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On Malifaux

Posted by Andrew on

Time for a little bit of deviation from the current trend. I've been writing a lot about roleplaying lately, mostly due to the new release of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. Great game so far, you should check it out if you have any interest in roleplaying games. Today though, it's time to talk about what may be my current favorite game; Malifaux.

Malifaux represents a very difficult thing to achieve in my opinion, a nearly perfect crossroads of design, strategy, story, aesthetics, playability, and cost. Understand this particular writeup is heavily biased by my thoughts, and I absolutely adore this game in pretty much every facet it presents.

The story of Malifaux is, shall we say, unique. The game itself takes place in an overt-fantasy alternate history version of Earth, where magic has been around forever and known about for the past couple hundred years. A giant portal to another dimension exists, on the other side of the breach lies the nightmarish world of Malifaux. Magic flows freely in this stopover from earth to the aether, and its plagued by undead and horrible monsters, as well as a Dickens style dystopic society. The world combines elements of Victorian society, steampunk, a splash of the wild west, and an overarching mood of darkness and horror. In Malifaux, bad things happen.

Game-wise, the strategy is amazing. No dice are used in a game, instead it uses a deck of cards. Whenever you'd normally roll dice in a miniatures game, you instead flip a card to randomize the value. Each player also has a control hand they can “cheat fate” with, replacing a card that's been flipped with a more desirable value. This gives you not only a good level of control over the whims of luck and fortune, it also gives you knowledge of what's to come if you pay attention. Have you been flipping a lot of face cards? There aren't that many more in your deck. Is your deck getting slim and you haven't seen that dreaded black joker yet? You know it's in there, tread lightly. This mix allows for some randomization to exist in order to keep the risk/reward element of the game, while giving you just enough control over the cards to keep it firmly in the tactical end of the pool.

Next there's the scale, and this helps with the affordability of the game. A typical game of Malifaux has around eight to twelve figures on the board per side. In this type of game that's not just small, that's microscopic. I've seen nasty lists that field as few as six. Considering that in a typical miniatures game a single unit functions as a single blob-shaped model, the small numbers of Malifaux don't really change all that much in the way of strategy. The game is also played on a 3x3 table, you're in the spit on turn one.

All this is well and good, but the thing that really separates this game from the pack is how scenarios are handled. Victory is handled by a combination of strategies and schemes, the former being a condition that both players share while the latter are chosen by each player from a pool you generate during setup. Your strategy will be the same as your opponent, your schemes likely will not be. You don't even have to let your opponent know what schemes you're using. Some of them give you VP for having your opponent kill key models.

On killing models, you can be tabled in Malifaux and still win. By a large margin. Think about that. Killing your opponents dudes helps you win, but you don't' get anything inherently for it unless the strategy/scheme list tells you that you do. You have an objective, and those objectives are typically scored over the course of the game rather than calculated at the end. If you're not focused on VP from turn one, you're not going to do well. This adds a tremendous level of strategy to the game, and turns the typical miniatures game paradigm on its ear.

I'll be writing a whole lot more about Malifaux in the future, especially since it features in our upcoming terrain kickstarter.

Oops, did I let that slip? I'd never be so careless.

Keep gaming, Mojo out.