Last year I found the transition to Dropzone from 40k a little jarring. Recently teaching a friend of mine, a long time 40k player, how to play brought that process back to mind. So, I'd like to share some of my observations in order to maybe help others transition more smoothly than I did.
It's All About Deployment
Dropzone is all about position and movement. Shooting being a very close third to those. When I moved from 40k to DzC I kept trying to engage as quickly as possible and go for that Alpha Strike in hopes of crippling my opponent and maybe even tabling them. Tabling in DzC is rare. Alpha-Strike-style engagements are also pretty rare due to the lower model count, abundance of cover, and the alternating activation mechanic.
... And Deployment Stretches Over Turns
Putting your models on the table in Turn 1 is not the end of your deployment. With so much cover, it can be hard to even see your opponent until you are right on top of him. Clever use of cover, movement, and position can do more to win the game for you than firepower. Because position and movement are so important, a game can go into Turn 3 (of the usually 6) before anyone fires a shot at the other guy. Work toward getting the best position possible early-game as this will really help with the fighting late-game.
Move and Fire or Fire and Move?
In Dropzone you can move a squad and then fire or you can fire then move. Imagine your tanks popping out from behind a building, firing, weathering any possible return fire, and then on the next turn, firing again to finally duck back behind the same building. It took me a few games to realize the potential of that flexibility. I was stuck in the rigid 40k mindset: move then fire.
Order of Activation is Critical
Alternating activations were the hardest to get a handle on. It forces players to not leave things hanging out in the wind. Small aerial transports are usually killed more by their owners lack of attention than enemy AA. This is because it doesn't take much to bring them down outside of a little distraction. For example, you get excited about smashing the enemy in another part of the city, forget about that transport and the precious Warriors for just a second, and suddenly a third of your troops die in a flaming wreck. Sure you killed a squad of enemy tanks your first activation on Turn 2, but those troops that just died were critical to winning the mission over Turns 3, 4, 5, and 6. Learn to protect your assets by understanding Alternating Activation.
Spammed armies can be harder to win with. Typically, the factions in DzC have units with very narrow job descriptions. Loading up on any single type of unit, be it tank or anti-air or infantry, may cause the rest of your army to suffer. This is because it's uncommon to have a game come down to Kill Points alone (unless there is a tie on the primary mission objective). In fact, the only pure Kill Point mission there is in the game is a multiplayer one!
- Spam aircraft? ... You'll have a hard time with Focal Point missions because aircraft don't count toward holding FPs.
- Spam troops? ... It will be harder to counter enemy vehicles and aircraft. Troops typically aren't efficient against anything but other troops.
- Spam certain ground vehicles? ... That makes it hard to win Objective and Intel missions because you need troops to go into buildings to collect those items.
Have A Plan
Study the game space before you place your first model on the table. Ask yourself things like:
"Where do my forces need to be at games end?"
"How many turns will it take for each unit to get where it needs to be?"
"Where do I deploy them from to get there on time?"
"Where's the best cover along the way?"
"Where can I place my AA to maximum effect?"
Having a plan also means knowing your army...
"Can X-unit go up against that enemy squad or should it keep away?"
"Can Y-unit survive without AA support?"
"What can I do if my Fast Mover arrives later than Turn 2?"
... and it means knowing the opponents army...
"Are there flamer units in the list?"
"Does the list spam anything? Can I exploit that?"
"What type of Command Cards can I expect to be played?"
Having a plan is a good idea in any tabletop war game. But for some reason, I think a solid plan is more important to winning at Dropzone Commander than most other war games. Mostly because of the lack of emphasis on firepower.
The Mission... Above All
Dropzone is all about the mission. I've won games where I lost 90% of my force while only inflicting 10% casualties on my opponent. I've also taken very few casualties and lost games by large margins. Damage is not usually the win/loss indicator for this game.
My buddy, the guy in the first paragraph, just played his second ever game of Dropzone and was getting very frustrated at the losses his Resistance were taking from my PHR. Losing droves of guys in a game of 40k isn't such a big deal... there's usually 50-100 of them in each force. Losing units in DzC just seems really bad because of the lower model count. But when all was said and done, he nearly won the game because I lost track of where I needed to be and when to start moving there. In DzC it's much more about playing the mission than it is the opponent and his army. Your opponent tends to be more of an obstacle to winning than a direct way to win the game/mission.
I'm off to the BAO next weekend to play in the Dropzone Commander Tournament and man the GSI booth! Please stop by!