Habit

I think forming good habits is important. It’s why I write a blog every Monday and Wednesday (so far) without fail. It’s why I’m sitting here writing this one in spite of the fact that I really, really don’t want to.

It’s a busy week. Holidays are coming up, update tomorrow, and my wife is due anytime now and getting any help from medical professionals is virtually impossible over the holidays, which is frustrating. But here I sit, blogging away.

Letting good habits slide is easy. Often you have good reasons to do so…like the ones listed above. But once you have given yourself that permission, it becomes easier and easier. “Oh, I missed last week, what’s one more? The world didn’t end.” I’m not usually a fan of the slippery slope argument, but this is a time it really applies; at least to me.

And this can be true for anything: diet, exercise, painting, working, just being nice to people. Keeping up good habits when it’s fun and you want to do it is easy. It’s the rough patches which are really going to determine how you do things. And I want to keep this blog going, so here I am.

Malifaux Activation Order

Today’s post will be another that takes what we intuitively understand about Malifaux and breaks it down explicitly, along the same lines as the article on Viewing AP as a Resource.

Order of Operations In Malifaux

operations

Mastering activation order is one of the most important skills in Malifaux. However, it can be tricky to get right. Do you activate the model which is most likely to be killed if it waits until later in the turn? Or should you activate the model which is best able to kill an opposing piece before it activates? Maybe neither one is the answer and you should activate the model which is about to place a valuable scheme marker or put up a defensive aura.

In my experience there are four really pressing reasons to activate a model early:

1) To get one more activation before the model is killed.

2) To kill an enemy model before it can activate.

3) To buff friendly models or debuff enemy models that are yet to activate.

4) To score VP (either before the model is killed, or before the method of gaining VP is denied by the opponent).

Remember, winning the game is all about Victory Points (VP) so the best option is usually the one which grants VP in the most efficient way. This would make option four appear to be the most appealing and, while this is often true, it isn’t necessarily always the case. Action Point (AP) efficiency is incredibly important, so often activating a model which will be killed if it doesn’t activate soon enough can be the best choice. For me, the most important model to activate the soonest is usually going to be one which combines a few of these options.

For example, maybe you have a model which will be killed if it does not activate as soon as possible, and that model is also in position to kill an enemy model before it activates (combining 1 and 2). Or maybe the model is in a position to score some VP which may not be available later while also taking an action to generate an aura which buffs the rest of your crew. Look at the board and remember that, once the game has started, all that matters is a model’s positional value. It doesn’t matter how many stones you spent on it or whether or not it’s your master. If it is in the most valuable position, it should be activated first. And, when possible, activate models which fall under more than one of the above categories.

Of course, activating as soon as possible isn’t always the best option in Malifaux. In fact, activating later in the turn can often reap some great benefits. On the message boards, the term “out activating” is often thrown about. What people mean by this is that their crew outnumbers the opposing crew, allowing their last few models to activate without the opponent responding.

In my opinion, there are three prime reasons to hold a model back and activate it last:

1) Activating last allows you to put the model into harm’s way and make its attacks without fear of opposing models activating afterwards and killing it (this is especially good on models which can move out of harm’s way after attacking).

2) Activating last allows you to score VP more easily (for example, placing Scheme Markers near an enemy Master after it has activated when you have the Spring the Trap scheme).

3) Activating last allows you to put some good buffs on the model before moving in and attacking.

Just like when deciding which model to activate first, you need to keep VP efficiency in mind. You may want to hold your master back so that it can attack safely, but if a 4 stone minion is in position to Spring the Trap, it may be the most valuable model you have. And, when you can hold a model back which fulfills more than one of these categories, that is usually a good choice.

It is also nice to see what your opponent does before committing your models. Don’t just look for the best opportunity; try to guess what he/she is doing. Anticipate what they may have planned after initiative is flipped on the next turn and use your late-turn activations accordingly. Does it look like your opponent is set to plant the last marker for Line in the Sand as soon as initiative is flipped? Can you stop it? At this point you are determining the flow of the game and that is very powerful: use it to your advantage.

Once again, this was probably a lot of stuff people already understand intuitively, but spelling it out can often help. Let me know if you found this useful.

The Project For Awesome

Project-for-Awesome

The Project For Awesome (P4A) starts tomorrow and I thought it would be nice to make a little post here letting you guys know about it.

The Project For Awesome is a charity drive organized every year by the Vlogbrothers (our partners on the Evil Baby Orphanage game). The Project For Awesome lasts two days (December 17-18th) and, during this time, people upload Youtube videos talking about their favorite charities. Over the course of the project, the Vlogbrothers host a livestream with various Youtube celebrities and they have an Indiegogo page (it’s already up, link) where you can donate to the project.

At the end of the project, the community votes for their favorite charities and the money raised by the Indiegogo page goes to them.

It’s an incredibly fun time. I love watching the videos and listening to the livestream (last year I remember Wil Wheaton was on it for a bit). I also love tuning in late at night when the hosts are exhausted, sometimes that’s the most entertaining time. Plus there are lots of cool prizes on the Indiegogo campaign.

It’s amazing to me what people can do when they work together, and the Project For Awesome really demonstrates this. What started as a small fundraiser now takes over the front page of Youtube every year and, last year alone, raised $450,000. In addition to the money raised, the charities that don’t win still get a lot of exposure.

If you’ve never heard of it, I highly suggest checking it out.

Balancing Models In A Dual Faction Environment

Second edition has introduced a lot of cross over between factions; new mercenaries, new dual faction models, and new hiring rules. Not to mention the options that upgrades add. But, with all of the potential combinations, how do we maintain a balanced environment? I think, on the whole, most people agree second edition is a relatively well balanced game, so how did we do it?

I’ll get into a few specifics down below, but the most important thing is a shift in philosophy. The goal is not to create a balanced system by hammering down problems as they pop up like some infernal game of whack-a-mole; the goal is to create a system that is capable of correcting itself.

SCOTT-PILGRIM-Mary-Elizabeth-Winstead-with-her-THOR-Hammer

Some people look at a game system as a machine that requires constant maintenance. But, over the years, you’ll end up with rubber bands holding the whole thing together and duct tape keeping the fender on. I see a game system as a living thing. My goal is to give it the tools it needs to survive and then let it correct itself.

So, when we go about balancing Malifaux with all of those models switching factions, everything needs to be looked at through that lens. Accept that the system is larger than you. Accept that you won’t catch everything. Trying out every single potential combination is simply impossible unless we want to beta test for years. Instead of worrying about the whole, we worry about the parts. A healthy system is created from the ground up, so first we want to make sure that models are balanced individually. Maybe, during the beta, nobody ended up testing a crew with Seamus, a Showgirl, Killjoy, and Taelor all together. However, even though that specific list wasn’t tested as a whole, so long as each of the models in it is balanced, we will probably be fine.

This is the first lesson: balance models individually. We can’t balance the game by saying, “Well, Resser masters are weaker than those of other factions, so we can give them stronger minions.” (This is an example I am making up, by the way, Resser masters are fine). If we follow that line of thinking, what happens when other factions start hiring Resser minions? Similarly, we couldn’t say, “Arcanists have weak 4 stone options, so we can give them stronger 7 stone options.” (Again, making this up). This has the exact same issue. What happens when Arcanists can hire 4 stone models from other factions? What happens when that 7 stone model ends up elsewhere? Not to mention, this would probably just lead to Arcanist players spamming 7 stone models.

I’m not saying that the factions need to lose their identities; they all still have distinct areas of strength and weakness. Guild have more range options, Ressers have more summoning, Neverborn have more movement, etc. What I am saying is that each model in a faction needs to be balanced as an individual. If all of the parts are working, the crew you create from those parts should work as well.

Of course, this doesn’t cover everything. We’re all gamers; we’ve all seen what happens when there are two models/cards/whatever with rules that work individually but, when combined, create some stupid infinite loop or other silliness. How do we avoid that? Well, models which are capable of being broken like that tend to have some warning signs. As a designer, you need to learn to recognize those warning signs and work them out even if you haven’t found a specific model which causes a broken combo. Generally, anything which copies an action from another model can prove problematic, so we keep a very close eye on these abilities. That’s why they frequently restrict the use of copying abilities which mention a model by name or using triggers. Anything which adds suits can be problematic as it can result in unlimited triggers. Models with these abilities are usually closely watched (for example, the Daydream can add suits but, being the Dreamer’s totem, we know exactly which model he is adding suits to. Somer can add suits, but he can only do it to gremlins and pigs so we don’t need to balance all mercenaries around this ability, etc).

Finally, the last thing to watch is simple language. Anything which is too open ended can end up being a problem. Let me give you an example. Here is Shenlong’s Burn Like Fire action from the beta a week ago:

(1) Burn Like Fire (Ca 6 / TN: 10 / Rst: Wp / Rg: 6): Target enemy model suffers 1/2/3 damage. If the target has a Condition, this model may choose to gain that Condition.

Here is his Burn Like Fire action from this week:

(1) Burn Like Fire (Ca 6 / TN: 10 / Rst: Wp / Rg: 6): Target enemy model suffers 1/2/3 damage. End all instances of the Defensive, Focused, Fast, and Reactivate Conditions on the target. This model gains all Conditions ended in this way.

See the difference? This week’s version is much more restrictive, spelling out exactly which conditions he may gain. Now, did I find some broken combo involving this? No, but I acknowledge that there very well could be one I’m not seeing, if not now then in the future. Keeping the wording tight keeps the game healthy.

The other thing which you really need to watch is the number of debuffs available to a crew. Although watching the whole system is impossible, you can track how many models have an ability capable of debuffing (lowering the stats of other models around them) that may be taken outside of their native faction. If a crew ends up with too many of these models, it can make for an unfun game. This is why Montresor lost mercenary, and Iggy is being watched very closely.

If you follow all of these rules, you should have a relatively healthy system. But I mentioned earlier that I see a system as a living thing, and a living thing is going to need some tools to survive. The final piece of the puzzle is creating a few answers to potential problems which are available to absolutely everyone. This is where the mercenaries really shine. Each of the named mercenaries adds something unique which can be very useful from a meta perspective. Let’s have a look at them.

Johan, in addition to being an efficient model, has Rebel Yell which can remove conditions from a model. Conditions are a huge part of second edition, and it’s very possible that a player could run into a situation where they really need to get rid of some of them. Having a model available to every faction with this ability really helps level the playing field.

Taelor has Welcome To Malifaux (my personal favorite action that I designed in Wave 1, just as a side note) which gives her some good anti-summoning tech. Summoning is another big part of second edition and I think it’s necessary for all crews to have an answer to it. Keep in mind, this isn’t something we put in to answer a specific problem. We didn’t look at the meta and say, “Nicodem’s summoning is too powerful, so we’ll let everyone use Taelor. Problem solved!” That would be terrible design. However, we acknowledged that playing against a summoning crew can be a big shift in thought for people new to Malifaux (after all, most wargames only remove models from the table, they don’t come back on). And, in a small playgroup where a player may end up facing the same crew over and over again, it’s good to give that player an answer if they are getting frustrated. It’s also good from a tournament perspective if a player is familiar with the meta in their area; everyone always playing summoners? Pest control is on the way!

Hans can snipe upgrades off of models. Now, he is definitely the most controversial of the models listed so far. People seem to be worried about his ability to remove upgrades from masters (since upgrades are usually a big part of a master’s playstle). While this is a valid concern, we were aware of it when designing Hans, and Leader models can mitigate this ability by discarding cards. I have never personally seen a Leader have an upgrade removed by Hans unless they felt the cards were more valuable (in which case, they weren’t too attached to the upgrade anyway). People are more worried about the idea than about how it actually functions. However, perception is important, and with Hans filling this role, I have no intention of adding more models with this capability. Alright, controversy out of the way, Hans plays a role just as important as Johan and Taelor. Upgrades are a big part of second edition, and it’s good to have an answer to them to shake up the meta a little bit. Hans was never designed to take upgrades off of Masters; he was designed to take upgrades off of enforcers and henchmen (and he’s good at it). Like the other two, Hans isn’t an answer to a specific problem. However, if a player finds themselves facing an opponent who takes the same list over and over again, he can be used to shake things up. Sick of your friend always taking Decaying Aura on Bete Noire? Hans is your man.

That’s all I have for right now. Just remember the goal. The goal is not to create a machine and keep it running forever, the goal is to create a living thing that takes care of itself.

Community Part One

What is a community?

Is it just a group of people who are similar in some way?

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To a certain extent, I suppose. But there’s more to it than that.

What is it that brings them together? Shared activities?

zombies-eating-people

Shared values?

cborg

Any of those things could bring people together. But, at the end of the day, I’m not certain that the reason matters much. At least not all the time. Whether it’s a church, a club, a school, or a group of people who hang out and paint tiny plastic soldiers all day; what really matters is that people are drawn together. Whatever excuses we use or hobbies we choose, it’s the people that matter.

That’s an easy rule to forget when we have our heads in stats and rules debates all day. But I think that the beauty of this hobby is in the people we meet and friendships we make. Pushing people away and being rude and nasty over a rule, or edition change or whatever else is just plain dumb. Don’t get so caught up in the excuse we use to get together that you start to lose sight of why the hobby has any value at all.

Anyway, that was my brief thought for the day. And you probably noticed that this is part one. Part two will be about running a community, but that’s for a day when I have more time.

Swimming Against The Tide

swimming-against-the-tide

Comparing two models can be tricky, because when you do it, you need to consider everything the model can do and not just a single ability. It’s human nature to pick the two things which are most alike and compare them side by side; however, this is dangerous from a game design stand point.

This has been cropping up with Leveticus in comparison to the hanged. The Hanged has an action (Whispers From Beyond) which is very similar to the Unnatural Wasting action on Leveticus’s Pariah of Iron upgrade, except The Hanged doesn’t need to make a damage flip where Leveticus does. This led to a number of people requesting this action get a buff just because it wasn’t as good as the one on The Hanged. So, I posted this in the Leveticus thread:

I’m not worried about Whispers From Beyond on The Hanged. The Hanged being able to do something better than Leveticus does not make Leveticus worse. Nekima has a weak melee damage of 4, but that doesn’t invalidate Lilith as a melee piece. At the end of the day Leveticus gets one more AP to use the Action, has a longer range, and has a higher Ca with the opportunity to cast it on a +. Also he tends to be able to last longer to get more use out of it. Of course, all of this is academic, because I am not concerned with comparing Pariah of Iron with the Hanged; I’m concerned with comparing Pariah of Iron with Pariah of Bone.

Comparing models is difficult, because a single aspect of the model can’t be cherry picked and compared to something else, the model needs to be considered as a whole. But that’s not how people tend to operate.

At the end of the day, a good model can have a bad ability; it doesn’t make the model any worse, it just won’t come up that much. However, sometimes when a good model has a situational ability, that causes people to lower their perception of the model as a whole. It’s an unfortunate quirk of human nature, but since we tend to design games for humans, adhering to human nature is pretty important.

A good example of this was the Hunter ability on Samael Hopkins in the wave 1 beta. Hunter allowed Samael to ignore cover while within 6″ of his target. This is situational enough, but he also had Visions of Flame which was a better ability so long as the target had burning. However, Hunter may have come into play every once in a while. Because Hunter wasn’t very appealing, people got stuck on that and under valued Samael as a whole. All sorts of replacement abilities were suggested (which would have made him broken, since the rest of him was perfectly fine). Ultimately, I just removed Hunter and didn’t replace it with anything. Once the sub-par ability was removed, people focused on the better aspects of the model and I haven’t heard a single complaint about him being under powered, despite the fact that he is technically a smidge less powerful than when he had Hunter.

Human nature is an awkward thing to work around sometimes, but fighting against is is like swimming against the tide. Human nature wins.

 

Common Themes In Young Adult Fiction

I was responding to a comment on my post about the Hunger Games and I realized that I could probably expand it out into its own post.

I think there are a few elements which some of the really popular works of young adult fiction have in common. Of course, I have to point out, this is just my opinion and this isn’t my area of expertise. But I noticed some similarities and thought it would be worth sharing them.

1) People Are Sorted Into Groups With Distinct Traits

Sorting_Hat

This is very clear in Harry Potter where the children are literally sorted. Gryffindor if they’re courageous, Ravenclaw if they’re intellectual, etc, etc. Each house comes with a set of distinct traits which help to define the people in it.

The Hunger Games also has an element of this, although it’s a bit less pronounced. Each district provides something else to the Capital, and people from those districts tend to have specific talents; District 3 runs the power plant so Wiress and Beetee are good with technology, District 4 does the fishing so Finnick is good with a trident, etc, etc. Although this is significantly less important in the Hunger Games than in Harry Potter, it is definitely present and Katniss mentions the skills the children from each district might bring to the games.

I think that this is a theme in very popular young adult fiction because it brings out a number of elements which teenagers can relate to. After all, fitting in is sort of the defining challenge for most people in high school. Without distinct groups, there is nothing to fit in to. Being a part of something is important to most people, and the easiest way to define yourself as “in” is to define someone else as “out.”

Additionally, it helps to define the characters by giving them something to rally against. Katniss mentions that kids from her district were always at a disadvantage because they had no useful combat skills, but she breaks the mold with her ability to hunt. Harry Potter was sorted into Gryffindor, but he can talk to snakes and there is always the question of whether he should have been in Slytherin. Having characters which break the mold and express their individuality is a lot easier when there is a mold to break.

Defining yourself and your own abilities is a large part of growing up, and I think that reading about the characters as they literally try to figure out where they belong is something which can make these books even more relatable to their audience.

And let’s be honest, Harry Potter personality quizzes are fun. (Ravenclaw, bitches! …I feel the strange urge to throw a gang sign now.)

2) The Adults Know What Is Going On But Don’t Help

Young adult fiction should be about the trials and tribulations of…young adults. No argument here, but it seems the adults do always know (generally) what is going on, but they never step in or help. Like they’re just watching from a pedestal.

Snow

In Harry Potter, the adults know about the danger Harry is in, but you never see them running around getting chased by a Basilisk (well, not much). In the Hunger Games this is even more pronounced, with the adults literally watching the action on TV.

I think that this is a very important aspect because the lack of adult intervention allows the characters to fight their own battles. But, I think it also mirrors the experience of many teenagers. When you’re in high school and you’re being bullied and you’re drowning in homework and you’re trying to figure out your place in the world, the adults in your life aren’t going to step in and handle those problems for you. Teachers may see kids being bullied but be unable/unwilling to stop it. Both the ever-presence and general impotence/apathy of most adults is something most teenagers can probably relate to very well, and fiction which contains that element may be more appealing.

3) A Contained Environment

Hogwarts

In Harry Potter, most of the action takes place in the school, Hogwarts. Hogwarts is an environment with very well defined rules and locations which the characters explore. The Hunger Games takes place in an arena which the characters can’t leave, with adults outside controlling every aspect of it.

I think that this mimics the experience of most teenagers, going to school in the day and coming home at night. Every aspect of the lives is controlled and regulated by adults (well, at least the adults try, anyway). Sure, most high schools don’t release genetically engineered attack dogs on their students, but their rules and regulations can be (or seem) draconian. Having a well defined, well regulated environment which is controlled (at least partially) by those ever-present adult overseers who never seem to help much makes these stories all the more relatable.

Of course, I could be completely off. And I’m talking about the more mainstream fiction which kids choose to read (yeah, Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies contain none of these, but I’m not sure if it counts when kids have to read them to write an essay), and which become wildly popular. There are always exceptions (both in teenagers with varying tastes, and young adult fiction which takes off without this) but these are just a few things I noticed. Also, I want to note that this isn’t a criticism of young adult fiction. I like it very much. I can’t wait to pick up Divergent and see if any of these hold true (and, you know, enjoy reading it).

 

Burnout

Burnout

Over the weekend I was asked on a podcast if I ever get sick of dealing with Malifaux all of the time. My response was that I don’t get sick of it, because it’s my job. I go in to work, read feedback, playtest, and tweak models for eight hours and, at the end of the week, I get paid. Which, honestly, I think is the only way to stay sane. If Malifaux continued to be a hobby for me, I’m not sure how much fun I could have with it.

Also, at the end of the day, it gets better results. I’m not emotionally attached to one particular crew. I’m a lot less likely to write some horribly complicated ability and shoehorn it into the game because I think it’s cool. I’m not going to make my favorite master the best (or worst) due to my own bias.

In fact, on that same day (different podcast I think) I was asked if I had a favorite avatar, and my answer was no. I don’t have a favorite avatar, because right now, to me, the avatars are still just projects to be completed. I’m more concerned with making them work, and making sure other people enjoy them, than enjoying them myself. However, I do have some favorite models from wave 1 that I’m really itching to try out. But I didn’t feel that way about them while we were still designing them; I guess once a model is out it’s not a project anymore and I can enjoy it.

Even so, it’s hard to stay totally detached. After staying up all night reading battle reports, running quick scenarios, and calculating odds it’s tough to come in again and do the exact same thing the next day. And after releasing a beta update and reading that *everyone* hates *everything* it can be difficult to keep from slamming my head into my desk. I could make a model better in ten different ways, but if I take one thing away, that’s what I’ll hear about. The masters need to work like they did in last edition and use the same crews while being updated to M2E and getting rid of auto includes. Every model needs to be fast, defensive, great at dealing damage, cheap, and balanced.

After reading the forums for an hour after an update I usually come to the conclusion that I’m horrible at my job and I need to gouge my eyes out with a paper clip. Or, at least, that’s how I would feel if I took everything at face value.

At the end of the day, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Every week we’re chipping away at the marble and I need to take a step back and look at the whole sculpture. We’ve made some great improvements in the month and a half that we’ve had, and we’re on track to finish with honors. And I have a community of dedicated people helping to shape the game they love into something they will want to play for years. The feedback isn’t about me. None of this is about me. And any game designer who doesn’t understand that fact will not survive a public beta. It’s about the game. It’s about the community. It’s about coming together and slowly shaping a project into something we are all proud of. Sure, people may want completely contradictory things, but that’s because there are lots of different voices with lots of different opinions. And that’s a great thing. Of course people notice the negative more quickly than the positive, but that’s human nature. And, ultimately, ironing out the negative is what I’m here to do, so it makes my job easier.

The Hunger Games (Spoilers)

Over the weekend I saw Catching Fire. I love the Hunger Games book series and, so far, I think both movies have gone above and beyond in living up to the books. This post contains spoilers, if you haven’t seen both movies yet, do not proceed past the Mockingjay.

Hunger Games

*SPOILERS*

You were warned.

I am a huge fan of both the Hunger Games books and the movies. The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen who, in a dystopian future, is selected to participate in the Hunger Games; a brutal reality TV show where children fight to the death. In a nutshell, the basic premise isn’t entirely new, but the story is told in such a way that there are many metaphors which reflect on our own society.

It’s easy to read The Hunger Games and experience nothing except an entertaining story with plenty of action and violence with a teenage love triangle thrown in; and that’s fine. But I think there is a lot more to it than that. Everything which Katniss does has to be seen in the light that she knows she is being watched. Sure, she has a touching moment with Peeta in the first book when she nurses him back to health, but everything she does, she does with the knowledge that she is putting on a show. This is an obvious metaphor for today’s media which displays and judges every little detail of the lives of celebrities (it’s also a great metaphor for having to adhere to the ideals of others in general. It works just as well for the societal pressure for a teenage girl to have a boyfriend as it does from the perspective of media; being open to multiple interpretations is an earmark of great metaphor, but I’m getting sidetracked). Sure, we don’t force celebrities to fight to the death (yet), but we do sacrifice their privacy, comfort, and sometimes sanity on the altar of entertainment. In a lot of ways The Hunger Games reminds me of the Britney Spears Southpark episode. In the episode, Britney Spears is tormented by the media until the residents of Southpark sacrifice her to ensure a good harvest. Granted, at least today’s celebrities choose to be in the spotlight, but plenty of the Tributes volunteered to be in The Hunger Games as well.

I mention this because I think that shining light on this aspect is something which the first Hunger Games movie did right in a lot of ways through the character of Cato. Cato comes from one of the more privileged districts and he volunteers to be in the Hunger Games. In the book he is nothing but a mindless, violent brute who stands between Katniss and her survival. But, in the movie, he delivers some of my favorite lines. “I’m dead anyway. I always was, right? I couldn’t tell that until now. How’s that, is that what they want? I can still do this… I can still do this. One more kill. It’s the only thing I know how to do, bringing pride to my district. Not that it matters.” The movie shows Cato for what he really is, a victim; a victim of the society as a whole not just because of the situation he was in, but because of what he was led to believe. In the book Katniss touches on this with her internal monologue because it is told through a first person perspective, but I think the movie accomplished the same point just as effectively. This is something that few book to movie transitions accomplish; it wasn’t just a straight copy, nor was it a total rewrite, the same point was made effectively through its own unique medium.

Ultimately, Cato wasn’t the bad guy. He wasn’t the final obstacle. The enemy was always the Capital, and Katniss could never defeat them by playing their own game. Her ultimate victory is not achieved through violence, but through self sacrifice. Allowing Cato to appear more human only adds to this message.

berries

Even the cliche teenage love triangle is a great metaphor with Peeta representing non-violence, opposing the Capital by living his own way; and Gale representing violent opposition, beating the Capital at their own game. More than choosing between two guys, Katniss is choosing between two ideas.

Anyway, the Catching Fire movie continued to enhance the messages of the book in its own way. The scene which struck me the most in this respect was when Johanna Mason is being interviewed about having to participate in the Hunger Games again and she screams, “Fuck that! And fuck everyone that had anything to do with it!”

Johanna Mason

The really brilliant part about that line is that both F-bombs are bleeped, because the audience is viewing the footage as if they were Capital citizens watching the interview. The gut reaction this has is immediate, “You’re going to put her in an arena and watch as she is forced to commit murder, but you can’t handle the word fuck?” The great part about this reaction is that is exactly what is happening to the real life audience. Catching Fire has a PG 13 rating, which would be immediately kicked up to R if it included two F-bombs. This movie, which features teenagers stabbing each other, skin being melted off by poison gas, and the very same character which delivers those lines stripping in an elevator, can’t handle strong language. It’s an immediate and poignant reminder about the oddities of our own society and our own values. And it’s something which literally couldn’t have been accomplished by the book.

Of course, reading the books is still more than worth it. The internal dialogue with Katniss is fantastic and can’t be replicated in the film. However, rather than being handicapped by the medium, the movies have taken the same messages and presented them in their own way. Very few book to movie transitions are able to do this, and I thoroughly look forward to what Mockingjay brings to the table.

Viewing AP as a Resource

Today I will be talking about viewing Action Points (AP) as a resource. Doing so doesn’t change much, but it helps to explain logically what most players already understand intuitively. Spelling things out like this can sometimes help point us in the right direction when we have a difficult in game decision.

When selecting your crew, you have a number of AP which will be available to you throughout the game. An average crew crew can probably get about 85 AP over the course of an average game (8 models x 2 AP = 16 +1 AP for the master = 17 x 5 turns = 85). This varies depending on the number of models, additional actions the models can take, etc. It’s good to know about how many AP your crew can generate in game.

The point of the game is to collect Victory Points (VP). So, ultimately, the winner of the game is the player who most efficiently spent his or her AP to gain those VP. The more AP it costs you to get any single VP, the less viable that objective is. For example, an objective that requires you to cross the board is good for a crew with a high walk stat (as they will use fewer AP to cross the board), but another objective that involves killing models may be less appealing to the crew if they deal low damage (as this objective costs more AP for the crew). This may seem obvious, but as I said earlier, this is mostly an exercise in expressing logically what most people grasp intuitively. “Keep to your strategies and schemes,” is common Malifaux advice and what people are essentially saying is, “make sure you accomplish as many VP as you can with as few AP as possible.”

Of course, the number of AP a crew generates in a game is not a set number. While 85 might be the maximum potential for most crews, this number is going to go down as the crew loses models throughout the game. This brings me to my next point: not all AP are created equal. If a model is very survivable, it is much more likely to survive the game, and thus it is likely to be able to generate every AP possible. Because of this, survivable models will generally have less potent actions.

On the other hand, a model might be very good at causing damage.

“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t ya you bastard!”

Rec Room

In this case, the model can deny your opponent AP by removing their models. Additionally, in kill-based objectives, the model can generate VP at a more efficient rate.

During the transition from 1.5 to second edition, one of the major shifts which we made was to reduce the number of specific AP in the game. Specific AP comes from things like melee expert which allows the model more attacks, or nimble which allows it a free walk action, etc. These abilities were found on the vast majority of models with a cost of 6 or greater. However, these models were generally tough, good at killing things/accomplishing objectives, and they generated extra AP every turn on top of it. One of the disadvantages of fielding a crew of nothing but the most expensive models is generally that you will be getting fewer AP every turn, although the ones you do get will be more valuable. In 1.5, most of the models could both generate numerous AP and use them very effectively (and the expensive models which did not have specific AP very rarely saw the table). By reducing specific AP in second edition, crew selection has become much more difficult. People generally want a few heavy hitters, but they need some good objective runners as well. Hard choices are a good thing for a game.

Of course, we didn’t want to swing the other way either. In the early M2E beta test, there was a great amount of concern about “swarm” lists. In other words, lists which ran as many cheap models as possible in order to maximize AP. However, this is generally balanced by the quality of the AP those models generate. And the key faction which is best at doing this (Gremlins) generally pay for their extra AP by way of damage. While this mechanic is very fluffy for the gremlins, it also serves a very important balancing function; when gremlins suffer damage to generate more AP, they are essentially risking the AP they can generate later in the game in return for AP on the current turn.

Abilities which increase a crew’s AP potential during the game are incredibly powerful, so they are usually relegated to Master-level actions. The most common form of this is summoners who can spit out a number of smaller models to accomplish various objectives. These often prove some of the most difficult abilities to balance. The earlier in game the model is summoned, the higher its maximum AP output becomes. This is why there are often restrictions on summoning which make doing it in the early game restrictive or more expensive (i.e. requiring corpse markers which won’t drop on their own until later in the game, or in the case of Molly having to be near the enemy). Coming up with mechanics which restrict the early game more than the late game can be very difficult and is one of the reasons summoning is hard to balance. Another tool we use to balance summoning is having the summoned model take damage, meaning it is less likely to achieve its full AP potential.

Finally, there are even ways to transfer AP from one model to another (for example, with Obey you can spend one AP with one model to allow another model to take an action worth one AP). This is very useful if you have a big, heavy hitter with whom the AP would be more valuable. In other words, the heavy hitter has a limited number of AP, so other models funnel theirs over to him.

Of course, Obey-type actions aren’t just used to give AP to heavy hitters. They can also be used to allow models in critical locations to take interact actions or drop scheme markers. This brings us to another important aspect of viewing AP as a resource: positional value. We have already established that not all AP are created equal, but up to this point we have only explored how this is true because some models have better stats than others. However, the model’s position on the board also plays a part. A bayou gremlin may be a cheap model with low stats, but if it is in position to place the last Scheme Marker for Line in the Sand and score some VP for you, it may be the most valuable model in your crew. In other words, the value of a model will change as the game changes, and this is something which I call positional value. Again, this is understood intuitively by most players, but it can be useful to spell out.

This is another tricky thing about balancing summoners. Frequently, summoners place models right in the middle of the action, increasing their positional value. A normal model might need to take three walk actions to get to the center of the board, but if a model is just summoned right there, it has essentially gotten 3 AP worth of positional value right off the bat. This is a big reason why summoned models are slow and may not interact the turn they come into play.

A lot of players talk about a model’s effectiveness by referencing its soulstone cost (i.e. “My 8 soulstone cost Coppelius held up 13 soulstones worth of models. Pretty good!”). While this isn’t a bad rough estimate of a model’s effectiveness, the thing which I place the most value on is its AP efficiency; how many AP does the model need to spend to get me a VP? While Coppelius in the example above may have done a good job, he’s not going to win the game for you if your opponent has a 2 soulstone gremlin running around throwing scheme markers everywhere. In other words, don’t ignore the positional value of models. Once the game has started, how many soulstones the model costed you is totally irrelevant; all that matters is VP.

I hope this wasn’t too dry or too obvious for you. Leave a comment and let me know if you found this post interesting, and what sort of posts you would like to see in the future.