Monday, January 20, 2014

Mixed Ten Thunders Musing

The UK Masters tournament was this weekend, making it probably the highest level competitive tournament of the M2E era thus far. The UK meta is, reportedly, quite different from the US, but regardless this tournament is probably one of the best pieces of hard data we have on what competitive M2E will ultimately look like (at least for a few more months until Wave 2 comes out, but I digress.) It’s always funny to see what people are afraid will be totally broken during the theory phases of the game versus what actually ends up being strong competitively. These two things tend to only meet up rarely, particularly in a game as intricate and balanced as Malifaux M2E. The Drowned from M1.5 were a great example of this, as I have yet to meet anyone who saw those rules on paper and thought “Yep, that’s a solid model right there.” Personally, I thought they were garbage and filed them with the Latigo Pistolero after my first reading (though I didn’t think Tuco was that great either, so I’m clearly an idiot.) Instead, it turned out that they were a tough, cheap, fast model that the enemy couldn't afford to ignore and punished the enemy harshly for killing them.

This has something to do with the Masters, I promise. Stay with me.

For weeks now on the Bayou Broadcast (, Craig Johnson (UKRocky) has slammed the hell out of Ten Thunders. When asked to rank the M2E factions competitively, Craig’s list was effectively “In last, Ten Thunders. Above that, all the others in a tie.” Most of this concern came from the lack of a cheap objective grabbing model in the crew, which is a big deal in the current environment and definitely puts them at a handicap. Every faction in the game can out-activate Ten Thunders if they want to, unless you’re going to take lots of Monks of the Low River, who Craig has openly panned. It’s easy to see why, given that the Monk has no attack actions and doesn’t move that quickly (their function is primarily to remove conditions.) The Torekage (ostensibly the “objective grabber” of the faction due to their ability to walk out of engagement as well as teleport off of other friendly models) is much more expensive than what you can find in other crews. This is a struggle for the faction as a whole and led to Craig’s dismissal of them as a competitive option (at least publicly. Craig is infamous for underselling his own abilities and the abilities of his crews.)

This, of course, leads inevitably to Craig winning the Masters using Ten Thunders Jacob Lynch.

Pictured: Not Craig Johnson.

Now, I’ve already stated how much I love Jacob (, and I’d be lying to say I wasn’t gratified to see some of the strengths I was promoting coming to light. As they discussed on today’s Fools Daily (, the obvious reason for his power is the free face-smashy model (pictured above) that you get just as a reward for playing him, while the less obvious power comes from his card advantage and ace-discarding shenanigans. Now that the Neverborn upgrades have been toned down, the choice of faction for Lynch becomes much less of an auto-select than it used to be. I still tend to favor him as Neverborn, but I think Craig has demonstrated pretty effectively that the other side works well. Also, on his twitter feed today he’s mentioned that removal of conditions is a much more important part of the game than he had given credit, so now the much maligned Monk of Low River is beginning to come up a bit in his perception. I myself need to get him (the Monk, not Craig) out onto the field to battle-test them, but I’m pleased to see the success for both the faction in general and Lynch specifically. And, of course, much congratulations to Fat Craig for his victory. I look forward to his humble-bragging about it on the next Bayou Broadcast episode.

So as not to make this just a minifaux post (ooo, I just coined a new term,) I’ll talk about a game I played recently. This is really a re-visiting of an earlier topic ( wherein I discussed Misaki tactics and another post ( wherein I slammed all over Tara for being ugly and bad (still my most popular post to date.) This was of course played over Vassal, as I still live in the Malifaux dessert of Western Virginia. My opponent was Jon, and he wanted to see what he could do with the Nothingness. The best part, of course, is I get to reuse one of my graphics.

Misaki – Defensive Upgrades, Training, 6SS
Yamaziko-Training, Last Blossom Upgrade
2xRail Worker

Tara-Upgrades of some kind, SSs
Nothing Beast
3xVoid Wretch

The game was played a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll stick to the highlights and then move on to analysis. I hadn’t played Misaki in a while (as a matter of fact I have played exactly 2 games with Misaki in M2E, coincidentally both versus Tara,) but I decided to put my money where my mouth was and try out my defensive build for the mistress of the Ten Thunders. We were playing Reckoning with a very passive scheme-marker-based pool, so I wanted to try out Oiran for Lure tactics, Rail Workers to get my model count up, and see if I could just plant Misaki in the middle of a quadrant and say “Come on if you think you’re tough enough.” Jon was learning to play Tara and wanted to get the box set on the (virtual) board along with some other stuff he wasn’t familiar with, namely Hannah and Hans. I joked afterwards that Jon loves Killjoy and will bend over backwards to fit him into any list he builds, yet for whatever reason he made the decision not to include Killjoy in the crew that he probably works best with!

Weeeelll, you know what Mike Tyson says about plans, namely that everybody has one till you get punched in the face.  I had protect territory and frame for murder on one of the rail workers for my schemes, and was basically planning on turtleing up with Yamaziko and the Rail Workers in one quadrant and using Misaki to go control somewhere else, with the Torekage’s burying tricks to move them to where they need to be at the end of a turn for control. Since you don't need to prevent your opponent from scoring in M2E Reckoning, all I needed was to control my two quarters and deny him some scheme points and I would be set. And did I mention how smart I felt about the thought of burying my Torekage to move them around the board to control quarters?


Those of you with brains who remembered that I’m playing Tara probably see the flaw in this strategy right away, as the one time I was foolish enough to try it my Torekage emerged back into the field of play with 3 wounds and some burning tokens. Also, Hans was sitting on the other side of the board, picking at anybody who stuck their face out and laughing at my Torekage’s silly smoke bombs. Also, Hannah had shut my Oiran’s Lure down because of her counterspell. Also…ok, look, you get the idea. My plan was dumb. Even the part that did work, the turtle with Yamaziko to prevent charges on my crew, ended up biting me since it meant the Rail Worker didn’t get murdered until we were past where I could get the bonus points for the scheme.

So, knowing that the plan had failed, I changed to aggressive Misaki without the proper upgrades, if only to shut Hans and Tara down. Jon did a fantastic job of saving Hans from me by burying him with Tara, but in doing so left Tara in position to be Assassinated (a weakness for this crew's low hand size that I had noticed when playing her previously.) I was still rather impressed with the Last Blossom related mobility during the game, as much of the Torekage and Oiran’s jobs for the remaining turns became “dash between quarters to avoid the Nothing Beast and ensure we score.” The Nothing Beast (his name must always be capitalized) with movement 7 from an Outcast Upgrade was pretty tough to get away from, but there was no other option since the crew wasn’t tough enough outside of Misaki to deal with him, and she was busy elsewhere.

In the end the game finished up with an 8-9 loss for me. I have a new appreciation for what Tara can do when she is rolling, given that Jon had never touched her before and basically had me beaten from the first turn of the game. I still don’t really LIKE her, as I detest having no hand and being reliant on what the fate deck feels like giving me. But, I am willing to acknowledge that there is much more to her than perhaps I had previously implied. I l look forward with some trepidation to seeing what Jon’s going to do with her, as he had never heard about using Killjoy or *shudder* Bishop in this crew, with Tara functioning almost like an old-school Dreamer that floats around and drops a big bag of pain in the middle of the enemy. 

In the meantime, my impression of the defensive Misaki build was a bit mixed. I don’t think I gave it a very fair shot here, as I basically had to abandon the plan on turn one to prevent Hans picking us apart. It would have been difficult to use in this particular game regardless, as the Nothing Beast and Hannah all have large melee ranges to prevent her dancing away from combat. Moreover, I’m not sure it really fits my play style that well. My natural inclination is to attempt to dictate the terms of the engagement to my opponent rather than sit back and wait for them, but I consider this more of an opportunity than a liability. I need to learn how to play this way for my own benefit, so handcuffing myself into it like this may be a good way of accomplishing that. 

Also, I found this ( Justin needs to make this for Ten Thunders.

Like, now. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Magpie Musings

So I haven’t played a game of Malifaux in a couple of weeks and, for the most part, have been painting only a handful of models. Time has been tough to come by, and when I get it I’ve had other things to do with it besides move little models around and flip cards. I’ve got some thoughts regarding the Wave 2 playtest models, but I don’t feel extraordinarily confident in discussing them when I haven’t gotten to test most of them out yet. However, one thing that has started to jump out to me is that there are, frankly, too many things I want to play right now.

I’ve been using Lynch quite a bit recently, as evidenced by the last two blog posts I’ve put up. Not a huge surprise, given that I love the crew and wish to do my part to see them succeed, but now I’m stuck trying to figure out what I’m going to focus on moving forward. My first faction in Malifaux was The Guild. I was drawn in by Perdita initially (the fact that I was reading The Gunslinger from the Dark Tower series at the time had a lot to do with this.) As such, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Guildies and always will. That said, that soft spot grew a bit callused towards the end of 1st edition as it became painfully apparent that it was much more difficult to succeed on a competitive level with the Guild than with any of the other factions during that era of the game, particularly Perdita who, after people realized how to get around her high defenses, was just too straight-forward of a crew to get the job done. Now, the new look Guild of 2.0 gets around this by, while still being a very blunt, very strong implement for dishing out damage on the board, adding in a ton of synergy with scheme markers as well. Models like the Austringers and Guild Guards make the faction much more capable of directly throwing down friendly and/or removing enemy scheme markers. Many of them have “Finish the Job,” again giving you the ability to get those markers down on the board when your models meet their sudden but (let’s face it, a lot of them are pretty much stormtroopers) inevitable end. They are still very direct, but they’re directly focused on the things that win you games, scheme and objective completion, and when it’s time to kill whoever is in the way they are still the smashiest of the factions and can dish out the hurt like no one else.

McMourning is probably the best example of this. His injection lets him move pieces around and throw out scheme markers, and the upgrade that lets him steal enemy scheme markers at the end of the game to make them count for his crew is just brilliant. Meanwhile, he can slice people up with his scalpels and burn you out for your full poison total all at once, making him a very potent finisher for almost any model in the game. After I defended my dissertation and got my PhD, I picked up the crew sort of out of a sense of irony for the fact that I was now officially joining the ranks of the mad science community. The fact that he was now a member of the Guild helped as well, of course, given my previous predilections. Plus, I was amused by the thought of using members of the Dead Justice crew box to represent McMourning’s somewhat poorly disguised undead helpers, dressed up to look like their “official” guild counterparts. Eventually I want to pick up some Guild Autopsies to further this them by using them either as themselves or as (again poorly disguised) Guild Guards. Basically, I was planning on using him as a Guild character exclusively, even going so far as to snatch poor minion Hamelin’s Nix model as a proxy Zombie Chihuahua, painting him up to look like my min-pin Rico (anyone who’s been around Rico while he’s asleep after eating something that doesn’t agree with him will know where the Horrible Odor ability comes from.) It was when I painted up the Flesh Golem on a lark, however, that my thoughts started to drift towards the Ressers. I had played a game against Nicodem over Vassal, which was probably my first game ever against a dedicated Resser master that was re-summoning things as quickly as I could kill them, and saw the power of that first hand.  Now, McMourning’s not the best character for this kind of crew…until the Wave 2 beta introduced the Spare Parts upgrade which lets any Resser master summon the Autopsies and Rogue Necromancies off corpse counters on the board. There’s a very good chance that I’ll be giving that a try sometime soon, giving this already pretty good at schemes master the added ability to create waves of dead minions to lead the way forward.

And once we open up the Resser door, there’s a couple of others I like sitting back there as well. I’ve not gotten a chance to see the new Seamus in action, but I love what they’ve done with him. The back-alley killer idea, with him leaping from the shadows around the board to ambush and kill who or whatever is exposed and vulnerable in the enemy crew, is so amazing and thematic for him. Seamus is definitely one of the winners of the M1E to M2E transition, and I’ve wanted to give him a try, if only to cackle and do evil, evil things to my opponents legally. Also, Kirai was the first of the Asian themed masters I picked up and tried in old Malifaux. Something about that character spoke to me. She moved quickly. Her crew was very thematic. There were lots of moving parts (I often said that I played every game where I used Kirai incorrectly, even if I won the game) which I like from the “here’s a puzzle that I’m trying to sort out” standpoint. I haven’t exactly focused on what they’ve done with her in this iteration of the game, but I’m sure at some point I’ll want to get her out on the tabletop and see what she can do.

I’ve stated previously that the Asian themes are not a big sell for me. It’s not a personal thing. It was just one of those situations where, when I was in school, Dragonball Z and the anime craze had suddenly made all things Japanese cool, which meant that in a pre-hipster move I didn’t want anything to do with them. As such, it never ceases to amaze me how I’ve somehow turned into a Ten Thunders player seemingly by mistake. It’s pretty much Lynch’s fault, if you want to get right down to it. He got me through the door after all (the first taste is free.) I had created a relatively novel way of making bamboo bases on the cheap using broken pieces of spaghetti, so there was that draw. I picked up Wastrels because suddenly they gave the Guild some mobility and objective grabbing ability that they were missing before, so now I had a McCabe crew and, hey, those archer things are pretty good so why not pick up one of them to back up McCabe and Lynch if I play them as the TT. And, obviously, if I’m going to play them TT I’m going to need Torekage to do it effectively, since the Tora-swap was about the best form of mobility in that version of the game short of Collodi cruising the length of the board in a turn. Next thing you know, I have the whole faction minus the Rail Crew box and Ten Thunders Brothers, I’m using Misaki in a narrative campaign, and I was lost.

I feel like the Ten Thunders kind of hit the mid-point between killiness and fiddliness between the Guild and Neverborn (although Lucius may have something to say about that, now) which are the things I love about those factions and makes them very appealing to play. I already posted some thoughts on the two forms of Misaki where she can go from hyper-aggressive killer master to elegant defensive/denial master. The recent nerf to Nexus of Power makes the question of which faction to run Lynch in no-longer academic, and I’ve mentioned before that I’m interested to see how Sensei Yu would do in this list (two mulligans per turn? Yes please.) And hey, now the rest of them are here and ready to test as well. Shenlong seems very interesting, and the addition of the Lone Samurai gives them another mid-level hitter model that can do some serious damage and is, more or less, immune to gunfire before he gets to grips with the enemy.

Of course, the reason I picked up Lynch in the first place was because I was a shameless Neverborn bandwaggoner back during the “Well, Neverborn, innit?” days of pre-book 4 M1E. The Pandora crew was amazing. The Zoraida crew was amazing. Collodi was ridiculously good. I never got them on the board, but I always had Lillith and Dreamer ideas in mind (I’m still, one day, going to paint my Lady Gaga “Mama Monster” version of Lillith. This is happening.) I loved Tuco’s craziness. I loved how ridiculous Stitched Togethers were. I fell headlong into this faction, and a lot of it was just how powerful they were on the board. I can admit this freely. I’m a guy who likes to win, and the Neverborn just won in those days. It didn’t hurt that they were all spooky monsters that were a blast to paint and field.

And this was one of the things that was actually quite frustrating in the 2.0 switch. I should not have playtested Pandora early on in the process. I see that now. Coming in with the power level she used to have in the back of my mind led to pretty unrealistic expectations for a model that, honestly, was seriously underpowered during the early stages of the Wave 1 beta process. And I just…could not…accept it. I thought it was my fault. I thought there was something there I wasn’t seeing or I was doing something wrong on the tabletop. I just didn’t realize that, in making her balanced, there was really no way around the fact that she was going to have to lose a lot of the things I liked about that master. And as such, I lost almost all of my playtest games, and I lost every single playtest game where I used Pandora. While the object of these games was not to win but rather to test the mechanics and look for things that needed to be addressed, I couldn’t help the fact that this left a pretty sour taste in my mouth, not just for her but also for the faction as a whole.

Well, that has started to balance out a bit. Playing Lynch recently had a lot to do with this, as it gave me a chance to see some of the minions I had previously dismissed running with a master I had a better grasp on. I haven’t gotten a chance to try out Zoraida, but I like the notion of running the swamp crew, particularly the Swamp Thing Bad Juju. Lillith’s combination of board control and melee has always interested me, and if anything she’s swung further in that direction with 2nd edition. And I’ve had a Nightmare Chompy bits for years sitting in a drawer and have never gotten him out to play. This seems criminal, particularly given how enchanting the idea behind that crew really is. I’m a fan of the current mechanic where, as Dreamer slides deeper into sleep his ability to summon other Nightmares increases, but he has to wake himself to let Chompy out. Very thematic and very cool.

I wish I could say that was it, but it isn’t. I keep finding myself fantasizing about Ramos crews. I’ve liked Jack Daw since he was a minion, so the fact that he’s a master now with another very thematic crew makes him tempting to get out and try. Maybe it’s just reading about him all the time (…all the time…) in the Play It Like Beatdown blog, but Marcus seems like he’d be pretty fun, with Cojo being one of if not the only model in the game that can force movement on enemy models with no flip. And who knows? If you ask me next week, maybe I’ll be wanting to try out Molly or Kaeris or even a gremlin crew (ok, maybe not that last one :P)?

So I think it’s time to admit I’ve got a problem. I’m a magpie. I’m an addict for new crews and new ideas. And I can’t stop.

Oh well, at least I’ll have plenty of crews to loan out for demo games in the future. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Breaking Lynch, Wave 2

Apologies for the delay in posts. Real life being what it is, and my local Malifaux scene consisting entirely of me, there’s been a bit of a gap since last I posted. I have, however, managed to get some games in during the intervening period using Vassal, which I’ve come to enjoy quite a lot. Additionally, the Wave 2 Beta files are out and have been updated a couple of times, bringing us all the models that we owned prior to the switch over to second edition as well as some new toys for the gremlins and a new Ten Thunders and outcast master. The rules are obviously still in flux and subject to change, but I thought I’d take a moment to return to Malifaux’s favorite drug dealer and take a look at what new stuff may support the Lynch Mob on the tabletop. So, without further ado…

Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

First of all, I guess I can say that I was wrong about Illuminated with the last post. They’re very good. I played a Squatter’s Rights game where one sat on the center marker and withstood wave after wave of summoned punk zombies from Nicodem and survived. They’re good, I was in error. Stop throwing things at me, please.

Ok, with that out of the way, the three models added in with this update to round out the Honeypot crew are Mr. Graves, Mr. Tannen, and The Depleted. Of the three, I think the one I like the best is Graves. Maybe I just have a thing for large, follicularly challenged men, but he’s always been one of my favorites since the crew came out, and it was thus very disappointing that he fell into the same category as a lot of underused Neverborn minions in 1.5, i.e. “this is good, but there’s so many overpowered things in faction that you will never have points for it.” The core of Mr. Graves has remained the same, in that he’s a bruiser who can throw his weight around, reposition models in the enemy’s crew, and be relatively tough. Armor 1 and Hard to Kill make him not-trivial to remove. He has his fence post for clubbing the enemy and the ability to do a lot of repositioning with his “Show you the door,” where you can throw an enemy model 4” and follow along into base to base, getting a free melee swing with a ram trigger. The playtest game I’ve played with him ended up going in my favor in part because, at one point, I had gotten close enough to Nicodem to throw him out through a doorway and away from his corpse counters, slowing a summoning engine that had been grinding my crew down prior to that point. His zero action is marginal, but it’s the only one you’ve got so you may as well try to turn it on and catch the 5 or higher of tomes you need to make charges difficult for your opponent. He’s solid, and he can use a different attack trigger to attempt to tank for his counterpart Mr. Tannen if you include both of them.

Unfortunately, as it stands, I don’t think Tannen is worth including. His main gimmick is the cooler passive ability that forces models that want to cheat fate when they’re near him to ditch an extra card first. He can redraw your hand to catch up with your opponent if you’re a bit reckless with cheating fate early in the turn. Unfortunately, his utility dips a bit from there. Bore to Tears drops the opponent’s walk and charge by 2, which is underwhelming given that the ten inch range likely means the enemy model will be near to where they’re trying to walk by the time you can cast it at them anyways. Leave it to Luck is a 0 that penalizes any tome cards you flip and buffs any mask cards, which I can’t really see myself doing unless I can find a way to look ahead at the deck and/or rearrange it to optimize the ability. Aaaand, that’s about it. His melee attack isn’t impressive, he doesn’t have any interaction with scheme markers, he’s just kind of there dampening your opponent’s ability to cheat fate. He has very little survivability outside of Manipulative (which Graves can turn back on for the rest of the turn.) He has some interesting synergy with the Neverborn Fears Given Form upgrade, but throwing more points onto an already expensive, fragile model doesn’t seem like an optimal solution. This is a model I would give more consideration at 5 soulstones (but would still have hesitation,) but at 7 it just isn’t that impressive. I always hesitate when it comes to models that don’t help you win so much as make it hard for your opponent to win. If you deny your opponent all of his victory points, you can still end up in a draw without scoring any of your own. As such, a model like Tannen that is purely designed for causing an opponent grief is going to be the first thing cut when it comes time to make room in the crew, even if I was wanting to play him. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement here in forthcoming waves.

Last is The Depleted. Prior to the release of the version 1.5 The Drowned I would probably have just dismissed The Depleted, as they seem to be built around being a nuisance model with AoE damage when they die and bonuses to disengaging strikes when in melee. This is what I thought of the Drowned after first read (along with most of the Malifaux world, I hasten to point out.) In the end, however, we discovered that this kind of cheap blocking model that imposes a cost on the opponent to remove, in the form of a high resilience model that will require more than 1 AP to remove, and killing them means you get caught in a blast, take 2 damage, and become Briliant for the rest of the turn. They’re basically walking Brilliance Bombs. At 4 stones each they’re quite cheap and the bonus to disengaging strikes as well as some unpleasant triggers on their melee means that the opponent will have a hard time just ignoring/walking away from them once engaged. I forsee them moving up board quickly to go squat on the parts of the board that are going to be the biggest problem for the opponent, daring them to remove them.  I wish that their push ability let them push towards models with the Darkened trait as well as Brilliance, and I was really hoping they would be significant when they were within range of Hungering Darkness (as they used to be,) but I’ll be interested to see what they can do on the table top.

Out of the rest of Lynch’s factions, there are a handful of things that jumped out as having some synergy with his crew. Out of the Neverborn, the Mysterious Effigy seems like a good way to get a version of Lynch’s upgrades into the crew without having to use an upgrade slot for them. It allows models within 3” of it to cheat face down and, with its 0 action, can give back a poor man’s version of the Squeal trigger to Lynch. Not a lot of the models outside of the effigy immediately jump out from the Neverborn as having specific syngergy, but I do like Tuco if only to provide one of the things the crew doesn’t have access to otherwise, From the Shadows. Plus, if you pair him up with Graves you have a nice little block of Black Blood and repositioning effects to perform some area denial. They can hold some Squatter Markers together and throw people out of the center of the board in Stake a Claim.

The Ten Thunders, once again, provide some indirect synergy that comes through Lynch’s ability to prevent discards. One thing I noticed was a trick off of two of Yan Lo’s ancestors with the War Eternal Trigger. It requires a tome on the attack flip, but with Lynch’s Ace abilities can allow you to, if you were going to do minimum damage anyways, cheat in an ace, draw a card for cheating, and then pick the ace back up for a little card advantage bonus. Not a game winner by any stretch, but sort of a neat little trick that may help out with deck cycling. I am more interested, however, in some of the models introduced with the new Ten Thunders master Shen Long. Sensei Yu is intriguing with Lynch. While he isn’t especially killy (although an attack that doesn’t allow defensive triggers is pretty decent), his tactical actions all have a built-in trigger to grant himself focused+1, which he can use in the traditional manner for positive attack and damage flips or can be reduced to throw down scheme markers. Yu also can do some nice repositioning tricks on your crew or the opponent’s in the process of generating this focus. What jumped out at me was the ability to ditch two cards (Aces, naturally) and use a 0 action off of the crew leader’s stat card. Lynch has some nice 0 actions, and I'm a big fan of being able to Mulligan twice in the same turn, so I’m very interested to see what Yu can do with these. Along a similar line of reasoning, the Monk of the High River can discard up to four cards to do a 1 AP melee attack per discard. I get the feeling that, unlike when I’m using him as Neverborn, there’s going to be a high incentive for Ten Thunders Lynch to hold some of those aces through multiple turns to exploit these and previous discard-based abilities.

 So, lots of ideas paired up with a little bit of actual playtest experience is all I can throw out this time. My Vassal opponent is probably a little tired of Lynch (or at least Nexus of Power on Hungering Darkness) but I’ll have to see what I can do to get more testing time in with the new stuff. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a quick public service announcement. When painting, if you find your bottle of Vallejo paint has clogged up in the nozzle with dried product, do not attempt to clear the clog by squeezing harder.

It can only end in sorrow. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vassalfaux, anyone?

Given that we live in the future now, moving to a new area where no one seems to play Malifaux doesn't necessarily have to mean game over for me. I’m going to start demoing and trying to stir up interest, but I want to get in some 2nd Edition Malifaux action now. NOW DAMMIT! But what am I to do about this situation?

This is where we learn to play Malifaux using Vassal.

My friend Jon from back in the 402 and I hooked up through Skype and decided to learn how to make this crazy thing go. Now that I’m sitting here typing this, it occurs to me that I should probably have taken screen shots of the game as it went along, Whoops. Aaaanyway, I had installed it the day before and attempted to figure out how it worked (where are the tokens? Why are all of the windows stretched out to the least useful size possible when you turn first turn them on?) and then walked Jon through the installation process. The program is available from Wyrd at this page. You need to pull down the program itself as well as the Malifaux 1.31 module. For the record, this module is designed for Malifaux 1.5 Edition post-release of the Ten Thunders crews, but it still works fine for M2E other than the fact that some of the various models aren't sorted appropriately under the tokens tab (Lucius is a Henchman, The Judge is a minion, and so on.) It took about an hour to get through all the installation issues (he didn't have an up-to-date version of Java) but then we were up and running. One immediate benefit of playing through this medium was made apparent, as Jon elected to try out Rasputina for the first time despite the fact that none of the models he had purchased at Gencon were even assembled, let alone painted. Since I had just published my break-down of Jacob Lynch, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take him out for a spin. So, without further ado, the battle report.

40SS Turf War
Vassal Streets of Blood Map
Scheme Pool: Assassinate, Breakthrough, Power Ritual, Take Prisoner, LitS

Jacob Lynch (Eternal Hunger, Woke Up With A Hand) 6SS
Hungering Darkness (Nexus of Power)
2x Beckoners
1x Illuminated
2x Terror Tots

Schemes: Assassinate, Power Ritual
Reasoning: I wasn't over the moon about this pool of schemes, if I’m being honest. I've yet to pull off a successful Take Prisoner, and Breakthrough and Power Ritual felt like they were working counter to the strategy of holding the center of the board. Also, knowing my opponent was Raspy made it seem less likely I’d be able to get Assassinate given that she was unlikely to be anywhere near where the action was happening. I elected to take advantage of the Terror Tot-Sprint-Ace of Masks trick, with the thought that the Tots could sprint up, drop their markers, then sprint back to help hold the middle. Also, knowing my opponent was trying out a new crew, I was hoping Raspy would stick her nose out somewhere I could get her for Assassinate.

Rasputina (some upgrades, 6ss)
4 Ice Gamin
Ice Golem (Ice Armor upgrade? Gives everything with frozen heart the trigger where I only get one activation if I attack them.)

Schemes: Power Ritual, Take Prisoner

I won the deployment flip and elected to pick the bottom DZ for my team, setting up most of the crew in the building on the left and putting one tot and the Illuminated in the opposite (right) corner. Jon put one of his gamin in each corner and then had the rest form up behind the central building, with Rasputina on the top. I instantly regretted giving her that vantage point, but what are you going to do? There was no DZ that didn't have a building in it, and this one gave me the best cover for advancing.

Turn 1 saw my tots dropping scheme markers in their corners and then sprinting for the other side of the board. The gamin did likewise (albeit not as quickly.) The Ice Golem chucked some of the gamin forward to threaten the turf war marker and get some force projection going. Beckoners lure one of the gamin in so HD can start to hit it. Rasputina takes advantage of this by chaining ice off of him and blasting into HD and the Beckoners with her spells. Lynch sneaks out the side door of the building, circling around to flank.

Turn 2 saw the Rasputina player win initiative and blow up her own Gamin to blast into my crew some more (Red Joker damage flip.) One Beckoner died, feeding some health to the other. Hungering Darkness used stones/nexus to resist/ignore a lot of the damage. The tot on the right flank made it nearly to the enemy deployment zone but couldn't avoid a disengaging strike from the gamin standing there and was engaged. The other tot slipped along the outside and dropped the third power ritual marker.

From there things bog down a bit. Lynch engages on the left side with the Ice Golem, exchanging blows over the next couple of turns and then winning mostly because Lynch has soulstones. The Tot that dropped the scheme marker then charged into the leftmost ice gamin to keep him away from my scheme marker. We had an amusing exchange where we discovered that Ice Gamin and Terror Tots are like matter and anti-matter, as on subsequent turns they end up killing each other while finishing off their opponent with Black Blood/Shatter. The Turf War in the center bogs down with the Beckoner getting blown up by Rasputina, HD dragging the scoring Gamin and Wendigo in and eating them, and the Illuminated walking in to hunker down with defensive stance so HD and Illuminated score while the opponent cannot. Raspy had a tough time blasting through the Illuminated’s defensive posture, so I saw firsthand how potent it can be. Jon had basically given up on trying to kill HD, as Nexus+Incorporeal was making him pretty much unstoppable. End of the game saw Lynch running up to destroy one of the Gamin’s scheme markers, HD trying to climb the building to go fight Raspy to no avail, meaning no Assassination.

Jon and I didn't know Vassal very well, I kept having to get up to kid wrangle during the game, and Jon was playing a new crew, so the game taking 4 hours to finish was not a huge surprise. I’m sure when we play again it will go much quicker. Still, I see why so many people love Vassal, and I’m glad to be able to join in with it. If anybody feels like hitting me up for a game, contact me through the blog and we can figure out a time. As far as the game went, I’m reminded of why the Hungering Darkness is so sick with Nexus of Power, and why I've started hearing some muttering from Justin Gibbs in interviews that something may have to be done there. Jon could probably have made more use of paralysis in this game to give me troubles, and Power Ritual may not have been the right scheme. I suppose the Illuminated did what I asked him to in this game, mostly by not dying, but I still wasn't blown away by his performance. More testing required, I suppose.

And now, time to wait for Wave 2 of the Beta. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Lynch

Tonight marks the end for one of the greatest television shows in history, Breaking Bad. Over several years of watching, we’ve watched as Walter White has transformed from a down-on-his-luck Chemistry teacher with lung cancer, trying to make some money for his family to megalomaniac mass murderer and drug kingpin. We’ve all suffered through this season as, predictably, it’s all fallen down around Walt’s ears. We all hate him now (at least I hope so. If you’re a #TeamWalt person, I’m puzzled and slightly terrified of you at this point.) We’ve watched as, in showrunner Vince Gilligan’s words, Mr. Chips has turned into Scarface. And tonight it comes to an end. To commemorate the occasion (and get an easy post topic out of it,) I decided to take some time and discuss one of my favorite masters in Malifaux, every Malifool’s favorite drug dealer, Jacob Lynch. So, without further ado…

To start, let me just say that I love Jacob Lynch as a character. I bought his whole crew when he was released at Gencon 2012 and painted them up faster than any I had bought previously. It could just be my proclivity for cheering for the morally complex bad guys (I still think Lex Luthor has a point about Superman) but this crew has always been attractive to me. I like the look. I like the focus on card advantage. These guys are my kind of scum.

Lynch is the proprietor of the Honeypot casino, a den of debauchery where any vice can be explored with the right amount of scrip. The story started out with him down on his luck, about to end up on the wrong side of a loan with the Ten Thunders and desperate. Enter Messirs Graves and Tannen, a pair of disguised Neverborn with an offer he can’t refuse. You see, something old and unspeakable lives below the Honeypot (that’s quite the double entendre sentence), a creature from the age of the tyrants who just wants to find a host to latch onto so it can get out and feed. All Lynch has to do is bind with this Hungering Darkness and spread his influence through the city in the form of Brilliance, the most potent and intoxicating Narcotic to hit Malifaux and which, incidentally, allows the HD to feed off of their essence until only a burned out shell remains. Fast forward, and the Honeypot is a runaway success. Customers are streaming in to try their luck at the tables, spend time with the beautiful ladies, and have a taste of the good stuff that makes it all possible. But Misaki knows what resides inside Lynch now and wants to use it for her own purposes, while the Neverborn could frankly give a damn what they want, being interested only in the corruption and ultimate destruction of the humans who have invaded their home. Once again, Lynch finds himself being pulled between two masters who, if we’re being honest, don’t EXACTLY have his best interests at heart, and trying to find a way to get out from under their thumbs with his skin intact.

In his first iteration, Lynch played very much as his fluff would suggest. He was pretty unassuming and basically snuck around the board completing objectives while the rest of the crew induced havoc. In 2nd edition, by contrast, he appears to have embraced some of the powers made available to him and has become quite a bit more “hands on” in his approach. His main offensive weapon, his hold out pistol, has a trigger for each suit and the ability to pitch a card from his hand and apply that suit to the duel total. The most obvious is the Ram trigger that converts his damage profile to 4/5/6, but the others can be situationally useful as well. Lynch also has an unorthodox ability called Ace in the Hole that allows him to grab any aces flipped or discarded by other members of his crew before they hit the discard pile, effectively allowing them to utilize Defensive Stance and abilities like Rapid Fire and Flurry without giving up card advantage, which we all know I appreciate. But when his activation comes around, what do we do with all those aces? Well, there’s always his (0) action, Mulligan, that lets him shuffle three cards into his deck and draw three new ones which, when paired with his “Woke Up With a Hand” upgrade, basically allows you to draw a brand new hand at the end of your turn in exchange for waiting to activate Lynch last. Also, though I’ve never successfully used the ability, the same upgrade gives him a (1) action called Final Debt where a target with the Brilliance condition takes a point of damage for each card in Lynch’s hand.

I’ve read a couple of different suggestions on how to use Lynch in games. Obviously he’s a much more effective combatant now, but he still has no real defensive abilities besides making people take two damage when they cheat in a duel with him. As such you kind of have to pick your spots with him and make sure he’s well supported. I personally like to save him for the end of the turn and use Mulligan and Woke Up With A Hand to ensure that I can dominate any duels that Lynch is involved in since my opponent will likely have depleted their control hand by that point. The holdout pistol’s ram trigger gives him a surprisingly effective damage output. Others have suggested utilizing his “Play for Blood” attack to spread more Brilliance through the crew, effectively using Lynch to optimize things for his minions, but I’ve personally found the Beckoners and, to a lesser extent, Hungering Darkness to be better at that job, especially given the fact that “Under the Influence” drops off at the end of the turn. His walk of 4 makes him not particularly speedy, so objective grabbing is probably better accomplished by other crew members as well. So, honestly, I think the best way to use Lynch is probably as a hand manipulator and surgical damage dealer.

Also, a sharp dresser

Of course, just like Walt, Lynch can’t do it all on his own. He needs a partner, though in this case his partner is a lot more Gus Fringe and a lot less Jessie Pinkman. The real power of the crew, both in terms of the fluff and on the tabletop, is the Hungering Darkness. Despite resembling the Nightmare Edition of a Hungry-Hungry Hippo (Gencon 2014), the HD is one of the nastiest melee monsters in the game. A 50mm based model with a 3” melee range basically means everything is within his threat radius on the second turn. He’s incorporeal and heals himself with successful melee attacks. He has an enemies only Obey spell. He gets plus flips to basically everything when you are “Under the Influence.” And all this comes before you put any upgrades on him.

Taste me you will see, more is all you need…

Of course, probably the most important upgrade choice you make for HD actually gets played on Lynch. Both are limited, so you have to make a call here, but the choice is between either giving HD an additional CA action per turn (his melee attacks run off of Ca) and makes him Terrifying (All) or gives him Bad Juju’s “When this model would be killed, bury it instead” and lets you resummon him when a Brilliant model dies. This was actually kind of a quandary for me when they introduced this change between the closing of the Beta and publishing the rulebook. I can see games where both would be useful. The ability to effectively prevent any scoring from killing HD (since burying him doesn’t count as killing him) makes it a pretty solid denial tactic for Reckoning or henchman-kill based schemes. On the other hand, if you know you’re playing Ressers or one of the construct-based Arcanists, Terrifying All becomes worth an investment, to say nothing of the added offensive power. I tend to alternate between the two, particularly when running the crew as Neverborn (Nexus of Power is incredibly strong on the big guy and can make Rising Sun sort of superfluous.) We’ll have to see if, after several games, one ends up supplanting the other.

The friendly staff members of the Honeypot are always ready to serve.

The two remaining “in theme” models for the crew are Beckoners and The Illuminated. Beckoners were previously almost too good, effectively spreading Brilliance through the enemy crew at will and giving you the ability to lock down most models in the opposing crew by putting them on negative flips to hit them. They’ve been toned down a bit at this point, but two of them are probably still an auto-include in most Lynch builds. Lure is just too powerful of an ability to ignore in an objective based game. They still have the negative flip to opposing models’ attacks when Brilliant, but their “The Party Never Ends” range has shrunk significantly, making it easier for models to get away from them and sober up. They’re not going to kill anybody, but that’s not what they’re here for. Put them in. Paint ‘em up pretty. Thank me later.

I am not an expert on the Illuminated, I’ll confess. The first time I tried to use one in a 2nd edition game, it had a bad case of “new model syndrome,” walking up behind cover against a Sonnia player only to be set on fire by a Witchling I had lured in and subsequently blasted to pieces by her on the first turn. My take on them at this point is that they’re worth including now and then but will probably see limited use after the Wave 2 minions come out, simply because they seem to be pretty good at a lot of things but not great at anything. I like the combination of armor, regen, and their Brillshaper healing spell for resilience, and Flay is always good, but the model’s statline is otherwise fairly unremarkable and their ability to spread brilliance requires a trigger and isn’t particularly efficient even when you do hit it. If they were a bit cheaper I’d be singing a different tune, and it’s possible I’m just off base or not using them right, but they just don’t feel like you’re getting a full 7 stones worth of model with these guys and, unfortunately, will probably be replaced by better options once we see what’s coming with Wave 2.

Update: Many people have written/commented to me that the Illuminated are, in fact, better than I’m giving them credit for here. One of them did help me to win a game the previous weekend (as I’ll discuss in my upcoming post about Vassal,) mostly by being able to weather a storm of ice blasts from Rasputina while in defensive stance to hold the Turf War marker. Certainly, Armor+Regen+Brillshaper makes for a pretty tough model. Also, against a Brilliant target they will certainly do a lot of damage. I maintain my concern that the model may end up on a pile of “hey, remember those things? They were pretty good” once Wave 2 comes out, but I wanted to make sure people are aware that this may be a minority opinion on my part.

The question of what faction to run the Lynch crew with has always been a little one-sided for me from a feel perspective. He just seems like he fits better with the Neverborn. These are horrific monsters doing terrible things to the people who step through the casino doors, and you don’t get much more Neverborn than that. Plus, my Cade and Teddy are both wearing formal attire, so they’re dressed and ready for a night on the town with Lynch. Mechanically, the Neverborn fit well with him as well. As mentioned, Nexus of Power played on HD makes him pretty difficult to take down simply by pouring Soulstone’s down the big guy’s throat to heal any damage the opponent puts on him. Terror Tots become some of the best objective grabbers in the game if you can manage to cycle through your deck and find the ace of masks, since you can cheat the flip for their sprint ability then pick the AoM back up thanks to Lynch. The Doppleganger gets a number of tasty (1) actions to copy between HD, the Beckoners, and the Tot’s unlimited sprinting. Teddy gets to flurry for free and provides a pretty solid 1-2 punch with the HD. I’ve played them much more often as Neverborn, and have never felt that I was missing out.

That’s not to say that the Thunders don’t bring some solid advantages as well. Recalled training is just good no matter who you put it on. The Archers get to Rapid Fire for free thanks to Lynch, and their ability to shoot into melee at will makes them pretty useful to back up the HD. I’ve always liked putting Yamaziko and Hungering Darkness together to form a massive wall of denial in the mid-board, especially for scenarios like Squatter’s Rights. Misdirection is always handy and, with the ace of masks trick, can end up being pretty effective to block opponents’ attacks against your Henchmen and/or Enforcers late in the turn when the opponent’s hand is shrinking.

Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong and your choice may just come down to preference and playstyle. Lynch is overall a good crew with some very interesting tricks. I don’t know that he’s ever going to end up being classified into whatever shakes out as the “Top Tier,” but I also don’t think the crew has very many particularly bad match-ups either. I’m interested to see what they do with the rest of the crew in Wave 2 (using the Depleted for reliable, cheap objective grabbers would be excellent.) In the meantime, have fun spreading addiction and corruption through Malifaux, and let’s all hope that Walt finally gets what’s coming to him, and that Jessie gets revenge on that piece of crap Todd.

See you next time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Misaki Switch

Just a couple of quick mini-muses today, as it’s been a bit since I trashed Tara and got the most pageviews and comments of any blog post I’ve ever done (this is an unfortunate message that you’re sending me, internet world.) Fortunately today’s work is going to be somewhat more positive.

One of the significant differences between the previous iteration of the game and current Malifaux was the introduction of the upgrade system as a means of adding complexity to crew selection and allow people who are playing the same masters to come up with completely different looking and feeling crews on the tabletop. The promise of this comes in the form of very different upgrade packages, particularly upgrade cards with the “Limited” designation. I think the general consensus is that the success of this effort has been mixed. On one hand, there are masters who very clearly have a couple of different modes of action depending on their upgrade suite. Seamus jumps out as probably the marquis example, as selecting between his two limited upgrades (I’m at work, so can’t look the names up at the moment) results in a master who either focuses on terrifying and more of the ranged aspect or transforms nto a full-on melee beast by adding the Bag o’ Tricks (discussed well on the most recent Cheated Fates Radio). On the other hand, other masters don’t really seem to have this. I like Sonnia, but in my opinion there are only a handful of upgrades that are worth taking on her, and I don’t think any of them significantly alter what you’re doing with her on the board (namely, standing back and blowing enemy models right the hell up.) When I was doing crew construction for the game mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that Misaki seems to me to be a fine example of the upgrade system working the way it is supposed to work, giving you an ability to build two very distinctly flavored crews depending on which of her two limited upgrades you attach during the pre-game.

The “Typical” Build

This crew is the much more aggressive of the two builds, and it seems to be the one that I see most often in discussions of how to play Misaki, namely an attack oriented, aggressive build focused around attacking with Misaki and tearing up the enemy crew. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, as Misaki’s high combat rating, long melee range, and good defenses (particularly after burning out her soulstone reserve) make her very well suited either for minion sniping or going after Assassination targets. The upgrade you use for this is the Stalking Bisento, giving her the ability to, as a 0 action, attach the “Stalked” condition to any model in line of site. The now unfortunately “stalked” model triggers a move from Misaki every time they take a walk action and, on subsequent turns, will allow Misaki to use her Bisento attack action as a 0 action against it. This makes an already very aggressive master even more dangerous. I enjoyed Mike Marshall’s discussion of how to run versions of this on this week’s Malifools podcast, particularly the combination of recalled training and utilizing Misaki to go attack the enemy leaders and basically just tie them up during the game, freeing the rest of the crew to go claim objectives, kill enemy minions, and do other things that generally result in winning the game. Currently, my agro Misaki build looks a little something like this:

50SS Aggressive Build

Misaki-Stalking Bisento, Recalled Training, Misdirection, 3(ish) SS
Torekage x2
Ototo (or Yamaziko, your henchman of choice can be here)-Smoke and Shadows, Recalled Training
Ten Thunders Archer
Dawn Serpent

This crew has a couple of effective hitters outside of the master. Ototo and the Dawn Serpent can chew through most of what your opponent brings for minions. The archer can back up either Misaki or the other hitters since they can fire into melee. Dawn Serpent is one I haven’t had a chance to use and could be subbed out for Ronin, particularly if you think you’re going to be up against an armor heavy crew.

The Switch Build

On the other hand, it occurred to me that you could build a very effective defensive build with Misaki by utilizing the other limited upgrade, Disguise. This upgrade makes it so that Misaki can’t be made the target of a charge action. I would pair this particular upgrade with another, Untouchable, which lets her use the defensive stance action without discarding a card. This becomes particularly rude when you activate her Deadly Dance ability, leaving you in a situation where you can engage enemy models with 1” melee ranges while denying them the ability to hit you back, since you can dance away before they can make a strike against you. Thus, you now have traded some of her melee ability to create a soft control model that is extremely difficult to get away from and could potentially be very disruptive to the enemy force. I went on to build a theory-faux crew to go with this that is much more objective oriented than the previous:

50SS Misaki In Disguise…with Glasses

Misaki-Untouchable, Disguised, Misdirection, 6(ish)SS
Yamaziko-Smoke and Shadows, Recalled Training
3x Torekage
2x Oiran
Monk of the Low River

I’m not sure this crew could really kill anything (at all), but I have to think it would be damned annoying to the opposing crew and quite good at objective based scenarios. I like using Yamaziko’s Brace Yari ability to fend off opposing chargers. The Torekage can get a ton of movement out of burying for Smoke and Shadows first turn and then either popping out of Misaki or Yamaziko at the end of the turn, leaving them free to walk out of melee and not be subjected to disengaging strikes. I’m not amazed with the Monk of the Low River, but being able to remove conditions is huge and he’s cheap and resilient, so he matches fairly well with the crew. It’s a very passive crew, to be sure, but I’d be interested to see how it would actually do on the tabletop. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Raw Deal, Card Access, and My Concerns About Tara

To begin with, today marks a rebranding of my Malifaux blog to reflect my new job and location in the eastern part of these United States. I’ve accepted a position as a postdoctorate student in Blacksburg, VA (before you ask, no, I don’t know what a Hokie is) and as such this place could hardly be considered “Midwestern” anymore. Therefore, to keep the alliteration intact, the committee (me) have voted to rechristen the site Midatlantic Malifaux Musings. Even though I Blacksburg isn’t on the coast.

What do you want from me? This isn’t a geography blog.

Anyways, what better way to start things off than with a quick battle report that led to some further musings on my part. My Gencon order arrived promptly last week (thanks to EricJ for leaking that the webstore was open on his twitter, I snuck my order through the gate almost as soon as it became available to do so.) Thus armed with shiny new cards, a rulebook, and knowledge that I was moving at the end of the week, I went back to the old game store for one last Malifaux hurrah on the way out the door. I played Nick, who hadn’t done a lot of Beta M2E playing, so I thought this was a fine opportunity to try out some of the Misaki stuff I’d looked at but not had a chance to play. I was even more excited when he broke out Outcast Tara, as it would give me an opportunity to see the new hotness in person.

Misaki vs. Tara, 40SS Reckoning
Misaki-Stalking Bisento, Misdirection, 6SS
Ototo-Thundering Upgrade
Yamaziko-Smoke and Shadows
Schemes: Vendetta (Ototo on Nothing Beast) and Bodyguard (Yamaziko)

Nothing Beast
3xVoid Wretches
Some upgrade cards and soulstones (your guess is as good as mine, I wasn’t paying attention)

Schemes: Entourage and Vendetta (Void Wretch on Archer)

The game started out with me advancing in a turtle cluster that was shielded by some terrain and some Misaki deployed Smoke Bombs while the Tara crew came at us in two groups, the NB, Tara, and Karina on one side and the wretches and Taelor from the other. Misaki buried herself after the smoke bombs and popped out in the midst of the Taelor/Void Wretch pack of dudes. I had a plan here, despite how suicidal this appeared.

Tara starts the second turn pinging off of Misaki to make her whole crew fast, pitching three cards. Misaki discovered how difficult it is to kill incorporeal things but dropped one Void Wretch, damaged Taelor, and repositioned a bit. Taelor came up at this point and attempted to smoosh her, only to discover that while Nick thought it was funny that I was voluntary going to let him discard cards with the Misdirection upgrade, it was less funny when I was SSing in masks to make Taelor beat on her own models instead (more on this later.) On the other hand, Yamaziko was getting hit a bunch by the rest of Nick’s crew walking politely up and taking one attack, as brace Yari is a very good ability, particularly when the opponent has no blasts to force you not to castle up. The Nothing Beast came up and did some damage, allowing me to charge Ototo into him and score 1 for Vendetta. Alas, my rush of victory was short lived as the NB then proceeded to bury him in response. Karina rubbed salt in the wound by setting him on fire.

Somewhere in the void, Ototo got angry.

Misaki was feeling slightly outnumbered next turn, so I went ahead and killed the Nothing Beast to get Ototo back on the board and even the odds. She popped another Void Wretch, I believe, to score from Reckoning this turn. Taelor introduced the Torekage to her hammer with a red joker damage flip, and Tara killed Yamaziko scoring for Nick. I now saw another concern with Tara, as Nick was unable at this point to use her “make everything fast” ability, as it would have sped up my whole crew as well. Ototo came out and was in angry mode, smashing hard into Taelor.

I discovered that Ototo’s laugh off ability has the side-effect of also allowing you to flip 12+ cards whenever Tara attempts to bury him, so long as you laugh like a jackass while flipping the cards (I’m sure it’s in an errata somewhere, as this is how it worked the rest of the game.) The remaining Void Wretch peeled off to go eat my archer. Between turn 4 and 5 this would score 3 for Nick from Vendetta. However, Misaki and the enraged Ototo proceeded to mulch the rest of the Tara crew, leading to a 5-4 win in my final game of Malifaux in the old stomping grounds over one of the area’s best players, albeit one who had not really played any M2E.

Shut up. It counts.

The Trouble With Tara

Once upon a time, a younger version of myself played a CCG based on the WWE franchise known as Raw Deal. (Stop judging me. I got to go to Wrestlemania one year for free because my team was playing in the World Championship.) Anyway, this game involved players building 60 card decks of maneuvers, reversals, and actions cards representing a match between the two wrestlers you were basing your deck around. Each WWE Superstar had a different hand size and special ability that in some way reflected their ring presence. From the beginning, it was obvious that the cards in hand were a potent resource, as HHH effectively had no special ability outside of having a ten card hand size and was still one of the most effective characters in the game. At this point in time, nobody was really dominant, but HHH and a handful of other superstars proved themselves consistently to be strong. All of that changed, however, when the Backlash expansion came out, introducing the Right to Censor (bonus points if you’re enough of a WWE nerd to remember them) into the game and I made the fateful decision to persuade my friend Bryan Witte, who had absolutely no interest in wrestling whatsoever, to try the game.

The world of Raw Deal would literally never be the same.

Feel the Charisma

Bryan came from Magic: The Gathering. He was a blue player, and delighted in combo/denial style decks. In a way, Bryan was similar to what Eric J. described as “that guy” in one of his recent blog posts, though not necessarily for the negative connotations implied by that title. In his spare time, he liked to pick up other CCG’s that were still in their first iterations and deconstruct them to find the strategy that inevitably broke the game (you didn’t even want to try and play him at Pokemon back in the day.) This wasn’t done out of malice so much as just enjoying the intellectual challenge of trying to find the most reliable ways to win at contests that interested him. It should have been no surprise, then, that when I suggested he try this silly wrestling game since there was a denial style deck I thought would match up well with his interests, he would jump at it and eventually end up changing the game forever. Fast forward a couple of years, and Bryan had thrown out most of the cards I suggested in the first RTC deck, redesigned it and made it into an unstoppable force that would lead him to become the 2003 World Raw Deal Champion, and in doing so demonstrating to me one of the undeniable tenants of CCG’s: the power of card access.

Here’s a picture of the card he got to design for being champion. Bryan’s the dude getting punched.

The reason Bryan’s deck was so unstoppable had nothing to do with the RTC’s strong reversal cards, as countless other WWE characters had arguably as good if not stronger specifics available to them. It was all about the card access. The RTC started with a not-insignificant hand size of 8 after boosting it in the pre-game phase, but more importantly were able to, once per turn, put the cards in their hand in any order, place them on the bottom of their deck, and redraw the same number off of the top. Most people underestimated the significance of this. First of all, it let Bryan see usually about 1/5th of the deck per turn. More importantly, however, it meant that, usually by the seventh turn of the game or so, Bryan now knew where and in what order all of the cards in his deck were, giving him a HUGE advantage in the subsequent rounds. This level of card access was completely unmatched in the game, but it underscored a point that became more and more obvious as time went on: the strongest Superstarts to play as in Raw Deal invariably consisted of those that had the best card access. Whether it was the Undertaker being able to ditch 2 from his hand to grab any one card from the discard pile (an ability which got stronger as the game went on, since “damage” in Raw Deal was represented by cards milling out of your deck) or JBL’s 12 hand-size and ability to hide any 2 cards from his deck inside of his limousine before the match


card access was king. Eventually, I realized that the same principles were true for other CCG’s, as most of Bryan’s strategies to break other card games revolved around getting access to as many cards from his deck as he possibly could. Today, Malifaux is an interesting hybrid of card game and table-top miniatures strategy game, and I’ve often found that, to one degree or another, this rule also applies here. There’s a reason nearly every Neverborn crew in 1.5 used the Primordial Magic totem if able to, since it increased your card access by pushing up the maximum hand size.

And all of this, ladies and germs, is why I have some serious reservations about Tara.

Say what, now? 

For the uninitiated, Tara has a suite of abilities between herself and her crew that encourage her players to shrink their control hand every turn. Namely, she ditches three from her hand to grant fast to everybody within 6” of her and the defense stats of her Nothing Beast and Void Wretches shrink dramatically based on how many cards Tara is holding. In exchange for this, she gets massive bonuses. Fast to her whole crew for 1 AP out of a potential 7 that Tara will be using during the turn is huge. Her beasts get massive bonuses when attacking other fast things (there will be at least one fast enemy model, as you have to include one to cast it on her crew.) She can bury and unbury friendly models nearly at will with the right upgrades, giving her 1.5 Dreamer-esque mobility. Her crew hits hard; moves fast; can be pretty survivable with the incorporeal, high base defenses on her minions, and her ranged defense trigger; and can perform equally well in objective based as well as kill-y strategies. On paper, she is a very, very strong crew that has titillated a lot of the best and brightest players in the Malifaux community, and with good reason.

I’m just not buying it.

Don’t get me wrong, I bought the box set and I’ll probably play her in fun games, but I have some serious reservations about a crew whose abilities encourage players to hamstring themselves in this manner, particularly when it comes to competitive play. One of the selling points for Malifaux is the ability to take one’s fate in one’s own hand by having a hand of cards with which we can modify the card flips which determine interactions in the game. No more would be the days when your Khorne Berzerker marine squad charges a lone Imperial Guard platoon, only to roll a pack of 1’s and lose the game on the critical turn. Without this resource, we are now subject to the vagaries of the chance, and despite what Yu-Gi-Oh! may teach us, sometimes you are going to get hosed whether or not you believe in the heart of the cards.

The flip side to the strong superstars in Raw Deal were the Mankind, X-Pac, and Spike Dudley’s of the world. They had amazing cards (just like everybody else.) They drew more cards per turn than their opponents. But they started out at a disadvantage due to having a starting hand size of 2,0, and 0 respectively and, to no great surprise, these superstars were underrepresented when it came to top competitive events. The reason was simple. Even though they were burning through their deck much faster than their opponent, they started out at such a disadvantage that it was impossible to recover, particularly if those two or three cards they drew on the first couple of turns sucked.

The same principles can be applied to Malifaux, in my opinion. Everyone has seen the triple + attack flip come out with no face cards and, sometimes, nothing higher than a five. It happens. Sometimes you roll 1’s. It’s part of the game. But for Tara crews it’s going to seem like this happens a lot more often, I’m predicting, because when it does occur she will have limited resources to correct for it. Obviously, when you ditch 3 of your cards to pass out fast (half her hand, if you’re not good at fractions,) you’re going to keep the three best out of the bunch. But the bottom line is, that is now three total cards you have available to fix those bad flips during the turn, and that’s assuming you don’t then turn around and use those cards up to try and improve your minion’s defense stats (the Nothing Beast is a much less impressive defense of 6 with three cards in hand, while the Void Wretch is a very average 5.) At times in our game, Nick was forced to cheat in flips that weren’t that important simply because he knew his models were in trouble and were going to need to push up their defense just to survive.

All of this is just looking at things from your perspective, but what about your opponent? Well, it turns out he/she will know the situation you’re going to be in from the beginning of the game and, if they’re smart, use it against you. Nick chuckled as he saw me putting Misdirection on Misaki before the game, amused that I was going to give him more ways to pitch cards. That amusement went away rapidly the first time he saw me burning stones to throw masks onto her defense and leaving him with the choice of either cheating away 2/3rds of those good cards he had saved in his hand or be unable to hit Misaki while she stands in the middle of a crowd. Once the stones were gone she now became hittable at least (albeit with her now receiving + to defense flips) but now turned every Bisento attack she made where she flipped a crow into a decapitate, again forcing Nick to make hard choices or, as happened several times after Nick had cheated his hand down to 1, having no choice at all. This is an extreme example, but I think every crew will have some way of exploiting this AND SHOULD, given how potent Tara’s crew can be.

Now, caveat time, I have played a total of one game against a Tara crew and have yet to use her myself. I saw no examples of Tara battle reports after a cursory examination of the Wyrd boards. Our game ultimately turned into “Line up and run at each other,” as many playtest games do, and I have a feeling Tara crews will be much more successful playing surgically and going for objectives rather than getting into a knock-down drag out (though anybody who thinks the crew isn’t tough has never gone up against Taelor with Fast.) What I’m saying is, I am far from an expert on this crew. Moreover, Malifaux isn’t a pure CCG and good players can make up for bad cards with excellent strategy and play on the board. Would I be blown over to see a Tara crew winning tournaments at Gencon next year? No way. A few flips going the other direction and this game was Nick’s, I have no doubt. The raw power of this crew is undeniable, but the fact is that I had these reservations about Tara from the first time I saw her crew cards in Wyrd Chronicles. I still can’t shake the feeling that, when you play Tara in a tourney, a crew like this is always going to have that one game where the deck seems to turn on them and they can’t do anything about it, and the next thing you know you’ve got a loss and you’re running uphill to try and climb back into contention. Given the choice between this crew and one with better card access, like a Lynch crew with Born with a Hand and Mulligan that basically gets to draw a brand new control hand at the end of the turn, I’ll take the Lynch crew every time for competitive play and never regret the decision.

Let the comments on why I’m wrong begin!

I can hear them coming, already.