Tuesday, August 06, 2013

M2E Beta: Building a Better Henchman

The original Henchman system from Twisted Fates was Wyrd's attempt to create a hybrid-style model that could act as either a powerful addition to an existing Master's Crew, or as a stand-in Master in its own right.  Each Henchman was the leader of a sub-set of Special Forces miniatures who were thematically and mechanically linked to their boss.  Any Master from the appropriate faction could hire these Special Forces models with or without the associated Henchman, but they were limited to only two models and restricted to only one type of Special Force per Crew.  Crews led by a Henchman were free to hire as many models as they chose from their Special Force but had other, sometimes quite severe, hiring restrictions in place.  This created a limited tool-set that, while mechanically promising, generally felt underwhelming and predictable when placed on the table.

The problems with this entire setup were twofold.  First of all, to ensure that Henchmen were not unbalancing to the game when taken as part of a Master's Crew, they had to have a reduced power profile as compared to their full Master brethren. Second, not enough Special Forces models were ever released to carry the Henchman's Crew through every scenario.  These two factors combined to give the old system Henchmen a very restricted feel that often felt over-matched by their Master opponents.

Malifaux 2e took a good, hard look at these problems and provided three solutions: Advance the current group of Henchmen to Masters, dismantle the Special Forces and start from scratch with a new look at the Henchman role.

The Graduating Class of 2013

Each and every one of the original Henchmen have now graduated to full Master status.  They have also acquired all the rights and responsibilities that go along with that title. They are reportedly each getting their own Totem, their own Avatar and of course, that juicy third AP.  Just as importantly though, they are also getting an advance in their story, bringing them in from the fringes and placing them front and centre of the action.  This week's release of Wyrd Chronicles #7 updates Molly's story, while the short from Wyrd Chronicles #5 gave us what might be a glimpse of Lucius' future.

One of the big changes for this outgoing class is that they are losing their ability to team up with their old Masters. No longer can Molly support Seamus in the field, nor can Lucius teleport Lady Justice from the Deployment Zone into the thick of combat.  Von Schill is no longer invited to mercenary for each and every Faction.  Instead, each of these recent graduates is going to need to forge a new path, with new allies and a host of new rules.  This is quite likely the juiciest area of the edition change - existing characters getting new toys.  It's going to be a lot of fun!

Not-So-Special Forces

The Special Forces were a really cool idea, and if they had been fully fleshed-out over time they might well have become interesting alternate crews for each Faction while still providing a source of variation for the Masters.  When Storm of Shadows came out however, and the Ten Thunders dual-faction mechanic was ascendant, it became clear that Special Forces were not going to be the major focus many players expected.  Now in Malifaux 2e, Special Forces are dead.

This is a good thing.  All of the models that the Special Forces consisted of will transition nicely to the new system, in all likelihood they will retain all of their flavour and utility and simply lose the hiring restrictions.  Wyrd's stated reason behind this change is to let people play with models they want to play with, but the underlying philosophy of M2E is that complexity of rules does not equate to depth of game.

Running the Crew (Like A Boss)

Now that the graduating class has safely moved on to their new roles, Malifaux 2e has room to introduce the new and improved Henchmen curriculum.  Under the new system, the role of Leader in an Encounter can be filled by either Masters or Henchmen, each of who bring their own Soulstone cache to the table.  Either station can lead a Crew of between 26 to 40 Soulstones, with Masters being the exclusive choice for Encounters larger than that and Henchmen having the monopoly on games 25 Soulstones and under.  Henchmen can be included as members of a different Leader's Crew as well, usually costing between seven and ten Soulstones to hire.  Henchmen all have access to up to two Upgrades per game, which ones are available being defined in part by their role in the Encounter.  Most importantly, Henchmen always have access to the game-defining ability Use Soulstones.  That means that no matter their role in a particular game, they can buy suits, prevent damage and add positive twists just like the Masters can.

Sounds great, So who is taking up this remodeled station?  Malifaux 1.5 had given us a wealth of interesting characters to choose from, and in most cases the new Henchmen are individuals who felt just a little too large for the tag of 'minion' in the previous edition. The Judge, Sebastian, Myranda, Yamaziko.  There are a few new faces in there too with Hannah and Fingers fleshing out the Outcast and Gremlin factions.  All told there are 19 Henchmen in the first round beta, each with their own play-style and flavour.

Let's make sure we're being perfectly clear about what we're talking about here - Malifaux 1.5 had 22 Masters and 6 Henchmen across all four books - 28 Leaders.  Round one of the Malifaux 2e beta has 21 Masters and 19 Henchmen, that's 41 Leaders, in the first book alone (this figure includes the late removal of Leviticus and Rusty Alyce and the inclusion of Tara).

Balance of Power

Not everything is roses for the new Henchmen however.  Wyrd has explicitly stated that they will generally be lower on the power spectrum than their Master allies.  This is to balance against their ability to be included in Crews where they are not the Leader.  After all, it is now possible to run a Crew that is composed exclusively of Henchmen!  The target for Henchmen is to be well-suited to running smaller games, not to be on par with Masters in every Encounter.  Still, since each model tends to have its own niche in the structure of their associated Master's plan, there is potentially room to bring a Henchman led Crew to a mid-sized game and catch your opponent off guard.

Next week I'll be heading to GenCon 2013 in Indianapolis to get my copy of the game.  When I return we can take a deep dive into specific models and how there finalized versions have changed since the beta.

Thanks for reading.

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