Saturday, April 9, 2016

Negative Play or How to Suck the Fun Out of a Game 101


Fun might well be the trickiest 3 letter word in the English language. Like most other abstract concepts having fun is a relative state of being. What is fun for one person is not always so for another. Most of us got into gaming because it looked fun. For some fun is painting and making decorative bases and terrain. Others have fun building themed lists and playing story encounters. Some people are only having fun when they are headed to top results in a tournament. The truth of the matter is, all of these ways are perfectly legit ways to have fun.

Negative play is a concept that I only heard come up very recently in my years as a gamer. When I was playing Magic it was simply called being a casual player if your deck wasn't top of the line. In fact my Magic career was so bent towards competitive that if a deck wasn't fun to play against, I usually built a variation of that deck or tinkered with the one I was playing until I knew I could win vs it. I played Magic to win and only to win, no other result would do. Its probably why I eventually burned out on the game.

F is for Friends That Do Things Together
Yes I just quoted Spongebob. I understand if you quit reading from here on out. So when we play Malifaux there are generally two purposes. One is to win a game through good play and decision making. The other is to enjoy a game where you pit your wits against another. There is another camp, though. That camp wants the win through any means. They scour the game looking for loop holes and interactions that allow a victory by any means. They keep it secret and safe until a tournament comes around so that they can drop the skew list against unsuspecting and unprepared opponents. This isn't a new concept. One could say that tactics like this go back to Hannibal and his made desire to bring elephants into Europe. Are these games fun when you are on the other side of the board? Definitely not.

Recently Malifaux rats have entered the spotlight as painfully annoying. By spending the majority activating meaningless rats, turning them into rat kings, splitting them back up into ratcatchers, and then when the opponent is tapped on activations unleashing a Killjoy in your opponent's deployment zone, you basically take over the game's momentum and it is hard or nearly impossible to come back once it happens.

While this isn't cheating it is a form of power gaming that will roll a tournament if the field isn't prepared for it, and might roll it even if your opponents are prepared for it. Its not fun to play against. Generally you walk away from these games wondering how it could go so horribly wrong.

Here are my thoughts, please understand they are opinions and not shared by everyone in the community. If you play this game in a tournament, especially a large convention tournament: take a deep breath and examine how to beat the Outcast game. Tournaments are competitive environments where the object is to win without cheating. Ratbomb is obnoxious, it needs to be fixed and probably will very soon, but it is not cheating. Exploiting the best combos is going to happen and while it isn't good for the meta game, its a major part of how tournaments go. This is the same in every game that has a competitive scene.

For those of you that play Ratbomb in casual games vs your casual gamer friends, shame on you. Lists like this have no business in story encounters, casual pick up games and games vs beginning players. If you want to foster a solid community and bring the levels of play in your community up, then game play needs to be competitive but fun. Lists like this in non competitive games will definitely drive people away.

U is for Unbalanced 

So you just lost to Ratbomb or Somer Spam. The game got away from you in such a way that after turn 1 there didn't feel like much reason to continue to play. It's ok. Take a deep breath and walk away from the tables for a few minutes. Our nature is to instantly drop the U word: Unbalanced. Its a concept that is a bit misunderstood when it comes to gaming and probably needs to be cleared up. Most people think game balance means that you can bring any group of models to a tournament and have an equal chance of winning all of your games. This idea isn't just false it is actually a bit damaging for the game on the whole. Sure I can bring Ironsides and 6 fire gamin to a tournament and even if I do win it will probably be because my opponents high cards aren't in their deck.
Some Gamers are actually Dwight. No one likes this guy.

Balance is really about having a healthy game environment where one specific list isn't so dominating that it crushes  multiple tournaments with no chance of retaliation. For the most part, Malifaux is a very balanced game at least in 2nd edition. Every faction has a few top tier crews and even the bottom level crews can win games with the right set up and player behind them. When you think about balance, look at the lists that are winning in your local meta and the national meta. Is it one list over and over again, or is there a healthy amount of variation. In our local meta Gremlins and Outcasts (minus the bomb) are seen as the faction to beat, however that is based on the fact that we have some great Gremlin and Outcast players. Personally, I love playing against these guys, even when I lose because it helps me become better at the game overall.

N is for the eNd is Nigh

Ratbomb and its other variations don't spell doom for Malifaux. Wyrd has shown a quick turn around for errata when the need is called for and this will be no exception. They are great company for listening to the player base as a whole and reacting to problems in the game. If Ratbomb continues to be a problem, Wyrd will stop it by some means. Hopefully this is a means that leaves Hamelin a viable master . In the meantime, if you are playing Outcasts and suspect the rats are coming, buy a sniper and spend your first turn shooting rats in a barrel. No rats, means no out activating and they are very easy to kill. Once you become aware of what the plan is, you can learn to adjust to it. Its definitely not an easy game, but once the shock wears off it can be weathered.

 Malifaux in its current state continues to be a fantastic game to play. Even the fun of Guild Ball doesn't distract me too much from the game. Sure there's some games that I walk away feeling like I was just blindsided, but on retrospection I usually find that there were ways I could have played better. A good friend of mine often says most games are lost at scheme selection. That, however, is a story for another day. Please feel free to start a discussion about this, but keep it calm and respectful.

Until next time Keep Cheating Fate,
John Fox


  1. Great article! I agree with what you're saying. The negative play is what drove me out of 40K (and the cost). I just grabbed the starter set. I have only a couple games with that set under my belt at home with this set but have been looking to the future. Malifaux seems super fun and full of casual play potential.

    I love the look and idea of Hamelin. Maybe it was my love of Skaven and Willard?

    However, it seems that now if I grab his box I'll look like the interweb net list guy. Even though I have no idea of what you are talking about that he does. Still learning the ropes and a lot of the terminology for Malifaux is lost on the new guy.

    Guess I'll pass on him since he is the new hotness and soon to be hated guy.

  2. Hamelin himself isn't really the issue and his general play, while tedious is not problematic at all. Really, once a fix comes or people learn how to deal with the list, I think it will blow over. Until then, batten down the hatches. Before We Begin Podcast did an entire episode on combating Ratjoy, and its worth a listen.