The Problem With Summoning Part 1


Summoning is a major part of Malifaux, but it comes with some unique issues. There are very few (if any) other table top war games where actively putting new models on the table plays such a major role. Generally, all of your actions are focused on removing the opposing models from the table. While summoning makes Malifaux all the more diverse and unique, it creates some issues which other similar games never need to worry about.

I mentioned in another post that AP should be viewed as a resource. In this view, the winner is the player who most efficiently turns his or her Action Points (AP) into Victory Points (VP). This makes actions which either remove opposing AP, or add friendly AP, very powerful. Removing opposing AP is the more common of the two, and is most easily seen in killing models. The vast majority of models in the game have the potential to remove opposing models from the table (or are specifically designed for that purpose).

Summoning friendly models is the logical opposite to killing enemy models. Both forms of action hinge on changing the AP differential between you and your opponent in your favor. If you’re only looking at the AP differential, there is very little difference between deleting an opposing model and creating another friendly model. So it would seem that, on the surface, these two strategies are inherently balanced. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

To remove an opposing model, you almost always need range and Line of Sight (LoS). This inherently implies that there is a positioning element, which allows your opponent to react to you; either through positioning (running away) or counter attacking (killing your stuff first). Additionally, the opponent will generally have an opportunity to resist (because actions that can kill opposing models almost always require an opposed duel of some kind). This further adds to the counter play.

Summoning, on the other hand, can be accomplished in a vacuum. There is nothing inherent about summoning which requires positioning or opposing models to pass duels, etc. You can just do it in a corner without worrying about what the opponent is doing. Imagine if Lady Justice could sit in a corner swinging her sword and cheating in high cards every so often while removing opposing models from the table. From an AP differential standpoint, unchecked summoning is just as powerful. And, in addition to being too powerful, mechanics which don’t encourage interaction are simply less fun and more frustrating.

Of course, I am only talking about how summoning plays inherently. There is nothing specific about its design which forces player interaction and positioning, but that’s precisely the sort of problem we go about solving when we design summoning mechanics. This is why summoning actions usually require another resource (such as a corpse or scrap marker) which lessens the power of the ability, adds a positioning element, and forces interaction as the best way to get those resources is for models to start dying. I don’t think any of our wave 1 summoners are too powerful (and their beta counterparts are shaping up), I’m simply noting what I look out for as a designer. There are a number of other creative solutions which I will talk about in a future article, but for now I’m just laying out the problem.

One comment

  1. Dracomax says:

    I understand that summoning is one of the most difficult mechanics to balance. It can be very overpowering if too easy, or models which are too strong can be summoned, but if it is too hard to summon, or the creatures that can be summoned are not worth the AP to summon, then it doesn’t get used, and becomes dissapointing.

    I will say I think thus far, summoning in M2E is much, much better than in M1E. It can be done consistantly, but is not always the best use of AP. It is also a bit more rare, and doesn’t yet seem to be too overpowering.

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