Malifaux: Stop Making Bad Strat/Scheme Pools!

Our good friend, and frequent guest, Owen Beste, gives you several practical tips for making better pools for your events or casual games.

Introduction

You are gearing up to run a Malifaux tournament; you have the venue, some players, terrain (or Vassal). All that is left – come up with missions. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? Generate some random missions in the Malifaux App and you are all set. Right? WRONG. While it might be tempting to randomize your missions, you are missing out on a key part of the Malifaux tournament experience.

The pool, a combination of one strategy and choices of schemes, is THE biggest innovation from Malifaux.  Leverage Malifaux’s innovative win conditions to create engaging, exciting, and competitive pools that drive players to make interesting choices. Thoughtfully curating the pools ups the level of your event.  It might seem daunting at first (there are 20,592 possible mission combinations!) but crafting your pools can be easy and fun.

5 Principles of Pool Designs

There are 5 basic principles of creating engaging, thoughtful and challenging pools your players will love. 

  1. All schemes should be viable
  2. Offer alternate paths to victory
  3. Drive player engagement
  4. Encourage a variety of playstyles
  5. Start simple and escalate complexity

We will start with the micro principles, meaning how to craft the best individual mission. Then we will consider the macro principles of how the missions across all your rounds work together to create an overall enjoyable experience.

Principle 1: All schemes should be viable

When crafting a Malifaux mission, pay attention to scheme viability. Despite the opinions of some #floorheads, there are no “dead” schemes in Gaining Grounds Season 1. In the hands of a skilled player, every scheme has potential play. But not every scheme works in every pool.

Consider this pool:

Corner

Corrupted Ley Lines

  • Breakthrough
  • Catch and Release
  • Assassinate
  • Spread them Out
  • Claim Jump

Can you spot any schemes that will be taken less (or more) frequently? 

Breakthrough stands out as an unlikely scheme to take.

  • On corner, the target deployment zone is the smallest and farthest away of all the deployments
  • In Corrupted Ley Lines, the models that typically are great at breakthrough (those with Leap or similar place effects) are a liability because they cannot carry the Lodestone token.
  • In Corrupted Ley Lines, you are forced to spend AP moving models around and/or interacting because you need to hit each corner of the board, this makes a typical beeline for breakthrough play anti-synergistic with the rest of what you have to do.

Catch and Release is probably also going to be taken less because Ley Lines encourages you to move closer to the enemy and leaping models are limiting in Ley Lines.

That leaves Assassinate, Spread Them Out, and Claim Jump (with Spread Them Out being synergistic with the mission).  This is a suboptimal pool because 40% of the schemes are not viable so is less room for creative tactics, bluffing, or diversity of game plans. It is easier to guess your opponent’s plan and it will be easier for them to know your plan. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Flankdeployment the Breakthrough scheme is at its best! Flank presents both the largest target area and the closest initial placements. You want to avoid pairing Breakthrough and Flank because it is too easy and therefore that scheme can dominate the selections making other schemes less viable. A good mission designer will pair Breakthrough with Standard or Wedge deployment.

Runic Binding is a scheme that players are still trying to figure out. It is a challenging scheme for many crews and it can be even harder when paired with a strategy like Public Enemies or Recover Evidence where the action can happen anywhere or when it is the only scheme marker scheme in the pool (thus telegraphing the scheme if you take it!). Consider pairing Runic Binding with Symbols of Authority.  In Symbols you know the enemy must come to specific locations of the board that you get to choose. Include another scheme-marker scheme like Leave Your Mark or Spread Them Out to create opportunities to bluff.

Putting it all together

How can we fix the previous scheme pool?

Revised Pool:

Corner

Corrupted Ley Lines

  • Breakthrough > Research Mission
  • Catch and Release > Take Prisoner
  • Assassinate
  • Spread them Out
  • Claim Jump

These tweaks make a pool with 5 viable schemes. Research Mission comes into play even for crews that don’t produce markers because they can use the strategy marker as one of the three required and Take Prisoner can be a great choice when the enemy is trying to catapult a scheme runner to the flanks and also disincentivized to take leapers.

 

Principle 2: Offer alternate paths to victory

Strategy and Schemes pools give players options to make interesting choices. In Principle 1, we learned to make all schemes viable. Now consider how much variety is in the pool.

Another example pool:

Wedge

Public Enemies

  • Assassinate
  • Vendetta
  • Let them Bleed
  • Take Prisoner
  • Claim Jump

Everything in the pool focuses on killing models or keeping models alive. One obvious strategy will be taking the tankiest, deadliest crew and then just smash it into the enemy tanky/killy crew and see who comes out on top. While that certainly can be fun, it is one dimensional.

Good scheme pools offer the ability to win in multiple ways with different playstyles. Good scheme pools ask players to apply effort to the schemes instead of getting them “for free” while doing the strategy. The original pool asks you to kill the enemy, so why not also take schemes you will score the normal course of killing?

Putting it all together

Adjust the pool to create interesting options.

Revised Pool:

Wedge

Public Enemies

  • Assassinate > Spread Them Out
  • Vendetta > Hidden Martyrs
  • Let them Bleed
  • Take Prisoner
  • Claim Jump

By removing the two “kill enemy models” schemes (Assassinate and Vendetta) there is less automatic synergy with the mission. Introducing Hidden Martyrs into Public Enemies creates tension making players think twice about which models to kill. If players want to threaten Martyrs, they will need to have some lower cost models instead of going full elite. Spread Them Out adds at least one option that players can pursue independently forcing the enemy to engage.

Principle 3: Drive player engagement

Malifaux is at its best when players are interacting with the opponent’s models as quickly as possible. A good mission will force models to get close and propel the action.

Consider this pool:

Corner

Recover Evidence

  • Breakthrough
  • Assassinate
  • Hidden Martyrs
  • Catch and Release
  • Let them Bleed

Breakthrough and Corner together means we have a dead scheme. Assassinate and Let them Bleed paired with a killing strategy; we have a variety issue. There is a deeper issue with this pool:there is nothing driving player engagement!

Leaving aside the dead Breakthrough, nothing in the pool requires being in a specific place on the board. If the strategy was Public Enemies, then players would be incentivized to try to kill at range and snipe for points. The requirement to close with the enemy to pick up the evidence marker means that the optimal strategy on this mission is a form of standoff. Players can try to use Lures and other movement tricks to try to pull the enemy into a kill zone. Now, a clever player might choose Hidden Martyrs and Catch and Release and try to run a scary, durable minion into the enemy crew to trade one recover point for hopefully 3 points from these two schemes. But other than that gambit, this pool is likely to lead to a low-scoring standoff.

Create reasons to break up the standoff and make the game more interesting. Add some scheme-marker or positional schemes to the mix. The pool is missing independent scoring which forces the opponent to engage to counter.  All the mission elements (minus breakthrough) require your opponent to act.

Let us categorize the schemes and strategies:

  • Positional – Schemes/strategies that require a model to be in a particular place (relative to another model or a position on the board)
  • Killing – Requires damaging and/or killing enemy models
  • Scheme (Near) – Requires dropping scheme markers in the midfield
  • Scheme (Far) – Requires dropping scheme markers in the backfield

Then we can also code schemes and missions as either

  • Independent – You can score on your own independently of what the opponent does – forcing the opponent to engage to counter
  • Dependent – You need to interact with the opponent’s models to score – the opponent is engaged by the player
 PositionalKillingScheme (Near)Scheme (Far)
DependentCorrupted Ley Lines
Catch and Release
Take Prisoner
Public Enemies
Recover Evidence
Assassinate
Vendetta
Hidden Martyrs
Let them Bleed
Runic Binding
IndependentClaim Jump Research Mission   Leave Your Mark  Symbols of Authority
Breakthrough
Sabotage
Spread them Out

Everything in the pool (minus Breakthrough) is dependent on the opponent taking action.

Putting it all together

Revised pool:

Corner

Recover Evidence

  • Breakthrough > Leave Your Mark
  • Assassinate
  • Hidden Martyrs
  • Catch and Release
  • Let them Bleed > Spread them Out

The changes create ways for players to independently score points. Now the opponent must respond to counter. This forces the crews together and drives interaction. With just two scheme changes, the pool goes from encouraging a standoff to encouraging varied gameplay.

Principle 4: Encourage a variety of play styles

Now that we have covered the principles of crafting the individual missions it is time to look at the overall tournament experience from the macro level with the last two principles of pool design.

Most players would find playing the same mission for 5 rounds boring. Pools in 3 or more round events should bring variety. The tournament organizer should create opportunities for different types of crews and playstyles to shine. One mission might favor speedy crews with lots of far-away schemes while another might favor killing or scheme marker generation.

To make this easier, I created a tool for setting up your rounds and avoiding repetition. Check off the schemes and the spreadsheet will track of how many times you’ve used a scheme and it has the categories to help you keep the individual missions varied. There will be some repetition but, in a three-round event, you can get away with only repeating two schemes.

In the example below (a vassal tournament I organized earlier this year) the two I repeated Sabotage and Leave Your Mark are both far scheme marker schemes because those encourage interactive play by giving players a reason to cross the board.

Principle 5: Start simple and escalate complexity

As you craft your pools, realize some are harder than others or potentially “swingier” than others. Fortunately, it is hard to craft anything too wacky if you follow the preceding four principles.  Start with the most straightforward missions and save the wackier combinations for later rounds.  At a macro level, players will have the most fun when they are playing people of similar skill level. Evenly matched players should in general have close, exciting games where neither party gets steamrolled by the other.  Saving the crazier pools to later when opponents are closely matched makes them more tense.

In an open tournament with not ranked seeding, players are randomly paired in round one, meaning that the first round is the most likely to produce skill imbalance and then as each round progresses, players should sort closer and closer to even skill level.

If you have a swingy or more difficult pool in the first round, there is a much higher potential for luck to scramble the skill level sorting in round 2, which in turn can allow stronger players to submarine and weaker players to get surprise stomped.

Conversely, if the difficulty level escalates, players will be playing the more complex missions while hopefully playing folks of the closest skill level, leading to fun games.

Following these simple steps for success in your next event. Do not be afraid to consider picking a pool from another event you enjoyed and either reusing it or tweaking it slightly to put your own spin on it. Enjoy and happy playing!

You can download Owen’s Excel worksheet HERE

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