This article comes to us via Abuse Puppy form over at 3++. He relates his experience at an Escalation Tournament he went to with his Warhound Titan. Let us know what you think in the comments section about the dirty D in tournament play. -ed
So, a little while back here I attended the Valentine’s Day Massacre, a two-day tournament in Seattle with the full gamut of 40K options allowed- Forge World, Stronghold, dataslates, etc. The idea was to give some kind of test to the claims of problems with them and see just how things stacked up. While I was reasonably sure what the result would be, I was at least willing to give things a shot and see how it played out in order to have some kind of direct experience with Escalation.
But as it turned out… oh, wait, nevermind, things turned out pretty much exactly as expected. The Escalation units walked over the normal units fairly heavily, and in the end it was a Warhound Titan that came out on top of the scrum.
1750pts Imperial Guard/Inquisition
Lord Commissar (Power Fist)
-Platoon Command (3 Flamer, Boltgun)
-Sabre Platform (Lascannon, Crew)
-Sabre Platform (Lascannon, Crew)
-Sabre Platform (Autocannon, Crew)
-Sabre Platform (Autocannon, Crew)
Veteran Squad (3 Meltagun)
Warhound Scout Titan (2 Turbo-Laser)
Void Shield Generator (2 extra Shields)
In retrospect there are a couple of small changes I would make to the list (mainly giving the Infantry Squads gun upgrades), I consider it pretty close to the “ideal” list for such an environment. Coteaz acts as deep strike defense and mitigates the possibility of the enemy Seizing against me. Vendettas and Sabre Platforms give me some resilience on my scoring units and shut down enemy flyers. The VSG protects me against enemy superheavies, especially Strength D, and insures that when going second I’ll still have most of my army left alive. (It should be noted that the TO had ruled that blast weapons only caused a single hit on the Shields, which was part of the reason I ran it.) And, obviously, the Warhound was the main killing power in the list, eliminating most kinds of targets in short order.
My plan was pretty simple- drop any Void Shields an enemy superheavy had with supporting firepower and then blast it with Str D; against armies without superheavies, Str D large blasts would erase most things in pretty short order. My main concern was an army of FMCs, specifically the Daemonic variant- not only would they be a lot harder to kill with the blasts, but the ability to Puppet Master my titan could easily end up vaporizing a large percentage of my army in short order. Going second against flying circus would probably lose me the game, but since going first would allow me to very nearly wipe them out and since the list was effectively my only major worry, I felt I was about as well-prepared as I could hope to be. A Rune Priest could’ve solidified my game against such an army slightly, but I didn’t really have the points to spare for that sort of inclusion.
Obviously there were other dangers as well, but having covered most of my bases pretty securely, I was reasonably confident that I could take most any list that turned up.
Although turnout was a bit low overall, we still ended up seeing all of the major players make appearances- my Warhound, a Revenant, a Transcendent C’tan, and a Drop Melta list (as well as a half dozen other armies of various stripes), so there definitely was at least a field to compete against. Terrain on the tables ended up being a bit sparse, but with Str D flying around everywhere that almost wasn’t a concern. I knew a couple of the other players from other events, though the tournament was actually the first one that the store had run.
Missions and deployment were using the TSHFT standard, so each round had a primary, secondary, and tertiary mission to play for, with primary being worth 6-14pts, secondary being 0-6, and tertiary 0-2. The primary and secondary missions were both drawn straight from the rulebook, while the tertiary generally related in some way to using or destroying units from a particular FOC slot. Due to attendance being on the low side, we played more rounds than strictly “necessary” to determine a winner, but it didn’t end up being critical.
Painting and sportsmanship were also included in scoring, but were given as separate prizes; if turnout had been larger perhaps we might’ve had a Best Overall award, but as it stood awards were confined to 1st/2nd in battle points, best painted, and love of the game (which was essentially the fluff/sportsmanship prize.)
Mission: Crusade (4 objectives)/Relic
Deployment: Dawn of War
Opponent: Orks with Stompa
Objectives were evenly distributed between us and he had a similarly-strong scoring presence, so I knew the battle would essentially come down to killing his Stompa and then grinding down his troop units. He had three full-strength units of Boyz, some Gretchin, a pair of Loota units, and a Big Mek, plus some Deffkoptas. His Mek and one Loota unit were inside the Stompa repairing it (though he didn’t realize you could stick multiple different squads inside a superheavy transport) while the remaining units spread out to hide. Gretchin and Koptas were in normal reserve.
As you can see from the pic above, things did not go well for him- I picked up first turn, and despite Night Fight being active, there was realistically nowhere he could hide that would be out of range of my guns and with no Void Shields to protect him, things ended pretty much before they had begun. My initial volley of Turbo-Laser shots killed the Stompa instantly (with one six-followed-by-a-six doing enough HP to kill it all on its own) and I began wearing down his other units one by one. His Koptas arrived and came in on one flank to do a bit of damage, but were unable to push me off any of my objectives; I eventually move my blob into midfield, claiming the Relic, and keep him off of one of his objectives with some volleys of Turbo-Laser fire followed by some Stomp action. I exit the round with max points.
Mission: Scouring/Kill Points(?)
Deployment: Hammer and Anvil
Opponent: Eldar with Revenant
One of the players I knew from earlier events, he and I were both pretty much playing variants on our lists from the other event that utilized Escalation. His Revenant was backed by a Solitaire Autarch, some jetbikes and Rangers, a Hornet with Pulse Lasers, a Nightwing, a Fire Prism, and a pair of War Walkers. Very light on scoring, but he had enough shots to drop my Void Shields and if his Str D got through, I was in major trouble. The matchup would largely come down to the dice- if he rolled well or I rolled poorly, he could easily table me, and vice versa; my Void Shield Generator, multiple flyers, etc, certainly gave me some advantages, but it was by no means a guaranteed thing.
He won the roll-off for first turn and I spread out my deployment to mitigate the damage he could do to me. I made one significant mistake here in placing my VSG, as I allowed him enough space to get inside the bubble with one unit; however, he in turn made a mistake of his own and moved his Hornet (rather than his Revenant) into the gap, being overly-focused on getting rid of my Generator. Which, in fact, he managed to do, scoring a lucky pen against its AV13 and wrecking it immediately; however, the remainder of his army was unable to drop my titan’s own Shields and so he was forced to fire into my Warhound before he was really “ready” to do so. Three of the blasts landed on it, knocking down both Shields and some HP, but without rolling the dreaded six he was unable to take me out in one volley.
My return fire essentially crippled his army straight away- the Warhound landed four blasts on the Revenant, three of them passed Holofields, and that was the end of that. Other shooting did some wounds to the Solitaire (thanks to psychic powers), shook the Hornet, and basically solidified my position. Over the next couple of turns I cleaned up his remaining forces one by one and things were never really in question; we both knew where the game was going, it was just a matter of whether he would be able to score a few points here or there to make the loss not a total disaster. Once again, I end the round with maximum points.
Mission: Emperor’s Will/Crusade (3 objectives)
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Opponent: Necrons with C’tan
Though this was easily the most absurd of my games, it really wasn’t all that different from most of them- I certainly got a couple strokes of good luck, but even failing them things still would’ve turned out very similarly. My opponent had built his C’tan without the Str D template, which was rather odd, but again didn’t really matter; beyond that he had an Overlord, several different units of troops, and a pair of Doom Scythes. The large central piece of LOS-blocking terrain would limit each of our ability to target the other, but I knew that my superheavy was MUCH more effective at range, so I really just needed one good volley of shots to finish him off; if he got into melee it would be bad, but I had no reason to think he would be able to do so.
He won the roll to set up first, but I managed to Seize on him and moved my titan around to take some shots, which promptly vaporized his C’tan, since none of their otherwise-formidable defenses have any effect against Str D, and the explosion killed about 2/3 of the remaining models in his army. (Str10 AP2 will tend to do that.) With virtually no firepower left, both his flyers scheduled to die on entry due to Interceptor, and my army still at full strength, he conceded the game six minutes into the first turn.
Deployment: Dawn of War
Opponent: CSM with Lord of Skulls
At this point it was pretty clear how things were going- I had essentially won all of my matches on day one with the first shot of the first turn, and it wasn’t looking like anything that was coming on day two would change that any. Hoping to bring some vague pretense of balance to things, he asked me to accept a nerf to the Warhound’s guns, making them small blasts instead of large. Since I was already pretty far ahead of the pack, I shrugged and accepted- seemed to rather defeat the point of a no-holds-barred tournament, but he was the TO and all and I wasn’t super-concerned.
My opponent this round was playing basically just for jokeses- his list was the max-price Lord of Skulls (both gun upgrades), a Daemon Prince of Khorne, two tricked-out units of CSM in Rhinos, and that was it. He was here to send a murderbot at the enemy’s face and made no apologies for it- it didn’t hurt any that his army was very nice-looking and the Lord was a very cool model. We laid out dudes, he got first turn, and we went to it. He rushed forward with both his units (the Rhinos were in reserve) and got in my face; shooting from the Lord of Skulls did minimal damage to my guys. I opened up on his Daemon Prince and managed to finish it off with the blob and Sabres, leaving my Warhound to deal with his superheavy. A bad set of rolls on the Destroyer table left it with one HP left, and hilarity ensued.
He charged my Warhound (which had moved to the front of my army in preparation for such an event) and unleashed the maximum number of attacks on me, hitting eleven times and causing an astounding thirty-two HP of damage to me in a single phase. My Warhound did not survive. However, the reactor meltdown also killed his Lord of Skulls, and his explosion took out a bunch of my guys to boot. However, being that his Rhinos had both failed to arrive, that left him with no models on the table and the game was over- of course, even had it gone on I still had a large number of troops as well as plenty of firepower to dispatch his twenty Marines, but it was still fairly spectacular.
Mission: Big Guns Never Tire/Crusade(?)
Deployment: Vanguard Strike
Opponent: Drop Marines
My last round of the tournament was also my only loss for the tourney; it was a fairly standard Drop Pod list with a couple of standouts, the most relevant one being Lysander for the HQ. He had miscellaneous other supporting firepower (Lascannon Devs, Rifledread, Thunderfire) and then several Tactical squads and some Sternguard, plus a small unit of Scouts for scoring. The table was an Infinity one, with lots of fairly-large LOS-blocking stuff that we played as ruins.
With Coteaz and board edges limiting his options, he made some risky Deep Strikes half a dozen inches from the table edge and got reasonably lucky, with everyone scattering into (rather than away) from my forces. My Intercept caused a bit of damage, but having actually landed inside the building only a limited number of my models could actually get shots on them. A 4++ and Void Shields mitigated most of the damage, but the one penetration that went through cut off nearly half my HP, which was a bit inconvenient. My return volleys killed all of Lysander’s squad except for the big man himself (putting him on his last wound from one Destroyer hit) and wiped out another combat squad. Knowing the way the wind was blowing, I was forced to charge Lysander, hoping that a good Stomp or failed save would put him in the ground. Sadly, it was not to be, as Lysander’s dice were on fire while mine were rather weak- over the next three turns I never Stomped more than once, never got a 6 to wound him, and he never failed a save against my hits while virtually every one of his attacks was a hit and a penetration. My 4++ managed to slow him down a bit, but in the end his S10 AP1 hammer was too much for me, and to make matters worse the explosion scattered off and did nothing to him.
From there it was a long, downhill grind as I failed a lot of saves and he made every single charge (seriously, he never failed a charge the entire game, even though most of them were 6″-9″ through difficult terrain, including an 11″ one with his Techmarine) and he just kinda ground my units up one by one. His Lascannons- with Prescience from an Inquisitor- also were working on overtime, shooting both my Vendettas down in pretty short order despite my attempts to Jink. By the end of turn 6, he had essentially wiped me out.
Had I been playing “properly” (i.e. using the Warhound as printed, rather than with the small blasts) I almost certainly would’ve won, as that would have meant an additional ~4 Destroyer hits on Lysander’s squad, and I just needed one more wound to finish him off. Without Lysander, my Titan wouldn’t have died (as he was down to only one Meltagun left at that point) and I would’ve rolled over his Devastators and other Sternguard unit pretty easily when they arrived. As it was, I still top place in the tournament due to getting the absolute maximum points in every other round, so I couldn’t feel too bad about it.
This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
So for those of you who are still with me, what’s the conclusion from all this? Well, in four of my five matches, the game essentially ended on turn 1 when I killed the enemy superheavy, and I think this is pretty indicative of how Escalation battles will almost always go. One player or the other will kill the other guy’s big thing with a Str D shot and that will be the end of the match, even if dice keep getting rolled for another turn or three as both people go through the motions of finishing things. And as far as players without Lords of War go, none of them managed to place top three and I don’t believe any of them were even in the top half of the rankings- the complaint from them was consistently “I don’t have anything that can deal with that” as the superheavies and GCs just rampaged through their forces, killing everything on 2s and hitting dozens of models at once.
The tournament more or less perfectly replicates what I was expecting to see with Escalation: a handful of superheavy choices dominate the environment, specialized spoiler lists are the only thing that stand a chance against them (but are far from guaranteed to win), and players with “normal” armies are out in the cold. Escalation is bad for the game not just because it makes all other non-Escalation options into also-rans, but because it turns the game into essentially a one-turn joke: either you kill the other guy’s big toy immediately or he kills yours, and therer’s really no strategy or tactics to any of it. Go first or get lucky: that’s how you play Escalation.
Is Escalation fixable, then? Is there anything that can be done to make it more playable? Well the most glaring problems lie in a relatively small number of units- the Revenant, the Warhound, the Transcendent C’tan, and a few other smattered units with access to efficient Str D weapons. If you “fix” these, does it make Escalation playable and good for the game? I’m not convinced it does. Oh, certainly it improves things, but it’s hard to get much more degenerate of an meta than “I go first I win unless I roll six 1s in a row.” If you remove these units- or remove their Str D weapons, or whatever else you decide to do- you are still left with plenty of other problems; there are other Str D weapons around, and there are other problem guns in the game. S10 AP1 Ignores Cover is available on some reasonably-cheap tanks, and there are plenty of other broken things in the superheavy range as well. In trying to fix them all, you’re just playing whack-a-mole; tone down the Str D stuff and other things pop to the fore, etc. I don’t think there is any reasonably-simple fix that makes Escalation balanced with regular play options- perhaps doubling the VP for damaging them as well as making the Seize bonus a 4+ as well as bringing the Str D stuff down in power could do it, but that’s an awful lot of work to use a broken toy.
Now, understand I’m not condemning Escalation per se, only its use in tournaments. For friendly gaming, when two players set up a specific match and agree to specific constraints on their lists in the interest of cooperation, I think it has some amusing possibilities. Some of the superheavies are not particularly problematic at all, or at least no more than other things that can be found in the game. It’s pretty much Babby’s First Apocalypse Game, and in that regard I suppose it’s fine for what it is, even if I’d much rather just play a “real” Apoc game if I want to do something like field a superheavy. But from a competitive perspective, it is an absolute disaster and can’t reasonably be included without completely distorting the play field to the point where it is unrecognizable and not really very fun for anyone.
I’ve made a post here about working on getting some updated FAQ answers. If anyone would like to contribute questions in the game that are still hanging, it would be appreciated.