Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Franky Awards

Truly Malifaux's Most Prestigious Award

            The Golden Globes were last week, and Oscar season is right around the corner, so in the spirit of the times I thought I’d bring back an old premise from an MM article from a long time ago, the Malifaux awards show. When I did it before, however, I had a bunch of general categories, tracked a bunch of stuff with the competitive scene, yadda yadda. I’m not as tapped into everything at the moment, and I think most people consider the competitive scene to still be evolving, particularly given that a large number of the new models haven’t been released yet. So, I thought I’d come at it from a different angle this time.
            If you played against a Guild crew in 2nd edition, you almost certainly played against Francisco. As in, he was in every single Guild crew, regardless of what they were trying to do. All of them. Playing against Nellie? She’s bringing Francisco. Sonnia Criid? Francisco with a puritan hat. Hoffman? Cyber-Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of that in 2E in general. As described (frequently) on the Wyrd boards, most crews were an all-star team with different leaders in charge, but Frank was the poster boy for this sort of thing.
            Obviously there’s a lot less of that these days, from the keyword system and the out of keyword (OOK) tax. But versatile models still exist, and some models are proving to be good enough that crews are consistently hiring them even with the tax. And so, in the spirit of models that have the potential to show up in many of the games we play against particular masters, I’m pleased to present to you the first (and likely last) Franky awards!

Nominee #1: Yasunori

            Ok, as most people will explain to you (laboriously, and at great length), the Ten Thunders have no shortage of solid models. In fact, they’re probably the faction that has the most non-themed crews going around in the current M3E environment. There are no shortage of strong candidates in the 10T for this award. But I think the model making the most frequent trips to the table for this faction is probably Yasunori.

            He’s a big point investment, which is going to be a common theme in these models, but you get a lot for him and he doesn’t ask much of your crew in return. Outside of a little bit of anti-synergy with Youko (since he relies on cards in the opponent’s hand), he goes into just about any crew and will do what he does, which is deal damage and be resistant to taking hits back. He’s mobile, adds plus flips to his attacks, and so long as you watch for enemies that negate resistance triggers, can be a real problem for the opponent to get rid of. Anything the master/crew does simply serves as a bonus, be it Shenlong stacking focus on him, Chiaki transferring a reliquary onto him, or Misaki ordering him to take a charge action out of his turn. If you’re playing against 10T, you need to be ready for Yasunori.

Nominee #2: Archie

            Not a lot of explanation necessary here. From what I understand, most Resurrectionist players consider Archie to be a 10 stone versatile model at this point. 3/4/6 damage track. Leap that’s almost automatic is invaluable for a huge beater, particularly in a faction that (generally speaking, though with some huge exceptions) aren’t as known for mobility. He heals every time he flurries from his fading ability. He’s got Ruthless, so Terrifying and Manipulative won’t work. Archie can be used to smash whatever you need smashed early on in the game and then change gears to run schemes later on. In a Yan Lo crew, throwing Manos’s reliquary onto him helps to offset his biggest weakness, his low defensive stats. Manos can probably give Archie a run for his money, actually, since he is also a mobile resilient beater and has a soul lantern to block Demise abilities, but I gave Archie the nod since he does more damage and is immune to conditions.

Nominee #3: Soulstone Miner

            Unlike the Ressurectionists, there is a number-one with a bullet obvious choice for the Arcanists. If you’ve played against a Soulstone Miner, you know the power that they represent. They can bury and then unbury anywhere on the board. That’s really all they need to have to be amazing. Whether you want to complete Breakthrough, Search the Ruins, Stake a Claim, maybe even Take Prisoner, what have you, this model is the best option for completing those schemes. Oh, and there’s always Plant Explosives or Turf War Marker flipping. They’re probably pretty good at those too. Then of course there’s the fact that they’re Armor +2 and Unimpeded. Also they blow up destructible terrain. And, of course, if they’re not scoring you VPs they can give themselves Stunned at the start of their turn and add Soulstones to your pool. Now, a model that can do all that probably costs something like 8 stones, right? Oh, no, miners cost 6. Sure. Of course. There’s a reason many of us are instantly driven to rage at the mere mention of this model. If you’re up against Arcanists, you’d better have some way in mind to deal with a soulstone miner, whether that be the ability to attack buried models, ranged Willpower duels, or something that can paralyze them. Come up with a plan for the miners. You’re gonna need it.

Nominee #4: Big Brain Brin

            Given the fact that Brin has no attacks that do any damage on his card, you may not think of him immediately as the first candidate for this award. The largest effect Brin has on the game is through card manipulation. Burning out 10 cards and then shuffling back three of them lets you prime your fate deck in a way that is unmatched in any other faction in Malifaux. And then, of course, you get to draw a card afterwards (you know, after you’ve heated the deck up and removed low cards.) You won’t need to cheat the first flip for this, almost guaranteed, because he gets to look at the top three cards of the fate deck and then return them in any order. Oh, and he has Arcane Reservoir. So, yeah, Brin has an unmatched ability to set your fate deck up for success at the beginning of the turn. It’s kind of crazy. Putting 9 points (8 if you’re Tricksy) in a corner all game long feels kind of bad, but it’s absolutely worth the expenditure to set your whole turn up in advance like that.

Nominee #5: Serena Bowman

            Of the models built from the worldwide event several years ago, Serena Bowman seems to have benefited the most from the transition to M2E. She doesn’t automatically come back to life the way she did in M2E anymore, but she has Demise: Eternal. Put that with Disguise and Feed on Fear, and Serena’s pretty tough to take down, plus she doesn’t teleport back to your deployment zone every time she’s killed the way she used to. Her ranged attack can target Df or WP and has a trigger to place models within 6” of their current location, which is pretty solid, and she can draw range for her melee attack out of other Nightmare models. That would normally only matter for when you’re playing against the Dreamer, but the prevalence of ways to summon Stitched Togethers increases the likelihood of being able to use it with other crews as well. She’s just a solid model that is annoyingly difficult to get rid of and can really make a big difference on the board, especially if you have multiple high Tomes in your hand.

            So who wins the Franky award? I’m going to leave it up to you! Vote in the poll on the Malifaux Musings Facebook page, and you can decide who goes home with the golden Franky.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

McCabe gets schooled by the Academics

Picture of the Malifaux Badlands Expedition Force, circa 1907.

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

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

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

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

            But this is Malifaux, and bad things happen.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 30, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, Wyrdos!