[Actual Play Review] Dropfleet Commander (Demo Day)

I find myself in the strange situation of having been to the Dropfleet Commander pre-launch event at the South Wales Gaming Centre and come away having spent no money on Dropfleet Commander. I do have a batch of four strange aquatic-looking spaceships  for the Scourge faction, but those were bestowed upon me for turning up and for buying Simon a pint.

Dropfleet Commander, like its companion Dropzone Commander (previously discussed here), is Quite Good. Much like Dropzone, it owes something of a debt to Games Workshop skirmish games (Battlefleet Gothic, in this case), not least because Andy Chambers wrote the rules for it, but the relationship is one of direct ancestry and improvement rather than “it’s basically Gothic without any GW trademarks in it”.

Engagements take place in high orbit, or low orbit, or the actual atmosphere of a planet. There are urbanised ‘clusters’ on the ground  (yer actual mission objectives) unto which you endeavour to deliver troops and vehicles by means of carriers – relatively lightweight spacefaring vessels capable of atmospheric flight. These are escorted into the fray by frigates, cruisers and battleships – other vessels of varying size, most of which can’t go below low orbit.

Unlike its spiritual ancestor, it doesn’t feel like a naval warfare game that’s pretending to happen in space; pin that on the three levels of playable altitude (across which shots can be fired, though munitions travel more accurately toward targets at similar height). The range of scenarios and deployment types also offer alternatives to the ‘ship of the line’ feeling that Gothic was rather prone to at its worst, and the frigates are actually useful (especially the Scourge ones, nippy little shits that can enter the atmosphere alongside the carriers).

Dropfleet does have one major flaw, however: the means by which all the fun stuff like altitude, damage inflicted to ships and energy spikes (which make a highly active vessel easier to detect from a distance, extending the effective range at which they can be targeted) is actually tracked. It’s done on the models’ bases, which have pegs, holes and swivelling windows which allow coloured card inserts to be seen.

These would make a great UI for a computer game, but on the tabletop they are fiddly as all hell and difficult to manipulate or even see without picking the model up. When one has to pick the model up every time one wishes to change or check its game state, something is wrong. By midway through the demo game on which I sat in, I was scheming what would need to go on a WM/H style card and how such a thing might be laid out.

This aside, I am sufficiently entertained by Dropfleet Commander to consider giving it and Dropzone a go. I’m attracted by the cross-compatibility between the two games, with the objective areas of the Dropfleet board representing a Dropzone battle, and by the approach taken to releases and backstory advancements, with each phase of releases and accompanying rulebook moving the game’s timeline along by a mere 100 days or so. There’s space in the setting for one to make up one’s own planets and personalities and plotlines, and of course my wheels are already turning with regards scaling up and laminating a map of South Wales so I can infest Blaenavon with Scourge and blow up Barry Island.

Currently Playing – just completed VtM Bloodlines for the second time (the Malkavian ninja and the Tremere lounge singer made it through, the Nosferatu stopped being interesting once I had five dots each in Obfuscate and Potence and I never really mustered the enthusiasm for a Ventrue). Re=acquired Diablo II, because I vaguely missed jamming runes into weapons, but that may have been an Error of Judgement now that I’ve been spoiled by graphics originating after the turn of the millennium.

Currently Modelling – the last bits for the Skorne army (unit of Immortals, Extoller Soulward, Hakaar the Destroyer  – and I’ve even started painting the damn Mammoth, a mere six months after the convention at which it was supposed to make its debut). Also, this miscellaneous lot here:

That’s Privateer Press Trollbloods (just the battle box, because I happen to like the models); Heresy Miniatures Zombies, Cultists, Blight, Flesh Golem and Werewolf (Blood Bowl team/WFRP encounters/Frostgrave warband); Wild in the Streets goth gang (only had those in the ‘to build’ pile for a year); SmogCon pirate captain.

Currently Reading – besides the rules for Dropzone Commander and Frostgrave, I’ve just reread Down and Out in Paris in London and Equal Rites. I keep looking with guilt at my non-fiction shelves and remembering how few of these books I’ve actually read cover-to-cover rather than raided for references at one time or another…

Currently Spending – more than I should, but I did make nearly £100 from flogging old Orks last week, so it’s fine. Nobody panic.

3 thoughts on “[Actual Play Review] Dropfleet Commander (Demo Day)

  1. Hi Von, I don’t know if i said this before but I like your new format. Back to the blogging roots; just what you’re doing with no fancy stuff. I think it’s a good response to the general decline of the gaming blogosphere.

    The DZC ships look very cool, that wobbly Geiger-esque one is beautiful. The only problem I have is they are so specialized as models, I can’t easily see a way for them to be repurposed or used in conversion projects, which is something I look for in models. But that’s just a failure of my imagination at first glance.

    Equal Rites is easily one of my favourite Pratchett books. I love all the Lancre Witches ones actually. Last year I read Hemingway’s Fiesta and was underwhelmed. Don’t know what I expected but perhaps he has not survived the test of time. I fear the same for Down and Out, is it worth a read?

    Re: non-fictions, I find it easier if they’re those huge chunky history books about a particular time or event that really go into detail with people’s letters and such. It’s like reading a novel with an interesting format, but strangely more exciting (to me) because it happened. Most pop historians are at least as engaging as your average fiction author these days. I read a great one last year about the English Civil War. Right now I can highly recommend The Fatal Shore, it’s a classic Australian history from the 1970s (I think), about the first one hundred years of white settlement in Australia. It’s fascinatingly brutal and also probably interesting to English people. I keep thinking a Vampire campaign set in convict Australia would be amazing, but that’s not my story to tell.


    1. Thanks, man. I like that you think it’s a deliberate response to the wider state of affairs in blogland – I suppose it is, although not a particularly considered one. I have run out of ‘meta’ topics that I haven’t done before, I don’t play enough or competitively enough to ‘dojo’, so this is what’s left. Buy things, build things, paint things (the Mammoth is creaking along nicely), occasionally play games with them, and sometimes write about it.

      What you describe in ref. specialisation is a bigger ‘problem’ of proprietary rules/models relationships and modern genre gaming, I think. Hawk Wargames haven’t just made a set of figures and rules, they’ve made an Intellectual Property, and so the things they make are designed to represent elements of that Property and not much else. (There IS a ‘meta’ topic in this somewhere, concerning proprietary universes, creativity and imagination, but I worry that it’d be one of those “once we’ve had this conversation there’s nowhere else to go” jobs – or that it involves me admitting I don’t HAVE an ‘imagination’ in at least some sense of the word.) Anyway, the conversion-proofing is an understandable problem to have… especially for someone who is any sort of Artist.

      Down and Out in Paris and London is worth a read as a slice of life. The specific social problems it addresses may have endured or evaporated in the course of time, but Orwell captures a specific moment in time, specific people living a specific quality of life, and that’s worth doing. Oh, and confession time: I have never read Hemingway. Not a word.

      You are spot on about the engagement factor of pop history. The air of biography and the effort to evoke a place and time makes for a more comfortable read, particularly to minds raised on filthy Narrative (another ‘conversation killer’ topic – the irreparable harm done to the psyche by too much protagonistic fiction). I’ve heard of The Fatal Shore but not read it. Perhaps I should.

      As for that Vampire game… why not yours?


      1. Cool, I’ll add it to my list. Well, I’ll remember to read it next, because it’s been on my list for years now.

        I’m reading The Fatal Shore mainly as part of my rediscovery of my roots. I feel like twenty or so years of talking to foreigners on the internet has given me the false impression that I’m some sort of international man of the world, and the whole earth is my cultural context. Which is not true – everyone comes from somewhere, and every culture places limits on how you interpret the world. I’m learning a lot about my own culture and even myself simply by reading my own country’s history as avidly as I read others.

        I think you’d like it though, or at least the first two thirds. The writing style is very emotive and entertaining, if a bit florid. The bits about the British social context at the time of the convict system are fascinating, and the descriptions of Georgian London and the prison hulks are grimdark as hell. You might get a bit bored by the last third of the book, which is about the wealthy settlers creating what is the economy of modern Australia, but before that there is a lot of great stuff about convicts, and aboriginal warriors, and corrupt military governments. Oh and plenty of rum, sodomy and the lash.

        As for the vampire campaign… I find DMing the 5th ed. D&D game takes up enough of my time. And I’ve given up creative writing because frankly I find it hard and boring, which is a pretty good sign I shouldn’t be doing it. Only took me two decades to figure that one out. Art is so much easier and more rewarding for me. You start; you finish; you do the next painting; you get visibly better over time.

        Doesn’t mean I don’t secretly dream about projects that I could have done, if things were different.


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