Monday, August 3, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Ortegas

Needs More Nephilim
Several years ago, when Malifaux was just something I had heard mentioned in a 40k podcast as “a decent side-game,” I needed to have my tonsils removed. I was in my late 20s, and anyone who’s had a tonsillectomy as an adult knows that this is an incredibly unpleasant experience, involving several weeks of sitting at home under the influence of very potent painkillers and eating a primarily liquid diet. One of the things that got me through this unpleasantness was the fourth book of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, “Wizard and Glass.” The pain medication I was taking came in cough syrup form and ran out every two to four hours, so nights consisted of waking up periodically with my throat on fire, slamming down some more meds, and choking down as much water as I could while I read Roland’s tale of love and loss. The gunslinger archetype in a fantasy setting, as you could imagine, holds a very special place in my heart.
Not surprisingly, when I started playing Malifaux I was drawn immediately to the Guild’s own Gunslinger, Perdita. Her first edition model is still my favorite sculpt to this day, despite also being one of the simplest. I love the Weird West aesthetic of the crew. I love that they essentially live on a survivalist compound in the middle of the Badlands, cut off from the city, giving the Nephilim a fat middle-finger and daring them to drive them out. Finally, I’ve enjoyed watching Perdita develop in the fluff from a pretty simple concept to a character that I think knows a bit more about what’s really going on behind the scenes than most people in Malifaux and realizes that maybe, just maybe, the monsters she and her family have been hunting this whole time might not really be the bad-guys they’ve been billed as since humans arrived through the breach.
You can imagine my frustration, then, that as 1st edition moved along it became increasingly apparent that the Ortegas were not a crew that could compete on a top level. Her stats were strong and the dreaded Ortega Alpha-Strike was a thing of legend when you could pull it off, but they simply lacked the tools to win against top tier crews.  Specifically, they didn’t have the positioning tricks of the Arcanists and Neverborn and didn’t have the overwhelming offensive ability that let Sonnia overcome some of these deficiencies. I had thus left them behind, mostly, towards the end of M1E and when the edition change happened, I elected to play other crews first to avoid the issues some others were experiencing adapting to old models that had very new and very different abilities than we remembered.
Of late, however, I’ve started to hear some rumblings that perhaps the Ortegas have started to creep into the realm of “Oh good lord, not them again,” for some on the Wyrd forums. Not to the extent that Leveticus is currently enjoying, mind you, but enough to intrigue me. As such, I cracked out my old models (cringing all the while at their paint and basing,) and stat cards and looked to set up some test games to put them through their paces. Two games later, I’ve made some observations (or musings, as the blog’s title might suggest) and thought I’d share them with you.

The Good: My Crew’s Core

I immediately pegged four members of the core crew that I will almost always take and one “Ortega” who will be joining as an honorary member in most games: Perdita, Francisco, The Judge, Abuela Ortega, and the Enslaved Nephilim. One of the most important things I observed with this group was action point (AP) economy. The Ortegas are typically not a crew where you are going to out-activate your opponent by spamming lots of weaker models (though, that said, I’d be curious to try a pack of Latigo Pistoleros to see if they could really frustrate an opponent in a strategy like Interference.) Ortegas are not cheap, with most of the family weighing in as 7-point enforcers before up-grades. What they do well, however, is extend their action points beyond themselves to make sure that they are spent as efficiently and effectively as possible. Perdita’s totem the Enslaved Nephilim, Abuela Ortega, and Perdita herself have movement tricks that can help with positioning on a turn. Additionally, they all have an obey effect that can let them pass AP from themselves to another model that might be in a more effective or important position on the board. And when you add in The Judge (who, with Abuela’s Shotgun Wedding ability, can count as a distant Ortega cousin) you add in more movement and AP economy tricks to shift the crew around and pass out melee attack actions to others in the crew.
The core itself functions as a fatal four-way of movement, shooting, and some melee that support each other up the board to take the fight to the enemy. Perdita does most everything well, and will be the star of the team. Francisco is probably too good for his points, functioning as a tank and melee beater at a svelte 9 points (don’t take him without Wade In,) leading to my referring to him as “The Guild’s Wolverine” since he started out on one team but has essentially been added to everyone else’s. I’ve been putting Rapid Fire on Abuela since she very rarely takes any walk actions (the rest of the crew can shove her along as a (0)) and that shotgun has the potential to do a whole pile of damage if it hits. The Judge functions basically as a point-guard in this set-up by passing his AP to others, though he is very much capable of dealing out punishment on his own and can combo in some attack chains with his series of blades and/or bullets attacks.
Weaknesses of the crew were also evident, however. For one, they are very card-hungry. When you don’t have as many AP to spend as your opponent, it becomes important to make sure those actions pay off. It’s possible I’ve spent too much time playing Lynch and will have to retrain myself when its alright to let certain duels fail and keep high cards for later. I hadn’t built in any special card manipulation, so I have a feeling I’ll be trying to at least throw in the Brutal Effigy to get a splash of this in future games. Most turns I found myself with my hand either empty or holding a pitiful pair of threes for which I had no use. In some cases, you could offset some of this with Perdita’s “Hero’s Gamble” (0) action. However, if you needed some of the (0)’s from her upgrades to ignore cover or armor, this may not be available and isn’t guaranteed to actually improve your control hand anyways. I’m open to suggestions as to other ways to improve this. Also, the Ortegas (with one notable exception) are fairly brittle. Even with the infamous Francisco “El Mejor” bonus, Perdita is fairly killable. Df and WP 9 are tough to overcome, but once you do she only has 10 wounds and her soulstones to mitigate damage. This became especially apparent when I parked her next to Santiago against a Rasputina crew and proceeded to watch half of her wounds fall off from blast damage, and then knocked off another three wounds from an exploding Ice Golem. Abuela has no defenses besides “Matriarch,” and that just involves passing a point of damage off to a different family member. The other, non-Francisco, Ortegas have little in the way of defense at all, making them very expensive glass cannons for the most part.

The “Bad”: Ortegas I Use At Most Occasionally

Not all Ortegas are created equal. I want for Santiago to be good, if only so I can use my Santana model on the tabletop, but I just don’t see it. He still gets stronger when he gets below half wounds, but he doesn’t get any tougher. Hard to Kill really only ends up functioning as a speed-bump on the way to death, as his defense isn’t impressive and 9 wounds is very killable. Maybe it’s that I remember the powerhouse he used to be, but he seems too easy to take down without a compensatory excess of damage output to make him worth the risk. I'm sure others have gotten good use out of him, but it just hasn't happened for me.
Nino is probably my favorite out of the “other Ortegas” pile, with his ability to block interacts and shoot long-range across the board providing some strong utility. I like the built in + flip on his gun and the ability to use his built in ram to either improve the attack result or trigger critical strike. However, if you’re playing a scenario (my word for strategy+scheme combinations) where Interact actions won’t be required, his limited damage output will make him much less efficient, as happened when I played Reckoning with Assassinate, Frame for Murder, and Make Them Suffer in the scheme pool. I wonder some times if the damage spread on his gun wasn't built with his old decapitate trigger in mind, only to have it knocked off at some point in play testing, because it seems to fall short of what other sniper-types in the game can do. Additionally, some crews that rely on scheme markers have a way of getting around his interference, such as the Gremlins’ Trixie Bell and Ten Thunders' Shenlong/Sensei Yu Wandering River Style which let them do the interacts in one place and then relocate the scheme markers to another. I have a suspicion that I will, in more games than not, end up with Nino not actually being able to use Spotter as intended.
Papa Loco is one I will confess I haven’t used before (my Papa from the original boxed set is still sitting in a box looking sad in his unpainted-after-5-years state.) He can do a lot of damage and, probably more importantly, can hand out potential damage boosts to other crewmembers. Plus he explodes and kills things around him, which is always good for a chuckle. What I mostly see him used for is a piece in a combo gimmick, typically handing out his damage buff to someone in the backfield every turn or prior to being thrown in a pine box to prevent the condition falling off. I don’t know how to feel about that, honestly, as I tend to shy away from combos that can be disrupted by knocking out one piece unexpectedly, for instance by the Death Marshal getting sniped to let him out. Also, I’ve never liked models that can end up hurting you more than your opponent, and a well-placed sniper could really cause you some headaches early in the game by blowing up Papa in the middle of your crew. I’ll probably get him some table time before I draw a final conclusion, but for right now he’s a “maybe.”

The Ugly: My Play Experience Thus Far

As I said, I’ve played two games with this crew in 2e. The first was against a Ten Thunders crew in a scenario that was evenly split between scheme markers and killing (I remember the scenario was the one with the informant that moves after crews score, but not much else.) My opponent leaned pretty hard on the scheme marker side of things, using a Shen Long-Shadow Effigy method of completing Line in the Sand by essentially just walking in a place where I never had a chance to disrupt it, and his offense suffered a bit for it. He and I are old sparring partners and I think he was used to me bringing slightly softer crews than this in our previous games, as I shot a good sized chunk of his crew to death and stole the strategy away from him before he could score from it, leaving him without much in the way of counterpunch with which to hit back. Francisco and Perdita can be a pretty stiff wall of resistance for an unprepared opponent that can’t punch through their defenses. Thus, I won this game despite some initial card flip mishaps that had me cursing my deck out over Skype.
Perhaps that game made me somewhat overconfident for the next one, as the aforementioned Rasputina kill-fest scenario (Reckoning, Assassinate, and Make them Suffer for both players) saw me walking out of cover to try and force my way through ice mirrors and push the fight to a thoroughly entrenched Rasputina. The score ended up 5-4, so it wasn't a blow out or anything, but this one ended up with most of the core hitting the showers early.Things may have turned out differently had I done a better job of keeping Perdita out of blast range, but in the end I had only Francisco and the Enslaved Nephilim left alive while Rasputina was still sitting in her bunker only slightly wounded. Lesson learned: the core can be tough but they aren’t invincible and will fall fairly quickly if they go up against someone who can get around their various defenses. I would probably have been better served playing the Ortegas as area denial in this game, sitting back on Protect Territory (which was in the pool) and making the Ice Mirrors walk into our range rather than walking into Rasputina’s. Highlights of this game included the Judge killing himself by pulling an ice gamin into melee (away from a paralyzed Francisco) and killing himself by stabbing it with a red joker damage flip while having only one wound remaining. Sometimes a model just isn’t meant to live.

In future games, I intend to diversify and see what Perdita can do without some of the “core” along with her. He’s a crutch, but I doubt I’m going to ditch Francisco any time soon. He's just too good. The other pieces are probably expendable, however. I’d like to try out Peacekeepers and/or Hunters to take advantage of the drag from their harpoon guns and the Peacekeeper’s ability to destroy scheme markers en masse (plus I wouldn’t mind having an additional big-scary to draw attention away from ‘Dita.) Plus I could see this being a smart move when facing Ressers to deny them some corpse markers. Also, I should probably try out the Papa Loco/Death Marshal thing at least once, if only because Death Marshals are pretty strong in-and-of themselves and the ability to box an opponents’ key pieces and take them out of play with one activation is tough to undersell. Plus, I’ve got a Miss Terious and Santana, who I suppose could fill in as Death Marshal proxies in a pinch to keep crew’s look intact. Whatever I end up doing, I'm committed to at least three more games with Dita before I switch masters (the Mistakes Were Made podcast inspired this) and I want to really see what the Guild has to offer rather than continuing my Magpieing. 

That said, here's some pictures of Neverborn I painted :P.