Thursday, June 28, 2012

Versions, Updates, and Errata, Oh My!!! Part 2.

I spent some time digging through Google Images looking for a picture that fit this article but could not find anything. In the end, I just grabbed the new background art from the Wyrd Forums. It's nice, and has a teaser of the new Alternate Executioner. It also has a teaser for what many believe are the new Nightmare Edition models that will be available at Gencon.

So, in part one of this article series I talked a bit about the updates and new books that Wyrd releases over time. I made a reference to the fact that I was going to share my opinions on changes and errata releases "later". Later has arrived. Before I really get rolling here, let me say a couple things and offer a couple warnings. First, this is a fairly long article. Second, I make some general comments about GW here. These are my understandings, not intended as a rant or jumping off point to start arguments about the merits of different companies.

June 14, 2010 I painted up and posted my first Malifaux miniature.  At the time of writing this article, it has been 2 years and nearly 2 weeks since I started my move to Malifaux. Prior to that I spent 7 years (going back to ~2003?) playing 40K and WHFB. In that time I have seen a number of changes and errata released for all of the games I have played. I have also experienced the fairly wide gulf in philosophy that Wyrd and Games Workshop have toward releasing clarification and errata to adjust their games.

When I started playing GW games I was introduced to a set of rules called Chapter Approved. In 2003 this was a large book published in 2001 (if my google-fu is accurate) that had specific information for the game. 40K could be played with just the basic 3rd edition rules, but Chapter Approved released some errata that fixed those rules. In addition, there was clarification and additional rules in the book that changed the game. I remember the largest impact to my new playing experience was the "Trial Assault Rules". These Chapter Approved rules were used right through the release of 40K 4th edition in 2004. Not bad, a 3 year run for some errata and clarifications along with some additional new rules that were not available in the standard rule books.

The more I played GW games and the deeper into the community I became involved, the more I heard and experienced GW's approach to interacting with their community. I watched, over the years, GW pull away from the community and interact with them less. Official forums went away, Errata and Clarifications were forced into a fairly strict schedule of release, and questions would become lost in space and receive inconsistent answers via Phone calls to the company or employees in their stores. I also heard a lot of complaints from the wider community in stores, at tournaments, in clubs, and on the internet regarding how unhappy people were with the minimal response. The issue seemed to be a feeling of neglect from Games Workshop as a company.

So, In 2010 I start moving over to playing Malifaux. I was now a "seasoned?" gamer of 7 long years (read the joke in that statement) and jumped right into the online community that Wyrd had established on their forums.This was a very exciting time as a gamer for a number of reasons. The most pertinent reason to this article was that Wyrd had a very active community that actually involved the game developers directly. When a question was asked on thier forum, game developers would come out and answer the question. When parts of the game rules were unclear to the posting population, the game developers would step in and clarify the rule. Most impressive to me, when a rule was interpreted by the community to not be working as the developers intended, the developers released an errata on the site and "fixed" the problem. All of this happened in "real time" and I could check on a daily basis to see new responses come in from the people who actually designed and wrote the game.

So, my local group started playing a lot of Malifaux. My Malifaux collection quickly grew and my playing time for other games quickly decreased. I am an internet junky, so reading posts on the Malifaux forums was something I greatly enjoyed. I would make sure to check the forums and download the latest rules update on a weekly basis before heading out for game night. I started playing Malifaux just before Book 2 was released, so there was still a fair amount of change and new rules being pushed out from the company. To be fair, the rules did not update weekly, or even more often than that. The actual rules got a flurry of updates probably once a month. Along with that, the Errata Sheet that the Wyrd Developers released was only updated every 2 months or so. However, my playgroup was also new to the game so our understanding of the rules changed on a weekly basis as we read and digested new clarifications and updates.

This is an important point to pause and take a moment to understand. Malifaux is a complex game built on some straight forward and simple mechanics. The basics of the game are not overly different from other miniature games. Here are the basics:
  • Cards vs Dice, and you have a hand to Cheat cards with
  • Everything takes Action Points. Models get 2 action points (AP) by default
  • Alternating Model Activation, I activate a model then you activate a model. Activate all models on the board to get through a single turn.
  • Move, Shoot, Cast, Attack, take action. These are basic parts of what a model can do
  • Models have limited wounds then die
  • The game is objective based. Completely objective based.
What makes the game complicated is that each model has a number of abilities that it can perform during a turn, with its limited AP. When these abilities across multiple models create combinations, the game starts to really ramp up in complexity and those interactions can be comes complex. Add to that, my local group is comprised of fairly advanced miniature and card gamers who are also competitive. We spend a lot of time analyzing, discussing, and testing combinations to get the most use from our game. Those complex interactions can become very confusing, and our understanding and accurate/inaccurate reading of an ability can create issues and confusion. At the end of the day, the majority of the issues and complexity becomes based on our interpretation of how a complex combination of abilities works. The key here is that the clarifications and rules changes are primarily based on our individual understanding and attempts to create more complex but "game winning" combinations for advantage in the game.

Stepping out of that explanation, I started to hear people on the wider internet and also within my local group complain that Malifaux was too hard to play. There were simply too many changes to the game for their liking and they become very frustrated. In addition, these people complained that the game was changing too quickly and they felt the could not play the game without going onto the forums daily to see what the latest update was. I have to admit, this sentiment really shocks me even today. It has not gone away and as the game grows, I still hear this complaint about Wyrd. Apparently Wyrd is TOO responsive to its community. Now, let me provide a balance here in saying that others will complain, at the same time, that Wyrd is not responsive enough and does not create errata quick enough for the community. What truly surprises me is that in some situations, the people complaining about Wyrd being too responsive are the same people who complain about GW not being responsive at all.

So, apparently Wyrd cannot win.

Lets take a look at some of the changes that have happened and what types of changes those are. Wyrd releases 4 kinds of changes.
  • Model Errata
  • Clarifications
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Rule Errata
Model Errata
Model Errata is the most common errata and change that a Malifaux player will see. There are typically three reasons that model errata is issued, and their frequency is in the following order:
  • Typo from Book to Card
  • Typo from Card to Card 
  • Balancing and Change to models
Malifaux publishes a new book every year and then publishes printed cards for each model as the models are released. Very often there will be a typo in the book. These typos are sometimes true typos where the printers miss-printed some information in the book, and other times they are mistakes that transferred from playtesting.  Some models go through a large number of iterations during play test and some of the changes during those iterations make it into the published book. This happens rarely, but it does happen. Wyrd has an amazing track record of catching these errors before the model is released and updating the card when the model releases for sale. At the same time they will issue an errata updating the public that the card is different from the book.

Second it typo's from card to card. Leviticus is the winner of this category, where his card was just determined to get printed over and over with errors on it. These were typo's and for some reason each version of his card came out with a different typo on it. Wyrd responded quickly and did new updates to his card. This happens in publishing, and is the second most common Model errata a player might see.

The third and rarest model errata is an actual change to a model to balance the model within the game or to change how the model plays. To date there have only been a small number of these changes. In all cases, the change to abilities on the model was tested extensively before release to the public. Most of these changes are in response to the wide Malifaux player community discussing and demonstrating imbalance within the game. Specifically, imbalance that creates a negative play experience for the players. These changes are rare, although they tend to have the largest impact and be the most remembered.

Clarifications are not actually a change to anything in the game at all. These are statements that are issued by the game developers to clarify rules that the community is not understanding. An excellent example of this is the clarification for the Companion rules. Companion is an ability within the game that allows a group of models to interrupt the normal I-go-you-go one model at a time activation order, allowing those models to all go together before moving onto the other player. It can create an alpha-strike type of situation within the game. The rules were written in the first rulebook, then reworded in the Rules Manual and added in a diagram to further clarify how the rule works. Nothing actually changed in the rule from day 1. The developers realized that the rule was a complex concept within the game and players were not clear on how it was supposed to work. After the rules manual came out there was still a lot of questions asking for clarification on how Companion worked. To that end, the developers released a further clarification with additional diagrams when the latest (2012) clarification documents were released. Its key to realize that since day 1 of the game the companion rules have not changed. How players used those rules may have changed due to the players lack of understanding the rule, but the rules did not actually change. Clarifications are probably the second most common "change" that Wyrd issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
FAQ's within Malifaux are not overly common in an official format. Typically the FAQ's are different from Clarifications, as these are rules that most players seem to understand but the question still gets asked a lot. Malifaux is a very different game from other miniature games and this impacts new players coming in. There is a fair amount of "wait, that model can do what?" and "wow, how does that work?" when players see new combinations in the game. Most of the time these questions are based on the idea that an interaction works differently than expected from playing other games. A great example of this is "Wait..... The game does not end when all my models are killed? You can still keep playing to get your objectives?". Another is "What do you mean I can still win the game if my whole crew is killed before the game ends?".

Rules Errata
Since the Rules Manual, Wyrd actually provides Errata for the rules on a relatively rare basis. Rules errata is an actual change to how a game rule plays within the game. Most often, these errata are issued to change a rule that is not working as intended or is being exploited by a set of model ability combinations within the game. Wyrd developers are very careful about making these changes, as the ramifications to changing a core rule within the game have a significant impact. I have been luck enough to be invited to help the developers test a set of errata recently, and was able to experience how much effort and caution the developers dedicate to making sure the errata's that are issued achieve the desired results without breaking the game.While I can only speak about my recent experience, I can say that there is a fair amount of testing with very experienced players before any rules are errata'd. This slows down the response on rules errata a fair amount, as the developers want testing feedback prior to changing the game. Rules errata is a true change to the game, and it is the least common change issued by the company. Currently I believe that Wyrd has pushed out actual Rules Errata 4 or 5 times since the game started. Key rules errata consist of changes to the Link ability, changes to the Bury rules, Changes to how the Push rules work, and changes to Poison. Of these, Bury, Push, and poison all came out with the latest (2012) errata and clarification document.

That brings us to the end of a very long article. Malifaux's latest changes can be found in three nicely packaged PDF documents on their website. After reading this whole thing, I hope you come away with a couple points. First, I would love if people would question their stance when they find themselves complaining about too much change. Were you recently complaining that other companies did not respond enough? Are you just complaining? Second, is what your seeing and feeling really a change to the rules, or is it actually a clarification that shows you were playing a rule incorrectly?

Lastly, as I scroll back and review what I wrote, I notice that the picture I chose for the lead-in to the article is ironically fitting. While it was not my intention in the begining, Wyrd's owners Nathan and Eric (who are hanging in the picture) must certainly feel like they cannot win. The picture is fairly appropos.


  1. I think Wyrd are stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding their level of response. For regular Malifaux gamers, who will play several times a week, they may be considered slow in their response times and updates. For gamers like myself, who plays a couple of games of Malifaux a month, the changes come far too quickly and the rules can have changes every time I play. Not sure there is a solution to this other than to go with the majority. A new book every year is probably right for the largest proportion of Malifaux gamers – albeit I'd personally like to see bi-yearly releases of that scale, and a slowing of the release schedule across the board.

    One thing is certain. GW have it very wrong when it comes to customer relations – they seem to be uninterested in customer opinions or input, even when it has the potential to make them more money, or make 40k a better game.

    I would take Wyrd's attitude (fast or slow) over that any day.

    1. I agree that they are in a can't win situation. I neglected to say it in the article, but the other option is to agree to a fixed set of rules and play from there. This was one of the sticking points with some of my local players and I. If they wanted to play from the 1st rulebook with those rules, I was ok to do that if they just told me. Sometimes gamers (all of us) like to complain more than play our games.

  2. Make an app with the cards. Update the cards via the app. Push the most recent adendums and clarrifications. Win and eat cake.

    1. That runs into the tricky situation similar to Ex Illis had. People will start to complain that Wyrd is requiring them to purchase expensive smart phones and tablet PC's to play thier miniature game.