Dropzone RCQ In Retrospect: The Overcomplication Trap

As the few regular followers of my blog might have noticed my current main project is 10mm scifi, more exactly 10mm Dropzone Commander. The basic game had good reviews in the starting years (between 2012-2015), the sculpts are lovely and the price OK, thanks to the low pound. Affordable fun. Sooner or later I will publish a detailed comparative review of the game, as part of my grand ambition to test several similar wargames and decide what I like most.

I bought for just 50 euro the 2017 version 1.1 two-player box (scenery, two armies, shiny rulebook, I can recommend it). I also bought the 2 supplements, the Reconquest I&II books, as part of the compendium. I will reserve my final judgment until I have played a few grand battles, but as a late convert I question the direction the game has taken.

My PHR army, against DZC’s cardboard scenery.

The core DZC game is a quite simple game, fastplay rock-paper-scissors with quick maneuvering, more or less. Quick dropships with slow infantry grab victory points. AA units can shoot at the dropships but not at infantry or grab points. Armour can shoot at AA and infantry but not grab victory points.

Game engine is the well-known 40K/epic engine. Roll to hit: roll to wound: roll for save: subtract damage. You might not like 40K but a simple standard and popular format is useful for fastplay. That I like. The original game has a simple alternate activation system, with a flexible shoot-move or move-shoot sequence that can sometimes be interrupted by your opponent’s reaction shooting. I played it yesterday and I had fun.

The four starting factions have strong national characteristics. Human UCM are the all rounders, certain defensive modifiers; alien Scourge are quick attackers; Cyborg PHR are slow, heavy bombarders; the vulnerable Shaltari move like a stealthy, weak but dangerous ‘swarm’.

I suppose the designer’s original idea was to make a fastplay tournament game to fill the gap left behind by OOP Epic Armageddon and Battlefleet Gothic. His former employer Spartan Games made the – then successful -Firestorm Armada-BFG clone. Dropzone Commander was a hit indeed and at a certain point the Hawk Studio had 9 staff members.

But wargames need regular updates. Otherwise the clients lose interest and move to other systems. The wargame market is a challenging market. So inevitably and like so many other studio’s Hawk published supplements with extra units, characters, and armies and background. I like the books and the units, but what about the evolution of the game?

In the first Reconquest RCQ-1 supplement Hawk introduced the Resistance: overarmored, undergunned, an irregular rebel force with strong infantry. I read comparisons with the 40K Orks. For a collectible miniatures game this is the way to go: introduce more factions, more units and more special rules to support the new factions and units, and give more opportunities for listbuilding. Ask Games Workshop.

RCQ-1 gave exceptions to the standard game engine. Transition units can change into a different form (think Transformers) and have extra statlines. The rules introduced a new platoon type, a new defensive modifier ‘evasion’ for the Resistance and 6 new cannons.

UCM for example received a swarm weapon, ‘Focus Fire’, with a special procedure with several modifiers to get maximum impact. The rules:

“One or more hits may be discarded, and then the Focus Fire value (e.g. Focus-4) of each discarded hit may be added to the Energy (E) value of another hit (up to a maximum of E-13).”

The rule as such is clear. In-game it means that a player with this weapon must modify the result and consult a special table after rolling as an exception to the core rules. It complicates the original rules.

RCQ-2 introduced weather, random events, animals as non-playing characters to the game and an extra NPC Fauna phase. And again new units – new commanders and heavier units, with more weapons, longer ranges and more damage points. Below the stat sheet of the DZC Apex, a dragon freeroaming the tabletop.

In short: a player has 8 possible modifications, including evasion (extra roll) and regeneration (extra roll) and two alternate weapons. When activated, the players roll first which player will activate this miniature (extra roll).

From Christian Busch blog

The Apex miniature is OOP. Nice to have, lovely sculpt. Probably an experiment, a fun project or a show creature, not an obligatory buy. However for me the DZC Apex is a symbol for the direction the game has taken: needless complexity, choices, extra rolls, extra tables, for extra miniatures.

Besides, the choice to give DZC strong commanders big guns, and units a more diverse range of weapons, might change the nature of the game. Instead of a quick 6-turn rock-paper-scissors game Dropzone becomes more like Battletech or Adeptus Titanicus, fight the big Godzilla’s and take them down. Faction strengths and weaknesses are watered down.

The new PHR giant robot

I can’t judge the BfE 2.0 rules. Didn’t buy it. They add a lot of chrome, 200 pages background/alternate history, integrating FAQs and errata. Well, that’s nice. It also adds rules for Behemoths – these are fearsome giant Godzillas for every race. I expect that this will be the start for a new arms race = new Dropzone miniature range, because bigger monsters need bigger warriors to counter. It might be the way to survival, but it’s also a trap.

So I have sincere doubts about the update. In comparison, the generic Dirtside II rules are free and have been roughly the same since 1993. The generic Quadrant 13 ruleset was published in 2012 and not updated. It’s a SciFi adaptation of the IABSM engine. Future War Commander (2008) is an adaptation or Warmaster and hasn’t seen updates since then. Don’t fix what’s not broken.

10mm grand tactical SF is a niche within the SF wargames hobby which is a niche within the niche tabletop wargames hobby. The DZC models are gorgeous, better than 6mm SF, cheaper than 15mm metal SF and a bargain compared to 240-euro 8mm Adeptus Titanicus. I will continue to buy them.

But the updated rules, for me as a casual player, no tournament visitor? DZC 1.1. is perfect. What’s wrong with small-scale rock-paper-scissors?

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