Having come from a game where power creep was a thing and there were, due to an appalling lack of internal balance and in my mind play testing, a clear hierarchy of armies in terms of their power, I've been interested recently by a lot of tweets, blogs and podcasts in the last couple of weeks discussing relative faction power and "brokeness".
First off, Malifaux is a significantly more balanced game than anything GW has produced. It works well at the casual level and so far, touch wood, appears to work well in tournaments. Although I'm very much aware I've never really troubled the top table players where all the filth and broken combos might be hiding.
That said all is not equal in the world of Malifaux in my mind and there is definitely a couple of tiers of power. There is one main reason which make a master powerful, synergy. From what I've found the main thing to concentrate on is playing your game, executing your plan whilst watching out for opportunities to maybe throw a spanner in the opponents plans. Some masters and crew combine together to make a fairly awesome strategy if they get going. Examples I've seen include
- Hoffman powerball of death
- Ramos spider spam
- McMourning poison bomb
- Rasputina's spell assault
- Nicodem's summoning machine
Another trick which makes crews powerful is an defencive ability which prevents the opponent from playing their game. Crews which can bring a lot of armour, incorporeal or hard to wound can really throw a spanner in the works.
One comment I've heard made is that all these synergies have a counter. Sometime it taking out a key member of the crew, which isn't always the master. Sometime its another ability which counters the powerful one. However with most events running fixed faction I don't agree with this. Given you don't know which master your opponent is playing against you (unless they only own a single one and you happened to spot it on his tray or an earlier game) you won't know which counters you need to take.
Although each faction has a general trend, Resurrectionist will be undead, hard to wound and probably summon for example that's not always the case. Take Guild, will you be facing the high armour and constructs of Hoffman? the melee power of Lady J or the ranged firepower of the Family? Without knowing this you really can't plan against them or take the required counters that people are always going about or you'll end up taking a handful of each defence and fail to stop the chosen tactic of the enemy as it overwhelms your small defence. So I'm not a fan of this "every synergy crew can be beaten by counters" argument. It's true provided you know you're facing that master. In a tournament you've no idea which master from the declared faction you are going to face. I've been caught out by not taking the Hard Worker upgrade to then face lots of armour or hard to wound, similarly the opposite of tacking it and realising there isn't anything in the opponents crew it works against.
So once again you're back to playing your own game primarily. This is where the weaker Masters suffer, they don't have a real 'thing' to do. Take Misaki, she doesn't really have a trick other than being able to hit quite hard (and others hit harder). The rest of the crew don't augment or improve her ability and she doesn't work to improve them. The same could be said for Mei Feng. Yes she likes to rail walk off her constructs but there no real synergy. I've not managed or seen a real burning crew with her when run as Ten Thunders as you can't lay the burning down quickly, I think its viable if she's being played as Arcanist as they seem to have more burning orientated crew.
Now I'm not sure that the other Ten Thunders fair much better, but I've not played a lot with them. Yan Lo is a resser and so can do attrition fairly well but he doesn't really have a lot of summoning. Never used McCabe or Shen Long, they do look slightly more synergy orientated, but its hard to tell.
So I think there is definitely a power curve in Malifaux, I think the game structure does mean that one of the top power crew can be beaten either by luckily taking enough counters in your blind crew creation stage or possibly by focusing solely on you game and scoring points and just hoping that the opponent doesn't get their mechanisms rolling at full power. I think I need to get more play time with Yan Lo and Shen Long (I now have proxies for him and Sensi) if I want to be able to compete with the big boys as I don't think Misiki can hang at all and Mei Feng is a struggle. But I'm more than happy to hear other's opinions since, after all, I've only been playing this for 4 months so could easily have missed some moment of clarity.