Published on January 8th, 2014 | by Gregg Miller
Tales From the Weird West
Gregg Explains: Malifaux, 2nd Edition
Malifaux is a game that describes itself as, “Victorian horror with a dose of the wild west” with “a world rife with monsters, necropunks, man-machine hybrids, gunslingers, and power-hungry politicos.” Malifaux is a skirmish-based miniatures game with some interesting mechanics and conflict resolution systems. I caught a demo at one of the game shops in the Cache Valley area, Toad & Tricycle Games.
At a quick glance, you’ve got exactly what it says on the tin: an alternate history game that mixes a few genres together to give you some thematic factions, and to give the artists and sculptors excuses to just have fun with mixing themes. The Guild is your Wild West faction that wants to bring law and order to the region. Resurectionists are very much your undead Victorian-looking group that dresses fashionably, even after being alive far after their prime. Arcanists are the magi-tech themed faction with more of a working class appearance. Neverborn are a mix of angels and demons, with some of the dark goth-style outfits for the mortal members. Gremlins resemble your gentleman hill-billy, as they seem to come from fringe regions of civilization, but try at putting on the refineries of the rich and successful. Ten Thunders takes on the mysterious orient, with a handful of influences from some of the other themes riddled through the setting. The Outcasts are your grab-bag neutrals that come from all over, the exceptions to the society’s rules, and people that don’t fit in with any of the other major power players in the setting for Malifaux.
The rule set I played during the demo is currently the second edition, and there’s an active beta for fixes and improvements to the rule set. I was also told that the first edition rules and stat cards aren’t supported, but instead of making players re-buy all the figures they’ve already bought from the previous edition, you’re allowed to continue using the original or new figures, but you only need to buy faction packs with the updated and corrected stat cards for the figures. However, the reprints are plastic instead of metal, and the sculpts are supposed to resemble the art from the cards, to make it easier to remember which figure has which stats.
The demo I played had a few rules and options omitted, but it was designed to get a player into the meat and potatoes of the game, instead of being overwhelmed by some of the interesting strategy elements of the game. A game has a soft cap of five full turns before the game is over. The winner is determined by the player with the most victory points, a similar concept found in Secret Mission Risk, where you can still wipe out your enemies to-the-last-man, but since you have a budget in turns, it’s better to efficiently earn points based on the tasks assigned to you. In the demo game, we defaulted to a victory point condition based on killing the most expensive unit in the enemy army. Each player brings a full deck of playing cards. Your standard set that includes a red and black joker works, and the game designers sell decks that match what’s used in the game for easier reference. A couple things would have to be remembered: the suites (hearts, spades, clubs, diamonds) translate to alternate suits (Tomes, Rams, Masks, Crows/Feathers). In addition, you will need to know which number ranges are considered Weak, Moderate, and Severe.
Each player shuffles and draws from their own Fate Deck a hand of six cards. There are times in the game where you can Cheat Fate by swapping a card from your hand, instead of a card drawn at random from the top of your Fate Deck. After that, players draw and discard the top card of the Fate Deck to determine who decides who goes first in the main phase of the game. Play continues with each player activating and resolving one figure in their army in sequence, alternating back-and-forth until all players have activated all of their units. On a unit info card is a suite of information: base stats that you add to Fate draws, a health track, and a list of the attacks and special actions that unit can do during their activation.
Action resolution involves comparing an attack stat that’s listed in the ability text versus a defensive stat. Generally, the Defense stat covers that, but the game I played showed some abilities that had to be defended with the Willpower stat. The attacker and defender both draw the top card of their Fate Deck, and add the value of the card listed to the total. The Red Joker counts as 14, while the Black Joker counts as a critical failure. After the initial totals are tallied, whoever has the lower of the totals gets the first option to Cheat. Taking a card from their hand, they get to replace the drawn card from the Fate Deck, adjusting the value. After that if the other player is now the lowest total, they now get the option to Cheat. If the action has a varying damage or result value, the player who initiated the action must now draw again, with a bit of a twist. Depending on how great of a difference the winner of the skill test won determines how many cards are drawn to determine the effect. If it’s a tie, there’s a raw draw from the top, taking exactly the Weak/Moderate/Severe result shown on the card. Depending on the difference, you can draw two, three, or more cards, and can choose the best value as your result. Alternately, units and abilities can have traits that inflict Negative Twists, where you draw additional cards, and select the worst result.
Once all the units have been activated, players will take their discard piles, and shuffle them back into their Fate Deck. Once that is complete, players may opt to discard any unwanted cards remaining in their hand, before redrawing back to a full hand size of six cards. This card counting and odds manipulation mechanic is incredibly fascinating to me. Effectively merging the random chance and skill of a Collectable Card Game with the raw stat crunch of many skirmish and massive army miniatures games. If you’ve played WarMachine or Hordes, you’ll probably pick up a few of the mechanical ideas quickly. This may even be an interesting gateway miniatures game to a veteran card game player who wants to try out the world of war miniature games.