Dropfleet Commander: First Playthrough

Hey all, Adam and Danny here to talk about our first experience playing Hawk’s Dropfleet Commander.

dropfleet

So, for those who don’t know (or care), Hawk Wargames just released their newest game, Dropfleet Commander, written by Hawk’s Dave Lewis and the infamous Andy Chambers.  Both of us backed the Kickstarter, and Danny, loving spaceships, backed full bore, so now that we have models and rules in hand, we had to schedule a quick introduction game.

Danny built the PHR and the UCM starter fleets, so we rolled dice, Adam had rules read to him (I don’t read rules), and we stumbled through all of this together.  Here are our thoughts as we were too concerned with trying to play the game correctly to take diligent notes and photos for a battle report.

What we learned:

4×4 may not be enough of a board.  We did the intro on a smaller size, and that was really a mistake. We’ll have to try even an intro game on the full 4×4. The thing is that once you gain a major spike (increases how visible you are and therefore able to be shot), you will get lit up badly. Danny went gung-ho on turn 1 and did Weapons Free (fire all weapons) on one of Adam’s little ships, failed to kill it, and then every other model, anywhere on the table (almost) in Adam’s fleet could pump shots into it.  It did not live too long after that. More terrain is likely an answer as it reduces Scan range and increases to hit rolls, so that may make it much more tactical. We tend to think that a full 1500 point game may require a 6×4, but anything over 2000 definitely would.

The early part of turn 1
The early part of turn 1. We used the black board as well to quasi-represent more open space.

Standard Orders seems the most efficient action to take (move, shoot one weapon).  Once the game gets into turn 2, most ships are close enough to each other to where you can effectively target at least one thing, so there is no real need to get any spikes as the moment more of the board can see you, you are pretty much dead.  This is likely by design, but it does often make the other Special Orders feel a bit lackluster as part of the appeal of the game is lighting ships up with all the guns, but that seems like a bad thing more times than not.  Danny tried Maximum Thrust to get a Strike Carrier to a more friendly side of the board, and with the Spike, it was shot dead immediately. Of course, other Fleets like Scourge or Shaltari may make better use of things like Silent Running or Hold Station, but we’ll see.

Launch Assets (fighters and bombers) are the truth.  Danny’s Seattle Carrier was the MVP by far, doing the most consistent damage to Adam’s PHR and even downing one of his Cruisers.  They have such a wide range and against a target with weak Point Defense, they can spike damage pretty insanely.

Launch assets are so good
Launch assets are so good

Burnthrough lasers are also the truth. Adam’s Cruiser did 6 in one shot, 5 in another, 6 in another. This is massive when even larger ships have 12-15 hull only.  Even Danny’s lone Burnthrough did 6 in one shot. These weapons are mean, mean, mean.  If you can take them, take several.  Danny suspects that the New Cairo, a UCM Light Cruiser, could be popular as it packs a Burnthrough for a very small points investment. The PHR also have a frigate with one but it caps out at 4 (still good though).

The damage charts must be in Andy Chambers’ DNA.  While they often have some interesting effects, the randomness of roll a dice to get placed in a chart, roll again for effect of that chart is very much GW game design from 20 years ago.  It is what it is: You either like it or you don’t, but it is there, so understand that.

Frigates die. If they take even 2 damage, most are crippled and will likely die on the resulting roll on the tables, so if they are to be effective, they either need to be taken in larger packs or kept in low-orbit/Atmo to keep them safe.  Danny killed one of his own by trying to go through a debris field.  “Pilot error.”

Danny's lone survivor
Danny’s lone survivor

The game is actually pretty easy to pick up once you get the hang of it. While Adam (having not read the rules or even watched a few Youtube videos) went in stone cold, by the end of the first turn, he mostly had it all in down and just needed to check the reference sheets to remember which ship did what.  The general mechanics are pretty simple, and once you can essentially read a stat-line, the game makes sense and flows.   Scoring objectives and what not is a bit different than other games with the distinction between clusters, sectors, and critical locations being a bit much, but that may just take practice. Danny does like that scoring takes place on turn 4 and 6, so it gives players two chances as opposed to the old 40K “Jetbike turboboost for the win” tactic on turn 5 or 6.

The idea for spinning bases to mark information is a good one, and typically, it works out well. You really need to hold the base down though to make sure you aren’t bumping the model all around.  The idea that doesn’t work at all is the damage tracking pegs. They are too small, too fiddly, and many of the models don’t allow enough room underneath if you have larger hands.  Using a d4, a d12, or a d20 is probably the best way to keep track.

One cruiser died and took a frigate with it, and the other frigate died in the debris field.
One cruiser died and took a frigate with it, and the other frigate died in the debris field.

Telling the models apart is a bit harder. It will likely just take practice and painting to really be able to identify which ship is which, but because they are all built off the same chassis, it can make telling them apart a bit tough. Ship markings, group markings, etc are going to be necessary for really efficient turns where you aren’t wasting time looking up which ship is which.

The Quick-Start stat page with condensed rules on the back really helped, and really, It’d be nice if Hawk made some stat-cards for the ships ala Warmachine.  If you buy a starter, keep it as the condensed rules breakdown on the back is super helpful.

Adam's total victory
Adam’s total victory

Overall, we both enjoyed the game (Adam loves games when he wins), and we found ourselves wishing that Danny had brought over the Scourge and Shaltari, just to give the game another go with totally different fleets.  If you are in SoCal and want to try it, give us a shout.

Of course, that Patreon could help us do more cool things like video battle reports or trying other random games.

  • Lyraeus

    I think you were playing on only half of the board. You should be playing with both posters which should be a 4×3 or close enough.

    Glad you had fun!

    • Danny Ruiz

      We were using the black board as well, so it was really about 3×3, but yes, it was a total mistake, so we’ll try again on the full 4×4 and of course with all four fleets.

  • Josh

    Thanks for the report!!! Really like those 3D sector resin terrain bits look sweet (but then being 3D aren’t they going to get in the way???)….

    Also, surprised you jumped in with UCM for PHR… although I guess Scourge have probably as many special and different rules as PHR… and the guys at @ Hawk did say “recommended starter sets are balanced across all 4 factions”…

    As far as battle sizes… do you get 1 paper map or two in the starter set? I thought during the Beasts of War unboxing it looked like they had 2 maps so you could double your space (ha ha)… but yeah.. 4×4 sounds the way to go.

    Thanks again! And for us its bourbon, not Patreon.. but to each their own =p

    • Danny Ruiz

      The 3D resin sections are great, but yah, I bet in some situations, they could lead to some issues with bases, but the rules have a bit in them about using tokens to mark where ships are if they cannot fit. By the rules, only the very center counts for range, so you can use a token to mark where the center is.

      The PHR are great with awesome durability (hull 5 on frigates means they take 3 damage to cripple, which makes them way more survivable). From the internet chatter, Shaltari may be the strongest starter fleet, but I think each fleet brings something unique.

      You get 2 maps I think that combine into a decent playing surface. 4×4 is definitely the way to go. Getting spikes is a big part of the game, so it does make sense that you want to avoid it if possible because it is easy to get blasted by 3 or 4 ships from across the board. We’re excited to see how Scourge do with their cloak/partial cloak heavies as well as the Shaltari with their ridiculously low signatures when shields are down.

      Bourbon is good, too. I prefer a nice Scotch, but hey, whatever gets your rocket to break atmo. Thanks for reading!

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  • thecactusman17

    I played the demo game at GenCon, and they compensated a single map by using the short edges for player sides. This allows players to gauge ranges a bit and decide if they want to bull-rush a particular ship or objective, or if they want to hang back and try forcing the enemy into range.