Thursday, 27 July 2017

Agram Arena 2017 Report

I tried twice unsuccessfully t travel to Croatia for this Malifaux tournament but each time life got in the way. I kept saying that third time's the charm and it actually can be as I finally managed to go over there this year. My arrival wouldn't have taken place if it hadn't been for Marko Paunoic, the president of UMS Agram. He kept on motivating me to come and helped me with arranging everything in Croatia.
The event is organized by the UMS "Agram" club from Zagreb. It is actually an annual series of events that include X-Wing, WH40K, and Malifaux tournaments as well a the Black Queen painting competition. Thanks to the flexibility of the club, I've been able to take part in the last one three times already and managed to win a few awards there.This year the painting competition took place one week before the tournament so I sent my entries ahead of time and managed to win 4 medals;


2nd in Single model category

3rd in Masterclass category

3rd in Crew Category

3rd in Large/Monster Category

As always, the competition was strong and I was very happy with my results. I also got to see some of the works that placed higher from up close, and that gave me some ideas about how to make my entries even better next year. I will definitely be back with my works for Black Queen in 2018!

The tournament took place last weekend (July 22nd and 23rd) but I arrived earlier and had half of Friday to do some sightseeing in Zagreb. First I let my stuff at the hostel. I ended u in Bureau Hostel. UMS "Agram" provides free stay for one night (from Saturday to Sunday) if you are there for the first time. The hostel is clean, breakfasts are good and there's enough choice of products to keep you going for a few days before you get bored. I was in one room with 4 guys from Austria (they were also there for the tournament) and we were all pleasantly surprised with the cash-value ratio (they also stayed one night longer).



I was lucky as I was given a tour of the city by a local (Marko Paunovic) and that beats anything that a person from any tourist agency can provide.


We decided that a solid lunch would be the best idea to start with and I ordered some Ćevapi (a grilled dish of minced meat, a type of skinless sausage) along with some side dishes. It was delicious and it gave me a lot of energy I needed for walking around the city in the heat (the temperatures was above 30C, which was a big change compared to Poland, where we're having the coldest summer in 13 years). I won't go into detail here but I want to share a couple of pictures I took that day along with brief comments.


Zagreb Cathedral, some refer to it as "Croatian Sagrada Famila" as it seems to be in a permanent state of renovation, seen from up close and from a distance.

Croatian National theatre and a monument of Miroslav Krleža, a prominent 20th century writer



The Lotrščak Tower, from which a cannon is fired every noon and a street next to it with some old fashioned gas lamps
Museum of Broken Relationships, one of the modern landmarks in Zagreb, maybe I'll have time to come in next time

St. Mark's Church

Zagreb is a medieval town, and as such it's located at an elevation. It gives its narrow streets unique character. It looks impressive, especially in the upper part of the city.

St. George and the Dragon


I really enjoyed walking around the city and learning a bit about it. I was a bit surprised by a relative low number of people I saw in the streets. Everything became clear at night. At this time the city truly wakes up and becomes filled with crowds, and festive atmosphere takes over.
There was a meeting in a local pub organized for all the participants of the tournament. Most of the people showed up and it was loud, hot (the temperatures get lower only late in the night), and very enjoyable. I got to meet other participants of the event, and chat with them about the game and other, "less" serious issues.

Pre-tournament meeting
On the next day the tournament started and I had enough time to take some pictures of the tables before it became full. Overall, I was really happy with the terrain. Each table had a theme and all the terrain used on it fit perfectly. There were many smaller obstacles that were treated as hard and blocking cover, plenty of forests and some very nicely painted buildings. The only thing that was missing and I see it quite often in my local meta was the terrain that could be treated as hazardous. Also, only one table had a mat with deployment zones, which is pretty common in my area. It wasn't a problem though, as it was easy to find the middle line on each of them. Here's how they were arranged.













Sponsors of the event.
I won't be able to report all my games in great detail. Time flies by so fast for me and I get tunnel vision on my table. It is hard enough for me to concentrate on what is happening, taking extra notes would be too much.

When I registered for Agram Arena in early Spring, I had plenty of time to prepare and hone my skills. I quickly calculated that I should be able to take part in at least six tournaments and play a few friendly games before the event. As Fate would have it (pun intended), I didn't play a single game since that time and came completely unprepared for the tournament (at least from competitive gaming experience). I'm not a WAAC type of player, and I mostly enjoy just having fun while gaming. However, my pragmatic mind told me that I should set the goals for the event taking into account my lack of practice. I decided that m minimalist plan would be to win at least one game (and have fun during all six).

I played all my games using Neverborn Zoraida. The main reason is simple - I just like the miniatures from her crew visually, and that's always a key criterion for me. Game-wise, she can adapt to a lot of situations and her crew (mainly thanks to Voodoo Doll and McTavish) can make good use of every suit, even at a low value.
My core crew was:
- Zoaida with Wings of Darkness (for the extra card when stoning at the beginning of turn) and in almost every game with Animal Shape (with Undercover Entourage it's a no-brainer but it also gives her and Wisp a lot of mobility),
- McTavish, in some games with Malifaux Provides as insurance policy against unexpected conditions and for some extra healing. He's just an amazing model. Expensive, but the ability to hist from 14's away without randomization is just fantastic. Also, his defensive tricks, synergies with other Swampfiends are very good.
- Doppelganger with A Thousand Faces (which was changed for Retribution's Eye in pretty much every game). Basically she was there to make sure I win the initiative and to copy McTavish's attacks,
- Spawn Mother as she is a solid beatstick and can bring in Gupps every turn. Her ability to charge for free can catch people off guard too.
- two Will-O-Wisps to make sure I can copy Zoraida's and Spawn Mother's (2) abilities, and to be generally annoying.
- Iggy/Nurse to either put a ton of burning on opponent when Frame for Murder is in the pool or to keep them Paralyzed. I find them mutually exclusive as in my experience one is usually good enough to take one key model out of game and keep it that way for longer.

Other than that I also used Lilitu (with a + from Zoraida's obey she becomes very strong), Tuco (as bait for FFM), and Waldgeist or Juju as a tarpit in one game where I didn't expect a lot of killing to be done.

DAY ONE

And we're off!


Game 1
Deployment: Standard 
Strategy: Turf War
Schemes: Claim Jump, Eliminate the Leadership, Accusation, Hidden Trap, Inspection

I faced Tomislav from Croatia. It was funny in that I knew they guy from some trades we've done over the FB groups and some chats there. He always seemed like a nice person and proved to be a one in real life. He brought Tara with Nothing Beast, Scion, two Void Wretches, Death Marshal, Hannah, and Malifaux Child.


I've never faced this master before so I didn't really know what to expect. Tomislav went through all his models and gave me a good summary of each, but I didn't have time to process all the information well enough.
It was a game with very little killing (only my Waldgeist died during the course of the battle), lots of paralyzing and burying. I chose ETL as I'd wanted to launch Doppelganger at Tara with Retribution's Eye to ignore her Df trigger. I did that and fired three shots at her in turn one but only one connected and did very little damage, my deck wasn't with me then. A moment later Tara reactivated, released the Nothing Beast and accompliced it. This caught me off guard and even though my Doppelganger survived its 4 attacks, she got buried in the end. I would have been much better off obeying the Nurse to move forward and putting paralyze on Tara with Take your Meds action. After that there was a lot of maneuvering to ensure some VP. Tomislav took Inspection and managed to score from it as I Black Jokered an attack flip that would have hurt my Voodoo Doll hemmed with his wounded Void Wretch.  In the end it all came down to last few activations. I managed to put Entrenched Condition on Tara and then flew in with Zoraida and used Repulsive to push Tara away. She had no cards in hand at this point so I succeeded and damaged her below half of her wounds, netting me a much needed VP.
Final score: 3:3



Post game thoughts: I think I shouldn't have chosen Claim Jump, scoring from any other three would be easier for me but I only came to this conclusion after the game ended. Also, I could have made better use of the Nurse as she can easily paralyze two models a turn (one through the doll and one independently of that). The conditions she can put on models can simply make them useless for a turn and I must learn to take advantage of that.
It was a rather slow game without many duels but with plenty of positioning and repositioning. My opponent was great to play against and in the end we both agreed that a draw is a result that nicely summarized how the game went.



Game 2
Deployment: Flank
Strategy: Headhunter
Schemes: Claim Jump, Frame for Murder (Tuco), Leave your Mark, Covert Breakthrough, Recover Evidence


In this game I faced my Croatian Doppelganger, Tvrtko. He is still fairly new to the game and has access to limited number of models. He brought Sonnia with the Emissary, an Executioner, Witchling Handler, two Witchling Stalkers, and an Austringer. I deployed Tuco (my FFM target) in a position that would threaten my opponent immediately. LYM was also a no-brainer since we were deployed in a way that would make it easy for me to walk a it and drop markers either with my core models or with summoned Gupps.
our deployment
I was careful with picking my targets as I was afraid of triggering FFM, so I made sure Iggy (with Depression upgrade) had his hands busy. In turn 1 I burnt the Emissary to Death (with some help from McTavish), but made a big mistake of placing a scheme marker in LoS of the Emissay and ended u with an Executioner right next to my Doppelganger. I didn't worry though as I was probably going to win initiative turn 2.


Well, it didn't happen as Tvrtko stoned for initiative flip and got a Red Joker and immediately activated Executioner. Miraculously, the Doppelganger survived (Manipulative ate three cards from my opponent's hand) and run away to start placing markers for LYM farther. Tuco managed to break from engagement with a Stalker and Handle, lured Sonnia to him, and put some serious damage on her. It forced my opponent to activate her and act, and I was more than happy to let him kill him for three VP for me (even though I did tank some hits before I let Tuco die).
Turn 3 I was in full control of the situation on the board despite my opponent scoring 1 for Headhunter after the Executioner made short work of Will-O-Wisp. I felt so confident that I obeyed McTavish to do a pot shot on a Witchling Stalker, killing him after a Red Roker flip for Attack. I got greedy and paid for it as it was my opponent's Frame for Murder target.
It was a very enjoyable game, we both had a very relaxed attitude to the competitive aspect of the game and just enjoyed playing it. Tvrtko did really well with the limited resources (he hasn't bought the Latigo Posse box so obviously no Frank and he didn't have Malifaux Child, double Flame Walls would be perfect for this table) he had and forced me to think on my feet a few times.
Final score: 8-4 for me.
Post game thoughts: My plan to feed Sonnia a model per turn (Gupps were perfect for it) and keep my other important models engaged worked perfectly. Iggy performed very well and I should have used him more after removing the Emissary.


Game 3
Deployment: Close
Strategy: Interference
Schemes: Claim Jump, Eliminate the Leadership, Dig their Graves, Leave Your Mark, A Quick Murder

In my last game on the first day I faced Ivan from Croatia. He brought Seamus with Copycat Killer, Bells, Doxy, Izamu, Sybelle.

Deployment

I realized that killing Seamus would be very hard so I chose to kill Izamu. However, I played my hand too early and shot at him with Doppelganger (with Retribution's Eye) before he got closer and gave him a chance to run away. After that I spent the rest of the game throwing everything I had at him but without Iggy I lacked damage potential from the distance. In the end I teleported a Will-O-Wisp after copying Zoraida's Animal Shape and hitting Izamu to take away his last wound at the end of turn 3. I also scored one from LYM (Gupps of course). I tried to paralyze Seamus with a Nurse as I had a 13 of crows in hand but failed the Terror duel.At that point we had about 15 minutes left and my opponent suggested calling it a game. We were both tired (mental fatigue is a real thing, especially when you play in a room that feels like the inside of a sauna), and I don't have a power gamer in me so I agreed and we shook hands after a good, competitive game that could have gone very differently.
Final score: 4-1 for me.
Post game thoughts: Getting greedy too early can spell doom and I shouldn't have attacked with Doppelganger so early. Unfortunately, as one of my next games will show, I don't learn too fast from my mistakes.

At the end of day one I had two victories and one draw, which mode me one of the highest ranking players. That was way more than I could have expected.  It meant that I'd be playing other players from the top on the following day. Still, there was plenty of time and the guys were already packing their stuff and heading towards a bar.

End of day one


DAY TWO

The first game of day 2 started at 10:45, which was good as we got some sleep before the second day of the event. I took some pictures of the area where the venue is located on my way.



Game 4
Deployment: Corner
Strategy: Extraction
Schemes: Claim Jump, Frame for Murder (Zoraida), Accusation, Show of Force, Hunting Party

I this game I faced Tristan, a Henchman from Austria and his Nelly. I've never faced this master before and had a vague idea of how she works. I knew the she the most unusual Guild master in that she's more about pushing models around and manipulating than killing. 
My opponent brought her Totem, Aionus, McTavish, Burt Jebsen, Guild Sergeant, two Guild hounds. It was my only game in which I used Bad Juju and I put Eternal Fiend on him and a Thousand Faces.
I expected this to be a tough game so I decided to try thinking a bit out of the box with the choice of schemes and chose FFM on Zoraida and Accursation.

My opponent's deployment
Turn one was all about positioning and I clearly saw that my opponent's skill was on a higher level. He was very careful in moving his models, did a lot of pre-measuring and positioned them very well. Aionus sat in the middle and had the non-condition upgrade and the rest stayed a little behind with Guild sergeant and Hounds doing Claim jump in two different corners. 

Extraction marker from Customeeple
I activated Juju and moved him close to the middle, changing his upgrade to Fears Given Form. It might have been a surprising manouvre, but Tristan reacted very well and simply pushed the Swamp beast back into the middle of my crew, causing me huge problems to do anything there.
I managed to paralyze Nellie at the beginning of next turn with my Nurse and flew Zoraida in, and used Repulsive. My thinking as that doing so (eliminating the possibility to push models back into the centre with paralyze on Nellie) would force my opponent to deal with the Hag. Unfortunately, it was too late and we didn't get to play another turn. I managed to push McTavish in and put "Accused" on opposing McTavish, but he had a marker to push away and remove it, limiting my score to mere two VPs.

Final scene of the game
Final score: 6-2 for my opponent
Post game thoughts: I should have waited at least one more turn with swapping upgrades on Juju. Throwing him further into my opponent's half would also force him to take some action and he'd probably hesitate about killing him with FFM in the pool. Also, Lilitu would be a very good choice here and I wished I had taken her. I could have lured a hound close (making it impossible for the other one to do anything significant) and simply keep paralyzing him and putting Accused to score a VP per turn. I think I might have got a draw there, not sure about possibility of victory as I had no experience with dealing with Nellie and my opponent was obviously more experienced and skilled than I.


After that it was time to choose the best painted army of the tournament. Four best were chosen and placed next to one another. My army was among them but ended up as third. Ana's atmospheric Swampfiends (themed around the Witcher universe, which is always a plus in my book) took the first place and Louis's Neverborn on an impressive display board took the second. I will definitely have to work on the presentation of my works if I come to compete again as it draws more attention and improves the overall impression. Still, I think that Ana won deservedly as that crew stood out the most and I would have chosen it as well (the finalists were not allowed to vote in the competition).






Game 5
Deployment: Close
Strategy: Stake a Claim
Schemes: Claim JumpEliminate the Leadership, Frame for Murder, Tail'em, Last Stand

This was a tricky pool. I faced Louis from Austria, a very positive guy who fielded Dreamer with Coppelius and a lot of cheap minions (two Wicked Dolls, two Insidious Madnesses, two Tots, Daydream and some other stuff I might have forgotten). I saw that keeping up with the Strategy would be very hard so I decided to use Tuco, deploy him so that he's be an immediate threat, and not use him as my FFM target, just to mess with my opponent's head a little. Doppelganger was there to use Retribution's Eye and take Dreamer down. Claim Jump was the only other scheme that made sense to me as Tail'em would be very hard to pull off on a very mobile Dreamer. On the other hand, there was very little terrain higher than 3' so I knew my opponent would easily score from Tail'em.
Once again, I got too focused on killing the Dreamer. I positioned Doppelganger so that she'd be able to copy Tuco's Shotgun attack at the beginning of turn 2 but forgot that Louis hadn't activated a nearby Mysterious Effigy and a moment later she came forward to engage my Doppelganger.



Despite that, I started next turn with copying a Ca action from Insidious Madness, put some damage on the Dreamer and he was forced to hide in the ruins in the middle of the board. He was soon surrounded with Gupps, Spawn Mother, and Tuco. I killed him, earned 4VP but involved half of my crew in doing so. We had to call it a game after turn 3.
Final score: 6-4 for my opponent
Post game thoughts: Once again, focusing on killing didn't work out for me. I think that if the game had lasted longer I might have caught up with my opponent. His FFM target was far away and I didn't plan to attack him. Still, I was outmanouvred by a very good oponent whose crew was a big surprise for me and after focusing too much on the Dreamer I found myself short handed.



Game 6
Deployment: Standard
Strategy: Collect the Bounty
Schemes: Claim Jump, Dig Their Graves, Leave Your Mark, Undercover Entourage, Search the Ruins

In my final game I faced Vinko from Croatia. He brought Kaeris with her Totem, Mechanical Rider, Shastar Vidiya Guard,Gunsmith, Johan, Union Miner, and a Fire Gamin.
I started with killing the totem (Retribution's Eye on Doppelganger) and managed to Paralyze Johan and Kaeris (whom I lured close to the core of my force). Kaeris found harself surrounded by Swampfiends, which increased McTavish's Sh value to 11. Despite that I failed to put serious damage on her as I had lousy hand and bad flips and my opponent kept on spending soulstones (he had a cache of 7) on defense or damage prevention flips.


Next turn I managed to paralyze Mechanical Rider thanks to a focused Hem from the Doll. My Will-O-Wisps were surviving ridiculous amounts of attacks but one of them died along with Gupps. I killed a Fire Gamin summoned earlier by the Rider (it was within 4' of my Marker so I scored for DtG). We had 15 minutes to go so we agreed that we'd simply finish turn 3 and see how it plays out. My mind switched off for a second and I ignored the fact that Johan got pushed by Shastar Vidiya Guard and now could remove condition from Kaeris. She activated and flew into my deployment zone. Everything hinged on Lilitu's next move. I moved her towards the centre and tried to lure Kaeris out of my deployment zone. I flipped (at that point I had no cards in hand), and managed to get a higher total. After that I fle Zoraida across the board and placed her in my opponent's deployment zone. He tried to charge her with a miner, but didn't manage to get her below half of her wounds.
Final score: 3-3
Post game thoughts: Undercover Entourage is a no-brainer for Zoraida with Animal Shape as it's really hard to prevent her from scoring full 3 VP from this scheme.
I think I was a bit overconfident as I thought I'd just shoot my opponent's models to pieces as they were coming towards me. I failed in putting significant damage on Kaeris and as a result had no way to deny her VP. I think that if the game had lasted longer we would have both scored close to 10 VP as Vinko proved to be a very good strategist. Perhaps I shouldn't have lured Kaeris close to me but then I didn't expect her to survive as much as she did.

And that was it, in the end I placed 9th out of 21 contestants, which I think is not a bad result at all considering my lack of preparation. I had a blast in Croatia and each of my games was played without any problems and without any need to call TO to clarify rules. Each of the participants left with some kind of gift, such as bases or tokens for Malifaux, which I think was a nice touch. All the top 5 places were taken by Austrians who dominated throughout the event. First place for Ressers, 2nd for Guild and 3rd for the Neverborn.


I've never player Malifaux outside of Poland and using only English actually makes everything simpler as you don't waste tame interpreting translation (which can happen here, although on rare occasions). Each of my opponents (and while I'm writing about it, I can just as well say it concerns all the people I met and talked with) spoke fluent English and there wre no issues with understanding each another.

I brought a few souvenirs home with me

On both days we had food delivered to the venue where we played and we were able to choose two meals for Saturday and Sunday on the first day of the event. The meals were good, filling, and kept me going during the day.
The venue was spacious and there was enough space between tables to sit and play comfortably. Obviously - it's Croatia so temperatures at this time of year are high so at some point it became very hot inside. Still, I prefer that to staying in an air-conditioned room as the difference in temperatures can be bad for health then.

I think that the picture below will summarize this text very well - a group of friendly people who know the game well enough to enjoy playing it and have a blast doing so. I do want to return next year and if life doesn't get in the way, I definitely will.



And if you still haven't had enough, here are some more pictures from the tournament (obviously, those with a watermark are here courtesy of UMS "Agram").
Calculating final scores

Marco "El Presidente" doing his thing

This is what happens if you ask Croats to take a pic for you :)



More about the thing you see in the middle in my next review, probably next week



Best Sportsmanship award
This year I got to personally receive medals for my Black Queen entries
















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