically start it again. In my opinion, all you can do in the end is write up your thoughts on the mechanics and the balance.

  • Erik Robertsson

    I thought this was a great review! Well written. As a biased gamer though, who love the game (and I think have gotten a few more larger games in?) I’d thought to comment on your critics to the game.

    1. The activation is rather simple. For instance, Epic 40k has a lot more options to do with this system. But in larger battles, the order which you activate your battle groups is extremely important and it often comes down to plans-within-plans-within-plans. I feel this does make the game much more dynamic than 40k.

    2. Regarding the re-deployment of the game; we went through 3 stages in my group: (1) dropships are a must, (2) does the droships really do something?, and last (3) the player who uses his surviving dropships most optimal when redeploying in turn 5 wins. We haven’t gotten to a situation where the dropships are used for re-deployment all the time but most of our games means that a few re-depoyment in turn 5 will make sure the opponent are locked when hunting for the last objectives. For instance, re-deploying you AA guns so that they will get a reactive fire against that unit that will most likely get the objective off the table if you don’t. Or re-deploy a AT unit to get the last turn of vital shooting at an enemy Anti-building unit so they don’t do my infantry more damage. We had quite a few battles between no 2 until we got to 3.

    3. UCM and PHR similarities, if you go by the starter set there is basically all the same. It is only in larger battles you will notice the extremely lack of speed in the PHR which means they will start to demolish buildings much earlier. But the basic tanks (and walkers in PHR) basically gives the same feel. Also, PHR has a much more better deck of command cards while UCM gives a much more “this on the table is what I have – no surprises here, no”-feel.

    4. I basically agree on anything you said on streamlining the game. 10mm where the facing is important? Also, I don’t like the measurement system as middle of a unit is really vague in my opinion. It would have been much better to measure from the edges of the model.

    Cool! I just saw that Lydran quoted me! Sorry for the repetition, then!

    And I thought this review really could help new people to judge the game.

  • http://www.polyhedroncollider.com/ Polyhedron Collider

    You’ve left me a little confused (or am I just tired?). Are you saying the activation rules are a wasted opportunity but DZC is still a great game? I’ve been very tempted to get the boxed set, especially as my friend has already started collecting some of the minis but you’re review is putting me off a little.

    • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

      I was trying to say that alternate activation rules are a great idea, but aren’t used to their full potential.

      And I was trying to say that DZC is a good game, but still a bit rough around some of its edges (which, to be fair, isn’t unexpected for any game in its 1st edition… it’s still far better than … say … Warhammer 40K ever was in its 1st (few) edition(s)).

      Does that make sense?

      • http://www.polyhedroncollider.com/ Polyhedron Collider

        Got you! DZC has been on my radar for a while and I was thinking of either picking this boxed set up or Deadzone next month. What you where saying was putting me off a little but it sounds like a solid game with the scope of improving further – nice :)

        • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

          Yeah, it’s a solid game. 4/5 stars isn’t really ripping it or discouraging anyone from giving it a try ;)

          There’s a few points that kept me from giving it a 5/5, but these aren’t “dealbreakers” for the vast majority of people I would think.

  • TinBane

    Interesting review. Like any wargame, starter forces tend to show you a skewed view of what the game is about. It’s been stated a few times here, but keeping your dropships up is a very key part of being a great DZC player in a competitive game. The game is pretty brutal in terms of shooting, but a canny opponent will give you plenty of turns where you can’t fire with particular units. The option to rapidly redeploy, especially AA units and infantry is what gets you objectives and shoots down enemy flyers fleeing with their objectives.

    In a full sized game, PHR and UCM play VERY differently. I also find that “duking it out” in the middle doesn’t necessarily have much bearing on whether you win. Being able to force your opponent to shooting the stuff that won’t win you the mission is an extremely valid target.

    “Basic” armies of 500pts, I can see your post applying to. Once you hit 800+pts I have found the game really hits it’s stride.

    • http://pinsofwar.net/ Zweischneid

      I don’t think I contradicted much of what you said.

      Of course “duking it out” in the middle may not be the linchpin that gets the win, which may be a smaller battle group sneaking off with an objective.

      But it is … in my experience … what a lot of game-time is spend on. Ultimately, what “wins” the game is less important to me than “how the game plays” for the majority of the x hours I am at the table. If the majority of what goes on doesn’t, as you say, have much bearing on who wins, that’d be a strike against the game, not in favour of it.

      I suppose the definition of VERY different vary. Of course they don’t play identical. I never said that. But the differences are, I found, not fundamental. The core moves/stratagems are fairly similar. YMMV.

      Finally, I found that larger games tend to make it feel more like an IGO-UGO system, because mostly battlegroups grow, less the number of battlegroups.

      Again, not saying that is a bad thing, nor that it is badly done, far from it (I gave the game 4/5 stars!), but not something “new” that hasn’t been done with 10mm and 15mm 10 or 20 years ago.

      • Erik Robertsson

        I agree that there hasn’t been anything new about the game when it comes to the battlegroup system (I think that Epic does it better) but I do feel that the game gives much more with this system instead of just having a 40k-style.

        If I should voice my main concern is that there is quite some extra time in DZC because each player will start to think very heavy in large games in each of their activation. That’s irritating. Also, we have played very few games where no one has forgotten or mixed up who belongs to who (which transport to which unit and which unit to which battlegroup).