Lesson 6: Steamroller
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- This article is part of Warmachine University's Learn Objectives, Tactics, & Strategy (LOTS) series, which is "Advanced Training" aimed at players who understand the rules, and now want to improve their gameplay.
As of 2020.12 the LOTS articles are a WIP. If you have a question that isn't answered, or a topic you'd like to see added, we'd like to hear about it. Post your thoughts on the Talk:Learning to Play the Game (LPG) page.
We have two articles regarding Steamroller, you're reading the second.
- LPG - Steamroller - This version is aimed at new players, and explains the concept and rules of the Steamroller system.
- Lesson 6: Steamroller - The version you're reading is aimed at intermediate players, and gives advice on how to win a Steamroller game and tournament.
- 1 The Steamroller Objectives
- 2 How to Play Steamroller 2017 (and beyond) and What it Means for Army Construction
- 3 The Importance of the Terrain Rules
- 4 Time
- 5 Alternative Formats
The Steamroller Objectives
Most players use the "Steamroller" format, a set of scenarios that are updated and tweaked annually by Privateer Press. Most tournaments and a great many casual games too use these rules, and you can find links to them on the Useful External Links page. In this format; if you are the only one to control a flag or a zone, you earn control points. If you destroy the opponents Steamroller Objective, you earn control points, and the first player to reach 5 control points more than their opponent is the winner. Often, all flags/objectives will be constantly contested/protected by both players until an opening occurs, and the game ends by assassination or at the end of the 7th turn if neither a control point or assassination victory occurs. Should a game go to 7 turns, the winner is decided by who has the most control points/army points etc. as set out in the tiebreakers section of the Steamroller document.
With symmetrical deployments zone the first player will usually be at an advantage, despite the second player choosing the table edge. The steamroller format alleviates this in two ways. Firstly the first player has a deployment zone that's 3" shorter; 7" as opposed to 10" by default (which cascades to the Advance Deployment line being 13" rather than 16"). The second is that most scenarios start scoring control points on the second player's second turn so although the first player normally gets the first shots in at the enemy the second player gets to start winning by scenario first. So choosing to go first or second is not that easy.
SR2017 is much more specific about terrain setup. The board should typically include around 8 pieces of terrain, all of which should be more than 6" from any table edge. The most important change is that there must be a piece of line of sight blocking terrain (such as a forest or building) within 6" of the centre of the table.
Steamroller Objectives, Zones and Flags
Almost all Steamroller scenarios have a system of control points, with the first player to five control points winning (although Caster Assassination also counts). There are three methods for winning control points, and they are assessed at the end of each player's turn starting with the end of the second player's second turn. Zones come in two shapes and sizes - a 6" x 12" rectangle and a 12" diameter circle. Flags are incorporeal, stationary, indestructible 40mm bases. Some scenarios promotes aggressive play by forcing the warcasters forward, into a an area of the board beyond their deployment zone, called a Kill Box. If you don't bring your Warcaster/Warlock into the middle of the battlefield you get penalized. This means you have to play carefully and not just e.g. camp the Harbinger of Menoth right at the back, taking advantage of her 20" control area to keep her safe. All Steamroller scenarios have that rule.
Each scoring feature can only ever give a player a single point. Unlike previous Steamroller packets, there is no dominate mechanic any more for the Warcaster/Warlock to score 2 points with on each scoring feature. However, in many scenarios they can score on two scenario features that are close to each other. For example, if a Warcaster has their base in a circular zone and a rectangular zone, and the opponent does not contest either, that player scores two points.
Each scoring element can only be scored in the following ways:
- All scenario features can be scored by the Warlock/Warcaster.
- Destroying the enemy objective
- Rectangular zones can scored by Warjacks/Warbeasts and Battle Engines
- Circular zones can be scored by warrior units
- Flags can be scored by solos by being in B2B contact (The Warlock/Warcaster must also be B2B if they score it)
The opponent can deny you scoring through the following methods:
- It has at least one model in a zone that isn't:
- Out of formation
- An inert Warjack
- A wild Warbeast
- A Warcaster or Warlock
- Flags are contested with the same restrictions, but the opponent contests if they have a model within 4" of it.
- If both Warlocks/Warcasters are trying to control the same point and there are no other models to contest the active player gets the point.
The Steamroller Objectives adds to the game in a different way than the race for points. The Stockpile Objective for example can fix broken systems or the Armory Objective gives you a much needed magic shot for annoying incorporeal models. In this format, you choose what objective you want on your side of the table, so you should choose something that synergizes with your army. Naturally, your objectives can affect your army composition, but keep in mind that not all Steamroller Missions have Steamroller Objectives, some merely have flags or zones. So you can't rely on your Objective to have any supporting role in your army, but if it is there, you want to get the best use out of it. The valid Objectives are tweaked yearly every time a new Steamroller is released. They are found in the Steamroller document .
In a typical Steamroller event, you can choose which objective you want at the start of each game, it is no longer part of list construction.
It's important to note that you hand out these benefits in the maintenance phase.
The 2017 Steamroller Objectives are:
- May grant magical ammunition to a single nearby model for their first attack.
- Choose a friendly Faction model within 4" to have Pathfinder this turn.
- Remove D3 damage from a model within 4".
- This is really helpful for Warjacks. Since the repair happens in the Maintenance phase before Powering Up or focus allocation in the Control phase, you can repair a crippled Cortex system and have your Warjack completely ready to go for that turn.
How to Play Steamroller 2017 (and beyond) and What it Means for Army Construction
SR2017 was a big departure from earlier packets for three primary reasons:
- Fixed turn lengths means that if the game does go to 7 turns, the player going 2nd has the final opportunity to score points
- Previously, going first was considered unconditionally better due to the ability to take table space and dictate how the game goes
- With zones and flags being scored by particular model types, skew lists that favour Warjacks/Warbeasts (for example) can really struggle to score in some scenarios.
- This typically encourages the player to being at least one army in their pairing with a more balanced list selection.
- To win with Control Points, you must score 5 more than your opponent.
- Prior to SR2017, control casters such as Haley2 could just score one turn, feat, cripple the enemy fightback and then just kill stuff the next turn and win the game by getting to 5 points.
- With many scenarios having flags or zones close to each deployment zone, keeping pace with your opponent's CP score can be straightforward.
What getting ahead by 5 Control Points means in practice
As mentioned above, skew lists can suffer. There are scenarios where:
- Units can't score (No circular zones).
- Warbeasts/Warjacks can't score (No rectangular zones).
- Solos can't score (No flags).
This has two main impacts on your way of play if you opt for a skew list where you have no zones for those models to score and you have few or any models to score the scenario elements present:
- To score, you have to move your Warcaster/Warlock into a position that can be much closer to the enemy than you would like or into a position that means they can't support all of their models.
- It removes the scenario pressure on your opponent so that they can spend more time destroying your models instead of having to keep track of how close the Control Point score is.
Infantry skew lists are typically less affected since a Warlock/Warcaster must spend their Warbeast/Warjack points on that sort of model, giving them a slightly more balanced list. This can mean that they may only have two or three models scoring on rectangular zones which need to be destroyed.
Warjack and Warbeast spam has typically adjusted to the new restrictions by using cheap support warrior units, such as Mechaniks, to bring at least some scoring pressure into scenarios with round zones. But with some scenarios having two round zones and many players just taking a single support unit, this only partially alleviates the scoring problems they face.
What the multiple different scoring elements mean in practice
Scenarios can now have two or three zones present on the table, sometimes with one or more on your opponent's half of the table. This has two primary impacts on how the game plays:
- You have to be able to push forward and contest the zones on the opponent's side of the table.
- Access to cheap, disposable or Incorporeal models helps a lot.
- If you are both scoring the same number of points each turn, the player who can grind their opponent down by attrition is likely to win.
- You can't sit back and shoot the enemy to death.
- This is similar to the first point, but gunlines can no longer sit right back and blast the enemy off of the table. If they don't push forward, their opponent can score "their" zones and contest "yours" on your side. The long range gunline just gets pushed out of the scenario scoring game since they have ceded the table space to their opponent.
Playing the Attrition Game
Some army builds excel at grinding down the opposition so not only can they score more easily, but their enemy finds it hard to score as they run out of models to contest or score with. Classic examples include:
- Deneghra1 in the Ghost Fleet theme.
- Vladimir1 in the Winter Guard Kommand theme.
- Father Lucant in the Destruction Initiative theme.
The Importance of the Terrain Rules
The terrain rules are another reason gunlines are far less effective in SR2017. With the centre of the table blocked off to some degree, the opposing force usually has a good amount of protection from a gunline trying to focus fire on your key pieces. If a gunline pushes to one side of the table to see around the central terrain, they risk sacrificing their Control Point score on the other side. If they split their forces, the opponent has the potential to divide and conquer by focusing their counter attack on one side or the other (again, risking a loss of scoring on one side of the table).
Many Warcasters/Warlocks can now position themselves further up the table than they would have done in the past since they stop being an easy target of opportunity near the middle of the table.
Like most things in Warmachine & Hordes, there are exceptions. With access to rules such as Ghost Shot, all of that terrain makes little difference. While relatively rare, some armies such as Skorne can spam models with this rule to create an effective gunline or Assassination list.
There are two main ways rounds are kept to time in Steamroller:
- Deathclock - Each player starts with an hour on their clock. Once a player begins deploying, their clock counts down every time they are the active player.
- You run out of time, you lose as though your Warcaster/Warlock was assassinated. It's not called Deathclock for nothing!
- Timed Turns - Pretty much as you would expect, each turn is limited to so many minutes before it switches back to your opponent.
- Each player is typically granted a single turn extension (5 minutes in 75pt games) during the match.
- If the round ends before the game does, the players have to score the game on tiebreakers to determine who has won.
Here's a funny thing, prior to 2017, the Timed Turns format was the default timing system and Deathclock was the variant. Most major events used the Deathclock method.
Timed Turns inferior, Deathclock superior?
Timed Turns typically forces you to play away from certain types of list, especially those spam lists with a lot of models. Managing 50+ models on Deathclock is usually easier, so often allows players to explore all options of the game.
However, if you want to get good, some players advocate practising using Timed Turns. If you can keep most of your turns to 10 minutes or less, the chances of you losing to Deathclock go down a lot. Similarly, playing with a shorter Deathclock than the event you're attending (e.g. 50 minutes compared to the official 60 for a 75pt game) can really limit the impact of time on how you play.
Alright, so 75 points Steamroller is the default tournament standard. There are other formats besides this though.
- Classic - the missions from the rulebook, obviously.
- Rumble 3'x3' - variants in the Steamroller document requiring faster play, smaller table.
- Journeyman Leagues - Designed to encourage new players to begin learning the game with their battle box and then expand their collection over the course of games played over several weeks.
Besides these, formatting your warmachine games can happen lots of weird ways. Often it won't, as the event organizer often simply uses Steamroller rules. Its up to the local meta to demand variety. During some events (such as the annual Lock&Load fest) there are plenty of rules variants that come and go. Most formats are implemented and tried and disappears afterwards. Some are used again. Some not. This is always up to the event organizers to get creative and make something that fits with event size. Either way, the point is that you might as well get creative when you make events - Playing Steamroller games is awesome. Playing non-Steamroller games is also awesome. Here are some of the sample madness formats previously released by PP. They usually lean on modified Steamroller rules:
- Spell Draft - Warwitch Deneghra with Purification? Iron Mother Directrix with Signs and Portents? Draft your spells from a random stack.
- Caster Draft - Ever wanted to make your own warcaster? This provides you with a generic warcaster, then you draw cards to augment their stats, spells, abilities and even their feat.
- Who's the Boss - Stryker leading Khador? Morghoul leading Trollbloods? Pair your army with a random pick from the wheel of ‘casters.
- Token Aggression - Draw three tokens from the pile of aggression tokens. Different colored tokens give you different benefits.
- Blood, Sweat and tiers - The theme force tournaments encourages players to showcase the specialized forces of the Iron Kingdoms.
- Speed Machine - Lightning fast play is the name of the game in Speedmachine. Beating the clock will be just as tough as beating your opponent. 25 pt. army list, Battlegroup Only, deathclock 16 minutes pr player !