Saturday, July 17, 2021

Ghosts and Demons

We’re hot and heavy into Gencon preview mode, so I’ve got a little bit of catch-up to do. The nice thing about this for your humble bloggist is that it makes it easy to come up with content on a weekly basis. The hard part, of course, is that they’re starting with masters I haven’t played very much. So, as per usual, take my comments with a grain of salt, but let’s take a look at two of them today. 

There’s a pretty obvious pair we can join up, in that there are two characters representing Japanese women who summon monsters from elements of their folklore. Kirai has moved up from the chronically sad apprentice of Nicodem who summoned ghosts and cut herself so she could feel something again to the boss of a spirit-powered Earthside cult and Resurrectionist vigilante helping Molly take vengeance on those who would prey on the weak. Similarly, Asami Tanaka started out as a grieving and half-mad summoner of Oni (demons), but with a little tutelage from Yan Lo and (apparently) a brief break from the pocket demon trying to corrupt/gaslight her, she’s come into her own and has learned to stabilize her otherwise typically temporary “children”. Also, both of their new versions have fallen into the pattern I mentioned last time (namely “hey, let’s press pause on the whole ‘summoning’ thing”). Let’s dive in and look at how they’ve diverged. 


Kirai Ankoku was undeniably one of the strongest masters in the early days of M3E, as can be said for essentially all summoners. With a Df of 4 and no built-in defensive tech outside of the keyword-wide Vengeance ability and a card intensive “Protected (Urami)” she was not a master you necessarily wanted to throw into the thick of the fight, though if you did you could benefit from her 4” Life Leech to regain some wounds. She could also trade her wounds to keep Adversary on enemy models at the end of the turn. These two abilities hint at the general theme of this model, namely managing the resource of Kirai’s life to empower herself and the crew. Nothing embodies this as well as her Blood and Wind summoning Tactical Action. After the standard summoning math (TN=10+the model’s cost and the appropriate suit) she can drop any Urami minion and attach a Vengeance upgrade to them. This gave them Slow but also let them build in a Crow to empower triggers on their attacks. Critically, however, it also made them deal 1 damage to Kirai at the start of their activation. As such, you have to play a very delicate balancing act with her to avoid her crew literally killing her. There is a lot of healing in her crew to help top her back off and avoid this, but it’s a real threat and it encourages you to treat her minions as disposable missiles (which, frankly, you want to do in GG2 anyways.)  In between summons, her spirit barrage gives some reliable offensive output (gotta love shooting that ignores friendly fire). She’s got a couple of tactical actions that support her crew by healing and yanking them out of trouble, which is good. Her melee attack is alright and has an execute trigger to surprise people but, again, we don’t really want her in melee, so I’d call that situationally useful.

Envoy of the Court Kirai is a very different kettle of fish. Her defense gets bumped up to a mediocre 5 as part of an effort to move her closer to the action to work as a mid-range enhancer for the crew. The magic range for her is 8”, as she projects 3 auras that help the Urami by letting her distribute healing from one Urami model to a different one, grants them a built-in Crow on their attacks, and inflicts a – flip on WP duels and actions targeting Kirai that come from enemies with Adversary. That last one is a little weird at first glance, but makes more sense after you pair it with another ability, “Join Us.” Essentially, after a Urami model moves through the space of an enemy model as a result of one of their actions (more on this later), the enemy model must make a TN 13 WP flip or Kirai gets to summon a 4 soulstone or less model (ok, I lied, she still has some summoning. Bear with me.) Any given enemy model can only be used to do this once per turn, so you can’t just pick on a low WP model to chain out tons and tons of little minions, but critically they only get the generic summoning upgrade rather than the Vengeance one, so they don’t slowly peck away at her life once they’re on the board. This encourages you to call out a bunch of little cheap dudes, particularly since she has a tactical action called Swirling Spirits that lets her push any number of Urami models inside her bubble up to 5”, ignoring intervening models or terrain. That could, potentially, result in a lot of new little guys if the enemy clumps up on her. Gaki and Seishin are the only models that currently can be summoned by this but, you know, I got a funny feeling those other little dudes that come with Kirai in the ToS starter box are gonna fall under that line too. We’ll see what the right choice is after we get their stats, but that should at least give her some options. These summons come in Slow unless they’re Mindless, but otherwise suffer no penalties and are at full health. Moreover, her Sundering attack action, a 12” cast with no gun symbol and stat 6, deals +1 additional damage per minion engaging the target. For an enemy model on a 50mm base, that could be a significant boost. She has a second attack which is a free action to give out Adversary (Urami) which also targets WP (more – flips) and can then let her summon Ikiryo with a mask trigger and an additional cast. Finally, if that’s not enough, she can heal a Urami within 8” for 2 and make them emit a 3” concealing aura until the end of the turn for a little icing on the cake.

You may be saying to yourself “Hey self, that sure makes it sound like new Kirai can summon things just fine and may actually end up summoning more stuff than the original version.” And you might be right, to be honest. I haven’t seen it on the table. The thing is, though, new Kirai relies on an interaction with the opponent to summon, which is at least a yellow flag for me. While there’s no range on “Join Us”, I think opponents will most likely cheat their whole hand away to stop you from summoning outside of the 8” bubble of bad as long as they’re able. Personally, I don’t trust actions that rely on my opponent to make a particular choice, as my philosophy is to assume that they will always choose to make the choice that is worst for me. Within 8” you can apply Adversary to take the choice away by imposing a – flip, but now you’re asking the crew to do 2 things to make the summon work. I don’t know that I think it’s bad, and it is very interesting design to be sure. It just sounds like you’re working kind of hard to set up an ability that, if it does succeed, just gives you some “ok” 4 stone dudes (although again, this could change if the two new guys turn out to be broken.) What is cool about it, though, is that it enables a very different summoning style for Kirai. The original version wanted to get the most value from every model she summoned, so you wanted to get the biggest, nastiest Goryo or Shikome you could since, once it was on the board, it was going to start literally draining the life out of her. You wouldn’t even look at summoning a Gaki, as the cost was just too high. New Kirai, on the other hand, will likely hire those heavy hitters in her starting crew and summon the little dudes whenever possible to give her activation control and boost up her own abilities. For what she brings to the meta-game of Malifaux, I like Envoy Kirai a lot. On the table top I’m worried your opponent is going to sit at range and peck her to death (although building for that creates interesting tension, since if they bring original Kirai she’ll have Vengeance and can penalize your snipers). I don’t think her summons are going to be as reliable, and that makes me lean in original Kirai’s direction more than the new one at first blush, but I’m prepared to be wrong. At the very least, I applaud the design team for Envoy Kirai being a very interesting take on the character.


Asami is, herself, inspired by the Futakuchi-onna or two-mouthed woman, a yokai or monster from Japanese folk myths about the punishment of miserly husbands who don’t feed their wives enough. That part doesn’t exactly play a ton into her backstory, but it does sort of speak to the way her keyword, Oni, are somewhat self-devouring and self-destructive. All Oni have From Beyond, a keyword that lets them give themselves flicker tokens to gain + to their flips with the understanding that, at the end of the turn, they would be sacrificed if they have 3 or more of these tokens. In this way they also embody a Japanese aesthetic called “mono-no-aware” or an acceptance of impermanence and appreciation for the beauty of temporary and imperfect things. Or, to translate it into modern terms, everything you feel when you say “Burn bright, king” to your middle-aged father when he blazes off on the crotch-rocket he just bought as part of his midlife crisis. 

Asami Tanaka originally was built to summon Oni who are, by design, very temporary. Df 6 is pretty good, and Arcane Reservoir on your summoner is always a good thing. She can do 2 damage to herself whenever an Oni ends their turn within 10 of her to remove a Flicker token from them, trading her own life for theirs effectively. If she’s close enough to support her crew’s charge, she can let them place rather than push during that charge, increasing the flexibility and unpredictability of the action significantly. Her summon follows the same math as Kirai, but the transience of her models comes not from leeching her life but because the upgrade she attaches to her summoned minions places 2 flicker tokens on them right away and makes them gain another one at the start of their activation. They can offset some of this by removing corpse or scrap tokens from the board to take some of the flicker tokens off when they summon, but the bottom line is that, even if you don’t take advantage of From Beyond for + flips, these models are on a clock from the minute they come on the board. She can use A Mother’s Love to remove another flicker token and give them Focus, which is good. She also has Reaching Tendrils to shove her own models (or the enemy crew’s models) to make sure that her summons get the most done in their brief span that they can. She also has a decent melee attack (Stat 6 2/4/6 damage) with a couple of good triggers to let her do some damage in close. As such, you generally want her a little bit closer to the action than Kirai, and it encourages you again to treat her summons as temporary. In a way, it can be more like a spell-effect she creates that goes out, does something, and then ends, rather than actually adding a model. 

New Asami (Takusen is the keyword) is, once again, very different. This one doesn’t summon at all (I promise.) Instead, she focuses on letting her crew take advantage of From Beyond while also pulling the Flicker tokens off more efficiently to let them stick around when they do so. First off, her defensive stat is slightly lower, but her willpower has climbed 2 points, leading to an overall increase in her defensive total to 12 (first of the new Title masters where we’ve seen that.) Arcane Reservoir is gone (boo) but replaced with Arcane Shield +2 which, again, increases her defensive abilities. She’s gonna need this, because she wants to stay with the Oni while they move up to do their dirty work. Her Flickering Lantern ability allows Oni who end a move within 8” of her remove one of their Flicker tokens and gain Shielded +1. Meaning 1) you want your Oni to have at least some flicker tokens on them to gain this defensive tech and 2) you can control things to make sure your Oni never flicker out at the end of the turn unless you want them to. The trade off, though, is that you may end up having to stay somewhat clustered with Asami to take full advantage of this. To offset some of this limitation, she also has Dimensional Rifts to allow Oni who end a move within 1” of her or a Rift Marker to jump to within 1” of a different Rift Marker that is within 8” of where they started (one wonders if Asami’s been reading some literature from the Cult of the Burning Man). Where do these Rift Markers come from? Well, Asami makes them with a range 8 attack action called Into the Beyond that acts like a relatively standard 2 damage shockwave attack, but leaves the Rift behind after its done. Rifts are also hazardous to the enemy crew, so Asami’s going to be  able to do a bit of battlefield control both through enhancing her crew’s mobility and penalizing the opponent’s. She can also create them as a trigger from her melee attack, which no longer has an execute trigger. As if Takusen didn’t have enough going on the front of her card, she also has a new version of Molly’s Lethe's Caress ability that, rather than doing damage, gives a model Injured +1 if it declares the same action more than once per activation. That honestly may be worse than Lethe’s, or at the very least more debilitating. Of course, there are ways to play around it, but it’s a pain and it limits your options. She can hand out more Staggered or Injured with a ranged attack action that has an odd sort of movement trick/defensive tech with a built-in trigger, Possession, that lets you bury an Oni that was within 8” of the target. They unbury at the start of the buried Oni’s next activation, so you’ve got some good control to let you hop a model around with this. Then, for a little extra spice, she’s got a Free Tactical Action to give an Oni Reactivate, at the cost of them taking 3 Flicker tokens. Normally this is a death sentence but, again, all they have to do is end a move around her to pull one off and get Shielded. 

So, obviously new Asami is a short to mid-range battlefield control master par excellence rather than a summoner. Malifaux players may not have as clear an idea of how silly some of this can get, but if you’ve played against the Cult of the Burning Man in ToS, you have alarm bells ringing in your head. This movement isn’t quite that silly, of course, but an 8” hop as a bonus to another move means you can significantly relocate the Oni who, once they get into combat, can rip a target up (and thank the gods Yasunori stopped being an Oni after he came to M3E). In the meantime, your options to hit her back are hindered by the Rifts, Chains of the Earth, and the fact that she and her crew are probably going to be Shielded.  That said, Oni are (by design) not the toughest models in the world, and once they’re gone she can’t bring them back. She isn’t that impressive on her own offensively, so she’s probably in trouble if her crew is dead or if she gets separated from them. 

Even more than with Kirai, these two versions of Asami are very different and will look very different in play. I really don’t know enough about either to say definitely which I like better. The new version may be a bit more new player friendly, both in terms of not having to buy all of the potential summons and not having to do as much mental gymnastics with Flicker, though the positioning shenanigans can be a mind-bender also. In terms of sheer power level, well, there’s a reason they’re veering away from summoning, and that’s because it’s usually really, really good. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Asami Classic remains the preferred option for tournaments as a result of this. Still, I’m curious to see the more control-oriented version in action, hopefully on my side of the table rather than stomping my face in. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Cause baby you’re a firework

That’s a topical reference, right? The kids listen to Katy Perry, right? What? That song came out 11 years ago? Cool, cool, cool as playing as Sonnia Criid. Yeah! Saved it! 

Sure, Adam. Keep telling yourself that.

So, if you’re a Malifaux player who follows the news, you know that the next rulebook will introduce the title system, a thing that was introduced as a way to iterate on the Masters without using upgrades ala 2nd edition. To touch on it briefly, when you reach the phase of game set up where you declare masters, you announce that you’re playing “Sonnia.” You reveal which version of Sonnia when you reveal the rest of the crew. So, there’s potentially a bit of a mini-game being added now, and it will be interesting to see what new complexity it adds to the early game. Really, it’s a question of whether Wyrd can thread the needle and create two competitive, competent leaders for each keyword, particularly without remaking the other models. Sounds pretty tough to me, but we’ll go one-by-one through the spoilers we receive before the book is released. And it’s summer, and she was released first, so let’s start with Sonnia (Miss Criid if you’re nasty.)

Old Sonnia has a pretty extreme df/wp split, with a 4/7. This suggests pretty strongly that she wants to stay back away from the fray (which isn’t tough, because a Mv of 4 means she’s probably better off getting transported by other models rather than spending her own AP walking.) She does have some unorthodox defensive tech between Arcane Shield +2 and Counterspell, as well as a DF/WP trigger to put burning on someone who attacks her and Smothering Flames which reduces the range of any enemy model’s non-melee action by 1” per point of Burning they have running on them. She has a meh melee attack that heals her and a built-in trigger to give them burning. Her 14” Flameburst attack is a nasty ranged shot that does 2(B)/3(B)/5(BB) and adds burning to anyone who takes damage from it. Her Scorch the Soul can do a McMourning-type “Take the total damage of your nasty condition all at once” attack that caps at 5 damage and reduces burning by up to 5 on the target and, if it kills the enemy, lets her summon a Witchling model. She has a pair of bonus tactical actions, one that puts a 3” hazardous aura around her and 1 which heals and gives focus to a friendly witchling. 

New Sonnia (aka Sonnia Criid Unmasked) has apparently gotten a bit tougher physically (at the expense of her mental health) during her time possessed by Cherufe, as she’s now a 5/6 Df/Wp split. She’s also picked up a point of speed, though 5 is nothing to write home about either. She still has Arcane Shield +2 but lost Counterspell. In its place, she took a page out of Reva’s book and can reduce burning on friendly models within 8 of her to get a + on duels. The rest of the card has some unusual toolbox type abilities which make pyre markers count as Severe, lets the crew gain a soulstone when models that have Burning+2 die, and lets Witch Hunters who get pushed outside of their turn get a free melee attack (I imagine primarily through their Drawn to Pain trigger). Flameburst is still the same base attack, but it swaps the triggers for one that you’ll probably use every time (it’s built in) to replace the blast markers with Pyre markers. She has an 8” utility attack action called “Burn Them Out” that is stat 6 vs.  Mv to give the target Burning +2 and pushes the target 4”. Her tactical action, Confiscated Lore, can only be done once per activation but lets her look at the top 5 cards of the opponent’s fate deck, discard any of them you want, and put the rest back in any order. There are a couple of triggers on this, one that lets her move 3” and a different one, Surge. She also has a Tactical Action to create a pyre maker and a built-in trigger to make any model within pulse 2 of the tactical action suffer 1 damage, which is an interesting way to get some unresisted damage spread on the board. 

So, Old Sonnia feels to me like a standard ranged blaster. She’s all about force projection, shooting her own attacks around to blast enemy models as well as boost her companions. Her “summon” is really not reliable and is a bit of a win-more, but it’s there to potentially amplify the momentum of her destruction. She’s “traditional”. She’s very much an early m3e, non-complicated, new player friendly master. New Sonnia looks similar on paper, but I think the key to understanding this new version is the Lasting Flames trigger on Flameburst. Basically, every time she hits somebody with her 14” ranged attack she’s going to drop a Pyre marker onto the board Also, she can drop another one within 12” of her as a bonus action. She can put out a lot of these Pyre markers, is what I’m saying. Like, up to 7 of them per turn. More likely 2-3 of them, but still, over the course of the game that’s going to be an eff-load of potential pyre markers on the board, particularly since she can set herself up with Confiscated Lore to increase the odds that her attacks are successful. Also, Pyre markers don’t go away. Ever. They just stay on the board for the rest of the game. However, she’s lost a lot of her defensive abilities and can’t do as much to amplify the crew (though Burn Them Out has some nice utility.) Her best defense is to have her party on fire around her and steal their Burning. The couple of games I’ve played with Reva tell me that it’s very effective for incidental attacks or opposing individual beaters, but struggles against concentrated fire. 

Thus, Unmasked Sonnia feels like more of a control master that can wall off sections of the board with fire but will be less effective at pivoting to direct crew-on-crew combat when necessary. Old Sonnia (we need to give the old ones titles too, I just realized) is for more direct combat/crew support. Thus, it’s possible that you could choose to switch between the two versions based on whether you’re in a straight up Reckoning style game or the Unmasked version for Symbols of Authority (ie more mobility/interacting type games). 

The question is, would you? I’m not sure. I think old Sonnia is maybe a good teaching master for newer players, but I have a hard time imagining more experienced players not reaching for Sonnia Unmasked. I think it’s an interesting model to be sure, and Reva is literally built on taking advantage of this flame stealing motif. Plus, Sonnia can directly drop her own pyre markers wherever she wants and put burning on her allies with Burn Them Out, rather than Reva’s mechanic of needing her corpse candles to die in specific places. This makes her ability to place pyres and burn her crew more reliable/agile, which I think is one of the things that holds Reva back. 

I’m far more interested in the new Sonnia than the old one, is my final verdict. I can see where the designers were going with the split between the two, but Unmasked’s board control just feels more powerful and interesting. 


Oh, wait, there’s another version of Sonnia. The Other Side exists, after all, though many gamers seem to think otherwise. Sonnia is a commander from the Guild faction (technically the only one for the time being.) Interestingly, she only has 18 scrip to use to hire her force, which means you’re going to be bringing fewer troops than your opponent. As such, she needs to be able to make up for this with her own impact on the game. Her stats are pretty standard, though a 5 speed is pretty slow (which tracks, given all the versions of her from Malifaux aren’t exactly quick either.) The morale action Well-Read gives you a card draw, which the earth side factions don’t have an amazing amount of, which can be useful. It also lets you offset half of the cost to get her into Glory, so you may as well go straight to it. Which means, frankly, the front of Sonnia’s card doesn’t matter, so let’s just ignore that. First point, Draw on Ancient Runes makes her flip two cards instead of one for any duel she’s in. That’s pretty rad. Her Pyrokinesis lets her use the Penetration flip from her attack for her area flip, which means it’s far more likely she’ll be able to dish out AoE damage. Not everyone plays The Other Side, so I’ll walk through how it works. Normally, if an attack is successful that has the Area description, you flip a card and, if the card’s value is higher than the armor of the units within 3 of her, they take 1 point of damage. For Sonnia, she flips two cards for penetration (her flameburst has the Piercing characteristic, so it means you flip two cards instead of one and choose the better) and, critically, lets you add the 2 points of Strength to the card rather than relying on just the value of the card. The Flameburst attack has a very good 7 Acting Value but a not so great Str 2. This is offset by the Piercing ability, but may make it hard to actually get the main attack to land. The margin of success ability Inferno lets the area damage force all the squads within 3 of the initial target to take 2 instead of 1. Potentially you can do a lot of damage with this, though I would guess most crews will fan out when opposing her. It also requires you to spend margin on that rather than on increasing the Str of the attack versus the primary target. I’m not sure what to think about it, in other words. Additionally, she gains the Morale action Pillar of Flame. It costs a Tactics token which is kind of steep, but lets her place a 120mm Flamestrike Marker anywhere within range. Enemy Fireteams within (2) of the marker (so, that’s a pretty huge area) suffer a strength 2 hit that can’t be cheated. Additionally, if you have a 13 you don’t remove the marker when you’re resolving it, which creates some permanent hazardous terrain to add a bit of board control. 

I think she’s going to be more effective on low armor forces like the Hordes or Cult, particularly the former since there are going to be more fireteams clumped together to blow up. I’ll have to see her in play to see if she can offset 7 scrip worth of troops, but in the right situations she could potentially do a lot of damage to the enemy. You won’t want to leave her exposed, as her defenses are very mediocre, and anything that can flip you out of Glory will be a drain on your resources. Speaking as a King’s Empire player, the bars to clear are Margaret Belle and Kassa Okoye (sorry Chuck). Margaret will never be replaced because she’s amazing even after getting nerfed, but Kassa needs to have the Titan in play to be effective and becomes significantly less so if its ever destroyed. If you’re going to make the swap, that’ll be where it happens. I’m curious to see the rest of the Guild stuff to know whether it’s worth bringing her. If I trusted Hordes forces to be…well…a horde then that would be a strong choice, but too many of the GH armies I’ve run up against have done the kaiju thing and brought multiple titans, which she will not be as good against. Ironically, she might be better against the Cult, particularly if you can park a Flamestrike Marker to interfere with their ability to summon out of one of their portals. So, you know, she might be good at burning the Cult of the Burning Man? Why not. I don’t know, I haven’t tried her on the table. But that’s what I’ve got for you today.  

In the meantime, Sonnia's apparently already taking the fight to the Gibbering Hordes...