A Return to Space (Games)

Time for a lighter blog entry this week – as predicted, after my Drop Fleet Commander game on Wednesday evening my enjoyment and excitement for the game returned. The initial rekindling of my enthusiasm for the game came after flat-mate Matt took his UCM to table against PHR player Laurence from our group. The brief after-action report I got from Matt energised me for a game of my own, so I got in touch with Laurence and arranged one!

Immediately I set about writing lists. As previously mentioned list writing for Drop Fleet Commander is not an arduous process and I quickly put together something I was pretty confident of:

Vanguard Group SR21 (445pts)

H – Onyx – 165 (Star Shaman – 20)

M – Amber (2) – 220

L – Opal

Line Group SR11 (190pts)

M – Emerald – 100

L – Voidgate (3) – 45

L – Voidgate (3) – 45

Line Group SR8 (145pts)

M – Emerald – 100

L – Voidgate (3) – 45

Pathfinder SR 7 (202pts)

L – Topaz (4) – 148

L – Glass (3) – 54

The Vanguard group is the hammer of the list, capable of unleashing a terrifying twenty-eight Lock 3+ shots when going weapons free. On average that’s nine hits and nine criticals – enough to almost tear open a Battleship! Alternatively, that’s seven cases of four 3+ Lock shots to spread the pain over several targets.

This was a big concern of mine when going into battle against Laurence. Personally, I firmly believe the true power of the PHR is in their frigates – with 5 hull and 3+ armour, they’re tough customers and can easily brawl with higher numbers of other species’ frigates. This is particularly down to that fifth hull point. Because the most damage that an exploding frigate will do to nearby ships is two, sniping one PHR frigate in a group cannot cripple its undamaged companions. This renders them much more resilient to chain explosions that have an unfortunate tendency to rip apart other species’ frigate groups.

Also they have two viable combat frigates – the Europa, with two linked three shot 4+ Lock broadsides, and the Pandora, which sports a single shot Lock 3+ Burnthrough (3) laser. At 45 and 50 points respectively, they’re not cheap but as pointed out above, you’re getting a lot of resilience for that extra cost. Notably, they’re around the same cost as Shaltari frigates so I wouldn’t have the numbers advantage to compete.

As a group we are fairly collaborative so I’d shared my ideas first with Matt, and the both of us had with Laurence. Being an intelligent admiral, and respecting both my and Matt’s experience with game Laurence took our ideas on board and has used it to great effect. He has created what I’d come to call the Bates Formation; four Europa with one Theseus. This is nasty, relatively inexpensive group that can much faster than expected for PHR ships, and their broadside capability makes them very versatile. They’re also somewhat throwaway; Laurence has a tendency to throw them deep into enemy fleets to take advantage of their firepower capacity. Rather than trusting their resiliency to let them survive, he leaves them in the middle of enemy groups so that destroying them is incredibly awkward but also necessary.

Last game I had with Laurence was the first game I felt I’d truly lost the battle in space. I’d won the ground game, thanks to some exploitation of the the Voidgate rules, but I’d underestimated the danger these little wolf packs presented – and Laurence had brought two in that game. For our next battle, I would be prepared.

Nine gates and two Emeralds is one less than I normally use, but this shouldn’t have made much of a difference if I was a little bit clever with my gate use. The small group of Topaz and Glass can activate quickly to hunt dropships or wounded targets. Confident in the list I stopped thinking about it in the two days leading up to our game.

Four hours before our game I changed my list, desperately scribbling down the below replacement. I wanted to test a theory I’d been toying with after my last tournament, where I created what became referred to as the much-maligned ’21 Glass list’. Even after the rules changed to balance the Glass corvette (yeah, go me!), they still present a deadly close-quarters threat and can potentially sweep through whole groups while having to be picked off individually – a task not well suited to cruisers. However, I need a list to counter Glass lists, while also being functional against other fleets.

Line (190pts)

M – Emerald – 100

L – Voidgate (3) – 45

L – Voidgate (3) – 45

Line (145pts)

M – Emerald – 100

L – Voidgate – 45

Pathfinder – (218pts)

L – Amethyst (3) – 144

L – Topaz (2) – 74

Pathfinder – (439pts)

L – Topaz (4) – 148

L – Topaz (3) – 111

L – Jade (4) – 180

An unconventional fleet, but one with many different weapon systems, which is the best way of dealing with corvette swarms. Also the large number of frigates, while vulnerable the possible explosion chains, presents a large number of targets that can cause difficulties for limited weapon/ship lists to deal with. Not quite as efficient in this sense as the cloud of sparrows tactics I used with the Glass, but something similar. Hopefully the increased threat of the weapon systems – which can critically hit, an important advantage over the Glass, especially versus PHR frigates, and are full range as opposed to the changed Glass’s close action guns – should be able to eliminate a good portion of potential threats before they get a chance to have an impact on my potentially fragile fleet.

 

The Game

We exchanged a couple of banterous pleasantries and then realised we were playing in amateur hour, starring us. This began during set up when I remembered I still don’t own my own clusters. After Matt saving the day by having perpetually left his space stations at the Spartans, I also remembered I don’t own my own debris fields either. Substituting in some Battlegroup Cards for debris fields and deciding that we’d randomly generated spacestation assault, we were ready to go.

After checking the approach type. And then how that approach worked.

Turn One saw Laurence jet forward with his one Bates’ Formation, Max Thrusting not quite to the half way line. This mean that my Amethysts were not quite in range, so Silent Ran, but their escorting Topaz took a long range shot at a Europa and knocked two hp off it. We both slow played the rest of our fleets, after reminding ourselves that Launch Assets didn’t care about Signature when measuring range. My last group, the large frigate group, did come quietly into the the night. Lining up on the extended Bates’ Formation, I demonstrated my respect for its firepower by opening up. The Jades crippled a Europa, which took additional damage and was destroyed. This was exactly why the four Jades had been included – a near guaranteed kill on a PHR frigate a turn. The Topaz let rip on the Theseus, fourteen shots resulting in seven damage and two additional from the crippling result. When the smoke cleared the broken halves of the Theseus hull floated away.

This felt like a significant victory, partly as Laurence had brought his own experimental list, similarly keeping in mind he was playing against Shaltari. He was going with a powerful launch heavy list, to try and curtail my range advantage somewhat, and the Bates Formation was most of its mainline firepower. Removing this made me feel like I was ahead, but I kept my head in the game by reminding myself that everything could go up in smoke if I lost focus.

Turn Two began with a roll off to see who got to activate their main combat group first – my Topaz and Jades were racing against Laurence’s Orion and Ikarus group, escorted by a Calypso. I didn’t want him to move them into an awkward position between two debris fields that would make it hard or risky to get to them, and he didn’t want me to get and easy round of firing at his remaining combat group. I won, by virtue of Laurence rolling a 1 versus my roll of 2, and victory surged once more inside me!

Except for the damned Calypso. Now they affected a whole group’s weapons it would significantly impact my Topaz wolfpack’s ability to nuke down a full health cruiser. The Jade’s would be perfectly suited to kill it, or force it to use its ECM suite on itself, except there was a dense debris field in the way. After roughly three seconds of almost strategic thinking, my personal dislike for Jades as overly expensive low fire power options made a decision and I drove them through the debris field, raising their shields before hand. Two took a single damage, one was crippled and caught fire and the fourth escaped harm. Laurence, with cheerful resignation, used the ECM suite when they targeted the Calypso but I still got four hits, crippling the damned thing and subsequently destroying it. As per usual with my games against Laurence, I rolled a 1 for the Destroyed Ship table so there was no collateral, but it was still a satisfying victory. The Topaz swung in and completely failed to capitalise on this as I forgot to rise an orbital layer, and only managed three damage on the Orion. Apart from this, the only notable actions was the remains of the Bates Formation driving into the middle of my Amethyst on Max Thrust as they were out of range of shooting things, and the Orion doing something similar into my Topaz, but only managing one additional damage on the burning Jade and one on a Topaz. My Amethysts almost took out an Ikarus, crippling its weapons for a turn.

A potentially devastating turn for both us ended in an anti-climatic foray of warning shots.

Laurence’s bombers achieved a minimal success with this run, although one of my Emeralds was thoroughly covered in bombers for next turn. The flaming Jade failed to repair itself and blew up, crippling one of its companions which also exploded, crippling a third which then also promptly blew up. The last one survived with mildly scratched paint, as I finally made some shield saves, but it was a frustration and a considerable reduction in their ability to impact the fight.

This was the beginning of a series of very unfortunate events. I started by winning the roll off to activate my large frigate swarm against Laurence’s healthy Ikarus and mildly damaged Orion. The remaining Jade spied the wounded Ikarus, limping towards the flank with one hp left. Manoeuvring around the asteroid field that had set the fire that had burned up its squad, it fired its single shot. The particle weapon blew through the PHR cruiser’s armour and must have hit something very important as the ship disappeared in a Distortion Bubble – catching one of the Amethysts and destroying it. That then exploded, crippling and destroying a second which – of course – did the same to the third. Laurence was happy with the exchange.

The Topaz made up for this Phyrric success by turning sharply and removing the Orion in their midst. The Bellephron cruised alog, staying in drop range of the central space station, but also into dangerous proximity to the Topaz swarm which its weapons failed to impact due to my shield saves averaging out after their absolute failure in the early game. Laurence’s healthy Ikarus slunk away from the central scrum, lurking close an asteroid field but ready to pounce on one of my motherships. The ground game had heated up in turn two, but turn three saw some deciding changes – my three armour squads wiped out five of Laurence’s six infantry platoons for the loss of only one of their own, giving me a convincing hold on the central space station. On my left flank, the fight for the space station there was decided by Laurence’s six dice managing to roll a combined total of nine, not scoring any hits, while mine managed to break even and knock out one of their opponents. Currently it looked an even fight for victory points, but next turn could and would change everything. While the PHR bombers on one of my motherships had managed to land some shots, even under the (admittedly limited) focused fire from the PHR ships on my right flank as well, the Emerald escaped without being crippled. Science bless shields!

I started by activating the Topaz swarm and nearly tearing the Bellephron asunder, crippling it in a terrific volley after I remembered to make sure we were in the same orbital layer. It was still moving, but its lights flickered and vital gases leaked out into space after a Reactor Overload. In return a single Topaz was destroyed, being the first frigate that managed to power down its reactor before destruction so didn’t take any of its companions with it. With so few ships left, all that really happened was Laurence’s Ikarus moving imposingly to threaten my dmaaged mothership, which was eventually crippled and later destroyed under sheer weight of fire – a very unreasonable weight, as it appeared the ship’s shields were operating on some high specification than the rest of the fleet. Even though he had extended his fleet far and wide across the field to catch it, giving me the advantage of picking engagements, Laurence still celebrated this not just for removing 50% of my drop capacity, but also because it was the first time he had destroyed one of my motherships.

The victory would warm him for a long time, but it was somewhat dampened when my other one finished off the Bellephron, robbing Laurence of any control he had of the central space station. In the drop phase I piled as many armour into the central and my-left flank space stations, hoping to force Laurence’s hold on both to break. It worked in the centre, the single PHR infantry platoon crushed beneath the hover engines of the Shaltari armour. On the left, I had four armour to Laurence’s three and when the lasers stopped flying I still had three…but Laurence had one! The station near his board edge, a firmly PHR installation by this time, managed to pop a Topaz – which, of course, blew up and crippled a second, then a third…which blew up…killing the second one, and crippling a fourth…which blew up as well! This left me with only three of the eight original Topaz, and greatly reduced my firepower.

We totalled up the scores, which finished at 7-7. We both controlled two stations and contested one, and neither of us had remembered anything about Critical Locations. There was some contention about who would win if we played two more turns, both of us quietly confident about our chances while very aware of the problems the other might have. Unfortunately we didn’t get to play out turns five and six, as I had to leave, but it was a very fun game and I resolved not to wait so long for another!

What did I learn? Or, more accurately, what had I forgotten that I remembered by the end of the game? Orbital layers are a thing and definitely impacted me significantly on two turns. Shields need to be used when in doubt and I can measure distances before deciding to leave them on or off. I still think that two motherships at 999pts is fine, as long as you still take nine or ten voidgates, because being able to chain them with some safety distance while keeping your motherships out of danger – if you fly them sensibility. The Topaz swarm was very successful, but somewhat vulnerable to the explosion chains I had decided were a minimal threat; having three separate ones occur this game, I may re-evaluate that conclusion. I would say, however, that my Shaltari Frigate list was a success, and the only change I would make at 1250 would be to make space for a Diamond and a tenth gate somewhere, possibly an Opal as well.

With the fire of my interest rekindled, I’ll be looking for more games of DropFleet Commander as well as hunting down some tournaments in South East England. While I’m sure i could get regular games at the Surrey Spartans, I’m still on a Guildball high – especially after the release of the Farmers and the rework to Theron of the Hunters guild. Having a day of three games of DFC would be my preference, and from my (limited) experience of DFC tournaments it’s an intense amount of play in the time you have, so that should provide the fix I need to satisfy my need to play this game. I look forward to games in either a casual or competitive setting. IN fact, I already have another scheduled!

 

 

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