Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Malifaux Review

Ok, something a little different this time out.

I thought I'd try and write a review of the new skirmish game Malifaux by Wyrd Miniatures, never done anything like this before so lets see if I ramble on half as much as I think I may :)

The Miniatures

Ok, so the reason I play a game or a faction/army within a game is because the shiny miniatures attract my attention and get me all excited and buying a game faction/army in the first place.

Wyrd Miniatures have been producing a range of very cool mini's for a couple of years before they had a ruleset to go with them and were a range I kept looking at. At the time however they weren't easy to get in this country so I resisted. Until Malifaux was announced that is, at which point I promptly ordered a fair few: for the Resurrectionists I got Morgue Master McMourning; Sebastian, his assistant; a number of Flesh Constructs; and a couple of Nurses. For the Arcanists I got Ramos; a couple of Steampunk Arachnid Swarms; and an Executioner Class Steamborg.

The models maketh the game in my mind and I do like the models produced so far, if I have one niggling issue it is the fact that some of the models look a little cartoonish, whilst others far more realistic (or as realistic as you can get when you're dealing with a steampunk game), the looks of Ramos & McMourning are a good example of this difference in style.

Still, as I say, it's only a minor niggle and quite frankly the models are very well done, so I can't bitch too loudly as they all have endearing qualities that I like a lot.

Also, Wyrd make a number of metal base inserts & accessories, I've used the Victorian sets for the Arcanists, that are designed to be inserted into the 30-50mm bases that every new game coming out seem to use now. These inserts look fantastic & I really like them, especially as they give some nice weight to the bases that resin ones don't, (having said that, the resin ones I'm using for the Resurrectionists are from Dragonforge & are very good as well. You just don't get the weight that I like to feel on my models...more proof that I'm getting older I guess ;)

The Rulebook

Next up, we have the very nice 212 page, full colour, soft cover rulebook.

Of the 212 pages, about 88 pages hold the rules, 81 pages are faction lists and the rest is background and a thoroughly entertaining story that runs through the book introducing the world and some of the main players in the universe.


After the miniatures, the thing that really gets me into a game is the background. I'm a sucker for a good alternate history, and whilst Malifaux doesn't have the most detailed alt-history out there I think it works nicely.

The game is set in an alternate reality where magic is real and anyone on Earth can use it to some degree.

By the late 1700's however magic power was on the decline and desperate steps were being taken to try and discover new sources of magical power. Soon they found another world just outside our existence that radiated vast amounts of magical energy, this world was only separated from ours by a thin veil of reality, one which was breached by the most powerful spell ever cast, one that killed a vast number of lesser magic users helping the casting.

On the other side of the breach they discovered the abandoned city of Malifaux and soon after they discovered Soulstone, the source of the magical energy. This substance boosted the users magic powers, but got depleted over time, however, it got it's name from it's ability to be recharged by being close to a person when they died.

Malifaux was colonised, but after only 10 years an unknown enemy attacked Malifaux, brutally killed everyone there and sealed the breach to our world in the space of one night.
100 years to the hour later the breach mysteriously reopened and soon Malifaux and its environs around it were once again being colonised & the mining of Soulstone begun once again.

It is now 1901, 4 years after the breach reopened & Malfaux is populated by convict labor and numerous individuals looking to gain power by/through Soulstone, leading to numerous factions vying for control of the city & the Soulstone mining operations, not to mention the re-emergence of The Neverborn, creatures from our very nightmares that claim the World of Malifaux as their own.

The Rules

Right, now onto the Nitty-Gritty part, the rules themselves.

The first big difference between Malifaux and other games is that there are no dice involved in the game at all. Instead the game used a Fate Deck of 54 cards (a standard deck of cards, including Jokers, can be used. However, Wyrd produce Fate decks that are definitely worth picking up IMO).

The deck has 4 suits: Rams; Crows; Masks; & Tomes. Numbered 1 (ace) to 13 with 2 Jokers, Black and Red (Black is the worst card in the game = 0, has no suit and must be used if drawn, Red is the best card in the game = 14 and can be any suit)

Turn sequence:

Each turn is split up a follows.

1- Draw Phase - Each player has their own Fate deck to use and every round you draw a Control Hand of up to 6 or 7 cards, (depending on size of the game), that can be used to help your crew Cheat Fate in Duels.

2- Activation Phase – The game uses an I-go-you-go structure with each player activating 1 model at a time, then passing play to their opponent and so on until each model has been activated.

Every model comes with a 4-sided stat card:

On the front you get the models name, cost and suit that the model is associated with (each of the 4 main factions are associated with a specific suit in the Fate Deck). On the back you have the models stats, special rules and wound markers. In the center of the card you get a detailed description of the various Actions & Triggers that model has access to.

Each model has 2 Action Points to spend in a round and all actions have a cost associated with it (0,1 or 2pts usually), there are universal actions that anyone can use and model also has specific actions that only they can do that are listed on it's card.

Any check is made during a models activation is accomplished via a Duel, all types of which involve the same basic procedure:

1-Activating model flips the top card of their Fate Deck revealing a card, adds it's value and suit to the relevant Stat, add any modifiers and get a total.
2- The model may then either Cheat Fate, by changing the flipped Fate Card with one of his/her Control Hand cards, or Use a Soulstone (if they have the ability) to flip a second Fate Card adding it's value and suit to the first card (you may do both the above if you wish)
3-Calculate final total, if you scored higher than the Target Number then you succeed. Whether you win of loose you may activate 1 triggered effect if you meet all the requirements for it.

For combat, casting spells or any opposed action, both the attacking and defending players perform the above procedures and try to score higher than each other.

3- Closing Phase – various effects wear off during this phase and you re-shuffle your Fate Deck.


I have to say I really like the way the rules read and work. I think this is the first time I've ever read a set of rules where I've made educated guesses on how various aspects of the game work and actually been proved right. I really like the Fate Decks too, they bring a nicely different feel to proceedings and God knows, any game where I don't have to roll dice has got to be good (I might as well be known as “Anything-But-a-1-Jon” with some of my dice rolling).

I also really like the fact that even damage is random, you flip a Fate Card to determine the amount of damage you do to your opponent, which will be either Weak, Moderate or Severe depending on the card. I think that will lend itself to some tense battles where one side will need to kill a opponents character before their next turn only to inflict a flesh-wound on them instead and such like.

The Factions

There are 5 faction in the game, 4 main ones and The Outcasts who are mainly mercenaries, individuals looking to make a quick buck and Gremlins that live in the Bayou that surrounds Malifaux.

The 4 main Factions are:

The Guild, rulers of Malifaux who try to control the supply of Soulstone back to Earth. The faction can be split further into groups that specialise against each of the other factions (The Ortegas are Neverborn hunters, Lady Justice's crew tackle the Resurrectionists and Sonnia Criid acts against the Arcanists);

The Resurrectionists, master of Necromancy and surgical re-animation, they are individuals who hear the whispers of Malifaux's dark past guiding them in their depraved art;

The Arcanists, rogue magicians who have an underground movement smuggling Soulstone out of Malifaux under The Guild's nose;

The Neverborn, creatures from our very nightmares given form and purpose, to kill everyone in Malifaux.

To create a crew you first choose a faction and then a Soulstone value for the game (Soulstones are used to buy your force), Scraps are between 1-45 Soulstones and use only 1 Master per Crew, whereas a Brawl is between 30-70 Soulstones and you have 2 Masters per crew. A basic starter set battle would be a 25 Soulstone Scrap.

Like with the new Warmachine MkII rules you don't pay for your Master to lead the crew, you get him/her for free. The rest of your crew are bought using the Soulstones decided upon with any unspent Soulstones being added to the Soulstone Cache that your Master has to give you your crew's starting Soulstone pool which can be used to help you Cheat Fate during duels. And there you have it, it's as simple as that. Your not limited to just your own faction though, Mercenary's can be hired by anyone (up to a maximum of 2) but they cost a little more to hire than their card indicates.

Before battle commences you can also choose Strategy's and Schemes. Both give games more of an edge, with each giving Victory Points for succeeding in them. Strategy's are public knowledge, whereas Schemes are kept private.


I really like the factions, they have a nice and distinct difference between them and they are each full of interesting characters and minions. The Strategy's and Schemes are a nice touch and I think they'll add another level to the games...providing of course the urge to kill the entire enemy crew off in a bloody orgy of carnage can be overcome to actually remember that you have Strategy's and Schemes to achieve in the first place :)

Final Thoughts:

All in all I'm really looking forward to trying this game out soon. The rules are very well put together, look fantastic and will hopefully play as well as I think they will. The models are full of character and the background in the book provides a lot of them with a genuine personality to go along with the look...like the front cover says, this is a “Character-driven skirmish game” and I think the battles fought with these guys will indeed become stories in the overarching tale of Malifaux.

I recommend these rules and the miniatures to anyone. It's a relatively cheap game to get into, only a starter set (around £18-£23), deck of cards (a cheap set from a corner store will do to get you started) and the Rules (£23ish) are needed to play, obviously a friend to play against will help, (and you could always go halves on the rulebook), but that's it. Not bad really considering the cost of a lot of games out there now.

Anyway, this is way longer than I expected it to be, but I'm pretty happy with the result. I hope I didn't bore you too much with it ;)

More soon



pete dowling said...

A great in-depth review. I can't wait for the next one.

undead_jon said...

Thanks a lot, glad you liked it.

Steve Fase said...

I'd be more than happy to play a few games one night, looks interesting.

Anonymous said...

Very nice! I was looking for information about this game and was curious as to what people have been thinking. I am a total nerd for steampunk and this looks like a killer game.

mattblackgod said...

Great review. It has given me the info I need, and I can say it is going on my to buy list! Cheers.

Pete W said...

Well I think that adds a new game to my list of many others I have to play with. I'm really getting interested more and more in the smaller skirmish games (e.g warmchine, this, Nuclear Renaissance from Ramshackle Games) just because I can try them out without having to make the kind of investment that my warhammer 40k armies represent.

Great review and the backstory has me really interested. The models are so cool as well and I like their vibe so much I'm already planning to use them in other games.