Thursday, December 5, 2013

Welcome to Malifaux! Impression of the game

There will be Blood.
Although I had known about Malifaux for a few years, and heard a lot of good things about it, the models really left a lot to be desired for me, and I resisted any urge to start playing it.  When the 2nd edition was released and the new plastic models started to come out Adam bought a few and was quite impressed by them.  So much so that he bought the rulebook and started to learn how to play the game.  Despite this, I was a little reserved about starting up the game myself.  Did I really need to be playing another skirmish game, having started to play Deep Wars and now Deadzone?  But when he assembled enough models and asked if I wanted to play a game of it, trying out the rules, I could not resist.  Although I knew I would not be able to appreciate and incorporate all of the nuance and  strategy in the game having not read though the rules myself, I was excited to go through the basics and see how things played out. In particular, I was interested in seeing how it compared to Deep Wars and Deadzone, both rulewise and in narrative scope.

The skirmish we ended up playing was very small, even for Malifaux standards, only tallying 15 soulstones (compared to the normal 50).  And despite not having the required 25 soulstones to have each crew lead by a Master, we decided to use them anyway (as that is what we had available).  A small faction of Outcasts, lead by Tara, faced off against Seamus and his Resurrectionist allies.  Tara took to the field with Karina and the Nothing Beast, while Seamus was accompanied by two Iron Zombies from the University of Transmortis (instead of his customary Rotten Belles).  The two crews met in battle over a dispute for territory.

Karina, the Nothing Beast, Tara (left to right)
What resulted was fast and brutal, with one side battered to the ground or trapped in a parallel dimension and the other bloodied but standing.  An early lead from Seamus vanquishing the Nothing Beast was quickly lost as Tara felled one of the Iron Zombies with her Soulstone sword, and trapped the other in Obliteration’s realm. This led the final confrontation between Tara and Seamus, which saw the Red Chapel Killer broken and defeated.

Student of Steel, Seamus, Student of Viscera (left to right)
Although the game was short and only a handful of models were used, I can easily say that I am impressed. The game incorporates many of the elements I have been looking for in a skirmish game, yet it is simple to pick up.  I think Malifaux's use of the Fate deck is the primary reason for this and I feel most of Malifaux's strengths fall out from this ingenious system.

A makeshift assortment of old terrain (including an oil stack from Gorkamorka!), had to suffice for the streets of Malifaux. 
Instead of relying on dice like most miniature games, Malifaux uses a standard deck of playing cards (including the 2 jokers), which they call a Fate deck.  To complete a task, you reveal a card from the top of the deck to see what you “rolled.”  This essentially gives you a range of 1 (ace) to 14 (joker), but they smartly incorporate the different suits into the game as well, allowing you to trigger special abilities when certain suits are flipped.  Like both Deep Wars and Deadzone, most of the actions you take (like shooting or engaging in close combat with an enemy) require that you do an opposed test (dual).  In Malifaux, both players  flip a card and after adding their respective skill modifiers, see who has the higher value to determine the outcome.  By using a “D14” based system rather than a D6 or D8 (Deep Wars and Deadzone, respectively), there is a much greater range in successes or failures, making the game more dynamic and interesting. In Deep Wars you can often feel a little helpless, relying on rolling a 6 (best) and your opponent a 1 (worst), lest nothing will happen.  Malifaux further limits this feeling of helplessness by allowing you to draw 6 cards at the start of each turn (control hand), which you can use to “cheat” fate and replace one of your flipped cards with one in your hand, allowing you to get a higher score than you otherwise would have or get a suit you needed to activate a trigger.  This removes some of the random element of the game and puts you in greater control of your warriors, making the game more satisfying.

Incorporeal or not, a .50 caliber round is not a laughing matter.
Also like Deep Wars and Deadzone, the game has stat cards for each model, detailing all of the model's wargear and abilities. Everything is clearly laid out and present, making the cards easy to use and functional. All of the current 2nd edition Malifaux character cards are in the rulebook, making learning about and comparing each faction easy.  Similar to Deadzone, there is no section of the rulebook that contains profiles for different weapons and relies solely on what is listed on each model’s card. Malifaux does not let this simplify the scope and setting of the game, however. Each character has their own unique and  characterful weapons and abilities, all of which are clearly conveyed on their cards. Each with compelling and evocative names to accompany their rules.  This is further diversified by giving most abilities and weapons different triggers, achievable if you flip the proper suit when attempting it.

Glimpse of the Void made short work of the Student of Steel, burying it and removing it from the game. 
Before playing this first game, I did not read any of the background material and had very little sense of what any of the different characters were about.  I simply selected one of the two crews Adam had assembled (Seamus was one of the only characters I recognized from the earlier editions and I was impressed how much neater he looked compared to the old metal version).  Despite having hardly even looked at the character cards I had selected, I was amazed how I was drawn into the world and setting of Malifaux.  As I activated each model I read over each one’s abilities, and they would come to life, each with their own sinister quirks and eccentricities:

In a tacky suit and grotesque threadbare top hat, Seamus’s lips form an evil grin as he carelessly waves around a flintlock pistol, seemingly too tiny to comfortably fire the .50 caliber lead ball it has loaded within. With needless flourish, he pulls at his coat and clicks his heels to the ground and slinks into darkness, finding back alleys unseen, and turns up again, to Tara’s astonishment, next to the spectral Nothing Beast.  And despite his frail, lanky exterior, some unhallowed magicks keeps the potent ethereal blows of the shambling Beast from finding purchase and inflicting any really damage to him.  With a toothy grin almost too wide to fit within his slender face, Seamus swaggers up to his foe and playfully slaps the tentacled horror, backhand, again and again with increasing force until  something cracks.  Suddenly the Beast’s hold on reality falters and  fades out of existence, nothing to note its passing.  Seamus’s attention immediately shifts to those around him, his capricious mind no longer entertained by the violence he just unleashed.  There was something in the air.  It was a good night for murder.

All of this just sort of popped into my head as I read over his abilities and started to try to use them in the game.  Although I had only been exposed very briefly to the world of Malifaux, it was immediately apparent how rich the world was.  Importantly this richness is not achieved by encumbering the player with all manner of different mechanics and rules.  Most of the abilities are simply triggered by matching a suit during a flip.  It could be argued that each model is so unique it would be hard to learn each and be familiar with all the potential opponents you could face, although I feel this is an issue all miniature games face to an extent.  Thankfully in Malifaux you are only commanding a small band of warriors rather than an entire army, so I think it is not a huge issue. I would much rather be unfamiliar with a few characters, then sacrifice the diversity of the game for the sake of simplicity.  As it is, I am really excited to start reading about some of the other masters and their accompanying rulesets.

We all have it coming kid.
Although I was only really exposed to the world of Malifaux for about 30 minutes, it was more than enough time to convince me that it is a game I need to be playing.  Every element of the game I experienced combined to make one of the most immersive and characterful rulesets and settings I have encountered.  And now that the new edition was just released and many of their old gangs are getting fantastic new digital sculpts, there really is nothing stopping me.  Now I just need to read over their diverse range of masters and start planning some lists!  If anything, I am just upset I had not started playing sooner.

Eric Wier


  1. Are the models actual plastic, or that stupid "rustic" stuff Mantic, Privater Press and others seem to like?

    1. Thankfully they are actually plastic. I hate the rustic stuff Mantic uses. Malifaux has excellent plastic (similar to the stuff Dreamforge games uses). It is a little harder then GW plastic, but this makes it easier to snip it off the sprue without bending it or tearing it. The mold lines are also easy to remove with the back of an x acto blade. Overall, I really like their plastic, possibly even more then what GW uses.