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The Most Balanced Miniatures Games?

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@yool1981, out of curiosity how long would you consider to short or to long for play testing?

The costs you listed are valid, however, speak more toward poor planning than anything else (especially 1 and 3). Rushing to release models is one of the things that affects a games balance more than anything else. In a game with this many unique and interesting interactions each new model introduces potential issues orders of magnitude larger than just that single model. Take for example Guild Austringers, or Rotten Belles, or Slop Haulers, or any other so called auto-include or crutch models, every new model has to be considered with those, as well as a multitude of others. Of these models the Austringers have exerted the most relevant influence on their factions model design.

Sure play testing wont uncover everything (especially once it hits the international community), however, in virtually every play test I have been a part of, most of the more egregious issues that made it to general release were discovered during them. This is why "vetting" the play testers and focusing the testing is so important. This is also why signal to noise ratios need to be carefully monitored during these things. I do agree that providing timely errata's or corrections is crucial as well, however, there are many examples of companies dragging their feet to do these things. Hubris is a bitch.

I agree with Lunarsol that understanding the core mechanics and resources of the game is crucial for play testers. I have seen to many play testers that didn't really understand how these things related to a models design. I also agree that understanding the Math is very important, especially when developing at the high or low ends of a Stat (where success or failure can be virtually guarantied). I am extremely hesitant of relying solely upon the math though, "card" math is very complex and doesn't always pan out in reality (I cant recall the number of times I have drawn a hand full of extremely low cards despite the math telling me that it was a virtual impossibility across the seven card draw).

In the end "balance" is really a two pronged attack; first you must seek to release at as close to balanced as possible (typically through longer development cycles), and second you have to address any issues that turn up in a timely manner (even if that means issuing temporary fixes until something better is finalized). Wyrd has had a mixed history with both of these, some things they did well, others not so much. In recent-ish history, they seem to have done a much better job of doing both of these things. I hope the trend continues.

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I think it is costly in several ways:

  • Even if you ask for good willed playtesters, you still have to mobilize your internal resources to analyze the data and make the decisions about profile updating. Time is not free in a company.
  • Less released models = less sales
  • If you have already started to develop the mini itself, you may have already paid some money in order to start the moulds. Delaying the release of the mini thus has a financial cost.

I am not saying that there is a need to remove the playtesting. I think it is very important. However, you cannot do it indefinitely because otherwise, your company will not move forward.

From what I have seen from Wyrd during M2E (I did not play Malifaux before), there has been playtesting + releases in an acceptable schedule + errata when mistakes had been made. Wyrd even had the courage to drop the avatar matter and to delay Leveticus' release schedule (I think he was supposed to belong to the Wave 1) in order to playtest him more extensively. Obviously nothing is perfect but their way of working suits the way I see mini game design.

Point 1 - Time may not be free, but I also never gave the indefinite playtesting timeline. When balanced against the balance of the game the entire shebang sits on, the extra bit of time would be most appreciated to get thorough playtesting done. As for available parties, there's always going to be public playtesters, I've seen it first hand with much, much smaller games than Malifaux.

Point 2 - Pure rubbish the way it's posted. You are not taking away from current model releases by playtesting the next wave of models. How many Wave 4's do you see costing Wyrd sales right now?

Point 3 - Not happening in Wyrd's case. Partially because of the counterpoint above, but the recent Large Arachnid spoiler makes it clear that the molds aren't just made and then the magic happens. Trust Wyrd to think a little further ahead than that.

 

The errata can be contentious, but I feel that mostly issues would have been solved before they needed them had the models been tested more thoroughly to start. Avatar-wise Wyrd clearly didn't abandon them, giving us the avatars in Campaign mode and allowing all the old models the very useful nod to stand in for the Emissary of the respective faction. I have no strong opinion on Levi, but since he's widely regarded as one of the best masters in the entire game... Let the people form their own opinion on whether or not the playtesting there was as good as it could have been.

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I have no strong opinion on Levi, but since he's widely regarded as one of the best masters in the entire game... Let the people form their own opinion on whether or not the playtesting there was as good as it could have been.

Funny you should mention Levi, he received the longest play testing of 2nd edition thanks to some heavy lobbying. It took that long to tone him down to where he is now, had he released when originally planned (in book 1) he could have been much, much worse. Models that introduce entirely new mechanics, or focus upon an already shakey mechanic, or that just plain break the rules, require substantially more play testing than other more straight forward models. It also requires a very different play tester than you tend to get with open solicitation and/ or open beta's.

The Avatars were similar and in the end the play testing showed that while some could achieve a remarkable level of balance, others simply couldn't be shoe horned into the standard mold. A variation of Yool1981's number 3 point could be said to have been the largest obstacle in the Avatars development. Had all the rules for Avatars been delayed to the book in which they would appear (after play testing) instead of appearing in the first book (likely before they were developed), the design space wouldn't have been so restricted.

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In the context of an entirely new edition, yes, point three could very much be correct in yool's analysis given that sort of context.

I should have made it clear that I meant to refer to playtesting within one edition (in this thread mainly with Wave 3's handling in my mind, since I was not active in 2 if it was open, and I missed my window to 4).

 

Quality of playtesters is another matter. I'm not comfortable dictating who should playtest with the aim of balance, because I have seen playtesting where some of the "newest" players find egregious issues. I feel that generally, your neutral powergamers and/or hardcore tournament players are going to find most of the problems in the first few passes. For the record though, I probably would never have voluntarily playtested Lucious or Tara though because I don't find their playstyles rewarding. I don't like the amount of effort vs. the return on those two, yet I would have happily dug into Ironsides to try making the adrenaline mechanic more streamlined or Yan Lo to be a little more the bad ass time-visionary leader his fluff makes him out to be.

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You know what makes a really fascinating reading?  The history of the number of points of score compensation given to the player who goes second in Go.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komidashi

An incredibly thoroughly studied game, and there's still disagreement between official organizations concerning what the proper amount to use to balance out first and second player are, when there's only one type of piece in the game.  And, as old as the game is, the values for going first have still changed within the past two decades.

Every wargame on the market has had less play testing than Go has, and people still propose changes to Go's komi value, and discuss what the effects of changing that value would be.

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Given the balance of schemes, masters, and crew selection I think it's a little faulty to compare them to a game like Go where the pieces themselves (and, largely, winning conditions) are pretty much the same for both players. Chess is a slightly better example with a tighter percentage favoring going first, but even there because the forces at play are both pretty much equal I can easily say those games in 999/1000 of cases is largely skill.

I've played people in Malifaux I'd consider better than myself that were trying out some new models that weren't their normal favored crew selections and won when I felt I would not have otherwise.

On the other side of things though... With OP's cookie-cutter list issue, one recent example I personally witnessed was my own list choice(s). I got lazy and used the same Collodi list a few too many times in a row against a frequent opponent (pretty much same skill level), and he meta'd the hell out of me and hosed my list. I wasn't mad, but that was entirely list choice that determined that game because our flips were pretty much normal that game.

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1 hour ago, enderwiggin said:

Given the balance of schemes, masters, and crew selection I think it's a little faulty to compare them to a game like Go where the pieces themselves (and, largely, winning conditions) are pretty much the same for both players. Chess is a slightly better example with a tighter percentage favoring going first, but even there because the forces at play are both pretty much equal I can easily say those games in 999/1000 of cases is largely skill.

I've played people in Malifaux I'd consider better than myself that were trying out some new models that weren't their normal favored crew selections and won when I felt I would not have otherwise.

On the other side of things though... With OP's cookie-cutter list issue, one recent example I personally witnessed was my own list choice(s). I got lazy and used the same Collodi list a few too many times in a row against a frequent opponent (pretty much same skill level), and he meta'd the hell out of me and hosed my list. I wasn't mad, but that was entirely list choice that determined that game because our flips were pretty much normal that game.

The Go question "How many points is the first turn advantage worth?" is directly relevant to wargame balancing.  How much play testing ends up in discussions of "This action should be Ca6" vs "This action should be Ca7"?  If nothing else, it illustrates the amount of time and the determination with which people are willing to disagree over that single point. 

'Given the balance of schemes, masters, and crew selection', you get a system with a complexity in the terrifying levels that people resort to using "instinct", "gut" and "intuition" to adjust.  And then they argue when their intuitions disagree.  Or you get the process by which a new player picks up the game and is either indoctrinated into the dominant intuition or discards the game as unbalanced.

"Choosing the right models (after paying money for, assembling, painting, and then bringing them along to the game) is a skill" vs. "Why on Earth does the game have these choices that are demonstrably bad?  Not just bad in some situations, but there are no scenarios where this model is a good choice." 

When someone discovers that they made $100 worth of bad life choices, one of the rational decisions they can make is to discard the game and find something else to play.  This leads to the game not acquiring a new player, and thus a negative consequence of having poorly balanced models.

 

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I think you are missing my point that one of the games with fewer variables, the impact of those argued points is not the same as arguing over the differences in wargaming models if you originally meant to use that as an example to reduce playtesting time/thoroughness. That's how I read your original post anyways. If you pointed it out to simply remind everyone that differences of opinion will form, that's cool though.

As for the other stuff I'm not sure we're looking at the game balance the same way... I don't think it's so hideously out of proportion that it's unplayable except with certain crew choices or even mindset. Likewise, I'm not going to pretend there are better choices amongst models and ignore that selection if the situation arises and I'm not just playing for fun or to show off a new paint scheme.

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On December 16, 2015 at 2:11 AM, Kadeton said:

I find that view strange - to me, the reason why some people are Masters is nothing to do with the resources or powers they command (though they tend to rise quickly to positions of power as a matter of course) and everything to do with their Fate. All of them are "literally integral to the Fate of Malifaux", and Ironsides has her part to play just as much as Leveticus does.

To put it another way, if Ramos and Colette were to fight (remembering they're essentially on the same side):

Ramos waves his hand and Colette's contraptions turn tail... or do they? One of them seems to wink at him as it goes, though clearly that's impossible. Colette's voice, directly in his ear, says "What's the matter, old man? Mind playing tricks on you again?" He turns just in time to catch her smile before she disappears in a cloud of iridescent butterflies. Was she ever really there? Ramos decides he'd better go and have a lie-down.

They're all important characters, and when they come into conflict, it doesn't matter how much of a "bad mofo" they might be - the outcome is still decided by Fate. ;)

Sounds like some silly random hypothetical story telling rpg musings to me.

To be fair - I think we're just thinking of this topic differently. I am coming at it from a "typical motifs" perspective that you would expect in big blockbusters, best sellers, or anything geared towards the mass or general consumer.

Remember that this is purely fluff related.

For starters - it seems to me like people have different levels of "awakening" through the breach - some respond not at all and others get master status. It would be reasonable that there would be some masters more powerful. Ramos' wealth, influence, power, and intelligence just adds to this power. The abilities of these characters are just not equal no matter how much you might like one over the other. For instance, in the Arcanist story I referenced - you can just feel that Ramos is the big cheese and Colette (along with almost all arcanists) is just his pawn -she might eventually think shes sneaky or can manipulate or best Ramos but chances are he is three steps ahead of her at all times and knows very well what all of his subordinates are capable of.

Another example: Hamelin isn't Hamelin - he is the physical manifestation of a Tyrant...  whereas someone like Mr. Cooper or Lynch just seem to make bad decisions in life and can do some magic tricks. Read any of the stories that involve the Dreamer - you really think all the masters are on par with the power that that whiney annoying little brat has?

So like - basically I'm just thinking "if Malifaux was a movie - who would be the main players" - and the others are just not that important/take a supportive position. You got your bad mofos like Ramos and Lucius with some super schemey and very integral characters like the three neverborn sisters and Levy for backup - as well as the heroes/anti-heros like especially Perdita, Sonnia or Justice - then you have largely boring, typical, or generally uninteresting niche characters - who a few people here and there will like/relate to but, in general, just aren't that important, interesting, or just "main character" material. Woe-is-me-poopy-pants-Hoffman comes to mind as well some weirdo who likes puppets and quite a few generic tough chicks that might get a little time on the screen in a major brawl but no speaking parts. There probably wouldn't even be any gremlins - and if there were - no one would take them seriously at all and they wouldn't pose a real threat to the major players. Think drunken green ewoks.

Like I said - the idea of balance from a fluff perspective is not happening. IRM ("In Real Malifaux") some masters wouldn't even pose a threat to others - wheras in game, well - anything can happen.

How disappointing it would be to have someone like Levy/Seamus/Lucius/Ramos, etc. be killed by anyone but the strongest most relevant characters. In comparison, Mei Feng is a gimmick and Collodi wouldn't even get screentime.

Finally, this is all just fluff related and totally irrelevant anyway - but hopefully you see where I'm coming from.

 

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I think you're talking about the movie you might make about Malifaux, but it wouldn't be the one I'd make. ;)

Ultimately, the characters you think are important will be the ones you like the most, and the ones you like the least will be those you think of as bit players. Everyone has their own Malifaux story in their head.

There's always more than one way to "pose a threat", and in most movie narratives it's the underdog who comes out on top.

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Lynch is the physical anchor of an extremely old, powerful entity that escaped the fall and imprisonment of the tyrants as well as one of the few humans in Malifaux with an insider connection to the Neverborn.  He, along with the other Ten Thunders masters control the physical manifestation of Malifaux's subconscious- the Library that was referenced in A Storm of Shadows.  They all seem to be co-conspirators controlling the very content of Malifaux's defining mythos and using it to their advantage to further the Thunder's hold on Malifaux.

The Gremlins, despite all odds, have survived the harshness of Malifaux's swamps and the cataclysm for an unknown time as one of Malifaux's few sentient races left.  They appear to have some kind of preternatural luck and the tenacity of honey badgers, and they breed faster than rats.  As the confluence of other fated beings around them heightens, they too appear to grow in capacities, organization, and intelligence, mimicing and "refining" the tactics and abilities of all they come across to suit their predilections.  Som'er can run the Latigos off in a gunfight.  Ophelia was able to raid Latigo itself, a feat that many Neverborn can only dream of.

The Viks have the capacities to take on tyrants.  Rasputina is at war with the tyrant she embodies and seems to be getting the better of him at the cost of her humanity.  Hoffman has unparalleled control over machines and can form giant constructs from any bits of metal around him.  Mei Feng has large populist support from a huge sector of Malifaux's working class and the M&SU; the workers will follow her when the time to topple Ramos comes. 

There are many compelling qualities of all of Malifaux's factions and characters, and neither the game nor the story are about who would come out on top in a straight brawl as there are always shadows in Malifaux to strike from.  The threads of fate have many patterns and intersections, and not all strings are fixed.  Any fated has the ability to cheat and twist fate, and hubris has been the fall of many a hero or anti-hero.  Mechanically, the game allows for many paths at besting an opponent's crew.  Flavorwise, if someone like Ramos falls for a Frame for Murder target, then that can decrease his power and influence possibly by applying more Guild pressure and scrutiny on his operations.  Similarly with plant evidence, any master can be framed whilst their crew is tied up and distracted in melee.  The capacity to play out unique stories is one of the game's compelling qualities, and the fluff often portrays the little skirmish vignettes with characters coming away slightly banged up with their objectives achieved.

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11 hours ago, Kadeton said:

I think you're talking about the movie you might make about Malifaux, but it wouldn't be the one I'd make. ;)

Ultimately, the characters you think are important will be the ones you like the most, and the ones you like the least will be those you think of as bit players. Everyone has their own Malifaux story in their head.

There's always more than one way to "pose a threat", and in most movie narratives it's the underdog who comes out on top.

Perhaps - but the point I was trying to make that you are missing is that I tried to take myself outside of myself and think about Malifaux in terms of the general public consensus. Not sundance film festival - we are talking Hollywood blockbuster thinking.

My Malifaux movie would center around Levy and Alyce with the Viks in a Hellraiser meets Kung-Fu type badass action-body-horror type movie - and I think that's cool as hell but I also know it wouldn't be most people's cup of tea.

I look at particular characters like all the ones closely linked to Tyrants and I think how the hell could a bunch of silly little green people or a collection of ragtag brusiers and thugs compete with these.

Furthermore, like him or not, Ramos is basically the Dark Knight of Malifaux. He is what Batman only wishes he could be. Top that. :D 

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I can't really imagine a Hollywood blockbuster where Ramos or Lucius was anything but villains. Ramos isn't a Batman, he is a Lex Luthor.

As for fluff based balance, Ramos isn't very personally formidable in the fluff, most of his power is the influence and resources of the M&SU, which doesn't help you much in a knife fight. E.g. look at Hoffman handing him his ass in the book three opening story (was in ToM episode 19). From a fluff point one might wonder why the leader of the M&SU would go out and get his hands dirty very often, instead of being a Governor General type character.

I agree that Dreamer is very powerful on a skirmish scale in the fluff, ridiculously so really. Hamelin/Plague got a bit of patch in the Aionus in the Chronicles 21, they went on a bit about how his powers have drained away during his long imprisonment.  Though he is quite powerful in the book two stories. Speaking of Aionus, he came across as way over powered in said story, to the degree that he would pretty much have to play pretend to further some plan whenever he appears in the game... Now I can't help imagining Aionus playing out a death scene complete with staggering around and Shakespearian monologues when it's time to leave and he pretends to die. :P 

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Why even Discuss this at all!? all games are the same! :D

Malifaux: You walk, you shoot, cast spells or fight in melee ...

Warmachine/Hordes: Malifaux: You walk, you shoot, cast spells or fight in melee ...

Warhammer 40k: Malifaux: You walk, you shoot, cast spells or fight in melee ...

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Malifaux: You walk, you shoot, cast spells or fight in melee ...

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I'd actually say that Malifaux's heavy use of objectives and mental attack/defense puts it squarely outside of the norm. I'd also say it's one of the most balanced games I've played, and certainly the most complex balanced game I've played.

WM/H is so commander-focused and decently balanced between facitons, but I find the scenarios boring; gameplay repetitive; internal balance abysmal (there are a lot of stinkers, and the testing threshold seems fairly low for those real power houses not being recognized before they get out of the gates).

40k's just kind of swinging around insanely, what with combos giving you huge amounts of free army or being able to take whatever the hell you want. With more reasonable points and returning to some sort of force restrictions, it could return to a vaguely balanced light weight game.

Age of Sigmar: 40k's problems turned up to 11, what with joke rules and no balancing structure (points, etc.).

And adding others

X-wing: haven't played a ton but seems well balanced between factions and decently balanced within.

Arena Rex: there aren't really factions, but the whole system seems pretty balanced. Haven't tried large units.

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X-Wing's balance is okay, but I really miss objective play in it. (Would also allow for more viable support options design wise, but then again, I don't think even proper objective play could bring me back cause I hate their business model.)

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2 hours ago, SpiralngCadavr said:

I'd actually say that Malifaux's heavy use of objectives and mental attack/defense puts it squarely outside of the norm. I'd also say it's one of the most balanced games I've played, and certainly the most complex balanced game I've played.

I definitely agree that the objectives really set Malifaux apart from many of its competitors. Too many other games make them secondary to just killing the "Big Man" (one of the main reasons I stop playing Warmahordes when the itch gets me).

As for malifaux being one of the most balanced games, well ... not sure I agree, though, with a few caveats I might. My most important caveat being when it is played asymmetrically as opposed to the shared strategies. The asymmetric objectives always seemed to provide more potential methods of achieving victory in a game (for me anyway), unlike the shared objectives which tend to be entirely center weighted. My second important caveat being when certain models are omitted from the general consideration of balance. Unfortunately each faction has at least a few significant outliers that really make the balance a mess when the entire range is considered (you'd be hard pressed to build a list in any faction that didn't have at least one of them present).

41 minutes ago, Astrella said:

X-Wing's balance is okay, but I really miss objective play in it. (Would also allow for more viable support options design wise, but then again, I don't think even proper objective play could bring me back cause I hate their business model.)

I also agree that X-wing has decent balance and that the general lack of objective play is probably it's biggest downfall for me (I would love something to actually fight for or over rather than just the Conan Principle).

Definitely agree that their business model of buy everything sucks but at least it isn't blind random pack (a model I absolutely abhor more than anything else, it is what kept me from getting into Monsterpocalypse earlier and keeps me away from Heroclix). I am hopeful however, that at some point they will just publish a deck of all the little cards and a sheet of all the templates/ counters instead of hiding them away in the ship blisters.

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5 minutes ago, Omenbringer said:

Definitely agree that their business model of buy everything sucks but at least it isn't blind random pack (a model I absolutely abhor more than anything else, it is what kept me from getting into Monsterpocalypse earlier and keeps me away from Heroclix). I am hopeful however, that at some point they will just publish a deck of all the little cards and a sheet of all the templates/ counters instead of hiding them away in the ship blisters.

I remember reading somewhere that it's part of their license that they can't just sell cards or tokens on their own. It seems very strange to me, and is unfortunate for the game.

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re; Omenbringer

Hmm, yeah, I guess my feeling of Malifaux's balance is that, in planning objectives and once playing the game, things feel pretty thoroughly balanced, but there are definitely some duds and some pieces that are very regularly present.

However, when feeling out balance, a lot of it for me comes down to whether something very good isn't an auto-pick or something sub-par is situationally useful, and Malifaux's objective system does that very well, where there are pieces I'll take all things being equal or if I need to fill out a list, but lots of specialists that I'll take instead of them in the right situation. So, I'd consider that well-enough balanced even though there are certainly a few outliers which could be reined in.

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Well balance is a bit of a subjective thing to discuss :D. For me the symmetric center weighting of objectives, often times makes even the specialists struggle to find a place within their intended niches.

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