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At first there was no limitation on the number of times per day the familiar could transform. Apparently someone at Paizo believed this was OP and decided to put a limit. The duration of the effect, however, has stayed the same, so the familiar can stay in Battle Form indefinitely until it changes back to its original size.
I can speak for me, and I love it. The best ones are in my opinion Hawks/Owls/Flying Foxes, which make great flying mounts for small-sized characters since 3rd level, and being intelligent you don't need Ride to control them in battle. Foxes and other high Str ones also make decent melee buddies, especially if you can give them feats such as through levels in Eldritch Guardian Fighter, Beast Bonded Witch or Spirit Binder Wizard.
|Mark Hoover 330|
IF you don't take a dip in a Full BAB class, gain the familiar from a 2/3 or Full BAB class, or use some other means to give the Mauler a decent BAB, THEN the Mauler familiar is good for 2 things: being a mount to Small sized PCs and keeping the spellcaster from having to make Concentration checks due to Melee attacks.
By that second point, I mean that if your Mauler has a very low chance to hit or will likely die under the "heat lamps" of mid-to-high CR monsters' special attacks and such, its most useful then standing right next to your spellcasting PC and dissuading any minion-type monster from wading through and annoying you with minor attacks.
I haven't gotten the chance to get any more than a couple rounds worth of combat in with a couple of low CR NPCs' Mauler Familiars, but its kind of a mini-game for me as the GM: how can I optimize the best Mauler for one of my "mean weenie" type villains! For example: a Kobold Adept 5/Warrior 2 is technically only a CR 4 threat, a very tough fight for a group of level 1 PCs.
Imagine your APL 1 party grinds to the end of their mini-dungeon only to be confronted with an AC 18 kobold (20 versus Good) flying overhead on a Medium sized pterodactyl (his "dragon"). Said kobold is rocking 35 HP but terrible saves. His mount in the meantime has an AC of 16 (18 versus Good) thanks to some barding, a bite +6 (1d8 +3), a 10' reach on a flying Charge attack ("sudden swoop"), and in a Full Attack also brings a +6 tail sting (1d4 +1) attack to bear as well... all while staying aloft with a 40' Fly speed (Good) and with 31 of his own HP to spare.
So your Kobold has used Evolved Familiar twice to give the mount a 1d8 base bite attack and turn it's tail into a barbed stinger. He's also spent his other 2 feats on Toughness and Spell Focus: Evocation. His own role in the combat is simply to cast Bull's Strength on his mauler and have it fly into it's first Charge attack with a Bite +10 (1d8 +6). If they last into round 2, the rider is using Burning Hands at 10' away from the melee line, just before his mount moves, inflicting 5d4 Fire with a DC 14 Ref save, while his Mauler then takes a 5' move in the air and delivers a Bite +8 (1d8 +6) and a Stinger +8 (1d4 +2).
That would be... kinda bananas.