Three Days of Black Jokers: Malifaux at Captaincon 2022

There’s something special about cons. You know it, I know it. Is it a smell? A pitch, just beyond the ken of the human ear, thrumming in the air like the heartbeat of a ghost?  Is it the ragged juxtaposition of unwashed gamers scarfing down gas station sandwiches in the nation’s most opulent hotels?

It might be all of these things, but I think what it really is is just freshness.  Any local meta, no matter how centrally located, eventually becomes stale. The chance to play against fresh faces with cool paint schemes and brand new irritating habits you haven’t had the chance to get sick of yet… that’s what sells con tickets.

Captaincon is a New England regional con held every winter in Warwick, Rhode Island.  I Kickstarted the very first one, back in 2014, and attended as a raggedy-ass twenty-something who couldn’t afford a hotel room anywhere near the venue. I haven’t been since, but this year I was lured down by the siren call of tournaments, merch booths, and the chance to throw up my OOO in Outlook and not check my work email for 3.5 whole days.  Reader, it was glorious.

The Setup Phase

There were two Malifaux tournaments planned for the weekend of Captaincon: the Malifaux Content Creators Invitational on Friday, and then the two-day, five-round Booty and Plunder Open on Saturday and Sunday.  I’ve been to two Malifaux tournaments since I picked the game back up in mid-2021, but both were mostly local affairs, and I TO’d both and so wasn’t in contention for prizing.  The winner of both tournaments was local Bayou player Jesse Ellis, a real stand-up guy and co-host of the Boring Conversation podcast (available wherever podcasts are sold).  Now the glove was on the other foot, though. Jesse was organizing both Captaincon tournaments, and it would be my turn to sweep in and take all the Bayou glory.

The MCCI was a team tournament, with ten teams of two.  Each represented a Malifaux podcast, YouTube channel, or in my case, column series– the teams were locked in months ago, but a drop opened up a slot, and Jesse decided that my work for Goonhammer qualified me as a content creator.  I got my buddy Doug, 1/3 of the triad who have been pushing to revive Malifaux in eastern Massachusetts, to join me, and our friend Brandon (the other 1/3) volunteered to TO so Jesse could play after one of his cohosts had to drop.

I also 3D printed the trophies, and more than half of the tables were provided by Doug and I– I printed the terrain and he painted it (and he also scratch built some beautiful tables of his own– Doug is really good at this stuff).  Also, he’s got his own hobby content channel, Danger Planet Games and Hobbies, named after a beloved and sadly defunct game store in Massachusetts.  Check that out!

I didn’t print this terrain– it’s courtesy of Wild Lands.

The second tournament, Booty and Plunder, was a more traditional solo affair, five rounds of Swiss over two days.  I felt good about both, and in the weeks leading up to the tournaments I got in a fair few practice rounds.  My friends and I practice by setting up the game, playing out two or sometimes three turns, then talking out the rest of the game.  It’s a good way to get in a lot of reps quickly and I recommend it to anyone who wants to be competitive– Malifaux is a hard game, with a lot of thought, and the more you can get those crucial setup activations solid in your mind, the better you’ll do.  The format of Malifaux tournaments also makes this strategy particularly fruitful.

For the uninitiated, this is how a Malifaux game is set up:

  1. You and your opponent randomly (by flipping cards) determine the Strategy (aka the primary objective, for you 40k players), the deployment zones, and a pool of five Schemes (aka secondaries).
  2. You and your opponent simultaneously declare your faction.
  3. Having heard your opponent’s faction, you simultaneously declare your Master (and a second master, if you’re bringing one).
  4. Having heard your opponent’s master, you build crews, and then simultaneously reveal them.
  5. Having seen your opponent’s crew, you secretly pick two of the five Schemes to pick, note them, and then begin.

Tournaments skip step 1 entirely, publishing each round’s Strategy and Scheme pool well in advance, so I was able to practice under the real conditions I’d face at the tournament. This helped immensely, knowing what I could safely pick each round and why.  The first tiebreaker (after match points) is cumulative point differential between games, rewarding you for winning big and losing tight, while the second breaker is total points scored.

The MCCI followed a somewhat unusual format. Each round, the scheme pool would be set, but each pair of tables would have a different strategy and deployment type.  Each team would declare factions and pick Masters, then the team currently in the lead would assign each of their Masters to a table.  The other team could then decide who to drop into whom.  It introduced a bit of a guessing game– team 1 could pick their Masters into the strategies that suited them best, but team 2 could pick their matchups, which can matter a lot.

I am sure there are some veteran Malifaux players reading this, but the tone of my columns so far has been pitched to newer players, which gives me a bit of a tightrope act to walk.  I’ll try to condense the action enough to not get boring, but to provide enough detail that veterans can get something out of it.  Let me know how good a job I do in the comments, please.  Your engagement feeds me.


I drove down Thursday night, a leisurely hour and a half from Boston to Warwick through rush hour traffic. Captaincon is at the Crowne Plaza Warwick, a fine midrange hotel with good convention space and a reasonable restaurant.  It’s also located conveniently near an array of Warwick’s finest dive bars, an element which will surely not recur later in our story.

Doug and Brandon followed me down an hour or two later, and we rendezvoused with Jesse, helping to set out tables and prizes. Wyrd Games outdid themselves with the prize support– in addition to sending tons of product to be handed out to tournament participants, they sent the MCCI content creators each a custom voodoo doll and an Iconic box (basically an alternate sculpt plus a large, display-sized figurine of that same sculpt). Other sponsors included Schooner Labs (who makes really excellent and crisp laser-cut wooden trackers and markers), Widget Wizards (who provided really cool custom tokens and drinking glasses), Wild Land (who sent over some gorgeous wooden terrain), and Miniature Market (who sent over lots of prize support).

look at this cute lil guy

Our work for the night done, we jammed some Root.  I was the cats.

Day 1

The day of the MCCI dawned frigid and icy.  I didn’t care, I had a nice warm hotel room.  I rolled on down to the event space at 10:30 for an 11:00 start to meet up with Doug and plan our attack.  I was declaring Bayou, the only faction I play or care about, while he declared Ten Thunders.  And yes, I recognize that I haven’t published the Faction Focus for either of those two at time of publication, so here’s the short version: I played drunken swamp hillbillies; he played the magical Yakuza.

Round 1

Our first round opponents were from Rage Quit Wire, a great podcast that you should definitely check out.  They came all the way up from North Carolina (right, guys?  Correct me if I’m wrong) to flip some cards. The schemes for this round were Hidden Martyrs, Let Them Bleed, Bait and Switch, Claim Jump, and Death Beds (and if you have no idea what those mean, don’t worry about it, I’ll explain the relevant parts).  One table was Symbols of Authority on Standard Deployment, while the other was Break the Line on Wedge deployment.  Doug and I were assigned to pick our masters, and so we just executed the plan we’d had from the beginning: I played Captain Zipp and Doug played Misaki Katanaka. I dropped into Symbols and found myself facing Pete, another Bayou player, who… also declared Zipp.  What a fun way to start the day.

My opponent’s crew: Zipp, Earl Burns, the First Mate, Burt Jebsen, Gracie, two Iron Skeeters, and Merris LaCroix

For the uninitiated, Zipp is a sky pirate gremlin with a lightning gun. From the deck of his commandeered airship, the Infamy, he commands his fearsome Iron Skeeters (gremlin raiders riding mechanical mosquitos, maintained by the captive engineer Earl Burns).  His crew is incredibly fast, maneuverable, and annoying.  They can do surprising damage– especially when they drop pianos out of the airship on your head– but Zipp himself is mostly a disruption piece, whose job is to scoot around making sure you can’t do whatever you were trying to do.  The trouble is, most of Zipp’s disruption tricks don’t work that well on enemy Zipp crews.  Your ability to clutter up movement lanes with dropped pianos means less when enemies can fly right over them.

I picked Death Beds, which required me to kill an enemy model near a Scheme Marker and a Piano Marker, and then end the game with Scheme Markers near two different Piano Markers on the enemy table half.  I figured with all the pianos we’d be dropping, it would be easy to score.  I also picked Claim Jump, which required me to place a model (in my cast, the First Mate) near the center of the board, without any enemies nearby.  The First Mate is a slippery Silurid, sort of a gator-frog, and he’s fast enough that I figured I could dart in at the end of a turn. Our Strategy was Symbols of Authority, which required each of us to place four markers at the start of the game; a model could then take an action while touching an enemy marker to remove it, and at the end of each turn after the first, you’d score a point if you had removed a marker that turn.  No points for removing two in one turn, though, so you can’t just swallow them all and cap the score.

Rounding out the crew, I hired two Skeeters, Francois LaCroix , and Beau Fishbocker, a gremlin fisherman and swamp navigator.  My opponent took Burt Jebsen (a gremlin take on Kurt Russell’s character from Big Trouble in Little China), and his pig Gracie, along with his own Skeeters and First Mate, completing his crew with Merris Lacroix (a podgy gremlin lass with bottle bombs and a homemade, liquor-powered jetpack).

We both advanced aggressively, each of us targeting and destroying the opponent’s Earl Burns to prevent him repairing damaged skeeters.  The center of the board rapidly developed into a scrum; he telegraphed Claim Jump on one of his Skeeters, but as scoring the scheme requires that there be no enemies nearby, I was able to dart one of my own Skeeters into block him.  Burt was able to remove one of my markers, but was quickly dispatched by Francois, who also proceeded to rip through his two Skeeters like a rusty knife through swamp moss.

The difference was that my First Mate was on his side, gulping down marker after marker, while his was mixing it up in the middle of the board to little effect.  Beau Fishbocker guarded one of my markers, forcing him to dispatch Zipp over to clear him out so Merris could remove the marker, but the two markers on the other side were well out of his reach.

It was a bloody game, ending up with only our Zipps and First Mates alive (plus Merris), but in the end I cinched it 5-3.  I wasn’t able to score at all from Claim Jump, since my First Mate was busy eating Symbols, but neither was he– I killed his Skeeter before it could score.  He did score one point for Hidden Martyrs, which required me to kill one of two secretly designated models, but failed to score the second point (which requires the survivor to be alive and engaging an enemy at the end of the game).  He did fly Merris up to engage Francois at the end, but he burned to death before she could score the point.  The fact that I capped the Strategy while he only scored two tipped the balance.

My teammate Doug managed a draw with Misaki (your classic smoke-bomb-tossing ninja) vs. English Ivan (a dapper and sophisticated shadow mage). Before the tournament started, I thought we were recording wins and losses as a team, so a win and a draw would count as a win; I was informed that is not the case, so we started off at a respectable 1-0-1.  Sure beats 0-1-1!

Round 2

This round saw us matched against Boring Conversation, Jesse’s podcast.  I’ve actually never played Jesse, despite both of us being swamp dwellers; he’s won a couple of the tournaments my local has hosted, but we never drew into each other.  I was kind of looking forward to it, but alas, it was not to be.  Jesse threw down Mah Tucket, a spoon-wielding gremlin matriarch, into Doug’s Misaki list (after much thought, Doug decided to solo Misaki for the day, which was probably wise; she’s a great all-rounder Master and the one he has the most reps in with, by far).  I was matched in Jesse’s pal Adam, who was bringing Pandora, so I decided to re-up Zipp.  Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Our strategy was Turf War, which requires the players to place five markers in the center of the board and of each quarter.  A model can take an action to flip a marker from neutral to friendly, or from enemy to neutral.  As well, killing an enemy model flips either the center marker or the marker in the table quarter where the model died to neutral from enemy (but NOT to friendly from neutral; you always have to take an action to do that).  The deployment was Flank, a very close L-shaped deployment pattern, and the schemes were Research Mission, Vendetta, Detonate Charges, Catch and Release, and Breakthrough.  I chose Research Mission, which requires me to have a model on my opponent’s table half, within range of three or more different types of markers. My crew can create Pianos and Scheme markers, and the fixed-position Strategy markers count, so I figured it was an easy pick.  I also picked Breakthrough, which requires me to drop Scheme markers in my opponent’s deployment zone.

My opponent brought Pandora, the Poltergeist, Baby Kade and his murderous Teddy, the Carver, Iggy, a Changeling, and Candy– a crew full of elite, high-stat beaters.  I traded Francois for Mancha Roja, a Gremlin luchador, and Beau for Merris LaCroix, but otherwise ran the same crew as before.  I also put the Two Gremlins in a Ghillie Suit upgrade on one of my Skeeters, which increases its size and lets it ferry Mancha around.  Assume that I did this every time I hired Mancha for the rest of the weekend.

Pandora, Candy, Baby Kade, a Changeling, the Carver, Teddy, Iggy, and the Poltergeist.  He has the Rotten Harvest Halloween-themed crew, though the Carver is always Halloween themed! 

Pandora is the ultimate control master, and excels at squeezing the life out of opponents one inch at a time.  Many of her abilities focus on making it impossible for you to have productive activations– she can move you out of position, stun you, and control the order in which you activate.  However, this style of play works best when you’re already ahead.  A good Pandora player can get a slight lead and then just prevent the opponent from ever catching up.  If you can get out ahead of her, though, she really struggles to take back the initiative; if she’s trading her activations to make your activations suck, she’s not advancing her gameplan.  The plan was to commit hard to an early lead and then just dance around, refusing to play Pandora’s game, scraping up points where I could.

I roared out to a blisteringly aggressive start, flipping four of the five markers by the midpoint of turn 2.  I wasn’t interested in brawling with my opponent; Pandora’s crew is masterful at sapping the life out of you, inflicting debilitating conditions on your crew and eating through your hand.  I needed to kill the Poltergeist, her totem, which clears away markers. That done, I started cluttering up the board with pianos to block off lanes. Zipp scooted around being generally annoying and locking my opponent out of being able to do the things he wanted to do.  I picked off the weak Changeling he’d brought to put a Corpse Marker in his deployment zone for Research Mission, but other than that I avoided fighting.  Mancha Roja soaked up plenty of attention, but his ability to self-heal combined with judicious use of Soulstones to prevent damage kept him relatively healthy.  I lost Merris, but she’s expendable anyways.

My opponent realized he had to go for points, but a bit too late.  Zipp was able to bodyguard one of the markers, wasting the activations of the two beaters he’d sent to claim it, while the First Mate, Earl and my Skeeters scurried around my opponent’s deployment zone mostly uncontested.  He was able to score Detonate Charges once by dropping two scheme markers near Mancha after I failed a flip to evacuate him on skeeter-back (needing a 7), but that was the only scheme point he scored, and I was able to hold him to 2 strategy points while scoring 3 myself.  The final total was 7-3, a respectable victory.  Doug unfortunately lost to Mah Tucket, whose shooting managed to wipe his crew mostly off the board, but he kept the margin to 2 points, so I figured we were still net-positive on our differential.

Round 3

Finishing off the day, we played Maeve and Jeremy of Bayou Breakdown.  Maeve is a very good player and a frequent guest on podcasts I listen to; I hadn’t played against Jeremy before, but I assumed he was just as good, and his paint jobs were gorgeous.  I declared Ophelia, as the combination of strategy and scheme was very good for her.  Doug stayed on Misaki, while Maeve declared Nexus and Jeremy Colette.  Again, a brief introduction: Ophelia is a gremlin pistoleer whose crew is her deranged family; Nexus is an artificial being, a hive-mind spymaster who acts by infecting enemies (and bystanders) with mind-control parasites.  Our opponents picked the tables, and while I felt a little bad dropping Doug into Maeve, I really wanted to play Turf War with Ophelia.

The deployment was Wedge, a very close deployment where the crews start only 12″ apart at the nearest point, and the schemes were Assassinate, Spread Them Out, Detoate Charges, Breakthrough and Claim Jump.  I chose Claim Jump, as there was nothing in my opponent’s crew dangerous enough to threaten Francois Lacroix, so he could just swagger into the middle of the table and murder anything stupid enough to come close.  I also chose Detonate Charges, as I intended to declare Ophelia’s Title form, Ophelia Lacroix Overloaded.  She’s excellent at Detonate, as she can drop two scheme markers from two friendly models in her LOS with a single action, letting me score it at the end of the turn before my opponent can counterplay.  I hired Ophelia, three Young Lacroix, and most of the Lacroix clan: Merris, Sammy, Raphael, Rami, Francois, and a Raider, along with a couple upgrades.

Colette’s Dark Carnival nightmare crew. L-R: A Flying Monkey, Cassandra, another Monkey, a Mannequin, a third Monkey, a Silent One, a Coryphee (half of the Duet) and alternate Colette. No Harata, since he broke during the game.

Jeremy led with Harata Ngaatoro (a Maori water mage and haka dancer) and set up an ice pillar for his Silent One to heal through while she babysat the backfield market.  He also brought Coryphee Duet, a pair of robotic ballerinas who can split apart and recombine, to run schemes for him, and Colette’s assistant Cassandra, as well as a Mannequin bodyguard.  I unpacked quickly, using Ophelia’s Young Lacroix to slingshot my beaters around. Ophelia has a set of five custom firearms, and when you play Overloaded, she can hand them out to her crew.  A Lacroix with a borrowed gun can shoot it once, but then must discard it– but as they do so, they can also discard a card to gain Focused, which makes subsequent attacks deadlier.  I used this ability to stack Focus on my crew, and at the start of Turn 2 I let it rip.

When the dust cleared, Harata and Cassandra were dead, along with the Mannequin and two of Colette’s Mechanical Doves.  Colette herself was mostly healthy, but she’d placed herself in the middle of my crew, so I was able to drop a couple of scheme markers near her for Detonate.  Jeremy was clearly trying to set up Detonate, too, but Ophelia can plink away scheme markers like cans on a fence from up to 20″ away, so I was removing them as fast as he was laying them down.

After that Turn 2, it was mostly just a matter of cleaning up.  I sent a strike force into his backfield to flip his strategy markers, and they incapacitated the Silent One without killing her (so I could score Detonate again).  Jeremy handled his crew well, but on Turf War, it’s hard to compete with Kin– they can remove your whole crew while advancing their gameplan.  The Coryphee Duet was fast enough to score one point on Spread Them Out, but that was it, and I held him to two strategy points, for another 7-3 win.  Doug, meanwhile, struggled against Maeve’s Nexus, One of Many (a very creepy variant of the master where the hivemind inhabits the bodies of three kids at once), but he managed to keep the differential to 2 points so we were still net positive.

Day 1 Wrapup

All told, we went 3-2-1 in games, with a total differential of +6– good enough for a fourth-place finish.  Boring Conversation pipped us to the podium at 3rd, but as Jesse had organized the tournament he was ineligible for prizing so the prizes filtered down to us.  We got some widgets, a very cool tracker for keep count of Soulstones, points and Pass Tokens, and some engraved shot glasses.  And memories! Lots of those!

Marcus vs. Dreamer– not one of my games, I just happen to have this picture

The MCCI was a great event, and I really enjoyed the team format– team tournaments are always fun, adding a social element that 1v1 games lack.  Big props to Jesse for putting this together, to the sponsors for chipping in, and to Wyrd for making such a great game!

lovely mementos!

Interlude One: Iced Out

With three rounds in the books, we decided to celebrate with a little karaoke. We’d found a spot and cajoled a couple of other players to come with us, but we were foiled by an unexpected enemy: the Tyrant December, making a February appearance to keep us guessing.  A cold snap left the roads treacherously icy and cocooned our cars in glass prisons.  I broke my ice scraper trying to free my Kia, so we hopped in Doug’s Range Rover and went to the bar… only to be told they were closing early due to road conditions.  Fiddlesticks!

We made it back to the hotel and decided to just play some Obscurio.  It’s like Dixit with social deduction elements, and I can verify that it’s still playable when your entire group is completely blitzed, so that’s a mark in its favor too.  I made it to bed around 1 for an 11am start the next day.  No problem.

Day 2

The MCCI was fun, but I didn’t even realize I was invited until after I bought my Captaincon ticket.  This was the main event: Booty and Plunder, a five-round, 32-player singles event drawing some of the best players in the country.  Landon “Popedarpa” and David “Haku,” two of Malifaux’s leading lights, were here (and their team had won the MCCI handily) and I looked forward with no small amount of trepidation to trying my hand against them.  This was also one of the first events to be scored as part of the new Malifaux ranking system, the Faux Tour.

awaiting the winner

courtesy of Schooner Labs 

I had glanced at the strategies and schemes before and played a couple of practice rounds, but I’d been too busy with work to methodically plan my master and schemes for each round.  I figured I’d wing it.  And hey, I can always just crutch on Zipp.

(that is what we call foreshadowing)

Round 1

The first round of a tournament is always the most magical.  Anything’s possible! Pairings are random! Especially with a 32 player event (i.e. good-sized but not gigantic) there’s always a chance that two top players will randomly draw into each other in the first round and one of them will terrorize the bottom bracket.  The opposite happens, too– sometimes a less-advanced player gets an easy ride into rounds 2 and 3 before being matched up against an eventual winner.  Tournaments, man! The swiss! The thrill of the game!

My first round opponent was Drew, who’s quite new to the game, so I ended up on the lucky side of things.  We both declared Bayou, and looking at the mission (Turf War again), I decided to go with Zipp– the scheme pool included both Catch and Release and Breakthrough, two of my bread and butter schemes.  In retrospect, this might have been a chance for me to get some reps in with a lesser-played master, but Zipp is my comfort zone.  I ran a list much like the one from the first round of the MCCI, but swapped Francois out for Mancha Roja.

My opponent dropped Mah Tucket and brought a pretty standard crew: a Rooster Rider, a Soulstone Miner, two Bushwhackers, a Test Subject, Bo Peep and Big Brain Brin.

He had a fairly solid idea of how to play Mah, deploying his Bushwhackers on the flanks and the others in a tight bubble to unpack with Bo Peep.  Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to play against Zipp, and didn’t get out of his bubble quickly enough, especially on wedge deployment (which leads to very close starts).  Zipp shot forward and blasted his crew, killing his Test Subject, badly wounding the Little Lass and forcing Bo Peep to burn a soulstone to stay alive.  Drew charged Mah forward into Zipp, but could only do a little damage, which I was able to heal the next turn with Beau Fishbocker.  My skeeters engaged his bushwhackers to stop them shooting and making traps, and the First Mate leapt into Bo Peep and finished her off.

He made a play for my backfield with his Soulstone Miner and was able to flip one marker, but shortly thereafter I killed Mah Tucket and isolated Brin.  That let me score Catch and Release, and while his Rooster Rider was able to finish off one of my Skeeters, the other one carried Mancha into his deployment zone, where the two of them easily scored both halves of Breakthrough.  The First Mate killed the Rooster and held his Bushwhacker at bay, engaging her to stop her flipping his marker back, while Zipp finished off the Soulstone Miner.  In the end I won with a full score of 8 points to his 1, but he was gracious about it, and we talked Bayou tactics a bit after the game.  Oh, and Drew, I still have your Skeeter card I borrowed, so let me know how to get that back to you.

Round 2

Well, that was fun, but now I was in the top bracket, where dangerous creatures live.  My second round opponent was David, who declared Guild, but who I saw had brought Cornelius Basse (a dual-faction Guild/Explorer’s Society master I haven’t covered yet).  Basse’s unique ability extends his deployment zone, allowing him to get to grips with you quickly.  The strategy was Break the Line, which involves kicking cans from the centerline onto the opponent’s side, and the deployment type was standard; the scheme pool was Research Mission, Vendetta, Catch and Release, Spread Them Out and Detonate Charges.  I hemmed and hawed a bit, but Zipp is so good at Research Mission and Catch and Release, so I just declared him for the fourth time that weekend.  Crutch, indeed.

My opponent dropped Basse and a fairly standard Frontier crew: two Pathfinders, a Sandworm, Jonathan Reichert, a Rough Rider, and Paul Crockett, plus Basse and his daughter Bernadette.  I played the standard Zipp crew, opting for Mancha Roja over Francois (to remove the dust markers Basse’s crew can drop) and for Merris over Beau Fishbocker (to use her 2″ engage to shut down his guns).

L-R: Jonathan Reichert, Cornelius Basse (front), a Pathfinder (middle), a Rough Rider (back), Bernadette Basse (front), another Pathfinder, a Sandworm, and Paul Crockett

The terrain on this map was somewhat unusual– light in the middle, with a scatter of blocking terrain, but with enormous LOS-blocking buildings around the edge.  One of the Break the Line markers was in a narrow gap between one of those buildings and the board edge, the rest spaced across the center.  My opponent deployed his worm near the stray marker but the rest of his crew in two “teams” in the middle, with Paul, Bernadette and the Rough Rider on one side and the others on the other.

the table in question

I pressed forward turn 1, trying to pin him onto his side.  That’s always tough against Basse, who can extend his deployment zone, but David had not deployed out to the maximum extent possible so there was some give.  Zipp himself killed Bernadette Basse and dropped heavy damage on Paul Crockett and the Rough Rider, dealing 5 each to them.  They managed to heal a bit, but were still badly mauled.  One of his Pathfinders, ignoring the concealing smoke my Skeeters produce, got a lucky shot and managed to kill Earl Burns despite flipping at two negative twists to damage.  His worm kicked the isolated marker forward and dug into the ground, but my First Mate managed to replace the marker.

I flung Zipp aggressively forward and he took the bait, charging with Reichert.  He got one attack and ended up on a negative twist to damage, but flipped the red joker.  That, I don’t love.  On my second turn, I used Zipp to finish off Crockett and almost finish off the Rough Rider, instead isolating it in a corner where he could be safe from Reichert’s claws.  Merris and Mancha Roja engaged his crew.  I was feeling very strong– 3/4 markers were on his side, my Catch and Release skeeter was in great shape, he’d lost two pieces to my one and almost lost a third– and then disaster struck.

The center was developing into a scrum, with Merris engaging his Pathfinders to stop them shooting, Mancha Roja engaging Reichert, and the Skeeters hovering back and ready to dart in.  His Sandworm was off the table and unable to help.  For the uninitiated, a burrowed Sandworm can emerge anywhere on the board– so long as there’s severe terrain there.  Basse’s crew can create severe terrain, but when the Sandworm’s activation came up he’d only managed to create one piece (since Zipp has an aura blocking his ability to take the action that creates it).  The piece was smack dab in the middle of our scrum, such that there was only one spot where he could place the Sandworm’s 50mm base touching it.  Before he could activate the Sandworm, I had the First Mate left to go.  The Mate is very fast, and I could easily double-walk him and then Leap on top of the marker, leaving him nowhere to unbury his Sandworm.  (He can always unbury in his own deployment zone, but doing so would put his worm out of the action entirely for at least a turn).  I had the card in my hand to cheat to make the Leap go off, so all I had to do was not flip the Black Joker out of my 40-or-so card deck.

I flipped the Black Joker.

Disaster. The worm emerged and immediately killed Mancha Roja, who had been at 9 health.  My plan fell completely apart.  Now I didn’t have his crew tied up in a messy scrum that would take turns to resolve; they were free to move about the board, and I’d lost a key beater, the only one capable of actually killing his worm or Reichert.

I rallied from there, the First Mate hightailing it out of there, but to add insult to injury he spiked hard on damage flips with his Pathfinders and sniped out another Skeeter from 14″ away (despite his cover!).  I scored Catch and Release with my other Skeeter, and Mancha’s death gave me the marker I needed to score Research Mission, but the game was turning hard against me.  I had to hope that he didn’t have enough turns left to score his schemes.

From there, I went into a game of keep-away with my Catch and Release skeeter, hiding him on my opponent’s side.  I used Zipp as best I could to harass and delay.  In the end, it came down to a tight finish.  I also completely forgot how Research Mission worked; I thought that to score the second half I had to drop scheme markers near different types of marker on the enemy table side, confusing it with Death Beds.  As a result, I pushed the First Mate aggressively forward and got him killed by Basse on the last turn of the game.  Still, I was saved by my early aggression.  I’d denied my opponent Strategy points on two turns of the game, so even after I lost total control of the board we tied on the strategy 2-2.  We both scored the first half of Catch and Release, but only I scored the second, as I managed to finish off his Rough Rider easily enough with Zipp.  And while I only scored the first half of Research Mission, he only had time to score one half of Spread Them Out.  In the end, I took the game 5-4.  It felt like it was trending towards 7-2 or so in the first two turns, and it probably would have been 6-4 if I’d remembered how Research Mission works, but I’ll take a narrow win after that absolutely brutal Black Joker.  It’s a reminder– Malifaux’s random mechanics are quite a bit more tightly controlled than many wargames, but sometimes they still bite you in the ass.

Round 3

The time had come.  I was in the 2-0 bracket.  I had to pay for my sins.  I drew into Landon.

Landon, aka Popedarpa, is one of the best Malifaux players in the world.  He’s competed in the Vassal World Series and done quite well.  He’s also a stand-up guy with a line on a very high quality hair pomade that I forgot to ask him about. Landon, if you’re reading this: please let me know what product you use.

The two of us played on the same table as before, and he dropped Jakob Lynch, Dark Bet.  Lynch owns a casino haunted by an ancient evil called the Hungering Darkness, which feeds its addictive Brilliance to punters and drains their life force.  Dark Bet makes the Darkness your leader and allows it to endlessly recur by draining Lynch’s lifeforce.  Part of me was dreading this matchup, but the rest of me was looking forward to it.  The only way to improve is to play against world-class players, and Landon is definitely one of those.

The strategy was Corrupted Ley Lines, a strategy that requires you to drag a lodestone from one marker to another to “claim” them. The deployment was Flank, and the scheme pool was Breakthrough, Vendetta, Claim Jump, Detonate Charges and Death Beds.  It was late in the day and I was frazzled after last game’s black joker so that’s the only explanation I can offer for my list construction errors: first, I did not take Brewmaster, Moonshiner, who is far and away our best Master into Corrupted Ley Lines; second, after deciding to take Mah Tucket (a very respectable Master) I gave her the Ghillie Suit upgrade instead of Twelve Cups of Coffee.  I took the Little Lass, a Bushwhacker, Big Brain Brin, two Test Subjects, Trixiebelle, and the Lucky Emissary (who did have Twelve Cups).  My opponent took Lynch and the Hungering Darkness, two Kunoichi, a Beckoner, Kitty Dumont, a Samurai and Wanyudo.  I picked Death Beds on pit traps and Breakthrough.

L-R: The Darkness, Lynch, Kunoichi (front), Samurai (back), Kunoichi (front), Beckoner (back), Kitty Dumont, Wanyudo

The game started promisingly enough; I was able to sculpt my Turn 1 hand using Mah’s absurd card draw, and so my Bushwhacker was able to straight-up kill the Samurai before it activated with two Severe damage flips (each time pushing it into a pit trap with her trigger for an extra point of damage).  Landon stacked Focus on the Darkness with Kunoichi and slung it downrange with Lynch’s Dragged Into the Dark. I messed up my own activation order and did not save the Emissary for last, so he was able to Obey it off the Ley Line Marker to deny me the point.  Insult to injury, he charged the Little Lass and for whatever reason I decided not to cheat to let her pass the Make Way test, so she died.  His Darkness black jokered a damage flip on the Bushwhacker, so she at least did not instantly die.  That was nice.

Still, the first two turns felt good. I used Big Brain Brin to engage the Darkness and start making it Slow to blunt its impact, while one Test Subject stayed close by and the other set off on an epic odyssey to his deployment zone for Breakthrough.  The Bushwhacker took some potshots but was unable to replicate her earlier success.  Mah charged aggressively into his backline and nearly scored Death Beds; he had the Red Joker in hand to cheat to make my last attack miss, though, so his Beckoner remained alive and I did not score.  Mah was able to kill one Kunoichi with a hurled snake.

Lynch himself did very little, tied up by a Test Subject he could not seem to kill, but the Darkness was obeying models left and right.  I had to flee with my Emissary to keep it alive and scoring, and I misplayed a bit with Trixiebelle.  I used her to push his Wanyudo off the objective, but with Kitty Dumont left he could just… push right back on, so I wasted Trixie’s activation.  She was hanging back much too far, which was definitely a mistake.  He telegraphed Detonate Charges on Mah, but did not know about Test Subjects’ ability to remove scheme markers with a bonus action, so I was able to deny it for a turn.  However, in Turns 3 and 4, things started to go downhill.  I couldn’t score Death Beds since I simply didn’t have enough AP on his side of the board to drop the markers needed and kill a model, and I didn’t score Breakthrough because my Test Subject had needed to remove a marker to deny Detonate rather than dropping one himself.  Eventually, Lynch killed the Test Subject that was blocking him in.  Trixiebelle, out of position, found herself providing the perfect slingshot for his Wanyudo, to get it a Strategy Marker on my side.  In the end, I tried to set up the endgame condition of Death Beds, but Kitty Dumont was able to deny it and score Detonate Charges.  Adding insult to injury, the Wanyudo could score the first half of Breakthrough on the last turn of the game.

In the end, I lost 5-3, though there were several flex points were things could have gone differently.  Killing the Beckoner would have made it 5-4 at least, and on the last turn if I had gone for the safer play of just charging Mah into his deployment zone and dropping a marker, he would have not been able to stop me scoring one point for Breakthrough and tieing it up.  More broadly, if I had given Mah Twelve Cups he would not have been able to Detonate Charges around her, as the action Kitty Dumont uses to drop scheme markers is a bonus action.  Still, Landon played really well and earned the win, and I don’t feel terrible because I see what I could have done differently.  This game, I think, showcases an important tournament skill: keeping your cool.  My nerve cracked at a couple points in this game while my opponent remained cool as a cucumber and that left him in winning position and me floundering.

Interlude Two: A Song Before Travel

We had been denied on karaoke the night before, but nothing would stop us now.  Doug, Brandon and I drove to the towniest bar you’ve ever seen in your life and immediately put our names on the karaoke roll.  It should be noted at this juncture that I am completely tone-deaf, but if I let a little thing like “a complete lack of any applicable skill” stop me, I would be known as a coward forever.

I sang The Distance by Cake, What’s My Age Again by Blink-182, Bad Habit by the Offspring and Handlebars by Flobots.  Now you know everything you need to know about my personality, age and history.

At some point a dude got kicked out of the bar after aggressively accosting another regular about “respecting his son.”  Classic shit.

I left early and sober, wanting to get some sleep before the next day.  I lay down in bed with the lights off and… nothing happened.  Too much adrenaline, I guess.  I think I eventually drifted off and got about three hours.  Not ideal; I drank two cups of tea with breakfast to try and wake up, and got my thoughts mostly into working order.

Day 3

So I’m 2-1, which could be better and could be worse.  Malifaux, as mentioned, has a lot of ties, and this was a 32-player tournament which would theoretically only end with one undefeated player.  I also had a pretty respectable differential, since I had won my first game 8-1.  I was live.  I could do this.

Round 4

The round opened with another Symbols of Authority game on Standard Deployment.  The scheme pool was Assassinate, Research Mission, Spread Them Out, Bait and Switch, and Detonate charges. Gentle reader, you may be saying to yourself now “boy, that’s tough– how’s he going to score that mission without simply falling back on Zipp?”  I’ll save you some time: I didn’t.

My opponent was Pete from Rage Quit Wire again, which felt a bit weird, since we had played a very similar mission two days earlier and had gone for the Zipp mirror.  I smelled another mirror coming and briefly thought about trying to Level Up on him by picking another master, but 1) I don’t think there are any bayou masters who have an extra-strong matchup into Zipp and 2) I was operating on caffeine and a prayer and needed a master I could play in my sleep.  Luckily for me, this did not end up as another mirror, since my opponent dropped Mah Tucket, Mecha Mee-Maw.  Mah’s found a gigantic robot drill spider, and now we’re all in trouble.

L-R: Rock Hopper, Big Brain Brin, Spark,s the Little Lass, Mecha Mee-maw, Soulstone Miner, the First Mate, Mechanized Porkchop. The Hopper and Mee-maw are conversions as the models aren’t out yet.

He brought Brin, the Rock Hopper, the First Mate, the Mechanized Porkchop, a Soulstone Miner, the Little Lass and Sparks.  I brought Earl, Mancha Roja, the First Mate, two Skeeters, and Beau Fishbocker.  Standard stuff.  I took Bait and Switch on the Miner, knowing it would be on my side of the board a lot, and Research Mission.

Deployment was odd– I scattered the markers out, taking advantage of terrain to make them hard to reach, while he concentrated his heavily on one flank and deployed his whole crew there.  I was much, much faster than him, and it rapidly became clear he was planning to mix it up in a bubble in the center while using the First Mate to eat markers.  I was simply not interested in this, so after darting in to remove one of the markers quickly, I evacuated out of his scrum.  He committed surprisingly hard into damaging Zipp, which is usually very difficult to do, so I put him on Assassinate; I pulled the man in the jetpack back and healed him up a bit with Beau.  Mancha held the line admirably for a couple of turns before being obliterated by drills and pit traps, but the real MVP with Beau Fishbocker.  With his 2″ reach he bodyguarded the only marker the First Mate could get to, and when joined by Zipp himself the Mate couldn’t even leap away.  My own Mate, meanwhile, killed the Little Lass and started snarfing down strategy markers.  I had a couple of foolish moments, like burning a soulstone to force a trigger that Big Brain Brin could just cancel, but in the end my basic plan of “bog down his forces in a meaningless melee and run around scoring” worked out.

He was able to bodyguard one marker with Brin and keep it safe, but I ate the other three, while holding him to just two.  He did score both halves of Research Mission, as did I, but he didn’t get any on Assassinate while I got one on Bait and Switch, for a respectable 6-4 finish.

Good start.  Now to close it out.

Round 5

As above, so below; as before, so now.  I found myself facing Jeremy again.  I briefly considered going for Mah Tucket (I was already completely Zipped out, even though this was a great pool for him) and finally decided that my weary brain could only handle so much complexity.  It was time to make things simple for myself.  It was time… for Ophelia.

Sorry, Jeremy.  In my defense she’s going to be nerfed soon and this is my last hurrah.

The Strategy was Break the Line on Corner Deployment, and the Schemes were Outflank, Assassinate, Let Them Bleed, Death Beds and Hidden Martyrs.  He took Marcus, Alpha, and one look at his list told me his plan.  He had two Order of the Chimera, two Empyrean Eagles, Myranda, a Sabertooth Cerberus and the Jackalope.  He was just going to run the hell away from me.  He deployed his Break the Line markers on the flanks, while I put mine right in the center.

I took Ophelia, Francois, Rami, Raphael, Sammy, Merris, and two Lacroix Raiders, along with three Young Lacroix.  For schemes, I picked Let Them Bleed and Hidden Martyrs on Rami and Merris.  My opponent deployed cagily, sending two firetimes up the sides: each with one Eagle and one Order, one with the Cerberus.  Marcus, Myranda and the Jackalope stayed in the middle.  For my part, I sent Raphael up one flank and Merris and a Raider up the other.

L-R: Cerberus, Order of the Chimera (front), Myranda (middle), Order of the Chimera (back), Marcus2 (front), two Empyrean Eagles. The Eagles and Marcus are proxies as the models aren’t out yet.

Both of us understood that the question here was “can Jeremy score enough points before Kin tables him to win” and to his credit he played to that objective very well.  He put defensive Mutation upgrades on his crew and played cagey with Marcus, darting in to cause damage or push markers around and then retreating.  Raphael drew a bead on an eagle and blew it away with one shot, while I managed to knock the Cerberus down to 1 and kill the other Eagle after a couple rounds (but not quick enough to deny him a Hidden Martyrs point).  Francois slaughtered the Jackalope (permanently, as he was out of cards to discard to bring it back) and Myranda, and sent Marcus fleeing.  When time was called, I was ahead 3-1 on strategy points and had 1 each for my schemes, while he had just 1 for Hidden Martyrs.  We talked out the last turn– which you’re typically supposed to do– and decided he was going to score another on the strat and an Outflank point, leaving the final total 6-4 (as I could not score a second Martyrs point).

I want to take a moment here to talk about tournament etiquette, too.  By this time, it was late and we were all very stressed and tired.  Marcus’s crew is also super complicated, since all of his models can mutate and gain new abilities, and the mutations shift around turn to turn.  I have to apologize to Jeremy here.  On several occasions throughout the game, I asked “hold on, what about [x]?” only to informed each time that, actually, [y].  Jeremy was a good sport about it, but I think he was probably getting pretty annoyed at my second-guessing, especially since he was right 100% of the time.  Players: you should be proactive in asking questions about what your opponent’s dudes do.  Do not just play, then retroactively ask clarifying questions.  It’s bad strategically, and it’s bad form, since too much of it makes it seem like you’re accusing your opponent of something.  Jeremy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry if I came across that way.  You were a mensch and a great opponent.  Your crew just does a lot of stuff.  I know mine does, too, but you weren’t doubting my ability to do stuff.

The Grand Finale

Five games in the bag, all that was left was to pack up and await the results.  As mentioned above the first tiebreaker in a Malifaux tournament is total differential, while the second is total points scored.  During round 3 (or 4, I forget) someone in the X-0 bracket had tied, so the results were odd– there was more than 1 player with 0 losses, so even an X-1 score wasn’t a guarantee of a podium spot.

fabulous prizes!

In the end, I took fourth, placing just under David/Haku.  We had the same number of match points and the same differential, but he had three more overall points scored than me.  That’s a frustrating situation– missing out on a trophy by 1 point– and of course my thoughts naturally turned to where I could have scored 1 more (or denied 1 more) throughout the weekend.  Against Landon, for instance, I could have readily made it 5-4 instead of 5-3.  I probably should have scored myself a fourth strat point in that last game against Jeremy, too, when we talked it out.

But you can’t think like that.  You do your best, every time, and you trust that’s enough.  David probably had places he could have scrounged an extra point too.  In the end, I’m proud of myself.  I played against some world-class players this weekend.  I played against crews I’d never faced before.  My opponents ran the gamut from totally new to seasoned vets, and I don’t think I ever disgraced myself.

It was heartening to see so much Malifaux being played.  The transition from 2nd to 3rd edition was pretty rough, coming around the same time COVID hit, and the game has struggled since then– but it’s in a great place now, and Malifaux Burns was a really fantastic release that’s pumped new life into the metagame.  We had a healthy group here, a great turnout, and Captaincon is already talking about next year’s events.  We’ll be doing an MCCI again and another 5-rounder for sure.  In the meantime, I have tons of local tournaments to go to, and I’ll be at NOVA as well.  The Faux Tour– our national ranking, like the ITC– is just firing up, too.  This was its second event (after the LVO).  And this has been, to my knowledge, the largest in-person Malifaux tournament of the year.  Granted, it’s February, but even counting last year, 32 players might be the most.

The game’s in a great place right now.  The community’s in a great place.  And I am super grateful to Jesse Ellis and the rest of the Captaincon crew for setting this up.  Thanks for providing us with a place to play the game we love.  Until next time… keep it Wyrd!

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