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Intro to Malifaux

10 Feb

The following was a Malifaux primer I wrote for East Grinstead Wargaming. Since I wrote it, damnit, I see absolutely no reason not to cross post it here.


Malifaux is a 32mm Skirmish-level miniatures game from US company Wyrd Miniatures. Introduced in 2009, the game has recently seen a second edition of the ruleset that came out late last year. This is a highly tactical, highly competitive game played in a world full of wild west gunslingers, victorian necromancers, steam punk cyborgs, gruesome monsters and scheming bureaucrats.

A few of us have been playing Malifaux outside the club since the second edition came out, and over 2014 we hope to introduce new players to the game at the club. I’m also planning on writing several articles over the next few months on what you need, background information and how to play.

But first, why play Malifaux? Here are five good reasons why you should be getting into Malifaux.

  1. A Theme for Every Player
    Perhaps one of the most apparent aspects of Malifaux is the wide range of styles and themes the game covers. With the game being set in 1902 and taking place in a universe filled with both magic and machines, a game of Malifaux will see models reflecting everything from Victorian Horror, Dark Fantasy, Western, Steampunk, Wuxia and beyond.So one player might field a crew of undead hookers …

    Primer-Belles… against a magical kung fu master …

    Primer-MeiFeng… or a gang of Mexican gunslingers …

    Primer-Ortegas… or against a seemingly innocent girl.

    Whilst this all seems far-fetched, Malifaux’s setting brings context to somewhat unusual and diverse looking groups.

  2. Cards, not Dice
    Unlike most miniatures games, Malifaux does not use dice. Instead each player has what we call a Fate Deck – this is a standard 54-card playing card deck, the only difference are the suits. Instead of Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds, a fate deck will have the suits Rams, Crows, Tomes and Masks instead. The game can still be played with a normal set of cards with some minor translation, though there are a variety of colourful and flavourful fate decks available made by Wyrd and fans of the game. For the beginner, the standard fate deck is always the best place to start.Primer-StandardDeck
    During a turn, each player will have 6 unrevealed cards from their deck in their hand, with the rest of the deck face down. When a player wishes to perform an action that has a chance of failure, then the player flips a card from the fate deck and places it down for both players to see. An action might need the card to be higher than a certain number – for example, a Necropunk will need at least a 7 to jump over a building. In some cases, the card might need to have the correct suit as well – for example, Nicodem will need a 10 of Crows in order to summon a hulking Flesh Construct. Should the flipped card not be enough, the player has the opportunity to Cheat Fate – the player takes a card from the control hand, and replaces the flipped card with it.

    When targeting an enemy model with an action, such as an attack, both players flip cards, and it becomes a matter of who has the highest result. Once again, players have the opportunity to Cheat Fate – so a defending player can stop an incoming attack simply by taking a higher card from the control hand, and using that instead.

    Cards are used in this manner for all random chance, from determining success through strength of damage to how much a model can heal for. By using a single deck of cards, each player’s lucky streaks are slightly more balanced than with dice.

    At least, that’s the theory. I still end up with hands of only 3s and 4s.

  3. Smaller model counts, Lots of variety.
    Malifaux is a skirmish-level game, so if the only type of miniatures game you’re interested in involves massive amounts of models and huge strategic war between two armies, this is perhaps not the game for you.Instead, a typical game of Malifaux will see between 7 and 10 models for each player on a 3” x 3” board. Each side will have a Master – a charismatic individual who more than likely prescribes the style of play for that Crew. The player then fills the Master’s crew with other models from that Master’s chosen Faction – these include Henchmen, Enforcers, Minions and lowly Peons.

    The game has seven factions to choose from – The Guild, The Resurrectionists, The Arcanists, The Neverborn, The Outcasts, The Gremlins and Ten Thunders – and each has seven different Masters available to them. Some Masters are also dual-faction – such as the Guild-by-day, Resurrectionist-by-night Dr Douglas McMourning, the scheming Neverborn Zoraida organizing the Gremlins, or the Ten Thunders protégée Mei Feng infiltrating the Arcanists – each offering a very different playstyle based on which faction they are currently leading.

    So whilst there are fewer models on the table, there’s still a very wide range of possible crews to build, develop and play against. Less models means that for the player that struggles to find time to paint there is less to get done in order to field a painted crew, and for the devoted painter there is more time to focus on unique and interesting models with their own style and charm. There is also no denying that a game that requires less models is far cheaper to get into than a full-on wargame – getting started with Malifaux might set you back as little as £50 for a full size game, as opposed to a game like Warhammer 40k where it can be around £300.

    (Mei Feng Crew pictures courtesy of von evilstein / Kevin)

  4. It isn’t all about killing… mostly.
    Most games have objectives, but usually it is just an excuse to send models to a central point so they can have a bit of a brawl. In Malifaux, individual objectives are the key to winning the game. Some of those objectives might require nothing more than outright slaughter, but some are more devious and nefarious, ranging from springing traps, planting explosives, taking models prisoner, and even framing the other player for murder!
    Primer-ViksIn a Standard Encounter game of Malifaux, after terrain has been set and players have announced which factions they’ll be playing, a card will be flipped from one player’s fate deck that will determine the Strategy. This is a single goal that both players share and will be scoring points for from Turn 2, with the game normally ending on Turn 5. A maximum of 4 victory points can be earned from completing the objectives of the Strategy, one victory point per turn. Strategies include needing models in specific zones (Turf War, Reconnoiter), killing at least 2 models per turn (Reckoning) and controlling objective markers (Stake a Claim, Squatter’s Rights)In addition the players will pick two other objectives called Schemes. These are objectives that are not shared between the two players, and are picked from a pool of five schemes generated by two card flips. These schemes might be overt and revealed to the other player once selected, or they might be sneaky and remain unrevealed until the player is ready to spring them. Such schemes range from simple marker placement (A Line in the Sand, Breakthrough, Plant Evidence, etc.) through to defeating models (Assassinate, Murder Protégée, Make Them Suffer), to more outlandish schemes (Distract, Frame for Murder, Cursed Object, etc.)

    With both Strategy and Schemes in play, Malifaux offers a very involved tactical experience. Certainly different strategies and schemes suit different models, but unlike many other games, Malifaux lets you pick your crew after you know what Strategies and Schemes you’re going to be using. Your crew is built once you know what type of game you’re playing – after all, your faction is going to send the best guys for the job, aren’t they?

  5. A well balanced game.
    Finally, one of the most outstanding elements of the game is how balanced it currently is. In the right hands, any crew of almost any set-up can prove to be a formidable foe. It is still possible to make a bad crew, but doing so is far more difficult than it is with less well balanced games.Primer-Lucius

    One of the reasons why the game has become so balanced is that Wyrd will often beta-test their new rules with the public, and openly communicate with their players regarding the direction of new rules and models. The process Wyrd have used has let all its models feel powerful and useful, but because your opponent’s models are also powerful and useful it feels more like a clash of the titans rather than an overwhelming slaughter.

    Having an unbalanced game isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s fun in an uphill struggle after all. But for a highly tactical game like Malifaux that involves many factions, multiple objectives and tight gameplay, having the factions, masters and models well balanced against each other makes for a game that can be enjoyed from a purely casual perspective all the way up to a competetive level. This also means you can pick any Master or Faction knowing that they aren’t going to suck against every other opponent!

So that’s five key points for why Malifaux is as fun as it is. In my next post in this series, I shall be discussing what you need to get started in Malifaux. If you’re interested in having a game of Malifaux at the club in East Grinstead – even if you have no models or don’t know the rules – feel free to get in touch with either James, Kevin, Dod or Chris as we’re all eager to play against new people.

Further details:

Yet Another Malifaux Blog

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East Grinstead Wargaming Sussex

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