Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Preparing for the Battle for Salvation

The title sounds kind of epic, doesn't it?

Battle for Salvation is a tournament coming up this weekend.  But first, a little backgrounder.

Mike Brandt, co-founder of the NOVA Open, is a big fan of Malifaux 2E.  He hosts a weekly event which we have dubbed with the exceedingly creative moniker, Monday Night Malifaux.  Hanging out with this great crowd of players (albeit way too late on a Monday night) has given me ample opportunity to practice the game and learn its depth at a pace that I’m comfortable with.  

I’m a slow learner sometimes, but I finally realize that it’s vital for me to take list-building seriously.  Not to be a serious, competitive player, mind you, but to ensure that I’m setting myself up for a fun game, i.e. a close game.  While I play to win, I don’t care whether I win or lose, as long as the game is very close and that I feel that I play smartly.  Designing a “soft list” can self-sabotage my own goal!

This lesson struck home, when I played a rematch of my Marcus crew against Mike’s Gremlins, and I acknowledged that I undermined my success by not bringing the right tools for the job, e.g. no blast weapons to combat a horde crew.  I've had similar revelations in Warhammer Fantasy in the past, but I haven't applied those lessons very well to Malifaux (or to Warhammer Fantasy, probably!).  Like I said, I’m a slow learner sometimes!

So when Mike proposed to the Monday night group that we attend en masse the Malifaux tournament at Battle for Salvation near New York City, I actually felt comfortable with the idea of participating in a tournament.  I usually view tournaments as stressful events, rather than the fun events that they're supposed to be.  However, now that I understand that I’m somewhat responsible for my own game balance, I have a different outlook on competitive events.  The disparity between "competitive" gamers and "narrative" gamers dissolves to some degree, because I now know that I need to do my part to form a level playing field.  

Malifaux's design helps, too.  Malifaux's setup allows each player to know the terrain, the deployment zones, the scenarios (Strategies & Schemes), and your opponent's faction before you build your crew.  Very few, if any, popular miniatures games structure the setup that way.  This approach places as much onus on the players to balance their game as it places on the game designers, which I think is genius.  

Now a sidebar....

In my opinion, it is impossible to balance a miniatures game.  There are just too many variables.  Tournaments attempt to achieve balance by removing some of those variables, i.e. "comp" rules to "equalize" factions, symmetrical terrain, etc.  But at the end of the day, I don't believe that the immense effort, time, and angst that is invested in supplemental design, and (if you're lucky) supplemental test-play, pays sufficient dividends in achieving a balanced format.  

Another thought on randomness.  Highly competitive players attempt to remove variables and randomness in order to control outcomes.  They strive to create a deterministic game, so that randomness minimally interferes with their strategy.  That's not a criticism; that's smart game-play at the strategic level.  However,  I've witnessed this desire at the extreme end of the spectrum, where a player complains that the game design or the tournament rules prevent them from fully achieving deterministic conditions.  That's where you'll hear some community members say, "Hey, if that's what you're looking for, just go play chess."

In my opinion, randomness and upsets and curveballs are part of life and certainly part of war (relevant if your miniatures game is a war-game -- not all of them are, mind you).  A plan or strategy, therefore, must account for the unexpected.  A mark of a good tactician is how he or she adapts the original plan to unforeseen setbacks.  The difficulty for a tournament, however, is that the "ability to adapt to random setbacks" is measurable only indirectly through final results.  The only reward for clever adaptation is winning the game.  But if the game can be won at the strategic level, where a player still has control, a player is naturally going to utilize those strategic options that he or she can control.

In sum, I'm OK with a game format that allows some randomness, because I enjoy the tactical challenge of adapting to the situation on-the-fly.  I'm OK with the pre-game strategic component, too. I just have a harder time finding the time to do it!

This sidebar discussion is rooted largely in conversations that I've been having with my friend, Steve, particularly the strategic-versus-tactical distinction replacing the competitive-versus-narrative distinction.  Steve and I hope to publicize that discussion soon as a guest segment on a podcast.

But that must wait until Battle for Salvation!

Which brings us, finally, to pictures.

Here are WIP shots of the models that I've been painting to expand my Marcus and Ramos crews.  I had less than two weeks of calendar time to work on them, which amounts to only around 8 or so painting sessions.  Here are some intermediate stages.  Only 2 or 3 more paint sessions left!

The build session consumed a weekend day.  I thought I would have these guys primed by the end.

Sculpting my own cobblestone bases out of Milliput (the two on the right).
The painting goal for Battle for Salvation.

Color-sketching proxies for Metal Gamin.   I know, the OSL is inverted.  WIP!
More color-sketching.
Making progress.


  1. This is a beautiful force. I can't believe how quickly you are painting, and at such a high level. I really like the three clustered miniatures on the top right.

  2. Thanks so much, John! I concentrated on finishing the Dawn Serpent last night. Your compliment inspires me to post a picture of it sooner rather than later!

    The great thing about painting gaming figures is that I can blitz through them and usually call it "good enough", without pressuring myself too much. You'll see -- the Large Arachnid looks decent at tabletop distance, but it's a little rough closer in. Probably true for all of them!


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