Archive for January 20, 2014

Resource Design In Malifaux


Today’s post is on resources, and how to design resource mechanics for Malifaux. By resources, I mean something that will be spent when using an ability in such a way that it limits the use of that ability. For example, discarding a card to take an action, etc.

Fundamental Resources

There are a few resources which I qualify as “fundamental resources.” These are resources which basically every model in the game uses. There are three fundamental resources:

Cards: The cards which make up a player’s hand can be spent on almost any model.

Action Points: The action points which dictate how much a model can do throughout the course of the game. I have a whole post on viewing AP as a resource.

Wounds: The number of wounds a model can take before it dies, which can also be spent by certain models on some abilities.

Without these resources, the game simply wouldn’t function. While using them as a limiting factor for certain actions is common, relying on them too much can make the game collapse (I’ll get into this a bit later).

Secondary Resources

Secondary resources include anything which can function as a resource, but isn’t one of the fundamental resources. This can include almost anything from a condition on a friendly model (Chi on Yan Lo) to a condition you put on an enemy model (Poison for McMourning) to things like scrap, corpse, and scheme markers.

Crew Mechanics

Many crews are themed around a specific resource. McMourning is themed around poison, Colette is themed around scheme markers, etc.

However, a fundamental resource can never be used as a crew mechanic. If a fundamental resource is used, there will be too many other models which interfere with the functioning of the crew. This is something we have tried a number of times before, and it has never been pretty.

For example, Jack Daw went through a period in the beta where he used the cards in hand instead of wounds to stay alive. Basically, he only had one wound but could always discard a card to prevent any incoming damage. This was neat and unique, and a throwback to 1.5 Jack Daw. But it had the severe limitation of Jack Daw having to save his hand to stay alive rather than cheating fate, which hampered the rest of his crew. Additionally, any model which allowed Jack to draw (or forced him to discard) cards caused huge fluctuations in his survivability. For these reasons, we needed to abandon this mechanic.

Similarly, Kirai went through a period of using her wounds as her primary summoning resource. Of course, opposing models were continually trying to take this resource away from her by attacking her, which both made her easier to kill and weakened her summoning. On the other side of the spectrum, run of the mill healing abilities made her summoning too powerful. Again, this caused huge swings in her power level. (Now, to an extent you could say that Kirai still uses wounds as her summoning resource, but I would argue that she is primarily designed to use Seishin as her resource with wounds as an option. But that’s a topic for a Kirai design post.)

Using a fundamental resource as a crew theme resource always causes wide swings in power because so many models interact with them. Additionally, playing with them too much can cause issues for all of the models, not just the ones playing in theme.

Of course, there are lots of models that use cards and/or wounds as a resource, and that’s fine. But it is a question of degree. A single model which has a zero action that requires a discard to function isn’t going to bog down an entire crew. In fact, minor discard abilities help to even out the luck inherent in drawing a hand, as low cards can be used to make these abilities work if you drew a bad hand (or, conversely, if you drew a really good hand, you now have a tough choice about which high card to discard). I like these abilities because they even the playing field a bit. But a master which revolves completely around one of these resources is going to become a black hole that the whole game has to revolve around.

In my experience there are two kinds of resources that work very well as a crew themed resource:

The first are resources that are obtained in a manner that allows the opponent a resist. For example, McMourning can summon after he applies poison to enemy models. Poison is McMourning’s themed resource. However, the enemy models will always have a chance to resist being poisoned. To an extent corpse markers fall under this category as well, as the most efficient way of getting them usually involves killing enemy models.

The second are resources that are totally unique to that crew. Take Chi on Yan Lo as an example. Chi generation is not limited to being gained by killing enemy models (although that is an option). However, because Chi is so specific to Yan Lo, I never need to worry about another model having an ability that grants Yan Lo an insane amount of Chi. Every model that gives out Chi was tested with, and intended for, Yan Lo.

The only exception to this rule that I can think of is Colette. She uses scheme markers as a resource, which are neither specific to her crew nor gained through conflict with the enemy (although I would still consider them a secondary resource). The catch here is that the things Colette does with scheme markers are, generally, a bit less powerful than the things other masters can do with their resources. Resurrectionists can bring in brand new models, Yan Lo can gain all sorts of upgrades, etc. Colette tends to use scheme markers for movement and damage mitigation, areas that other models often have built in. This makes her a very tricky and very unique master. However, it also means that I have paid very close attention to her in the beta, as she took on a mechanic I knew would be difficult to balance. But, I think we pulled it off.

Anyway, those are my notes on how to apply resource consumption in Malifaux design. The easiest way to design a broken model is to make it revolve around one of the fundamental resources.