//Managing layers

Managing layers

One of the most important aspects of Dropfleet is the layers. On one hand, it seems simple – there are only three after all and you can shoot across them, so what’s the big deal? But my experience tells me, that managing layers is crucial in winning a game and a few simple rules will help a new player a long way towards picking the correct layer for any given situation.

Layers summarized

Since information is spread out a little in the rulebook, I will first summarize the most important aspects of the different layers along with a few observations.

High Orbit

  • Ships enter the battlefield in this layer.
  • You have extra protection against orbital decay.
  • Moving to low orbit is free (if you can turn).
  • Firing at Low orbit ships give +1 lock penalty and atmosphere (and ground) is always 6+.
  • Debris fields are here.
  • Large Solid Objects are here.
  • Planetary rings are here (as the only place).

High orbit has no special signatures except the fact that planetary rings only exists here. Everything else is basically shared with the low orbit.

Low orbit

  • Bombardment takes place from here.
  • Critical locations are held in this layer.
  • Space stations are here and launching troops to space stations take place from here.
  • Troopships deploy from here (both to space stations and to clusters).
  • Moving to Atmosphere is free (if you are atmospheric capable and can turn).
  • Moving to High Orbit costs 4″ movement (if you can turn).
  • Firing at High orbit ships give +1 lock penalty and atmosphere (and ground) is always 6+.
  • Suffering from Orbital Decay here is potentially fatal unless you are atmospheric capable.
  • Debris fields are here.
  • Large Solid Objects are here.

Low orbit is where stuff is happening. A lot of point scoring is being managed from this layer (launching to space stations, launching anything from a troopship, bombardment and critical locations) which naturally tends to attract a number of combat ships too, to interrupt your opponent from doing the same.


  • Only available to a very small selection of vessels – strike carriers and corvettes, mostly.
  • Strike carriers drop to clusters in this layer.
  • Firing in and out of Atmosphere is 6+ lock rolls, baring air-to-air weapons.
  • This also means that unless you are facing air-to-air weapons, armour is king and shields (passive saves) are useless.
  • Firing range is limited to scan range meaning signatures are irrelevant.
  • Speed is reduced to 2″ movement.
  • Moving to low orbit costs 4″ movement (if you can turn).

Atmosphere is critical in the sense, that anything in atmosphere is strongly shielded against stuff outside atmosphere. This means that launching troops from atmosphere is a very strong tool, as it requires dedicated tools to combat the strike carriers. For all other purposes, though, atmosphere is bordering useless (not that this isn’t adequately important).

Considerations in using layers

There is a lot of strategy to be found in the usage of layers. My most important considerations are detailed below.

1: Unless you have an immediate task in low orbit or atmosphere, stay in high orbit

This might sound odd at first, when I have earlier established that low orbit is where the action is happening. But Dropfleet is a game where you are awarded to be the one initiating combat. Staying in high orbit might mean that any ships that prematurely went to low orbit either suffer af +1 lock penalty or – if they moved to low orbit last round – have to spend 4″ going up an orbital layer potentially keeping you out of distance (and requirering a scan order to reach you).

So unless this is the round where you want to drop troops from your troopship or bombard the sector with your bombard etc, stay in high orbit. Going down is easy, going up comes with a cost.

2: Multiple-weapon system ships should go to low orbit

No rule without expections; ships who depends on multiple non-linked weapon systems to perform their best – like the Moscow class heavy cruiser – should go to low orbit early because you cannot do a weapons free order and go down a layer (since you cannot turn on such a order). This can in some cases seem like a gamble (if none or few opposing ships are in low orbit at the time) but unless you are faced with ships that can perform their task equally well in high orbit (that group mostly consists of carriers, see below) or you have to protect your own ships who prefer to stay in high orbit, this is where the action is and you need to be ready to engage with the weapons free order.

So, why is this so important? I have below summarized the average damage from a Moscow class heavy crusier firing at 3+ armour save either across layers with weapons free, on the same layer with a standard order and on the same layer with weapons free.

Weapons free, same layerWeapons free, different layerStandard order, same layer
UF-6400 Mass driver1,781,111,78
UF-6400 Mass driver1,781,11(not firing)
UF-4200 Mass driver0,560,22(not firing)
UF-4200 Mass driver0,560,22(not firing)
Percentage reduction43 %62 %
Rounds to kill a PHR cruiser2,03,55,2

As you see, killing time against an PHR cruiser is almost doubled with the +1 lock penalty – this drop is caused by the fact that critical hits are the main source of damage against heavily armoured ships, and that is the first casualty with a lock penalty. Even worse, skipping the weapons free order almost triples killing time.

In short your weapons-free relying ships should get to low orbit as fast as possible except in some very specific curcimstances.

3: Carriers should stay in high orbit

Carriers have an advantage here. Launching bombers and fighters works seamlessly across layers, so you have no reason to match layer with opposing ships. In fact, you have every reason to seek out another layer than your opponents in order to protect your carrier. A ships whose primary role is a carrier role will do well to stay in high orbit. This does mean a penalty to your own lock rolls when firing your few weapon systems, but the protection offered is worth it.

Even more so, if you are faced with ships that belong to consideration 2 above (weapons-free relying ships) changing layer away from their layer at any time is a solid strategy minimizing damage considerably.

4: Strike carriers should drop to atmosphere ASAP

Strike carriers rely on the atmosphere to protect them. They don’t need to care all that much about signature, as long as they stay in atmosphere.

This means that in first round you should always drop to low orbit and as soon as possible in second round, you drop to atmosphere, if you are within reach of your target. From there on, you should only leave atmosphere to help score critical locations or to go to another target if the current target is secured beyond any reasonable doubt.

5: Use layer as a brake

Layers can be an efficient brake. If you don’t want to take a station keeping order a 8″ thrust (like a PHR cruiser) can on a standard order with going up a layer be a 0″ move. If this is applicable to your other usage this can be a really useful tool.

Further considerations

I have only scratched the surface of layer tactics. One of my primary strategic considerations is the order of activation of ships to keep my ships in the “wrong” layer for my opponent when he has activated. This is a rather complicated to explain in writing how these delay tactics work, but I might get back to it at a later time.