Why should you try Malifaux?

I’m Matt aka Dustcrusher, and I’m here to write about other games, especially Malifaux. For a brief profile, click here.

Basically I came back to 40k last year after several years off and the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I still wanted to play toy soldiers, so I moved on to new games. One of these is Malifaux. If you haven’t read The Blue Baron’s intro to Malifaux, it’s worth a look. Go read it- I’ll wait.

I’m going to go over what I perceive are the high and low points of the game. While I hope anyone interested gives the game a try, this is the real world we live in, and most of us have a gaming budget- my intent is to go over what Malifaux has to offer as well as a few potential sticking points to keep in mind.

Let’s dive right in- what strengths does Malifaux offer compared to other games? Here are a few that stand out for me:

No dice: As you probably already know, Malifaux uses a deck instead of dice, and you also get a hand of cards each turn. What’s so special about this? Malifaux adds an element of card control that requires careful risk (and resource) management.

Soulstones: Soulstones are big-time currency in the world of Malifaux- literally more sought after than gold. When selecting a crew, the players will decide on a certain stone level for their game (12-15 is very small, 30-40 is typical tournament level, and 50+ is a very large game). Here’s the kicker- any points you don’t spend are added to the Master’s Soulstone pool. Why does this matter? Soulstones are like re-rolls, but better. Baron mentioned a common use for them- boosting attack, defense, and casting flips. You can also use them to mitigate the damage from a successful attack, heal damage suffered previously, or re-flip for initiative if you really need to have the first activation. Before you build your crew, you can also give up one Soulstone to re-flip the strategy if the original flip is not to your liking. Much like Re-rolls in Blood Bowl, the savvy player will know when to use and when to save Soulstones.

Triggers: You know how card decks usually have four suits? Malifaux’s are no exception, and the game makes use of this with triggers- additional effects that can be used if you have the right suit in your flip. For example, several Guild models have a trigger called Critical Strike which increases the amount of damage done on an attack by 1 for each Ram (Heart in a normal deck of cards) in the Attack Total. Many models with this ability get the first Ram free, so a Master like Lady Justice could possibly add +3 damage to an attack if she uses a Soulstone. The highest wound total on any model is 12, so +3 is significant. Other triggers offer effects like allowing a free cast of a spell, a free attack, a safe retreat out of melee range, discard and draw a card, and so on.

List tailoring: When setting up a game of Malifaux, you declare which faction you will play before determining your primary goal for the game. You don’t pick your crew until after this has been determined. If you have a strategy that requires holding an objective, you can tailor your list to include more resilient models; if the strategy requires a lot of movement you can pick a crew with more mobility or movement tricks, and so on.

Characters: Malifaux has a setting that is a huge mashup of steampunk, Victorian horror, and Weird West. It really shouldn’t work if you examine it from a distance, but it does. The setting is dark, but unlike 40k it has a very sick sense of humor. You want steam-powered robots? Ramos and Hoffman have you covered. A serial killer with a fondness for large hats and dead hookers? Seamus is your man. Lovely and talented showgirls whose magic is more than cheap stage tricks? Pick Colette. How about half-dead cowboy Undead hunters led by a female Zatoichi with long red hair? That’s Lady Justice and her Death Marshals. Creatures of nightmare, including a baby with a carving knife and a giant killer teddy? Neverborn. Cajun swamp goblins? Bayou Gremlins. I could go on, but there’s something for just about anyone in Malifaux. Did I mention the zombie hookers?

A distinct victory-point-based system: Malifaux’s win conditions are broken up into Strategies (the primary goal of the match) and Schemes (secondary goals you get to choose). Strategy going to be tough to complete? Pick a couple of easy schemes. Is your opponent overly aggressive? Choose the Frame for Murder scheme and run your minion of choice up to your opponent’s Master- if it dies, you get points. Strategies range from classic “kill more points’ worth of stuff than the other guy” (Slaughter) to “(dis)arm the dynamite” (A Line in the Sand). Some of the Strategies and Schemes can be completed without actually attacking your opponent, and while difficult, it is possible to be tabled and still win (in fact, a couple of Strats and Schemes can be foiled by killing your own models).

Low entry point: Getting started is inexpensive- many of the starter boxes can play a 25 point game as they are. A few crews can be run competitively for less than $100. Even assuming the most expensive starter available, you can get going with $60 and a deck of cards.

Now, in an attempt to minimize my bias, I’m going to go over a few weak points of the game. It’s not to say it’s not worth trying (it is), but these issues are worth keeping in mind:

Faction balance: Malifaux is faction balanced. Not every Master will excel at every Strategy. Having two Masters of a given faction should cover most if not all of your bases, however.

(Perceived) Balance issues: There’s a lot of talk about how imbalanced this game is. Some crews are really tough to handle until you learn their weaknesses and how to handle their unusual play styles. While it’s not perfect (what game is?), Wyrd’s staff has been making changes when necessary- and doing so very deliberately before releasing them. Because of faction balance, a few matchups are rather lopsided, but not insurmountable.

Disparity in cost: Some masters can work well with a starter and a couple of blister packs even in a more competitive scene. Other masters require a larger investment (i.e. more models) to reach their full potential.

List tailoring: I’ve read a couple of people that absolutely hate that they can’t build an almighty take-all-comers power list for Malifaux. It’s the nature of the game and a deliberate design intention- it’s as much about when to use certain models as how.

Layered rules: Malifaux’s basic concepts are easy to grasp, especially for an experienced gamer. Now all games require their players to learn what their opponents can do- “know thy enemy” and all that. Malifaux has the potential for multiple layers of effects happening in the same interaction between two models. I suspect Warmahordes veterans won’t have much trouble with this, but some models have a lot of options available, and learning them all can take time. Errata aren’t always easy to find, though this has improved greatly as of late. Above all, the Wyrd Rules Marshals watch the boards and will step in and answer questions when the community doesn’t have a clear answer already.

So you’ve read my Big List o’ Reasons. You’ve read Baron’s perspective as a new player. You’d like to give Malifaux a shot. Now what?

First off, much like the Press Gangers, Malifaux has its own Henchmen: http://www.malifaux.com/Henchman.php. No Henchman in your area? I maintain a list of players looking for games here. Still no dice (pun fully intended)? You still have an option that won’t require you to spend more than a few bucks on printing stat cards: http://www.malifaux.com/Downloads.php. Download the v2 statcards, the Quick Reference Card, and the Rules Manual, grab a couple of normal decks of cards, and proxy away.

This post on the Malifaux Wiki is a good resource, other than not mentioning the 1.5 rulebook (which just hit stores a couple of days ago): http://pullmyfinger.wikispaces.com/Gathering+Supplies. The 1.5 rulebook is basically the Rules Manual plus the first story arc, so it’s up to you whether or not you want the fluff and artwork (I’d recommend it, but I am big on good fluff).

It’s important to find a crew that’s a good fit for you. PullMyFinger has descriptions of how all of the Masters and Henchmen play. The Gathering Supplies link above has a list of recommended starting crews as well as those with a higher learning curves or larger initial investments than average. I’m going to add that Hamelin the Plagued and Pandora are not good first masters for a brand new group of players. They are tough opponents for new players, and they are also harder to learn to play than, say, Rasputina or Lady Justice. Your mileage may vary- some people relish a challenge from the get-go, and if you are joining an experienced group of players, you should be fine.

In conclusion, I have no better segue than “in conclusion.” I’d also suggest giving Malifaux a try. It’s both strange yet familiar, and a welcome change of pace from any other miniatures game I’ve played. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to comment or message me directly.


Author: Dustcrusher

I was a rock star in a previous life.

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