Monday, May 6, 2013

Thoughts On Second Edition and It's Reception Amongst the Community

I’m sure the majority of readers have heard some mention of the big announcement from late last week that Malifaux will be receiving an update to a 2nd edition, which is going to involve significant changes to the game we all know and love. Mike Marshall has done a fine job of rounding up all the information Wyrd has made available through numerous podcast outlets on his blog, so I won’t feel the need to go through it all again here. I have to say that I was initially surprised to see the level of change that was coming to the game, as I was expecting more or less a pass-through and clean-up of the rules and a general rebalancing of some of the minions and masters considered to need an adjustment with any edition change. Instead, the game appears to be changing significantly, with complete rewrites to most models’ stats and significant alterations to the core rules of the game.

This was, understandably, a bit of a surprise.

The game is changing in some very exciting ways. An alteration in the way soulstones work will take a step to improve a potential imbalance between masters that directly interact with enemy models as opposed to those which play a support role. The current mechanism of burning a soulstone to add an additional card to your flip will be replaced by allowing a soulstone user to add positive twists to their flips and/or by using them to add a suit to their casting. I can imagine that Resurectionist crews will be thrilled with that second change, if they continue to have the same reliance on crows for their spells that they currently possess. They are also adding an ability to burn stones before your draw phase to draw an additional 2 cards before discarding back to your original hand size, thus improving your crew’s ability to utilize them if your master dies.

Perhaps the biggest change comes from the alteration to remove many of the abilities from most masters and minions and transferring them to “upgrades” which are purchased through soulstones while hiring the crew. Beyond general alterations to the characters themselves (one mention was made towards adding an ability to Seamus allowing him to bury himself and then spring from the shadows to attack enemy models) many of the abilities we associate with masters will be purchased individually, allowing for a greater degree of customization. I’m intrigued by this idea, as it allows for one to set the masters up to possess only the abilities you think will be needed for a particular game/crew/strategy and will increase the diversity of matchups when paired against the same master in multiple games. This upgrade system will also be available to a lesser extent for minions and what are newly going to be classified as “henchmen,” named minions that can potentially lead small crews on their own like The Judge.

The game is also going to see an increased focus on schemes. All strategies will be shared, but the individual diversity in games will come from scheme selection rather than each player flipping their own strategy, and this will be reflected by an increase in points for the schemes themselves. To ensure the diversity of the games, players will assemble a pool of schemes from which players will pick at the beginning of the game, which should prevent players from taking only Kidnap when using the Neverborn or the ever-present bodyguard/hold out combination. This is another change that I’ll have to see in person to judge. I’m initially somewhat put off by the reduction in importance of the strategy to be worth only ½ the points available from schemes, but I suppose it’s possible that this just represents a bias introduced by playing Malifaux Classic for several years. Still, I’ll be curious to see if accomplishing strategies ends up being devalued compared to both players pushing for schemes, and whether the increase in points from the schemes themselves will actually lead to people leaving their schemes hidden, as the game designers have postulated. I do, however, enjoy the idea of the schemes relying on placement of so-called “Scheme Markers,” generic objective markers placed by minions which can be used either as intended or as a bluff to throw off the opponent, particularly when one of the schemes is essentially “lure enemy models to your scheme markers and blow them up.”

There are a number of other alterations to the core  game as well, not the least of which is the alteration to the avatar manifestation rules, which I think sound like a rather elegant solution to the various balance problems presented by their previous incarnations. Essentially, all avatar manifestation will require building a manifestation “stack” by flipping a card every turn (cheatable) and adding its numerical value until reaching a certain target number, at which point the avatar will automatically appear. The avatars will have their effect on the game, and every time they are damaged a card will be removed from the pool until it runs out, at which point the avatar will be removed and the master will return in their original state. Obviously I don’t know enough yet to comment on this change, but I think that the general consensus that avatars didn’t quite live up to the potential people expected of them means that this change could end up being very positive for the game.

The reaction from most of the community has been surprisingly positive, all things considered. I’ve lived through edition changes in RPGs and and MMOs like WoW before, so I expected a certain level of “sky is falling” panic and resistance to change, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how receptive much of the community has been to the changes. However, there have been those who don’t concur, and one of them concerns me quite a bit. Bill Anderson, host of the Gamer’s Lounge podcast and writer of the Dead Tau Project blog, has been vocally opposed to many of the announced changes, due in large part to his perception that the change to Malifaux 2 is going to introduce a reduction in complexity in the game, among other things. He has discussed what he can of these concerns on his blog, and apparently feels strongly enough about it and has made this opinion so clearly known that he has become persona non-grata amongst Wyrd employees. I have a great deal of respect for Bill and his knowledge of game systems. I enjoy listening to the Gamer’s Lounge (I’m going to use the present tense, though the departure of two of their co-hosts today and Bill’s own statements regarding his diminishing motivation to continue makes me wonder if this will be the case for much longer) and have appreciated the length they’ve gone to disprove a number of the generally held misconceptions amongst the community (Ressers are underpowered, Nekima is unplayable in her current form, etc.) However, there can be no doubt that this group of players isn’t shy about letting people know when they disagree with them and aren’t always politic when stating their opinion. The fact that this dispute seems to have moved into the personal realm and the fact that I’m not privy to any of the details behind what occurred during the playtest process to create this rift between Wyrd and someone who has, historically, been one of their strongest supporters, makes it difficult to know how much of this feud is influencing Bill’s negative opinion. Still, it is enough to raise a level of concern.

However, from what I have heard thus far, I can say that my overall reaction to the details has been positive. Malifaux is my game of choice, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. There can be no doubt that I have lost potential players in my group due to the complexity in the game and the perceived high entry point for new players, so a reduction in this complexity, with the capability to add some of it back through upgrades, may be exactly the change that the game needs to continue to thrive going into the future. A number of the changes sound positive (McMourning as a Resser sounds like two tons of fun), and I’m looking forward to finding out what the future of Malifaux has to offer. I’ve intentionally not discussed some of the faction changes so I can save them for a future blog entry. Edition changes in other games always result in turnover from members of the old player base who don’t care to make the jump, but assuming the Wyrd Staff have done their job (and given the popularity of Book 4, I’m willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt) the game will hopefully draw in more players than it loses and continue to thrive.