Gaining Grounds 2018 (Open Beta) – Numbered Schemes

For this installment, it’s a look at the new numbered schemes we have this year. But first I’m going to comment on the ones returning that we all know and love/hate. Afterwards, my meta put together some faction matchups for me and I’m going to do some in-depth discussion on what I would take and why using scheme pools generated from GG18 (credit to ttsgosadow on the Wyrd Forums for posting a generator for GG18 beta!). Let me know if you guys like this kind of analysis and leave me a note in the comments if you’d like me to do more in the future!

Covert Breakthrough – Full disclosure: I never take this scheme. I find it’s a worse version of Leave Your Mark. I have always considered this an all or nothing scheme, and actually prefer Claim Jump to it. I know, I’m weird. That being said, there are quite a number of models that can make this scheme near trivial, so I don’t think it’s a bad pick. It’s much more a positioning game for me than LYM or CJ, simply because you need to not telegraph it, and then get it knocked out.

Undercover Entourage – Always a favorite, you have to be a little wily, but it can be a quick 3VP at the end of the game if you’ve got the game plan for it. There are a few masters that make this absolutely trivial to accomplish (I’m looking at you Asami, Colette and Tara). All in all, I really like this scheme and happy to see it back.

Show of Force – So I main 10T and Rezzers right now, so this scheme is practically an auto-take for me. I almost always have 3-4 score-able upgrades out. I really like that this scheme doesn’t punish if you tie and I think target prioritization is one of the most common weak points. This scheme kind of paints the targets for you, which is both good and bad. So it makes for good mid-game decision making. Great scheme.

Hidden Trap – This is one of those schemes that I think is safe to never take. There’s a few masters that can handle it pretty easily, but being end of game hurts it. Especially once you’ve revealed your first scheme. It’s one of those “ah” moments that completely changes what your opponent does. Now if you have control, or are at least on even keel, you’re probably still going to get a couple of points out of it. But I feel there is almost always a better choice. Still, it’s good to break things up and it’s absolutely doable.

Set Up – Another scheme that is almost trivial for a few crews yet quite rough for others. I ultimately much prefer this scheme over Hidden Trap as, even though you’re restricted to naming a model, you can pop it when needed. 4” is also a much larger distance than you think sometimes. You really do have a lot of play as to what model you pick, and you can absolutely bluff this scheme for CJ or Dig Their Graves.

Search the Ruins – This scheme is equal combinations great and frustrating. You can spend most of the game setting it up, and there’s not really anything your opponent can do to stop it except pick them up or move them away. I also like that if you are really getting pushed back, you can just get the three down for 2VP and work on cutting your losses and focusing on the strat.

Leave Your Mark – Another scheme I don’t often take… because I didn’t play Arcanists during the glory days of Raptor PP. Or Gremlins. But this is a solid scheme that can be hard to deny if you don’t have a counter-schemer to handle an exposed flank. Ice Dancers, Wandering River Monks, Silurids, Bayous, Investigators, Necropunks… some factions have a bit more toys than others but pretty much everyone has a way of completing this as long as you can control a flank.

Dig Their Graves – The king scheme of AP inefficiency, lol. I happen to love this scheme because it combines positioning, interacting and killing all into one neat and tidy package. Just be careful of where your scheme markers are placed so your opponent doesn’t get cheeky and remove one you need to stay on the board!

Now on to the returning and the new, starting with the returning!


Rating: 8/10

First Impression: Who doesn’t like to score points by killing things with your Master or Henchman?

High Point: Very straightforward scheme that forces constructive thought on how you fill out your list.

Low Point: Not particularly deep. But that’s not always required

Who does this benefit the most: An all-comers kind of scheme. Every faction has at least one super kill-y master/henchman. So I’m going to list my personal favorites (one per faction): Raspy/Howard (Arcanists); Lady J/Judge (Guild); Reva/Archie (Rezzers); Wong/Francois (Gremlins); Misaki/Ohaguro Bettari (10T); Daw/The Nothing Beast (Outcasts); Lynch/Huggy (Neverborn).


This is a very straight forward scheme that I personally LOVE. But I also like schemes that are all about being in the thick of the scrum.

But maybe more than running the actual scheme, I also like that it creates some interesting choices for some crews. Because if you aren’t careful, you can be put on the back foot pretty quickly.

And I’m sure there are plenty of people who are quite happy that Yasunori can’t complete this one!


Rating: 10/10

First Impression: I LOVE this scheme. Its flavor is perfectly executed and it can both be a challenging and rewarding scheme to not only play but succeed at.

High Point: Being able to pick any model for the Vendetta makes for compelling crew decisions against the faction you’re playing as well as when crews are revealed.

Low Point: It can be a swingy scheme. If your vendetta target gets nuked by say an errant red-joker… you suddenly can only score 1VP from this scheme tops.

Who does this benefit the most: Another all-comers scheme (which contributes heavily to its strong rating) this scheme favors ranged non-projectile attacks. Guild does get a bit more play out of this, though that’s somewhat mitigated by needing to be non-leader and you must match SS costs. I’m going to shout out to models like Yokai and Monster Hunter who can hit pretty well above their SS cost.


This is a deceptively deep scheme. Can’t cheese out with a leader. And if you go for that high SS beater, you must pick something high SS from them. So the sweet spot is to have a mid-costed, aggressive model that can go for the teeth. Illuminated come to mind, as they can hit hard, go deep and are hard to shift. So it can be fairly easy to at least score 2VP.

I think honestly that’s the method to go for here. Hunt for that 2VP sweet spot, with designs on getting that 3rd if the opportunity presents itself. It can be easy to telegraph this scheme if you are a little too eager, but that means it’s pretty easy to bluff too.

All of these considerations make it a fantastic scheme in the pool. It just brings a bunch of layers that you could do. Or you don’t do. Either way it’s got to be a consideration.

I will say that I’m a slacker here and often just assume I’m 3VP down because I just know I’m going to offer up my vendetta target on a silver platter. I seem to be good at that!


Rating: 8/10

First Impression: I think this is a progression from Last Stand, and personally really like it. Another strong scheme for Elite crews.

High Point: Supports the “tank” style of play that Last Stand tried to, while not handicapping you in the process.

Low Point: Forces you to go into a potentially losing battle. Really need to be careful with target selection here.

Who does this benefit the most: Elite crews; anyone who’s got a slightly lower model count that can bring the business. But specifically, 3” reach, tanky models. Izamu, you may have finally found your home! Special shout out to crews with positioning shenanigans as you can help facilitate this much better.


First off, this scheme doesn’t benefit hordes at all, as it makes it easier for your opponent to score. I love that. Yet another thing to encourage slightly more elite crews (my favorite).

This can be easy to deny as well. Just don’t group up. But that brings its own potential problems, depending on the scheme and strategy. A counter argument to that is we don’t have extraction or guard the stash anymore. This exacerbates the situation as the only schemes and strats that care about the center now are Show of Force and Search the Ruins. Everything else is just all over the place.

As such, crews that have higher mobility or positioning tricks can really make this a consistent 3 pts. I know I’ve brought a lot of attention to 10T, but they are all about positioning and a lot of these schemes favor strong positioning capabilities. Lust is a great model for this as her whole shtick is to take an enemy and send it to a buddy. Fortunately, she’s a merc so anyone can hire her!


Rating: 9/10

First Impression: Unique feel and a unique mechanic that work pretty smoothly. My favorite of the new schemes. Does require a bit of book keeping though, especially if both players take it.

High Point: Thematics are always a big thing for me and the one here is fantastic.

Low Point: I wonder if the reveal/unreveal is needless clunky. Can we not just declare a challenger and at the end of the turn, you can discard 2 cards to declare new challengers?

Who does this benefit the most: Another all-comer type scheme. Love that! Literally anyone can master can complete this.


One of Molly’s new upgrades has an interesting interaction here in that it grants her 2 cards every time she reveals a scheme. Normally that’s 4 cards in a game, but this scheme can bring that up to 8 cards. Not necessarily a “ZOMG!” thing, but something to be aware of.

It’s also quite card intensive if you choose your targets poorly. This may be one of the most punishing schemes in that regard. Two cards is nothing to scoff at and if you had to burn your control hand, or are unwilling to pitch, and your opponent got his challenge target the hell out of dodge… that’s a big problem.

So pay careful attention to the tricks for disengagement, so you don’t get caught flatfooted when you lock in your targets, fail to kill it because they have better cards than you, and then GTFO.


Rating: 6/10

First Impression: The “fixed” Frame for Murder. I like the change, making scoring 3VP a little less difficult.

High Point: Frame for Murder v2.0 not on a suit.

Low Point: It’s still Frame for Murder…

Who does this benefit the most: The players with the best poker face and the crews with the threats that HAVE to be dealt with via death and dismemberment. Though as was the case with Frame… if you have an obey, this should be an auto 3VP.


I don’t like frame. I don’t like guessing if I can get a model my opponent will be nice enough to kill with the right model so that I score points. This takes a lot of the decision making out of your hand. If you telegraph it, they find ways around it. If you don’t telegraph it, they still might decide to neuter over kill.

I feel like the best luck is to pick a random model and hope they go for it. But that’s the same problem of… but what if they don’t?

I can’t rate it too poorly as it brings some interesting decisions and strategic choices to the table. But I also can’t rate it high because I don’t like schemes that can’t be scored unless your opponent “gives” you the points. A lot of schemes are reliant on what your opponent does or brings. I don’t know of another one that you physically cannot score unless your opponent does something.

But it’s not on a suit… so that makes it totally ok to have pop up once in a while just to stir things up a bit.

That’s my take on the numbered schemes! Let’s put this all into some practice, shall we? Here’s three random matchups (well semi-random, my meta picked the factions) to take a quick once over! For the purpose of the rundown I’ll be picking a random faction to represent what I would be playing and then examining my options from it.

Outcasts vs Gremlins

Deployment: Flank

Strategy: Ours

Schemes: Charge Soulstone, Smuggled Across, Make them Suffer, Vendetta and Claim Jump

Playing As: Outcasts

Pretty kill oriented pool. Ours wants you to reduce the number of models in a quadrant. Charge, Suffer, and Vendetta all require you to kill to score. Claim Jump is interesting here because flank changes the center line, but ours doesn’t change how it splits the quadrants. So effectively quadrant 2 and 3 will have the center line in them. The hard part about this is that’s the war zone quadrants. Your opponent will be in 1 (for sake of visualizing) and you in 4, read to push out immediately to start scoring. So that’s probably a dead scheme unless you can gain dominance and hold it there. You could always push for center to help, but then you have models that aren’t scoring.

Gremlins have an advantage because they are far more AP and model efficient for SS, so Charge Soulstone hurts less. Pigapult and some Bayou gremlins guarantee Smuggled Across for 3VP on turn one. Make them Suffer isn’t likely unless they play Wong, even with Francois available. He is good for maybe two points, but he’s going to be too close to dead for the third. Similarly, with Vendetta.

You’re looking at facing probably Somer or Wong here, leaning towards Somer. Zipp is not a bad choice, but they can summon three bayous with Somer, score Smuggled, and then they can die for next to no cost to them all while being in your back line so if you ignore them, they can be trouble. This opens up Make them Suffer to you though.

As already established above, Claim Jump is out. Smuggled is a decent pick, as you’re gonna be in the thick anyways. Make them Suffer is probably an auto-pick here. Lots of minions/peons potentially to be had. Vendetta is iffy. But Charge Soulstone is good. So you’re probably going with Suffer and Charge.

As to Masters… you want kill, disruption and not needing to rely on cards (in case of Somer). Daw and Tara jump out immediately. Viks as a potential third option. Tara can not only dive the back line with the Nothing Beast but can meet the bayous head on with Void Wretches. This definitely helps swing in your favor. Daw can help neuter abilities with curses, and can blitz down the heavy hitters. His ability to warp around pretty easily and provide pushes to his Tormented crew really helps with positioning. Or you could load up the Viks, dive in and try to wreck face, forcing the Gremlin player to react to you. This feels good against Somer, less so against Wong. But Somer is probably the master you’ll face here.

Ultimately I think I’d do Tara with Wretch spam here taking Make them Suffer and Charge Soulstone.

Guild vs Arcanists

Deployment: Standard

Strategy: Symbols of Authority

Schemes: Eliminate the Leadership, Collect Evidence, Undercover Entourage, Challenge, and Claim Jump

Playing as: Guild

Symbols of Authority introduces some grey area into what you’re going to want to do here. Because you don’t know where half the symbols are going to go until after deployment, you have to play a guessing game based on terrain. The thing to watch out for is going first or second here. You really want to pick your side of the table. While knowing where your opponent is going to drop his marker is nice, you want to prevent them being able to drop a marker on the far side of some impassable terrain. That’s where you want YOUR marker. You can expect that the other one is going to be near the center line, so that it can be blitzed quickly. The benefit is that you’ll have one turn to setup how you’re going to attack the near marker and defend yours. The downside is that by going first to pick your side, your opponent gets to counter deploy. So you need to build your crew with this in mind. Mobility and durability is going to be key.

For this reason you have to count out Hoffman. He’s deceptively fast, but you need to split your forces. You need to provide severe threat for your opponent so I’m going with ranged here. You’re really looking at a Perdita/Sonnia option. While I think McMourning, McCabe, Nellie and Lucius all have the mobility, I think because you know exactly what the target positions are going to be, going with a heavy ranged master that can delete models is good. You’re going to put your “opponent” marker out in the open by the centerline. Let them come try to defend that.

Now playing Arcanists introduces several distinct possibilities here. The eponymous Sandeep, blitzing with Marcus, a Colette gun line, a challenge oriented Ironsides, or Seismic Claws Mei Fang all are viable options here. Regardless of the master though, you are going to face three oxfordians here, because their ability to push is obscene for this strategy. They also can potentailly deny Undercover Entourage and help deny Collect Evidence. For this reason I think Deep or the Ironsides MSU combo are what you will face. Ironsides might be the better pick here because she is also next to impossible to kill now, thus mitigating Eliminate the Leaderships viability. The positives that she grants to MSU helps with challenge as well. And of course there is the Jossbot.

So knowing you have a lot of pushing and control coming your way, you need something that can handle those threats. This reinforces the desire to take models that can work at range. Oxfordians do NOT like focused fire nor blasts, and in an Ironsides bubble, you’re going to be looking for blasts to ignore her defensive triggers. So I’m leaning towards Sonnia with papa. You need to be prepared for Banusuva and Joss. A Domadore would not be a bad idea here to either get a Doxy or a Rotten Belle for more positioning control as well as the heal. Field Reporters have a push away and are dirt cheap, so that’s a thought as well.

In the scheme department it’s rough going. Eliminate could be risky. Undercover Entourage isn’t very viable for Sonnia or Perdita, and I don’t think guild henches are particularly speedy either. Unless you want to bring Dr. Grimwell, hehe. Collect Evidence can be extremely hard to get to, but if you’re going a kill route, you should be able to open up some path ways. Challenge is interesting and I think a good take, especially with Monster Hunter. Especially if you have a belle involved here, you could lure an already activated mage and let the Monster Hunter go to work. There’s also Claim Jump, which isn’t horrible, but not necessarily a strong pick comparatively. It ultimately depends on what you fill your crew out with.

I’m going to assume Sandeep, Kandera, 3 Oxfordians and stuff coming from the Arcanist player. So I’m going to go Sonnia with Papa and the Effigy. Leaving the Emissary out here in favor of taking a couple of field reporters. Think I’m going to lean into a Domadore, Belle and a Monster Hunter, then make sure I have a heavy hitter, probably a peacekeeper because it has a grapple gun. I’m going to definitely take Challenge… and… with Sonnia and Papa, I’m going run the risk and take Eliminate the Leadership.

Rezzers vs 10T

Deployment: Standard

Strategy: Put Out a Hit

Schemes: Smuggled Across, Buried Treasure, Covert Breakthrough, Show of Force, Claim Jump

Playing as: 10T

Put out a Hit is a fantastic scheme that has some interesting aspects of denial to it (by keeping the model with Contract away from the scoring markers). Or just by killing it. With this being the only kill oriented scheme in the pool, there’s actually a lot of options here because you aren’t restricted to one type of list to capitalize. As long as you have one or two things that can successfully kill (and make it back alive), you’re golden.

Looking at the other schemes, you can be a cagey pain in the ass too. Covert and Smuggled Require getting deep into enemy territory. But Buried Treasure, Show of Force and Claim Jump can all be completed on your side of the table. This screams sniper support and pushes. This pool basically can be done with any 10T master. But I would favor Shenlong, Misaki or Brewmaster.

Looking at Rezzers… there’s a lot of upgrade potential there for Show of Force. My Little Helper is always lurking around. You aren’t worried about covert breakthrough because your probably going to be playing back a bit, so you can react. Smuggled Across is an easy 2-3VP for them I feel, between necropunks and crooligans, but we can punish them for it while fulfilling
the strategy. Buried Treasure would be probably pretty hard to stop, but Shenlong and Misaki are very mobile, so if you see that’s what they are going for, you can move to intercept. Same with Claim Jump.

I think you are going to be looking at Molly, Tara or McMourning here. All three can get across the board pretty effectively, scheme their back line and drop some massive bombs that can swing advantage. Tara’s NB bomb is very dangerous here as is McMourning’s Abra Cadavra. Molly can bolt across the board and lock you in your deployment zone if you aren’t careful, but she denies herself Put Out a Hit potentially there. So I would lean towards McMourning or Tara. Though you have to accept that because of the balance of rezzers , any master works well. Reva can bully you and keep you pushed back, dropping corpses by your hit return point so that it’s never safe to approach. Kirai has the mobility to get right in your face and bounce scheme markers where needed, just like Molly. Honestly the only masters I wouldn’t consider here is maybe Seamus, Nico and Yan Lo. Nico is too slow and bubble based. Seamus has the ability to traverse the board, but I think Molly or McMourning is a better pick for the scheme pool. And because these schemes can be played back a bit, Yan Lo isn’t as effective as he normally would be.

Back to 10T… it’s a hard toss-up here as each master brings something a little different here. I think probably Shenlong is the correct choice, but being the Misaki fan I am, and relying on her sheer mobility, I think you can do a lot of damage here. Misaki is a fantastic counter to Molly if you catch them unawares (a little harder with her new upgrade) because of assassinate. Misaki’s high WP is also a great counter to Rezzer tricks in general. McMourning is a real threat no matter who you take. But you can burn through him pretty quickly once he’s activated.

I think I would probably take Terracotta and Kamaitachi with Misaki, start with The Storm and move into Stalking Bisento when you needed to delete say McMourning, for being too aggressive. You get the mobility to combat other schemes, the range with The Storm to pressure flankers and with Risk and Reward and Misdirection you should have enough healing and defense to keep Misaki up while she completes Contracts. I’d look to probably do Buried Treasure and maybe Show of Force, throwing up Yasunori with Equality to remove any threats that try to contest it with you.

Gaining Grounds 2018 (Open Beta) – Suited Schemes

Alright fellow Wyrdos, here’s part 2 of my first impressions of Gaining Grounds 2018.

First thing I want to talk about is the change in suited schemes. Claim Jump and Eliminate the Leadership return unchanged from GG17.

Claim Jump is almost always a viable, yet potentially challenging, scheme. It’s easy to deny, but it also is a kind of “win more” scheme in so far as board control wins games. If you have board control, or even just control a section of the board, you should be able to get 2-3VP from this scheme without too much issue. But if you don’t have control, this scheme can be difficult to pull off. And it’s always a risk versus masters with a lot of activations or summoners.

Eliminate the Leadership puts just the right amount of fear into you when you see it in the pool. It’s one of those schemes that kinda pushes you in a specific direction, but I’m ok with that. You don’t want to bring an “easy to kill” master to this… but then again if you’re skill and crew selection is strong, it doesn’t matter. And that’s something I really like about this scheme. It’s risky to take and risky to ignore. But ultimately leads to some compelling play regardless.

Other than that, we have a complete shift of suited schemes and I must say, I have mixed feelings about a couple of them. The first thing to note is that only one scheme is a kill scheme (Charge Soulstone) as opposed to two. GG2017 brought us Frame and Dig on suits, which lead to some extremely kill oriented pools that also punished you for killing. It was interesting to say the least, but I think I echo a lot of people when I say I’m glad Frame is gone.

Now I know what some people are thinking, Frame was an anti-kill scheme. Well, yes, it was in concept. But one of the most reliable ways to get your points was to shove something down your opponents’ throat they HAD to deal with. You send a nuisance, it gets ignored. You send a Howard… it’s getting killed and quickly. It was usually a good way to get a guaranteed 2pts. And if your opponent had an obey, well game over man. Auto 3pts. So that’s why I lump it into a killy scheme, because the end result of it more often than not was cause death so they kill you.

But that’s all gone now! Now we have Charge Soulstone and that’s it for kill. We also lost Leave your Mark and Accusation, which I think is going to make a lot of people happy as well. I never had an issue with Accusation but I know tons of people who hated it. And Leave your Mark was just one of those schemes that some crews can do and others just can’t. I like suited schemes to be a bit more all-comer. I understand that the game is predicated on the concept of how do you deal with pool given, but I don’t think suited schemes should be so restricting.

Moving on, in their place we get Smuggled Across, Buried Treasure, and Collect Evidence. I think this spread is interesting. First scheme requires minions. Next one requires scheme markers to be carefully placed and the last requires your opponent to place them so you can pick them up. I think it’s intriguing, but there could be some pretty counter purpose match-ups.

Of the numbered schemes, we’ve kept some goodies, gained a few new ones and regained some classics!

In the kept category we have – Covert Breakthrough, Undercover Entourage, Show of Force, Hidden Trap, Setup, Search the Ruins, Leaver your Mark, and Dig their Graves.

New schemes – Hold Up Their Forces, Challenge, and Take One For The Team

Reclaimed schemes – Make them Suffer and Vendetta!!

I am SUPER excited for Make them Suffer and Vendetta as they are two of my favorite kill oriented schemes. On that note… let’s take a look at the breakdown (non-suited):

Kill Schemes – 5

Interact Schemes – 4

Positioning Schemes – 4

I will say that some of these schemes bleed into each other, but I’m going for what they require to work at all. Like Leave Your Mark is interact, but Covert is positioning. Regardless of some of the finer points of the breakdown, we have a pretty balanced selection from the non-suited schemes. With the suited schemes, we have a great spread.

So without further ado, the schemes themselves!


Rating: N/A

First Impression: This scheme is broken out the gate and I’m sure there will be a modification forthcoming if not a full re-write.

High Point: I see where they are trying to go and I like schemes that reward proper planning and positioning over raw killing potential.

Low Point: Far too easy for a few factions. Auto-scoring 3VP on turn 1 is a no-no for me, especially on a suited scheme.

Who does this benefit the most: Gremlins, Arcanists and Neverborn.


. There’s a lot of passionate clamoring on the forums about this scheme, but the simple breakdown is that it’s far too easy for a few factions to score 3vp on turn 1, and not other factions. Public Demo was an auto 3pts on turn 1 for Gremlins, so this is obviously something people are not overly fond of.

The reality is there isn’t much point in analyzing this guy, he’s going to change pretty quickly. No scheme should be an auto 3VP on turn 1 for any faction. Not easily at least. There are some schemes that can be 3VP, but it shouldn’t be trivial to accomplish in one turn. But here’s a look at what I would do about it:

I echo the thought that I would like to change this scheme out from being on a suit and replace it with another scheme in the numbered section. My personal favorite for that right now would be Hold Up Their Forces. It’s an interesting scheme that requires positioning and nothing more. Undercover Entourage is a consideration, but there are a few models/masters that make it absolutely trivial. So I’d like to see it stay on a numbered suit.

That way if you moved Smuggled Across to a numbered, it’s a bit more palatable to be easier to complete. It still needs some rework. Aaron asked if it should be accumulative. I think it should. And not starting on turn 1, but turn 2. Then you have to keep guys alive and in deep. There are still some factions that have a way easier time of this, but it gives time to react by the opponent and isn’t an auto 3 pts by any stretch. I’m sure there need to be some other tweaks, but that’s a great starting point for me. Maybe remove the minion requirement, or bump it down to two?


Rating: 5/10

First Impression: I like the direction of this, but I think it’s challenging to score in general. A 6” bubble from a 30mm base is just over 13” diameter. That’s literally a 1/3 of the board. So you’re telling me I have to have 3 markers like that? And nothing but leaders can be in said bubble to get points? Hm… Edges it is.

High Point: I like the creativity of this. The concept of burying treasure seems awesome. Plus you don’t have to do it on the opponent’s side of the board, which opens some defend the bastion kind of feel.

Low Point: 6″ is a long way when it’s a radius.

Who does this benefit the most: I’m not a 100% certain. I would say 10T, Gremlins and Arcanists all have strong enough tools and utility to pull out 3VP, but a lot of the other factions I feel would struggle to be able to isolate markers like that. And Arcanists have the ultimate F you in the damnable raptor. It just needs to pop up nearby a marker or two at the end of the game and bye bye VP. At least McMourning can do that now too.


So this is kinda feels like a more flexible Covert Breakthrough on positioning with a much harder to ignore drawback for scoring. That being said, I do like it. I just think it might be too hard to score more than 1 or 2 points. One cool thing is that you can just stack markers, as there is no requirement they stay away from other markers. So if you have ways of dropping markers at range, you have some shenanigan here.

Shenlong really comes to mind here because he can just get pushed by Sensei Yu with markers and put into position. Then Shen can push other people out. But even that seems like it’s pretty easy to deny. I’ll absolutely abandon scoring a VP by taking a really mobile model across the board and deny you 3pts. Just by being 6” away.

There’s some benefit to being able to just drop on your side of the table. But again, it’s fairly easy to stop. Unless there’s been a tremendous amount of death. And maybe that’s the answer? Maybe because it’s an end of game scheme it’s one of those that you prep early on and just defend and kill? As I mentioned above, this kind of feels more like you’re defending some bastion rather than burying treasure. Not that that’s a bad thing, but maybe a thematic change to the name?

The more I look at this the more I think it’s probably better than I’m rating it. I may increase it a couple of points once I see some reports on its play

I think I would like this more if it acted like burying treasure. How about a 1 or 2AP action that has to be taken on the opponent’s half of the table but out of LoS of any enemy? Maybe you have to discard a soulstone or two cards or something? Act like you are actually burying treasure?


Rating: 10/10

First Impression: I’m rating this stupid high because I love the flavor and the choice it makes. You want VP? Gonna have to use that cache for something beyond cards and defense. That’s a difficult, tactical question that I know a lot of people are going to not like. I personally love it.

High Point: This scheme is fairly easy to get 3VP out of, you just have to understand that your cache has been lowered by 3.

Low Point: Your cache has been lowered by 3!

Who does this benefit the most: Lucius and anyone else who has relatively “easy” access to soulstone gains. Which means guild in general. But this scheme is an auto-take for Lucius.


Not a lot to say about this scheme. Are you willing to invest 3 cache into getting 3VP? If the answer is yes, then there you go. What I do like about this is that it really kind of benefits elite crews. And I like having schemes that allow for that. Activation control was a major deal in GG2017. And It should be a thing, absolutely. But you shouldn’t be punished for taking stronger and less models so heavily. This scheme helps in that.

I think that’s a move in general for the new GG2018. Activation control and model spam still is effective, but from what I’ve seen so far hopefully a bit less dominating. And this scheme is the flagship in that direction for me.


Rating: 6/10

First Impression: Mixed.

High Point: Interesting concept that I feel warrants more fleshing out. Punishing your opponent for scheming (or not scheming) is interesting but…

Low Point: … It’s fairly easy to make this scheme really hard to complete. A common first activation is to walk and drop a scheme marker. As long as you can walk far enough away (which granted isn’t always easy) you can just do that and then force your opponent to come after that one, lonely scheme marker.

Who does this benefit the most: Arcanists, 10T, Gremlins… special shout out to Lilith, Titania, Yan Lo and Lust. They’re flat out ability to warp you off a point is quite strong here. And last but not least (maybe) PARKER! His ability to make enemies drop schemes markers significantly helps you score here, especially because it’s normally while killing them.


This scheme… man. I want to expand on the Low Point I mentioned above.

The scheme causes you to score a VP if your opponent doesn’t have a scheme marker 6” off their deployment zone. But you still have to get over there and pick it up. If you have a cagey opponent, I don’t see why they wouldn’t just drop the one scheme marker as far back as they could, and say come at me. If you do push through, get there, shenanigans, whatever… you get 1VP. Now they just have to place another and let you come after that one too. Yeah there’s the risk that if you don’t get another marker down, they could score a 2nd VP, but you can already kind of tell how that’s going and drop another one if needed.

I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. I just think that it can promote some really bad matchups.

Also this scheme really messes with Titania and really makes Parker competitive… a bit.

There is something to be said for trying to bluff this scheme, and I do enjoy that quality. You don’t have to reveal it until you’ve scored VP from it. So you can just kind of play along and guarantee you get that 1VP before dropping the bomb. I feel like this is another scheme that’s going to be another pretty solid 2VP scheme that rewards good play and positioning with the 3rd VP. And that makes it a solid scheme.

Stay tuned for part 3 and the numbered schemes!

Gaining Grounds 2018 (Open Beta) – Strategies

Here it is at last! The open beta for GG2018, let us all rejoice for Wyrd has given us some delightful gifts. I’m going to run through my impressions of the entire packet over the course of a few posts, but this one will focus specific Strategies and the new Strategy condition. So! Let’s address said elephant in the room.

Hello, Unplanned. How are you?

This is a game changer and in my opinion it is a fantastic game changer. Unplanned is tacked on automatically to any model summoned and it reads thusly:

Unplanned: This model counts as a Peon for the strategy. This condition may not be removed.”

Wow. Just wow.

Ok let’s do a quick bullet point of who this affects:

• Nicodem
• Molly
• Kirai
• Yan Lo
• McMourning
• Tara’s Totem (ha)
• Leveticus
• Rusty Alyce
• Hamelin
• Ashes and Dust
• Big Jake
• Raspy (new upgrade)
• Marcus
• Myranda
• Ramos
• Mech Rider
• Sandeep
• Coryphee
• McCabe
• Sonnia
• Dashel (wave 4 upgrade)
• Ok you get the point…

This is NOT a small adjustment. It’s a giant freaking hammer to the FACE of how some masters and models used to approach strategies. Obviously, the biggest blow is to summoners but I actually feel this is a knee-jerk reaction. Yes it most certainly impacts summoners, but who it really impacts is COMBO summoners. And the biggest culprit of this is Philip and the Necropunk.

Anyone who has played ressers often enough has seen this: Necro activates, drops a scheme marker, leaps, drops another scheme marker, Philip activates, eats them both, draw 4 cards and discard 2.

This is incredible efficiency for summoners. Not as much for non-summoners, as you’re devoting 12 pts of your crew to nothing but drawing cards effectively (assuming that’s all you do). There’s just usually better choices, but the advantage it grants to summoners cannot be understated. Especially when you look at say a Nico or Kirai who are most well known for their “engines.” And the way they got away with setting up like 30 pts of engine is that they summoned a ton of models that went forth to scheme and strat. Well now you can’t do that. At least not when shooting for 10. Now you have to make sure your crew pre-summon can get that job done.

I love this.

Summoning “engine” lists were the closest thing to net-decking Malifaux had left after papa in a box got kinda nerfed. And even the papa lists had flux. You just had a solid core. The famous UK Kirai engine has like three to five spare points. That’s pretty damned fixed. I also like the idea of pushing P&N a little out of the rezzer meta. We have a ton of great models and I felt that he always ate up a slot just from hall of being so good for Nico, Kirai, Molly and McMourning. Anything that encourages more diversity in list building I am all for, and Unplanned does exactly this.

Now… that being said I do have a few issues with it. I don’t like that McCabe’s dismount gets tagged. Or that the coryphee combining gets hit. Ferdinand Vogel becomes useless for strategies.
I expect this ability to mutate quite a bit before the beta is over. But it’s a fantastic step in the right direction.

Now let’s move on to the goods, shall we?

OURS (Mask)

Rating: 8/10

First Impression: Great revamp to Interference. I was never a huge fan of interference because of how easy high activation lists could screw over more “elite” crews. This fixes that problem fairly simply if a bit clunky.

High Point: Non-summoners have serious play here now. I’m looking at you 10T and Guild

Low Point: Counting soulstones is time consuming. Especially considering you now have the additional bookkeeping of “wait wasn’t that summoned?” If unplanned doesn’t change much, tokens specifically to mark summoned models for easy identification is a thing. Oh, and if you can’t math please make your phone is charged for the calculator.

Who does this benefit the most: 10T gets a nice boost here because they already were a pretty elite heavy faction. Guild and Outcasts as well.


So there’s a lot going on in this change to the polarizing interference. Doesn’t matter if you’re engaged is big. This means crew management is way more important. I’ve fallen victim to “I’ll just let this guy die” syndrome many times. You can’t really do that here. Not without retaliation. What this means is Ours is a kill version of Interference, as the only denial is to eliminate the models. I imagine this is going to bring back a look at elite crews with ranged support.

Second thing is that Masters are a MAJOR player here. The wording is a bit suspect though, as there is at least one model with a soulstone cost of 0 (Huggy). Does he count for 0 or 10? I would say 0 as he HAS a cost, just it’s 0. The verbiage specifically says models without a cost… which is really only Masters. This makes the problem with McCabe and unplanned particularly bad, as you basically cannot take him in this Strat. If he gets dismounted, you lose 10pts towards that quarter.


Rating: 5/10

First Impression: I love the flavor, but this is going to be a ridiculously hard strat for a lot of crews. Especially with the influx of min 3 damage dealers in Wave 4-5.

High Point: Fantastic fluff and design space. There hasn’t been a scheme to my knowledge where you put a condition on your own models like this and try to carry it all game. There’s definitely some interesting lock down tactics that can be applied here to keep your model safe while trying to snag a point later in the game. Creativity is always fun.

Low Point: Malifaux is suffering from a mild form of power creep in that it’s a lot easier to get access to kill-y models for every faction. This just makes this strategy a bait and wait strat. You don’t want to get the condition too early… it makes that model a priority target. Alternatively, just make sure your whole crew gets the condition ASAP.

Who does this benefit the most: Arcanists, Guild, 10T and to a lesser extent Gremlins (just from sheer amount of significant minions they can hire). Special shout out to Yan Lo, Hoffman and Titania for their ability to be heavy armor skew if they want, which can definitely be a boon in this strat.


You literally only have two methods of completing this scheme. At least from what I’m saying. You can either engage quickly and get as many secrets as you can… or you can push to the end of the game and make the Hail Mary play.

The reason for this is purely one of telegraphing. The issue with telegraphing your strats and schemes is that it makes specific models priority targets. This strategy does this by inherent design. As soon as you’ve used an AP to gain the condition, boom! You have a big fat target on you now.

What you’re left with is either playing the cat and mouse of “who am I going to tag” or you just tag everyone. If you take the latter route, t’s just can I keep three guys alive before the game ends? But because you also lose the ability to interact, you better have non-interaction based schemes. That makes it much more likely you’re going to have to bait out the points as a last-minute ploy (unless you have a super tanky model that can handle being focus fired) just so you can still interact and get your other 6 pts.

Another consideration is that while It’s fairly easy to keep at least a few models alive, it’s much harder when they have to get engaged in order for it to matter. And that’s ultimately the problem here. This strat demands for you to engage a model, and then requires you to survive the rest of the game afterwards.

All in all, it’s not a bad strat. I like it a lot. I just think it’s going to create some very bad matchups and swingy games. Much like Ours, this is going to be fairly kill oriented strat.


Rating: 7/10

First Impression: Basically Headhunter combined with Collect the Bounty. It makes careful selection of what dies when much more important than even Headhunter did. AP efficiency is going to be really important here because it won’t be good enough to just snag a single head. You need to control the board as well.

High Point: I love any strat or scheme that makes you have to really think. Or kill. And this makes you do both.

Low Point: Quite simply… it’s going to be rough.

Who does this benefit the most: I think Gremlins and 10T are going to particularly like this strat, for their easy access to additional AP or general AP efficiency. Special shout out to Nellie, McCabe (his new upgrade), Brewmaster and Colette.


I don’t have a whole lot to say about this strat. It’s a modified Headhunter. You must watch where you kill things. And you need to have a plan for how to out interact your opponent. Of particular note here, the strat does not require you to place the Strategy Marker away from your base. It just has to be in base contact with the enemy. So if you took 1AP to kill the model, and are close enough, you should be able to pick it up if you aren’t engaged (or have Don’t Mind Me). This will make ranges more of a consideration as well. The extra 1” distance to interact is welcomed.


Rating: 7/10

First Impression:Ok so the clarification of this is that you can only remove markers on the opponent’s side of the table. This really emphasizes the capture the flag feel of this strategy and knowing that it has 180 my initial opinion.

High Point: It’s Capture the Flag with two flags!!

Low Point: This is a playstyle we haven’t really seen before, and that means its a bit early to call what will happen. But I can see where there is potential for games to “turtle” around their flags, just to try to safely score 2VP at game’s end.

Who does this benefit most: This is all-comers kind of thing. Each faction has different and interesting options to try to lock down their control points, while pushing to get the opponents. Shout out to the Hoff bubble, Yan Lo, Lilith, Dead Doxies and lures in particular. And SPECIAL mention to Misaki, Archie and anyone else with AoE pushes. Archie is gonna make this strat way easier than it should be for Rezzers thanks to Hulking Leap.


Wow. So now that this strategy has been clarified there’s a lot to take in here. There’s still a lot of potential I feel for the 2-2 strat scoring. But this kind of poke and create a weakness kind of play is intriguing. Feinting, bluffing, turtling, diving… there are so many ways to approach this and that’s part of what makes it such a strong strategy. There’s no clear method of attack or defense. It’s up to you and how you play the list you brought.

There needs to be some distance from the center line though, I think. Just to keep the scrum a bit further back. Or maybe not… maybe just let people place there to get the action hot? I think you really have to pay attention to the tricks of your opponent’s crew and that’s going to lead to frustration. The first time that a fast Archie double walks, Hulking Leaps and then claims a strat marker on an unsuspecting opponent, they’re going to be unhappy.

But, hey! It’s capture the flag! In Malifaux! How bad can it be?


Rating: 8/10

First Impression: Sweet Jeebus, the flavor of this! I love this strat, despite the clunky way of setting up the contract.

High Point: If you ever wanted to have an assassin model, this is the time for it. The flavor of picking “hits” that you can then send your models after who basically are playing a game of
relay to score VP is fun and challenging.

Low Point: That whole ditch a card thing is… strange. Why wouldn’t you just discard the lowest card in your hand every time? Every model has a higher SS cost than an ace.

Who does this benefit most: I think this is another all-comers kind of strat as there are models or masters in every faction that can really do some work here. Special shout out to Misaki, Lilith, Yan Lo, Titania, Perdita and the blasters.


So disclaimer, I’m heavily biased to this particular strategy. My favorite master in the game is Misaki. And this strat feels like it was MADE for her (and Lilith, but Lilith was made for like everything 😝 ). So let’s address the bad before I gush further.

Why discard a card? There are so many masters that are super card hungry as it is. This is randomly punishing. If you drew a swol hand… great, ditch one of those moderate-severe cards and now you have to pick a high cost target. And if your opponent drew a normal hand… they have a 1-4 to pitch and target your cheap little peon that’s in a bad place right now. I don’t like that aspect and think that they should either remove the card discard or make it MATTER. Make it so that you have to discard a card HIGHER than the targets soulstone. That way it’s a bit closer to screwing everybody equally.

But seriously, just ditch the card cost. Or make it a flip! There ya go… at the start of the turn, they can flip a card, which may be cheated.


Otherwise, I love this. Pick a return point, pick a target, go forth and murder, then get your ass back to Mars. I also love the fact that your opponent can’t try to be tricksy and deny you. Good thinking, Wyrd. But the other cute thing is that if you see Myrandabus on the other side of the table or some Coryphee…


I think Guild and 10T both got some great buffs in GG2018. Notoriously elite crews from 10T and no summoners in guild had put a specific dampen on some of the stuff we could compete with until Wave 4. Then it became the all-Nellie and Yasunori show. While I don’t think that’s diminished, these current strategies have plenty of room for OTHER masters to perform well. And that’s the most important thing for me. Same with the summoners. Being able to look at a Yan Lo in rezzers or Colette again in Arcansists is huge in my book, and so far these strats allow for some more creative options when it comes time to pick your master. And that’s just amazing for the health of the game.

Good job, Wyrd. Good job.

Grand Guignol 2017 Malifaux Campaign – Battle Report (Story)

Week 1 – Game 1

Resurrectionists (me) vs. Gremlins – 35ss

Arcane Ritual – Gremlins Defended

My schemes – Claim Jump, Hunting Party

Result – Resurrectionists 10-0, Gremlins – strategic withdrawal

Barter – Grotesque Trophy (salt! I flipped a 12, which was great, but I had the red joker in my cheat hand… this would be the time I get it when the campaign won’t let you use it, rofl)

No Injuries

Vincent St. Clair knelt, hidden behind decaying trees, as he surveyed the landscape before him. Dilapidated buildings dotted the carved-out piece of land, Malifaux eager to reclaim what had once been hers. Bones littered the ground, along with the remains of metal work implements. Broken walls and crates dotted were intermixed with the skeletal hands of the land; twisted and gnarled trees that clawed towards the overcast sky. In the center of the broken settlement stood an obelisk. A geometric spire carved out of blood-stained obsidian, it towered over the buildings, squat as they were.

Vincent couldn’t help but wonder how it was excavated and brought to the surface.  He studied it for a moment, it’s faint glow growing in the darkening light of twilight.

His sources had informed him this was an old strip mining operation, one that had dug a bit too deep and greedily. It had been abandoned years ago when the monument had been discovered. Several horrible and increasingly disturbing accidents led many to believe it was cursed and the few remaining soulstone miners that left told wild tales of terrible visions and nightmares.

Shuffling from behind him drew his attention away and he looked at his assigned company. It still made him uneasy to work so closely with the dead. Especially as disturbing as his companions were. Lacey was one of Reva’s newest followers. She had been a lady of pleasures until a run-in with a certain horror of the night. Reva told him she had defected from the insane necromancer, desperate to have a modicum of her own control.

Clarice was a nurse, who worked under Dr. McMourning at the guild. Insane, but quite adept at administering her various chemical cocktails, Reva believed her chaotic ramblings about wanting “to make a difference.”

The most disturbing of course was Newt, a fallen child of one of the inner cities, raised to unlife by the dark magics of Malifaux. She clung to her teddy-bear, a mask covering her decaying features. She clung to the shadows, silent as the mist that seemed to follow her every move.

Vincent once more shook his head at the abominations that surrounded and obeyed him, then turned back to the task at hand. Reva wanted this monument examined, and that meant dislodging the presence of the chaotic Gremlins that had stumbled across the thing.

Wielding their cobbled and stolen firearms, he’d only had seen three so far, but they were the chaff. Cannon fodder. And where there was fodder there was a leader.

He looked to Newt and motioned with his head to the camp. The lost child nodded and vanished into shadow. She returned a few minutes later and held up seven fingers. Then pointed at him with a gun and then again to one of the grassy knolls on the other side. Vincent frowned. That probably meant the LaCroix family.

“Perfect,” he muttered under his breath. He knelt and drew his finger through the dirt, creating a lay out of the camp. “Where?” he asked the crooligan.

She made markings indicating positions. Looked like they were camped around the knoll with the two bayou gremlins patrolling the east and west. Vincent looked for any solid cover beyond the monument itself… not a lot that would stop a bullet from a high-powered rifle. He looked back to Newt.

“I want you on the eastern flank. Try to draw the attention of the gremlin there and lead him into the woods. Be careful.”

Newt nodded and vanished. Vincent turned to the other two. “You’re with me. Where there’s gremlins there’s those god-forsaken giant roosters. Clarice, as soon as you see it, make sure it’s too doped up to flank us.”

Clarice giggled and lovingly stroked her various vials and syringes. Vincent shrugged off the ice that went down his spine. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the two runes that Reva had given him. Using such unnatural magicks always made him hesitant, but he needed to deal with that sniper.

“Alfred, your presence is requested,” Vincent said, his voice a powerful command. The rune cracked in half as a spectral hand ripped through the dirt, a graveyard spirit pulling itself out of the ground, clutching its beloved tombstone. The other rune, Vincent tossed to the sky.


A flash of hellish green light erupted from the rune as it shattered, the flapping of wings and the screech of a raven echoing in the air. The Emissary ripped into reality, it’s bipedal and avian form cloaked in robes of rich purple as it descended to stand before him.

Cries of alarm came from the Gremlin camp and Vincent motioned the disturbing creature forward. “We need cover.”

The Emissary nodded and cawed, quickly moving up and summoning crystalline shards near the monolith. A gunshot rang out and plinked off the erected barrier.

“Let’s get this done,” Vincent growled and stalked forward, fearless of the horrible aim of the gremlins, now that the sniper was blocked off.

The graveyard spirit kept up with the Carrion Emissary, granting it unnatural durability. A loud crowing sound drew his attention right before a Gremlin, yipping and hollering, burst through the brush atop a giant rooster bearing down on the Emissary. Clarice promptly dosed out some heavy medications, and the Rooster went crazy, scratching and clawing at the air in front of it, fighting some invisible foe only it could see whilst the Rider held on for dear life.

Vincent smirked and continued looking for his quarry. Gremlins were spineless without their leader. Seeing an elderly Gremlin cursing and sputtering, he quickly put a crossbow bolt into it, dropping it to the dirt. The less peons to interfere, the better.

“Come on, where are you?” Vincent muttered under his breath as he looked around.

Answering his query, a gremlin leapt out from behind the cover of a tree, brandishing a wicked looking sword. A lit cigarette hung out of its mouth as it barred the way, guns adorning the diminutive creature’s body and a wide brimmed hat that looked like he stole it from the Ortega Family; definitely a LaCroix.

Vincent looked at the sword and then at the Gremlin. Muttering an arcane curse under his breath, he leapt back, his bolts imbued with dark energy that would tear through mundane and arcane protections alike. His crossbow fired rapidly, the autoloading clip allowing him to place three bolts into the creature before it had even said a word; dropping it into the dirt. A few half-hearted shots were fired as its companions saw him drop, but all desire to stick around and get murdered fled quickly, and they beat a hasty retreat.

“If only all battles were so easily won,” Vincent said to no one in particular.

Newt warped into the shadows next to him, clutching her teddy bear tightly, a butcher knife in her hand.

“Newt, Make sure none lurk about, and set up warnings around the perimeter to ward off any that might come looking. Lacey… Clarice, prepare the arcane ritual as Reva instructed.”

They obeyed immediately.

Vincent was about to dismiss the Emissary and spirit when he heard a call in his mind. He whirled around, crossbow at the ready, scanning about. He felt a pull, like some ancient call of power, guiding him… Whispering to him. Slowly he walked towards it. At first he thought it was the monolith, but as the pull led him past it, he became even more suspicious. Promises of power untold and glimpses into the secrets of Malifaux whispered into his mind as he came upon a shattered crate. Lifting the lid he beheld a beautiful and ornate looking weapon. Reaching down, he picked it up, only to realize it was fake, unmarred from time simply due to being in the box and made of nothing that would rust. Rolling his eyes in frustration and questioning his own sanity he discarded the wasted trinket and turned to leave.

He stopped as his eyes caught sight of a bag, and the whispers of power renewed. Reaching down, he pulled the velvet sack out, and carefully emptied its contents into his hand. A macabre sculpt of mutilated forms and ripped apart bodies fell into his palm, warm to the touch. He looked at it and felt the aura of fear and terror that it could inspire in his enemies.

Not quite the secrets of Malifaux, but perhaps useful nonetheless, he thought to himself. Placing the trophy back into its pouch, he pocketed it and turned back to finish the job.

Meanwhile, two very lucky and not quite dead gremlins scurried off. Vowing to never let himself get caught so unawares again, Francois swore vengeance before running off to notify Perdita about the encroaching rezzers.

Some More Talk on Concept and Setting

What up interwebs, Chaos here.

So I’d thought I’d do another section on concept and then talk about my favorite design element: setting.


Something I didn’t really talk about in the last post, as I was addressing core ideologies was something that I think is quite pivotal in game design: Multiple concept design.

Multiple concept design is just that, it’s designing with multiple concepts in mind. It doesn’t stray at all from what I was talking about in my last blog, Theme vs. Concept, but it expands upon it. As noted in that blog, the concept of your game is a huge part of the equation that equals direction. If you don’t really have a concept, you’re just coming up with creative ideas. They may apply, they may not.

But when you start getting into complexity, you start having multiple concepts floating around. These concepts are like a roadmap for your design. Let’s talk about my game Runestorm for a minute in regards to this, just because I’ve already mentioned the other two in posts regarding concept.

Runestorm has several important concepts to it. The first and foremost is that it’s a tabletop RPG. That’s a biggun. The Runestorm in and of itself is a concept. Another of its core concepts is that I want it to separate combat class from non-combat class. I personally don’t like linking your skill sets to your combat type as there’s a plethora of examples of highly skilled and trained people who are also combat gods. Being multi-talented shouldn’t be exclusive, it should be the norm. Especially for a game type where the whole premise is that you are better than the average joe. That’s what level one (or starting character for games like White Wolf) is for basically every RPG out there… the distinction that you are no longer a standard dude or dudette in a town. You are something special. Bye bye, average joe; hello, hero of the ages. There has to be a check and balance to this, because no matter what your player may say, being good at EVERYTHING takes away from the experience. But more on that in another blog.

Another really big concept of the game for me is having multiple forms of magic. I never liked magic all coming from one place, so I adored DnD’s approach of divine vs arcane. But I wanted to take it a step further, so I have (yet another blog).

So you can see, there’s four concepts right there. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms game Irish and I are working on has the lowest amount of concepts yet, but that’s because we took three concepts and made it into our end goal concept from the get go. Normally I’d separate and tier multiple concepts just to keep myself in some sense of order but we went a different route with that one.

Which brings me to end goal concepts.

Whenever you are designing a game that has a lot of moving parts you have to have that direction of your end goal clearly defined. There’s a ton and a half of things that can be done in a boardgame, card game, etc that are cross purpose. The mechanics and implementations are interchangeable. Something simple like health is a good example. Arkham Horror uses a health mechanic on both its monsters and the investigators you play in the game. Magic the Gathering uses it as a win condition and for creature health. Dungeons and Dragons uses health for its players and its monsters. And of course every video game in existence where you fight or take part in battles of some kind use health.

And you can keep going with that. Primary components in Arkham and MtG are cards and tokens; randomness is pivotal in all of the aforementioned games… the lists are quite extensive. With so many concepts, ideas, mechanics and themes shared across mediums, its extremely important to have the end goal concept already detailed. Again this goes back to the whole thought process of aiding in cutting. You have to know when and where to cut stuff from your game to streamline and overall increase its fun factor. And having that end goal concept is super important to this. Not to mention to setting your mentality on the right path. If you know you’re making a card game, you will automatically screen stuff from your creative process that would be used in a tabletop game. Like dice rolling for instance.

Now, I’m not saying this is always a good thing. One of my favorite card games EVER used dice rolling: Battletech. Nothing says you CAN’T design outside the box. On the contrary, I feel you have to, to some degree. But being able to look back and go, “Yeah, that’s more a boardgame style mechanic,” can be immensely helpful. Again, it’s all about direction, and making sure you don’t tangent off down some sideroad TOO far.

Queue the segue!

One of the major concepts I think a game can have is its setting. But I never lump setting with concept. Huh? Yeah, I know, I’m being a little contradictory there.

But think about it… concepts are directional core ideas that establish the general flow of and goal of what your design is. Setting definitely does this. Only it’s way larger than a core idea. Or it should be, in my opinion. Yeah you can say, “My game is a high fantasy setting,” and that can be one of its concepts. But why would you? There is so much MORE. So I like to separate the two and have my core concepts, my themes and my setting.


There’s not a lot that can be said on what setting is, but there’s quite a bit that can be said on what it does. Obviously setting is just that; it’s the setting for what ever your creative design is. Everything has a setting in game design, from high fantasy to modern supernatural (the latest craze). Zombie apocalypse and Post apocalyptic are both common settings as is the more generic sci-fi, mystery and historical. All of these are general descriptors that tell you in a nutshell what the setting is.

But why stop there. Setting is your chance to really put pen to paper; to come up with fantastic ideas and flex that creative muscle. Mechanics and rules are hard to create where you’re not borrowing from somewhere else. There are just so many core things that HAVE to be present or it turns people off. Not because it was a bad idea, but because we’ve been groomed by the current monsters of our culture to expect certain things out of our games. And when they aren’t there, we nerdrage. Setting is the one place where you have carte blanche to just go WILD. Want mecha-zombies? Sure! Want chainsaws attached to rifles? Go for it! Want a thoroughly detailed world of magic incorporated into modern times? Yes!

The key here is to run wild but keep enough of a semblance of what you are designing so that you aren’t creating some crazed behemoth of a setting you have to reign in to get anything done with. Good setting design incorporates seamlessly with the game design. And vice versa, what separates good game design from great game design (for me at least) is the integration of setting into concept and theme. It’s a snake eating its own tail, but it’s perfectly possible and not as hard to do as it may sound.

Let’s take two brief examples: Skyrim and Arkham Horror.

There’s not a lot to say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said since its release. But for me, what stands apart from all the praise is that Skyrim’s setting, mechanics and implementations all fit. They created a language for the dragons, they gave it a history, they made it playable… yes, yes, YES. That’s great design. You get pulled into the world. All the abilities, mechanics and presentation of the game tie directly into the setting. Skyrim’s setting is almost more important than anything else. They designed the game around the setting and designed the setting around the game. And it’s a gorgeous example of what happens when that process is at the peak of its ability.

The same is true of Arkham Horror, a board game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods universe. Arkham Horror again sets all its abilities mechanics and presentation to tie directly into the setting. From going insane (a hallmark of Lovecraft’s works) to almost unbeatable battles (yet another nod to his style) they captured in board game form the feel of that setting. Now in this case the setting was well and thoroughly designed long before the game, but the game incorporates that setting so seamlessly that it feels like they were made for each other. I’ve spent many an hour playing this game, and anyone else who has played can tell you: you need some hours for it!

As I briefly stated above, what is happening with both of those games is very simple: their settings are fully fleshed out. Cthonic mythos, as its usually referred to around here, has been around for, like, ninety years. And Skyrim’s design team used university professors to help with some of their design (if I’m remembering the article I read on it correctly). They had every detail worked out.

Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re an independent, solo designer like I am you don’t have ninety years or a team of professionals helping you along. Regardless, care and attention must be taken to your setting. You don’t have to do what I’ve done with say, Runestorm, where I’ve fleshed out a world with like ten thousand years of history, but you should do a brainstorm or two (or three).

Sit down one day and go ok, what exactly IS in my setting? If you’re fantasy, are you high or low fantasy? What major characters might be around? Unique monsters or locales? Just ask some base questions, flesh out some current events. You don’t have to spend months on it, but if you spend a couple of hours a week for say maybe a month, you might be pleasantly surprised by the design choices and creative ideas that get spawned simply because of some setting concept you thought of.

I’ll end this blog with an example of creating mechanic from setting:

When I was designing the world for Runestorm, I decided I wanted Elementals. But after looking at my bestiary, I realized I didn’t like it just being plain old been around since AD&D Elementals. I wanted some more options. So I decided on creating tiers of Elementals. That’s when the idea of the Primals came around. Primals are the purest embodiment of an elemental force. Whether it’s the typical air and water types or the less typical blood and lightning. I wanted them to be powerful. But I realized that as I was designing these Primals, that I couldn’t use them too frequently. They needed to manifest only when the purity of their element allowed them to gain the power to breach the veil, a mystical barrier between the real world and theirs.

This led me to thinking that their should be almost godlike beings that exist in the most pure form of the elements themselves: air, earth, water and fire. These would eventually become known (tentatively) as Grand Primals. The lesser beings would become Primals and finally there would be the lowest tier, Elementals. But this took away from Elementals entirely because while on paper an Elemental and a Primal were identical, it felt like I’d changed the identity. So I gave Elementals something special over Primals: sentience.

The Grand Primals possess this as well, but the incarnations of the elements, Primals, are just that… primal. They don’t think or feel, they just exist in the form of their element. A Blood Primal will seek destruction, a lightning one will spawn lightning storms, an ice one might bring a cold snap… they are slaves to their primal instincts. So even though they are more powerful, they are uncontrollable. They just are. Like a force of nature.

By doing this I now had three distinct tiers and flavors of my elementals. The culmination of which lead me to the creation of one of my class concepts: Oathbound.

Because I had given sentience to my Elementals, it made me think of what they might want to do. I decided on the thing that really keeps them apart is that unlike Primals they don’t have the power to manifest in the real by themselves. They must be summoned or piggy back on a Primal’s manifestation. So taking a nod from other settings, I decided that they could not only be summoned, but could form pacts with those who summon them in exchange for power. These people are known as Oathbound.

The Elementals’ goal is simple: experience the real. And by granting their power to a “host” they can experience the real through that host. It’s usually benign, other than the characteristics of the elemental tend to blend into that of the hosts. Fire elementals, for example, tend to make their pact bearers more aggressive and hot-tempered for instance. There are also tell-tale signs based on how long the pact has been around: tinting of the skin, changing of eye color, etc. The problem that can arise for the Oathbound is a matter of will: if you make a pact with an elemental whose will is far greater than yours, over time it can subsume your identity. This isn’t an intentional thing, the elemental isn’t trying to eat your soul or anything; its just a side-effect. Regardless, if the elemental succeeds, you cease to be and your body basically becomes a walking vessel for the elemental. Which is why Oathbound aren’t everywhere. You have to have the strength of will to not be consumed by the very thing you are trying to work with.

I really liked the feel of one of the magic types running around was people who had formed pacts with elementals. And so I made two classes to incorporate that feel. One invokes the elemental directly, like a companion, and uses the magical power of the elemental as powerful spells and effects. I called these Summoners. The other invokes the elemental indirectly, instead channeling the power through powerful imbuements to themselves and their equipment. These were dubbed Channellers.

Names not withstanding (they are all tentative at the moment), I adore the feel and implementation of these classes. It ties in wonderfully with my world and makes for great flavor for the class backstories. It also set forth the tone for my class design: a singular power backstory with two classes each. I currently have five power backstories for a total of ten classes.

But more importantly, I stumbled upon the entire concept by working on my setting.

See you next blog, where I address the last of my intro blogs to design and discuss the two A’s: Accessible and Addictive.


Theme vs Concept

*Note: Yay I’m back and with a working computer!

Honeymoon was awesome. Lazy, but awesome. Of course though right before we left (like literally, 6 hours before we left, right before bedtime) my laptop crashed and was essentially unusable. So that kind of sucked. But I’m home now, honeymoon is over, computers are working and its back to writing blogs! So without further ado, here we go!

One of the first things I did wrong when I started designing was confusing the ideologies of Theme and Concept. For a little while they were interchangeable for me and I kind of lumped them together into one big mass of thoughts.

It took me a number of years before I finally got serious enough about game design to really look at what these two words meant and how the impacted my decisions when it came to design. As usual when I’m defining terms, I’ll start with the basics and google the definitions. But first let’s address the proper terminology.

When I say “theme” in regards to design, I’m short-handing it (verbally and otherwise) from “design theme”. This is an actual term and it differs GREATLY from plain old theme. And when I use the term “concept”, I’m referring to… well concept. There is a concept design and a design concept but I don’t use those terms (more on that later). Depending on who you ask they’re interchangeable as it’s obviously just the reversal of word order, but in my amateur opinion, they envelop two completely different things.

However, the base definitions are great starting points, so first let’s define theme and concept and then address their design based breathren.

Let’s jump in now, shall we?


 : the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.
 : a particular subject or issue that is discussed often or repeatedly
 : the particular subject or idea on which the style of something (such as a party or room) is based

Courtesy of

So if we look at the three different definitions of theme, we find a general underlying idea that the theme is the main focus of a work. Creative or otherwise. Some quick examples would be a book having the theme of redemption or a movie having the theme of good triumphing over evil. They are generic ideas that are reinforced throughout the work and give something akin to a spine to that work.

Every creative work has a theme. I suppose you COULD argue that, but for the sake of not delving into devil’s advocate territory, let’s just stick with that blanket statement. This is where the idea of design theme comes into play.

If we shift gears to we have the actual term design theme:

Design Theme
: Recurrent, underlying objective that ensures the overall consistency in the design of a family of products, their packaging, and/or the advertising campaign.

I’m sure the more areas you look, the more you’re going to find, but as I use these definitions just as quick jumping off points, let’s stop there. I’m too lazy to look past the first page of results in google anyways 😉

The important thing to note here is that the definitions are basically the same, though the design theme definition is a bit more specific. The design theme is the subject that ENSURES consistency, whereas theme in general is just the main subject.

This distinction matters a lot in game design and it’s why I initially was confusing concept with theme. I was always under the impression that the concept of something was its overall idea or subject matter; basically what it dealt with. I thought a theme was the same thing.

Theme and Concept are the one-two punch combination that gets you started in the right direction for game design. When you decide on a theme, what you are doing is coming up with the core idea that you want the entirety of the design to sync up with. Let’s take my Dragon CCG as an example:

The game is a two player dueling collectible card game set in a high fantasy setting where you take the role of a hero who is trying to defend his kingdom from the onslaught of a terrible dragon.

So what’s the theme? Its heroes defending their home against a powerful enemy. Notice that I didn’t say high fantasy or dragon in that statement; because that’s not the theme. That’s the design and the setting, but the theme is much more simplistic. It’s heroes vs enemy. It’s important for me to keep that in mind when I design the game because that theme has to carry the games mechanics and rules so that it doesn’t lose that feel. If I create a Dragon CCG that feels like a monster brawl, then I’ve strayed from my theme.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you read my intro to the Dragon CCG, it was formerly a Godzilla CCG. And the theme of that was initially a giant monster stomping through cities on his way to fight another giant monster. Dumbed down it was a monster brawl game. You might also note that I used the word theme quite liberally to refer to a couple of different things. I take no responsibility for my amateur use of the word showing!
But ANYWAYS… That theme didn’t fit with the mechanics and rules I’d designed. Nor did it fit with the setting (which I sometimes stupidly use theme to refer to, old habits and all). I could have scrapped the game entirely and started over and try to stick to my theme better, but it made more sense in this case to shift the theme to something that fit what I had design, then tweak that design to the new theme.


: an idea of what something is or how it works

Courtesy of

Concept is an annoying word for me. It’s annoying because I want to use it ALL the time to refer to stuff it may or may not ACTUALLY refer too.


If we look at the book definition though, it’s pretty clear cut: it’s a specific idea. Think of it like a thesis statement for those damn persuasive essays you had to write in school. If someone says, “Hey, cool game, what is it?” Your short answer is the concept. Or at least my short answer is. I’d answer that question by saying, “Oh it’s a collectible card game based on dragons.”

Bingo. That’s the concept. More specifically it’s a collectible card game. Or trading card game, if you prefer.

See how DRASTICALLY that differs from what my theme is? The concept is the base description of what it is you’re doing. In web design, a concept is just that: a base idea of what you want that website to look like. Now when you do a quick layout of what you want the website to look like… boom, it’s now a design concept. Mockups are often put in this category. Concept art also uses this model. You do some roughs of an idea, develop the roughs, pick one, redo it so it looks cool, etc. There’s a generic process but ultimately those first few steps are the design concept. When you see a storyboard for a film, you’re looking at a design concept.

So what’s the design concept of a card game? Hell for that matter, what’s the concept design of a card game? Is there one? Speaking of which, remember when I said I view those as two different things? Here’s why:

A design concept for me is a specific term that basically means mockup. If I was to work for an auto manufacturer and they asked me for a design concept of the next great car, they’d get a mockup of that car. Just like the comments on website design earlier. For my own peace of mind, I tend to just use the terms layout and mockup. My CCG design concepts are the card layout and the game layout. So I just call them that. Feel free to correct me if I’m doing some egregious sin here.

So what’s concept design? I read somewhere a long time ago that it’s basically the job that creates concepts. If you are the one making the concepts to solve problems in business and such, you’re involved in concept design. It’s like a job title. Let’s take the car example again. If the same company said “hey, we have a problem with our fuel efficiency and we need a solution,” I would then be involved with concept design; trying to come up with a concept that fixes the problem.

Anyways, as you probably have figured out by now, theme vs concept is a pretty substantial and simple difference. All the more reason I felt like a moron for confusing the two for so long. Fortunately I don’t’ tend to talk to people with design degrees so no one’s called me out on my mistakes yet.


Theme and concept for me are a chicken or the egg conundrum. I don’t think you really have to start with one or the other. Hell, I’ve started with mechanics before and built a theme and concept around that! But as I’ve designed more and more, I do really feel like the “proper” way is to sit down and develop a theme and concept first. It just helps with direction and coherency. And ultimately I think that’s what they do for your design. Your theme is the coherency and your concept is the direction. This was a very important step in my design with my buddy Irish in regards to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game.

The first thing we did was establish our concept: we wanted a resource management based, strategic, war board game. The theme was a bit more interesting a situation because we already had a setting and a concept. The theme had to come from both of those. What ended up happening was something interesting:

Our theme was our concept.

Wait, what? Yup, that’s right. They were one and the same. But think about it, that kind of makes sense. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Hell oftentimes it probably happens. Our overall theme in this game is resource management based, strategic war. There’s not really anything else we can put there. We can dumb it down to risk-style board game, but we REALLY wanted resource management to be a MAJOR cohesive theme.

So I guess you could say resource management is our theme, and strategic war board game is our concept, but now you start to see why I blur the lines a lot.

Either way, deciding on the concept and the theme allowed us to start making mechanics that made sense. Because let’s face it, creating is capital F fun. And you can get carried away, making tons of mechanics and rules and all kinds of crazy stuff that you just come up with on a whim or a creative binge. And it’s all amazing. All of it. Yes, ALL. No, don’t you argue. All of it, Kevin. All of it.

But you can’t put everything you come up with into your game. It would make less sense then an acid tripping monkey performing sign language. I don’t know where that came from, ignore that.
Anyways, you can’t do it. You have to cut. A lot. Keep those ideas! You never know when they will fit elsewhere, but you HAVE. TO. CUT.

And that’s where having a pre-established theme and concept help a lot. Setting too. All of these things are guidelines as to what you can/should keep or not.

Let’s see, this is a war game, so we aren’t going to be concerned with the murder mystery mechanic. Gone.

Resource management… ok we aren’t concerned about collecting card sets. We are managing resources, not collecting cards. Gone.

Three kingdoms era setting… ok, ok no bazooka units… goddammit.

See how this works? Now I’ll get into setting in a different blog post, but you get the idea. Anything that helps you maintain coherency and direction is your friend. Anything that gives you a jumping off point is your friend. Put the two together and you get theme and concept, your best buddies when starting game design.

Just don’t do what I did and use them interchangeably!


(b)Romance of the Three Kingdoms Intro

So my buddy the Irish S.O.B. (who happens to live with me) is one of my best friends ever. Wait… this is the internet. Best. Bro. EVAR!

Cough, cough.

Anyways, Irish and I have been in the gaming scene together for the entirety of our friendship. We met at a White Wolf LARP out in Mel-boring (Melbourne), Florida. And we quickly discovered that we tend to fuel each other’s creativity. It would take years and years of growing up, fights, refusing to speak to each other, etc. before we could get to the point of being able to create something together. We got there though, and the baby that’s always been in our minds has been to do a strategy based board game.

We started one maybe 10 years ago when he was fresh out of high school and I was like a year into college. It was fun but WAY WAY WAY complicated and it never really left the R&D stage. When he moved in with me several months ago, we decided to revitalize the concept. Only this time with a theme: Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Irish LOVES the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. I don’t blame him, it’s pretty fantastic. And yes, we’re both Dynasty Warriors fans but we’re not THAT kind of Rot3K fans. He’s actually read the book and I’ve always been partial to the strategy series of Rot3K. So while my knowledge is fairly limited as I’ve not read the book, only googled various pieces of information, I know quite a bit of the general over-arching timeline. Irish just knows it all, hehe.

As typical Generation X-ers we decided on a plan for design, then never followed it. As a matter of fact, we had only the basest of ideas up until earlier this week. We knew we wanted a strategy war game… tons of progress, eh?

You may have noticed, if you follow my blog at least, that I don’t have any picture for this intro. That’s because we are so early in the design stages that I haven’t begun conceptualization yet. Which is good. It will definitely be the slowest designing project I currently am working on, but it is also the one I can rely on for real-time blogging from start to finish. The other games I’m designing already have a firm foundation, theme, concept and design. They just need to be tweaked, tested and polished. Rot3K is a brand new thing, so in lieu of the big intro to the game, here’s what we worked on in our first design meeting.


So the biggest thing about making a game, is to determine the concepts you want used in that game. What I mean by that is what do you want the game to revolve around. Let’s take a popular example of a game: Magic the Gathering.

MtG is quite possibly the most successful card game ever. I won’t quote that, but it was kind of the first giant.  A giant that remains, I might add. So many games have come and gone, yet MtG flourishes. The World Championships are huge, with big payouts. It’s a true gamer’s sport. And it’s what many card games have based themselves on, at least mechanically, and have aspired to be. But it had to start somewhere, and that foundation was concepts.

So, let’s take a quick look at the concepts involved (no particular order, they are equally important):

My Magic the Gathering Core Six Concepts

1) Card Game – This is the initial concept, of which everything else derives.

2) Customizable/Trading – Trading cards was a big thing at that time, and the concept of a trading card GAME was relatively new. I think their may have been one or two TCGs before Magic, but I don’t honestly remember. But either way, it was something fresh and new. It allowed players to make their own decks and trade for cards they needed or wanted to get there.

3) PvP – they wanted it to be a dueling game, competitive. You versus the other guy in a grudge match. Again, I don’t remember if multiplayer was part of the initial design, but it was quickly added regardless.

4) Flavorful (High Fantasy) – one might argue that this is a theme (my next blog will go in-depth as to my views on theme vs concept) but in actuality, this was a concept of the game. It’s evolved into a variety of other “genres” but at its core its high fantasy. Would magic have worked as well if it was science set to a sci-fi setting? Who knows, but this design choice was one of the biggest and most important decisions.

5) Strategic – this wasn’t going to be a simple game with a simple strategy. It wasn’t like War or solitaire. It wasn’t even like spades or hearts. It took the concept of strategy to the chess level in card format. This was probably the biggest concept, even if Richard Garfield wasn’t necessarily identifying it as such at the time it’s the hallmark of MtG.

6) The two A’s: Addictive and Accessible.  I grouped them together because for me, they are intrinsically linked in design. It’ll take me a paragraph or twenty to address this last point. I’ll do that in my next blog post.

So with those six base concepts in mind, they built an empire. Literally. Magic is the card game empire. Not that there aren’t some great competitors out there. But I don’t know of any other card game with the Pro Player aspect that Magic has.

Now let’s take a quick gander at the concepts Irish and I have decided on for our game. You’ll notice they don’t vary much from MtG’s concepts and where they do I’ll explain.

My Romance of the Three Kingdoms Core Six Concepts

1) Board Game – Again, this is the initial concept.

2) Resource Management – The basic flaw of a board game is that there isn’t really a good way to make it “customizable”. It’s true. Yeah you CAN make it have expansion packs that have randomized components, but you’re just going to annoy your player base. Board games aren’t about random booster packs and rare components. They’re about the experience of the game. The immersion. TCG’s are BASED around trading, collecting and rarity. Board games aren’t. Maybe one day I’ll look at a design for a TBG (trading board game, just coined that; it’s mine now) but for now let’s keep to the traditional expectations of the player base. All inclusive. So what makes it interesting? Beyond what I’ve already described? Resource Management, that’s what. And I don’t mean like monopoly style. I mean real, in-depth, resource management. The kind that makes or breaks your armies because its as much a part of the strategy as how you wage war. And I think we’ve got a great way to do it without bogging the game down or making it tedious… more on that later.

3) PvP – again this is intrinsically tied to what kind of game we are making. So why even list it as a concept, you ask? Because if we were making a Co-operative game that used an autonomous engine as the “enemy” (such as Arkham Horror does) then PvP wouldn’t be a concept! Co-op would be. We toyed around with the idea of including a single player mode where you had to deal with historical events and survive battles, or even a co-op mode. But ultimately this game screams to be PvP so PvP it is.

4) Identity – This one kind of rides alongside being flavorful. But with a different focus. We aren’t designing the world or the setting, it already exists. So being flavorful in our setting is kind of a given. So we wanted something more evolved than just flavor. So we have chosen identity. Most games, you don’t have an identity. You are random dude or dudette doing random stuff that applies to your game. There’s been an increasing number of games that give identity to the players in the form of characters they can play. Characters with living, breathing backstories. That’s what we wanted. So when you sit down to play our war game, you’re not playing a faction or a country or a clan. You’re playing motherfucking Cao Cao of Wei. No go stomp on some Wu and Shu soldiers.

5) Strategic  – much like any real war game, we want strategy to be our highlight. After all, the premise is that you are waging war in the Three Kingdoms era. It’s all about the unification of China under one banner. That means war and war means strategy!

6) The two A’s – This is a gimme. If you’re game isn’t accessible it damn well BETTER be addictive and unique. But a safer bet is that its just addictive and accessible. Period.

So why did we follow MtG’s concepts so closely? Well,  we didn’t. At least not intentionally. I didn’t even notice how close they were until I was planning this blog. I thought it was kind of interesting that they lined up like that. My disclaimer is that I’m probably over-simplifying these things and am an amateur designer; I’ve read no real literature on it and have no training. But I can grin and pretend I know what I’m doing when such a side by side exists!

So fun side-by-sides aside (too many sides!), this is for me the first thing you need to do when designing a game. Next up on the agenda for design of Rot3K: theme and mechanics!

Alright, I’ll stop yacking and look for my next post to address the concept of the two A’s.