I've mentioned it various times in previous articles but I wanted to take the time to discuss further what I mean about zero sum when it comes to Malifaux.
Firstly, a well researched definition:
"Zero Sum: A zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)."
We'll be using the gain-gain variant of Zero sum, so to break this down into Malifaux what does this mean?
Lets say for example that you and I are playing a game of Turf War, we have both revealed Protect Territory and Breakthrough because we're boring but we want to ensure we gain maximum victory points. As the game goes on, every turn after the first we are both gaining 1Vp for Turf War, and due to our scheme runners being too fast or too out of the way, they are absolutely able to put down 4 scheme markers and stand between 2 of them before game end. The game ends on a 10-10 draw.
Why do I call this Zero Sum? Because neither side at any point in the game through action or inaction was ever above the opponent score wise. End of turn 2, yes I got a Turf War Vp but so did you, so in winning the game terms, it's cancelled out. I got full points for both my schemes but so did you, so it cancelled out. Tournament wise, a 10-10 draw is better than a 0-0 draw because of Vp Differential, in casual though, both players are being good sports whilst also trying to win over their opponents tactics with their own.
Another more complex scenario: Squatters Rights, you've chosen Assassinate and Deliver a Message because you a straight-up balling killer in kickass shades. I've gone more conservative and chosen Bodyguard and A Line in the Sand because I'm a Peaceful Zen Practicing dude (also in kickass shades). I mess up Squatters Rights turn two and three and you win 2Vp to my 0Vp. Right now you have the advantage because I have yet to cancel out your Victory points. Later on in the game, I've managed to gain Vp on Squatters rights every turn after but so have you, you've managed to Deliver a Message for another 3vp but due to lucking out on Soul Stone prevention flips, my master is still standing, my Bodyguard is standing in your deployment zone with less than half health and is going defensive x2 for good measure and I have 4 markers down for LITS.
Lets pause for turn 5. Right now you have 3vp for Squatters Rights, 3vp for Deliver a Message to my 1vp for Squatters but at the end of the game if nothing changes, I'll get 1vp more for Squatters, 3vp for LITS and 2vp for Bodyguard. Including your Squatters Vp, the game will end 7-7 draw as I have successfully kept up a zero sum, even if it wasn't in real time BUT you still have the advantage due to the earlier win in points and you have a greater many options: Keep hitting my master and my master might go down awarding you 2vp for assassinate, if you take even one of my LITS markers, I actually LOSE 2vp. What can I do to gain more Vp? Absolutely nothing at this point. I need my master to survive, my bodyguard to stay alive and for my LITS markers to stay put, all I can do at this point is lose points.
Resume: It's the end of the game, my master is still standing, my bodyguard is still alive looking a little worse for wear but in the final activation, you've taken one of my LITS markers. The game ends 7-5, functionally you've won the game 2-0 if you subtract my victory points from your own, an advantage you had since turn 2 & 3.
Not everything goes according to plan in Malifaux, one black joker can ruin your whole game but if you've been playing your advantages well, you can ride it out. On the other hand, if you're on the backpedal, so long as you still have options, you can force that draw or win. Ask yourself, is it better for you to score 3VP or to make your opponent lose 2VP? without context the answer appears easy but sometimes it is better to win 5-4 than draw 6-6.
I learned at some point that in Malifaux that preventing Vp is even more important that gaining Vp, If both of you are aiming for 10vp, it's likely with practice and experience that you'll score 10vp but that then creates zero-sum games, neither of you are winning because by focusing on nothing else but scoring Vp you've let the opponent do the same.
Ergo to gain the advantage in a game, you need to mess with your opponents Vp, Assassinate is worth 0VP if the master is left standing, LITS is worth 1Vp if there's only 3 markers down and doing this creates a landslide effect. Missed out scoring on Reconnoiter for one turn? You now need to prevent 2 turns of your opponents Recon to be above, that one turn of being too close to the center has almost cost you the game but do you attempt to prevent those two turns of recon OR do you make your opponent lose 2Vp from another source? Losing one Vp from the strategy is preferable if your opponent is losing 2vp from Breakthrough. It's an uphill climb sure but it's achievable.
Remember, Malifaux is a game where every model on the board can be dead but you could still win, I've had games where I've done the math and realized turn 3 that I was a deadman, but then I changed up what I was doing in game and forced that draw through Zero-sum or forced that cheeky win from focusing on removing my opponents Vp rather than scoring my own. There are games where you just win, you absolutely crush your opponent 10-0 but I assure you, it wasn't from scoring full points and leaving your opponent alone. It was a sharp focus on what you did to prevent those enemy Vp from being manageable for your opponent.
On the flipside, don't call it quits turn 3 just because your opponent has Recon and Power Ritual apparently in the bag, it only takes one marker less or one movement to completely mess up your opponents plans and suddenly, they are looking at your one vp above theirs. You could luck out or it could go Mice and Men but at least you've better'd yourself by trying, by not giving up. As human beings we learn much more from our failures than our victories.
Every game ask yourself, how could I have beat that Zero-sum? What could I have done differently? What am I relying on that isn't working? What models are simply not advantageous in this situation? Could I have won that game by removing Vp rather than gaining my own? Have a discussion with your opponent post-game, ask them what they would have done differently, what they saw as the turning point, most sporting players love this post-game chat because it's beneficial to both players in the end and creates a better meta within your local game shop.
I hope this has given you an aspect of the way I think when I play games of Malifaux and given the newer players among us a new way to look at the game. Have fun out there.