With the abundance of AA in Dropzone Commander of late (especially in the Bay Area meta), it can be very hard to keep your light dropships and their precious cargo alive. Every faction now has fast and capable anti-air in many forms; snipers, skimmers, fast movers, hovering alien plasma shooters, etc. Here are some tricks I’ve learned to keep my Tritons from getting splashed.
The only problem here is if your opponent has multiple FMs come in on Turn 1. This is improbable, but still possible. With just one walk-on AA unit (or squad), you may only be able to Reaction Fire once, depending on the weapons systems involved.
Timing Your To The Deck Roll
Most folks declare a To The Deck (TTD) at the beginning of their flyer movement. You can declare TTD at any time, or even multiple times, during the move (most importantly, I can’t find anything that specifically says you can’t, either). Rather than starting your move with a TTD roll, declare it at the last possible moment. For example, fly to the edge of the enemy AA bubble and then dive to the deck. Or, fly onto the board and go TTD at the end of your move. If you fail in either of these cases and your troops survive the crash, they are in a better position (maybe even near a building they can shelter in) than they would have been had you failed the roll at the beginning of the move.
Using your TTD option in picture above brings two of the tactics mentioned in this post to bear. If the player rolls the TTD at the end of the Tritons move (pictured), should the player fail the roll, there is a large building very close for the troops to take cover in next turn. Also, the player is using both shield buildings (next entry) and walk on AA to cover the transport.
Shield Buildings vs. Fast Movers
This one is handy when your opponent gets his Fast Mover(s) in on Turn 1. Simply use buildings taller than 6" to limit the flight paths the enemy can use. Try to funnel any FMs into your AA. It’s even better if you can funnel them so as to Reaction Fire before they get a shot off. You can do the same thing with smaller buildings and a To The Deck roll, but I try to avoid going to the deck whenever possible.
This works best if you have AA on the board early. As stated above, I’m a firm believer in bringing at least one walk-on AA unit to every game for this very reason. Losing a quarter (or more!) of your Infantry on the first turn really limits you for the rest of the game. I’ve noticed that folks tend to avoid exposing FMs to Reaction Fire early in the game. Typically, just the threat of available Reaction Fire on Turn 1 can keep your transports from getting attacked.
Using the shield building tactic in the photo above allows the Helios AA squad to protect the Triton more effectively by limiting the paths an enemy FM can use to make an attack run. Nearly any accessible angle is covered by a Helios that, unless it's an enemy Athena, will likely get to reaction fire first.
Rooftops vs. Ground Anti-Air
This only works for one or two of the medium buildings. These buildings are about 5.5” tall so if you fly your transport to the center of the rooftop, it will be safe from ground fire because no one closer than about 36” can draw LOS to the “single point in space” that is your transport. It’s still vulnerable to FM’s, but has 20 extra DP vs ground units.
The photo above approximates what this tactic looks like. According to the rules, the transport is even smaller and harder to hit (being a point in space 6" above the table) via direct fire ground-based AA.
You Can’t Shoot What’s Not There
I’ve found that giving my opponent little or nothing to successfully attack is a great way to defend. This is one of those options that everyone knows about, but forgets to use. If there is no need for your troops in the early turns of the game, just hold them and their fragile dropships in Reserve. Not bringing them on the map is a great defense against those pesky Fast Movers and it gives you time to destroy some of your opponents AA before they enter the battlespace. It also reduces the total number of turns the enemy gets to fire at your transports.
This is best used in Focal Point missions. It can also be a great tactic in rural environments because troops tend to die like flies once they are on the ground. You need to be sure of your timing, though; calculate the turns remaining vs. the distance you need to move very carefully! Coming up short is easy to do with this one.
The lack of a photo for his one says it all. It's not there. You can't see it. You can't shoot it.
Only Use Light Dropships When You Have To
Having fewer Light dropships limits your opponents attack options. A target-rich environment is much harder to defend. You will lose some mobility in using a medium dropship, but having that marginally slower/tougher unit stay alive longer can be a more than a fair trade in points. Most times, medium dropships take more effort (and additional risk) to bring down.
Medium dropships, which are typically three times harder to kill than light ones, coupled with ground transports are very effective at keeping that early Fast Mover at bay. Would you risk your Turn 1 Fast Mover on a Medium dropship? It probably won’t go down to your attack and your Fast Mover may well get shot down in the process.
I’m not saying light dropships don’t have a role in DzC, but I do think they may not be durable enough to be the only choice in troop transports (I see this often). Yes, they are cheap. Yes, they are fast. But, they can be brought down very easily by merely average rolling from a great many AA units.
Plus with the medium-dropship-and-ground-APCs combo, your troops can hand an objective off to a ground transport and your medium can run the APC/objective pair off the board, leaving your troops to continue the fight. You can’t do that with a light dropship.
Your Meta May Vary
These tips and tricks work well in my Meta. Yours may be vastly different, so please take that into account before employing any of this information. If you have any other tactics that work for you, please feel free to post them below.