Steamrolling 1 - Retrospective

Our lord and saviour hath spoken, and he hath given unto us good news. A new Steamroller pack is finally, finally coming, and while I'm of the opinion that Steamroller 2019 has held up remarkably well under the circumstances that it's been put under, it's definitely time for a change. As such, today I'm going to be kicking off a new article series, by briefly looking back at all of the packs we've seen over the past few years, since the big changeover to scoring 5 ahead, and assess all the iterations of various scenarios that we've seen. Enjoy!

Editor's note: this isn't tooltipped, because it would be too confusing seeing references to the old scenarios, clicking on them, and then seeing the new version. The galleries will serve as sufficient reference; however, if you feel that Stephanie should be less of a lazy bitch and add the old scenarios to Shipmate, you can address your complaints to 

Our journey starts with Steamroller 2017. These were halcyon days, back when Cygnar used Cygnar models, and Archons were only known by lore readers. Steamroller had, for many years, worked on a system where the first player to score 5 Control Points (hereafter CPs) in total would win on scenario, and the changeover to scoring 5 ahead was one that... well, honestly, I don't personally remember how it was received by the community, but it definitely rattled me a bit. Like, I'm autistic, so literally all change does that, but this was a seismic shift in terms of competitive balancing. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that things were relatively cautious at first. As you'll see from the gallery above, the scenarios generally kept their elements relatively close together, such that contesting multiple zones/flags at once was a viable tactic. Interestingly enough, there was actually an even split between scenarios without Objectives and scenarios with, meaning that your list definitely couldn't rely on having access to them in your tournament games. 

I honestly can't remember how I felt about these at the time, and I don't particularly want to because I was a fucking idiot back then, but looking back now, it's a bit Marmite. There's the ones I think are pretty good, like Spread the Net, Standoff, and Recon 2, and there's the ones that are kinda miserable-looking, like Breakdown and Outlast. The Pit 2 is also there. I suppose it's the bread in our Marmite sandwich; it just sort of exists, but the flavour is in the filling. Spread the Net and Recon 2 played off the successful Recon scenario of yesteryear, which a lot of old hands will probably agree was one of PP's biggest successes in scenario design, by slightly incentivising a rotation around the board in terms of where you push; more so for Recon 2 than Spread the Net, but it was still noticeable. Basically, instead of forwards and backwards, you'd be nipping round the sides and sort of spinning from a straight deployment line into picking either the left or right side of the table, which created a neat sort of pirouette for your armies. Breakdown and Outlast... they were just a bit of a slog, to be honest. Breakdown couldn't be scored nearly fast enough, and thus degenerated into a bit of a slugfest that even the most ardent control-hater these days would probably agree wasn't enjoyable. It's okay to have something dead in the packet, and we'll talk about that later, but this wasn't it. Outlast I just don't like because it has circular zones. You know my biases, I'm not apologising. 

As for the Objectives, there were but three, which were kinda boring but useful. Armory is one of those Objectives that makes a bit more sense in context, as incorporeal actually mattered back then and making all your attacks Magical would have been a big deal. How little we knew back then. If I had to pick a favourite out of this lot, it would definitely be Standoff; I know that not voting Recon 2 is heresy, but hear me out - I really like that it's a scenario you can engage with on your own terms, either by going for the big 5-0 play, which you can do on other scenarios too of course, or by contesting minimally from back-midline positions. That last bit is what makes the difference for me; some of the liver scenarios tend to make their elements a little wide, which makes it a bit harder to recover from those big plays. Standoff gives you the opportunity to dominate the whole board while still making the centre matter. I feel like it struck a balance, which I do remember not appreciating at the time, and honestly? It's nice to see that there were scenarios like this in the packet. The devs took a big gamble by switching things up like this, and despite the missteps on some of the other scenarios, I'd say that the packet broadly evidences that thought had went into how this new system would work. 

Don't worry, though, there's a sad coming. Steamroller 2018 didn't actually change a great deal, which yes, good, keep going with what with the benefit of hindsight I can see was a good thing. Looking at what I disliked about Steamroller 2017, it was nice to see the two scenarios I didn't like go the way of the dodo, but the replacements? Eeeeeeeeenh. Let's have a look.

2018 was when I first really engaged with the international competitive scene, and watching good players pull off scenario wins on Mirage got boring quite fast. It was just silly levels of live - there wasn't enough risk associated with a big push, and pushing back was just a bit too much of a challenge. Couple that with the middle flag restricting buildings from being placed in the centre, and this all adds up to a scenario I didn't/don't much care for. It would have been acceptable, maybe, without that middle flag, but that decision got reversed somewhere between CID and release iirc, so that was just the world we lived in for a year. Meanwhile, Invasion exists. While a lot of people I respect strongly dislike this scenario, citing how dead it feels and that because of this the game will often come down to who goes first, I kind of recognise the scenario as a necessary evil. It's basically an efficient way to check the power of control 'casters by introducing a speedbump, where they might take an L just by not being able to push scenario super hard for the W. If you're going for a balancing strategy where you don't want any one single thing sweeping tournament X-0s, then to do so makes sense and is an efficient use of limited dev time and resources, at least the way I see it. I don't necessarily disagree particularly strongly with the people who aren't fans, as they correctly argue that it's rather uninteresting and doesn't make anything unique happen - just slapping each other about and maybe grabbing some circles if someone gets cocky, but when I compare it with Breakdown, I can't help but think that it's just live enough to get a pass. Oh, and also, the Recon 2 flags moved slightly to make them a little easier to contest. I actually started writing the paragraphs below before typing this, having completely forgotten that that change was made. It was probably impactful, but forgettable. Now, though, we get to 2019, and the real spice starts flowing.

Standoff? Gone. Mirage? Gone. The Pit 2? Substantially changed and renamed King of the Hill. 2019 was where I'd say the devs started really stretching what they could do with the scenario packet, and I'd argue that the results were pretty interesting. Basically, the goal seemed to be to widen things waaaaay out, and that goal was definitely accomplished, with Ambush becoming an extremely relevant rule. This has definitely been a pack that you have to seriously think about at the listbuilding stage, whether that's packing enough Solos for flag-grabbing on stuff like Bunkers, or having independent battlegroup models/Battle Engines that can go hard flank on King of the Hill. I wanted to write a breakdown of each scenario, but that's probably going to wait until the new ones release, so instead, I'm just gonna give my retrospective and my takes. I'd argue that the scenarios we'd seen up to this point, with the exception of Mirage, hadn't hugely changed listbuilding; you were basically just taking gud modl and if it worked well with the scenario then great, your Faction was strong. In 2019, though, you tweak stuff. I've never felt like the circle/rectangle split really changed how I was doing things, but the way scenarios were laid out in 2019 did - it was a successful example, for me anyway, of altering list building behaviour with a tournament packet, and I respect that a lot now that I've spent time thinking about dev stuff.

Now, individual scenarios. Anarchy I just hate because a. circles, b. the annoying measurements, and c. just being fucking annoying to actually play. I will not miss it when it is yeeted into Yoteunheim. Bunkers has the distinction of adding zones that are actually quite hard to contest, which is pretty cool actually, because while you can absolutely make big 5-0 pushes, you do have to think about how you're going to contest if that's not on the table - and if you're not going for a scenario gameplan, just contesting the centre is probably enough. That said, I'll like this more if the central flag goes away as previewed in that Insider way back when. King of the Hill, weirdly poorly named. If you want a scenario named for dominating the centre, then maybe make the centre a bit more worth dominating? Like, this does incentivise rotation, which is nice, but when I look at it with a critical eye I feel like it's a bit too much of a good thing. When I put all of these into perspective, it's hard to feel like it wouldn't be nice to have Standoff back, but I'm willing to give Split Decision a chance, if it still exists. The overall effect, though, was to give us an interesting packet that wasn't just more of the same, which in my opinion gave us enough to go through as a community to keep us going for two years. If we'd paused on, say, 2018, I don't think that would have happened. Thus, while I disagree with the execution of certain scenarios here, I'm calling this one a big success for the devs, and a great basis for future refinement going into the next packet.

On top of this, we added three more Objectives. This, I really liked, and I wanna call it out as a really good decision. See, Objectives are a great way to add choice for players without releasing new models or making certain combos overpowered - you can always kill Objectives quite easily, and they inherently impose restrictions in exchange for their generic power. The ones that were introduced in this packet; namely Observatory, Treasure Chest, and Dugout were all neat and interesting choices (I can take or leave Treasure Chest personally, but a lot of people like it and I've no strong animosity, so I'm willing to call it a success), and I'd argue that this represents another win for the dev team that will hopefully be taken forward into 2021. I'm happy with the Objectives they're removing, which are the sort of generic-y ones rather than the interesting and matchup-contextual tool-y ones, and I really, really look forward to seeing the replacements. 

Anyway, that's a lightning round of the scenarios of before. Not much on actually playing them, but only because I feel that with a new pack on the horizon it's probably better to save that for later. I hope it was an interesting read regardless, and I'm interested to hear y'all's perspective on how things were. I'd particularly be interested in your stories of good games on scenarios I didn't look upon favourably here - for all I talked shit about Breakdown, I remember having at least one really good game on it, and maybe your experiences might change my mind a bit. Next up will be either some hopes and dreams for Steamroller 2021 based on what we know so far, or a take on the actual CID if it's up by then.

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