Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Wrap-Up Post

It’s the end of the year. This is a point in time where we look back on things. Reflect. It’s weird that we do that, right? I mean, all we did was go around the sun. But, anyways, that’s what we do, and that’s what we’re going to do in today’s post. Whether you like it or not! Why am I being so aggressive? Have the voices finally gotten to me? Maybe you’re being too aggressive! MAYBE IT’S YOUR PROBLEM!
*gloved hand rests on my shoulder*
Pandora: Calm down, dear. It’s just a Malifaux Musings intro. Nothing to get so worked up over.
Ah, of course. Yes. Nothing to get worked up over. It’ll all be fine. Let’s just talk about 2017, shall we?
*Pandora smiles, while quietly closing her puzzle box behind me*

***

               The last half of this year brought me the objective of focusing on a faction. I have a terminal case of Magpie Syndrome, which I’ve mentioned before, and it takes a conscious effort of will to force myself to sit with one crew/master/faction for long enough to actually become good at it. To counter this, I used my platform on facebook to post a poll and pass the burden off to you: what do you want me to play? I composed a list of masters I’ve owned for a while but haven’t actually gotten onto the table. The Facebook universe, of course, pointed out to me that polls allow you to add your own choices to the list. Suddenly, I discovered that the public had added Parker Barrows who I don’t own and Collodi who I didn’t particularly like. Well, I guess that made the choice clear, and yet I knew I was going to start cutting if I had to play Collodi over and over again. I didn’t get him. I knew it was going to be hard. And I knew there were other things I would rather play more. Thankfully, Jon volunteered to run Parker and the solution appeared: we would alternate our games, and I would focus on the Neverborn faction as a whole.
Well, the reality is that this isn’t exactly the same as focusing long enough to get good at something. My first couple of games with Collodi  were…painful. I didn’t understand what his role was in the crew. I tried putting Hinamatsu out onto the board and I totally boned her activations and placement, ending in more failure. I was about to wrap up the Collodi experiment entirely after the first few games out of sheer frustration. And then, somehow, getting my ass-kicked by Alex Schmid taught me how he’s supposed to work.
I thought, initially, that Collodi’s purpose on the board was force multiplier/debuff spreader/support piece. I was wrong. Collodi’s role on the board is to murder things. He doesn’t look like it, since his main attack only does 2/3/4. Don’t let that fool you. He’s a machine gunner, and his job is to get pushed into position to shoot whatever model from the opponent’s crew goes too far forward until it dies. That’s it. He has an aura that lets things take a couple points of damage to gain fast. He does have the ability to put personal puppet on things and use My Will at clutch moments to score VP. But that’s not why he’s there. He’s there to kill things. That’s his job, period, and he’s very good at it.
There is a bubble in the crew, but this isn’t a bubble crew. The Marionettes can feel free to run all over the place, and honestly that’s what they should be doing because they’re very cheap activations and, if there are no schemes to accomplish, they should be running around being obnoxious. It takes way too much AP for the opponent to kill them off, but there’s so many of them that they can’t be ignored. The effigies are good at their job, but the Shadow only really needs to do it for the first couple of turns to keep the crew safe on early days and then he can wander off to go do what he needs to do. The Arcane Effigy should be amazing on paper, but mine has literally never done anything in any game. I treat him like an umbrella: every time you remember to bring it you won’t need it, and the first time you forget it’s going to be a downpour. Hinamatsu needs to stay in there until it’s time to attack, because gaining Fast on her is just silly (5 AP on my beater? Sure, I’ll take that.) But it isn’t the most important thing, and she can go do her job without it (I think she’s almost better as a Linebacker, but then again I’m starting to look at most beaters that way.)
The Brutal Effigy is the most important model in the crew beyond Collodi. If the opponent can kill it, they bloody well should, because Collodi can be absurdly reckless with the knowledge that his attacks can heal him back without a whole lot of effort. Also, his little pop-gun is pretty useful to push Collodi up the board. That’s the other thing I didn’t think about, because I never think of these types of tricks. Collodi’s Mask trigger on defense lets him push 3” on resolution, so you either 1) Miss the shot and get a free push or 2) Get hit for, most likely, 1 damage, and then push. I often miss these sorts of things because, honestly, they feel “game”-y and I don’t like them. I wish they weren’t in Malifaux, and it’s one of the things about the Collodi crew that I still don’t find to be “fun.” It’s effective, because every AP you spend on walking is one you don’t have for machine-gunning. But, at the same time, I wish it didn’t have to be there to play the crew to the best of its abilities. Sigh. I’m griping, I know, but this stuff irritates me.

***



As for the rest of the faction, I dipped a toe into a lot of crews. I’m really intrigued by Dreamer, mostly because the idea of using Empty Night to push a Bultungin for 2 free attacks sounds amazing and because I haven’t played a summoner before. Plus, I have a feeling that the Dreamer is currently falling into the category of “nobody plays this master anymore because of the nerfs, despite the fact that the nerfs really didn’t hurt him that much.” I really feel like he’s stronger than he looks, and I want to find out in person. Also, I think Serena Bowman is really a lot better than people give her credit. She’s expensive, and the question of whether those points could be used better is real, but I want to try it out for myself. A Mature Nephilim that counts as a Nightmare and can be led around by the crew sounds pretty ok.
As an aside, I’m also learning a lot of that last lesson: Go play the models on the board, because the internet is wrong a lot (this blog included). Malifaux is a very complex game with a whole lot of different models that do a whole lot of different things, and nobody can possibly understand how all of this stuff works together. Most peoples’ opinions of models comes from secondhand opinions rather than firsthand experience. The Mysterious Emissary, I’ve always thought, was a very good model that I liked a lot. And yet, somehow, every podcaster and online opinion I listened to for a long while said “It’s the worst. It’s anti-synergy. The summons are unreliable. Don’t take it.” So, you know, I kept quietly trying it every now and then, but I let it sit aside and assumed I was wrong. Thankfully, I started listening to the Max Value podcast and interacting with Alex on Facebook and twitter, and I realized that “Oh, yes, actually this model’s really good. You just have to be flexible with what you expect and assume that any summons or hungry land markers you get off of it are a bonus.” So, yeah, I guess the lesson is “use the online opinions as opinions, not truth. Only use your own experiences to make your final conclusions.”
Anyway, back to the wrap-up. I also tried Titania with Barbaros a couple of games. Interstingly, Titania didn’t do a damned thing in either game I used her, while Barbaros was the MVP of both games. Go figure. I think that guy is a lot better model than he gets credit for, and I want to play him more. If he was, like, one stone cheaper he’d be in every crew, I think. If we somehow end up playing in the future, expect to see Barbaros, because he’s most likely going to be there. I tried Pandora’s summoning list and it was ok, but the reality is that I didn’t play it as well as I could have and, coincidentally, ran into a hot pile of Charm Warders making my summons die almost immediately. Also, I was sort of looking at the Sorrows as the real purpose of the upgrade, but a recent episode of Max Value pointed out that the Poltergeist is really the gem of that list. I’m excited to give it a try and make people sad. Sad, sad, sad. Beyond that, I only got the one game with Lillith against Alex, and that sort of underscored that I need to play her more, and stick to gameplans. I think she’s a good defensive model, but she’s brittle. She’s a lot like the rest of the faction in that regard, really. Also, I need to stop thinking of Tangled Shadows as an offensive ability. It looks like one. It has the ability to target enemy models. But her low Ca for that action means that, in truth, that spell is much more reliable and, therefore, much more effective, when used to move your stuff around rather than to snatch enemy models to you. Don’t fall into that trap. She’s much better at rooting things, disrupting the enemy with terrain, and acting as an ambush predator to pick off enemies that are exposed.

***

Speaking of Phiasco and I’s crew building challenges, we played a sort of “wrap-up” game with them on Vassal. This all started back in August with a game between Collodi and Parker, and this was our chance to match them up again and see what we’ve learned.

               We’ve been steadily working through the Gaining Grounds Jan-Mar rotation, and were now up to Standard Deployment-Ply for Information. The scheme pool was Surround Them, Dig Their Graves, Set Up, Recover Evidence, and Public Demonstration. My crew was Collodi with Fated, Strum, and Aether Connection. 4xMarionette, Hinamatsu w/ 1000 Faces, Mysterious Emissary-Conflux of Music, Arcane, Brutal, and Shadow Effigies. Phiasco had Parker with Black Market and Crate of Dynamite, Hannah, 1 Wokou Raider, 2 Librarians, 2 Ronin, and 1 Malifaux Child. I deployed on the right side of our board because I thought it would take away the most of Phiasco’s access to blocking terrain. Everybody was inside the Collodi 6” bubble to start with. Parker’s crew was mostly together, outside of one of the Librarians who was sitting in the upper right corner, presumably to work on Surround Them.

               Turn 1 had the usual assortment of jostling, prepping, and positioning. I saw that the Parker crew was likely going to have to squeeze through some choke points to get to me, so I used the fast M.E. to jump up and clog the one he initially moved towards with a Hungry Land marker. Shadow Emissary buff was spread through the crew to protect them from shooting (though, in retrospect, this was really unnecessary against the crew Phiasco brought.) Hinamatsu sort of cagily redeployed himself to block the surrounding Librarian. At the end of the turn I sent Collodi up to go take some shots at Hannah. She’s pretty resilient to Collodi’s damage (is there an effigy buff to get around armor? Cuz that’d be neat…) but I did manage to use Obey to make her walk through a Hungry Land marker, which was cute.

Hungry Land Markers are annoying.

               Turn 2 Jon won initiative and used a Librarian to heal Hannah and counter-punch at Collodi. She got one shot before I pushed back out of her way. Meanwhile the Emissary moved to go block the other path, forcing Phiasco’s crew to walk through the forests or risk getting chomped. I moved a Marionette to go Ply Hannah for information, which seemed to make her mad, as she then turned around and dropped a Red Joker damage smash that pummeled Marionettes, Shadow Effigies, and the Mysterious Emissary. Realizing how tough of a nut Hannah was going to be to crack, Collodi changed targets to kill a Wokou Raider for Dig Their Graves, using an incidental scheme marker one of the puppets threw down earlier. Phiasco had moved his Ronin to try and either set up an easy kill on a Marionette or had sniffed out my Surround Them and wanted to stop him from going after it. Hinamatsu soaked up some Fast and snatched the Ronin out of the way, knocking him down to her Hard to Kill but falling short of killing her. Parker moved in behind to also cut off the Surround Them and get in a better position to smoke Hinamatsu. The Librarian shuffled down to take advantage of the opening from Hinamatsu’s repositioning. Figuring that he wasn’t going to get another chance for it, he revealed Public Demonstration at the end of the turn to at least score 1 off of it from the Ronin and Hinamatsu.

Really, really annoying. =

               Turn 3 Jon won initiative again and activated the Ronin, stabbing Hinamatsu for a big chunk of damage and then sacrifices it to keep me from killing it for Dig. Parker used his ability to nudge the Librarian along towards completing Surround Them, but Hinamatsu ran her down and killed her first. Collodi used My Will to instruct the Brutal Effigy to ply the other Ronin in the crew for information and then killed him for Dig Their Graves. The Mysterious Emmisary shifted one of his Hungry Land markers so he could walk into it and engage Hannah in melee, as well as creating a running lane for another of my Marionettes to move to the bottom left corner of the board for Surround. Another Marionette ran up and plied Parker, ensuring I scored the strat again this turn.
               Phiasco went ahead and called it at this point, as he wasn’t sure he would be able to score anymore VPs. Assuming worst-case scenario for me, the game was likely going to end something like 6-3, but we were pretty confident I would end up with the win.
               At this time, I’m starting to get Collodi and understand what he does to be effective. As I said, using the triggers for pushes is a pet peeve, and I don’t think the crew will do particularly well in games where the board is very spread out or where the enemy has a lot of armor. That armor problem could be a real bugbear, actually, so I’m going to have to figure out a way around that at some point.
               Phiasco's thoughts on Parker seem to be that he does a number of interesting things, but it’s too hard to get them to work. There’s an expression some Magic: The Gathering players use where you ask what a card asks of you to make it work. All of the TNs, suits, and resources required to do Parker’s stuff makes him kind of sub-optimal. He might be better in single-master environments where his versatility is an asset rather than making him a Jack-of-All-Trades and Master-of-None, but right now he’s not sure how much he’s going to go forward with him. For now, we’ve suspended our “First I play Collodi, then you play Parker” rule. We’ll see how much we see of each crew going forward.

***

               Lastly, I’d like to say a word about Malifaux Musings itself. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down ride for me in Malifaux this year. It’s undoubtedly been a year of growth. If you google “Malifaux blog,” we’re the first thing that comes up, and I’m pretty proud of that. Also, I’ve had the good fortune to be tapped regularly by Wyrd to write for their bimonthly ezine, Wyrd Chronicles. I’ve written a couple of Through the Breach adventures and a few tactical articles, most of which I’m quite proud of. I’m actually getting a little bit of money for my gaming, rather than it just being a drain on my family’s finances every month, which makes me happy. I also managed to put together a draft of half of a novel about my Death Marshal character, Thaddeus Burns. I’d hoped to get more done, but novels are hard.
               On the other hand, I had thought to tap into the massive popularity surge the blog picks up annually when Gencon is rolling around to launch a Patreon campaign. Inspired by a couple of other content creators, I thought that I would ask for only a dollar from the people who read the blog on a regular basis (much like Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast) and would offer a monthly raffle of Wyrd stuff as an incentive to get people to chip in. This is what Kyle (aka Khyodee) does for Schemes and Stones, and he has been quite successful with it. Imagine my surprise, then, when we barely got off the ground. At most we had half a dozen patrons, and that number has actually started to shrink! Needless to say, I’m a little bit stumped. $1 doesn’t seem like that much to me, but maybe I’m not offering the sort of content people are specifically looking for. I’ll be putting up some polls in the New Year to try and correct this. But, in any case, for the time being I’ve suspended the raffle (as I couldn’t rationalize continuing it when it was costing me money every month).

               2017 was a tough one for a lot of us, as most of you know. On a personal level, my wife is finishing up her nursing degree. A member of my family had a medical emergency and moved in to live with us. Money’s been tight. Science funding is getting scarcer and scarcer, which has left me evaluating just exactly what I want to do for my career in the immediate future. And, of course, an authoritarian government has seized control, cracking down on a number of groups and individuals we all hold dear (I’m referring to the new Governor-General, of course. Who did you think I meant?). There’s been a lot of struggle, but I’m grateful for gaming and Malifaux specifically for a respite from it. I’m hoping that 2018 is going to be a year of growth, when I’m able to participate more frequently in tournament events and where I can keep Malifaux Musings expanding towards our goal of becoming the best Malifaux resource on the web. I hope you’ll come along with us.