Saturday, 5 July 2014

Big Trouble in Little Malifaux - Yan Lo

Yeah, so it’s been another few weeks since my last blog post. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with this pace but in a sense it can’t be helped – real life, as always is getting in the way and I’ve found myself with limited free time to spend on an ever-increasing number of responsibilities. Painting and writing for the blog has unfortunately taken a back seat. I’m still intent on catching up with this blog (somehow!) but the Rainbow Challenge is definitely living up to its name! I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel though, so this isn’t over yet, not by a long shot!

Anyway, this blog post is all about Lo Pan Yan Lo and in particular, my game against local Charles with Pandora! Yan Lo is a crew I’ve only played against once in M2E (in my game with Dreamer against Paul). Paul was only just getting into grips with Mr Lo himself so while I did get to see some of his tricks as an opponent, Yan Lo unfortunately never got to realise his full potentiual before getting eaten by Lord Chompy Bits. On the plus side however, it did give me a starting point from which I got a few ideas on what I wanted to try myself.

It took ages, but it was worth the time spent. :)

The Paint Job
It’s interesting in itself that I’m talking about Yan Lo right after Kirai because in a sense, my experience in building both crews were quite opposite. As I said in the last blog post, your average Kirai crew seems to involve painting A LOT of models – 7 of the required ones don’t even have a SS cost attached! But the positive was that at least the spirits were easy to paint and in most cases, easy to assemble too. Yan Lo, both for better and worse, was a different beast altogether.

Yan Lo has a very defined set of models for his crew. After the buying the starter crew you really only need the three Ancestors (Izamu/Yin/Toshiro) for 9 models, then MAYBE a few other cheap Resser minions to help with certain Strategies and Schemes. So the required model count is quite respectable, especially for a Resurrectionist crew. The negative is that being some of the first plastic models released by Wyrd, Yan Lo’s crew presents some, uh, interesting challenges to your average gamer! First there’s the ridiculously small and easy to lose Yan Lo’s beard, a piece that’s got its own exclamation (“By Yan Lo’s Beard!”) and is probably one step away from developing its own meme. But that’s not the end of it. Spindly bits seem to be a common part of the crew, especially the Ashigaru, so even once they’re assembled the models seem to be quite fragile and difficult to store safely. Certainly my Battlefoam Breach Bag is ill equipped to hold most of Yan Lo’s crew!

Finally there’s the painting of Yan Lo’s crew. Now while they’re not as simple to paint as Kirai’s Spirits, they’re probably about average in painting difficulty compared to other crews. Unfortunately for me I decided to go with a rusted, old look to the crew. It was an approach I wasn’t entirely familiar with and as a result, it took me quite a while to figure out. All in all, it took me close to TWO MONTHS to complete Yan Lo. Not good when I’m working to a deadline for this Rainbow Challenge!

Anyway, despite all this I must admit I’m satisfied with the end product. Yan Lo’s crew seem to look the part and it gave me another chance to use the great transparent bases that Wyrd supplies! In pictures you’ll see that I’ve gone with green but at the moment the bases are temporarily fixed to the inserts. The green just feels a little to rich for the crew’s colour scheme, so I’m first hoping to try the recently released (?)“Rootbeer” bases before settling on a colour.

The Game
45SS, Standard Deployment
Strategy: Squatter’s Rights
- Line in the Sand
- Breakthrough
- Assassinate
- Spring Trap
- Murder Protege

The List
Yan Lo
- Reliquary
- Brutal Khalkhara
- Command the Graves
- Pull of the Grave
- Unnerving Aura
Soul Porter
2x Canine Remains

For this game I diverged a little from my usual practice of taking the starter box plus some extras – I figured the Ashigaru should be easy enough to summon with Toshiro later in the game. It also gave me room to fit in some of the models I really wanted to try, specifically Yin but also the Nurse, who’s ability to heal and paralyse a friendly model can be downright brutal with a model that can remove conditions (Chiaki). The Canine remains were there mostly to act as flankers and claim unguarded Squatters Rights markers, but I also figured their ability to dig up corpses would help me summon some Ashigaru, cards allowing.

I have to admit I’ve always been a bit anti-Toshiro in the past, but after hearing other people’s opinion of him and reading his card, I found that I couldn’t say no to his inclusion. He really is a great piece. The notable exclusion in this crew is, of course, Izamu. To be honest I mainly decided against taking him because after using him with Kirai, I already know he’s a great model. I didn’t feel the need to prove that again with Yan Lo, especially when his exclusion allowed me to take models I really wanted to try instead (ie. Yin!).

For upgrades I went with what I thought was most appropriate. Toshiro got Command the Graves for the summoning, while Chiaki got Pull of the Grave for the very useful debuff attack it gives. Unnerving Aura seemed appropriate for Yin, who’s very well equipped for keeping models within her melee range. Yan Lo’s upgrades were the trickiest of course. Reliquary for the chance to resummon an Ancestor seemed too good not to pass up and thinking ahead to how I might spend Yan Lo’s Chi, I decided on Brutal Khalkhara to give him some additional melee potential. 

The schemes I chose were Assassinate (Pandora) and Murder Protégé (Coppelius)

Charles' crew - I particularly like Candy. ;)

The Result
Charles had taken a Pandora crew basically consisting of the boxed set (Pandy, Sorrow, Poltergeist, Candy and Kade), plus an Insidious Madness, Teddy and Coppelius.

Setup saw both crews deploying roughly in the middle, with the option of a large building near the centre to hide behind. In the first turn, between Toshiro and the Soul Porter, Yan Lo’s entire crew was able to move up quite quickly and take position near the centre, ready to strike at the enemy should they start going for the central objectives. By comparison, Charles advanced his crew cautiously, unsure of how dangerous the opposing crew might be. This proved to be to his detriment, as I took multiple squatters rights markers early and the crew carved through Pandora’s models as they moved in piecemeal. Yin, to her credit took the brunt of the opposing attacks yet survived the entire game, proving to be a major thorn in Charles’s side right up until the end. Yan Lo did his best to Lightning Dance in and out of danger, helping to take out Coppelius and a few other models before the game ended. This was a comfortable win for Yan Lo, although to be fair it was in no small part thanks to Charles not having fully grasped the intricacies of playing a Pandora crew!

 End of Turn 1 - Yin leads the charge as Pandy's crew hangs back. 

Post-game Thoughts
One of the decisions I made early on in this game was that I didn’t want to just sit on Yan Lo’s Chi to benefit from the higher Ca and (if I’d taken the upgrade) boost his Df and Wp from a Fortify the Spirit trigger. Paul had tried that in our Dreamer vs Yan Lo game and at least from my perspective, it really didn’t work out for him. So instead I chose to burn Yan’s Chi whenever I could to start gaining Ascendant upgrades. Unfortunately I got few opportunities to generate more than one Chi per turn until the end of the game, so I only got as far as Ash and Spirit Ascendant before the game finished. On reflection, with so few Chi coming in I probably could have saved my Chi after getting the first Ascendant upgrade, and instead used it to both improve my Ca-based actions and to use his Transcendence action. Speaking of which…

Handing out Armour +2 with Transcendence might not have been that useful against Pandora (what with Misery and all), but it’s otherwise a great buff to hand out. In fact, looking back it seems that I didn’t even try using what is actually a major part of his playstyle – his crew support. Transcendence (for armour) and Instil Youth (for healing) would both be very effective in keeping your crew alive. In fact, the Spirit characteristic given out by Transcendence synergises The Spirit Ascendant’s Fury of the Yomi Action, which grants a free (1) action to up to three friendly spirits. Altogether that seems to make Yan Lo a very effective crew support Master.

Turn 2: Both crews consolidate their position in a standoff between the Squatter's Rights markers.  

I did try the Brutal Khakkhara upgrade in this game and while the minimum 3 damage was nice, in practice it feels a bit average compared to Yan’s usual Spirit Barrage attack. Spirit Barrage may have the same attack value (5) and a worse damage profile (2/3/4), but with the Chi condition the attack stat can be bumped up to 8, plus you can gain yet more Chi with it’s built in trigger (though it does require either dealing severe damage or killing the target). For 1SS Brutal Khakkhara is certainly not a bad upgrade. The damage on disengaging rule, plus the fact that it gets around anti-Ca models makes it worth throwing in. But I suspect its real value comes into play when Yan acquires the Bone Ascendent upgrade (for Hunpo Assault and an ass-load of attacks).

If you've been keeping up with my blog you should have figured out by now that I have a particular fondness for mobility-based tricks, and Yan Lo's crew was certainly not without them either, two of which were Toshiro's War Fan and the Soul Porter's Empower Ancestor (below). In this game I also enjoyed using Yan Lo's Lightning Dance to isolate enemy models by swapping them into the middle of my crew (specifically right next to Yin). It potentially exposes Yan Lo to counter-attack though, which was Paul's downfall when I played his against his Yan Lo crew with Dreamer. So you need to be careful about where he ends up and if he can be pulled back to safety (either with his own AP, the Soul Porter or with help from a Rotten Belle).

While I did take Reliquary on Yan Lo to resummon my Ancestors, in practice it never came into use since none of them died. Still, it makes for an interesting contrast to most other summoners of the game. It plays into his preference for keeping his crew alive rather than replacing nameless fodder with more nameless fodder. Instead, the crew’s “nameless fodder” summoning came from Toshiro and his Command the Graves upgrade. Now in some crews I can see Toshiro’s summoning potential to be not that great, particularly when he’d compete for resources with a more dedicated summoning Master. Nicodem’s the classic example, of course, but even summoners like Kirai or Molly would prefer to keep any high crows for their own summoning. However summoning seems to be a secondary concern for Yan Lo and even when he’s using Rebuild Corpus he requires a Tome, not the Crow Toshiro needs. In this game Toshiro only summoned one Ashigaru, with help from a corpse dropped by a Canine Remains – not a lot but it was still well worth the effort and it certainly made him that much more useful.

Coppelius attempts to take down Yan while a Canine Remains sacrifices himself to hold up Teddy

As for Toshiro himself, much like Iggy he’s one of those models who took a while for me to warm up to. Part of the reason for this was that I didn’t like his model that much but for the most part, I’d never read his stat card in any detail! Toshiro has some good resilience and a nice attack with his Ancestral Katana, but his real strength comes from the buffs he gives to the Minions around him. Daimyo and his (0) Daimyo’s Price action will both dramatically improve the melee potential of any Minions within 6”, and the ability to give Fast (and a 4” push, with the trigger) to a friendly minion with War Fan was something I got a lot of use out of. Specifically it helped me to bringing a summoned Ashigaru into combat, and it sped up a canine remains for flanking duties after dropping his corpse marker in turn 1. With his “in theme” Master he does seem to run slightly counter to Yan Lo’s fondness for Ancestors (none of whom are minions). So similar to other Masters like McCabe (with his Badge of Speed vs Promises upgrades), it’s a matter of striking a balance between Yan Lo’s and Toshiro’s competing synergies.

The Soul Porter is one of those Totems that seems almost an auto-include for their Master. There's just so much that he offers Yan Lo's crew that I honestly don't think you could find a better alternative for 3SS. For that bargain price, the Soul Porter prevents Yan losing his Chi to enemy condition removal, can give +1 Chi to Ancestors when he damages the enemy with his high Ml Bladed Spear attack, pushes friendly Ancestors around with Empower Ancestor and if all else fails, can sacrifice himself to give an Ancestor +1 Chi. His only issue is his relative frailty but otherwise, there's nothing on his card that Yan Lo won't love to have in his crew. 

Yin, I must admit, was great fun. She never did much damage for her cost, but her resilience was just incredible, thanks in no small part to the negative flips against her granted by Mass of Viscera.  Together with Ml 6 and Wicked, she was essentially like glue – once you got her engaged with something, that model was going to have trouble getting away (push and place effects aside, of course). For that reason, Unnerving Aura was a natural fit for her, adding some nice damage to what is otherwise a relatively low-damage model. Yin’s (0) action, Gnawing Fear proved to be pretty strong as well. It’s got a good Ca value, no suit requirement and the negative flip to Wp and Ca can mess with both Casters and basically anyone engaged with Yin (thanks to her Terrifying).

Chiaki’s Pull of the Grave upgrade proved to be very useful. Any attack that hands out slow is pretty respectable in its own right, especially when it can be recast on a trigger. But its real value is that it gives Chiaki something useful to do when she’s not spending her AP on Memories Past (for condition removal) or Purity (for the push pulse). Both of those might be great actions, but they’re also a bit situational and aren’t actions you’d see her doing every single turn IMO. So while Pull of the Grave is not an upgrade that you’d specifically take Chiaki for, if you have a spare Soulstone then it is something that ensures she remains useful throughout the game.

Thanks to some ridiculous flipping, this pair somehow managed to take down Kade...


My initial impression of Yan Lo as a Master was that he played like a block of putty - he starts out pretty generic but with his Chi and Ascendant upgrades he can mould himself into one of a number of different roles. After my game with him I think the clay analogy holds true, but I’m also getting a better idea of what he is, and what he can become.

At his simplest, Yan Lo is a support Master. He can use Lightning Dance for pulling enemy models out of position and then with the help of Transcendence and Instil Youth, can bolster the resilience of his crew and play the attrition game very well. This support aspect can be further improved by Spirit Ascendant (for an obey-like effect on spirits, including those affected by Transcendence) and Ash Ascendant (with the direct anti-movement debuff from Terracotta Curse). His resilience is merely average to start with, but that improves as the game goes on as he accumulates Chi, both for Fortify the Spirit and to gain the Ash and Spirit Ascendant. In terms of damage output he starts off kind of average but again, Brutal Khakkhara and Bone Ascendant upgrades give him the chance to deal a lot of direct damage, if he’s willing to burn the Chi for it.

Improving each of these aspects requires Yan to accumulate and spend Chi, but unless you’re deliberately throwing fodder into the enemy (possibly with some help from the Maniacal Laugh upgrade?) actually generating enough Chi to fully power Yan Lo up is both time consuming and difficult. So at some point, you need to make decisions about what you want Yan to do (Support? Melee? Resiliance?) and use what Chi you have to adapt Yan to that role you need him for.

The whole Chi dynamic even goes as far as forcing Yan Lo to make some tricky decisions about who to use in his crew. Yan’s easiest way to generate Chi is to lose friendly models to enemy attacks, which encourages you to take a crew of cheap minions. But his Ancestor and support synergy pushes Yan toward taking big expensive models that he can buff and resummon. Focusing on one of these crew builds seems to be to Yan Lo’s detriment – you’ll either have lots of Chi but limited opportunities to benefit from it, or a very elite crew to buff but not enough Chi to do it. You definitely need to strike a balance between the two styles.

End of game: The remnants of Pandy's crew fare off against Yan and Friends. 

Anyway, this has gone on for long enough. Overall I have to say I quite enjoyed Yan Lo’s playstyle. His Chi dynamic introduces a degree of complexibility that requires getting used to but once you get your head around it, Yan seems to be a very flexible support Master who can adapt himself to a number of different roles on the fly. He lacks the all-out summoning that other Resurrectionist Masters can achieve, but at least in my books that’s a good thing. As per my Kirai article I realise it’s a powerful mechanic, I’m just not entirely comfortable with the resources usually needed to summon all those models.

Until next time,