Friday, 23 October 2015

The First Turn

The Resistance deploy at full throttle!
Back in my days of playing lesser, commercially designed, and some would say dirtier wargames, I was never really able to get the knack of deployment. It wouldn't matter if I were to deploy first or second, I would always get something wrong and then end up swearing at myself 30 minutes later when that expensive squad of combat specialists ended up being no where near any kind of melee. Frustrating times.

So you can imagine my happiness when I first discovered that Dropzone very rarely uses deployment in a traditional sense (i.e. I line up my toys, and then you yours, and then we dakkadakka), and even in the missions which you have an opportunity to do so you don't have too! Even more likely than this though is that the rules strictly forbid you from doing so (as is part of the course with my Scourge; everything is in a dropship). Now, as much as I don't like to be forbade (... forbidden... forbaden?) this very mechanic highlights part of what is so great about this wargame; the decision when to bring on your battle groups and in which order lies with you, and will change depending on how your opponent deploys and reacts to your activations.

But what does this mean?! It means boys and girls (I see one at the back of the auditorium) that turn 1 is incredibly important, as it is technically a 'rolling' deployment phase, and time and time again I see my adversaries get their priorities wrong. Well never fear, Dan is here to help in three easy steps!

1) Make your opponent activate first

Scourge getting the jump on UCM in turn 2
After channeling all of your luck into that first initiative roll and securing the choice of whether to activate first or second, you should force your opponent to go first. DzC is a game in which you want to know where your opponent will be deploying first, so that you can react appropriately. Forcing your enemy to place their models down first will give you an immediate head start over your adversary, as you won't have to guess where that unit of Zhukovs is being deployed - you can simply wait out their battlegroups activation.

I can hear some of you complaining that you want to hammer an objective building with your demo unit before they can get to it. Oh you eager beavers, what you really want to be doing is hammering an objective building after the troops are in it, to try and get some falling masonry and maybe eliminate a base or two.

There is one exception to this rule, and it only ever occurs in missions with direct deployment. If your opponent has deployed a fat, juicy target for your Firedrake, Nemesis, Scimitars, etc, to annihilate before they get a chance to react it's probably worth doing it. I remember playing in a tournament once and using a Firedrake to nuke an entire squad of Tomahawks before they got to move. I won't shame the gent, but I'll just say that he works for Hawk now... This is an incredibly in-frequent occurrence though, and the normal rule of going second will apply 99% of the time.

2) Deploy in the order the mission dictates

The title is a little vague, so let me explain. Each mission will have a specific series of objectives that you will wish to be achieving in order to win the game. This will typically be either grabbing objectives or owning focal points. As is the way with all war games, well, bar Infinity (I'll give credit where it's due, the objective system for Infinity is clever. Shame it takes forever to play... Bet you never thought you'd read an Infinity pun on this blog), you will be striving to accomplish the same goals as your opponent, and this in turn means that you don't want to show your hand before they do.

Getting simpler: hold back the objective scoring units for as long as you can to protect them and allocate them to the correct area of the warzone. 

For instance, in Targets of Opportunity (funny story, before blogging DzC I could never spell the word opportunity correctly, and now I can touch type it) you will be wanting to deploy your Infantry into 'your' objective building as a last few activations of the first turn. This will stop your squads being flattened by falling masonry, and if you are playing against a heavy demo list you can gauge as to whether it is worth going into at all. 

To almost belittle my point however, I'm actually going to quickly launch into...

2.5) Interrupting point 2 to say, also play to your opponents list

In the last example, if you were playing against Scourge they have literally no units which can target your building in the first turn. As such you are pretty safe to dump everyone in there to enhance your search chance. Do be wary though, because six Hunters deploying from a Despoiler will mess up that building in the second turn.

Said bronze cauldron
2.75) Merging point 2 and point 2.5 together in a large alchemic cauldron used for melting points. Perhaps a bronze cauldron. The metal isn't important really, they all melt points down just the same

An opponents list should be looked at before any units are deployed and analysed in your head as to what you need to prioritise for the mission. Let me explain with a war tale; In the last Invasion I played against, for all intensive purposes, an anti-Scourge Resistance list in Secure the Flanks. It had six Gun Wagons, two Zhukovs and AA on each one of the three Lifthawks. Before the game started I knew I needed to control both Focal points in order to win the mission, as by looking at his list I knew he would drop the central building by the end of the second turn (which did happen, and it was in fact by the end of the first activation in the second turn...). I could also ascertain that as buildings started to drop he would have control of the board, as his AA presence was so strong. I then played to the mission by using my troops first to reserve the activations of my more expensive units until the end, and then positioned them well out of the way of those damn Zhukovs. And I mean well out of the way. Leaving my large scoring units until last meant I could see where his danger units and bulk of army points would likely be headed, and as I was faster than him it gave me time to react if they were redeployed suddenly.

I won that game due to a slice of guile, a thick spreading of luck and a healthy dollop of tactics. I was able to deploy my units efficiently in turn one by playing to both the mission objectives and my opponents army list. I did have concerns about turns 2 and 3 though, which brings us nicely to the last point.

3) During turn 1 think about turn 2

As important as your first turn is, you need to make sure that you have a game plan that you will
follow up in turn 2, and ultimately a plan for end game too. If in the first turn you have deployed your gunships to leap on a badly deployed tank unit, make sure that you get the opportunity to carry out your plan. With troops escorting objectives of the field, you need to be making sure that the correct dropship is poised to zoom off the board in case you find it in turn 2, and that you haven't got muddled up and placed your Praetorian's Raven where the Legionnaire's one should be. Turn 1 can be the foundation to your degree of success in a game. If you have a good first turn it can set you up for victory, but only if you remember to carry your plans through.

In regards to turns 3, 4, 5 and 6 I personally tend to have a vague idea of where I will need to be, and up until recently the only army who had to really decide during turn 1 where they were going to be at the end of the game were PHR. We all know how that has changed now... What I'm trying to say is, don't worry too much about that half of the game. Be focused on your first 'deployment' turn, and during it think about your second 'consolidation' turn. The rest of your game plan will piece itself together from that point on.

You will (or I am sure, have) develop your own set of rules when it comes to your first turn, and I just hope this helps you refine this process a little. I personally have a very strict series of do's and don'ts in my head regarding first turn, although I couldn't write them down as they're more feelings etched into my soul than words in my head. Poetic, ehy?

My last and most important piece of advice is to always have vindication in the decisions that you are making. Don't place a model down and think "that will do". You need to be placing your toys on the table with a purpose and plan, and have confidence behind your moves. Sometimes plans fall through and simply won't work, but until you try them you will never know. To quote a famous detective's dead father "Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up. And then go kick the stuffing out of insane bad guys." (I may have added that last sentence in)

Happy first turning!


  1. Nice post! I like these more in depth, thinky kinds of blog posts from you. Tactics and strategy and all that. More like this one, please, Mr. Cates...

    I, too, had a hard time with the deployment phase in my grim, dark days of playing. If you didn't deploy well, you were screwed. In those day I played Nurgle, which are ponderously slow, with a few exceptions. Fast forward to today (happier gaming times!) and I've mostly been playing PHR, which are ponderously slow, with a few exceptions. Coincidence? Maybe...

    But I have been taking more time these last few months to think thru my first turn deployments, and it's been helping my results (which weren't too shabby to begin with, if I do say so myself).

    I was lucky enough to play a game today, and we had a very tight timeframe, so I had to decide quickly which battlegroups to deploy first and where. We played Ed's Rolling Strike Variant, with the additional rule that the focal points would score as they do in Surging Strike. So there was a Deployment Phase, and I had quite a few drive/walk on squads, and not a whole lot of space to allocate to them, so I had to think about what I would be activating and when in Turn 1 as I was deploying the drive on units in the Deployment Phase, as well as thinking about what I wanted to be doing and where by the time a Turn 2 rolled around. As you say, beyond that I didn't have as clearly defined of a plan, but it worked out in the end. We had to call it after Turn 4, and as I was the only one who had managed to find an objective (LOTS of demo on both sides, despite the structures being Hardened), we decided that I would've won it. There was a chance that I could've also controlled both focal points, but we'll never know for sure...

    Anyway, great post, please keep 'em coming, please!

  2. Thank you for sharing Dan.
    Nicw to get an insight in a top players way of thinking.

  3. first point is a bit duh, but this is the most appropriate place to say it.

    second point is real interesting as it reflects the learning stages I've observed. First players learn their own army, then they learn how to play against the other armies. It also illustrates how few rules of thumb their are, as so much is dependent on what your opponent is fielding and what they are doing with it. If both players are keen to this you can get some very whacky and unothrodox plays as they try to get the better on one another. It's really where the game begins to get that chess like feeling and I often look at it through similar eyes. Opening, Mid Game, End Game.

    third point is something that is true throughout the whole game. The first part of the first turn and the second part of the last turn are the oddities that sandwich these other 5 "turns" that make up the game, each featuring the initiative roll somewhere in the middle.

    Were you going to make this a series for the different phases of the game? If not I may take a swing at midgame.

    1. I know what you mean about the first point, but rookies gotta read it somewhere!

      In regards to a mini-series I'm not sure. I've been toying with the idea, but it would have to be a post per mission type rather than for turns 3-6. Your game plans will, or should be, wildly different depending on the mission you are playing. I'm eager to make this site a forum for experienced and new players equally, so I'm sure I'll put something together.

      In the meanwhile if you want to have a pop at mid/end game tactics go for it!

    2. I think both of you should take a whack at it from those two perspectives: By scenario (Dan), and Mid-Game/End-Game in general (Chris). It would be a service to the community for, as you say, both experienced and rookie players, and would carry a lot of weight coming from you guys...

  4. We swedes have often "discrepancy in the terrain placement" where one side is slightly different than the other. This most often means that one side have some extra wood blocking or disturbing dropzones. This cause, as well as the swedish rule that the player with the initiative first turn get to chose side makes point number one a little less "of course". Then again. If there is no difference between table sides and there is no drawback to going second then the first point in this blogpost is really valid and self clear.

    Number 2 is very simple as well, in most cases. But there are many who doesn't use their infantry as an dead activation and enter the closest building when facing Scourge. So I think it is a very good point. The second point have rather much depth as well and mission, opponent's army list and terrain all force you to consider many things.

    The third step is the one I think is most "of course" (at least in sweden as point no 1 is not so clear here) but is way the hardest to do.

    Overall, this was one of you better posts for a while, Dan (though the level is always to high for me to dare try to reach). I enjoyed it a lot. Thank you.

    1. Work pulling all my brain power is getting in the way of these in depth posts, which is a shame. One day in the near fiction, when I'm paid to blog and review games, I'll be sure to write more. Cheers fella!