Friday, December 20, 2013

Asymmetrical Mission Design for a Better Game - Playtest Mission #1


Feedback has been wonderful to the concept. A number of players and TOs as far ranging as LVO and FOB, 11th Company, ETC, GTGT, AdeptiCon and as many more as we can proactively reach (and if we haven't reached you or you haven't reached us, do so - e-mail me at and I'll get you into the google docs; we're working with a lot of incoming variables in a big hurry, so get on my radar and I'll get you in ... we want no one left out) have been involved in this process already.

The initial mission went up in google docs based on feedback, numerous participants weighed in with comments and edits, it was revised (as well as with continued input from the community) and is now up for playtest. We'll be developing numerous missions anonymously authored in their baseline from numerous different TOs, and then playtested.

For playtest, please be as comprehensive as you can - please include things like images of the deployment zone and objective locations, obviously the armies involved and any other variables you can think of.

Mission #1 - Beta
Note: This mission is currently designed toward fixed objective location and symmetrical terrain. In the future and comprehensively we anticipate not every mission will look like this - the variety needs to allow TOs to tailor their selections from the Catalog to the specific parameters and constraints of their particular tournament environment.

Asymmetrical Tournament Test Mission #1
For purposes of playtesting, we recommend you note down Standard/Alternate and Secondary Escalations prior to rolling any dice. Suggestions for alternate times to reveal and why are welcome! We recommend playing this particular mission in either Vanguard or Dawn of War deployments.

On a separate piece of paper (for playtest), privately note whether you will be playing the Standard Primary or Alternate Primary; also note which Secondary you will be Escalating (see below for more information).
Immediately after rolling to determine deployment zones / place objective markers, both players must reveal their Primary and Secondary choices as noted above.

Primary - Whoever scores the most points from OBJECTIVES wins the Primary
Secondary - Whoever scores the most points from SECONDARIES wins the Secondary

Standard Primary Objectives - Each Objective is worth 3 points if controlled at the end of the game
Alternate Primary Objectives - You score 1 point for each Objective you control at the start of YOUR OWN player turns, not counting the first, sixth or seventh.

You may not score more than 9 points for either the Standard or Alternate version of this mission.

After rolling to determine deployment zones, place 6 objectives in the following fashion:
Place 1 objective in the center of each Table Quarter (12" from the nearest long table edge, 18" from the nearest short table edge)
Starting with the player who won the roll to select deployment zones, each player places one objective in a location of their choosing, no closer than 12" from any other Objective, and no closer than 6" from any table edge

Example: Player A selects to play Alternate Primary Objectives; he controls 3 Objectives at the start of his 2nd Player Turn (3 Points), 2 at the start of his 3rd Player Turn (2 Points), 1 at the start of his 4th Player Turn (1 Point) and none for the remainder of the game. Player B selects to play Standard Primary Objectives and controls 2 Objectives at the end of the game (6 Points). Both players score 6 Points toward the Primary, yielding a tie on Primary.

Each SECONDARY is worth 2 points; ESCALATED SECONDARIES are worth a maximum of 4 points. You must choose to convert one Secondary into its ESCALATED version.

You may score a maximum of 8 points for accomplishing SECONDARIES.

  • First Blood - 2 Points for being the first player to destroy an enemy unit
  • Slay the Warlord - 2 Points for destroying the enemy Warlord
  • Linebreaker - 2 Points for ending the game with a scoring/denial unit in the enemy deployment zone

  • ESCALATED First Blood - Up to 4 Points for destroying more units than your opponent destroys; subtract the # of units your opponent destroyed from the # of units you destroyed; the sum is the # of points you earn for this Escalated Secondary (minimum of 0, maximum of 4); you no longer score any points for achieving Standard First Blood
  • ESCALATED Slay the Warlord - 1 Point for each enemy Character destroyed, to a maximum of 4 points; you no longer score any additional points for destroying the enemy’s Warlord.
  • ESCALATED Linebreaker - 1 Point for each non-Independent Character scoring or denial unit WHOLLY within the enemy's deployment zone at the end of the game, to a maximum of 4 points; you no longer score any additional points for standard Linebreaker.

EXAMPLE: Player A chooses to Escalate First Blood. During the course of the game, he completes Linebreaker (2 Points), Slay the Warlord (2 Points), First Blood (now worth 0 Points) and he destroys 4 more enemy units than his opponent destroys of his (4 Points). He has scored the maximum of 8 Points toward winning Secondary.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Better Mission Design - A More Proactive Direction for Tournament Fairness

Let's go through a mental exercise, talking out something I've been chatting with TOs and players from a wide variety of sources. To be clear, this isn't "Mike's idea." This is the formative beginning and articulation of something that could be a pretty valuable direction to travel. It's been discussed and bantered about by an already-large-ish group of TOs and gamers.

To hammer home a point a little bit - right now one of the more important things for the community is TO interaction. There's a lot of it going on behind the scenes, and there also needs to be a broad band of support I think for those who are in the toughest spot; Feast with early qualifiers and LVO with its event right around the corner, Onslaught at TempleCon, etc.; these guys aren't going to have the freedom to innovate and collaborate as much as others like AdeptiCon, NOVA, etc., might given the timing of the recent buzz of COMP PLEASE going on internet/attendee-wide. So cut 'em some slack and show 'em some love, they're working hard to put on fun events regardless.

I'm going to mock up a bit of back and forth here ... so stay with me. Please note the following represents a CONCEPTUAL example and discussion, not a mathematically and playtest vetted final status. Please read through and think about, therefore, the concept and not what the final nuanced and detailed example will be.

So you're at an 1850 point GT, and you've brought ... let's say ... a Dark Angels army with a ton of Tactical Marines, backed by various and sundry fire support and take-all-comers enhancing options. It's Round 1, and as you're walking up to the table you note the particular rules for the event and see the mission is 6 Objectives, each worth 3 points if held at the end of the game.

You saunter up to the table (oh yes, saunter) and shake your opponent's hand, and as you do you notice he's fielding the dreaded JET STAR. He's got a big old squad of warlocks on jetbikes w/ farseers and baron and 2+ re-rollable saves and the works. You're fairly certain he'll hit the overwhelming odds and roll Fortune and a few Protects and Conceals up, and it's gonna be a nasty unit. His scoring is pretty stock-standard as one of the two ways this list is typically run, and consists of 6 squads of 3 guardian jetbikes.

If you're ANY reasonable player in the 40k universe right now, you're thinking "well crap." Not only is this a tough match, it's arguably impossible. All he has to do is beat you down over the course of the game, contest anything you hold with surviving marines late, and grab at least one objective of his own, and bam ... he gets the win (on primary at that, netting him a higher level of points even in most BP formats).

This is where most of the game centralizes ... the missions from the rulebook and thus dictated into tournament play are primarily objectives (With a KP exception). Even in KP, the same armies do well that are frustrating many players on the tournament scene right now - jetstar, screamerstar, ovestar, serpentspam, tau firepower spam w/ hidey sneaky kroot troops, FMC armies that spend the entire game off the board.

They all have a couple of things combined -
1) They are able to keep their models "Safe" ... either by having extreme ranged firepower advantages (serpentspam, tau firepower builds), extremely durable saves (2+ re-rolls), a combination of both (Ovesa Star), or perhaps they just use wonky game mechanics to avoid any kind of damage (FMC on/off play, and guardian jetbikes hiding in corners due to 48" moves, staying in reserves, being kept their by Scrier's Gaze, etc.).

2) They have keynote units that are able to ensure KP advantages or "split" and help ensure contesting all but the minimum their hidey-hole troops need to procure at game end.

Right now the common person playing these Dark Angels may be feeling very similarly to a LOT of the 40k community right now; you'd be feeling this way if he were playing serpent spam, or tau firepower spam, or whatever. You're wondering what the game designers were thinking, you're wishing someone would just say this army can't be taken, you want comp or a ban or ... or SOMETHING. Maybe you don't want to even play in tournaments anymore. If you're most of the internet right now (unfortunately), you also don't care if that means the guy you just shook hands with isn't allowed to use the army he paid for anymore (to be fair, you can't use the one presently that YOU paid for ... so how do we cross the impasse?).

So here is where things get interesting ...
You look down at your scoresheet after you roll for deployment sides, and you notice two check boxes - one for "Standard Primary" and one for "Alternate Primary." You've read ahead and I'm still keeping the punchline for the readers, so you check "Alternate Primary" privately while your opponent notes something down as well. Before deployment, you swap scoresheets. Looking at what you've received, you notice your opponent the Jetstar has selected "Standard Primary," and understandably so; he'll earn 3 points for each objective he holds at the end of the game ... most points scored for objectives wins Primary. You the Dark Angel player have - on the other hand - selected "Alternate Primary." You score nothing at the end of the game; instead, you score 1 point for each objective you hold at the end of ANY game turn.

How do you feel now compared to before knowing about this alternate approach? If you sit and think for a minute, you're going to brighten up considerably. Now instead of having to somehow survive the storm for the entire game, and be in position to contest every single objective and somehow control one of your own, all while dealing with the dreaded Jetstar and whatever support elements it selected ... you have a different route to potential victory (or at least making the game pretty darn interesting). If you can create safe havens with the bodies of your marines, let's say, and control the three objectives closest to you for the first 2-3 turns, you'll earn anywhere from 6-9 Points. It's going to cost you to do this - your opponent is savvy, he won't simply let you do it, but he also can't just separate his superstar on Turn 1 and send it helter skelter all over the board trying to deny you points as he would if you were playing the "standard" version of the Primary at game end. He can't afford to. He'll lose his star if he does, b/c it'll lose fortune after a full turn of separation. Further, you've got plenty of bodies early on - you built your army this way! You've got the troops to create un-contest bubbles for a few turns while he uses his lower # of kill units to start whittling away at you. You're playing to the strengths of the army you designed.

Interestingly, so is your opponent. The mission hasn't nerfed his army - he's still excellent at controlling and contesting objectives late, and his ONE time capture is still worth 3 points per. He's not out of this. But .... he's having to work at it. His army has a certain strength when it comes to objective missions, it's a strength that b/c of the "Base" objective mission is a little bit isolated to a certain army type (crap troops are as good as awesome troops, scoring last second is all that counts).

What about a KP example? You face the same game on Kill Points; your opponent the Jetstar selects KP - it's what his army excels at; he can expertly hide his easier KP and apply the beatstick with his super unit(s). You select "Alternate Primary" and activate VP differential. Now, your opponent is trying to kill more units than you, while you are trying to destroy more points than him. Neither is nerfed, both armies are still playing to their strengths. Theorize a CONCEPTUAL (not mathematically finalized or sound) situation where you earn 1 point for every KP differential if you play the "Standard" ... and you earn 1 point for every 100 points of Points Destroyed differential if you play the "Alternate." Now, once again, each army is playing to its strengths to try and compete the variation on the fundamental mission it is best designed for. If in this theory he kills 6 units and loses 1, he earns 5 points; if he destroys 600 points but you destroy 1300, you earn 7 points (again, these #'s aren't mathematically sound, just concept-clarifiers). The game is still readily and easily scored and understood, despite each of you playing a different spin on the basic mission presented.

This is immediately apparent as superior to building alternating missions where you have no choice - where it's either KP or VP, and you "hope" the wrong matchups happen at the wrong time to deter extreme game-breaking builds. This is what you DO NOT WANT TO DO.

As a conceptual summation - this is all predicated on the very visceral reaction many players rightly have to the notions of "changing the game," or of telling a spread of players that what they bring to a tournament within the legal confines of the purchaseable game of Warhammer 40,000 isn't OK. This is all predicated on the notion that it's wrong and unhealthy and frankly just downright negative to rage that the game is broken and we should just start banning things or nerfing things.

What if instead of nerfing things, we as a community got together and built a catalog of missions along these conceptual lines that allowed a WIDER variety of armies to play according to their strengths and compete against these power builds and any future builds as they competed according to THEIR own strengths. While the jetstar uses its durability and speed to play as well as it can toward the late-game grab, the horde of infantry orks or dark angel tactical marines are playing to their strengths trying to hold valuable ground for as long a period of time as they can to offset what they know is coming late. While Draigowing slaughters unit after unit of trash, the sum greater than the whole works all game toward trying to offset the net loss by cutting the head off the beast.

Instead of making a random mission that "has a warp variance and psykers don't work" that therefore tells Daemon or Eldar players "sorry you can't use your preferred army" in the same way comp does, why not rise above and use our collective minds to create missions that expertly resolve the problem - by giving armies and army types that don't want to play "rocksolid star and late grab" the opportunity to see if they can play to their strengths better than their opponents play to their own?

This is the concept boiled down in fact; instead of "Is his army more powerful than yours? Yes? Sorry!" it's:

Can you play to your army's designed strengths BETTER than your opponent plays to his army's designed strengths?

The desire is to have as many TOs as would like to participate work together to create an independent catalog of vetted and tested GT missions leveraging the above concept, from which any event large or small can draw to present players a fair expectation of what they're going to face, and to redress game balance issues in a way that is proactive, tactically stimulating and positive in nature ... rather than a comp-and-ban-heavy presentation with a decidedly more negative and "god help us" tone. This is the direction we'd love to see the community as a whole go in. If I can only convince a smaller set of TOs to get on board and what-not, so be it, but this isn't about creating "The NOVA Mission Pack!" I have no problem it being an US creating "The Independent GT Mission Catalog" with the contribution and collaboration of all.

These things can be done, IMO they should be done. It's positive, it's proactive, as my fellow TO Neil Gilstrap (11th Co is a nearly-hundred person GT in SC if you didn't know it) is often known to say. Instead of screaming "the sky is falling, nerf and comp it all" we should instead say "We can do a better job presenting a fun and fair environment in which the sky can't fall."

So far, the more people we've been sharing this with, the more positive the feedback has been. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Note: this thread intentionally includes unvarnished opinion, and to prove the overarching and still-resonant "keep calm and roll dice" intent, take it with a grain of salt!

Just so people are aware, b/c I keep getting asked, NO we are probably not going to be following the big small wave of OMG MAKE MANY CHANGES that seems to be the rave right about now.

There are a couple of things in 40k that present consternation, and a couple of things only:

1) Formations, or really, the Tau formation. The only reason this presents a problem is there will be / are people already hovering over the order button to build 19 interceptor missile broadside armies supported by tons of scoring kroot and riptides, merrily ready to roll a million dice at you and clear you off the table. These should probably be looked at to avoid the ridiculosity of it. That doesn't mean they should be removed or banned or anything conclusive at present. Just ... looked at.

2) The newest supplements to standard 40k (To go alongside existing supplements to standard 40k like Forgeworld, Planetstrike, Cities of Death and Apocalypse). Just b/c a few blogs with their own agendas reported them with a massive spin of THIS IS MEANT TO BE PLAYED BY ALL PEOPLE WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT IN EVERY 40K GAME ... doesn't make them any different than any other supplement to the core rulebook + codices. They're official, they're supplements, that's that. Whether to allow them or not is at the discretion of any given player and any given tournament.

In terms of expectation setting, while it won't be our guiding line, adding Escalation and then immediately banning a portion of it seems about as bass-ackwards as one can imagine (I'm talking about the people going ... well it's OK but ban D weapons!). If the supplement is an untested copy paste bunch of BS ... why are you using it at all? Further, if you're banning D weapons, all you're doing is adding something to the game where more casual gamers will take their awesome expensive models and be yet again disappointed that they aren't any good. If you ARE going to legalize it, legalize it all the way. You might as well legalize FW but ban individual units, as legalize any other supplement then ban certain parts of it. Cherrypicking it into the game is asking to upset everyone - purists will be angry at the internal comp to the legalization, people who realize it's an untested piece of crap cash grab will be upset you're legalizing it at all, people who want to use their fun D-weapon Thunderhawks and Revenants will be upset at you, casual gamers will be upset when they realize their expensive toys aren't any good, etc. etc. etc. Or you just say "hey we don't use that supplement in some of our events" and magically you've got a simple resolution. Alternately, say "hey we do use that supplement in some of our events" and there you go, also simple.

Voidshield Assault is similarly problematic, maybe in part b/c it's just inviting power gamers to ... well ... power game even more. The more untested potentially powerful variables you add to the game, the wider the gap becomes between those who are willing to invest the time and money into it and those who aren't. This worsens experiences. Since it is written explicitly as a SUPPLEMENT to the game and not as a formal modification to the extant rules ... why legalize it at all? Are people really going to miss getting to scratchbuild models for which there isn't even a designed template yet? I don't get it.

3) Fast moving kill-all units with 2+ saves that can be re-rolled. If Shadows in the Warp hasn't changed (TBD, but actually seems it might not have been) and Tyranid are powerful/popular (some rumors seem to indicate they might be!) ... you don't need to do anything about this. Even the closest major event, Las Vegas Open, will have the Tyranid rules legal for it ... which means no major event needs to make a rash judgment on 2+ re-rolls right now. We can just all acknowledge unkillable super fast units that can kill anything are really annoying for most players to deal with, and generally aren't very engaging.

To the person out there thinking "oh come on there are like 5 hard counters to each of those!" Stop it. We don't design tournaments for you. We design them for the 200 people who DON'T spend hours problem solving every possible combination. This is also why you want to keep it simple for those players, and not add even more crazy combinations to the game IF YOU DON'T HAVE TO. If GW releases a new Codex, you kinda have to add it to your tournament. If GW releases a supplement that tells you how to play with apoc units in a regular game if you want to ... you actually DON'T have to add it to your tournament. You're free to, even encouraged to if it suits you and your attendees, but you don't HAVE to. You'll also find with a little critical thinking ... doing so might actually hurt more people (especially laid back gamers) than it enriches.

Also, just b/c a lot of people take Trick Commanders doesn't mean you should ban them or try to nullify where they can be taken. The same can be said of Riptides and other things. These are powerful models in the game of 40k and are themselves fairly killable. This jives with the game as it's been for A VERY LONG TIME. 35/36 save odds and hit and run and 48"/turn movement is NOT precedented at any time since Rogue Trader. Really mean shooty units that lots of people can and will take ... ARE precedented. Deal for a bit on those, please.

So do I have a firm opinion on these? No. Do I have an opinion on these? Yes. Will I be making any kneejerk rulings? OF COURSE NOT. Will I be making any rulings on my own as a random guy? Nopers! I'm looking forward to a telecon with a ton of TOs in January, and to keeping an eye on the evolving situation while LOL'ing at the wig-outs. But since I keep getting asked today "ARE YOU GOING TO FOLLOW SUIT AND START BANNING TONS OF THINGS AND TWEAKING THE RULES AND ADDING 0-1'S AND STUFF?" NO, probably not. We might do some things, but we want to do them in unison with a broader range of events (hey, wouldn't it be cool if like a half dozen or a dozen major GT's all had the same ban/legal list instead of every event doing it differently?), and we want to do them under the lens of critical thinking, group-think that isn't just internal-to-the-GT-yes-men, and with a little more patience than THE INITIAL REPORTERS SAID THEY HAD TO BE USED IN STANDARD 40K SO I GUESS WE HAVE TO???

Additionally, we'll be sending out a very carefully-crafted survey to our 1500+ newsletter distro in January, and we'll be running all of our initial ideas (even if they are "no changes at all!") by same attendees once decided upon, so that we're making decisions in a way that isn't just "some smart people brainstorming" but is also reflective of what our paying players actually want.

Yes, I totally abused my caps lock in the creation of this post.

Long story short btw - if you folks with tournaments right around the corner losing your minds just say: "No Escalation, Voidshield Assault, Formations" + "TBD on 2+ re-rolls" you'll save yourselves a lot of headache. Jumping from "omg these just came out what do we do?!" to "FULL ON COMP AND BANS EVERYWHERE" is probably needless. This isn't even because it isn't necessary, who knows but that it is, but when you do it so aggressively and everywhere ... it SMACKS of reckless abandon instead of reasoned TO'ship, and that's a disservice both to the PR of your event and consideration for your attendees.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A 40K Tumult - Stay Cool and Roll Dice

This isn't the long post it could be.

Seriously, to all the TOs and players out there (with the exception of people running January events) ... stay calm.

We're in the middle of Dataslatecember, with a meta-critical Tyranid release rearing its head in the first week of January.

Calm the 'eff down and WAIT a second. This is especially true if your event isn't until like ... August / Sep / Oct / Nov. Kneejerk ruling on things NOW is not good, and smacks of impatience.

Just hang tight, folks. Let the game get through the next codex release, let people actually playtest the supplements of Dscalation and Voidshield Assault (since GW does 0 playtesting as far as anyone half-reasonable can tell), and if we're going to make changes let's do it as a broad band group in a reasoned way.

I reached out to most of the major TOs I could think of over the last month, and most have settled on a phone call to hash this stuff out come Jan after we have a chance to see Nids and all the Dec releases. This reachout list includes Feast, Bay, WGC, Adept, DaBoyz, 11th Co, BFS, Kila, Indy, Bugeater, Redstone, etc. If you want in on it too as a 50+ size TO just give me a holler (and I probably forgot people, sorry! Happy to have all!). No reason we can't take a reasonable look at all the different releases and issues in the game, and give attendees nationwide a reasonable set of expectations by which to invest in army purchases.

The last thing we as a community need to do is present 20 different restriction lists, thus requiring 20 different armies even if points are the same for people to be able to play at more than one event. Every event being different mission/format/etc. wise is good. Having to consider taking a Revenant for one event that's illegal at the next probably isn't.

No matter what happens among TOs, enjoy the holidays and stop wigging out. Seriously.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beer, Pretzels and Drunken Gremlin Ninjas - Malifaux Mondays in the World of Warhammer

So some DC area fellas and I started playing Malifaux together a few weeks ago on Monday nights. The group is going strong - let me know if you'd like to join! We game in Falls Church, with three centrally located hosts to ensure the night is steady and reliable for participants.

This is a casual gaming group ... the whole purpose is to learn a game that nobody really knows (it just released a second edition) in a relaxing environment. We're also always open to combining a little Mixology in with the mess ... Malifaux and Mixology Mondays I guess.

So while I'm openly inviting any DC area folks to join for Malifaux Mondays, that's not the point of this post. The point is to share a little about why I like Malifaux, and why it is so well-balanced.

The point THEN ... and the main thrust of this post ... is to talk about how designing a characterful, well-balanced game is better for competitors and "beer-and-pretzels" gamers alike than "not caring about balance." This is directly relevant to the recent flurry of random additions to the game and the long-standing party line FROM Games Workshop that "you guys shouldn't be so concerned about balance and competition, this is a beer and pretzels game!" The worse the balance of a game ... the BETTER the game is for "power gamers," and the worse it is for average enjoyers of the hobby.

"Why Malifaux is Cool" (or "Learn to Love Drunken Gremlin Ninjas")

Malifaux is a Western Zombie Hillbilly Steampunk/Victorian Horror Fantasy miniature skirmish game. That's a mouthful, but it covers the gamut pretty well.

On any given evening, you may find yourself facing a crew of Western gunslingers in faded dusters, or a Victorian Pimp leading a crew of undead zombie hookers, or the manifested and horrific nightmares of a dreaming boy, or a mysterious criminal crew masquerading as a rail-building Chinese work gang, or even a Moonshining Gremlin and his team of besotted gremlin ninjas.

What makes Malifaux stand out right from the beginning is the dramatic diversity of deeply characterful factions and pieces it contains. Unlike some games where a specific aesthetic or race dominates the imagery, Malifaux manages to expertly weave together a vast diaspora of variant heroes and villains whose synchronizing thread is perhaps best summarized by one of the game's grimly droll taglines: "Bad Things Happen."

What's important to note is the various factions and crew combination possibilities are not just different in their theme, they're also different in their respective emotional impact. Some crews are clearly good, some are clearly bad and many lie firmly in the grey. Some possess a serious and appropriately grim atmosphere, while others are utterly horrifying and yet more are absolutely hilarious. Malifaux will never force a player to commit to the grimdark, nor will it leave them marooned on an island of inane imbecility. As far as the aesthetics go, it's exactly what you want it to be ... however you wish it to be.

But while ill occurrences befall even the most powerful of Malifaux's fictive figurines throughout the fluff and games, nothing could be further from the truth for those who play it. In the game of Malifaux, wondrous things abound.

I was first drawn to the game years ago during its inaugural release by the aesthetic and the fundamental game mechanic. These still abide. The mechanic orients around the complete absence of dice. Instead, Malifaux uses traditional playing cards ... a full 52-card 4-suit deck + the 2 Jokers (one black, one red). You should look into it yourself (and the late beta rules are nigh-on identical to the rulebook release), but fundamentally it orients around flipping cards off the top of the deck, adding them to a relevant stat, and hoping to reach a target number (or, when squaring off against an opposing model, hoping to beat your opponent's total). An array of environmental, strategic and characterful triggers and rules keeps this from feeling like the old-school flip-flip-flip card game of "War," and this is further made unique by the existence of what is called a Control Hand. At the beginning of each alternating-model-activation turn of Malifaux, players draw up to 6 cards into their hand with which they can "cheat fate" during the game, replacing undesirable card flips carefully with cards of a needed number or suit from their hand. This mechanic is incredibly deep in actual gameplay, and depth is what it offers. Additionally, it removes the dice-based possibility of "feeling screwed by luck." The nature of a poker hand limits the # of bad and good "rolls" that can happen during any one deckset of card flips, and the presence of your Control Hand means you either have good cards to sub in for bad flips, or you have bad cards you know aren't in the deck to bite you randomly. This fact couples w/ the power you have to decide when or if to use your Control Hand, yielding a resultant feeling that even if "bad things happen" in terms of your luck in a given turn ... it's at least a little bit your fault. You almost never have someone come out of a game raging about how "the dice screwed" him.

Once you've fallen in love with the aesthetics and learned the mechanics, however, Malifaux starts to really hit its stride in how you play.

As I mentioned, our group was created with an eye toward the "Beer and Pretzels." Participants are as far-ranging as 40k GT winners like Tony Kopach (and I suppose me) and die-hard "Casual" painter-first types like Shades Schaefer. You can summarize the game fairly directly based upon that ... in the world of Malifaux, both Tony and Shades are power gamers ... because every possible crew [within reason] is powerful.

Unless you're really trying hard, it's difficult to produce a "bad" crew in Malifaux, in part because of the design and intent of the game. It's a "list-tailor-by-design" system, and the various models and crews are all generally well-balanced anyway. The missions are also brilliant in concept. So here's how the basic game works in simplicity ..

Tell person your Faction (think: tell them your Codex)
Randomly determine the Stratagem (think: Mission (sidebar, see Stratagems below))
Randomly determine 5 available Schemes (think: Mission is worth 0-4 points, each Scheme is worth 0-3, I can pick two Schemes, and they're secret (sidebar, see Schemes below))
Build your Crew (think: build your army list)
Reveal your schemes (to make them worth more by virtue of your opponent knowing what's coming)
Play the game

A quick note on how Stratagems and Schemes work and are scored:
Stratagems - these are scored in a very minimalistic and clever way. Example - Reckoning is the basic "kill stuff" Stratagem ... after Turn 1 (so alpha striking isn't beneficial other than you've killed stuff) you get 1 point if you killed 2+ models that turn (think: units). That's it. Your opponent can get that too. If at the end of a Turn, there are no opposing models on the table, you also get 1 point (so, pyrrhic victories are possible here). This rather cleverly balances MSU and HVU (High Value Unit), in that having tons of units may enable you to better gang up on and kill big powerful units ... but if you can't get 2 kills a turn and he is getting 2 kills a turn, tabling him by the end of the game (turn 5+) isn't going to do you a lot of good. On the other hand, the "deathstarry" type of models aren't going to win just by winking a kill here or there while playing it safe. In a masterful dual stroke, the weakness of a mission like KP is rendered in stark contrast.

Another Stratagem example is Squatter's Rights, which places 5 markers across the centerline between deployment zones ... and allows you to spend actions to "take" these markers. Having 2 or more gets you a VP (so again, both sides can score it every turn) at the end of any turn after the first. Even if it's costing you casualties, it doesn't much matter if you can either get an early lead or at least maintain the pace ... holding on and getting involved in a close-fought match right from the get-go can net you a win regardless of cost.

Schemes - Schemes are an incredibly interesting mechanic. Some involve placing "Scheme" Markers around the board in various ways (i.e., placing them around an enemy Master and setting them off as mines ... or drawing a "line" across the middle of the board with them ... or defending markers you place near your deployment zone ... etc.). Almost all of them are entirely secret, however, and you choose 2 from a randomly determined subset of 5 pre-game (There are well more than 5 schemes, so you randomize 5 ... and then select 2 secretly). Because of this mechanic and the nature of Schemes, and the fact that accomplishing both of your schemes without even revealing them can equal the MOST points you can accomplish with the main Stratagem ... the net effect is you can use schemes to totally mess with the mind of an opponent and with careful Scheme selection ... can outweigh the problems posed by a bad match.

Example - Sunday night I got in a game with Owen, a member of the NOVA Open Executive Board. Owen had a combat crew ... and I had a shooty crew. While his crew was able to put up smoke screens and other things to sneak across the board out of line of sight, I had a couple of guys who ignored line of sight entirely and were very accurate ... meaning when he tried to bumrush me he'd get all shot up. He had a Scheme available, however, that oriented around him setting up markers in his own deployment zone. So Owen in the aftermath was able to devise a strategy in the replay whereby he could do a couple of things ... place down Scheme Markers even if he didn't have it as his Scheme (yup, you can "headfake" people by placing Scheme Markers in alignment with one you may  not have actually selected) in order to bait me out of my shooty position ... or flat out select a Scheme that forced me to either get out of a "Castle" or face a tie at best.

Summarization ... a combat crew could select sub-schemes that would directly counteract the advantages of a crew that went too far to the extreme on "mathematical" firepower in trying to counter the combat. Imagine if in a game against Tau, a combat-based army with a terrible match-up could avail itself of a couple of optional schemes that involved hiding in their backfield and setting up shop.

I also want to clarify that Malifaux isn't entirely focused around list tailoring. Just the ability to marginally tweak for mission - and select appropriate Schemes to suit the matchup - enables a player to realize what's across the table, and come well-prepared.

The straight-up balance is ALSO well done ... with almost every model we've fiddled with so far fitting very nicely in with all the rest. Everything seems to have a time and place for its use, even if that is sometimes just when tweaking for a specific Strategy or Scheme. In the net, the result is that everyone always feels like they are playing on a level field regardless of their competitive bent ... there's no real dramatic ability to "power game" from a list-building perspective, there's a lot less impact of streaky bad or good luck, and so the games come down to what you do on the table ... and not how much money or time you put into trying to break the game ahead of time.

If it isn't clear yet, Malifaux has given us a window into how the concept of power gamer vs. casual gamer vs. whatever gamer changes when a game is well-designed from a balance perspective. The "ideal" of balance can be seen in a game like Chess, where the difference between White and Black is by definition marginal. In Malifaux, every crew feels like White, and the ability to tweak and custom-select from a Scheme set leaves you feeling like if your chess set is missing a bishop there's a way to get it back AFTER you've started playing. You lose that feeling of "well I'm going to lose this, his list is cheesy" that can happen between casual and more committed players in 40K. As a result, by being BETTER designed for fair competitive play among ANY number of players ... Malifaux is also better for Beer and Pretzels players. In fact, it's arguably better for ANY player.

So is this me bagging on 40K? No, not at all. Anyone who wants to take the time to prepare can show up to any sort of 40K tournament and have a damn fine chance to compete against just about anybody else. It's just fine, as a matter of fact. Few people look at 40K and EXPECT the game to be balanced in a true across-all-models sense. We all realize you shouldn't show up with Pyorovres (I reserve the right to change this specific example come January) and expect to table a Seerstar.

No, this isn't about tournament talk. Malifaux is GREAT for tournament play as well, as far as I can tell, but that's not really the point. The point is about Beer and Pretzels gaming. The point is about how to design a game in general.

The more rock-solid a game is from a balance perspective, the easier it is for just about anyone to pick it up, learn the basics, and get into a fun and engaging / competitive game regardless of their opponent's experience level. In 40K gaming groups, you have to set an expectation level that goes BEYOND just "we're playing at this points level." A paint-first guy who chooses models because they look cool does not want to walk blindly into an "1850 gaming night" with Tony, me, Andrew Gonyo, James Watkins and Eric Hoewrger (all nice, fun-loving local buds who often hang and game together ... and also five multiple GT winners). This isn't because we're jerks or power gamers or anything else, but because 40K is so ill-balanced WITHIN its codices ... and so ever-changing from a release perspective ... that it's very difficult for the average player to have any idea where they have to be to have a "Fair" game against others. In a sense, without expectation setting 40K isn't one game ... it's 10. It's as if you had a big giant bag of Chess pieces to choose from when you first purchased the game, and the rules told you how to play Chess but didn't tell you how all the pieces worked or how many were suggested in terms of working together. So if you show up to a night with a bunch of veteran Chess Players ... even if you understand the tactics and rules really well ... you won't necessarily know how many Bishops or Knights or Queens you're supposed to put down on the board. So while the regulars who play each other every week know exactly how many their group has agreed on ... you've got no idea as a first-timer unless they explicitly tell you.

Malifaux, on the other hand, is more like a game where nearly every possible pre-purchased combination of chess pieces works just fine if you know the basics of the rules. So if you show up to play Malifaux with a bunch of strangers or want to join in on a Beer and Pretzels weekly game night ... well, read the rules, pick a crew or faction you think is cool, and go to it ... you'll fit in just fine.

So how do we summarize this, as it's been a long post already.
No matter how a game is designed, if the mechanics are sound and the overall Codex-equivalents can compete against each other more or less, it's FINE for tournament play. Arguably, it's fine in general. The game's fun "cap" is determined thereafter by the aesthetics, core mechanics, etc. In this, MOST of the current tabletop games are pretty similar, whether you're talking 40K or Infinity or Malifaux. Players of equal skill level and commitment to the game will do well enough in 40K regardless of Codex (with an acknowledged nod to the more recent ones having an edge). The most skilled and/or most committed players will bring the "Best" combos and armies and will also do fine against each other.

Where things are different, however, is in "average" play ... pick-up play between strangers or beer and pretzels play between an influx/outflux group of regulars and semi-regulars. In 40K these groups are MORE difficult to sustain over time, because the various participants invest in, commit to and learn the game at dramatically different rates. Someone who isn't keeping up with the best combos, the best combos in reaction to new combos, the newest formations and dataslates and whosawhats, etc. is going to suddenly realize he's showing up to his semi-regular appearances at the game group and not doing nearly as well with the army he already owns. In Malifaux, this doesn't happen. As long as you have your basic range of models to choose from for your favorite Crew/Faction (and in 2E, the rules are a little simpler and the balance is a little better regardless of Crew ... so you don't have to have the entire Faction to do fine), you're going to do just fine at a Malifaux night. Even the point level is pretty fixed - the designers recommend you play at ONE LEVEL, while tacitly acknowledging you're certainly welcome to play outside it if you really want. I feel comfortable that if I showed up at a random group or game store's Malifaux night, they'd be playing 50 Soulstones (points) and my crew would do A-OK ... no matter whether that crew were comprised of quickdrawing gunslinger babes or tottering drunken ninja gremlins.

So when you hear someone say "Beer and Pretzels gamers don't care about balance," I want you to challenge them as follows. If you're in one of the "Beer and Pretzels" 40K groups that claims balance doesn't really matter, and you invite a stranger from the local store to start gaming with you, and he shows up with max Wave Serpent spam while your group "doesn't play that way," what's the outcome? At the LEAST, you're going to have to tell him to tone it down and bring something more along the lines of what you all think is OK. It's very likely he'll either not come back, or be excoriated for being a "spammy power gamer," or have a few false starts where his idea of toning it down still doesn't jive with yours, etc.

In a balanced game, that scenario simply can't happen. Nobody shows up to a Chess Game and gets yelled at for taking 2 bishops. People don't show up to Malifaux nights saying "how dare you take XYZ???!?!" In a Tournament Environment, a dearth of game balance isn't a deathknell - you have time to prepare, you can set your expectations at "prepare for the worst" from a "how hard will these things be vs. how soft" perspective.

The less balanced a game is at the "pick-up gaming / beer and pretzels" level, however, the more bad things happen.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Era of Rampant Supplements

Is it time we take a stand on these things as TOs?

Do we need to implement some kind of basic control here?

40k is still an amazing game made so by the massive # of people who play it, enjoy it, compete in it, etc.

BUT do things such as the random allowance of 2 Broadside Units and 1 Riptide outside the FOC onto almost any army actually advance the game for anyone - competitors or narrative-forgers alike - out there in a tournament or organized gaming setting?

Curious what the field thinks.