Archive for October 30, 2013

Why The Feminine

Today’s blog post is on why we use the feminine pronoun to refer to the player in the Malifaux Second Edition book instead of the masculine.

I have to admit that this was largely my idea, but it’s great that I work with people who immediately adopted it. I’m having trouble putting down why exactly it was important to me. I have seen a number of threads started on this topic and the consensus always seems to be, “Well, it makes no difference to me.” Yet for some reason those threads always somehow seem to end up ten pages long; so I think it’s generally more of a, “Well, it doesn’t matter to me, but…” That “but” seems important. It’s not about anything I would go so far as to label sexism, it’s more about expectation. Let me give you a few examples.

I used to play a lot of poker. And I noticed that not very many women played poker, at least not where I played. The expectation was that the table would be full of men. And, when a woman did show up, she would always garner more attention at the table than a random man would. This wasn’t malicious, but when one person is not like all the other people immediately around them, they stand out. Understandably, this can get a little bit uncomfortable. So I think, to a certain extent, the lack of women inherently helped to drive women away. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Another thing I noticed about female poker players; they were never mediocre. If a woman sat down at the table, she was either one of the best players there, or one of the worst. There was no in-between, no middle ground.

This makes sense, I suppose. People who are at the extremes don’t care about the norm. They don’t care about standing out or fitting in. Extremes crash through barriers; that’s what they do. If a woman had been gambling for years and was good at it, a few odd glances wouldn’t get in her way. On the other side of the coin, if a woman was half drunk and looking to throw away a few hundred dollars, she probably didn’t care much either. It was the middle that got cut out, the amateurs, the women who just wanted to try it out.

I’ve been on the other side of the expectation as well. For years I worked with disabled children for the school district. And in a school, the overwhelming expectation is that the people working there will be female. There are exceptions of course, but they are the oddities. The ones that stand out. The extremes. It was rarely malicious, but I was always keenly aware that I stood out from my coworkers. Sometimes it was positive, some people were very glad to have a guy around. But, depending on which school I was working in, I could tell that both my coworkers and the parents had an extra eye on me because of my gender. One day a substitute bus driver called the police when she saw me “loitering” outside the school (I was waiting to take kids off the bus, which was easily enough explained, but it was still annoying). At the end of the day, the expectation was understandable; people were just trying to keep kids safe. But I also think it’s understandable why most men wouldn’t want to take such a job. And I noticed the same thing about my (few) male coworkers that I had about female poker players; none of them were mediocre. They either loved their job and were brilliant at it, or they were the worst people I had ever worked with. There was no in-between.

The thing that really got me was that one school I worked at actually didn’t even have a men’s bathroom for employees. Don’t get me wrong, they had one at one point (I could tell, because one of the two women’s bathrooms had a urinal, which would be very difficult for them to use) but somebody had switched out the sign on the door. What bothered me most was the expectation; the presumption that a man would never take this job.

I think the expectation about what is the norm for a certain gender is, in a lot of ways, self-fulfilling. If we expect that men won’t work with children, they won’t. If we expect that only men will play poker, that’s what we’ll find. And, unfortunately, the English language inherently forces us to form an expectation one way or another depending on what pronoun we choose. He or she, there is no neutral ground. So, when it came to referring to the player, I wanted to ease the burden of expectation a little bit. From a cultural standpoint, it is already generally accepted that people who play war games are men. I thought it would be nice if the rulebook could help ease this, if only a little bit.

I don’t think this is ground breaking.  I know it’s not; lots of other games have done it. In fact, I think that the Malifaux community is already pretty open in terms of gender, with or without this. And I’m under no illusions; I doubt that this decision will ever matter to most people. But the English language forced us to choose one way or another, and I just didn’t want to be the dick who put the wrong sign up on the door.

How I Got Into Game Design

At heart I think most gamers want to be game designers, at least a little bit. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t get quite as much feedback in the open beta. So I thought that a post about how I got into game design may be of interest to at least some of you. Keep in mind, this is simply an anecdote. But it worked for me.

I never intended to become a game designer. It was never a particular ambition of mine, of course, very few things that I have done in my life have been entirely planned out. I went to school for biochemistry, spent a period of time playing poker regularly, ended up working with children with disabilities for five years, and now I’m with Wyrd. No two things I have done have had a terrible amount in common. I started playing Malifaux in 2009 as soon as my game store got it in stock. It was sold to me as “Deadlands meets Mordheim” and since those were two of my all time favorite games, it was a pretty easy sell.

I also got very involved in the forums. I tend not to sleep very much, so I’m always on the look out for something to occupy the extra hours I have in the day (like starting a blog, or playing poker). Since internet forums are essentially always open, I found myself spending a lot of time on them. And since Malifaux was my new favorite game, I spent quite a bit of time talking on the Wyrd forums. I argued rules, discussed tactics, and even made my first game into a battle report. All in all, nothing too out of the ordinary, but I was very involved.

Apparently, I was involved enough to be noticed. One day I got an email from Eric asking if I wanted to playtest which, of course, I did. I ended up being involved in the alpha stage of the Rising Powers playtest. And I have to say, you haven’t seen broken unless you were in the Rising Powers playtest (when Eric says he starts powerful and tones down, he means it). As usual, I stayed active and involved. I played on the weekends and spent my sleepless nights giving caffeine-fueled feedback and battle reports. Playtest can be frustrating. To do it properly you have to take a game that you play for fun, dissect it, and point out all of the bugs. And you have to do it dispassionately, scientifically, without trying to rewrite it. If you’re not careful, you’ll start thinking more about balance than about fun when you sit down for a game, and that’s not a good place to be. Before long, it’s easy to get burned out. And I saw a lot of people burn out; either through an emotionally fueled wall of text, or simply fading away into the background. Sometimes I had to sit back and simply remind myself that this was not *my* game. I wasn’t going to agree with everything that happened, and sometimes I just needed to take a night off and play a game for fun; play a game without dissecting it, but simply to experience it. (While this is some not very subtle advice for those of you participating with the current playtest, it is also the reason I didn’t burn out). Ultimately I stuck with it, and my big claim to fame was suggesting the Magician’s Duel action on Colette.

Near the end of the Rising Powers playtest, I got another email inviting my to be on a design team for a new game called Puppet Wars. Again, I said yes. I was a bit over playtesting at the time, but I had never been on a design team before, how much harder could it be? (The answer is a lot harder, shut up, it seemed exciting). So I and about five or six other people started working on this new game with Eric. At some point, we stopped getting very frequent updates from Eric. As it turned out, he was working on a small project called the Malifaux Rules Manual. During this time, most of the rest of the team stopped posting. But, myself and one other person carried on the design and picked things back up with Eric when he was able to come back to the project. Ultimately the two of us were listed as designers and we were flown out to Gen Con 2011 to see the release of the game, which was pretty cool. (Also of note, around this time myself and a few other people started the Pull My Finger wiki).

While I was at Gen Con I was able to meet the design team, sit in on some design meetings, and network a little bit. At one point I asked Eric if I could have a job. They weren’t hiring, but I got the point across that I was willing.

After Gen Con I continued working on Puppet Wars and helping out where I could. In early 2012 I sent an email pitching three games to Eric (one of them was Showdown, a card based bluffing game which would also work as a fate deck). He liked one of them and I was hired on part time to start developing it. Ironically, I can’t tell you about the game that got me hired initially, as it never ended up being made and is still covered by my NDA. But, Showdown would eventually be made when a presentation by Redd Cohen got us talking about the idea again.

In June of that year Wyrd opened a design office in California and I was offered a full time job. I ended up being the first employee in the office (which means I can make the prestigious claim of having built everyone’s desk).

Well, that’s the story of how I got into game design. On the surface it may just look like I got lucky, and in a lot of ways I did. Wyrd was small enough to both notice and need me. I was at a point in my life where I could pick up and move when the job offer came. But, there were a lot of things which weren’t luck. I got involved early, with a company that was growing (if you are interested in doing the same, watch for kickstarters and beta tests). I got involved with the community and remained consistently helpful. And, most importantly, I didn’t burn out. A lot of people would describe game design as a dream job, but they forget that the second word is the most important one; it’s a job. I remember a lot of people who were as involved as I was at the same time I was, but one by one they dropped out as the process stopped being fun. And this process took two years. If you want to do this, understand that it isn’t a hobby anymore, it’s a career, and you need to treat it like one. And, when I started pitching ideas to Wyrd, they weren’t out of the blue; I had a well established relationship with them.

So, to summarize:

1) Find a company that is small and expanding.

2) Stay involved and helpful.

3) Don’t burn out. If you want this to be a job, treat it like one.

4) Network and form relationships before you start pitching ideas.

Of course, you could always just forget all of that and go to school for a damn game design degree like everyone else in my office. But what fun is that?

Join me Wednesday when I talk about how we ended up using the feminine to refer to the player in Malifaux Second Edition.

Testing The Extremes

Testing at the extremes of your system is what will start to show you the cracks. Turn up the pressure and watch where the pipe explodes. This is why designing very high cost models (and very low cost models) is particularly challenging.

In Malifaux, we see this in Nekima. She has proven a very difficult model to design in both editions. In first edition, I was involved in Rising Powers beta testing, and she was the bane of my existence. If I remember correctly, her initial iteration could use soulstones (a much bigger deal back then), had master level stats, and received an entire activation when she was obeyed by a friendly model. Remember, we tend to start over powered and then tone down, but that led to a few games which were not very fun.

Ultimately, Nekima saw more testing than almost any other model in Rising Powers, and she still didn’t come out perfect (for the record, I think she was very close until she received an errata for being a key component in an infinite combo on another model). The issue was her cost. At the time, she was the most expensive model in the game. Obviously, her stats and abilities needed to reflect this, but the game can only handle models of a certain cost.

Let’s say, for example, I decided to make a 50 soulstone cost gremlin in second edition. Let’s call him Gremlinzilla. Now, Gremlinzilla needs to pull the weight of an entire crew all by himself. Immediately we start running into a slew of problems. How does Gremlinzilla’s single activation compare to that of an entire crew? As good as his actions may be, he is still only generating 2 AP, compared to the 16-25 or so AP generally created by an average crew on an average turn. The obvious solution to that is to simply give Gremlinzilla a special rule where he generates 20 AP when he activates. Problem solved! (Yeah, no, not really) The next issue we run into is his defensive abilities. In Malifaux, we start running into a hard cap which models simply can’t hit if the difference in stats is too high (excluding the odd black joker). If Gremlinzilla’s Defense is too high, other models in the game literally won’t be able to hit him, making him invincible. In this case, he is worth considerably more than 50 soulstones. On the other hand, by making any model in the game able to damage him (both for balance, and the general enjoyment of the opponent) all of a sudden he will die a death of a thousand cuts.

Alright, I think I have illustrated the issue with designing a 50 soulstone model. Now that we have established that there is a cost which simply can’t be designed for, the only question is where do we draw the line? In first edition, I think 13 soulstones was the absolute limit the system could hold, and that was pushing it. That’s why Nekima was so problematic, she swung from unbeatable to useless every other iteration because she was doing a high wire act on the acceptable limit of a model’s cost. In second edition we have a little more leeway because we have gone up to an average game size of 50 soulstones (as opposed to 35 in first edition) and increased model costs along with it. Giving us a larger acceptable range of model costs and allowing beastly models like Nekima was one of the advantages of upping the average cost.

Even so, I am very hesitant to break the 13 soulstone cap on a model. I think that 13 is a good cost for a real centerpiece model without having to do the high wire act of first edition Nekima with broken on one side and useless on the other. Have you noticed that a henchman’s cost plus its cache is always 13? This is because we decided that the highest cost model was likely going to be 13 soulstones, so it was a good level to balance the henchmen around. This way you could lead a crew with your 7 soulstone henchman and at least have a 6 cache advantage if you go up against a beastly 13 cost henchman. (Keeping in mind that henchmen led crews are designed to be balanced against other henchmen led crews. A master led crew will generally have an advantage over a henchman, but that was an expressed design goal and perhaps a blog post for another day). Of course, wave 2 is still in beta so it is still trying to find its balance. And, unsurprisingly, Nekima is still a hot button topic. However, I think she is fairing a lot better this edition than the last, and I’m confident that we will hammer out all of the kinks before print.

I think part of the issue is that a lot of people would have preferred to have her as a master, which simply isn’t possible for a number of reasons. Lilith already thoroughly hogs the Nephilim master slot, and Neverborn simply don’t have room for another master. Even so, despite this model’s issues in the previous edition, it’s telling how iconic it is to people, and I think that nailing it is very important.

 

Some Old Battle Reports

I’m a little under the weather, so for today’s blog post I just wanted to look at some of my old battle reports from first edition. It’s fun to take a look back to when I was still learning this game that is now my full time job. There are two battle reports here, scroll down to the second one to see the first game I ever played.

Lilith Vs Somer

This is probably my favorite battle report that I have ever written. It was originally posted on the Wyrd boards on December 19th 2009 using first edition rules.

Lilith went down to the bayou, she was looking for a soul to steal.
She was in a bind ‘cos she was way behind: she was willin’ to make a deal.
When she came across this young gremlin sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot.
And Lilith held out a dim soul stone and said: “Boy let me tell you what:
“I bet you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too.
“And if you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you.
“Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give Lilith her due:
“I bet a fiddle of gold against your soul, ‘cos I think I’m better than you.”

The gremlin said: “My name’s Gronny and it might be a sin,
“But I’ll take your bet, your gonna regret, ‘cos I’m the best that’s ever been.”

Gronny you rosin up your bow and play your fiddle hard.
‘Cos hells broke loose in Malifaux and Lilith flips the cards.
And if you win you get this shiny fiddle made of gold.

But if you lose, Lilith gets your soul.

Lilith opened up her case and she said: “I’ll start this show.”
And fire flew from her fingertips as she resined up her bow.
And she pulled the bow across her strings and it made an evil hiss.
Then a band of nephilim joined in and it sounded something like this.

When Lilith finished, Gronny said: “Well you’re pretty good ol’ girl.
“But if you’ll sit down in that chair, right there, and let me show you how its done.”

Knockin‘ over stage coaches run, humans, run.
Lilith’s in the house of the risin’ sun.
Hog whisperer’s in the pig pen rollin’ in the mud
“Sommer, does your pig bite?”
“Fo‘ sho‘, child, fo‘ sho‘.”

Lilith bowed her head because she knew that she’d been beat.
She laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Gronny’s feet.
Gronny said: “Lilith just come on back if you ever want to try again.
“I told you once, you evil bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been.”

Knockin‘ over stage coaches run, humans, run.
Lilith’s in the house of the risin’ sun.
Hog whisperer’s in the pig pen rollin’ in the mud
“Sommer, does your pig bite?”
“Fo‘ sho‘, child, fo‘ sho‘.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6uADPVzXFU

We played a 30 soul stone game.

My Crew: Sommer Teeth Jones, a war pig, a piglet, a hog whisperer, 2 mosquitoes, 3 gremlins, and a 4 soul stone cache.

My opponent’s crew: Lilith, 2 mature nephilim, 3 terror tots, and a 5 soul stone cache.

Our missions: Grab the golden fiddle in the center of the board.  For this we used a slightly modified scenario.  The fiddle would count and act as a treasure counter from the scenario treasure hunt, and we agreed that the player who’s model had possession of it at the end of the game would win.  If neither of us had it, the game would be a tie.  There were no schemes.

The board:

Lilith chose a side and set up first:

Sommer’s set up:

Turn 1:

There are a few decisions which I marked with an asterisk that are discussed further after the report.

1) Terror tot sprinted forward
2) A mosquito sacrificed a gremlin to summon a third mosquito and draw some cards
3) Another terror tot sprinted, making it slightly farther than the first
4) Sommer healed the furthest mosquito for two wounds and used git yer bro twice
5) The third terror tot sprinted
6) A summoned gremlin moved up
7) A mature nephilim double moved towards objective
8) The other summoned gremlin moved up
9) The other mature nephilim moved up
10) Hog whisperer gave war pig reactivate and fly
11) Lilith transpositioned with a terror tot, cast illusionary forest in fron of the objective, and moved forward.

Lilith’s crew was done, so the gremlins finished their activation.  A mosquito moved up and cast souey, dragging the war pig with it.  The pig then activated and moved three times.  The pig activated again and grabbed the objective, then moved twice back.  The summoned mosquito cast souey and failed.  The pigs charged it and missed.  Remaining gremlins and piglet moved forward.

Turn 2:

1) Gremlin in front moved, focused shot at a mature nephilim, missed, and hit the gremlin behind it *
2) Lilith brood mothered mature nephilim, moved twice, transpositioned the war pig (which was 12” in front of her) with a terror tot (which was 12” behind her)  The companioned mature nephilim then activated and swung at the war pig, doing 5 damage.
3) The pig activated and moved back, escaping the nephilim
4) Terror tot sprinted, killed forward gremlin
5) Sommer activated, git yer bro worked once
6) Terror tot that had been transpositioned activated and hit the mosquito in front of it for 4 wounds.  (this mosquito had been healed)
7) Mosquito soueyed war pig
8) Terror tot in back moved
9) Wounded mosquito soueyed war pig and attacked terror tot
10) Mature nephilim double moved

Lilith was done.  The hog whisperer healed the war pig for 3 wounds (taking it from 11 to 8) and gave it reactivate (bringing it back up to 11).  Gremlins charged the terror tot damaging it, black blood killed the wounded mosquito.  The war pig activated again, attacked a wounded gremlin, killing it and used eat your fill to heal all its wounds.  My last mosquito moved and used souey on the war pig.  The piglet moved forward.

Ok, I wish we had taken some pictures in the middle of this turn.  The war pig was transpositioned 24”, almost into my opponent’s deployment zone, took eleven wounds, and managed to make it back into the very corner of my deployment zone at full health.

Turn 3:

1) Hog whisperer gave war pig reactivate and healed it for 2.
2) Terror tot near the center of the board grew, walked, hit piglet for 4.
3) Sommer ditched my opponent’s hand with gremlins luck and healed.  Ended taking 4 wounds.
4) Mature nephilim moved, swung at piglet, missed.
5) Gremlin swung at the terror tot near my deployment zone, doing one wound.  Black blood killed both gremlins near it. **
6) Mosquito moved, used pull my finger to finish off terror tot.
7) Lilith brood mothered a mature nephilim, moved, attempted to use transposition and failed.  Mature nephilim charged the mosquito behind the building near my deployment zone and missed.

Lilith was done.  The piglet stampeded, hitting the young nephilim and died to black blood.  A mosquito moved and soueyed war pig.  The war pig activated twice, using all AP both activations to move, making it across the board.

Turn 4:

1) Sommer activated, healed himself, used gremlins luck to ditch Lilith’s hand, and healed again.  Ended with 3 wounds.
2) Young nephilim charged mosquito behind building, missed.
3) The mosquito used pull my finger, hitting both the mature and young nephilim in combat with it.  It then attacked the young nephilim with its proboscis, and killed it.
4) The mature nephilim, seeing the young nephilim’s horrible fate, tried to move away from the mosquito, and failed.  (this mosquito is my hero)
5) Hog whisperer moved twice toward war pig and used pig wisperin’
6) Lilith moved twice toward war pig and attempted to cast illusionary forest.  She failed.
7) War pig activated and stampeded all over Liltih, missing every time.
8) Mature nephilim moved towards war pig.
9) Last mosquito moved, tried to use pull my finger, failed.
10) Terror tot sprinted toward war pig

Turn 5:

1) Sommer ditched Lilith’s hand and healed.  He now had 6 wounds on him.
2) Mature nephilim finally escaped the mosquito and tried to swing at sommer, missing.
3) The mosquito moved in between Lilith, the terror tot, and the mature nephilim and used pull my finger, hitting all three.
4) Lilith moved, killed the mosquito, and cast allure. ***
5) Pig stampeded, hitting Lilith for 7 and the mature nephilim for 5
6) Mature nephilim attacked the pig, killing it, and took the golden fiddle.
7) Last mosquito moved, cast pull my finger with a soul stone and killed Lilith and the terror tot, damaging the mature nephilim.
8) Hog whisperer charged mature nephilim and did 3 damage

Turn 6:

1) Mature nephilim hit the hog whisperer who squealed away.  He then hit the mosquito, knocked it aside and charged the hog whisperer, killing it.
2) Sommer moved out of melee range with the mature nephilim nearest him and shot at the further nephilim twice using dumb luck, and killed it.
3) The last mature nephilim charged sommer and killed him
4) The last mosquito moved up to the fiddle and buzzed very loudly because he was too insignificant to pick it up.  (ok, technically he died when sommer did, but it made no difference and made for better pictures)

The game ended, the golden fiddle lying upon the bloodied grass.  It was a draw.

* This was my biggest mistake of the game, a total waste of initiative.  I should have moved the war pig out of transposition range.

** You may be wondering why I just let my gremlins die, but I had no cards in my hand above a six, and this netted me four cards.  All of which, it turned out, were a jack or higher.  Plus, I had no desire to let the terror tot kill a gremlin and grow.

*** My opponent was under the impression that once my pig made it into the 3” radius of allure, its charge would end.  Which is questionable, since the charge began outside of the 3” radius.  Perhaps I’ll ask about this.  But, it was irrelevant once I reminded him that a pig charge isn’t an actual charge, but a push interrupted by a melee strike and proceeded to gore Lilith’s face off.  However, it is worth noting that had he used defensive stance here, Lilith would have almost certainly lived.  Plus, I got very lucky on the initiative and he had been burning soul stones to attempt to change that, to no avail.  So he was out when the pig mauled Lilith.

All in all a very fun game.

Marcus Vs. Somer

This was originally posted on the Wyrd boards on November 22nd, 2009. It used the first edition rules, and was the first game of Malifaux I ever played:

Marcus sat in the bar, enjoying his Soulstone gin with his traveling companion, Myranda.  Their animal companions waited outside.  It had been a long day, he had spent it cataloging strange new plants and animals that lived on the fringe of human exploration.  Unfortunately, his peace and quiet was short lived.

Raucous laughter, crude noises, and horrible banjo music floated in from outside.  Marcus grabbed the arm of a passing bar maid, “What is all the commotion?”

“Oh, just the gremlins again I would guess.  The bayou isn’t that far from here and there’s a tree out there they, well, they use it as a communal toilet.”  The woman wrinkled her nose.  “Anyway, they’re a nuisance, but they’re armed and nobody here is willing to risk a bullet to get rid of a few pests.”

“Thank you.”  Marcus dismissed the woman and went back to his gin.  He did his best to ignore the ruckus as he sank back in his chair and let out a deep sigh.

Suddenly the window next to Marcus exploded in a shower of broken glass and a handful of steaming gremlin excrement hit Marcus full in the face.  His brow twitched as he slowly put down his gin.

“Uh oh…”  Myranda said as she recognized the look in his eyes.

Marcus burst from the bar and charged towards the offending gremlins who were still gathered around their tree, erupting in obscene fits of laughter.

He gave his Sabortooth Cerberus the signal and it leapt towards the scum, snarling.  The gremlins reacted quicker than the cat expected, forming a line and pelting it with shot as it charged.

One gremlin took the opportunity to creep behind its friend and point his weapon at his friend’s boot, blowing off the toe.  As his companion fell to the ground screaming he snickered, “Woops.”  He pulled the blasted boot off his friend’s foot and put it on his own, admiring the way the toes wriggled through the hole.

The gremlins had formed an effective line, but the Sabortooth was tough and resilient, shrugging off the blasts.  Som’er Teeth stepped forward, adjusting his pants, “I’ll take car o’ this one,” he chuckled.  “Someone, pull my finger.”  A trembling gremlin complied.  “Heh, heh, weapon armed.”  He waddled over to the Sabortooth, adjusted his pants, and let loose his fury.  The Sabortooth fell lifeless to the ground, twitching.  The gremlins shook their weapons in the air, hootin’ and hollerin’ as Som’er Teeth took a bow.

Marcus watched, his rage building.  He gestured towards the gremlin with the banjo.  The razorspine rattler at his side hissed its agreement and charged.  The great beast wrapped itself around the little, green musician and squeezed the life out of him, his banjo snapping with a loud twang.  Marcus idly thought that it was the best sound the banjo had made all night.  Then he got an idea.

He calmly walked up to the gremlin’s favorite tree and summoned the strength of the bear.  He braced himself against the tree, uprooting the improvised toilet and tossing it aside with ease.

A silence fell upon the gremlin side of the field.  Som’er Teeth narrowed his eyes, his lips curling into a snarl.  “No…”

In the stunned silence the Rattler charged, taking a hail of gremlin shot on the way in.  He engaged the towering war pig the gremlins had brought along, the two titans missing each other with every strike.  The gremlins raised their weapons and fired into the melee.  When the smoke cleared, the mighty war pig lay dead, full of gremlin shot.

“Woops,” Som’er Teeth muttered.

Myranda raised her hands in the air, her body encased in a bright blue light which radiated from her like a small sun.  The rattler took on the same hue, its dripping wounds closing and its strength returning.

With renewed energy it charged, ensnaring Som’er Teeth and one of his hapless green lackeys in its crushing grasp.  As it squeezed, the two figures in its coils stopped struggling.  Then they stopped breathing.  When the rattler uncoiled, the lifeless bodies of Som’er Teeth and his friend fell to the blood stained grass.

The rattler kept advancing, chasing down one more pesky gremlin before its bloody rampage was done.

“Knock down our shit tree, will ya?”  The last enraged gremlin cried, not quite grasping the gravity of the whole situation.  He sprinted across the field; stopping at a tree near the tavern, he unbuckled his pants.

“Is he…?”  Myranda’s voice trailed off.

“Oh lord, not again.”  Marcus sighed, padding off after the offending gremlin like a stern parent pursuing a naughty child.

The gremlin screeched as he saw Marcus approach and went running across the field once more, his trousers around his legs.  He hid behind the tavern.

“Get back here you annoying little imp!”  Marcus bellowed.

Myranda hid her face in her hands as Marcus relentlessly chased the pantsless gremlin around the tavern.  This is what the great Marcus, the innovative archanist, terror to the guild, inventor of Chimerancy, was doing with his spare moments.

The set up:

We played a small, 22 soulstone scrap using only starter box armies.  I had my good ol’ boy bayou gremlins: Som’er Teeth Jones, four gremlins, a war pig, and a six soul stone cash.  My opponent was using: Marcus, Myranda, Razorspine Rattler, and a Sabertooth Cerberus.  He had a soulstone cash of four thanks to Marcus.

We chose to play in a pioneer town because it fit the terrain we had.  The board was 4×4.  We flipped diagonal deployment and snowstorm (which we forgot to flip for throughout the game.)

The board:

Objectives:

Gremlins: Slaughter, thwart (announced), sabotage (yeah, I know they can’t do this…found out when I tried.  To quote my gremlins, “woops.”)

Achanists: Slaughter, breakthrough (announced), sabotage.

We flipped and I chose a side and set up first.

After set up:

Turn 1) All models on both sides advanced forward with a walk move for both actions.  The sabortooth cerberus pushed an extra 6″ with Stalker.  I have no images of turn one, all the models just got closer.

Turn 2) Gremlins got the initiative and my boy with the banjo walked forward and flipped for it.  The Sabortooth Cerberus then activated, used its leap ability, and walked twice so it was too close to my gremlins for comfort.  Som’er Teeth, the remaining three gremlins, and the war pig all rounded the corner of the cottage and shot it to hell.  Two shots missed and “woopsed” all over my own guys, but I got the sabortooth down to three wounds, although Som’er teeth had to use dumb luck.  The remaining archanists advanced forward with two walk moves.

Turn 3)  I cheated fate and used a soulstone to get the initiative.  Som’er teeth heroically walked forward and used reckless to “pull my finger” twice while within range of the sabortooth.  It wisely chose death over the stench.  The razorspine charged my lone gremlin with the banjo, the only one who hadn’t turned to gun down the Sabortooth.  He was fanged to death.  Poor little guy, he only wanted to share his music with the world.  The remaining gremlins and warpig moved and shot at the Rattler.  Marcus and Myranda moved forward.

Turn 4) Marcus got in base contact with my tree and sabotaged it.  (Nooo!)  The razorspine charged my war pig and managed to miss with one strike and draw a black joker for damage with the next.  The gremlins shot at the rattler, ironically drawing it as the model to be hit with the firing into combat rules and then missing it with the cb–>df duel, only to hit the warpig with woops since it was the closest friendly model…with every single shot.  Som’er Teeth walked forward and used pull my finger, the rattler was out of range…but my war pig wasn’t.  at this point I had done 9 points of damage to my own war pig, and my opponent had done none, in spite of his charge.  Myranda healed the wounds on the Rattler from the previous turn.

Turn 5) I decided to start shooting at Myranda and get rid of the healing.  So a gremlin fired, got a woops, and hit my pig, killing it.  That’s right, I did 12 wounds to my own war pig.  The Rattler then used his serpent strike to charge Som’er Teeth, killing him (he had been wounded by dumb luck and reckless.)  The Rattler still had another action, so it charged a gremlin, killing it.  One remaining gremlin walked three times to my opponent’s side of the board, the other hit the Rattler.  Myranda did more healing and Marcus pursued my running gremlin.

Turn 6)  My gremlin on his side of the board tried to sabotage a tree, failing when I realized that it was an anarchist only scheme.  (It was our first game!)  So, in stead, I ran and hid with it behind a cottage.  Marcus moved towards him.  Myranda and the rattler easily killed the gremlin remaining on my half of the board.

The game ended.  I had one hiding gremlin, and my opponent had Marcus, Myranda, and the Rattler.

Neither of us accomplished either portion of slaughter.  My opponent achieved both his schemes (his rattler ended up in my deployment zone and Marcus sabotaged my tree) giving him four victory points.  I successfully thwarted him slaughtering me, giving me two victory points.  The win goes to the archanists.

Ok, so it was a good first game.  It was a little difficult because my opponent works at the game store and had to keep stopping to help customers.  (I know, I need to talk to the guy about priorities.  Malifaux > Work)  But, all in all, very fun.  I actually started out alright, massacring his sabortooth without any real losses because he jumped it forward too soon.  But I never got to take advantage of survival of the fittest due to range…and Som’er Teeth dying.  Gremlins desperately need that.  And killing my own pig was not cool.  I also never got to use “Go get your bro” because I have no other Gremlin models, owning only the starter.  I think, in future games, this army should fair much better.  Oh, yeah, I was also hindered by my own reading comprehension.  At least I got good draws on every single terror check, I was expecting gremlins to be running like crazy.

Anyway, over all, fantastic game!

Marcus and the Limited Upgrade

For this week’s Malifaux design post, I thought I would talk about the design of Marcus, because he turned out to be a very important model in determining the design direction of second edition.

Marcus is the beast master. The rogue intellectual who’s study of the natural world left him more in tune with nature and the wild aspects of his own personality. I mention this just because it’s good to have a feel for the story behind a character when designing him or her. Sometimes this can lead to inspiration you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. Personally, I went back and read a little Jack London and Rudyard Kipling when designing Marcus (bonus points to anyone who knows which book most of Marcus’s upgrades reference).

In first edition, Marcus was a master who hadn’t quite caught up with the power curve. In competitive terms, he was always lagging a little bit behind. Personally, I always attributed this to his lack of AP. Where every other master in the game had some sort of extra specific AP which they would use just about every turn, Marcus relied on Instinctual to give him two (0) Actions. While this is decent, it couldn’t be used to attack or move, which are really essential functions in the game. When playing Marcus I always felt just one AP short. Second edition easily fixed this short coming (while balancing all the masters in general) by simply giving all masters three AP. It seems like this is a very easy and simple fix (and it was) but, if a model has an issue, identifying the specific issue is absolutely necessary. It’s easy to make the broad claim that “first edition Marcus is underpowered” but, without an understanding of what is causing the problem, it’s easy to end up over compensating (or failing to fix the issue entirely).

With Marcus’s large balance issue out of the way almost before we even started on him, I was able to focus on converting him to second edition. In first edition, Marcus was capable in melee but, more than anything, he was a tool box. When you selected Marcus, you were bringing along the tools to deal with a lot of different situations and selecting the proper one at the proper time is what would determine success for your crew. We very much wanted to retain this playstyle with Marcus, so we set about making a versatile melee toolbox with an answer to many different situations. Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s essential to keep in mind exactly what you want a model to do, otherwise it may end up not doing anything.

On his base card, we made sure Marcus was a toolbox in a few ways. We opened up his Alpha Action so that, in addition to using it offensively, he could use it to essentially give a friendly beast reactivate. In fact, making sure that all of his Actions had varied applications was very important to me. I felt that the kind of player who enjoyed toolbox Marcus in first edition would enjoy versatility in his new Actions. Darzee’s Chaunt is another good example of this; it can be used on a friendly beast near the end of the turn to make it more effective, or used on an enemy who has already activated to make him easier to hit. The action doesn’t spell out how it should be used; it’s up to the player to decide what is best for the situation.

A key aspect of Marcus’s playstyle is his synergy with beasts, so we set building some of those in right away. The Call of the Wild still let him hire any beasts he needed, and his Defend Me trigger highly encouraged him to bring some beasts along for the ride. His Shillelagh Attack remained decent with a 2” reach and, most importantly, a trigger to turn enemy models into beasts so they can be targeted by some of Marcus’s more potent actions. Finally, I added the Law of Meat action. This action does not list beasts at all, but it does give some good subtle synergy with some of the existing beasts. For example, the Razorspine Rattler is incredibly good at preventing models from disengaging, and the Law of Meat makes it so that the target cannot do much of anything in combat except to try to disengage. Plus, I think it conveyed the theme of Marcus’s “law of the jungle” very well.

With the base card down, it was time to start on the upgrades. We wanted Marcus’s upgrades to provide him with abilities and actions which Marcus wouldn’t necessarily need every game, but he may want to bring along on occasion. To this end, things like his old Instinctual, Domesticate, Howl, and Feral fit well on the upgrades. They were good things to have if you wanted to focus on turning your opponents into beasts but, at the end of the day, they were non-essential options.

The tricky thing was going to be Wild Heart; the action from first edition which had been, essentially, the mechanical heart of Marcus. It was a zero action which allowed Marcus to choose from six conditions (well, what we would call conditions in second edition) for the activation. A turn never went by without Marcus using it, and whatever upgrade we put it on was going to be an auto include. An auto include with a ton of text on it. The first thing we did was to make it an ability instead of a zero action. Marcus always used it as soon as he activated anyway, so there was little point in continuing the façade that the player might actually choose not to use it. The next challenge was to create some choice when selecting this upgrade without neutering the ability.

At this point, I looked to a rule which Mack had been considering taking out of the game: the Limited upgrade. Limited was a form of upgrade restriction which prevented a player from having two upgrades with the Limited characteristic. I wanted to keep it in the game for future proofing. Basically, I was concerned that we would, at some point, end up designing two upgrades which were really good but, when combined, would prove broken. Limited would give us a design tool to keep those upgrades separate. However, we were yet to design any upgrades with this issue so, in the name of simplicity, Mack was looking at removing this rule. (Which, by the way, is totally valid. If a rule can’t carry its weight, it needs to go.) David Hanold (who was the one working on Marcus with me) and I saw an opportunity to fix the Wild Heart problem and keep the Limited characteristic in the game. We split Wild Heart onto two upgrades which we felt were about even and then slapped the Limited characteristic on each upgrade. Then we tried it out ourselves and kicked it to the playtesters.

The upgrades performed very well in playtest. Neither Wild Heart upgrade (now split into The Trail of the Gods and The God’s Domain) was an auto include, because the other Wild Heart upgrade was always a competing choice. They became very popular because people enjoyed having two specific ways to kit out their master. At first I thought we had hit on something that really appealed to Marcus players who enjoyed their toolbox master. But, the more feedback we got, the more I realized we had hit on something essential. Using Limited upgrades to produce two specific playstyles for the same master was appealing to most players, and we ended up replicating it in other places (for example, Seamus’s Bag O’ Tools and Sinister Reputation upgrades). In this way, Marcus and my attempt to keep a balancing tool (which I have yet to use for balance) ended up creating one of the more successful features of second edition.

Interesting note: the only thing which changed on either Wild Heart upgrade between initially typing it up in word and sending the book off to print was adding Regeneration to The God’s Domain, which happened very early in closed testing. Sometimes, things just go well. But when they do, don’t accept them as the norm. Look at them, dissect them, find the cause, and see if you can use it elsewhere.

Stealing My Car: A Tutorial

This is the first of my personal blogs, which I plan on posting every Monday. I’ve posted something like this in other places before, but none of you have gotten to it yet. Slackers.

It’s a blue, 92, Honda Accord.

You will be able to easily recognize it by the brown duct tape around the driver’s side window where weather stripping should be (Note: this may make this window a difficult entry point). Also, the passenger’s side door doesn’t open, so do not try to break in there.

Do not try to steal it on a hot day, because if the interior gets too hot, it doesn’t start. Apparently older model Hondas have problems with the soldering in the main assembly which cuts off the ignition when it gets too hot. Heat would make stealing it generally uncomfortable anyway, since the AC doesn’t work.

Once you get it started and on the road, be careful while you accelerate. There is an issue with the transmission and, whenever the car switches gears, it makes this horrendous grinding noise and the entire car shakes. Don’t worry though, all you have to do is accelerate to the point where the car is just about to change gears and then briefly take your foot off the gas until you can feel the transmission “click” and then step on the gas again. It sounds bad but once you get used to it, it drives surprisingly smoothly. However, it does make accelerating difficult, so do not try running from the police in this car. If you are pursued I would suggest ditching it in a crowded area and attempting to blend in. If you have time to set it on fire, that would be a plus.

Finally, if you hear a strange scraping noise coming from the rear of the car, lightly tap the breaks. It will stop. No clue what this is.

Oh, and the radio doesn’t work. Minor annoyance, but it’s really a point A to point B sort of deal.

Finally, if you’re going to steal it, please commit to it. It’s already been stolen once and I got it back. I was pretty disappointed. Although I did get to have this incredibly fun conversation with the police officer who was sent out to take the report:

“Do you know the license plate number?”

“Not off the top of my head, hold on.” At this point I rooted around in my bedroom until I found the front license plate. “Here is the front license plate I never put on. The back one should be the same…I hope.”

“Any proof the vehicle is yours? Title, etc?”

“I have this ticket…for not having a front license plate…”

Anybody else have this much fun with their car?

Join me Wednesday for an article on Marcus and the Limited Upgrade.

The Holy Triforce of Beta Feedback

With the open beta raging, I thought it would be a good time to go over what I look for in beta feedback. When you run a public playtest, there is a lot of noise. A lot of people are excited and want to talk about the new models. A lot of people may be annoyed and wish to express it. And often those two groups meet and wage glorious internet combat.

It is my job to distill the sound and fury into data, and use that data to improve the game. So, this post is to help you help me; because I like it when people help me.

One thing I need to keep in mind when reading the playtest forum is that not every post is meant for me. In fact, most of them probably aren’t. A lot of people are there to discuss tactical advice with the other playtesters, ask questions, and just generally figure out what is going on. And all of that is great. To those of you posting for those reasons, keep it up, but this advice isn’t for you. This advice is for people who want their feedback to be heard by me.

The first thing I look for in beta feedback is reasoning. Very frequently I see posts that make sweeping generalizations with nothing to back them up. “This model lost its flavor,” or “This model sucks,” or “This model is broken.” Sweeping generalizations do not, ever, generate change. That isn’t to say the person making the generalization is wrong, but they need to better communicate to me what they mean. So, first up, I want details. Examples: “I find this model to be a bit bland. Its attack has a short range and it has no tactical actions, leaving me with little to do with its AP every turn.” Or, “This model is below the power curve. Its attack is decent, but its defensive abilities have taken too much of a hit and it does not have enough impact on the game.” Or, “This model is too powerful. If you compare it to models of similar cost its stats are higher and its actions are just as decent. It needs to be toned down or have its cost raised.”

The next thing I look for is some support of the original claim. You’ve made your point and you’ve made it well, now it’s time to get down to the details. List which specific stats are too high or too low. Give comparisons to other models of similar cost (wave 1 models please, which have already been tested). Quote the exact ability or action and point out where it could be worded better, etc.

Finally, and most importantly, provide evidence. Give me examples of how the model behaved in game. Not theoretical scenarios which could happen, but actual examples of things which happened to you in game. Providing full battle reports can be time consuming and not everybody can do that, I understand. However, you could summarize a model’s performance in a paragraph or two to highlight your points. And, of course, a link to a battle report always helps.

That is the holy trifecta (no, screw that, the Triforce). That is the holy Triforce of expediting change during open beta: Reasoning, Details, and Evidence. If you miss any one of those, it reduces your odds of implementing change. That isn’t to say that I’ll ignore you, but posts which hit all three points will be heard more often.

Once you have used the holy Triforce to successfully demonstrate why a change needs to be made, feel free to start suggesting how the change should be made. Throw out ideas, write new abilities, point out which stats need to be raised or lowered. You might have some good thoughts, and I’m not above stealing (Mack hides his lunchbox for a reason, damnit). However, if you open with how you would make changes without ever supporting why the change needs to be made, don’t be surprised if people don’t take your suggestions seriously.

Here is an example of feedback which hit all of these points that was given in the closed beta, and led to change:

Dreamer: Played a game against the dreamer last night (I used Hamelin) and both me and my opponent felt very underwhelmed by the Dreamer himself. We both felt that his only use (maybe in this game) was summon the Twins turn 1, turn into Chompy turn 2 and just start punching things. Anyone else having the same issues? My player (who got into Malifaux because of the Dreamer) didn’t feel the “fun factor” he once had while playing this version. Maybe the issue is what he can/cannot summon combined with the fact that Chompy is relatively unkillable. Once he’s out there is no insentive to put the Dreamer back on the table and I as the opponent didn’t feel the necessity to kill Chompy to try and do so. I would like Dreamer to be able to summon more models to give the player a better reason to keep Dreamer on the table. Possibly Stitched and Insidious Madness. As of now he can summon Alps (no rare limit), The Twins (both are rare 1) Day Dreams (rare 3) and Coppelius (Rare 1). Thats a very limited pool of models, for a model that has become a summoner. If this is the route you wish to take with the dreamer, open up his options, or give him abilities to better support the crew.

Reasoning: The dreamer doesn’t have enough to do because after he has summoned models, it’s better to stay safe and buried and let chompy do his thing.

Details: The dreamer has (well, had at the time the feedback was given) no support actions, and all of the models he can summon are either rare or insignificant, providing a cap to his effectiveness.

Evidence: He briefly mentions a game with his friend, and gives examples of how the models played. This could have been fleshed out more, but people have other things to do and I’m not unreasonable.

He clearly outlines what he thinks needs to change, why, and he clearly put it on the table. I think it would have been better to test the Dreamer against an already published wave 1 master, and obviously more details about the game would have been helpful, but this is a good example of how to give decent feedback without spending all night taking notes. Also, I should say that since this feedback was given major changes were made to the Dreamer and he now has much more options to support his crew.

One more thing I feel I should note after reading some of the feedback: keep your audience in mind. And, if you are posting in the hopes of making actual change, I am your audience. I put a lot of effort into the rules, although admittedly some are in better spots than others, that’s what the beta is about. But if you are sarcastic and make snide remarks about the designers, do you think that makes me more likely to listen to you, or less likely to listen to you? The problem isn’t my ego. Trust me, at my last job a bad day might involve being bitten (which helped prepare me for the wave 1 beta). The problem is that it’s a shame when someone really does have useful feedback, but it gets lost in hyperbole. Don’t paint yourself as unsatisfiable.

Alright, now you have all that down and you want to write a battle report. This is probably a good place to give some details on the easiest way to format one. Please post all battle reports in the playtest battle report forum and include the date of the latest rules update and the crews in the title. When reading a playtest battle report I want to see: crew lists (including upgrades), a summary of what happened in the game (either a few paragraphs or a turn by turn break down), and your post game thoughts on how the models played. Here is an example:

Jack Daw Vs. Somer: 10/7 Rules

Crew List 1:

Crew List 2:

Game Summary: (Either a few paragraphs or turn by turn break down, whatever you have time for)

Player 1 Closing Thoughts: (Either a few paragraphs, or an individual break down of each model which is being tested)

Player 2 Closing Thoughts: (Either a few paragraphs, or an individual break down of each model which is being tested)

If both players can’t give their feedback, that’s fine, but it is often nice to have both perspectives. Also, if you feel that certain models are balanced and good to go, please say so! Often people simply don’t give feedback on models which they feel are close to being done, but doing so is important because other people may be trying to get those models changed and your experience is important too. Also, remember that it is best to test wave 2 crews against wave 1 crews. Wave 1 crews have already gone through rigorous testing and they have been locked in, so they provide a good baseline to test this wave against.

Experience is fundamental to playtesting, so battle reports are great. Often I think people get caught in the trap of looking only at how the model used to work in 1.5. While staying true to the fluff and retaining the feel of the model are valid motivations, we need to look at how the model works now, and the only way to do that is to get it on the table.

Don’t forget that this is not a competition. The point is not to win the argument; the point is to give the most accurate feedback so that we can reach the other side of this process with the best game possible. I think it can be easy to get caught up in an individual argument and forget the point of the entire process.

Finally, sometimes you will follow all of these guidelines and you still won’t see change in the models you tested during the next update. Sometimes I feel the models need one more week of testing to get more data from other people. Sometimes I may agree the models need to change, but want further input on how to change them. Sometimes it’s simply because I’m only one person, and I spent most of my focus updating other models. And, sometimes it’s simply because I disagree with you due to my own data or data from other players. Whatever the cause, just because change didn’t come immediately doesn’t mean you weren’t heard. Nor does it mean I saw it and disagree so you should forget the issue. Feel free to bring issues up again, politely, and without spamming. Also feel free to email me and simply ask what the story is.

Join me next Monday for the first of my personal posts, in the mean time, have fun with wave two!

An Overview Of Wave 2 Masters

The Monday blog post will usually be reserved for random musings and personal entries, but with wave 2 going live today, I thought that it would be more appropriate to give you guys some thoughts on the wave 2 masters. I want to talk about each one of them, so none of them will get a totally in depth analysis (although they may in later blogs) but I will include a few thoughts about the fluff direction, difficulties in converting them over from 1.5, or anecdotes about the design (depending on the master). I recently gave an interview with Guessing Zero here and Malifools here to discuss wave 2. I suggest checking them out, in each I went rather in depth on the new Gremlins, so I have included less on the new gremlin masters on this blog, and a bit more on the new Arcanist master who didn’t get as much air time.

I also want to emphasize that the design of these models was a group effort. Mack helped greatly on the Ten Thunders and Guild (when he wasn’t swamped with Through the Breach) and David Hanold always helps where he can. Additionally, we couldn’t have accomplished any of this without our amazing alpha testers who slogged through broken models, redesigns, and typos so you don’t have to! I have tried to give people credit on individual models where I can. In later blog posts I will likely skip giving credit for brevity and simply say “we” when talking about design, as it is always a group effort, but I thought some thanks here would be appropriate.

This is a much longer blog post than I will usually be making, but I wanted to at least touch on each individual master. Feel free to skip to your favorites.

I hope you like it!

Ironsides

Ironsides is the new Arcanist master. She is the M&SU major leg breaker/enforcer. Forget to pay your union dues? Ironsides is the person Ramos sends to your house in the middle of the night to send you a gentle reminder involving a ball pin hammer and a blow torch.

From a game play perspective, she is the first melee oriented Arcanist master. The melee master is a well-explored master archetype in Malifaux. It can be seen in almost all of the factions in masters such as Lilith, Lady Justice, Viktoria, etc. However, the Arcanists always lacked this archetype, so it was a logical place to go with the new master.

In her initial design, we gave Ironsides three different melee attacks. One was a (3) action, one was a (2), and the last was a (1). Each one had a trigger which allowed her to take the action costing one less AP. For example, if she hit with her (3) Action, she could declare her trigger to take the (2) action. If the (2) action hit, she could take her (1) action. This gave her an interesting risk/reward dynamic. She could spend all of her AP on a single attack but, if it paid off, she could get loads of actions and dish out a ton of damage. I felt this was a great representation of beating somebody into a bloody pulp.

Unfortunately, this play style proved a little too uninteresting. Her abilities were too “swingy.” She would either hit and demolish something, or miss and do nothing for an activation. Instead, we replaced it with the adrenaline mechanic which is on her card now. Now she gains the adrenaline +1 condition when she’s attacked or when she hits with an attack, and she can spend it to generate more actions or gain bonuses to her actions. This still allows her to potentially get a bunch of swings in combat, but makes her playstyle much more consistent. I have to say thank you to Chris Slazinski, who helped hammer this model out.

Colette

In 1.5, Colette was the queen of soulstone manipulation. With the switch to M2E, many people were concerned with how her mechanics would change with the new soulstone system. Matt Anderson (the same person who is responsible for the M2E Seamus conversion) was instrumental in this process.

Colette still manipulates soulstones plenty. She gains an extra one each activation with her artificial soulstone ability and she can spend them on a myriad of actions. However, because soulstones aren’t as powerful as they once were, she needed a little bit more design space. To do this, we expanded Colette’s list of specialties to include Scheme Markers as well. She is now the queen of Scheme Marker manipulation: she can blow them up to dazzle her opponents, use them as props to reduce damage, and use them as trap doors to mover herself and her crew around.

Colette is an example of retaining a similar game dynamic while changing the individual game mechanics. What I mean is that the style and feel of a Colette crew is the same; it is a highly mobile crew that dances away from damage and accomplishes objectives. However, the manner in which it does this has changed a bit.

Kaeris

Kaeris is everyone’s favorite flying fire mage. Since she was one of the henchmen who gained master status, the biggest initial change is her crew selection. Kaeris now has access to the full Arcanist arsenal, as a proper master should.

In designing her rules, the biggest challenge was probably differentiating her from the other elemental casters: Rasputina and Sonnia. We didn’t want a flaming version of Raspy, or a slightly altered Sonnia, Kaeris needed to come into her own.

Kaeris differentiates herself from those two by being a much more mid to close ranged caster. She has better mobility with her Wk 5 and flight, and better defenses with armor and her smoldering heart trigger. She lacks the ability to do massive damage at range (and without LoS) that both Sonnia and Rasputina have access to, but she makes up for this with her ability to get in the middle of the action, dish out a small amount of burning to multiple models (or a large amount to a single model depending on preference/upgrades) and survive.

Molly

Molly probably saw some of the most significant change from her 1.5 incarnation. This is both to give her a necessary power boost, and to represent her changing fiction as she gains independence from Seamus.

Molly is a mid-range summoning and buffing master. She wants to be about 6-8” from the action, raising new models, debuffing the opponent, and buffing her crew. To help her survive there she has the highest Df of a Resurrectionist master to date with black blood and a good Df trigger, although she only has 10 wounds. Her summon is one of the most unique in the game. When the summoned model comes into play, it will die unless there is an enemy within 3”. When Molly’s models are summoned, they suck the life force out of close by enemies. This makes the summon virtually useless early game, as no enemies will likely be nearby. However, late game it will be doubly effective as it nets her controller a new model while also dealing damage.

Another great thing about Molly is that she synergizes with spirits, and can even summon them with the proper upgrade. In this way she helps to tie the Resurrectionist faction together.

Kirai

Kirai plays very similarly to her 1.5 version. She is still the spirit master who summons models by taking damage herself. She still plays a heavy support role with a protective bubble of spirits around her.

The challenge with Kirai was balancing her. Her 1.5 version was a bit too over the top for what we wanted from an M2E master. Bringing her in line involved a number of small tweaks. For instance, her ability to pass off an attack to a nearby spirit is now a trigger which requires a suit, forcing her to spend a resource to remain invulnerable. Her summoning was limited, and some of her abilities were slightly retooled. However, she is still the same master we all know and love.

Hoffman

Hoffman can still form the construct bubble of doom. At the start of his activation, Hoffman can give the power loop condition to himself and a nearby construct. This condition allows him and the construct to use each other’s stats when making duels, so keeping a hulking metallic bodyguard near him is a good idea. He can also pass out this condition with one of his actions, allowing him to further buff his constructs.

Additionally, Hoffman is now one of the poster children of the design space opened up by the upgrade system. Hoffman may attach “modification” upgrades to his constructs throughout the course of the game, simulating his brilliant innovation and improvisation in the middle of a fight. I want to give a shout out to Aaron Darland, who helped extensively with this design.

Lucius

Lucius is a control master who turns his AP into AP for his crew. This is another master archetype, and it can be seen in masters like Zoraida. However, Lucius puts a spin on this archetype by specializing in allowing a number of smaller models to take numerous actions, where a master like Zoraida will prefer to obey one or two heavy hitters over and over again.

Lucius has an ability that allows him to target a friendly minion within 18” after he performs a walk action. The target minion must pass a Horror Duel. If it succeeds, it gets to take a (1) action. In this way, even Lucius’s walk actions can turn into AP for his crew, and it creates a very flavorful feeling on the tabletop, as even his own crew is terrified of him. Of course, Lucius has a number of other fun tricks, he also excels at accomplishing objectives and placing Scheme Markers, but I’ll let you read those for yourself in the beta.

The Dreamer

The Dreamer was an incredibly difficult master to port over from 1.5, and again I have to give thanks to Aaron Darland for his invaluable work on this model.

As I’m sure you know, The Dreamer caused some issues in 1.5. The more we explored it and tried to find the root of the issues, the more we realized that a crew which functioned so heavily around the bury mechanic simply wasn’t healthy for the game (this is a continuation of a lesson I learned in early Tara design. Tara still manipulates bury, but does so much more mildly than originally intended). Having models off of the board is problematic in that it prevents opponents from interacting with them. Any time you deny the opponent the ability to interact, you’re in very dangerous territory.

To take some of the emphasis off of the bury mechanic, The Dreamer now brings many of his nightmares onto the table through summoning. From a thematic point, this represents the nightmares being creations of his own imagination (or things he thinks are creations of his own imagination…), bursting out to reek havoc on Malifaux. Of course, if he summons too much, he wakes up and Lord Chompy comes out to play.

Collodi

Collodi is one of my favorite ports over from 1.5 so far. His massive mobility and marionette swarm needed to be limited, and his horizons needed to be broadened. Like the other henchmen, he now has the full hiring arsenal of a real master. To go along with it, he has a variety of lists and playstyles which work well for him.

One such build is to take a number of effigies. Every effigy now has a (0) action which applies a condition to the friendly leader. And Collodi can take an upgrade which allows him to apply any conditions he gains to friendly dolls within range. Of course, it’s a limited upgrade, and his other option is an upgrade which can grant his model’s fast or heal them. In addition to this, Collodi has a very unique attack action and some interesting control aspects. If you liked Collodi before, I think you will love him now.

Jack Daw

Good old Jack Daw is a full blown master now. To help represent his cursed nature, Daw can move upgrades from himself to his enemies, and some of these upgrades do very bad things…

One of the symbols of torment and injustice in Malifaux, Daw can hire tormented models out of faction, including Nurses, Papa Loco, and The Hanged. With this arsenal, there are all sorts of creative misfortunes awaiting the opponent.

And, finally, Jack Daw wouldn’t be Jack Daw without his undying ability. Daw still sits comfortably at 1 wound, avoiding death by discarding a card. Additionally, any attack which isn’t focused will reduce all damage done to Daw to 0. This is slightly different from his 1.5 iteration. For one, only allowing cards to be discarded to avoid death (as opposed to soulstones as well) makes it easier to remove Daw. Additionally, since every model may focus, it allows any model to damage Daw while still limiting the number of incoming attacks. I think this unique way of staying on the table is a good way towards being balanced, but this is something I will be watching closely in the beta.

Hamelin

The scourge of 1.5, I knew Hamelin was going to be a major challenge, and again I have to give thanks to Aaron Darland for his work on this.

One of the major issues with Hamelin in 1.5 was the sheer number of rats which he could put onto the board. To help limit this, we introduced a new model called a rat king (a rat king is something from folklore, a jumble of rats with their tails tied together, usually created by a rat catcher). When too many rats are in one place, they all become sacrificed and summon a rat king. This helps keep the crew’s sheer numbers down while giving Hamelin some significant models to play with.

In addition to that, the sheer damage output of some of the crew was toned down. Currently, I think Hamelin actually may be one of the more balanced masters going in to the open beta. I’m very excited to see if I’m correct.

McCabe

McCabe came over to M2E with minimal change, in large part due to the help of Michael Kelmelis. He still dismounts, he still has his net gun, and his trusty Luna still gets into the thick of it with some Guild Hounds.

One of the major differences is that McCabe is another master who takes advantage of the design space provided by the upgrade system. In some ways, McCabe is the opposite of Jack Daw, where Daw spreads his upgrades to the opposing crew to hinder them, McCabe hands his out to his own crew to give them benefits.

Yan Lo

Yan Lo was a difficult master to design for second edition simply because of his sheer number of rules. We had the challenge of taking him and distilling him to a version that would be accessible for new players, but still appealing to the veterans who loved him in 1.5.

To this end, we made heavy use of his upgrades. Yan Lo can gain new upgrades as the game progresses. This can happen in two ways. First, whenever an Ancestor dies, he has the ability to attach an Upgrade which the Ancestor had (later he can discard the upgrade to try to resummon the Ancestor, but that’s another story). Secondly, he can spend Chi, a condition he gains through the course of the game, to attach his path upgrades.

Yan Lo was certainly a challenge, but I think we did a good job of retaining the feel of what was a very complex model, while bringing it to a place where it is a lot more accessible.

Ulix

Ulix is the gremlin master who synergizes best with pigs. Being completely new to Malifaux, Ulix was a blank slate, which presents its own set of challenges and benefits.

In a lot of ways, Ulix fits into the Hoffman master archetype; he is a support master who works best when within close range of a group of models he can buff. However, he differentiates from Hoffman in that Hoffman tends to want one “big” construct with high stats to protect him, where Ulix works better the more pigs are near him.

Mah Tucket

Mah Tucket is a cranky old matriarch who leads her all female band of gremlins with surprising effectiveness in lightning raids on human travelers and settlements.

Mah fills the gremlin’s melee master hole, pummeling her foes with a giant wooden spoon. She is the only master in the game with the from the shadows ability, allowing her to be deployed anywhere on the table.

Wong

Wong has been promoted to a master with his transition to second edition. He is the gremlin casting master, and he specializes in dealing damage to large numbers of models at once.

Oh, and he can blow up Scheme Markers.

Well, that’s it for the new masters (except for the new 10T master who is not yet in the open beta). I hope this post gave you some insight, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Also, keep in mind, this is still a beta. I fully expect some of these to still need work, but that’s the journey we have embarked on. Stop back Wednesday for what I look for in beta feedback.

Synergy

Well, it’s 5am. I’ve been up all night tweaking things to get ready for the open beta next week. And I decided that today was the day I would finally start this damn blog. So, today’s message is brought to you by caffeine and insomnia induced hallucination. Because nothing helps the creative process like that gibbering, hollow mouth you constantly see out of the corner of your eye, or the forlorn whisper that is always right behind you.

Welcome to the first post on the Justin Drawing Dead blog! Just to give you a bit of information, I plan on updating this blog twice weekly; once on Wednesday with some game design/Malifaux content, and once on Monday with posts which will be a bit more personal and varied.

I wanted my first Malifaux post to be something which I felt was fundamental to the design of the game, so I settled on synergy. In most games where a player can assemble their own Crew/Army/Deck/etc, designing a list which works together, rather than one that is a random jumble of good stats, tends to give the player an advantage. Malifaux is no exception to this rule. Most players got a hard lesson on the importance of synergy in Malifaux during first edition when book two came out. The Crews in book two had much better synergy than the ones in the previous book, so they tended to dominate the meta (although there were certainly other factors at play as well).

Of course, synergy isn’t just important to winning the game, it’s important in the design process as well. And it’s a very easy thing to get wrong. When designing a game, you want to build subtle synergies into the system that the players can discover. Unfortunately, it’s easy to end up clubbing the players over the head with it instead (Why? Why’d you do it, man?! …It was just…so easy…). To help navigate this process, I like to think of there being three tiers of synergy. Sort of like the food pyramid, only less delicious:

1) Subtle synergy: This is synergy between two models which isn’t spelled out, but the models clearly work well together. For example, maybe one model generates Wp duels, and another debuffs the opponent’s Wp. Synergies like this are great because they allow the pieces of the Crew design puzzle to be interchangeable. Those two models aren’t locked together by any hard and fast rule. In this way, a designer can reinforce thematic Crews without putting a damper on list building. Additionally, if the synergy is subtle enough, the player will feel like they have discovered the combo, and the joy of discovery is a major driving force in gaming.

2) Keyword synergy: In Malifaux, we generally apply this sort of synergy through characteristics. One model might say “All Undead gain +1 Ml” and another model…is Undead.  This sort of synergy is a lot more limiting than subtle synergy. Those Crew building puzzle pieces are starting to come in strange shapes which are more difficult to interchange. In other words, the designer is starting to limit the player’s choices, and making the solutions more obvious. This hampers list building and takes away from the joy of discovery (after all, it’s obvious if a model is Undead, it’s printed on the card). However, this is still a powerful tool and we use it often. It can help to give a strong thematic link to a Crew, and theme plays a major role in Malifaux. Additionally, it is a great tool for balancing models. Only want a very specific subset of models getting that buff? Make it work off a keyword.

3) Specific model synergy: This is synergy between two specific models which are listed by name. The best example of this in Malifaux is the interaction between totems and their associated masters. This is the very top of our synergy pyramid; an integral part, but one to be used sparingly. This has all of the same advantages and disadvantages as keyword synergy, only taken to an extreme. Now you have created a piece of the Crew building puzzle which only fits with one, specific other piece. However, the interaction between the two models can be even more thematic, and possibly more interesting.

I hope that I have made it clear why each level of synergy is important, and why having a solid base of subtle synergy is so necessary for a healthy game. Although, sometimes taking things to an extreme really demonstrates the point. Imagine if Malifaux were designed with the pyramid upside down, where specific model synergy was most common. Masters would basically list which models they worked with, and very little choice would be left up to the player. At the end of the day, the heart of a game is always choice. Players are at the table to make decisions to influence the game and improve their odds. If the designer has hard coded certain things into the system, he or she has taken those choices away. In essence, the designer is playing the game for the player. Perhaps that’s why this is such a common mistake; most game designers enjoy playing games, I can see how they could fall into the trap of trying to play for other people.

That’s probably enough rambling about the more vague points of design; it’s time for some real world examples. Let’s take a look at Rasputina’s Crew box, because it was the first one we designed for M2E and it ended up being an example on this topic in multiple design discussions in the office.

Rasputina’s Crew has a ton of subtle synergy; little abilities and actions which just sync well together. Look at the toss action on the ice golem. It can be used to fling models out into the middle of the board, which is the perfect place for Rasputina to start slinging spells through them. Additionally, those little ice gamin are the perfect targets for toss; they’re tough, they’re cheap and expendable, and when they die they explode. If you’re going to toss one of your friends at someone, it’s good to have an ice gamin around (Speaking of the ability to explode, notice that Rasputina tends to stay way in the back, so she will usually be safe from that ability while her opponents have to deal with the carnage).

Next up, the Crew has a healthy dose of keyword synergy. Rasputina can only bounce her spells off of models with Frozen Heart. This really ties the theme of the Crew together, and keeps her Ice Mirror ability from getting too powerful. We really wanted to limit the mobility of models which she would be using to target through, so this was the perfect place for keyword synergy in both the theme and balance departments.

Finally, Rasputina has some specific model synergy with her totem, the Wendigo, as is typical for masters in Malifaux.

This is just one Crew but, once you start looking for it, hopefully you can start seeing the layers of synergy in all of the Crews (another one of my favorites is the use of Push coupled with Pounce and the Grow mechanic in the Lilith Crew).

Making sure that players are able to discover their own combinations and their own synergies is definitely something I am keeping in mind while designing the wave 2 models. At times this has proved challenging, because many of them had the most blatant synergies in the previous edition. But I have done my best to keep the puzzle pieces as open as possible, and to allow models to work in as many Crews as possible. To give a little spoiler, I hope that Tuco will be attractive for a Pandora Crew due to his defensive trigger:

Df/Wp (M) Deranged Laughter: After suffering damage, all enemy models in p4 gain the following Condition until the end of the Turn: “Disturbed: This model suffers -1 Wp.”

And also to a Lilith Crew for his Nephilim keyword and ability to push enemies.

Anyway, I think I have made my point. Stop by next Monday and I will have a post about some of the Wave 2 models and design philosophies, since you will be able to see them by then! Until then, please leave a comment and let me know what you would like to see in this blog, if you have noticed any model synergies you want to talk about, or just let me know if you haven’t slept in 48 hours and your cat is talking to you (Note: this is perfectly normal, so long as the cat is still speaking English. At least that’s what she told me).