Far Seer

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Steam tank rush

Tactic from Shaf.


Human builds a lot of steam tanks to destroy the enemy base fast. As soon as the base is gone, you've won.


Warcraft III is a game, most of its online community would agree, that places its emphasis on tactics over strategy, on combat over economy, and on battle micromanagement over optimized build orders. While, in order to be successful, one must combine skills from both sides of the coin, there can be no doubt that the tactical side is more important in the current mode of thought.

War3 is also becoming somewhat infamous amongst its community as a game where everybody does the same thing - where the different strategies are just minor variations on a constant theme. You can creep, tech, or rush, or combine those concepts in varying proportions, and that is just about it.

The Steam Tank Rush runs in contrast to this: it is intended not just to be a strategy, but to be a strategy where the strategy itself is what is important. It is a gambit that is far from unbeatable, but that can be devastating against the right opponent. It isn't meant to reverse the above paradigm of tactics over strategy, but merely to shake things up. It is dangerous, and powerful, and if you play your cards right it can actually work. Sort through what follows with an open mind.

Basic principle

The Steam Tank rush bases itself upon a curiosity of RTS gaming that Warcraft III has introduced. In previous games, you might recall, before a game could be decided one had to provide what was essentially "proof" that the game was won. Some games required you to destroy all enemy buildings and kill all enemy units before the game was over. Others required you to destroy all military buildings and all enemy units. Some have provided mixes of the two. But Blizzard, in an attempt to reduce the annoying games of "hide the peon" that spawned from those victory conditions, programmed their War3 multiplayer maps so that in order to win, all you have to do is destroy all enemy buildings. Generally that's proof enough that you'd be able to kill all their units, too, but as the Steam Tank rush will prove, that's not always the way it works. As I'll show you, it is quite possible to win a game of Warcraft III without killing off a single enemy unit.

The Steam Tank is perhaps the most devastating, and underutilized, unit in all of War3. It packs an enormous offensive punch, can take down buildings in fractions of a second, they have good hitpoints, and most importantly, they have fortified armor, which means that taking them down is like taking down a building. Their "weakness" is, of course, that they cannot target enemy units, just buildings, but, as the victory conditions of War3 stipulate, that's not necessarily a problem. The current paradigm of War3 strategy is to take down your opponent's army before working on their buildings, because buildings take a long time to take down, because economy is too easy to rebuild, and because killing an opponent's army gains your heroes valuable experience. The Steam Tank Rush is an end-run around all of that. If you can take down all of your opponent's buildings so quickly that they can't react, you win. That's what we're trying to do here.

So, in general, here's the idea. You play as humans, and you never build a barracks. You tech up to Castle, using towers for defense and using an Archmage to provide harrassment on your opponent, which mostly exists to keep him from attacking you. When you get there, you start cranking out Steam Tanks. And when you have enough of them, you roll into town with a steam powered engine in your chassis and with destruction on your mind.

The gambit

As with all teching strategies, the biggest problem is that you're sacrificing an early army in favor of advancing up the tech tree, which means that if your opponent hits you early, you're in trouble. The Steam Tank Rush is no exception to this weakness, and thus, performing it represents a gambit. Once you get Steam Tanks cranked out in abundance, it's tough to stop. What you're betting is that you'll be able to have the time to reach that point before your opponent's grubby fingers start punching holes in your plan.

The way to counter this is in no small part psychological. In a way, you have to will your opponent not to attack you. There is a specific way of doing this, which my overall strategy will attempt to communicate. That's just someting to keep in mind as you read this.

Build order

Obviously, play as Humans. The smaller map the better. Immediately build an Altar and Farm, remaining 3 peasants on Gold. Put peasants on gold until you're at your full mining rate (obviously, if you can put a building in your peasant line to speed up your production, you should), and the remaining peasants go to wood. Your first peasant that goes onto wood builds a lumber mill. Do not build a barracks. Stop building peasants when your pop hits 16. With one farm, your max pop is at 18, and it will stay there until we're ready to build Steam Tanks.

Build an Archmage from your altar as soon as you can, and set your waypoint to your opponent's location if you know where it is (if you don't, feel free to convert an early peasant to milita and scout at your discretion). Upgrade to Keep as soon as you have the resources to, which should be before your Archmage pops out.

At home, you need to build towers. How many towers to build varies upon the situation. My rule of thumb is, build more towers if my opponent is higher level than I am, fewer if I am higher. The higher leveled opponent is more likely to attack in force ("take down the newbie quickly") and if they attack in force, obviously you want more towers. Generally I build AT LEAST 2 towers at home and AT MOST 4. 4 is more than enough to stop any tier 1 attack, combined with militia, while 2 does little more than provide a push of incentive for your opponent to stay out of your base and go creep instead.

With your Archmage, once you find the enemy town, do whatever you can to harrass. The AM is up there with the KotG as the most annoying harrassment hero around. For your first spell pick Blizzard if they are Orc or Human, and pick WE if they are NE or UD. With Orcs and Humans you can blizzard their peon line. With UD you summon a WE and target enemy acolytes, with NE you summon and attack the enemy wisps.

You don't actually have to kill any enemy collectors for this early harrassment to be doing its job, although it's obviously a bonus. Remember that you are playing a psycological game here. The game is simple: Keep your opponent out of your town. You want to give him every incentive to either creep, or even better yet, keep his forces at home. Use your AM to keep an eye on your opponent's army, and if he starts running towards your base, run your AM into his and start killing peons. For most people, this is enough to get him to run (or better yet, TP) back to base, which accomplishes what we want. And if he does attack, he'll run into the towers at your home, and with any luck, will decide not to come back until after he's built up a major force. By then, with any luck, your build order will be complete.

Anyway, back at home, you should be building towers and upgrading them as you see fit back. As a rule of thumb, I like to have one tower upgraded by the time the first night falls, and any additional towers upgraded by the time my keep upgrade is finished.

Build a blacksmith when your keep upgrade is roughly 1/3 finished, so that your blacksmith is finished and your keep upgrade is completed at roughly the same time.

When your keep upgrade finishes, immediately upgrade to Castle. At this point your base should consist of an upgrading Keep, an Altar, a Farm, a Lumber Mill, a Blacksmith, and 2-4 upgraded Guard Towers. You have no barracks, and believe me that's weird. You feel naked (I've deemed all no-barracks strategies to be "going naked"), but if the psycological games you're playing with your Archmage are working, you shouldn't be in that great of danger. As soon as you have the resources, and your keep is done, build 2 workshops, and as a general rule, try to build them towards the back of your base where it isn't as easy to see them. You don't want to tip your hand too early. When your Castle upgrade is roughly half completed, you need to build your second farm. Have that farm builder keep building farms until your max pop is 42. Now's also a good time to grab the first Steam Tank armor upgrade.

With your Archmage, continue harrassing. Do whatever you can to keep the enemy army occupied. Also, pay attention to any expansions he might be developing.

Ideally, you want your Castle, 2 Workshops, and 2nd farm to be completed at roughly the same time. The second this happens, you want to start cranking out Steam Tanks, two at a time, and balancing out your resource expenditure such that you're almost constantly upgrading them. Remember that they take the plate armor upgrades, but the gunpowder weapon upgrades (lower left and upper right of the 4 icons)

Because you stopped building peasants when you hit 16 pop, you have 24 population to play with before you hit Low Upkeep; tanks cost 3 population, so the magic number of Steam Tanks is 8. That's a good number even if it didn't work into your upkeep cap so nicely; too many, and they start getting in each others way, and their effectiveness hits diminishing returns, but too few, and you can't hit critical mass and actually do enough damage.

When you reach your 8 steam tanks, group them together and attack!


But hopefully, all has gone well and you're undetected so far. You've already accomplished the hard part, but that doesn't mean you have the game won just yet.

Steam Tanks are slow. That is undeniable. They are so slow that on bigger maps, it's actually not a bad idea to send some peasants forward to forward-build a Town Hall, then use your Archmage to TP your tanks to it.

But that's an extreme situation. Usually you'll have an agonizing couple of minutes where your Tanks are exposed but not yet dealing damage. Here's where your Archmage becomes very important. If you can locate your enemy's army, start harrassing it, then running. Your aim is to draw them away from your tanks. Try to keep your Mage alive, but it's more important that you keep your tanks from being discovered. If you can't find your enemy's army, then attack his base with your mage; if they TP back, run in the opposite direction that your tanks are coming from.

It's important that you keep your enemy's army away from your tanks while in transit not just because of the damage they'll do (Steam Tanks are tough, espeically with upgraded armor), but because your enemy can use his army to get in the way of your tanks paths. Tanks have a large footprint and are easy to surround. This is a problem.

When you reach your base, just set your tanks to attack anything that gets in your way. Your tanks will move to attack any buildings that are shooting them first, but this usually causes them to get in each other's way so I'll normally just have them creep forward. The exception is if you are dealing with Ancient Protectors, which do siege damage. Tanks still destroy them, but they can put a dent in you first.

Invariably your opponent will rush back with his army (usually, they actually TP), and start clanking on your tanks. Don't join in the fight with your Archmage! He has a more important function now: crowd control. If all 8 tanks make it to your opponent's base unopposed, and your opponent hasn't amassed siege, or raiders, then their town is pretty much doomed. They might get wise and start running with their peons, and prolong the game by playing "Hide the Burrow." This is actually a very smart thing to do against a tank rusher, as the whole point of Tank Rushing is to win by killing all enemy buildings and not even bothering with their army. Any builders that you can kill in this early stage are crucial, as it makes it that much harder.

If you are afraid of "Hide the Building," then make a couple of Gyrocopters. They are a Human's best scout, and make the task of tracking down all your enemy buildings that much easier.

If your opponent has expanded, use your discretion as to whether or not to hit the expansion after leveling the main town, or to peel off a couple of tanks from your initial force to strike. Both ways can be effective, but both have drawbacks. Wait, and you give your opponent a big headstart in the "hide the burrow" battle that usually follows. Peel tanks off and you run the risk of your main attack not doing enough damage.


The vast majority of the time, your initial attack will either destroy your opponent's home base or leave it crippled beyond recognition. But the game is not won just yet, and your opponent, with an untouched army he has been building up all game, is still very dangerous. His goal is now to prolong the game through playing "Hide the Burrow" and destroy you in the meantime. There are a few ways to deal with it.

First, so long as your home base is still intact, crank out Steam Tanks to replace any that you have lost. Ressurect your hero if he died - you need him for scouting and peon assassination, and you want to build up your forces so you can survive, and tear down buildings, after your enemy has attacked you.

And he will attack you, usually in such force that your few puny towers at home are mere speedbumps.

First off, if he doesn't have any siege, and if his hero isn't especially adept at killing buildings (i.e. not a Lich, Blademaster, Demon Hunter, PotM, or several others), it can be well worth it to tower up at home - I'm talking 7-8 towers, so that his army can't touch it, and since you've destroyed his economic infrastructure, he can't counter by building siege.

Second, play Hide the Farm yourself! Your opponent's goal is now your goal - it's a race to see who can kill each other's buildings first. Your opponent has an advantage in that he has an army, but you have an advantage in that you're ready for it and can prepare. Some games turn into literally nothing more that crazy, dueling "Hide the farm" battles in which scouting is everything.

To this end, in the late game, gyrocopters are your friend - 3 to 4 are recommended, and it's no longer necessary, or even desirable, to stay in the No Upkeep zone. From there, all I can state is the obvious: spread out your tanks, park your scouts near any open gold mines, follow his army (if his army creeps out a place, his peons are sure to follow), and check the usual hiding places. The smaller the map, the better shape you're in. In no time at all, your tanks should be tearing down the last of his buildings and you should be seeing that ever-so-satisfying victory screen.


Now, after reading all of this, you may be scoffing and stating "There's no way that would ever work!" and your feelings are understandable. This is, after all, an EXTRAORDINARLY unconventional strategy, and it takes quite a bit of faith to pull it off the first time. But as you grow more comfortable with it, you learn that it can actually work. My nickname, on USEast, stalled out at around Level 10 with conventional buildup strategies, as I don't have much time to play and don't have much interest in perfecting my micromanagement. Using Steam Tank Rushing I've advanced to level 13, and am still rising pretty quickly. The highest level player I've beaten with it has been Level 16, and what I've found is that the ease with which it works is less dependent on whether or not your opponent is a good player (since a "good player" in war3 largely is a description of a player's tactical skills, which this strategy more or less renders useless) and more dependent on your opponent's habits. If he's a good scouter, or an aggressive player, it's hard to pull off. If he's a creeper whose primary skills rest in micromanagement, then it can be done, even against very good players.

As for what races it works against, I have had success against all races, though I will state that it works by far and away the best against the Undead, since the Undead can't really play "Hide the building." Next would come Humans, whose peasants are the most vulnerable to Blizzard even after they've turned to militia. Then Night Elves, who are tough but whose early wood-wisps are not hard to harrass. It's hardest on Orcs, since they can shelter their peons from harrassment and have no difficulty in playing "Hide the Buidling."

A lot of people call it "cheap" or "lame" but I don't buy that for a second - it's merely unconventional, so these players use these words with their most flattering definition in mind: it's something they weren't prepared to handle. Which is the idea to begin with. Someone who knows it's coming will have no trouble defending it. But most people don't know it's coming, and almost no one defends against it by accident, as the strategies for its defense are almost as unconventional as the Steam Tank Rush is to begin with.

I hope you try this, and I hope you have fun with it. Take it for what it is. Something new, something different, something crazy.

Disclaimer: Caution! Kids, don't try this at home!