Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Grain of Salt or How To Take Advice

I first started hobby gaming in 1994. I was 14 years old and was introduced to the entire world of games by my older cousin and his friends. I was the tag along kid, eager for any extra minis or magic cards they would throw my way just to get me off their backs. I didn't have rules for some of the games they played, so my friends and I would make them up in the best way we could.
At the risk of sounding like THAT old guy, you know the one, in those days we didn't have internet. Well we did, but it was mainly confined to local servers and had very limited access. The wealth of information that we have today simply wasn't available. Tournament results were learned about in monthly magazines, along with ideas for lists and various ruling questions. Otherwise, we were on our own to discover new things about the games.
Flash forward to today's world and the sheer amount of information available in seconds is purely astonishing. You can be in the middle of a game and look up a rules question on a forum as fast as your fingers can navigate the screen. Blogs, Social Media, Forums, YouTube videos and Wikis allow anyone and everyone to access not only all the information about the game but opinions as well. In the overload of information, advice and opinions how does a new player sift through it all? I'm glad you asked.

The first time I heard the word metagame was in the early 2000s while playing Magic: The Gathering. Metagame is quite simply a term used to describe the popular strategies in a community. It can mean your local LGS or even a global metagame. The meta is what is hot at the moment and represents the Thing to Beat.
In Malifaux we are strangely lucky. Every crew is pretty finely balanced to produce lists that are possibly more powerful than some but by no means dominant. It is one of the first games I have played that truly has a "Play what you want to" attitude and means it. There isn't a single Master that is considered to weak to play competitively and there are only a few that could truly be called Top Tier.
When jumping into a lot of games, if you consult the wisdom of the internet you will see statements like "Don't play X, they are terrible" or "Play Z and win, don't worry about the rest." So far, I haven't seen this attitude in Malifaux. Anything and everything has a possibility of achieving victory and player skill is the largest factor to taking home tournament prizes.
That being said, there are still some tough crews and match ups out there. The internet will give you some great tips on beating the masters you find tough, but ultimately it comes down to two very important things. Play More Games and Try New Things. Spend some time to find out what makes a crew work. Is Nicodem your problem? Remember he needs corpse tokens to pump out undead. Is Perdita the issue? Remember that she can't shoot what she can't see.

Metagaming can lead to some interesting situations. We know what a person has won with in a tournament almost as soon as the tournament is finished, if not sooner, these days. Results are posted, streamed and Tweeted in real time. Instead of the isolated communities of players from the 90s we have a global awareness of what is winning across the world. It seems easy to just latch on to what the top players are running and go with their choices, after all they did win.
There's a huge danger sign right here that should be flashing, especially in the case of Malifaux. In a game where lists are built most times at the table itself simply copying a list or strategy is locking you into a play style you may not completely understand or need. In top tier tournaments, players who are very serious about the game have an understanding that a casual player does not. Chances are they know their opponents pretty well. They know what each and every crew they are going to face is capable of and they have planned accordingly. Most lists are not just tailor made for the tournament but also for that specific game. Simply copying and pasting your crew from their tournament winning lists will not give you the cosmic key to victory.
That isn't to say that you should ignore tournament results, far from it. If you want to get better at the game, look at what has been played and ask the right questions. Why did they take a Silurid over two Gupps? Why make the choice of this limited upgrade over that one? One of the beautiful things about the internet community is that you have a good chance of being able to connect with the person who played the list themselves if you ask in the right place. Knowledge like this can definitely make your game better, but it requires much more information than a list of the models that were put on the table.

Constructive vs Negative
So there are two types of advice. There's the helpful kind that answers your questions and generally leaves you in a better understanding of how and why choices should be made, and then there's the
kind that makes you feel like you are a jerk newbie for not playing it correctly in the first place. The second type very rarely gives you reasons why or if they do it is in a backhanded or condescending manner. Beware the second type, in my opinion it is the newest form of bullying. This is the guy who probably only plays against new players because they give him easy match ups. This is the dreaded Anonymous Inferiority Complex.
Internet opinions are exactly that, opinions. The trick to opinions is that they are often given a weight that they don't fully deserve. I try very hard in this blog to stress that I'm learning the game and this blog is full of my personal observations and not hard facts about the game. I spend time asking questions, researching and am always asking for feedback. The crazy thing is that by me saying "I never take Bad Juju without Eternal Fiend and it works" I could be correct. Bad Juju might do consistent hard work for me in the games I play with Eternal Fiend and as many Swampfiends as I can jam into a list. However, in your local meta everyone might be onto the trick and have ways to counter it.This doesn't make me wrong, but it is not the best advice for your situation. So, the best thing to do is accept advice given and give it a try. If it doesn't work, then you are out a game or two, if it does then congrats! You managed to get some good advice and your game has improved.

Courage Under Fire
Don't be afraid to ask questions when you can't find the answer easily. Yes, sometimes you will get nasty comments. There are unfortunate people who feel the need to let you know how much of their time you wasted. Luckily, the Malifaux community seems to be mostly bereft of these people. I think if you go to the Wyrd Forums, Twitter or A Wyrd Place you will find that the people who play Malifaux will be willing to give you constructive and helpful advice or at the very least point you in the right direction.
On the flip side, when you are in the position to answer questions and give advice try to be constructive. It can be frustrating to see the same question asked every other day on your news feed but it does not help foster a sense of community by lashing out. Also remember that Malifaux has a ton of fiddly rules and interpretations of those rules. Some people take months or even years to fully grasp the scope of various situations that can arise during a game. Not all of us are willing to go through the rules with a fine tooth comb. By offering advice without sarcasm or condescension you have more than likely made a future Malifaux player and maybe opponent more receptive and better at the game. It could be your advice that helps shape the next Nationals winner. It will definitely foster the growth of the game, and the more people who play, the more chances that this game will continue to be supported on all levels.

Where is it all
Here's a list of good resources to use. Its not comprehensive but I will add on as I'm given more.
Wyrd Forums-
A Wyrd Place podcast-
Malifaux Most Wanted--
Mistakes Were Made--
Cheated Fates--
GMorts Chaotica--

There are many many more out there.
When trying to learn more about the game, use all your resources. Jump on the Wyrd Forums, ask in Twitter, scour PullMyFinger, read blogs (especially mine), listen to podcasts. Gather every scrap you can and then use them. Try it out, and see what you get. Even if the advice isn't the best for you it can lead to new discoveries and the next thing you know, you will be the one giving the advice.

My first Tournament is a week away and I am very busy deciding what to play. The Strategies are in order: Headhunter, Interference and Collect the Bounty. Of course, what I play could change depending on which faction I'm facing down, but having that knowledge beforehand allows me to craft a preliminary game plan. To say I'm excited is an understatement.

Until next time, Keep Cheating Fate -- John Fox


  1. Great blog post, I wholeheartedly agree with your ideas:) On another note- them are some killy strategies, good luck with the tournament!

  2. Good post. I actually find reading battle reports most helpful, especially on a forum/blog where you can ask questions of the participants. You can see what demonstrably worked or didn't and critically you can see things as they play out on the table rather than seeing things in a vacuum.