Friday, April 17, 2015

Conniving and Scheming: How to score points without involving your opponent

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. This is due in large part to the Terror Tot that seems to have invaded my home. She’s cute, but don’t let her fool you. Behind those Disney Princess eyes beats the heart of a Neverborn creature, hell-bent on never letting me sleep a whole night or do anything Malifaux related. She has finally grown to the point that she’s busy learning how to flip masks for sprint on her own, and I’ve managed to tear myself away for a moment to write about some strategy musings I’ve had recently.

Truly, the face of pure evil.

One thing that has occurred to me as I’ve been playing more M2E comes from an old lesson from another miniatures game: Blood Bowl. In Blood Bowl, unlike Malifaux, interactions between models are resolved with a d6 roll. A 1 always fails. A 6 always succeeds. As such, no matter how much you stack the odds in your favor on a particular roll, there is still always a small chance with each roll that it will come up a one, and this chance is the same every time you roll the dice (despite what the gambler’s fallacy might tell you.) This can critically ruin whatever you’re trying to do in the game, as a botched roll almost always ends your turn and lets your opponent start moving their team, often while your formation is left wide-open and vulnerable to counter-attack. You will never find a more superstitious and frightened creature than the average blood bowl player, many of whom are convinced that Nuffle (god of Blood Bowl) is somehow out to get their team personally. My friend Jon and I both firmly believe that the goal line of many Blood Bowl pitches has an invisible string stretched across at ankle height, because everybody knows that if you try and sprint for that extra square of movement you need to get into the end zone and score, more often than not you’re going to roll a one and your player’s going to fall down and pitch the ball into the crowd, with hilarity ensuing.

As a result, one of the first lessons any new player has to learn is to do the actions that involve no dice rolls first on your turn, and then subsequently weigh probability of failure versus importance of the action to decide who goes after that. This way, when (not if) you botch a roll later on in the turn, while your action is now over, you’ve covered yourself by moving other players into position under the assumption that you were going to have a turnover at some point. The second lesson, tied to the first, is that any time you can find a way to get the job done with fewer dice rolls, so much the better.
What does this have to do with Malifaux? Well the analogy isn’t perfect, as this is a game where you have much greater control of probability through cheating fate and having a larger range of outcomes from the deck than a six sided die. But there’s a reason one of the catch phrases for Malifaux is Bad Things Happen. We’ve all seen the games where the deck is just against you and there’s nothing you can do about it. You look at the board, the ace-through-five straight you’ve drawn in your control hand, and you realize that most of your crew is about to get their skulls caved in. In these situations your only hope is to scrape enough VPs with the survivors to eke out a win. But how can you do that? The answer lies in one of the criteria you should be considering when you look at your scheme pool for a given game: which of these schemes can I accomplish without the fate deck’s help? Assume you have two opponents in each game: the mook on the other side of the table and the fate deck. If it all goes wrong, which of these schemes can I achieve despite the misfortune? Towards this end, I’ve broken down all the possible schemes into three groups:

Fate Independent Schemes
Distract, Protect Territory, Breakthrough, Plant Evidence, Deliver a Message, Take Prisoner, Power Ritual

This group of schemes represents those which require little to no card flipping to accomplish, typically because they require little to no duels with your opponent. Protect Territory, Power Ritual, Breakthrough, and Plant Evidence can literally be done without touching the deck, as they just involve dropping scheme markers in certain points on the board which, if you’ve built your crew correctly to accomplish them, should be relatively simple. Deliver a Message and Take Prisoner do involve your crew moving in on the opponents, but both are then completed either with an interact action or simply keeping them engaged to the end of the game. You shouldn’t be trying Deliver if you don’t have someone with an extra movement trick or AP to let you get in close and accomplish it in one activation, so it again requires very little card-help to achieve, and Take Prisoner can literally be finished by ignoring the target model until the last turn and then sprinting something next to it. Distract could be considered on the border between this group and the next, but the key point is that neither you nor your opponent flip any cards to either give the Distract Condition or eliminate it. If you commit to this scheme from the outset, it should be doable without your Black Joker having anything to say.

Fate Influenced Schemes
Cursed Object, Outflank, A Line in the Sand, Entourage, Plant Explosives, Spring the Trap, Frame for Murder,

To be honest, the distinction between these and the Fate Independent schemes may be somewhat gray and could vary based on your experience level, your opponent’s experience, and both crews’ makeup. These are relatively independent of the fate deck as well, but they do have a possibility for chance to intervene on one side’s behalf. Cursed Object is kind of a counterpart to the just-discussed distract, but the key difference is that the condition comes off with a Walk duel by the opponent rather than an interact. If their cards are being kind they can get rid of it pretty easily and prevent you from scoring. Outflank, LitS, and Entourage don’t so much require deck flips to set-up, but they do need you to keep models alive in potentially vulnerable positions to accomplish them. The right builds can do them pretty readily, and frankly Breakthrough or Protect Territory could just as easily fall into this group with these three, but I split them up just because of what I perceive as the relative danger to the models involved. Your stuff is going to be on the center line for LitS and Outflank where the majority of the action tends to happen, and depending on your master you may have to play them a bit cagier than usual if you want them to survive to the end of the game in a position to break for the opponents deployment zone. Plant Explosives and its bastard cousin Spring the Trap both require very little card flipping to accomplish as written, but you again have to keep an eye out for the possibility of deck hosing, either with your scheme droppers getting popped early/en route to the enemy or paradoxically by an errant damage flip on the enemy master killing them off before you have a chance to score it. I very nearly had a perfectly executed Spring the Trap ruined by my opponent killing one of my models to release Killjoy, who then attempted to Chain-Hook the enemy master out of the blast zone.

Fate Dependent Schemes
Bodyguard, Assassinate, Vendetta, Make them Suffer, Murder Protégé,
To no great surprise, the schemes that involve killing enemy models or keeping your own models alive are the most fate dependent in the game. Of this list, Vendetta is probably the least subject to the deck’s whim, as you can at least set yourself up to get one point by having the correct model attack the target. The others are completely up to the deck and your opponents’ read of which schemes you’ve taken. The minute you ask to see your opponent’s cards or, worse, ask which is the most expensive, they’re going to suspect you’re on Murder Protégé and will likely take steps to stop you. Make them Suffer is almost infamous for the silliness people do to avoid it by taking one cheap minion who then hides in the backfield. Masters are some of the hardest models to take down in the game (on average), so Assassinate is always tricky, especially for an opponent cagey enough to keep you off of it by not committing their master to combat. Bodyguard technically can be accomplished with no card flips by keeping the henchman/enforcer hidden all game, but that isn’t usually practical given the expense of these models. As such, you most likely will need to at least put them at some kind of risk during the game. One of the trickier ways people use to accomplish this scheme involves models that bury instead of dying and can come back later, IE Bad Juju, Hungering Darkness, and Big Jake from the current playtest documents. These are good choices for the scheme, but the first two can be countered by the opponent not killing the correct models to spring the bodyguard target onto the board. Sometimes this is easier said than done and there is always the option for you to kill your own model to get them back, but that level of fiddliness is enough to make me uncomfortable. In tournaments there’s an even worse disadvantage to bodyguard: its reliant on your opponents’ pace of play. Bodyguard doesn’t score until turn 4, and you can’t get full points unless the game goes to conclusion.

Now, that isn’t to say you should never take these schemes. Sometimes the strategy or you and your opponent’s crews will dictate that Assassinate or Murder Protégé are the right choice. If you have tricks like a long-distance Lure from a Rotten Belle, you can get at least partial points by simply targeting the appropriate model from across the board with something relatively innocuous. And, quite frankly, the easiest way to ensure that you’re going to accomplish your schemes and strats is for the opponent’s models not to be on the board anymore, so there’s something to be said for scoring scheme points on the way to tabling your opponent, particularly given the shorter 5 turn time-frame in the M2E game. But still, there’s something to be said for just leaving your opponent and your fate deck out of scoring for the game. There’s a reason people loved Collette in first edition: in most scenarios she could accomplish a full set of scheme points by the second to third turns of the game without ever performing an attack flip. If you can go into the turn 3 break with your scheme points locked up without your opponent having a say in it, you’re well on your way to a win. 

Now, I've got to get back to the Terror Tot, before she starts sprouting any Obsidian Talons.