Dropfleet Commander – A Playtest 600 pts. UCM vs Shaltari

Dropfleet Commander finally arrived in Gothenburg. I and a friend, Westman, decided to play a game to try out the rules and get a feeling for the game. We decided on 600 pts and that we would play the introductory scenario Expeditionary Raid.

+++ Eden System +++
June 29th, 2670, D+23 (Theatre), D+23 (Reconquest)

+++ Operational Parameters +++
Expeditionary Raid to secure industrial and military sectors on Eden VII in Grid 067829 aka. The Paradise’s Outback. Naval Intelligence report minor Scourge activity in the surroundings. Scans of the target area show no active Orbital Defence Emplacements. Recommended approach is a Lightning Strike to secure essential infrastructure and operational military assets. Caution is advised. Navigational hazards are present, remnants from the initial stages of the Reconquest is still in orbit over the target area.
+++ Expected Losses +++
Naval Assets: Minimum
Ground Assets: Minimum

Eden VII

Star Elder Opochtli’s Personal Thoughts

Opochtli damned Ramses for assigning her to such an inferior task. What was the honour in hunting down stray Scourge just to clear a path for humankind? Humans which had no patience, who had refused to serve as her tribe’s frontline, which had no honour. She could not understand Ramses’ decision, but Opochtli knew better than to question her leader. Her time would come, riding on the backs of great victories. Let us get this over with she thought.

Her blood burned with fire as the prospect of battle came closer, even though this task was unworthy. It was not long ago, only a couple centuries, she was a firstborn hunting down enemy bombers trying to injure Ramses’ mighty flagship. Her many cycles of glorious and hard earned victories had resulted in a command of a raider fleet. The fleet had started with no name, now it wore her name and all the fleet’s victories were her victories.

As the raider fleet Opochtli’s Scythe dropped out into the void a presence was evident, like bright stars reflecting against a deep dark pond. A human fleet en route. The human’s fleet were slightly heavier than the Scythe with heavier ships and crude but efficient large calibre guns, in short, a worthy kill thought Opochtli. Not even Ramses could refuse a Star Elder the right to claim their kill if it strode into a hunting ground. First the human carrier, then the heavier cruiser and finally kill them all. The niftier Amethyst frigates went deep into the left flank; the four ship strong Topaz group went into the centre. The Turquoise speeding along the right flank and the Sensation hanging back ready to deploy warriors to the ground if the humans would think landing was a good idea. Opochtli was not worried the hasty assault would give away her ships position. Human technology was so rudimentary when it came to sensors that she could literally drive into close quarters range and open fire before they would even register her presence. The Hunt was on!

Volgograd’s CIC

Commander Darya Pravda tensed up as Volgograd‘s ranking Sensor Operator tried to make sense of the sensor readouts. One second the sensors found something and tried to analyse it and the next second losing it. Disappearing as a ghost in the void. Newly promoted Commander Pravda remembered the warnings her training officers back at Ferrum Naval Academy had told about the ghosts in the stars. How Shaltari could appear from nowhere, striking before a ship like Volgograd could get a lock with her impressive array of railguns. If the ghosts were out there, waiting, Naval Intelligence would be wrong and this would not be a mop-up operation. Maybe it was just the nerves playing tricks on an inexperienced commander, the weight of responsibility making itself noticed. Better safe than sorry Darya thought. She pushed down the send button concealed in her right index finger activating the fleet wide broadcast system.

     – Battle Stations! Bring the fleet into Line Formation. Strike Carriers prepare to do a combat insertion. The Shaltari are here, waiting for us. Stay strong, stay true to our glorious Reconquest. Humanity will prevail! Better safe than sorry she thought to herself.

     – Humanity will prevail! sounded throughout the corridors and rooms of Volgograd as a New Orleans Strike Carrier reported massive system failure. Shortly after reporting it went dark and started to uncontrollable descend into the atmosphere. No lifeboats launched, 1700 sailors and soldiers lost in an instant. Darya’s anger filled her as she wished that it all would have been just nerves. Why could it not have been just nerves!? Damn treacherous turn coating Shaltari! Humanity will prevail! echoed through her mind as hell broke loose.

The Lists

Westman brought the UCMF 3rd Ferrum Strike Fleet commanded by Commander Pravda from the CIC on board Volgograd, a Moscow-class Heavy Cruiser. I brought Opochtli’s Scythe a Shaltari corsair fleet led by Star Elder Opochtli resting comfortably within the Sensation, an Emerald-class Mothership. In order to have an interesting game with as many rule interactions and a good experience we talked over beforehand what we should bring to the table. We both brought balanced forces with Westman focusing on Cruisers as firepower and I on frigates.

UCMF 3rd Ferrum Strike Fleet Opochtli’s Scythe
594/600 pts 591/600 pts
Commander Pravda (AV 1) [0 pts] Star Elder Opochtli (AV 3) [40 pts]
Vanguard Battlegroup [SR 10] Line Battlegroup [SR 6]
Admiral Vessel Volgograd
Moscow-class Heavy Cruiser [163 pts]
Admiral Vessel Sensation
Emerald-class Mothership [100 pts]
Voidgate [15 pts]
Line Battlegroup [SR 5] Line Battlegroup [SR 5]
Seattle-class Fleet Carrier [132 pts] Turquoise-class Cruiser [115 pts]
Line Battlegroup [SR 8] Pathfinder Battlegroup [SR 5]
Berlin-class Cruiser [105 pts] 2x Amethyst-class Frigate [96 pts]
2x New Orleans-class Strike Carrier [64 pts] 3x Voidgates [45]
New Orleans-class Strike Carrier [32 pts]
Pathfinder Battlegroup [SR 4] Pathfinder Battlegroup [SR 4]
New Orleans-class Strike Carrier [32 pts] 4x Topaz-class Frigate [180 pts]
3x Santiago-class Corvette [66 pts]

My first impression was that I had an advantage as my Strategy Ratings were either equal to or less than Westman’s and on top of that I spent the points to get a higher Admiral Value. I knew then that I would probably win every activation which would prove to be a great advantage during the game. Westman thought his fleet would win the Critical Locations and lose the ground fight due to the flexibility in my Voidgates. I agreed with Westman’s analysis and thought to myself that I needed to eliminate his hard hitters early on to have a chance in the upcoming void battle.

Added 20161219: After reading up on the rules and reading discussions of the game I realised we played one thing wrong. We missed that Frigates do get crippled. This worked out in my favour as Shaltari due to having more frigates. I am glad to realise this as Frigates felt more durable than Cruisers. Just wanted to point out our mistake so the pictures and experience make more sense.

Turn One – Battleline Approach

Turn 1 - 600 pts UCM vs Shaltari

Both Shaltari and UCM moved towards the clusters mostly using standard orders. Shaltari won every activation and forced UCM to go first the whole turn. I aggressively moved my Turquoise deep into the right flank not minding the minor Spike the Full Thrust order caused. Better to be in position than late to the party. My last activation was a Pathfinder battlegroup with 2x Amethyst and 3x Voidgates. I choose to move the Amethyst at Full Thrust and dropping into low orbit. Ready to pounce at New Orleans Strike Carriers as a first activation in Turn 2. At the end of turn 1 Shaltari were ready to insert into all three clusters. UCM positioned to insert into their centre and right flank cluster.

Turn Two – First Blood

Turn 2 - 600 pts UCM vs Shaltari

I opened strongly and took out a New Orleans with my Amethyst. The Microwave Arrays cocked the electronics and people on board. Close Action (Beam) are strong, really strong. Westman hurried to get Strike Carriers into atmosphere and relative safety before the Topazes could be activated. We figured out that I could have eliminated at least one more New Orleans if I would have liked to before UCM could get into Atmosphere. This being our first game we decided that I would not, as we both were unaware of how far Shaltari’s effective range really is. Scan 12″ is far and could be Shaltari’s most powerful advantage. So I hit the Seattle instead, crippling it. UCM did no notable damage. I choose to withdraw from the left flank cluster as I would be outgunned in the centre cluster. Hoping to get back to it later and to avoid the three Santiago-class corvettes ready to charge in and attack. Red beads next to Shaltari ships represent Shields Up. Purple Ground Assets are Shaltari and Greenish are UCM. Red dice represent damage taken on Shaltari ships and orange dice represent damage taken on UCM ships.

Turn Three – Hell Is Let Loose

Turn 3 - 600 pts UCM vs Shaltari

As Turn Three started I had already begun to focus my Ground Assets into the right flank and the centre where UCM still had two New Orleans dropping troops. I cannot remember which ships that caused the final blow to the Seattle-class Fleet Carrier but its Catastrophic Damage caused two Topazes to take two damage each. Volgograd suffered Crippling Damage during the turn and slayed the Turquoise-class Cruiser with a Weapons free. It was a mighty light show. An Amethyst was killed by UCM assets and the Berlin-class Cruiser lit up the Sensation. Cobra Heavy Lasers (Burntrough-6) are cool stuff. Slicing into and through armour as a hot knife through butter. Scoring was coming up and ships from both sides moved towards the Clusters.

A close up of the centre cluster. Sorry for the unpainted ships. But we were both eager to start playing and did not finish our fleets before the first game.

Close up of the center cluster

Turn Four – Scoring Time

Turn 4 - 600 pts UCM vs Shaltari

Turn four would end Commander Pravda’s life and forced Opochtli to teleport into one of the smaller vessels. Shaltari only got two turns of Ground Assets inserted. A total of 6 tokens. Would it be enough to take the centre cluster in turn 6? Come scoring only one medium tonnage ship was still around, a Berlin-class Cruiser. On the ground, battles had been even and some clever manoeuvring made sure no one controlled the centre cluster. We both got 5 points from clusters and UCM scored 4 points from the Critical Locations while Shaltari scored 2. So far UCM had a minor lead with 2 points. UCM 9 – Shaltari 7.

Turn Five and Six – The Lost Turn?

Turn 5 and 6 - 600 pts UCM vs Shaltari

I forgot to take a picture of turn five so we will go into turn six straight away. In the final turn we played, the Shaltari had hunted down almost all UCM fleet assets using everything available, even using the Defence Weapons in the right cluster’s military sector turning a draw into a win. Only a single Santiago-class Corvette remained together with two New Orleans-class Strike Carriers. I cannot remember what killed the Berlin-class cruiser but I think it was a combination of shooting from Topazes and an Amethyst. I used my numbers to secure two Critical Locations and neutralise the third. In the centre cluster we still controlled equal value sectors due to lucky dice from me. Once again we both scored 5 points from the clusters, but this time Shaltari got 4 points from Critical Locations and UCM none. The final score: UCM 14 – Shaltari 16. Shaltari won a narrow victory even though UCM took a lead in turn 4.

To sum it all up, some pictures of the scoring clusters.

Shaltari Right/UCM Left Cluster - Victory Shaltari

Shaltari Right/UCM Left Cluster – Victory Shaltari

Center Cluster - Critical Location Shaltari, Cluster both contesting

Center Cluster – Critical Location Shaltari, Cluster both contesting

Shaltari Left/UCM Right Cluster - Victory UCM on the Ground, Critical Location contested

Shaltari Left/UCM Right Cluster – Victory UCM on the Ground, Critical Location contested

Shaltari 16 – UCM 14

First off I should tell you that I was not excited about Dropfleet when it was first announced as I thought it would negatively impact Dropzone Commander as Hawks time and attention would be devoted to such a major project. Once the rules and models appeared I was sucked in. The campaign potential in conjunction with Dropzone Commander was to great and I got myself some Shaltari. Now to my impression of the gaming experience.

I liked the game and overall it was a good experience. All was not good however. Some things felt really weird and some wordings in the rulebook made us doubt we were playing the game right. Which is a shame on such a beautiful book and a bit disappointing. Hopefully an errata will arrive soon and clarify these instances of contradiction and unclear examples. The mechanics of the Shaltari Voidgates for example would benefit from some further explanations and pictured examples. A more in depth analysis of my thoughts about the game in general will be the subject of another blog post.

Shaltari felt really powerful and UCM a bit underpowered, but the Hawk forum discussions ensures me this is only due to the point level. Time will tell. I will most certainly continue to play and maybe even write some more battle reports.

If you made it to the end I would like to thank you for reading. I hope those of you still waiting for your Dropfleet pledges soon get them so you also can start to play. Please feel free to comment below.

13 Responses to Dropfleet Commander – A Playtest 600 pts. UCM vs Shaltari

  1. Great report, I enjoyed reading. I’m will learning to use the UCM against my son’s PHR. I agree the UCM seems a bit under gunned in the early games but it’s a fun challenge so far.

    • Jens Bäckman says:

      Thanks. Yes I think anyone playing against Shaltari will have a tough initial challenge. I hope to switch factions with Westman at some moment to face off against Shaltari and see the other perspective.

      PHR seem to have some nice tricks and raw power if able to cleave the board to get the most of their broadsides. I am hoping myself to play PHR after Christmas.

  2. Great BatRep, I really enjoyed it.

    I started as a Scourge player but am thinking of switching to the Shaltari, they certainly seem to have a higher potential for strategic growth and skill in the game.

    But then I suppose that will force me into building a Shaltari Dropzone army…

    • Jens Bäckman says:

      Thank you. The DzC Shaltari is not really a problem I guess mostly a pleasure 😉 I think Scourge have some interesting ships and hope to face them soon. The Battlecruisers with stealth and cloak for example. It seem like one could have some real fun with those. Then there is the all atmospheric frigates, I wonder if they will be able to hide and ambush which I think could be their style of strategy. How have you used them so far and at which fleet size?

      • Playing at 1,000 points.

        I like to keep my Battlegroups around 7 for their strategy rating as it generally gives me the win on the turn order.

        The Basalisk is an amazing ship for cleanup, as tempting as it is to put it into engagements early, the Cloak and Stealth can allow it to mercilessly destroy the opposition once the herd has been thinned.
        I was running him with two Scylla’s, to take advantage of the Atmospheric Flight ability to maximize their survivabilty when combined with the Cloaking, but I really don’t feel they pull their weight, I would rather have another cruiser and leave the Atmospheric Flight at home, Criticals are all the rage these days and hoping for 6’s is bunk.

        Silent Running is a personal favorite of mine, set up my ships for a Haymaker that I combine with (the Jab – to keep the boxing reference) my Hydra to put early pressure on my opponents, Scourge Bombers are devastating, Scald is a miracle worker if you can get in close, PHR pay a lot of points for that 3+ save and Broadsides.

        • Jens Bäckman says:

          I hope to get to 1000 points soon.

          Keeping Battlegroups under 10 seem like a good idea. Especially with Shaltari due to their long Scan range.

          I was thinking about something similar to your cleanup ship. The ability to keep out of range until scoring opportunities seems like a great way to have a consistent strong presence. I’ll take your word for it regarding the Scourge Frigates, though I think the Atmospheric ability may keep Frigates (in general) safe for a turn 3 punch on overextended ships. But that might be a good in theory only tactic. I would say, going from 2-3 frigates to 1 cruiser makes it easier for your opponent to chose targets. But if you are disappointed with the frigates then I hope going cruiser heavy is fun.

          I see that Hydra’s may be a great first strike weapon. Will Hydras survive more than 1 launch in your experience?

  3. Great batrep, Jens! Love the fluff at the beginning. Very well written! Most folks don’t take the time to add some color like that. Thanks!

    It definitely gets a bit more balanced at higher points levels than the Starter Sets. So far I’ve only played one game vs Shaltari, and that at 999 points. It was a win for my PHR, but close.

    I do think the UCM made out OK with this game. BTLs are definitely a good thing for them! PHR seem like the most challenging to run, although I’ve managed to do pretty well with them. My last game was a Starter Set game vs UCM, and while in the end I only had my two Strike Carriers left alive, I managed to eek out a win, 6-5. Very cinematic game! My opponent!wrote up a great fluff piece on our local FB page about his Seattle carrier, which was by far his MVP of the match!

    Fortunately I’ve been able to get in a bunch of 1,500 point games. My first game was 999, and other than the 999 vs Shaltari and the last one, they’ve all been 1,500, which has helped me home my list for the upcoming LVO.

    With the holidays upon us, it’s going to be tricky to squeeze a game in, so I might not be able to get another game until after the 29th (house party for my daughter’s wedding, which was back in November but in another state). The good news is, we’ve got a bunch of new players hitting the scene in our area, so hopefully we’ll be able to build up and sustain a good sized community. There’s also been some bleed-over to Dropzone, too, which is good news.

    Thanks again, and looking forward to your next post!

    • Jens Bäckman says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes the stories we tell about our games is what give it life 🙂 Unfortunately, you do not always get inspired.

      I am glad to hear that the feeling of balance is increased. I am really looking forward to face PHR and Scourge in the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We will probably do 600 points again and I hope to play a 800 points game against Westman as well.

      Do you have any battle reports of the games you have played?

      When I look at the PHR profiles I get a bit envious of the multipurpose ships you got. A common complaint about PHR I see is that broadsides would be a bad thing as the model pay for both sides but can usually only utilise one of them. I have a different experience from another game I play some Firestorm Armada as well and broadsides really come into play midgame. What is your perception of this? Also since DfC have objectives scattered all around the board I think it will be hard for opponents to dodge the broadsides of PHR even if they clump up in the center. But I guess I will experience it for myself in a week or two.

      When playing 1500 points do you find yourself using a lot of the special orders or is it just Weapons Free? This is something someone else said that the game lack depth as all ships will be in range from each other in turn 2 and thus signature will not matter. Its to early for me to say whether I agree or not.

      I must say that playing Dropfleet have made me more interested in playing Dropzone 🙂 it is a great circle.

      Congratulations to the happiness of weddings. I hope you will enjoy yourself. Perhaps you will find some new opponents 😉 Ohh, and Happy Holidays!

  4. So many questions! (It’s all good, bro!) 😉

    I haven’t been able to commit any time to writing any battle reports yet. I’ve thought about it, even taken a bunch of pictures a few times, but time always slips away, and then so does memory… But I can probably remember games at a macro level, so keep asking questions, and I’ll do my best to regale you with memory drippings. 😀

    Broadsides for PHR are a bit problematic. Yes, you can often go Weapons Free mid game, when you’re stuck in the midst of enemy ships, but you have to take a pounding in the process. I generally find that front-facing BTLs, especially our big, twin ones, are a help, but frankly I tend to go very heavy on both Launch (Bombers & Fighters) and Troopships, especially the Orpheus, because 1) it has the little BTL at the front, and 2) because it has Light Calibre broadsides, which put out 12 shots per side, so you can plink away at things as you move up towards a cluster with the BTL, and try to contribute to putting spikes on things, then when you get close enough to the cluster to launch bulk landers, you can try to broadside an enemy Strike Carrier, or use the Calibre (L) special rule and unload on any frigates that have wandered too close, and most likely do a crap ton of damage to one, or one on either side.


    • (Continued…)

      As for orders, you don’t see everyone going Weapons Free all the time. You usually don’t get into shooting range until Turn 3, sometimes Turn 2, but if you rush a cruiser forward too fast, it’s probably going to die, or get close to dying, pretty quickly. Coming on with Silent Running Turn 1 is a more common tactic, although Active Scanning with a ship or two Turn 1 will help light up a choice target for your BTLs to try to reach out and touch by Turn 2. After Turn 2 when things are close enough that spikes really don’t matter, going WF can be the right strategy, but sometimes you’ll need to Course Change to set yourself up into a better angle for the next turn, or you’ll have to try to shake off some Bombers. By mid game there’s really no point in Active Scan or Silent Running for most things that have reached the middle, but you will sometimes find yourself using Station Keeping to keep in the general area. It’s usually a good idea to try to give some kind of special order that at least one ship will benefit from (and often it’s only that one ship, or Group, that needs it/can benefit from it) since you can always use Standard Orders on anything else in that BG.

      Hope that helps! 😀

      • Jens Bäckman says:

        Thank you for remembering! 🙂 You know I am stuck with family for Christmas without a wargamer in close proximity so for now it is talking and thinking about wargames rather than playing 😉

        Good to hear about the orders. Looking forward to how Column approach and higher points game will increase the amount of decision making.

        • Yeah, I’m kinda “stuck with family” this week, too, even though the FLGS is a mere 25 minute drive away, and there’s guys in town who will play. Hopefully this coming Monday I can get away for a 1,500 point game — vs Shaltari!

          Column Approach is very, very interesting. By that I mean, it really affects how you approach the first two turns. It’s not always an easy choice which two BGs to bring on first! Combine that with wanting to keep your SRs low, and you end up with either your Strike Carriers split amongst several BGs, or all bunched up into one, but your other assets spread across, split up and mixed together because of the “grouping” rule.

          For example, you’ll want to get your Strike Carriers (or Voidgates) onto the table ASAP, so that you can get them into Atmosphere on Turn 2, but you also need to get your carriers onto the table so that you can Launch Bombers as soon as you’re able. At least, I do.

          So, yeah, playing the Column Approach adds a whole new dynamic that we just don’t have in Dropzone.

          Also, I strongly recommend staying at 999 points, not 1,000, so that you stay at Skirmish level.

          Gotta go! Will check back later!