Monday, January 28, 2013

Tactics: Master of the Hill and Zoraida

Anyone who has been involved with playing Malifaux tournaments and following the competitive Malifaux scene is aware of the Gaining Ground's documents. Gaining Grounds is the format Wyrd provided to the community for organized play and specifically for competitive tournaments. Gaining Grounds is a couple years old at this point, and Wyrd is in the process of updating the document. To that end, a new set of documents has been released to the Henchmen in advance of being publicly published. These new documents outline an updated vision for organized play, including a document dedicated to competitive tournaments. There is already some discussion about this document on a number of podcasts, and people are starting to consider how to handle the new strategies.

One of the new strategies in the document is called Master of the Hill. This is a classic "King of the Hill" strategy similar to the current Claim Jump. One twist for the new strategy is the accumulation of victory points (VP) each round opposed to calculating the VP at the end of the game. The wording for the new strategy is as follows:
Master of the Hill
The path to the top is always littered with the bodies of those we had to climb over.
Place a hill/pyramid/ziggurat/or other applicable terrain piece in the center of the table.
The top of the terrain piece must have room for at least two 50mm bases to fit while in
base contact. The terrain piece should not be set up in such a way that no model is
prevented from moving to its top. For example, a tall pillar of rock with a flat plateau
only Flying models can reach should not be used as the “hill” in this Strategy.
At the end of each Turn after the first, you score 1 VP if the number of your models with
bases completely on the terrain piece is greater than the number of your opponent’s
models with bases completely on the terrain piece, up to a maximum of 4 VP. . A model
counts as two models for determining how many models are on the terrain piece if it is
alone at the top.

Shared Master of the Hill
Getting pushed down just means there’s someone above that you can grab ahold of and
yank down yourself.
Place a hill/pyramid/ziggurat/or other applicable terrain piece in the center of the table.
The top of the terrain piece must have room for at least two 50mm bases to fit while in
base contact. The terrain piece should not be set up in such a way that no model is
prevented from moving to its top. For example, a tall pillar of rock with a flat plateau
only Flying models can reach should not be used as the “hill” in this Strategy.
At the end of each Turn after the first, you score 1 VP if the number of your models with
bases completely on the terrain piece is greater than the number of your opponent’s
models with bases completely on the terrain piece, up to a maximum of 4 VP. A model
counts as two models for determining how many models are on the terrain piece if it is
alone at the top.
The new Vassal module for Malifaux released with two boards set-up to facilitate Master of the Hill games to be played. Seeing this, I decided to get in a couple games to play around with ideas for the strategy. Approaching this strategy with the Neverborn, I decided to see how Zoraida would perform, as I believe she is the strongest for this. The goal of this strategy is to claim points each turn after turn 2 by having more models on the hill than your opponent. Zoraida has the ability to create additional models during the game (namely Wicked Dolls), increasing my number of models on the hill. These models can count for raw numbers, but can also become significant fairly easily.  Additionally, Zoraida has a spell called Repulsive which pushes models 6 inches away from her. Lastly, Zoraida can very quickly move to the top of the hill in a single movement, so should be able to be effective each turn of the game, jumping to the top of the hill at the end of her Turn 2 activation.

Master of the Hill is different from Claim Jump in a couple ways. In playing on one of the Vassal boards, you can see that the hill itself is set-up to be much larger than the 3-inch area that needs to be protected in Claim Jump. This provides a lot of additional space for scoring through having models on the hill. The Hill also provides a nice way to block line of sight from one side of the board to the other across the middle. In the Vassal Scenario (where I will focus for this article), the hill top is at height 6 and while there are some nice bushes surrounding the peak, any model sitting on top will be in line of sight of the rest of the board fairly easily. This is by intention, specifically because if a model can sit at the top alone then that model counts as two models to help with model count.

Zoraida brings some real strength to this strategy. Initially, she loves to have Line of sight to the board to make best use of her Obey ability. Sitting on the top of the hill, Zoraida will be able to create a 12 inch radius zone in the center of the board where she can fully use her Obey spell effectively, targeting either enemy or friendly models as best suits her at the moment. She does not become as vulnerable as some models due to her Proper Manners providing some protection. Zoraida can also get to the top of the hill fairly easily through her Raven ability letting her jump to the top in a single move. This allows her to act normally on Turn 1, then use her Casting Expert and another AP on turn 2 and still reach the top of the hill with her last AP.

The biggest draw I see for Zoraida in this strategy is her Repulsive ability. Repulsive is a spell that pushes all models failing the resist duel a full 6 inches away from Zoraida. If Zoraida is sitting in the middle of the top of the hill (as seen on the right), the range will not push models off the hill completely, but will certainly get them close. If Zoraida is able to activate late or last in the turn, this push can really change the overall standing on the table. This is additionally strong because as a strong caster and Soulstone user, Zoraida can push the resist total for this spell into some fairly unreachable targets. Overall, the strategy can work very well, allowing Zoraida to cast this spell, clear the center of the hill, then use her remaining actions to create a Wicked Doll and increase her numbers on the hill.

All of this seems very strong, so how do you counter this type of approach from a Neverborn player? Zoraida has a couple vulnerabilities that a savvy player can take advantage of. The first of these is a blind spot in her spells for models which are Immune to Influence (I2I). Repulsive will move models away from Zoraida allowing her to claim the top of the hill, but it is a WP resist. This means that an immune to influence model will ignore the spell and not be moved. Parking a tough I2I model near or on the top of the hill will threaten Zoraida and force her to find another way to deal with that model. If you suspect you will be facing Zoraida in this scenario, it is good practice to pull out at least one I2I model to help mitigate some of her viable strategies.

The next thing to consider is the Wicked Dolls. You should expect to see these little buggers on the table, as Zoraida can very easily create them and they count toward bulking up numbers. Facing Wicked Dolls, remember that they are fairly easy to kill. These guys have a nice defense, but they are only 2 wounds. This means that even getting a little damage onto them will remove them from the board. Just don't let them gang up on you or be prepared for their DF duel that restricts you from doing anything other than Walk for the turn. In addition, Zoraida has to burn 2 AP to create the Wicked Dolls, which will limit her effectiveness overall. She will have to choose 2 of the 3 ideal actions, Create a Wicked Doll / Cast Obey / Cast Repulsive.

One last vulnerability that both Zoraida and her opponent must consider is how Repulsive works. Repulsive pushes ALL models that fail the resist duel away from Zoraida. This means that even the friendly models in Zoraida's crew are pushed away. Sitting on the top of the hill, Zoraida will not push anyone off the hill completely, but can clear the top of the hill fairly easily. Her own models will be pushed along with enemy models, so numbers will be important. Clearing away Zoraida's crew can be a great strategy to mitigating her numbers on the hill and lock in the VP for her opponent.

Have you had some experience with this strategy or other? Have you faced Zoraida on this strategy and have some suggestions? I would love to hear about them!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Games Lounge Podcast - Episode 69 Malifaux Play Testing

I don't think there are too many people out there who are unaware that I am one of the Gamers Lounge hosts. We release episodes regularly, but I thought the episode released this weekend was of special note and wanted to push more exposure here as well. Episode 69 of the Gamers Lounge podcast covers a fairly long segment with the hosts discussing our experience as play testers for Malifaux. We received permission from Wyrd to record this episode, and then Wyrd went further and the Primary Developer responsible for Malifaux Development and Play testing joined me for the final segment to discuss his views and thoughts and experience running the play tests. I actually did a little editing on this one, so have had a chance to re-listen to some of the content and there is a lot there.

Check it out, it should be on iTunes when this blog article goes live, and can also be found at the website.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Malifaux on Vassal

A couple weeks ago Wyrd sent out a notice in thier newsletter announcing the release of the Malifaux module for Vassal. What is Vassal you ask? Thats a really good question. I had heard of this piece of software a couple years ago, but had never played a game on it until last weekend. To take a quote directly from the Vassal web site:
Vassal is a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games. Play live on the Internet or by email. Vassal runs on all platforms, and is free, open-source software.
To boil this down, Vassal is a way for game players to play thier games across the internet. The engine itself is neutral, but Wyrd has contributed back-end creative support to help deliver the Malifaux Module for Vassal, allowing the specific Malifaux mechanics to be used. Wyrd employees and a volunteer figured out how to implement a module for Vassal to run that includes the Fate Deck, markers for models, tape measures, LOS markers, and terrain.

Blah Blah Blah, I know lots of technical and rambling talk there. The basics come down to, by using Skype and Vassal I was able to get in a Malifaux game across the internet last weekend! Playing the game still requires that you have the model cards and/or book's with the model rules available. There is no "logic" in the game itself, Vassal just provides a platform. This means both you and your opponent need to understand the rules of Malifaux, as Vassal will not enforce any game rules.What Vassal provides is the game board, tape measures, LOS checking, and the Deck's for card flipping.

I very cautiously approached playing Malifaux on Vassal for a number of reasons. I had initially looked at Vassal-Malifaux and felt that it was a bit "clunky" on first look. I was concerned that the card decks were in separate windows and that the game seemed to be written for a dual-monitor computer. I spent some additional time actually watching games and had a chance last week to jump online and actually have a couple players walk me through the interface. This alleviated some of my concerns and got me to the point I was comfortable enough playing a game. Let me dive into a little bit of a review to start with.

The Good
Interface Look: Good
I have to admit that the module provides a fantastic graphic interface. The graphics for the terrain on the board look very nice, and all the "models" you use have some basic puppet art on them. The card deck is also nice, with a different set of art for all the cards. You can see a little of that interface in the opening graphic to this article.

Fate Deck: Good
Overall the way Vassal handles the Fate Deck is pretty damn good. While I strongly believe the game would be smoother with dual monitors, there are ways to make it work with a single monitor or screen. The fate decks "work" really well, and I only had a little bit of issues with lag and flipping too many cards. You can keep your hand private, cheat cards from your hand, and even track SS flips against soul stones you have remaining.

Movement and Measuring: Good
This was the part of the game that most impressed me. Those who are scanning ahead will notice I have a "Not so Good" on distances later on, but we will get to that. The tape measure in the game is not bad, and is possibly the toughest part of Measuring and Movement. On the overall board there are a number of simple tools to facilitate measuring, including the "deployment zone" buttons which pop up shaded areas of the board for your different deployment zones. Height is pretty clearly marked for terrain, and measuring auras, melee range, and other such mechanics is very simple when dealing with them. When it comes to moving models, things get very simple indeed. You can use the arrow keys (forward and backwards) to move models 1 inch at a button-press. Using the control key with the arrow will move the model a half inch. The shift key lets you nudge a model, moving it just a little on the board. The right and left Arrow keys turn the facing of your model to pick a direction to go.

The Not so Good
Judging Distance: Not so Good
Judging distances on the computer screen is not the easiest thing in the world to do. In my game there were a couple situations where I was certain my opponent or I had a certain range and things came up short, usually by several inches. I think this is probably a learned skill, just like on the table top, but can see those people who are already good at guessing distance being put out by this. For me, I suck as judging distance on the table so it just transfers my existing shortcoming to the online game.

Layout and Zooming: Not so Good
The layout of the game can still be a bit "clunky" overall, and if the game crashes and you need to reload it can be a bit of a headache. Things will certainly be easier with two monitors, being able to move the card hands to the second monitor to leave them sized to be easily read. Lacking that, you need a healthy resolution to play the game comfortably. I have played with the zoom-view buttons a fair bit, finding that I needed to zoom in on a number of models while playing them zoom back out to watch the whole board. This can make things tricky if your dealing with long distance (12 - 18 inch) movement or spells.

Final Thoughts
Overall I am very excited about the Vassal Malifaux module being available. I think its incredible that Wyrd is willing to sponsor the back end of the module, and provide their own employee effort to getting it working. This is just another factor in showing Wyrd's attitude toward supporting the community that plays their game.

I was able to get in my first Vassal game this weekend vs Ramses from the Wyrd boards. He is located in Wisconson, so someone I would not have been able to play normally without being at the same big con together. He and I were able to jump online and wrap up a solid game with no issues over ~2 hours. This was pretty cool, as we spent a fairly casual time chatting as well, so it came across like a game at the club. Despite my win (Misaki v Colette, Misaki winning 6/2), I have a very positive view on Vassal. I especially think it will bring some nice opportunity for different Meta-game's to interact and balance out the overall Malifaux group-think a bit.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 - a DTP Year in Review

It is certainly that time of year, that time when all the coolest blogs are going through the process of writing and posting Year in Review posts. Just like those cool blogs I am also jumping in. I figured releasing this post on January 2nd when people are back at work is not a bad plan since it should grab a couple extra readers who are board with work already this year! With no further ado, Happy New Year and welcome to 2013! Lets take a look at what 2012 was like hobby wise and blog wise for the Dead Tau Project.

January 2012 saw a long list of comparing 2011 to 2010, and then had a list of goals. I recapped my 2010 goals and went through my success and failure for the year. Then I set some new goals for 2012:
  • Gaming -I wanted to keep my games at the same level as 2011, and I would say I greatly succeeded. I am regularly made it out to my Tuesday gaming nights and took my total games played (147) in 2011 up to an astounding total of 173 in 2012.
  • Game Systems - I did not really set any goals when it came to Game Systems, but more predictions. I actually failed with my predictions here if I am honest. I predicted that Malifaux would be me primary game which it certainly was, but then I went on. I predicted Hordes to become my back-up game along with 40K, and a complete drop of Warhammer Fantasy. In 2012 I played exactly 0 games of Hordes or 40K. In fact, all of my miniature gaming in 2012 was Malifaux.
  • Painting/Assembly - This goal is a psuedo success and partial failure. I had the goal of becoming more consistent with my hobby by completing 2 models every month. I did become more consistent in my hobbying, but did not complete 2 models a month. March and August actually saw 0 progress in completion of any hobbying but the graph comparisons will show much more consistent hobby time than 2011.
  • Tournaments - Well, I failed in my goals here. This is an interesting failure overall, as I am not sure how to measure this overall. So, I did not win any local or small tournaments with Guild at the beginning of the year. My first tournament was in March in NYC, where I came in third (I think) with Guild, going 2/1 for the day. My second local tournament was not until May, where I came in second to local Mike and I played Neverborn. When it came to Adepticon, I opted to help run a significant portion of the events and then over-slept and missed my qualifying tournament so did not play. Then at Gencon I volunteered to run Puppet Wars for the Wyrd folk, and was the primary TO for the final's. I played in one Gencon tournament which I won, but surrendered my qualification to the finals in order to TO the event.
Goals are funny things. I failed to win the tournaments I aimed to do well in at the start of 2012, but ended up in a fairly prominent position of being the head TO for a number of those events. Is there some type of trade-off there I am missing? I am not sure. I also failed to accurately predict the complete drop in a couple of game systems, but that certainly does not make me feel like I missed out at all. Hrm, something to think about.

Comparison 2011 to 2012: The Blog
I increased my overall number of posts on the blog to 53 over a post count of 45 in 2011. Not bad overall, although I think I need to post more consistently and more often. I feel like the length of my individual posts has increased, along with an overall increase in game reports. On the other hand, I have moved from smaller hobby updates to photo-series over the span of a week for my hobbying. 2012 was a tough year personally for me, which impacted my blogging a great deal.

Looking at Google Analytics I see a down-trend in blog visits. Overall every month of 2011 with the exception of February and July had more visitors per month than 2012. From a raw number standpoint, I dropped from an annual 30,146 visitors in 2011 to an annual 23,336 visitors in 2012. Even with that, I never dropped below 1,500 visitors to the blog in a single month, which is ok with me.

On the content side, the blog has moved entirely to covering Malifaux. This mirrors my game playing and hobby time exactly, as the other games have dropped off the radar as well. 

Comparison 2011 to 2012: The Hobby
 I guess its good for any new readers to define what I intend when I say "The Hobby" for these types of posts. The Hobby is my building and painting of miniatures for playing the table top miniature wargames I am playing. I track my hobby progress year to year through a point system that I originally adopted back in January of 2010. A year later I updated my ability to track my hobby through the adoption of the Google Doc's Hobby spreadsheet I copied from Rushputin (great Gw Focused blog and excellent painter).

So what does it look like comparing 2011 to 2012? Our 2011 Statistics for hobby month to month looked like this:
2011 Hobby Tracking by Month
While in 2012 we look like this:
2012 Hobby Tracking by Month

As you can see, 2011 was very inconsistent with my hobbying overall. There were drastic spikes and valleys month to month and thus I had the goal in 2012 to level that out. I was successful with a much more even graph for 2012, despite a couple spikes. I cannot really see any strong trends in the comparison, aside from April and November being a spike in activity both years.

Whats more interesting overall is the spread of my hobby across different Armies/Factions. In 2011 I still had a little bit of 40K in the mix, and only really did work on three factions.
Paining/Assembly per Army/Faction 2011

During 2012 non-Malifaux disappeared completely from my hobby and I spread out liberally in the different Malifaux factions overall. Guild and Neverborn were still heavy focus's, but Ten Thunders came on very strong considering they were only released at Gencon.
Painting/Assembly per Army/Faction 2012
Comparison 2011 to 2012: Game Playing
Game Playing in 2012 surpassed my 2011 game playing by a great deal. I ended up tracking a total of 173 games during 2012. All of these 173 were Malifaux games, and they are just the ones I tracked. I have given a couple demo games to my Daughter, who just started playing, and only 1 of these have been tracked. As she improves and we start actually playing I will begin tracking games against her as normal. I also took part in a number of Playtesting games for Wyrd Miniatures, none of which have been tracked. From a gaming point of view, with a focus on Malifaux, 2012 was a very successful year for me.

So, how did things look overall? Here are some interesting statistics before we get to the charts. Malifaux 2012 for me:
  • 57 different opponents
  • Only 2 opponents played more than 10 games:
    • Mike Kelmelis - 21 total games (3/14/4)
    • Tim Eck - 18 total games (8/8/2)
  • Faced 38 different Masters (i.e. aZoraida different from Zoraida)
  • Only 3 masters were faced more than 10 games:
    • McMourning - 14 games (7/5/2)
    • Zoraida - 12 games (6/6/0)
    • Lilith - 11 games (6/5/0)
  • Counting Ties as half wins, I have a 58.95% win percentage overall
  • My largest number of games was played in July - 33 games
  • My smallest number of games were April and December - 9 games each month
So, what do the charts show? Its worth taking note that I started tracking a great deal more information in 2012 than I did in 2011. This will provide a lot more to look at next year for comparison than this. We only had 2 comparison charts for 2011 to 2012, the first being overall performance (win/loss/draw) by Army/Faction:
Performance by Army/Faction 2011

You can see that 2011 still had a number of games being played with Dwarves and Eldar. Comparing to 2012:
Performance by Army/Faction 2012

We can see a marked improvement in my win/loss/draw playing as Guild. Neverborn stayed about the same, and its hard to tell overall with the Arcanists. I certainly played a whole lot more with the Arcanists during 2012, along with playing more overall. What I found most interesting is better shown in the next graph.
Game Percentage by Army/Faction 2011
Compared to 2012:
Game Percentage by Army/Faction 2012
 When looking at the comparison of total games played across the factions,  Arcanists and Neverborn games stayed fairly steady with the percentage of games played. Guild took a bit of a hit this year, but still accounted for the majority of games played by faction. Ten Thunders came on strong at the end of the year (19.1%)

2013: Whats Next?
So what are my goals for next year? Whats next? Honestly, I am not sure. 2012 was a tough year for me personally, with Work and Family being very challenging at the beginning of the year. The family challenges have smoothed over toward the end of the year, although I expect there will always be family challenges. On the bright side (with the family), my youngest daughter has begun to show a real interest in Malifaux and she loves Puppet Wars. That bodes really well for me, as I will be able to spend time with her AND get some more Malifaux games in. On the work side, this year will be interesting but I do not expect it will be in the same challenging manner as 2012. I am hoping for a smoother year, which may mean more travel but not as many headaches.

Overall, I don't think I am going to set any goals at this point. I feel like going into 2013, its better to play things a bit more casually and see how the year develops!

Happy New Year!