Hey all, Danny here again to give you a brief overview of the factions within Dropfleet and some random predictions based on our first few games.
Dropfleet is similar to most games where each basic faction has a clear archetype to follow. It is important to understand these archetypes as you want an army that suits how you want to play the game because if you try to be a forgiving, tanky fleet with Scourge or a nimble, tricksy fleet with PHR, you are going to be in for a bad time.
With this in mind, we can break down how we can expect the four factions to function on the table top. Here, we are a quick break down of what each faction can really do relative to the others as well as some tactical advice/planning.
The All-Arounders: UCM
Close-action: Bad-Great (variable)
Launch numbers: Average
Raw Power: Average
UCM probably play the mission the best as they have the best means of playing defense, namely orbital bombardment. In a game full of ships blowing up, it is easy to overlook this strength, but with needing only 2+ to hit (and 4+ to crit), UCM is capable of blowing up some sectors in one volley, denying control to your opponent without needing to land more troops. Especially since the UCM are the only faction to have 3 battleships with one being focused on orbital bombardment, the Tokyo can stay in orbit and rain death with a lot of hull points to soak up damage. This is key to bombardment as you need to stay put to do it, so you will almost always have a minor spike on you, which means you need to be able to soak damage to do any kind of defense. This leads to another big benefit to the UCM, they have 3+ armor saves on all of their big ships.
The UCM also have turret mounted weapons, meaning a lot of their shooting is both Front and Side or even 360. This lets them have a nice advantage in the late game when ships have passed by each other. Again, coupled with their ability to blast sectors off the map, I would argue that UCM is much more of a control the mission faction rather than a bash them in the head faction. Trying to outgun your opponents is a bad idea although UCM like everyone else can bring some devastating fire power.
Their biggest weakness is their launch assets. Their fighters and bombers are the slowest with the least impact, so they cannot rely on this very powerful mechanic the way other factions can. Their ships are also very focused for the most part, meaning that you can’t be as tactically flexible with the tools you have since a New Cairo is really only good at blasting ships and can’t even roll a lot of dice to try and get lucky on a bombardment or going after ships into atmosphere. With the exception of Burn-Through weaponry, the UCM lack a lot of really hard hitting ships. While the mass drivers have a decent volume of fire, they don’t have all the cool special rules of the other races to make them effective. The only benefit is that their volume of fire can help them throw enough dice to try and cripple a ship in atmosphere. Their biggest hitter does hit hard with the Avalon battlecruiser and its super Burn-Through laser. If you want UCM to hit hard, you definitely need to bring out the Burn-Throughs.
So in the end, the UCM are a bit of your all-arounders, but really, they are the play the mission type of army. They are great at defending territory and blasting the hell out of ground assets, but they likely won’t dominate the ship-to-ship game.
The Aggressors: Scourge
Launch numbers: Good
Raw power: Great
Scourge don’t play the mission too well, but they definitely have the speed and firepower to punish enemy fleets at close range. They are fast with great Close-Action (CA) weapons, and they have the only heavy/battle cruisers with stealth and some form of cloak, so they have the tools to get close enough for this to matter. Their battlecruisers are scary with either some brutal firepower that can go weapons-free with no penalty or stay in silent running and still get a few good volleys off a turn. The Scourge cruisers want to get up your face and wreak havoc, and they need to hit hard the first strike as they are not too resilient. Their launch assets are also strong with Scald on the bombers (penalty to armor saves), and with a larger threat radius than UCM or PHR. The downside is that their torpedoes are a bit weaker as they are about doing slow, grinding damage rather than a pure knockout blow.
The Scourge are going to be a rush style of army, favoring very aggressive tactics and trying to control the ship game and then trying to mop up the mission once the enemy fleet has been crippled. Their best point of defense is probably their frigates as all of them are Atmospheric, so they can hide in atmosphere around a cluster and pop up to wreak bloody havoc on troopships. They will need to be aggressive to target strike carriers early though as they lack the ability to really deal with ground assets once they are there, and strike carriers are Atmospheric as well, but the Scourge frigates lack any quality weapons for shooting down other atmospheric craft, so Scourge will struggle to take down strike carriers.
The Scourge hit hard as almost all of their weapons have the Scald special rule and damage 2, so when they hit their critical, it can be brutal. Their Burn-Through weaponry is a bit weaker than UCM or PHR, but it can either gamble for big damage or play it safe with smaller damage and a bonus Minor Spike on the target. The Scourge, outside of Close-Action weapons, don’t have a high volume of fire though, so your chances of rolling the lucky 6 to hit a target in atmosphere are pretty low.
The big weakness to Scourge is their larger signatures and their lack of tactical flexibility. Their ships are very focused on one thing, and since they lack a high rate of fire, they really can’t do too much. Their bombardment is very weak with not a lot of potential to critical and only on a frigate chassis, so very squishy. The Scourge have weak armor with their best outside of Battleships being 4+, so they can’t take too many punches. If you can snipe out their important ships, they’ll start to fold quickly.
All in all, the Scourge are going to be the highly aggressive, in-your-face faction of choice, and while they lack the ground game to really dominate a mission, they can easily blow other ships to hell.
The Tanks: PHR
Launch numbers: Average
Raw Power: Best
The PHR will be the slow, inevitable doom. They are tough with more hull than any other fleet and with 3+ armor saves all around, even on their frigates. They also have strong launch assets, meaning that a carrier-heavy build could do a lot of damage, even to those pesky Shaltari/Scourge who are hiding. They have decent bombardment, so they can play defense on the mission, and since all the PHR ships pack the most firepower per ship, their troopships, strike carriers, and fleet carriers can also participate in more than a single phase of the game. Their strike carrier has the ability to both deploy troops and bombard the surface, so they have the most multifaceted early game where they can deploy troops and then stay near the cluster to bomb the hell out of any enemy ground assets. While the PHR are limited by their very focused firing arcs, when they do go weapons-free, each ship can do a great deal of damage to the enemy fleet. Several cruisers rocking the center can damage ships all over the board.
The PHR have the best tactical flexibility as each ship can do multiple things. They have a carrier that also has a wicked burn-through laser, two different troopships that back either some heavy weaponry or bombardment, and each of their ships often have multiple weapons that work well against specific targets. They also have some great, specialized frigates like some with Burn-Throughs or some that can launch fighters/bombers. It also important to note that PHR are the only faction to have access to torpedoes on a heavy cruiser, so they can easily bring the most number of these ship-killers in any points level.
The PHR will want to be an iron curtain, slowly pushing the enemy back and relying on their hull and saves to stay safe. Since the PHR have a lot of utility per ship, they leave a lot of room for a canny general to get a lot of mileage out of even a lowly frigate. By slowing locking down the board, the PHR can just force squishier armies back, and even trying to flank around them can be dangerous as with a simple turn, a PHR ship can fire at those behind it and now to the side with equal ability. Trying to flank them is a dangerous proposition, and the PHR are pretty strong at recovering from being outmaneuvered.
The biggest downside to this faction is speed. Every faction is faster, and so the PHR will struggle to get to clusters first. They will often be playing catchup as other factions will already have ground assests in place, so the PHR will constantly be reacting to their opponent’s ground game, not dictating it. The limited fire-arcs also hurt the PHR in the early game as few of their best weapons are front facing, but a canny general will approach the map in an X, getting as many enemy ships in the broadside as possible.
Overall, the PHR are going to be the slow, tanky faction that can absorb a lot of damage and also dish it out, and with how flexible most of their ships are, it is hard for them to lack a tool in the late game.
The Tricky-Snipers: Shaltari
Armor: Weak (complicated)
Close-action: Weak (complicated)
Launch numbers: Great
Point-Defense: Best (complicated)
Raw Power: Average
Signature: Best (complicated)
The Shaltari are very much the tricksy-space-elves archetype that we all know and love. They of course have the most exceptions and complications to the rules, but that’s the space-elves for you. They have the best Scan with the lowest Signature, so they can easily stay back and fire with a lot of impunity. A heavy cruiser with a minor spike has just about the same signature as a heavy cruiser for anybody else. The Shaltari have the most weapons that simply ignore armor, and this means they are just as dangerous for PHR/UCM as they are for Scourge. The Particle rule is pretty good. With their high speed, they can easily flank the board, minimize who can target them, and then blast away. With their base scan of 12, they can also fire through debris much more effectively than anyone else, letting them stick closer to it than maybe others would.
While they have relatively bad Close-Action weapons, they can use them from a much further range than anyone else, so they can slide in, fire a weapon, close-action, and still remain a healthy distance making retaliation from other nearby ships much more difficult. Of course, they also have some of the best close-action weapons with the Beam special rule, which lets them ignore Point-Defense entirely. Shaltari ships built for close-action can be devastating, but their general CA weapons are on the weaker side. They also have decent bombers with good speed and great fighters that add a ton of Point-Defense.
The Shaltari are going to stay on the flanks, using their range to really punish enemies. Because of their void-gate mechanic, they do require very different tactics for playing the mission. They can’t flood a cluster the way other factions as they have no bulk landers, but they can instantly teleport their troops all over the map, so a smart player will use the voidgates to control close-by clusters early with tons of troops and then slingshot them across the map into other clusters. Losing a 15 point void-gate is a small price to pay to suddenly have armor in a cluster that your opponent thought was safe. The Shaltari will likely be the most competitive army for the simple fact that they reward generalship the most. The skill-cap on these little buggers is high. You are either going to be dominant with them or be terrible as any mistakes on your end are going to earn the Shaltari a butt-kicking.
The biggest weakness here is that the Shaltari require a careful hand to play because they have some inherent traps. They are fragile with ok armor and weak hull, and while they have the nifty ability to have an invulnerable save (an armor save that cannot be ignored by a crit), this raises their signature to massive levels. A standard cruiser with shields up and a major spike has a signature of 28 inches. That’s massive for a 4×4 board. If a player is too quick to pop shields, every enemy ship is going to get a free shot off on it, and while a 4++ is good, it is not that good. Late game, it could come in handy when there are not that many heavy hitters left on the table, but then again, having such a massive signature means that just about any ship on the board gets their shots. The Shaltari also tend to be one-dimensional meaning their ships tend to have very focused roles, so if you lose a ship early, you may find yourself without the proper answer in the late game. Losing your only bombardment gun would suck against UCM in turn 4, 5, and 6. Their bombardment cruisers are split-role though as their guns that can bombard are also their guns that are incredibly powerful in CA. Their motherships are the weak link here as once they die, the Shaltari are really weakened in their ground game.
With all that said and done: I’d argue the Scourge will be the best “starter” army for a new player as their tactics are relatively simple to grasp. All a new player needs to learn is to get close using Silent Running, unleash hell once in CA range, and then mop up survivors. They probably have the lowest skillcap though, so highly advanced players may find them a bit one-dimensional. UCM and PHR will both be strong contenders, and they are certainly forgiving with the number of 3+ armor saves, but they both aren’t as straight forward as many would think.
I imagine that Shaltari will become dominant in a competitive setting just because they have the highest skill-cap, so good players are going to be able to use them far more effectively.
Overall, I’d say the game design here is quite strong. All the factions feel unique, have different strengths and weaknesses, and I wouldn’t say any specific faction is underpowered at the moment (although I think UCM’s starter-fleet is a bit weak).
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