I write after a ludicrously extended break from Dropzone Commander of about a month. Finally, on Tuesday, I got a game in. And it was a game. I played against Chris Loomis and his still freshly rusted Resistance army. You should definitely check out his painting at his blog.
After the game, it got me thinking about the state of Dropzone and which units are finding the most success. Really, what I’ve come up with is two things that contribute to the success of a particular unit. This is probably completely obvious, but I’m going to ignore those of you who are more intelligent than me and direct this mind blowing idea at those of you who have been a little slow to coming to this realization, as I have been.
Rolling a lot of dice, and weathering a lot of dice.
That’s it, the mind blowingly amazing idea.
On the one hand, you have the chaingun on the Hellhog, the glorious nano-murderers of the Medusa, demo-tastic Katanas, pick-your-targets Helios, and a handful of others. While some of these units have different approaches and advantages, they all throw a huge number of dice. 8 from the Hellhog, 10 from the Medusa, 6 from the Katanas, and a whopping 12 from the Helios. All of these units are able to dish out serious damage to their targets, because when you roll twelve dice, eventually you’ll get some sixes.
There are a handful of units that are suffering because they simply cannot get enough dice on their targets. Katanas throw six dice at a building the first round, and barring catastrophic attacks coming from across the board, another six at a building in round two. Followed by diminishing dice for the rest of the game, you can expect a squad of Katanas to throw eighteen or more dice in the course of a battle. Of course, this can vary depending on how you use your Katanas. Forward attackers in Condors will likely throw a few less dice. On the other hand, the most that a pair of Scimitars can hope to toss in the course of a six round game is twelve dice. Usually, they won’t be able to, because targets tend to try to avoid the lines that Scimitars want to use to hurl their lasers down the field.
Granted, Scimitars throw better dice than Katanas. The issue is that, when you miss a couple of shots when you’re tossing six dice, it’s no big deal. When you miss a couple of shots when you are throwing two dice, your activation amounts to a lot less than you had intended.
We have all seen the Ocelot – either the one that we own or an opponent’s – that 95-point monstrosity of awesome staring at its target across the table. The laser of death causing the pilot of the Zeus to embarrass himself. The massive particle cannon charges and builds before it…fizzles. Granted, often the Ocelot’s cannon is amazing! It’s just that when you roll a 95-point unit onto the table and that 95 point unit gets a total of six shots throughout the game where a third of them miss, that 95 point unit feels like a waste. Of course, this does not mean that the Ocelot is not a huge threat. It can destroy a Zeus in line of sight with one shot with only slightly above average rolling!
I think that it is a similar issue that many players are finding with fastmovers. That roll to get on the table goes bad just enough times for it to really feel like it hurts.
On the other hand, there is also weathering dice. This can be done a few ways: modifying the dice trying to hit you, staying away from the dice that are trying to hit you, having a huge number of DP to eat through, getting an awesome passive save, or having an armor value of ten (or seven for flyers, or 4 for infantry). Usually, the really good units can do a mix.
Skimmers and fastmovers are excellent at modifying the dice trying to hit them, almost as good as the Medusa and Freeriders. On a six sided die, adding 2 or three to the number required to hit you can mean a lot. The shot goes from a two in three chance to hit to a one in three chance to hit. That sounds awesome, and it is awesome! The fewer dice that hit your unit, the fewer dice your opponent gets to roll to damage. Now, skimmers are really good at this with a caveat. They don’t always get to do this. I think that this mechanic helps balance most skimmers. AA weapons and clever players that shoot once the skimmer has dropped and before its next activation, can minimize the dodgyness of a skimmer. With evasion though, until we see more flying flamers. you pretty much just have to spray and pray.
Staying away from the shooters can be easier said than done. Yaris are amazing for their twelve inch move and the ability to get around behind that building before you can take a shot at it. Freeriders are even better. Flyers tend to have a more difficult time because they are up in the air and reaction fire and whatnot. The basic premise though, is that the enemy can’t hurt you if he doesn’t have any targets to hurt. It’s not always the most effective tactic, but it can be a good way to save on damage points until you really need them.
Units like the Hades, Nemesis, Phoenix, Thunderstorm, and other monstrosities of war can take a long time to bring down (unless you throw enough dice). Eight damage points requires eight hits that turn into damage rolls (not counting the chance for doubling up). Even so, with doubles it still takes four shots that hit, then successfully damaged. It takes a fair amount of dedicated firepower to shoot that target instead of shooting at others.
Getting a passive save is an excellent way to weather fire. Everybody knows that the Shaltari are cheating scumbags who only win because they have passive saves and gate magic. The Zeus is an awesome piece of equipment because it simply ignores two thirds of any dice that try to damage it.
Finally, having a high armor value. If most targets shooting at you need to roll a five or higher, your survival is much more likely. Anyone who has witnessed a squad of Kukri throwing dice at a Lifthawk or a Desolator knows that those 12 dice should not worry you very much.
So, how do these ideas play out together?
Let’s compare two units of a similar cost: the Helios Jetskimmer for 60 points and and the Hyperion Type 2 heavy walker for 59.
The Hyperion has the advantage of range, which will often be mitigated by terrain and a clever player. It also has the defensive advantage of a high armor and a passive save. Offensively, it is able to overcome armor. Also, that roll a six to hit and deal double damage thing is pretty cool. The Helios has the advantages of speed, skimming, and dice.
On paper, the Hyperion is more likely to survive most fire, and it is able to ignore a lot of weapons that will cause the Helios driver to wet himself. Offensively though (even ignoring the AA) the Helios is better, because it is able to target more things.
One on one, the Hyperion has a good chance of winning the encounter. As long as it rolls a four or five to hit, it has a 50% chance to deal two points of damage and kill the Helios outright. The Helios has a chance of killing the Hyperion, but the chance is slim. Of the six dice that it rolls, five of them will probably hit, of those five, three or four will probably be saved. If those three or four dice turn up at least two sixes, then the Hyperion dies! It is rare, but it can happen.
On top of this example, the Helios is more effective against multiple targets, because it can split fire between two targets. It is also able to roll more dice, meaning that if one or two miss, it still has chances to deal damage.
Against something with a lot of hitpoints, like the Scourge Screamer, the Hyperion needs a minimum of two shots to kill it. The Helios, will likely take at least as long to destroy the infernal bugger as well. Although, the Helios does have the outside chance of dealing more than two damage points to the Screamer in one activation, something that the Hyperion cannot boast.
In the old days, when everyone’s main tanks and armor only had one or two damage points (except for the blasted Shaltari with their warstriders) a large volume of dice was not as necessary. Now, with the plethora of units capable of soaking large amounts of incoming fire, there is an absolute need for throwing as many dice as possible each turn.
I’m not sure exactly what this means for the future of Dropzone. I have to admit that I am a little worried though. If the trend of new units like the Medusa, Valkyries, Raider, and even the Hazard Suits, and many of the Resistance units continues, we will see factions throwing a lot more dice. Will mainstays like the Sabre and Tomahawk become relics of the past?
I hope not. To their credit, the Hawk team have done a very good job so far of keeping a balanced game where old units find themselves on the field almost as often as the new ones.