Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Malifaux: End of Wave 2, Start of Avatars Beta

This week brings two important milestones in the development of Malifaux 2nd Edition (M2E): the release of the finalized rules for the Wave 2 models, and the start of the beta for the Avatar models (as well as some new generic upgrades being added to each faction in the next week or so of this beta cycle.)

First off, how does the Wave 2 final look. Pretty damn close to how things were at the end of Wave 2 Beta, which is as it should be. The beta went through a ton of iterations, and all of the discussion throughout led to a ton of kinks being worked out of the models. I would have been very surprised to see any significant changes in the final version of the cards, and thankfully the changes that happened were mostly minor and typographical in nature.

With Wave 2 finalized and in the hands of the players, the majority of Malifaux's models are now available for use in regular (and tournament) play. This is a huge moment for a lot of players who began playing the game using Book 2/4 Masters and models from Book 2, 3, and 4; they can now get back to using the things that they used to. A lot of those models changed how they specifically work, but their general approaches to the game are pretty similar to how they were in M1.5, so players that bought a certain crew due to it's theme should still be pretty happy with their choice. Some models were dramatically changed, so I can understand there being some outcry/shock from players coming back to old favorites, but I think players that take the time and experience the M2E versions of their old models will find plenty to fall in love with all over again.

Wave 2 was an interesting one for me, because I didn't really attach myself to any of the Book 2 Masters during M1.5. Most of the Masters I used were either from Book 1 or Book 4, and all of them were taken care of during the Wave 1 Beta. So Wave 2 left me as sort of a "floater" in terms of playtesting: I had some models I really wanted to test out that fit with my favorite Masters from Wave 1, but aside from that I was willing to play pretty much anything to give feedback.

Wave 2 introduced a couple of completely new Masters to the game, and this was an opportunity to try those models out, give some feedback, and find new things to look forward to. Two of the Masters I played, Ironsides and Shenlong, ended up being favorites of mine by the end of the Wave 2 Beta, and I feel a special attachment to those models since I was able to feel like I had a stake in how the final rules turned out. I'm very excited to pick up both of those crews when they come out; the saddest part is that they probably won't be set for release for quite awhile.

Moving forward, the Avatars Beta is interesting because of how different it is from previous beta iterations. Whereas previous beta iterations had whole crews of models that needed to be playtested (and model combinations to try and break,) this iteration is pretty focused: all of the models we have access to have finalized rules, so we're just testing out what are essentially super-fancy upgrades for the Masters.

On one hand, this feels a little odd because you'll only ever be testing one thing during the course of a game. Instead of trying to evaluate an entire crew, how a model interacts with other existing models, etc, you're just looking at how the Avatar worked out. That's a much more narrow focus, and it will be interesting to try to isolate the impact of the Avatars on the game.

On the other hand, that narrowed focus means that the Avatars are getting all of the attention (give or take however many the generic upgrades end up being added.) That's kind of crucial at this juncture, because the Avatars are going to be a really tricky concept to get right.

For anyone familiar with M2E but unfamiliar with the 2nd Edition Avatar rules (probably not an insignificant portion of the player base, but I'm not sure any of my readers fall in this bucket,) a quick aside: Avatars are essentially just a really fancy upgrade. Each Master has one unique to them, and choosing it uses up one of your upgrade slots for your Master.

The Avatars each have a Premanifest side and a Manifest side - both sides have rules that your Master gains while that side of the card is in effect. Premanifest covers all the time before you actually bring the Avatar onto the table (using a set of Manifestation rules that I won't get into here.) The thought is that since you're giving up an upgrade slot, you should have some passive benefit for bringing along the Avatar, even if you never manage to successfully Manifest it. After Manifesting, you flip the card over and gain all the benefits outlined on the Manifested side of the card; typically these rules are better than what's on the front of the card, and it's what you're really aiming to get when you purchase the Avatar.

One tricky part with balancing Avatars is that they need to compare relatively favorably to the existing upgrades available to each Master (in my opinion, this comparison should focus just on the upgrades that are unique to that model, not any possible generics,) but the Premanifest side of the card should probably be "worse" than other upgrades. Since you're getting a Manifest Event and the Manifested rules along with it, if that Premanifest benefit is comparable to other upgrades, it makes the Avatar choice too easy.

Another challenge is that the Manifested rules need to be good/interesting, but they can't be too drastic a change in the model's capabilities or power level (at least in my opinion.) The reason is because if the Avatar's Manifested benefits are good enough, the "right" course of action becomes: attach Avatar, Manifest as fast as humanly possible, reap the rewards. That's not to say that Avatars can't have cool or strong Manifested rules, but I think the ideal is that these rules are conditionally strong or interesting, so that the question of "when should I try to Manifest this Avatar" becomes more interesting than "right away!"

The last big challenge I see is balancing the timing of when you can Manifest your Avatar. When you select an Avatar, you select one of the 5 Manifest cards as the criteria that you need to fulfill in order to bring your Avatar onto the table. In this early version of the rules it seems to be too easy to pick Planned Manifestation and then engineer your crew to be able to fulfill the criteria on Turn 1. Sacrificial Manifestation has a similar issue, but that at least requires sacrificing a 5 SS model and using one of your Master's AP, so it carries some cost with it (though there may need to be a stipulation added that puts it happening Turn 2+.)

The issue right now is that its very easy for most crews to get an Avatar out on Turn 1. So the trade off between the Premanifest and Manifested sides of the card are nil (aside from a possible Turn 1 activation, you can largely ignore the Premanifest side of the card if you want,) and Avatars that benefit from getting out early in the game are really easy to get good use out of. I think this issue can be resolved by tweaking the Manifest cards, but its another complication.

All that said, I'm very much looking forward to this beta cycle. Part of it is that this will be the last set of beta models we need to go through; after this everything from the old Malifaux will have shiny new M2E rules and be tabletop approved. The other reason this cycle will be fun is because we're not "missing" anything; every model I own now has rules, and 90% of those are finalized. I'll definitely be participating in this beta (with a focus on Marcus and Jakob Lynch's Avatars, and I'll hit whatever else I can get to,) and I'm very interested to see how these rules shape up over the coming weeks.

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