Saturday, December 14, 2019

McCabe gets schooled by the Academics

Picture of the Malifaux Badlands Expedition Force, circa 1907.

           Last weekend, we began a league in Des Moines, IA run by Schemes and Stones host Kyle Bode and Steam Powered Scoundrels host Doug Broman. It’s somewhere between a grow league and a wide-open single faction format, as we get 75 soulstones to build a pool from which we must hire for every game, but we have to pay for masters and totems. There is a somewhat complicated way of determining our standing and how our pools grow between rounds that I won’t go into. Thematically, the participants of the league are supporting some patrons who are funding exploration, archeology, and/or paleontology missions into Malifaux’s wilderness. As such, Lucas McCabe seemed like a logical choice.
            I’ve liked McCabe since 2nd edition. He’s fiddly and his crew is very flexible, which is good because I often don’t realize what I’m going to need to win a game until I’m part way into it. McCabe’s ability to switch gears and cross the board to deal with emergency situations has always appealed to me. I liked his role as Point Guard (the guy who sets up the plays and calls the shots in a basketball team) in 2e, and I liked his big hiring pool. Those things, however, are not really a part of his game plan anymore. The trinkets he hands out (that’s what I’m going to call them. I don’t care what the real name is) take way more to set up now and aren’t as diverse or as powerful, and he currently has the most limited hiring pool in the game, as he’s a split-faction master whose missing one of his factions. Thankfully, the 10T offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of its versatile models, but you can feel some things are missing when you’re list-building and playing McCabe.

Sidir Alchibal
Desper Laraux
2 Hucksters
Lone Swordsman
Shadow Emissary
Masked Agent Upgrade

            I thought this was a balanced group, with a decent mix of combat and scheming provided by Hucksters and Desper. I had a feeling I would struggle in Reckoning, but I assumed I could flip around to a more attacker focused list, with a lot of shooting to help avoid taking too many attacks back, if I needed to.

            I went to Des Moines to play my first league game. I found when I got there that my opponent would be Kyle playing Sandeep and the Academics. After flipping, we determined that we would be playing Plant Explosives, and I thought I pretty much had it in the bag. This is supposed to be one of the strongest strategies for McCabe, something I thought would be the reason I would bring McCabe to tournaments. Add to that having Detonate Charges and Search The Ruins in the scheme pool, and this was a sure home run. Then add to that Kyle saying that his crew was not optimized for Plant Explosives and, pfft. Put your money on me, folks. This should have been a foregone conclusion.

            But this is Malifaux, and bad things happen.

            I had Sidir and Lone Swordsman controlling the left half of the board with the rest of the crew getting ready to push into the enemy on the right. The enemy was mostly pooled up on the right half, so I thought it would be in the best interest to move up and net-gun several of them. This turned out to be a poor choice, as Kyle had an Oxfordian Mage with him, and the mage can clear conditions in a bubble out to 5” automatically, which meant the slow went away without even having to flip. Staggered did less than I was hoping as well, as the Fire Elemental can jump through enemy models with the burning condition. So, yeah, that sucked, as it essentially jumped past McCabe and into the heart of my crew on the same turn I had went yolo’ing forward to try to keep it in its deployment zone, with Banasuva and Kandara creeping in behind it. Also, I failed to execute the “drop scrap, turn into upgrade, pass around to give everybody fast” machine on the first turn. And I tried to send one Huckster forward to get ready to hide bombs on the enemy’s side of the board t2, only to discover that Sandeep had enough movement to cross the board and delete that Huckster in one turn, so that was one explosives token gone on turn 1. Then the other Huckster didn’t get away from the Fire Elemental in time, so it died on turn 2 but at least managed to get its bomb planted first. Unfortunately, with no Hucksters that pretty much meant no Detonate the Charges. I would have needed a miracle to win that game, and the cards just weren’t in place to get it done. Want to sum the game up in one bonus action? Here you go. On turn 2, one of the last activations, my 1 wound Huckster with Burning 1 used Secret Passages to skip up the board and plant his bomb and then, with his Free Action, try to get myself one last boon before he died. We flipped the cards, and Kyle pulled out the Red Joker put in his hand.

            McCabe held his own despite the difficult situation, surviving until T5 and confounding some of the efforts of the enemy. I kept it close early, maintaining a tie all the way to 4-4  at the end of T3 or 4. Desper managed to escape near death and pick up points for Search the Ruins, but still there was no saving it. I lost 4-7, and I realized I had a lot to learn.

Lessons from Game 1
1)    Know the crew you’re playing against. It’s tough to know everything in Malifaux, but I think you at least have to know what to expect from the keywords. The Academics are a prime example of this, as their ability to trigger effects when they Focus, particularly the way they radiate it out to everyone around them, makes them a lot more dangerous than what you see when you glance over the cards. If you don’t know what to expect, you can’t make a good plan. So, play more games or, failing that, read up in advance.
2)    McCabe is a good tank and support piece, but not much of a beater. Despite all the offensive damage he can put out in theory, so much of it is untargeted and reliant on Simple Duel failure that he just can’t be counted on to do that job. He can do some damage, but he’s not going to kill anybody you need dead without help. What he can do, however, is use the Phantasmal Mask to protect himself and tie up a lot of models in the enemy crew. He’s support for your side, and disruption for the enemy. Going back and relistening to Third Floor War’s McCabe deep dive episode, guest Alyx Drake compared his use to something akin to Zip, a disruption/defense master. I think he may be on to something. And in a similar vein…

3)    Hucksters are different than I thought they were. The Wandering River Dojo sensei, Phiasco, has been telling me he doesn’t buy into them for some time, but it took me a while to see it in person. Secret Passage is good and False Claim is very strong. The problem is that 1) they all require mid-level cards to go off and 2) the Hucksters themselves are made out of tissue paper. Part of completing Plant is protecting the markers once you get them down on the board, and the Hucksters just can’t do that. I had originally envisioned them as first strikers, but I think for Plant they would work better to get the last bombs down, or maybe secret passaging far into the enemy deployment area to stash the bombs where the enemy can’t get to them. I think they’re still good for completing Ley Lines, Detonate, Search, and/or Breakthrough. I’m actually coming around to the idea of utilizing them as anti-schemers, popping to enemy markers and removing them to draw a card, and then strategically pop out and strike for VPs at unexpected times.

So, I guess the Academics taught me a few lessons. This is good, if I’m going to play McCabe competitively. What I need to learn over the next several weeks of this league is whether the crew has the oomph to be the best competitive choice in most strategy/scheme/deployment combinations, or if I need to look elsewhere.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Quick Hitter: The Lone Swordsman is an underrated champion of the Ten Thunders


           As a Ten Thunders player, there are no shortage of fine versatile model choices available. For 10 stones, Yasunori can get just about anywhere you need him to be and deliver some serious hitting while being obnoxious for the opponent to remove. The Shadow Emissary is a versatile model that can create concealment, let you reshuffle a bad hand, flies, and delivers a nasty 3/4/5 damage spread bite. The Dawn Serpent has been gaining popularity of late (read: I’ve been hearing about it more in podcasts) due to his versatility, hitting power, and self-reliance. Samurai are the only anti-armor tech we’ve got and can serve as gun platforms that can infiltrate when paired with Trained Ninja or be very strong bodyguards with Silent Protector. It’s possible there are TOO many good choices (I hear you crying out there, AWP).

But lost in all of that is a model that I think is somewhat underrated, the Lone Swordsman. It’s possible this is due to some of his value not being immediately apparent at first glance. But more and more, he’s finding a way into my crews, led in part by prodding from Phiasco. Part of it initially was due to nostalgia, I’ll admit (if our Wandering River Dojo had a mascot outside of the titular monks, he’d be it, given how much we used to put him on the board.) But there’s some hidden power under the surface of this model that lets him pull more than his weight, particularly for his cost. And as Ten Thunders players, isn’t hidden power the best kind of power?

And, I mean, who wouldn't want to have Samurai Jack in their crew?

As a pure beater, he’s not likely to keep up with Yasunori or his ilk. His defense is only 5, which doesn’t scream front-line fighter. However, he’s 8 stones, which makes him cheaper than everything I just mentioned above, so you can afford him plus an upgrade somewhere in the crew for the same cost as some of the more well-known Thunders heavies. Armor+1 and Hard to Kill help to make up for his lack of defenses. Ruthless is an ability you don’t appreciate the value of until you play a Terrifying or Manipulative heavy crew, and then it will suddenly become something you look for every game when you’re facing Pandora or Seamus. Move 5 is nothing to write home about either, but he makes up for this with Creep Along, and the Thunders has plenty of other mobility tricks to make sure the LS is where he needs to be. His tactical action Last Breath is vastly inferior to what he used to be able to do (grant himself Reactivate at the cost of dying automatically if he didn’t kill his declared target), but if you absolutely need to bring down an already weakened Enforcer or higher model, doing this in place of charging is probably a good choice. Where he really starts to shine (and where the less-obvious value hides) is in his single attack paired with an ability from the front of his card.

Unsurprisingly, he has a Balanced Sword attack as his only option (he is a SWORDsman, after all.) It has a good but not great 2/4/5 damage track with a trigger for each suit. While I like these in theory (it’s always cool to hit triggers) I generally don’t put a ton of value on this when I see it on a model, because you can’t rely on getting the one you want when you want it. Critical Hit would be nice to make up for his weaker damage track, for instance, but it would stink to only have it one attack out of four. Lone Swordsman, on the other hand, has the ability Adaptive that lets him declare a suit at the start of his activation that is added to each of his duels. This lets you pick what you’re bringing to bear, and that versatility is where the Swordsman really shines. If you’re going in for that big Last Breath attack round, you might want the rams to help spike your damage spread. If you need to delay the opponent or hamstring a key model, crows let you bring some Slow to bear. Horde of smaller models? Quick Reflexes on a mask can let him spread the punishment around. But maybe the unsung hero is Tactical Planning on a tome. Pass tokens are (at least for me) an oft overlooked asset in the game, as I rarely want to use them after the first turn or two when combat is fully joined. Delaying by an activation means letting the opponent dictate the action in the fray, and that can be devastating. However, if you save those tokens up, that can help you to make sure you win the initiative flip on the next turn and get your attacks in before the opponent can respond. This is good in most games, but it’s absolutely clutch for Cursed Idols, as the player that wins initiative determines where the marker lands. I find that I rarely play a game of Idols that the Swordsman doesn’t find his way into my crews for this reason, and he’s usually declaring tomes with Adaptive before each attack. +2 to your initiative when the range of options is 0-14 is a big, big deal. Just ask everybody crying about Shenlong’s Chi tokens.

Anyway, I like the Lone Swordsman, and I encourage you to give him a try in your games. And if you like these quick-hitter style articles, let me know about that as well. I want to get Malifaux Musings back on track, but reduced gaming time paired with some chronic writer’s block has made that difficult. I hope that putting out smaller, bite-sized content like this should help with this.

Later, Wyrdos!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

How to Play Zoraida - by 2019 Gencon Tyrant Rob Perry

Hobby Happenings-It’s been a little quiet on the Malifaux front recently for me, as I wasn’t able to attend a tournament in Des Moines due to family obligations and a change in Phiasco’s work schedule has prevented us from getting in any games online. I have done a bit of hobby work, however, mainly focused around members of the monk keyword. My Shenlong, Sensei Yu, 2 Peasants, a High River Monk, and a Charm Warder are now table ready, with a second charm warder part way there. They’re all very excited to introduce themselves to Brian Spence’s Leveticus crew.

Media Musings: As mentioned, I thought I’d include this segment to introduce some things from the media I’ve consumed that remind me of Malifaux. In this case, I’ll point you to the series that Last Podcast on the Left are currently doing taking a look at the founding of the Mormon religion. It’s not safe for work, and if you are a Mormon it could potentially (ok, likely. Depends on your ability to separate your faith from some of the slightly shady characters who brought it into the world) be offensive, but it will help you to get into the right headset of the Hucksters and general Wastrel-y ness of McCabe’s bunch of rogues. Jo Smith was essentially a grave-robbing con man, after all, who spent his early life as a participant in a large social movement to loot native American burial mounds, and who seemed to have written the Book of Mormon essentially as a last-ditch commercial effort to keep his family’s farm from going under. He also had magical relics (a magic knife, seeing stones, golden plates, etc.) and a loose relationship with the truth that ultimately led to world-changing consequences (lest we forget, the whole “Burning Man” thing going on Earthside is more or less McCabe’s fault. At least it can be argued that Smith’s hucksterism led to a religion that has arguably brought more good into the world than bad overall.)

Now on with the main event, wherein I ask Rob Perry, winner of Wyrd’s 2019 Gencon Tyrant Tournament “How do you do that voodoo that you do so well?”


Come give Nana a kiss, deary.

Crew Questionnaire

“Typical” Crew List


How Does the Crew Work? (Brief, one paragraph discussion of how the crew plays on the tabletop. What does the keyword ability(ies) add to the strategy?)

Positioning! Mama Z is a beast at controlling positioning on the board. Her list is chock-full of butterfly jump to give melee opponents fits. This forces decisions that your opponent is not used to dealing with. On top of that, Her Obey action is the best in the game. How close does my opponent keep his beater to a key model? Can I use that against him, and do some disruptive damage? Or should I just grab a model and run it in the opposite direction of where my opponent wants it?

How Has the Master/Crew Changed Since M2E?
N/A didn’t play 2e  

Editor’s Note: Zoraida through most of 2E was an “ok” obey master with some gimmicky lists that could be effective in the right circumstances (IE piling up massive amounts of burning on the voodoo doll, Obeying across the board, throwing the voodoo doll off of buildings to kill the opponent with falling damage, etc.) Towards the end of the edition, she got a boost with the last round of errata to let her force a charge with Obey, but still never seemed to take off the way people hoped. Now her keyword models have Penetrating Stench and a large amount of Stealth for some atypical defensive tech. She can draw Line of Sight and range from Swampfiends within 12” of her, which helps extend her range. You can’t channel as much damage through the Doll anymore, which limits its versatility somewhat. But probably the biggest thing here in the early days of M3E are how much the current scenarios play into her strengths. Obeying an enemy model to pick up their own explosives marker or drop it in the enemy’s half of the board, or messing up the Corrupted Idol placement, can be absolutely crippling to some crews.

Who are the Key Pieces in the Keyword, and What Are Their Roles?
 McTavish & The First Mate
            Both of these model are super deadly and have so many toolbox abilities. 
            McTavish is model crazy threat range beater, and TFM is my disrupter.

Rate the Keyword on the Following Criteria from 0-14 (feel free to comment if necessary)

-Killing Power

Ed: The brunt of the killing power rests with McTavish and The First Mate in this crew. McT is a rare combination of effective ranged and melee beater in one. TFM is less of a natural beater, but his maneuverability lets him get to where you need him quickly to pick off somewhat softer targets. And don’t forget the fact that you can use Zoraida to hijack the opponent’s heavy hitters and Obey them to lay some hurt for you!


Ed: The preponderance of Stealth, Stench, and/or Butterfly Jump in the crew makes them extremely obnoxious to kill off. That said, they’re still Neverborn at their heart (even if the Silurids are Bayou exclusively now) so they’re still somewhat brittle. Be careful!


Ed: I mean, they’ve got Silurids in there. And a henchman Silurid. Leap for a low card that you can rely on every turn, plus Stealth, plus Butterfly Jump means your frog-men are going to be easily completing objectives without much in the way of molestation from the enemy crew. That would be enough, but then you’ve got Zoraida’s Obey on top of it, giving you a rare ability to support your own scheming and deny your opponent’s in the same package.  

-Card Manipulation

Ed: Reading the cards on Zoraida lets you set up the next duel in advance every time the opponent cheats fate within her LoS, which is very strong. Her threads of Fate free action allows you to play recklessly with your hand, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to discard the junk and redraw back to 6 whenever you need to do so, while potentially forcing your opponent to discard something they’d rather keep at the same time.

Which Keyword Models (Outside of the Master) Are The MVP and the LVP?
            MVP McTavish – simply won me sooo many games
            LVP Swamp Gator – He’s literally there to 1st turn disrupt, draw fire, just annoy my           opponent

Ed: Since he's a model that comes in the boxed set, I asked Rob about Bad Juju, and his thoughts fall in the same lane as mine. For a 9 point tanky-beater, Df 3 is simply unacceptable. No amount of Hard to Wound, Regeneration, or the Demise ability will save him. Just not worth the points, which is a crying shame for fans of the model and/or Swamp Thing. 

Are There Versatile Models and/or Upgrades You Take Routinely and, if so, why?
            Inhuman Reflexes – MORE BUTTERFLY JUMP

What was the biggest thing you learned after mastering this crew that you didn’t know when you started learning it?
            The power of Inhuman Reflexes on McTavish, make my murder machine more     survivable or get him closer to his prey.