I love skirmish games. I feel no remorse in making this statement and after months of anticipation all it took was my wife to go out to her school’s Bingo night as an opportunity to invite nBreaker around for our first bash at Malifaux.
In preparation for our clash I re-read the rulebook to try to keep myself fresh with the core rule concepts, but as this was a first game I knew we’d be living out of the rulebook for this. So, before we do anything else let’s give all of you readers out there an idea of the game and how it plays.
Malifaux is set in a hybrid universe that mixes elements from the Old West, Steampunk and Horror genres. If you chucked frontier America from the 1800’s, Magic: The Gathering and Tomes: Spirit Guide referenced in Ghost Busters, wined and dined them, then took them back to your place for some “coffee” then I am sure the resultant offspring would look a lot like what we have here. Despite this mix of things though it all fits together very well.
There are 5 factions to choose from, these are; The Guild (the ruling faction), The Resurrectionists (I wouldn’t want to go to hospital here, I’m just saying), The Arcanists, The Neverborn (homicidal teddy bears included) and The Outcasts (mercenaries that can either be hired into another faction or play as their own). There is a lot of variety between the factions and each of them has three starter sets which have different play styles. I won’t go into each one here but there should be something to suit everyone’s tastes and there are some really good sculpts throughout the range.
Army selection is a little like MkII Warmachine. You select an encounter level which determines how many Masters you can take (1 for a Scrap and 2 for a Brawl), this also sets how many soulstones you can spend on recruiting your force. Unused soulstones can be kept and used in-game, a nifty little mechanic that has you working out the most efficient use of your stones. Scraps can be from 1-40 Soulstones and Brawls up to 75. Each Master has their own cache of Soulstones so you should end up with something after spending them but there are maximums you can use in-game, 8 for Scraps and 10 for Brawls. The Master doesn’t cost anything to hire but all the other models do, there are other limits on the minions you can take depending on how common they are. We played a pretty easy 25SS game that makes best use of the starter boxes. I took my Rasputina Cult of December starter box against nBreaker’s Death Marshall’s crew led by Lady Justice.
Possibly the most remarkable thing about Malifaux is that it doesn’t use dice. Instead you use a deck of cards with two jokers, you can either use a standard deck of cards or purchase a Malifaux deck themed to your faction. I have a nice purple deck to complement my Arcanists. Everything you do in the game requires a flip of a card from your deck, this normally adds a stat from a model’s profile to give you a total, either against a flat number or a total from the flip of another player. As a part of this there is a Cheat Fate mechanic, each player has a “Control Hand” of cards they draw at the start of the game and replenish every turn, once in each duel (a duel is the flipping of the cards to get a result of an action) you can replace the card you flipped from your deck with one from your hand, the suits are just as useful as the numbers on the cards in certain respects. Models who can use Soulstones (pretty much just Masters at this point) can spend a Soulstone in order to draw another card and ADD this to their total. This can make it really hard for an opponent to stop you from doing something if you get decent cards at the right action. Learning when and when not to Cheat Fate and/or use your Soulstones adds a lot of depth to the game.
Each turn is split into three phases, one that begins the turn with resolving certain game effects, discarding any cards from your hand you don’t want and then drawing replacements. The next phase deals with the turn, each player draws a card and the higher number goes first, you can spend a soulstone to have another go if you drew the lowest card, if you are then at a higher number than your opponents they can spend a soulstone to grab another card too. The highest scoring players goes first. You activate a model and perform all its actions and then your opponent gets a go with one of theirs. Before the battle begins you pick a Scheme, which is a mission you are trying to achieve, these are picked through flipping a card and matching the number to a table in the rulebook. There are quite a few Schemes and these can be made more interesting via Strategies which I will probably leave for another post.
Armed with your scheme your Crew then tries to achieve that while stopping the enemy, all Schemes are announced at the start of the game so you know what your opponent is up to in terms of his main objective.
Each model gets action points to spend, this allows them to walk, charge, climb, boost their abilities, cast spells and smash people’s faces in. The Duel mechanic is used to resolve all combat and casting actions. This makes for a quick game, our first game wasn’t as fast as it could have been but when we started to see how quick certain things are resolved it gives you an idea about how fast the game is going to play once you get used to it. Malifaux plays fast. nBreaker has already given his impression that this game is fast and brutal, an assessment I’d agree with. Once you succeed in a duel there are a number of Triggers that the model can activate. This means you can get extra damage or perform an extra action and things of this nature, this adds another dimension of strategy as these normally have suit requirements and getting one of these off at the right time can secure victory or deny your opponent an advantage. It is these Triggers that help to speed up and brutalise the play.
Each game takes places over 6 turns and at the end the person holding the most victory points wins. All of the Schemes and Strategies tells you how you can claim these Victory Points.
In a nutshell that is how Malifaux plays and a brief overview of the rules. I may post up a rundown of how our game went from my point of view later on, but my first impressions of this game are very favourable. It has depth to its gameplay but still retains a simplicity that new players will find accessible to get to grips with. I think this game has a bright future and it is one of the more original offerings I’ve had the pleasure of playing. This is the first of what I hope will be many games and we are planning on demoing it to our play group at the next meeting.
After having played it I give Malifaux a massive 9/10. Awesome background, really nice models and a great playing game. As we are big fans of low model count, fast playing games here at 6 Inch Move I reckon this one could become a favourite.