Hello, TechRaptor readers! It’s time to dive into another tabletop wargame and let loose the General Patton inside all of us with Dropzone Commander. Corncob pipes and irrational eccentricities, sadly, are not included.
A 10mm tabletop wargame set against the backdrop of humanity’s push to reclaim its former worlds (including Earth) from the occupying Scourge menace, Dropzone Commander is an army scale wargame similar in size to Warhammer 40,000, but not scale. Designed by British company Hawk Wargames and released at Salute! 2012, the game is unique in its emphasis on modern-day tactics of rapid deployment of forces by air to secure objectives on the battlefield. Players utilize a wide array of land and air assets to quickly move through the ruined cities of humanity and help secure humanity’s future.
The game features five distinct factions with their own unique playstyles:
- The United Colonies of Mankind are the “vanilla” faction, doing everything well enough without having any area they excel at. Descendants of the defenders against the Scourge invasion, they have spent centuries building a massive war machine to reclaim their homelands.
- The Scourge are the fast-moving glass cannon faction of the game. A parasitic jellyfish-like species with highly advanced biotechnology, they were able to blitz through humanity’s defenses and quickly destroy what had taken millennia to build.
- The Resistance is an odd mix of Mad Max and Warhammer 40,000 Orks. Made up of the few humans living on Scourge-occupied worlds, they have managed to cobble together an effective fighting force using the scraps left behind and undestroyed. You can find more information on the Resistance in the Reconquest: Phase 1 expansion book.
- The Post-Human Republic is the cybernetic offshoot of humanity that fled before the Scourge invasion after Earth received a dire yet cryptic warning from The McGuffin… I mean White Sphere. The faction is slower than the others, but they make up for this is sheer firepower. If you like gunlines, the PHR is for you.
- The Shaltari, a warlike alien race who utilize teleportation technology to quickly redeploy around the battlefield. They also have plenty of walker vehicles capable of walking up the sides of buildings to get a better shot at the enemy. Why they’re involved in the war isn’t really explained, aside from the fact that warfare is central to their society as a whole. They’re just… there.
Setting: Humans vs. Aliens. That’s about it.
And here we come up to the first big issue with Dropzone Commander, for me at least. The background and lore is… sparse, to say the least. The vast majority of the lore was explained in the bullet list above; there really isn’t much else. The rule book goes more in depth into each faction from a UCM perspective, offering an overview of the factions and their battlefield technology and, the rulebook also features small narrative snippets scattered throughout to help fill things in to a small degree. It’s a very simple story and falls well short of other games like Wild West Exodus or Warmachine. If you’re more of a tournament player focusing on the actual game itself, this won’t be a big issue for you. Players like me, however, who enjoy a rich and detailed backstory and universe as much as the game itself will be left wanting more.
Miniatures: Putting the “mini” in “miniature”
As I mentioned earlier, Dropzone Commander is a 10mm wargame, meaning the models are tiny! The infantry models are ridiculously small in comparison to 28mm models, which can be either a blessing or a curse. Wargamers who see painting models as more of a chore will love this game as the models lend themselves very well to drybrushing and will paint up to a tabletop standard in a very short amount of time. I was able to get all of the models built, all of the Scourge models, and 3/4ths of the UCM models painted in a single afternoon. Granted, I used an airbrush for a most of the painting, but the models are small enough that using regular brushes won’t add much more time.
That’s not to say that there isn’t room for creativity in the range. The Shaltari in particular will grab painters almost immediately, especially with the studio images. The range definitely lends itself to outlandish and colorful paint schemes, along with the Scourge to a lesser degree. The PHR and UCM models tend to use more realistic color schemes.
And don’t think that just because the models are small they’re simplistic. There’s a great deal of detail on everything from the massive tanks and carriers to the smallest infantry squad. The best part, however, is that the models lend themselves very well to magnetization. It’s very common to see players use magnets to attach vehicles to their dropships, which not only helps with bookkeeping but with adding an extra level of immersion.
Rules: Like chess, but with tanks and guns
Dropzone Commander has a much more realistic feel to it than many wargames, ignoring the spider-tanks, Matrix-like mechanical monstrosities, and walkers, of course. The game is heavily focused around quickly deploying infantry, capturing objectives, and denying objectives to the enemy rather than the typical “shoot everything that’s not me” mission styles in other games.
The game has a much stronger chess-like feel to it, with each player taking turns moving, shooting, and taking objectives by battlegroup. Rather than having one player be totally inactive when it’s not their turn like Warhammer 40K, players will activate and act with one battlegroup before handing control over to the other player. This constant back-and-forth does a much better job of keeping both players actively engaged in the game better than Infinity, even with that game’s “it’s always your turn” play style.
Dropzone Commander's combat is also much deadlier than most wargames, with almost no units having anything resembling a saving throw at all. The only real example of this is some of the Shaltari units coming with a 5+ save to represent additional energy shielding. That’s it. Everything else is taking the full brunt of the assault, relying solely on armor to weather the barrage.
The most strategically interesting part of the game, however, is the terrain. Namely, you can destroy it if you so choose. The game is designed to be played in primarily urban settings, as the UCM and Resistance are fighting to liberate humanity’s worlds, so the vast majority of tables you’ll see will be filled with skyscrapers and ruined office buildings.
And you can blow it all up!
This gives players an additional tactic to consider during gameplay: Do you rush in to take all the objectives, or secure enough to grant you victory and destroy the other buildings in a scorched-earth attempt and denying your opponent the win? Taking down a building in Dropzone Commander isn’t as easy as it sounds, as only the biggest guns will be up to the task in any reasonable timeframe, but simply having the option to go full Putin on a city block so opens a whole new level to gameplay that adds some much-needed immersion to the game.
Starting Out: First small steps into the game
The starter set for Dropzone Commander, like most modern-day starter sets, provides players with everything they’ll need to hit the ground running with the game. The set contains small but complete forces for the UCM and the Scourge, along with all the various accessories needed.
The starter set contains:
- 3x UCM Sabre Main Battle Tanks
- 3x UCM Rapier AA Tanks
- 2x UCM Bear APC’s (+1 bonus spare!)
- 30x UCM Colonial Legionnaires (on 6 bases)
- 3x UCM Condor Medium Dropships (now with clear canopy!)
- 3x Scourge Hunter Main Grav-Tanks
- 3x Scourge Reaper AA Grav-Tanks
- 2x Scourge Invader APC’s (+1 bonus spare!)
- 30x Scourge Warriors (on 6 bases)
- 3x Scourge Marauder Medium Dropships
- 2x Urban Streets Posters, will join together in 4 different ways to create a 48”x33” road layout with artwork on the back
- 10 x Pre-cut, pre-folded card buildings in 10 different designs
- Full sized Dropzone Commander 1.1 Core Rulebook
- UCM and Scourge reference sheets with stats, army composition and quick reference tables
- Starter scenario and turn sequence prompt sheet
- 10x 14mm D6 black dice
- 1m/38” Hawk Wargames tape measure keyring
- Full set of card templates and tokens
The starter set models are injection-moulded plastic, which makes them lightweight and easier to assemble than resin or metal, and gives wargamers much more opportunities for conversions and customization. Outside the starter set, the models are either cast in resin (vehicles) or white metal (infantry). While I’m not a huge fan of metal models after dealing with losing various fiddly bits from Infinity miniatures and finding them only after stepping on them barefoot, the infantry models are small enough to not require any assembly aside from attaching them to their bases, thus avoiding any potential injury and subsequent loud swearing immediately afterwards.
The tokens and templates provided are quality cardstock, which will work out well enough for your initial games, but won’t last long against the regular wear and tear of regular gaming. I’d highly recommend picking up some square epoxy stickers from Amazon to extend the lifespan of the markers and look into some acrylic templates for long-term use, should you decide this game is for you.
The biggest issue I have with the starter set is the paper play mat. While a great idea and overall functions quite well, the paper buildings and small models don’t do quite enough to lay the mat flat enough on the table. The various folds in the paper will leave some buildings and models askew, which can be a challenge (especially with the buildings). I ran into the same problem with Infinity and the Operation: Icestorm starter set, which proved to be rather frustrating.
The quickest and cheapest solution to this problem is to laminate the mat entirely. Not only will this provide a more stable surface for gameplay, but it will also protect the mat from spilled drinks or other potential disasters than would spell the end of a normal paper mat. I bought some laminating sheets from my local office supply store, and with the help of my wife, we were able to quickly and easily protect my gaming surfaces from mishaps and increase their longevity.
The starter set also comes with an introductory scenario, Lightning Raid. It’s a rather simple mission comprised of three objective markers that both sides fight to capture to win the game. The mission does an excellent job of providing players enough to learn the mechanics of the game without overwhelming them with more advanced rules.
Should you decide to add Dropzone Commander to your gaming inventory, the first purchase you need to make is either the Ruinscape or Cityscape scenery bundles. Not only will these give you an additional twenty cardstock buildings, but they also come with twenty-four double sized 1’ x 1’ tiles. The tiles are a huge improvement over the traditional play mat, as they give players vastly more variety in table setups. The buildings themselves are incredibly simple to fit together, and only require either a small amount of glue or a staple or two to provide plenty of support for your models. As of this writing, Hawk Wargames is currently sold out of both scenery kits, but is in the process of reprinting more.
Player Base: Gearing up for the liberation
Like most tabletop wargames currently on the market (with the obvious exception of Games Workshop), Hawk Wargames takes a marked interest in growing and developing their community with their Talon program. Talons are community representatives similar to the Warcors of Infinity and Press Gangers from Privateer Press. Talons run demo games for new and prospective players, organize and run local tournaments and gaming leagues, and generally present the face of Dropzone Commander to the community at large. Talons also provide support for company staff during major gaming events like Adepticon or GenCon.
As of this writing, the best ways to find your local Hawk Talon is either checking the official Dropzone Commander forums or the Facebook community. As of this writing, Hawk Wargames does not have any listing of Talons available on the web. This would be a wonderful feature to have for new and prospective players to help find local communities to join. While using forums and Facebook pages may do the job, there’s no guarantee that the people you’re actually looking to find will come across a newbie’s search for nearby players. A locator would alleviate a lot of those concerns.
Final Thoughts: Bridging Tradition and Modernity
Dropzone Commander is a bit of an odd game, as it straddles the line between sci-fi and historical wargames. While the game and setting overall didn’t draw me in as deeply as other games in the hobby, I believe the balance Hawk Wargames has struck will ultimately prove to be an enormous strength. The game can work as a bridge between the two groups, providing fans of more outlandish settings like Warhammer 40,000 a chance to enjoy a much more grounded (in comparison, obviously) and tactical game to enjoy, while at the same time giving historical wargamers a chance to dip their toes into something a bit more fantastical without feeling self-conscious about playing a strategy game filled with cartoony space orks, and cartoony space elves fighting cartoony space knights.
As a final note, I want to make sure I clarify my position and avoid any potential confusion: Dropzone Commander is a tactically challenging, well-crafted game designed by people with a deep appreciation for the game and the hobby as a whole.
- Gameplay designed to keep both players engaged
- Highly-detailed (if small) models that are very easy to paint
- Starter set comes fully loaded with everything needed to get started
- Infantry models can be difficult to paint well
- Additional work needed to use the provided game mat
- Finding players in your area can be difficult
The copy of the Dropzone Commander starter set and Ruinscape terrain set used for this review were generously provided by Hawk Wargames.
A fast-paced, challenging, and more grounded wargame that, while well-crafted, just isn't my cup of tea.