I have to respectfully disagree with so much of what you are saying here and how you are advising people to play. I have been reading this thread with varying degrees of amusement and horror for a while now. I finally decided I should respond because I like Hamelin, I want him to work, I want people to play him and figure him out, I want them to succeed and have a good time and would like Wyrd to make some changes to fix the things that don’t work. Many of the topics here are counter productive to those goals.
I played Hamelin all through beta. I got in a minimum of 2 games a week through both closed and open stages. Since beta about 1/3rd of my games have been with Hamelin. Through all that experience against competitive players every week, I can assert most of the things you suggesting don’t work. In some cases you are suggesting things that just set anyone interested in Hamlin up for failure... Such as asserting that playing Hamelin is about managing 3 interlocking bubbles...What?!? No! Stop! Let’s Start with the elephant in the room: The “Benny Engine”
This is not a thing. I know how the cards suggest its supposed to work and I know you really want it to work, but if your opponent is at all competent you will get shut down every time. AP economy in 3E is super important. To get 3 or 4 markers down for Benny to hat so you can get a single rat king costs a minimum of 5 actions (less if you waste stones on hiring rats; more if you need to get into position around terrain) and a 8+ card..... GREAT so now you have 4 markers after you have activated 4 models. Benny activates to turn them into rats… You’re almost there!! Your opponent activates before you can tangle together, uses any number of movement tricks in the game and easily range kills 1 rat. Now all of that work is gone with no pay off. With 1 activation they have wasted the thing you spent almost your entire turn's worth of actions doing. In the mean time they have taken their actions towards their goals. That is just one way that the complex Rube Goldberg machine of the “Benny Engine” can be disrupted. It’s not going to happen..stop trying to make it happen. There are so many stronger ways to try to play Hamlin then hanging your whole strategy on Benny; a model for the most part really needs a re-balance to find a reliable place in either of his keywords. He is an 8 point model with no defensive tech, who has to ditch a card when hit to make a rat when hit (should be free or at least on a trigger) He has a decent blade (but if you are engaged with him, he is just dead anyway) and a weakish short range gun. If your opponent knows what they are doing, the moment he sticks his head out to do his thing they remove him from the table with little effort. SO, You own Benny, love his model, painted him and really want to get him on the table. I get it. So lets think about how could he possibly work. Since we have been theory crafting for the last 3 pages add some more: Hire models that are going to get scheme markers on the table without wasting actions. Bring in a couple OOK Bandit models with Drop It! (Banditos, Dead Outlaws, Sue) Focus on saving your Books to get the trigger. After a few markers are out, maneuver Benny in and make the rats. Will it work? I don't know. I haven't tried it, but its more efficient than wasting actions and the precise positioning nonsense required to place markers with basic actions.
Note: This is not an engine. This is generating rats while you are accomplishing other things, which is how you should think about playing the Hamelin crew in general. Hamelin is not a summoner like he was in 2E. He is a late game scaling control master. He does make rats, that can turn into kings, but all of that should be happening while you are laying down blight, killing models, and scoring points. It happens naturally almost without you having to try if you are making the right choices along the way. Now let’s talk about that other completely garbage model in the crew: The Winged Plague. This is a 4 point scheme runner with no defensive tech and weak attacks. It loses a 1v1 fight against almost any other scheme runner in the game. Sure you get to put a blight on a model when it dies, but who cares. Hamlin has so many ways to get more blight on your opponent than you will ever need. Also if this scheme runner is doing its job, it is off away from the rest of your crew attempting to complete goals. There will probably be no one else near to follow up on that 1 blight you just splattered on that other scheme runner’s face. I tried to make this model work so many times, in so many ways. It is a super cool looking model that is a total waste of points. They need something to bring them in line with other 4pt models and make them worth the hire. Some ideas have been: Armor+1, Incorporeal, concealment aura, or even give me back a SS after they die. Any of those would work. Compare the Winged Plague to the Midnight stalker for 8 points. This is a model that gets fast on the opponent’s side of the board. With leap you can reliably make this true before turn 2. So you have a model that has essentially 4 AP, is Manipulative, (which with Hamelin MS is ALWAYS activating last) and a revive every turn! It can do all the work of 2 WPs for the same cost, and kill most scheme runners in less than one activation AND survive till the end of the game. With that comparison I don’t understand why you aren’t tearing up your Winged Plague cards right now. So what is core Hamelin? 3 models: Nix, Ow and MS. There are a few pools where MS is not necessary but for the most part I take these in 90% of my Hamlin games. That’s it. You don’t NEED anything else. Nix is the best tar pit in the game and OW is nuts for a 5 point model. Hiring in a rat king or 2 is usually a good idea. Putting Servant on one of those kings is a nice touch. Having a rat catcher at the start of the game also is good in scheme heavy pools or if you think you want to keep him close to a murder team to make rats on death. One of the strengths in Hamelin is his crew functions fairly well in doing what it is designed to do with very few SS spent on core models. This leaves A LOT of points available for versatile or OOK hires. Hamlin is a decent option when you want a lot of stones to counter-pick your opponent's master declaration.
So what other models to choose? I don’t like Hamelin’s crew to rely on functioning in a bubble around him. It leaves you too vulnerable and you have so many models on the table you end up blocking your self in half the time. I tend to build crews that function in small teams like Sue and a Rat King or Barbaros and Pride. Hamlin tends to stay near Nix or drift around where his Source of Contagion and Bleeding Disease can have the most effect. I always keep one Stolen within agony range, another Stolen one action from Agony range and all three of them safe. OW stays with Hamelin and always out of danger as well. Hamelin protects these squishes until they can defend themselves late game. Sometimes they don't need a lot of protection. With Serene Countenance, Stealth and Manipulative(OW) they can hang right out there in the open against most crews with few repercussions. Be extra careful though if you are facing a crew that gets free focus or +flips. One strong path to go is to hire models that force WP duels. You are going to want to run Nix into the faces of your opponents most valuable models. You want Taste of Failure covers as many of the opponents pieces as possible and hold them there. The more WP duels you can force the better. With this Nix stays at full health, covering everything with blight and doing a little damage in the process. No matter how hard your opponent beats on Nix he wont go down if your activation order is right. They have to make the hard choice to sink innumerable AP into him or ignore him. Pride is a Great Choice for feeding Nix with WP duels, as is Marlena Webster. I love MW in Hamlin, not only for Entropic Withering, but also because she is a beast on damage with a 2/4/5 track that ignores H2K and H2W. She is also a great guard piece for your squishes with Soul Tether that can save a clutch rat, or stolen... or really anything else. With all that and a self heal, she does so much work in a Hamlin crew, it is insane. The other thing a Hamlin player needs to think about is denial. This is a point you made and I agree with it. Hamlin’s early game is about denying the opponents points and disrupting their plans while your power builds (I don’t agree however that you do this at the expense of scoring your own points. You should be able to do both) Hamlin’s Lure is one of the strongest assets in your tool box. You should always be looking for models that are out of position or trying to score points, make them really out of position and then punish them for it. Pride and Barbaros are both great hires to assist in disruption. Barbaros gives you a second lure, and 2 WP duels to feed Nix. Both of these limit enemy choices. Pride makes your opponent sad by doing what he does and his main attack also feeds Nix. The down side to Pride is he forces bubble again and he needs protection from other models….like **Marlena**. This article comes up all the time when people discuss competitive play. It is written for M:TG but it applies really well to most PvP strategy games. It says that in every game one player will be the killer and one will be the controller. It talks about how important it is before the game starts to know if you or your opponent is going to be the killer. If you aren't the killer, you have to be the controller. Obviously the killer will be the one with the most damage potential. Hamlin makes this decision really easy. At the start of the game you are always the controller. Then as the game progresses and blight stacks Hamlin has the potential to become the Killer. You have to reassess your state at the start of every turn and switch to the Killer as soon as you see an opening. This can be complicated if your early game doesn't go as well. It things go your way, Turns 4 and 5 are pretty obvious. If you have been protecting your stolen and your Wretch they should all be focused and ready to lay down the hurt with 8 attacks that together can kill pretty much anything as long as it has 3 blight. Hamlin and Nix should focus on your opponents more core models with their Bleeding Disease threatening 6-10 damage on a hit. This is where the kings start regularly popping out. I might sac a stolen to make that happen here but only if really necessary. I find that they are way more beneficial alive.
The truth of the matter is that Hamlin is an incredibly difficult master to play. He is below the curve on power for the faction. He has two pretty bad models in his keyword and its hard to find a pool where Hamelin would be my first choice. I have A LOT of games under my belt and I still don’t feel completely confident with him when I bring him out of the case. I have been down a long road with him though and I have found a bunch of things that don’t work. I see so many things mentioned in this thread that are on that list. I hope this helps other people skip the frustrating bit of banging their heads against things that seem like they should work but don’t. Stay away from the "Benny Engine", lock your Winged Plagues in a closet until they get buffed, focus on laying down blight, denial and control. Then one shot everything Bleeding Disease and vomit children.