Wednesday, March 18, 2015

EndGame Oakland Commands the Largest Dropzone

Mike Montesa sent me an email about a month ago reminding me to sign up for the DropZone Commander tournament in March.  Of the 14 spots available, there were only 12 left!  Come on Mike, no need to sensationalize it.  I'll sign up, don't worry.

A few weeks later, I see another announcement on Facebook: just 8 slots left in the March tournament.  Uh huh, yeah, I'll do it.  You only have 6 people.  There are like 10 who play at Endgame.  Don't rush me.

A week later, I see the last fateful post: 2 spots left.  Wait, what?  How did you go from 6 to 12 in a week?  Okay, okay, I'll sign up, I just have to find the URL, and check my calendar, and oh shit its too late, they are grabbed.

DropZone Commander is a 10mm combined arms, dropship focused miniatures combat game by Hawk Wargames.  If you are thinking that you know that name from somewhere else, you are wrong, they have produced literally nothing else.  Each player alternates in activating groups of units to move, shoot, stab, or search for objectives.  The game is set in the year 2670, humans from Earth have expanded out to colonize the stars, found alien races and inevitably gone to war with them.  They fight mind controlling aliens, post scarcity war-loving aliens, cyborg human aliens, and rabid, savage (and yet somehow extremely effective and technologically advanced) humans.  There is a lot of history and story to the game, which can be compelling.  I play the human faction that generates a surprising number of jokes about Will Smith's character in Independence Day, mostly revolving around the oft misquoted line, "Welcome to Earf!"

If you can see this without thinking of the letter "F" then something is wrong with you.
Mike Montesa and Stephen Bajza organized the 3 round tournament.  They provided 14 participants with tables, terrain, scoring sheets, scenario information, and printed out reference sheets with rules clarifications.  The tournament ranks players on victory points earned in game for objectives like searching through ruined artdeco buildings, having units near focal points, or picking up pieces of vital intelligence (which, as the intelligence might be bombs instead, is my personal favorite).  Killing your opponents stuff does not get you points, except for breaking ties, so you can slaughter them, but if they shoot down a few key infantry transports, you could still pull it out of the fire.

Not the winner of the paint prize, but with a display board like that, why not?
An interesting rumor was floating around the tournament that this was the largest DropZone Commander event in the United States, and from most accounts, that is the truth.  It speaks to the size of the community, but the fact that several of the regular Endgame players did not make it, and the fact that they ran out of space before they ran out of sign ups belies that conclusion.  If EndGame had a larger venue, perhaps it would have been a larger turnout.

In the left corner, with the 6 legged scorpion with the triple rail gun....
Another factor contributing to the success of this tournament was the number of people who came from far and wide.  One of the players that I spoke to, Patrick, came down from Fort Bragg, repping a store called Music Merchant.  I talked to Patrick about his involvement in DropZone Commander and how he came to find himself in Oakland, four hours away from home.  He said that he got started with Warhammer 40,000, and other miniatures game, but eventually grew frustrated with the company that produces the rules and models.  He wanted to find another game that worked better for him and soon gravitated to DropZone.  We talked about the other options for him and what it was that he liked about DropZone.  Warmachine was great, but it doesn't have tanks.  Flames of War is great, but there really isn't a community where he lives.  Other games like Infinity, Malifaux, and Anima Tactics are all small scale skirmish games.  He moved to DropZone because it brought him the game he wanted.
See that large dropship on the left?  Yeah, that's the one basket.  It had eggs in it.  All the eggs.
Mike and Stephen both gave me a moment to ask questions about the game and what they felt about it.  There is a new set of rule updates coming out, and Mike is excited.  They changed some of the features of some units that Mike uses to improve them.  This makes them more useful, and in the past, people generally thought these units were not good enough to use.  Stephen had looked at some of the changes for his faction, but was unsure if the changes were enough to really make a difference.  Sure, saving some points on some units was nice, but really what difference would it make the composition of his army?

This type of adjustment seems like one of the two general methods of rules tweaking that publishers make.  There is one camp with Hawk Wargames, Privateer Press, and others that will publish rules and then release errata from time to time and update small things about the game.  Some players like this because problems with the game exist for a much shorter time.  Some players don't like this because they need to constantly check for updates, errata and FAQ's, rather than having one constant level play experience.
A classic match up.  Or it would it be, if the green side had been out longer.
The other camp holds publishers like Games Workshop and Wizards of the Coast, who release game updates in bulk, making large updates and many small rules changes as new editions of the game come out.  Some players like these because they don't have to research small changes when they start a game.  Some players don't like this because if you dislike something about the rules, you can go months or even years until it gets fixed.  With games that organize their stories around different factions, large changes to certain factions can make a world of difference to one player, and be completely unknown to another.
Is there an article going on around here?  What's it about?
I watched the end of the second round and the start of the third.  The bottom half of the bracket, at that point, was pretty solidly one faction called the Post Human Republic.  The top table was Aaron Gorfein's United Colonies of Mankind and Tony Xiao's Resistance.  A couple of difficult rolls for Aaron in the beginning killed off 4 of his 6 largest tanks in a fiery ball of destroyed transport.  He knew the end was near pretty early in that game.  Tony went on to win the tournament and also win the best painted force award for his ramshackle post-apocalypse Resistance force.  The other two places went to Kyle Bonderud in second with PHR and Ian Chadwick in third with Scourge.
The UCM player added taller flight stands.  It didn't help him in the long run.

EndGame runs DropZone Commander events every month, and there are typically people playing there on Tuesday nights.  It's an easy game to learn, if the rules are a little atypical sometimes, but demo games are fairly comprehensive.  The starter kits are designed to include everything that a new player needs at a decent price, which means that it's easy for small communities to start up in different areas.  If the group from Fort Bragg shows us anything, it's that you are probably going to start seeing more of this pop up before long.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 86 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back.  If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know.

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