Thursday, May 30, 2013

Malifaux M2E - Bye Bye to Balance

I figured that title would grab some of your attention. I have been slow in posting lately, but lots has been happening on my end and very little of it has been gaming. I've been unplugged from the Malifaux play testing for a while now and am fairly well unplugged from anything going on. I have mostly drifted from the Wyrd forums as well, which has left me floundering around a bit looking for a change in hobby. That said, I am still listening to the Malifaux podcast circuit and grabbing games of Malifaux Classic when I can with my ever decreasing group of potential opponents. I am preparing for the upcoming Public Beta Malifaux V2.0 release in the next day (or so if they stick on schedule) and giving V2 one more chance at a couple games. It really sounds like there have been a lot of changes in even the short time I have been out of the loop! Unfortuantely for me, some of those changes are not sounding very positive and are actually taking more of what I love about Malifaux Classic away from the game.

Which leads me to this article. I was having a small discussion with members my old Malifaux group recently and we were talking about Faction to Faction balance in Malifaux Classic versus the announced Master to Master balance in V2.0. Ok, for those who stuck to the article this long looking for something sensational, I am pretty sure this is your off ramp. I am not writing this article to say that Malifaux V2.0 is no longer a balanced game. I have not seen the final version yet so cannot comment one way or the other. Despite being a liar (or reformed liar now I'm not a playtester?), I would rather talk a bit about the Faction to Faction balance in Malifaux Classic; Sensational blog titles are fun though, aren't they?

Faction to Faction Balance
Onto my actual topic, Malifaux Classic's Faction to Faction balance. It has come out on the recent Malifools podcast that the current Malifaux designers are departing from the previous Faction to Faction balance of Classic to attempting to provide Master to Master balance in Malifaux V2.0. In the previously referenced conversation I stated my opinion that I felt that Faction to Faction balance was one of the core aspects of Malifaux Classic. This is something that I not only like but also something I felt was a strength and a true differentiation to Malifaux in the miniature wargaming space.

Faction to Faction balance is the idea is that every master in a given faction is not specifically balanced to every other master in the game, but that instead every faction has all the tools necessary to achieve all the different game objectives. Factions as a whole are balanced against each other when viewed Faction to Faction. This means that a player will have trouble playing with a single master for all the game objectives, but would be better suited to choosing a full faction to play.

In many instances this type of balance also means that certain masters have counter's in opposing factions which put the player at a disadvantage when their master and crew are facing that counter.  On the other hand, each faction when viewed as a whole is balanced in it's ability to face other factions and also in achieving objectives (Strategies and Schemes).

This affects how Malifaux works from a player perspective in a couple ways. As a player stepping up to the table, it means that I will know the Strategy and my opponents faction when I start to hire my crew. Knowing the strategy gives me a general idea of which masters and crew combinations work best to achieve my objective. This will typically draw down my choices from 5 masters to the 2 that work best for the strategy. I can then consider which masters and crews work best for my opponents strategy and start to guess at which they will be bringing to the table. If a hard counter exists in the intersection between those 4 masters (2 most likely for me and 2 for them) then I can factor that into my decision.

Faction balance has allowed Malifaux to design and release masters that are highly specialized and can lead crews with incredibly high levels of synergy built into them. This synergy really builds up the distinct play style and ability of a Master to fit into a very characterful setting. There is not much need to push toward a middle ground of mediocrity with the Masters and their synergistic crews, as every master was not individually required to achieve "balance" against every other.  This created situations where strategies could be built into the game that allowed each master to shine.

Ok, not Kirai but Kaeris instead

This strategy fell down when it came to players who wanted to identify with a single master and not with a faction as a whole. Players who were not willing to play across a whole faction ended up in situations where their master ended up in situations where they were not well suited. I personally ran into this with both Arcanists and Resurrectionists. In both of those factions I had a limited number of Masters I was interested in playing. Specifically when it came to Resurrectionists, I am only really interested in Kirai and Yan Lo. Further, I do not like most of the Resurrectionist line of models for my own personal model preference. This leaves me in a situation where there are specific match ups and strategies are not well suited for the Master and crew I want to field. I am happy to accept this as these are not my favored factions so I will only pull out those masters in specific games when I want to field them. I would not pull those masters out in a competitive setting and expect to do as well as I would when I bring a full faction as I am choosing to handicap myself my sticking with a single master.

So What?
I have to say that hearing Justin and Mack talk about moving the game to Master to Master balance worries me. I feel that it will take away one of the uniquely Malifaux qualities in the game. One of my largest concerns is looking at other games which have "Master to Master" balance built in. PP games and GW games are two examples of this. Those systems both implement their leader balance differently but end up with a similar difference to Malifaux. Each of these games lead to the ability to create "All Comer's lists" in their games. There is a far greater emphasis on pre-game list building to meet all opponents and achieve all objectives that Malifaux has successfully kept away from. I believe the imbalance of Master to Master balance is a large component of Malifaux's ability to stray away from "All Comer's lists" and keep to game specific crews.

So, in another day we will start to see if the new Wyrd developers are capable of maintaining the strengths of the game in this area while implementing their own ideas for how to make the game better. 


  1. Hi Bill!

    I thought I would chime in here as 'Faction based' balance is always something that has bothered me about Malifaux.

    While I agree that 'faction to faction' balance is one of the things that made Malifaux Classic unique, I think it was also one of those things that made Malifaux Classic difficult for new players to get into.

    You've had the debate about the player who has the most money will automatically win more tournaments, so I don't want to rehash that, but I really do feel that faction v faction took a lot out of casually playing the game in favor of collecting an entire faction so you can win a tournament.

    My collection is a great example. I have about 1 or 2 crews for each faction. I've collected them based on what I hear are fun crews to play based on Gamers Lounge and other podcasts. This means I can have a lot of fun playing casually, but I am at a severe disadvantage when it comes to organized play.

    I think this change is an effort to address what I have always felt was a problem with Malifaux. It is not very accessible to new players.

    And, by the way, if you're looking for a new game to really get your hobby teeth into.....have you ever looked into Infinity? Glorious.

    -Nick (yetischool)

    1. Nick,

      Thanks for the feedback! I realize there are lots of people who actually prefer not having Faction to Faction balance in the game and will be very happy with the new approach. There is nothing wrong with that and it will probably be one factor that increases overall "stickiness" with new players!

      Personally its one of the things that brought me to Malifaux and one of the things I like. It's makes me sad when I hear its going away, although that simply a personal perspective.

      On Infinity, I did try out the one demo game and overall it really did not feel like the game I would want to play. I may stick my toes back into that pool again and try it out at some point in the future.

  2. Howdy Bill,

    I have say that I have enjoyed your podcast for awhile now and am a bit sad that you’re not throwing any new episodes out, though can understand. I will admit I don’t necessarily agree with everything you guys had to say but loved the analytical breakdown discussions, which to me gave me much to consider and allows me hear how other meta’s see things. I decided to post my 2 cents not to be argumentative but to promote dialog and give another point of view.
    I'm not sure I would agree that Malifaux Classic is really balanced faction to faction. I think that who a player is and how they played added more to that then the actual base models did. to me you had one or two masters in every faction that were good enough to bring the faction up to snuff with the other factions. This means the other masters aren’t really seeing the table as much, especially in competitive play.
    For instance you take Arcanist, if you look at the majority of strategies out there you can say that a master like Colette is generally good at 7-8 strategies regardless of player skill, the reason for this is because she has the fastest crew with some decent staying power and if you took some of her powerhouses like Cassandra or the Coryphée duet some killing power.
    Now you compare her with what seems to be most people’s favorite weak master Marcus, who is probably good for 3-4 strategies regardless of player skill and for some out there only if he is holding someone's purse (I really disagree with that). But the complexity of his play style added with the very fragile nature of his crew and himself he only really fits well with a small percentage of the strategies out there.
    Now I agree with you 100% that with some of these model's people just need to learn to play better. But as a general rule if the model gets used the same way by the bulk of the people most of the time, then that is how that model really works. Which translates to those masters not hitting the table, I think this is caused because no one feels they are competitive and that is what I feel causes the faction to faction balance to be thrown out.
    If you look at Neverborn you will see more complaint about them being overpowered than any other faction. I think that as a general rule it’s not true, but if you look at the strategies as they have been then it is true, the reason being speed. If you look at most strategies you will see that having speed will give you the biggest advantage to accomplish the most strategies and Neverborn have speed in spades. So that is why everyone is screaming OP = Neverborn cause when they look at what they need to do they look at how fast those models are and how slow other factions are and they don’t want to throw them on the table.
    As for 2nd edition removing faction to faction balance I again disagree, if that is the point you were trying to make, if you are just saying that by changing it you are removing something that made Malifaux truly unique I really never thought about it, I checked out others before but none of them could convince me to start buying models. Regardless, making all masters more capable of handling all other masters I feel doesn’t decrease faction to faction balance, but allows those players who want to specialize in a single master or just can’t afford to buy an entire faction to shine on the table too. For me the balancing of masters is nowhere near as exciting as the balancing of minions. I think that by itself is going to make M2E worth playing.



    1. Joe,
      thanks for listening to the podcast and rest assured, there will be at least 1 or 2 more episodes coming up. I am not sure where it will go from there but I do have a couple V2 games scheduled for tomorrow to see how I like the game. Love it or Hate it (or anywhere in between), I plan to give my thoughts and a review on an episode. Also, please feel free to comment, I do not see it as argumentative. I love discussion and other view points.

      I really like your comparison of Marcus and Colette in Arcanists. As far as I can tell, both of those masters are built to achieve the same goal of lots of movement and being very quick. My experience was that most people wanted Marcus to do something different (buff his beasts or actually throw down in melee) while those same players were happy keeping Colette back and heavily relying on her movement. I would posit that Colette and Marcus are very similar and equally suited at the same strategies (both good and bad at) but that Marcus was harder to figure out how to use well.

      In the article I was trying to talk about what I like regarding Faction to Faction balance. I also wanted to point out what worried me about the referenced Master to Master balance intended (per the Q&A). Can Faction balance be achieved through Master to Master balance, sure. Do I have faith they (the new Wyrd developers) can achieve this, not so much. I am waiting to see how things develop.

    2. If Colette and Marcus were equally good at the same strats, then why did you play Colette and consider Marcus a purserack?


    3. Two things there...

      First, the Marcus/purse holder joke came from my co-host Dan and his interview with UKRocky about how he (UKRocky) played Marcus. It is a pretty damn funny joke however and I love the model Lord Shaper did for me!

      Regarding Colette vrs Marcus in the game and my choices to play them. I really do not like the Marcus model nor his crew choices. I really like Colette and her model. I had held off for a long while in picking up Colette, and actually decided to get her "for free" with my compensation from helping Wyrd out at Gencon 2011. I found after getting her painted that I enjoyed her play style a lot more than I expected.

      Marcus and Colette are both complicated to play, although I believe Marcus is a bit more complicated to make work well. Colette's crew kind of builds itself while Marcus's takes some real thought. This makes it a lot tougher for people to do as well with Marcus as they can with Colette. On that point (complexity) I agree very much with Joe.

  3. Hmm, I really liked how you ended there JoeS.

    I'm not a beta tester, and frankly would never want to be one! I want that joy of turning a page and letting my imagination try to work out how I could thwart my nemesis, Steve! In the year and a half we battled each other we picked up over 16 crews, various terrain, 3 tape measures and 7 decks. Thing is when it was all done we both wanted to play our first (his second) masters (Saemus/Lilith). Now we'd try odd ball stuff, and various quirky terrain but the end result was always very similar to our initial games. We had preferences on models, strategy, and while we had large selections to choose from... we knew what worked and used it. The game stopped challenging us. Intact because of some of the rules (mostly ss + masters) there wasn't much point in even small changes.

    I like the idea of customized masters, and love the feeling of old-warhammer it's giving me. I'm hoping I'll find my master's balanced with multiple upgrade paths available to me - like Yan Lo meets McCabe. More I think about it the less sure I believe they'll pull it off. Rebalancing an entire 4x books, revamping the game, adding in new masters and making everyone unique, fun and balanced... that's asking a lot. Especially from a company who hasn't delivered my tin case and poster for Time Nannies.

    I'm taking a break from Malifaux. I'm not sure what I'd be purchasing, or even if my ideal Malifaux will be supported. I'm sure I'm not the only one here who thought it a really bone headed move, telling customers everything they'll be purchasing in the next few months could be invalidated. Forthright yes, but that openness didn't stop PuppetWars from being pulled, overpriced Hanging Trees and again this debacle of Time Nannies.

    Like the product, love the story, not happy with business and feel they need to work more for my money.

    1. I'm also pretty frustrated waiting for my EBO kickstarter stuff. I felt pretty stupid when I finally realized that several of the puppet wars models we own are no longer supported in the PW Unstitched update. It's frustrating there is no release schedule showing when those puppets will be updated.

      On the game play, I know that for me I have not yet reached the point of Malifaux Classic becoming boring or even routine. I own a lot of Malifaux and even playing the same masters over and over, I find new ways to work out things to do with them. It's one of the many things I love about the game. My own local community has essentially split, with a small irregular group willing to continue playing V1, and the more regular group completely buying into V2. That is the reason I am hoping V2 can capture some of the joy I have in V1.

      I agree that the business Wyrd is running seems (even to me) to have degraded over the past year or so. My challenge is that I have not found another game I like nearly as much as Malifaux Classic.

  4. I liked the idea of faction to faction balance and think it worked fairly well as long as you weren't tied to a single master. From what was said on the Malifools interview I'm not sure that they're particularly moving to a master to master balance but actually they're just lessening the importance of the masters such that it's the minions that will become the workhorses of the faction and because all masters will have access to them it becomes balanced master to master because they're simply not the defining factor of the balance.

    I thought, and could be totally wrong, that the way it's going to become is the masters add some flavour to your crew, but are not completely defining how they operate and that is why the balance will work 'better' on a master to master basis. If this is the case then it could be a bit of a let down as some of the really strong themes are what makes Malifaux cool.

    That said I tended to play Lady J and Zoraida more than any other masters and both of those work fairly well as toolboxes who work well against pretty much any master & scheme because they can flex their crew to fit and don't particularly focus on one area of the game to the detriment of any particular schemes/strategies.

    Anyway I'm excited to see what comes from M2E and if it does streamline the gameplay then I'm unlikely to complain as long as it's not dumbed down over streamlined. Everyone bemoaned WFB 8th ed ruined the game because it made a significant departure from what was there before but most people who played down the editions that didn't ragequit are saying is the best version ever, so I own't be prejudging it until i've had a lot of games.

    1. My understanding was that they were trying to achieve Master to Master balance AND increase the importance of the minions while decreasing the importance of the Masters. That is really a V2 thing that we will not see until the beta releases today/tomorrow. I figured I did not want to talk about it too much until we see what is actually there.

      I will say that approach worries me as well. Seeing some of what Mack and Justin have already done, I am very afraid that Malifaux will drift toward a 40K list building style game. I believe Mack really likes 6th edition 40K, and understand from his comments that 40K is still his preferred hobby game. There is a lot I have seen that seems to pull from that game and I do not believe that is good.

      Then again, in an attempt to stay positive, I am anxiously awaiting the release of the public beta documents to see what the game will actually be! Hopefully all my thoughts are wrong and V2 will crush Malifaux Classic with its awesomeness.

  5. I wonder if Wyrd realizes that faction to faction balance sells more models.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Faction to faction balance did not sell more models in my area. Many players homed in on the self contained crews or "power" crews that could accomplish most strategies with very little change.

  6. Assuming that it sold more or less is just that, an assumption -as we have no evidence to the contrary, they only ever sold it as Faction vs Faction!

    I believed in the faction vs faction mindset. I often encouraged people to start Malifaux not based on what single crew they liked, but the faction as a whole. I really liked the feeling of being a Villain, Tyrant, or Mafia boss and trying to further your goals. Problems started to arise when I had to think of reasons why Saemus would be working with anyone. Maybe to further his goal of anarchy? Ultimate power? Or how Hamelin and Levi got along? Ramos actually made perfect sense. His relationship with Marcus was never explained, but I guess they were sharing knowledge or at least allies of convenience.

    What I really liked was NOT having access to easy "I win" matchups (Saemus vs Goblins), that the unknown master rule afforded you. The more I think about it, the less I think Wyrd did a good job of faction to faction balance... and the less I care about it. The game was fun, I hope it will still be.