So, how about a little background to why I wanted to write this article. First, I am a competitive Malifaux player. I enjoy the competitive tournaments and seem to do fairly well in them. I am also acting as a primary Tournament Organizer for a number of events, both large and small. This gives me a certain perspective in watching games (win and lose). Lastly, I have been following a large number of balance discussions in relation to Malifaux and have a theory I wanted to explore regarding those perceived balance issues.
This is a great place to note that the release of Book 4 - Storm of Shadows - may change the dynamics seen this year for faction to faction perceived balance. The timing issue still applies however.
So lets dive right in. Malifaux is a game where you choose your faction, then hire your crew from within that faction. It is a game where you have a primary objective and two secondary objectives, which you play toward over 6 turns. There are a number of ways to choose your primary objectives, typically by flipping on one of two tables to see what you have. Often those objectives are seperate for each player, but just as often they are shared with a single objective both players are striving to complete.
In a tournament, some of these factors tend to change. First, many tournaments dictate what the primary object (strategy) is that you will be striving to complete. Then, they make this a shared strategy as that helps tremendously on scoring. After this, tournaments have a fixed amount of time for each round, enforcing time limits on how long a game will go. These time-limits do not take into account the number of game rounds you have played, but are typically set at a fixed time limit such as 90 minutes.
The time limits and nature of tournaments provides an interesting twist to the game as a whole. Many people will plan out how they wish to achieve their strategies and schemes based on a 6 round game. They make allowances for if the game goes an extra turn, and plan their crews accordingly. Rarely do players plan to play thier games in 70 or 90 minutes. In a tournament, it is more likely that the 70-90 minute time frame will see games actually going 4 turns as opposed to 6. In addition, many games will not see a final "End Closing Phase" or even any part of a closing phase, as the end of the game will be called in the middle of a single model's activation.
So, what does this mean? More importantly (for this article) does this affect the perception of balance across the faction. I strongly believe that it does. The current perception is that Neverborn is at the top of the heap when it comes to strongest faction. Lots of people will argue that it is not (I am one of those), and that all the factions are balanced well against each other. This is very true in a "normal" game that goes through all 6 rounds and resolves naturally. In the artificial environment that tournaments create, I shift my stance to Neverborn being very much at an advantage. Further, I believe that there are specific masters in other factions that have a similar advantage, while the rest don't. I will go one step further to say that at least 1 faction is simply weaker overall when it comes to the time restrictions in tournaments.
So, lets take a closer look at Neverborn first. Neverborn are understood to be "Glass Cannons" overall, and they have an advantage in speed and movement. When a game is not going to move through a complete 6 turn resolution, the "Glass" portion above becomes less important. Most Neverborn crews have the advatage of being able to follow the following recipee in a tournament game via different methods:
- Delay through turn 1 to see what the opponent will do
- Move to the center of the board/target spot on the board on turn 2 to grab the objective
- Dish out the necessary damage/movement/interactions/etc over turns 3 and 4 to grab strategy and scheme points
- Game tends to end before turns 5 and 6
I believe that those two factions are at the ends of the spectrum for a condensed four turn tournament game. That brings us to both Arcanists and Resurrectionists. I play a limited amount of Arcanists currently, and do not play Resurrectionists at all. I can speak to these based primarily on what I saw during the tournaments at Gencon.
So, before we close out lets look at how Schemes play into this a bit. The additional factor that must be taken into account for tournaments is how can you grab your schemes without having them taken away. Which schemes are reliable to achieve within the 4 round time-frame and also "keep" points on. Everyone has access to the basic set of schemes, but some factions have models better at a couple of those than others. A great example is either Pandora or Zoraida for Steal Relic. Both of those models have high WP. Both of those models can quickly get to the point where they engage the opponents master. Both of those models have abilities that keep them alive unless heavily focused on. This makes Steal Relic great for those masters, but not for most other masters in the game. Others such as Hold out are pretty good vs specific opposing factions, such as Guild and Resurrectionists. Then there are schemes such as Bodyguard and Breakthrough which are especially good for masters such as Colette and her crew. The factor that seperates the Factions within the game are the Master and Faction specific schemes. Lets look at those.
So, at the end of the day, I think thats where the perception of imbalance lies. I think these imbalances could be addressed by lengthening the proscribed time-limits on tournament rounds and by taking another look at faction and master specific schemes. Perhaps the Wyrd Approved Gaining Ground tournament format should look at using a new set of schemes that are balanced for all factions.