Malifaux: An Introduction


Our own wargaming expert Ben is here to introduce the exciting world of Malifaux

Malifaux is a tabletop miniatures game you may have heard of, if not, it’s a game done by Wyrd games, you can check those guys out here

A very simple summary for those that don’t know of Malifaux, it’s a skirmish based, objective driven, strange steam-punk themed game without the use of dice.

For those of you that do know about the game, you may know about me from the various Malifaux things I’m associated with.

So let’s get to the point shall we?

Actually Skirmish

A major issue a lot of people have with tabletop wargames, is the sheer amount of space it takes up.
Now admittedly Malifaux still needs a 3 foot square table to play on typically, maybe even a little more space to keep your stat cards and all those things.
This however is less than the 8*4 that some mass wargames require.

I say “actually” skirmish in reference to the amount of miniatures you need to play a game (note, you’ll want more in your collection, geeks tend to be kleptomaniacs too).

A typical “crew” (what us Malifaux folks refer to our forces as) will have around 8-10 miniatures tops in a standard game, there is the possibility to fit in around 15 miniatures, but I am yet to see it and it probably isn’t advisable.

Now 8-10 miniatures, that is probably obvious to anyone who’s seen Warhammer and the like that it’s a lot less than those games (8-10 doesn’t even make much of a unit in some cases) but actually, even in comparison to a few other skirmish games this is still the low end.

What does that mean?
Well if you’re really into the painting you have a lot less models to paint, but it means you have a lot more time you can realistically spend on them, doing your best work.
I currently am running a painting competition on twitter, each month the category has a theme but has always been single miniature(so far), now even if you only painted for this, you could get a crew done in half a year.
If you dislike painting, then the lack of models you have to bother with is great or cheaper if you’re paying someone else to do it.

Transporting your crew is far simpler, no giant suit cases, smaller ones, that you can even ride the bus with, is possible.
If you don’t mind the larger cases, it’s something you are used to, then you can easily bring a lot of your collection, gives you more options and chances to show other friends.

Investment, when I say this, I don’t mean financially, but emotionally.
Each single miniature will become more important to you, the characters will have a much greater chance for you to be emotionally invested in them, growing in your mind, but that’s the next bit.

The themes and background

Now in the quick intro, I threw out “steam punk”, now where this is the strongest of themes in Malifaux and sets the time period, the characters and themes span a lot more than that.

Steam punk is your thing? Well it may be your bag, we have steam powered robots, clockwork guns, goggles and all.
You like animals? There’s a beast master, who almost has a menagerie rather than a crew, there’s hounds, there is even a master of pigs!

What about Cthulu? I know there’s a lot of geeks out there who love it, well, Malifaux has tentacle monsters like “The Nothing Beast” or even strange amphibious guys like “Silurids”.

Military? Outcasts have the Freikorps.

Ninjas? There’s an Asian themed faction the Ten Thunders.

Zombies? The Resurrectionists.

Little goblin like guys? Well there is the Gremlins.

If that wasn’t enough for you take a look, each of these factions have 7 masters.
Each with their own rich backgrounds and themes, each with their own style and minions that fit better with them.

The stories are so rich in this game, that I would even recommend buying the older books just for background.

It really is very engaging.

Back to the gaming side.

Look ma, no dice!

One of the big things you may already know about Malifaux, or are still taken back by from the intro to this blog, is that the game forgoes the use of dice completely.

Instead of dice, the game uses a deck of cards 4 full suits and 2 jokers for 54 cards.

In the briefest possible way to explain this, rather than having to roll a value on a dice to succeed in an action, the Space Marine needs a 3 or higher to hit his target, you need to flip a card.
Sometimes this is to get a certain number, but more often it’s in addition to your relevant stat vs. your opponents and their deck.
I flip an 8 with my shooting value of 6, my opponent flipped a 2 with their defense of 5.

I hit!

Well, it’s not quite that simple.

First off, the deck has 4 suits (face cards are 11-13), sometimes a more difficult action may require you to flip a specific one of these. Sometimes, flipping a certain suit may give you an additional bonus (a trigger we call it) and not just while attacking.

However, it isn’t just flipping cards, Malifaux, allows you to somewhat control your own fate, with the “control hand”.
Typically you start a turn with 6 cards in your hand, what these cards do is allow you to “cheat fate”.
Mechanically what this means is you can replace the card you flipped with one in your hand.
This is an important resource to use carefully, as you don’t draw a new hand until the next turn in most cases.
What “cheating” can mean though, is you can pass that test you failed, try and out do your opponent in a duel and many more things.
The totals you make matter as the degree of success or failure can sometimes effect further things, like the amount of damage you may be dishing out.

Controlling fate, simply gives you more control in the game.
You can plan a head further (strategy) or mess up your opponents plans on the fly.
Having 4 lots of 1-13 which you are drawing through, also allows you to predict luck a little, rather than just cross fingers and get superstitious.
You can’t have the game where you get only aces (which are ones, which is bad) as there is only 4.

However luck is still a factor, variance can make games fun.

Also, you still have your equivalents to criticals in the form of the Jokers.
Red is good, you will learn to love this card as it is whatever suit you want it to be and counts as a 14 plus a few more benefits, but as quick as you will learn to love the red joker, you will soon despise the Black Joker.
The Black Joker, is zero, no suit, nothing, you can’t cheat fate when it appears and at the wrong time it can mess everything up.
But hey, variance is fun right? Right?

Using cards over dice actually creates a lot more interesting mechanical interactions, but that could do with it’s own blog post one day.

Strategies, Schemes and a whole load of bluffing.

You’ll hear some Malifaux players tell you that you can win the game even if you get tabled, which to the typical wargamer would sound crazy.
I can lose all my figures yet win the game?
The reason for this madness, is actually one of Malifaux is biggest strengths.

It’s scenarios, or Strategies and Schemes.
These are randomized like many other games and give you a lot of variation regardless of how many different opponents or crews you may get to use.

The “strategies” are what you would typically see as the main mission of the game.
The big difference is only 1 of the 5 are solely about killing your opponents crew, the rest are about vying for power of areas, either quarters of the tables, the centre of the board, the typical objective based type things you may see in other games.
This is something both you and your opponent are going for, to score a maximum of 4 points from.

The “schemes” is where everything gets very cool.
First a pool of 5 schemes gets determined at the beginning of the game.
These range from, Assassinating your opponents leader, to framing your one of your opponents models for killing yours, to giving your opponents a cursed object, to planting some evidence, to
Ok I could go on for ages, there is after all, 19 different schemes.

What makes these even cooler and more exciting is two things.
First is the fact that you may have generated 5 schemes, but you are only picking 2, your opponent does not need to pick the same which gives the game some asymmetry to it.
You can pick what you think is easiest, more fun, more thematic, it is entirely up to you.
The second, is that some of the schemes are hidden, only once they are scored are they revealed to your opponent.
This means, your opponent may have to be playing a guessing game and the best bit of that.
You can bluff.

Not only in Malifaux can you bluff powerful cards in your ìcontrol handî but you can pretend to be going for one scheme you actually have no interest in at all.

The schemes themselves are worth up to 3 victory points each, meaning you can score 10 total in a game and the schemes take up the greater part of that.
Some schemes that can be hidden can achieve these higher scores by being revealed, but then, there is no bluffing that.

All in all, the way this mission system is set up, makes the game so diverse and so interesting in comparison to a lot of straight forward and kill games we have out there.

Now this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely makes it possible, that Malifaux is the best miniatures game out there and more importantly, maybe the right one for you.

Thank you for reading, what is a fairly lengthy “sales pitch” as such.
Malifaux is a fantastic game that has been growing immensely over the past couple of years.
It’s recently had a second edition launch and this has seen the game become even better and even more beginner friendly.

One part I did not mention, was how great the community is for this game.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a group of war gamers more friendly and welcoming than the Malifaux scene.

All I hope is this gives you a spark of interest, maybe just to find out more, maybe to go find your local “Henchman” to run you a demo or maybe even, just to buy some figures and try out the game with some friends.

-Ben (@psientologist)

You can find more from Ben at the Malibros or Malifools sites.

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