Greetings! As I mentioned in my previous post regarding the Dropfleet Commander (DFC) tournament I played in last weekend, I have a few more thoughts about the game that I wanted to share. I’m going to be sticking to general impressions in this post, for a couple of reasons.
First, I’ve only had three games so far, and I since have come to realize that I played a few rules incorrectly. Second, Greg and I are gearing up to dig into the game and do a full review of it for the next episode of the MBS Podcast, so I want to “keep my powder dry,” so to speak, and not overlap this blog post with what I plan on talking about on the podcast.
The BIG Question
For me, and probably for the vast majority of gamers out there, playing a minis game is a recreational activity. So, the key question about any game has to be, “Is it fun?” With DFC, the answer is a qualified Yes. I say qualified, because as I said earlier I’ve only played three games so far. Even so, those three games were a blast, and I felt like the game’s procedures and mechanics were, for the most part, fairly easy to pick up. So, what makes the game fun? Well, one thing I really liked about the game was how fluid it felt; contributing to that feel is the fact that DFC is played on a 4’x4’ area, and the ships are capable of using a “Full Thrust” special order that allows them to reliably move at twice their normal movement rating. That means that my UCM cruisers, which normally move at 8”, can move 16” in a pinch. Smaller ships like
frigates are even faster. What that effectively means is that it is not too hard for players to have units in the mid-field of the table by the end of turn 1, and it is also possible to more easily correct for faulty deployments. The other thing I found enjoyable was the range mechanics used for shooting. In DFC, the range of a weapon is equal to the firing ship’s Scan stat plus the target’s Signature stat. Many actions in a game affect a ship’s signature; shooting more than one weapon per turn, launching fighters or bombers, and the like all make ships more visible to the enemy. I feel like learning how to manage my fleet’s signatures will be a fun challenge moving forward.
Granted, the tournament was played at a smaller points value (999 points), but even so as a new player I was still able to finish all 6 turns of both the second and third games within the allotted 2 hour time limit. Keep in mind, that is not just the second and third games of the tournament. Those were the second and third games of DFC I have ever played! So, that should give you some sense of fairly rapid pace of DFC’s gameplay. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that my opponents had decent experience with the system, which definitely helped. I suspect that moving the points value north to around 1,500 (which is where some at the tournament have said they regard as the “sweet spot” for the game”) would cause the game to take a bit longer, but still under 3 hours.
The Primacy of the Ground Game
One loud & clear lesson I learned from the tournament is that it doesn’t matter how much stuff you blow up in orbit; if your opponent gets more stuff onto the ground that you do, you lose. Case in point, I destroyed more of my opponent’s fleet than I lost in both the second and third games (in fact, I lost no ships at all in the second game), but still lost both rounds. This is a clear thematic line of departure from any other space combat game I’ve played, and serves as a distinguishing feature for the game in the market. Does it count as a “killer app?” That is, will the heavily scenario-driven victory conditions of DFC attract players away from more established games? Perhaps, but this feature could also be too limiting to some. Because of the fact that victory in DFC is so dependent on taking and holding ground objectives, it will be difficult to divorce the game from its orbital setting.
Layers: Like a Cake or Like an Onion?
One of the interesting aspects of DFC is that ships can be at one of three height levels: High Orbit, Low Orbit, and Atmosphere. I definitely like how this is thoroughly “baked in” to the mechanics, and has a real effect on gameplay. Low Orbit and High Orbit are mostly no big deal; ships behave more or less the same in both layers, and there is only a minor shooting penalty to shoot from one into the other. Specialized bombardment weapons need Low Orbit to function, and if a ship suffers damage that results in an orbital decay (involuntarily moving down one level), Low Orbit is a bad place to be since most ships in the game are destroyed if they enter Atmosphere. Other than that, the top two layers are very similar. It is the Atmospheric layer where things get interesting. Only very specific ship types can access this layer, once they are there they can only move 2”, and shooting into it or out of it is difficult. However, given the primacy of taking and holding ground objectives, properly controlling the Atmosphere layer is the key to success in this game.
DFC is a bit more “deterministic” than some of the systems I’ve played. What I mean by that is there is a little less dice-induced randomness involved in the game as compared to, say, Firestorm Armada or BFG. For example, in Firestorm Armada when I use the TAC card to boost the speed of a squadron, the amount of the boost is a randomized dice roll. When I use the Full Thrust order in DFC, it is always just twice the base move stat of the model, no dice rolling required. There is also no morale checks required for groups of ships that take damage, and there is no initiative rolling at the start of each turn. Instead, the order of ship activation is based on the group’s “strategy rating,” which in turn is based on how powerful the ships in that group are. Each group has its own card, which is stacked in a deck by the player. Each player then reveals the top card, and the group with the lower rating (ie, the group that is smaller and faster) activates first. If there is a tie, then the players dice off to see who goes first. Which brings me to my next point; there is still plenty of dice rolling in DFC. All hits have to be achieved by dice rolling, and players also get a saving throw against all but “critical” hits (and sometimes even then, thanks to Shaltnanigans).
I’ve probably rambled on enough at this point. Like I said, we will be discussing this game a lot in Episode 15, plus I somewhat doubt I am through with blogging about this game as I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to play! Until next time…