Saturday, September 8, 2018

Getting the Thunder Rolling: Must-Have Models for the Ten Thunders and a Mistake-Filled Batrep

            There are some Malifaux players who come into new crews/factions with a good base of knowledge from which to build. They’re prepped and ready. They know their crew and what they can do. They’re prepared and when they play, if they make some mistakes, they do more things right than they do wrong. For top-end players, you may not even know they’re trying a new crew if they don’t tell you.
            I am not one of those players.

            As some may remember from my first efforts with Collodi, I tend to muddle about in the dark with my first games and learn by failing. It was this in mind that I went into my first game as a Ten Thunders player. I signed up for the most recent iteration of the facebook Vassal League a month or so ago. I had to forfeit the first round, as my opponent lived in Europe and I was in the midst of the move from Blacksburg to Iowa. The next round had me facing Oliver from the UK, a lovely chap who came in 2nd in the Welsh GT. He was bringing Resurrectionists, and I was pretty sure we were playing Guard the Stash, so I figured it was a good time for some Jacob Lynch-Cheating Bastard Action. A standard set-up of Mr. Lynch, HD, 2x Beckoners, and 2x Stitched Together would be joined by Mr. Graves to knock people away from Stash markers and Yin with Smoke Grenades to improve our staying power. This seemed like the correct call when my opponent revealed he was bringing Kirai. Since I don’t have what it takes to alpha-strike, I knew I would have to score early and try to endure and deny. With a Lampad coming from the other side, I figured I probably would have a chance to score set-up on it before (hopefully) killing it at the start of the next turn. And I had Lynch-Hungering Darkness-Graves-Yin to score Punish the Weak. It was gonna be tough, as I have no experience against Kirai, but I thought I had a good plan.

            Of course, then I sat down to play the game and realized it was actually Symbols of Authority, not Guard the Stash.

            All-in-all, the game was a comedy of errors for my side. I mean, I ran my crew well. We had revealed each other’s crews early in the week, so I didn’t think it would be right for me to change mine after I discovered the mistake. That meant I was not going to be scoring anything for Symbols most likely, but I could perhaps hunker down and limit the other crew’s ability to score any of mine. I’d have to get it with schemes to succeed. The gameplan for set-up didn’t entirely work out, as Oliver is much more cagey with his Lampad than some others and kept him hidden through all of the first turn.  I ended up scoring two from it later on when the fire ghost finally appeared, but by that point I’d been picked down enough that the Lampad couldn’t be killed. My Stitched Together were rockstars, dropping severe damage gambles left and right to keep me in business. But, ultimately, my unfamiliarity with Kirai/Ikiryo/Seishin interactions doomed me. Between Huggy and Lynch I probably wasted about 4 AP worth of actions trying to do things that were impossible (Paralyzing Ikiryo/Trying to Kill Seishin for Punish/Trying to do damage to Kirai when Seishin were nearby) and, when you’re playing a good crew piloted by a good opponent with as big a disadvantage as I put myself in with my crew selection, there was just no way to win the game. Additionally, I left Woke Up With A Hand to see if I could get by with 52 Pickup and have a bit more flexibility in when he activates, which I think was a mistake. And most inexcusable, I let Huggy die with his Recalled Training still attached. My ancestors have been shamed. In a way, I’m actually pretty proud of ONLY losing 8-4.

            So I definitely have some things to learn. But, I think the crew itself played relatively well. In a Guard the Stash game, I may even have been in a place to compete for a draw despite the in-game errors. I’ve discovered the worst situation for an opponent when inside the CB bubbles is to be winning on the initial flip with a low card, as you’re now stuck having to decide whether to cheat or risk me jumping over them with a moderate, which has to suck. My opponent, for his part, didn't seem phased by it and did what I think you have to do, cheated the important stuff and didn't sweat it otherwise. I discussed with Oliver in game that I like using Huggy as an anchor as you do in this crew, rather than the fire and forget missile that he was in Rising Sun Lynch. As Oliver points out, he’s still very vulnerable to getting ganked by casters targeting Df, but I prefer keeping him on the board for as long as I can rather than intentionally throwing him away. This crew fits well with my style. Plus, it changes things up from what an unfamiliar opponent might expect when you declare Ten Thunders, namely the alpha-striking Emissary/Yasunori combo. This is not that crew, and the things you might bring to counter that crew aren’t going to be effective against mine. So, all in all, I’m encouraged despite the failure.


            Earlier in the week, I messaged my friends in the Wandering River Dojo to ask for what models would be considered REQUIRED to add to my Ten Thunders collection. As a reminder, this is what I have now. I’m not looking for new masters at the moment, just things to add to the toolbox. Essentials, if you will. This was what they came back with.

            Number one with a bullet was the Shadow Emissary, and it’s easy to see why. The thing is a workhorse. Handing out Fast to any model with an upgrade is pretty good, since the models with the upgrades are also usually pretty good. Increased mobility. Some intermediate ranged damage. So, so, good, and that’s not even looking at the Conflux upgrades. With those, you can bring in another item from McCabe’s loot bag or give the Emissary a pseudo-Lure action with Lynch. And if you don’t want to use the Conflux, you can always give it a Recalled Training. Good stuff.

            A Teracotta Warrior and/or Ten Thunders Brother would probably go here, but I’ve got one of each of those already, so next was Yasunori. Again, no surprise there. He’s the best hitter the faction has. He’s infamous for his ability to force opponents to change their set-up to avoid his mauling their way through the center of their crew at the end of turn 1/start of turn 2. He gets a ton of attacks with his triggers, and he’s a scary model. He's bad enough that he got a nerf in the last Gaining Grounds that resulted in a collective shrug from most of the Malifaux community, followed by their continuing to use him in exactly the same way and with the same frequency they had previously. That said, everybody sees him coming, and I’ve not used him. In a way, I might be better served not using him and sticking to stuff I know. Otherwise I run the risk of opponents bringing tech to counter him, which is a problem when I don’t have the experience to counter the counters.

            As a counterpoint to Yas, Phiasco (sensei of the Dojo) suggested including the Lone Swordsman. He’s less of a point investment than Yasunori, so you don’t have to throw all your eggs in one basket when you use him. He doesn’t have Yas’s speed or multiple attacks, but he can still throw out a lot of damage. Also, one of the Thunders’ weak spots is countering armor from the opponent. It’s not really reliable, but at least the Swordsman is able to use a trigger to get through it. And I do like the ability to take a second activation in a turn to kill an opposing model or, on the last turn, perform those last-minute desperation actions to win the game.

            Last was a Charm Warder. Disguise on your master is real good. Disguise on a model that lasts the whole game if the Charm Warder dies is even better. #analysis. A + flip to Df/Wp after activation. Versatile attack that can work around defenses like Incorporeal or having a combination of high/low Df/Wp. Scheme negation. The full toolbox of abilities that this model brings is crazy at 5 stones. There’s very little reason not to bring one for most games, at least in my view.

            Those models are on the way. Next weekend I have the season opener in Des Moines, so it’s gonna be a rush to get them assembled and try to slap some paint on them. Additionally, I have the next round of the Vassal tournament against Rich D. Nave, who will have a (now-nerfed) Nicodem waiting. This will be a rematch of a game I asked for when writing the Nicodem article a while ago, so my fun with the undead continues, it seems. More on this in next week’s blog post.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Musing on joining the Ten Thunders

            To continue with this series of…musings…I think I’m resolved to give the Ten Thunders a go. The way I put it was something to the effect of “as goes Lynch, so go I.” Is this a rational way to make a decision? No, probably not. But this is a silly game with murderous teddy bears and zombie hookers, so I think we’ve probably tossed out any requirement for serious consideration in our decision making.

            I thought this would probably be a good time to discuss my thoughts on the faction as a whole. My history with the Thunders is a bit of an odd one, as I never set out to actually play them. It just happened that, when the M1E book Storm of Shadows came out and introduced them, I needed Lynch and McCabe to continue growing my collection of Neverborn and Guild. Then I picked up a Misaki because ninjas were cool. Then I started adding bits and bobs and, next thing you know, I have part of a faction. The fact that Phiasco plays Thunders and we were frequent sparring partners made me hesitate to expand too much in that direction, as I like to have games be as diverse as possible. Additionally, as we were going through the last year of school and job searching, paired with the fact that I was a long way from a Malifaux community when I was living in western Virginia, and as a result I haven't bought very many models from Book 3 of M2E forward. As such my collection isn’t really at a point where I feel comfortable putting them out on the board competitively right now. Mainly, I’m missing two of the fairly key pieces that most Thunders crews bring for games: Yasunori and one of the Shadow Emissary or Sensei Yu. Without them, my Ten Thunders will be missing a lot of the things that give the faction their personal style and reputation.

            Which I suppose warrants a discussion of what that style is. When most people think Ten Thunders, there are a couple of things that come to mind. One is the Focus condition. The Thunders have a lot of ways to get it outside of taking an action. The old classic is through the Recalled Training upgrade, which allows one to discard it at the beginning of a model’s actions and gain a + to all flips for the rest of the turn, basically a super Focus that lasts for the rest of the turn. They’ve had this since the beginning of M2E, and it’s really defined their playstyle. Somehow, despite its ubiquity, its managed to escape each round of nerfs without being modified, so this is still very much the case. Most of the time, a model that’s planning on being committed to melee or placed in danger will start the game with an RT attached, which can add a lot of soft costs to crew construction beyond the cost of the models themselves. In addition, a number of Thunders models have actions to hand out Focus. The aforementioned Shadow Emissary and Sensei Yu both play with Focus, as well as a handful of other faction models. The overall effect is to create crews focused more on individual, punishing strikes rather than a crew of brawlers that want to dive in and start throwing blows around randomly.

            The other feature are the use of pushes to shove models around. Again, Yu and the Emissary are the usual suspects for this role. The increased mobility is a big part of what makes the “typical” faction crews work, and is a big reason why people play them. Generally, when you’re preparing to play against them, you have to keep in mind the realistic possibility that they can strike with their heavy hitters wherever they want to on the board by turn 2 (if not sooner.) Usually that comes in the form of a charging Yasunori lashing out with a series of brutal, repeated melee strikes, but the same methods can be applied to shove a master like Misaki or Shen Long down your throat as well. There are no safe spaces on the board, basically, if the Thunders want to attack it.

            Their weaknesses tend to come when they get bogged down. They aren’t as fragile as the Neverborn, but they’re going to be more successful when they fight in a guerilla style with specific targets rather than engaging in long protracted engagements and hoping to muddle through. Models like Yin the Penangalan or Gwyneth Maddox have some decent defensive tech, particularly with the Smoke Grenades upgrades or defensive buffs from Charm Warders, but glass cannons are more common than tanks. Additionally, they don’t have a preponderance of anti-armor abilities in faction. The Arcanists in particular can be tough for this reason, and you often have to either focus fire on a particular key target or try to avoid combat with them unless entirely necessary.

            So, right now this is what I have available.

Lynch Crew: Hungering Darkness, 2x Illuminated, 2x Depleted, Gwyneth Maddox, Mr. Graves, Mr. Tannen, 2x Beckoner.

Lucas McCabe: Sidir Alchibal, Luna, 3x Wastrels

Misaki: Shang, Ototo, 2x Torekage, 2x Thunder Archers, Yamaziko

Miscellaneous: Yin, Izamu, Oiran, Shadow Effigy, Ten Thunder Brother, Terracotta Warrior, Monk of the High River

            I think the Emissary is my first priority for new additions, as he’s flexible enough to work in most crews as a lynchpin and enabler but can dish out some offensive punishment when necessary, something that Yu can’t really do (also, I don’t have to buy a whole crew to get the SE, which is nice.) Hopefully by next week I’ll have some tabletop results to discuss, and maybe a break-down of what crew builds I’m looking at. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to paint some Dragon Balls to put on my Shadow Emissary’s base.