When I first caught wind that Games Workshop was working on a set of expansions and other rules updates, I got excited. When I heard one of them would center around siege warfare, I started digging trenches in my front lawn in preparation. Having read through Stronghold Assault and Escalation, and being familiar with the concepts behind the new Dataslates and Formations, I'd like to share my thoughts on them and muse about where the game is going from here.
I more-or-less ignored Escalation until I bothered to read it and my opinion on it remains largely unchanged. Being able to take Super Heavy units in "regular" games of Warhammer 40,000 is pretty cool and can make for a game that the players will remember for a good long while.
The Imperial Guard get the lion's share of choices from the book in the form of the frillion Baneblade variants. Many of the other armies get only one choice, which I think was a major ball that Games Workshop dropped. Having at least two or three would've been better and there are options out there for some of the other armies. Craftworld Eldar could have gotten access to a Cobra, Orks could have gotten a Mega Fortress tank... You get the gist.
Luckily, Forge World has picked up the slack and given all of the armies the full range of Lord of War options they deserve.
Others have complained that Escalation being a Supplement (not an Expansion) fundamentally alters the game, but I don't see it that way. Relatively few players have super heavy units anyway. They're cumbersome to tote around and are enormous targets on the battlefield. Many of the options are from Forge World, which adds enormous expense to the pile of issues of bringing a Lord of War to the battlefield.
I think, also, that a majority of players recognize the potential to break casual game play. Much like win-at-all-costs tournament lists, many hobbyists playing casually will politely refrain from playing with or against Escalation army lists unless both players are up to the challenge, much the same way you might hear "Hey, Dave, I just paid my taxes and can't take getting bent over a table again this week. D'you mind not bringing out the tourney list with four Riptides?"
The alternate Warlord Traits table is pretty sweet. Reading through it a second time I had to keep reminding myself that not everyone plays Imperial Guard and other HQ units can make much better use of the traits than a Company Comander or Commissar can. One of the traits gives your Warlord armourbane and fleshbane in close combat against Lords of War. Now imagine a base Company Commander pistol-whipping his way through a Baneblade--and destroying it. Talk about a memorable game!
The missions included with the book also seem like a lot of fun. I'll have to dust off my Baneblade and actually find time to play. Busy holiday seasons are always such a joy, aren't they?
As a Death Korps player and lover of siege warfare, this book had me hungrily hoovering up any rumor up until its release and absorbing it all with glee. Reading the book, I had only minor quibbles, but was very, very impressed with the Expansion.
Stronghold Assault allows players to fight siege battles with one side being the attacking player and the other being the defender. The book also features three additional missions to take full advantage of the new rules for fortifications in the book.
One of the more interesting surprises was the alteration to building rules. The new building rules in Stronghold Assault streamline the process of using buildings in games of Warhammer 40,000. One of the best, in my opinion, was making Battlements a big access point to whichever building it's attached to. Allowing Jump- and Jet-pack troops to embark into buildings was also a nice addition, though to be honest, I wasn't aware at the time that they weren't allowed to do so.
The choice of fortifications available to players is rather undiverse, representing Games Workshop's buildings available for purchase. An excellent addition to the book would have been giving each army a few alternate options to the basic structures. Something like Tau being able to add some sort of drones or letting Eldar replace Imperial weapons and void shields with their own guns and holofields. I imagine the design studio will probably be releasing separate Dataslates for army-specific upgrades to fortifications at some point in the future.
Out of the two, Stronghold Assault is the book I'm most excited to use in my games of 40k. It very strongly reminds me of Planetstrike, which I absolutely adored. Stronghold Assault even utilizes many of the same alterations to the Force Organization Chart featured in Planetstrike.
My friend Ryan is a big fan of World of Tanks and Mech Warrior Online. Both are shooter games that are free-to-play online, but feature options you can purchase to enhance your in-game experience. Too often, free-to-play games will suffer from what players call "pay-to-win" syndrome, wherein all of the best items, equipment and enhancements sit behind a pay wall, unavailable to players not looking to spend any money on the game. Ryan remarked that Dataslates are Games Workshop's experiment with pay-to-win gameplay.
Certainly an apt analogy, but after looking at some of the Dataslates that have been released so far, I'm not getting the impression that there's anything game breaking in them at all. In all honesty, I really like the concept! Adding a new dimension to gameplay and encouraging players to consider options they otherwise wouldn't take is almost never a bad thing.
Of course, there are some minor issues: chief among them is the fact that Formations are separate Detachments. A huge potential for abuse would exist were it not for the enormous number of points one must spend to take any of the Formations that have currently been released. The Tau Firebase and Space Marine flyer Formations are each in the ballpark of 500 points. As it stands, it's just a head-scratcher.
My other quibble with the Formations are the (so far) lack of restriction on how the units in a Formation must be arranged. Think of the formations in the Apocalypse rulebook. When a group of units in an Apocalypse formation maintain some sort of special coherency, they benefit from some special rule. A better idea, in my own humble opinion, would be to play Formations in standard games of 40k the same way, granting buffs to units that remained in a special arrangement.
Overall, I'm extremely positive about what the deluge of new gaming material means for the hobby. My sincerest hope is that my regular gaming group doesn't just decide to ignore the expansions. They all sound like so much fun and I'm chomping at the bit to play all of them.
All the best and Merry Christmas!