Sunday, 9 March 2014

Further Through The Breach

Today I wanted to talk a little bit more about why I like Malifaux, as I only touched upon it briefly in the last post. There are a few reasons that I have become utterly enamoured with this gem of a game, and I'll address them each in turn.

The M&SU - Ramos

Hiring Crews:
One of the first big differences I noticed playing Malifaux, compared with other game systems, is the way in which one hires one's crew (pick your army). In other games, you turn up to your mates house or club with a ready-written list, probably the same one you've used every week for the last year, and possibly the list you downloaded off Warseer.

In Malifaux, however, you merely declare your Faction, even in tournaments.

The Factions are: The oppressive 'peacekeeping' "Guild"; the death obsessed "Resurrectionists"; the anarchic magic using "Arcanists"; the primal force of Malifaux itself, the "Neverborn"; the Asian infiltration of the "Ten Thunders" (most of whom are dual faction); the impish inhabitants of the bayou, the "Gremlins"; and the scattered sell-swords of "The Outcasts".

So yes, you declare your Faction, that's all. You generate your deployment type, your main mission objective, then generate a pool of schemes (secondary objectives) from which each player picks two. More on these later.

Children of December - Rasputina

It's only once the game has been decided, that you pick your crew, up to an agreed points limit. Every Faction has its key theme. If I know I'm playing against Resurrectionists, I can be sure there's going to be a lot of board control (Rotten Belle's using Lure to move my models around etc) so I can plan for that. My opponent will know that, as an Arcanist player, I'll likely have access to some powerful Ca (Casting) abilities and can plan for that. What he won't know is whether I'll be taking the cold storm of Rasputina, channeling my magic through my underlings and blasting him from afar; the genius Ramos, sending wave upon wave of Steam Arachnids across the board to explode in his face; Marcus and his beasts, fast moving and vicious at pinning the opponent down; or Mei Feng (dual Arcanist/Ten Thunders) who can leap around the board and really lay down some close combat smack...

This really inspires you to collect your complete Faction as a way of covering all your bases, and considering the speed in which one can paint a Malifaux crew (I can usually paint an entire crew box in one evening) I can't really complain. It adds a whole layer of complexity and planning, trying to second guess what crew your opponent might take considering the mission objectives and your own chosen Faction. 

Claw & Fang - Marcus

Schemes and Objectives:
As I mentioned earlier, in Malifaux, you generate the deployment type, main objective and then a pool of schemes (ranging from placing scheme markers in certain places, to standing in the right place at the end of a turn, to killing your opponents Master, to gutting their crew of minions, and many more) of which each player picks two. Separately. Many of these schemes don't have to be revealed right away either, so besides the main objective, you don't really know what your opponent will be aiming for in the game.

Oh well, I hear you cry, just blast them off the table, then it doesn't matter, right? Wrong. You do not lose the game if you have no models on the table, so you can win despite being wiped out. As an example, I won a friendly match 7-2, despite having only my Master (Rasputina) left on the table, and him having his entire crew still alive. How? Because I moved my crew into position, hunkering down around an objective that scored me Victory Points every turn I ended near it. I placed scheme markers where they were supposed to be, and I focused my actions onto moving me onto objectives (and keeping models there alive long enough to score) and keeping his away from them. His two points came from killing off two of my models on turn 3. None of the others he killed scored him points. 

Sure, those models being dead stopped me using them to score, but the point is, you have to think tactically. You can't just point and click and win by killing (unless you're lucky and you get all the objectives/schemes designed for that). Again, choosing the right Schemes from the pool, and balancing scoring your objectives against denying your opponent his, is the key to victory here.

The Rail Crew - Mei Feng

Malifaux is very much a skirmish game. The crews pictured in this post average to a model cost of approximately 35 Soulstones. With upgrades, most of them can squeeze to 45, which is about a standard sized game. Of course, considering most of my crews are Arcanist, I can mix and match, and you can also get minions (like the three ice gamin in the above picture) as a separate box of three. 

Each of these crew boxes costs around £30 (some are slightly cheaper, some are slightly more expensive) which does make it slightly more expensive than, say, Games Workshop. Malifaux tends to average at about 6 models for £30, and they're pretty, but they're not GW miniatures. The thing is, it's pretty much done with then, and you do get the rules cards inside the box too. The Rulebook is £25 (full size; £10 for a pocket one) and there's no need for a codex or army book, though you can buy an 'Arsenal Pack' of all your factions cards (well, wave one) for about £8.

Mother of Monsters - Lilith

To start up; two crews, a Rulebook, two fate decks, and a tape measure, will cost about £85. Compare that to, say, Dark Vengeance (two small armies, with the rules to use just those models, enough dice to play and measuring sticks) which will set you back £61.50. The cost comes in expanding beyond that. To use both those armies properly, you'll need two £30 codex books, then the game size tends to be much larger.

My point is, on a model to model basis, Malifaux is more expensive. To get a full gaming force, however, is much cheaper.

No Shelter Here - Pandora

Fate Decks:
As a game system, Malifaux's most unique aspect, I believe, is its complete and utter lack of dice. 
What? I hear you cry. How the heck do you do anything without dice!?
I know it's a little confusing at first, but Malifaux uses a standard 54 card poker deck (though Wyrd make their own with the Malifaux suits of Crows, Tomes, Rams and Masks, you can use a standard deck too, you just have to learn the conversion of what Clubs and Spades are in Malifaux terms). 

But how does this work?
Well, here's a simple example. Have a look at these two stat cards, specifically Jakob Lynch's "Hold Out Pistol" attack, and the Steam Arachnids stat-line.

During his activation, Jakob Lynch spends one of his action points to use Hold Out Pistol against an on-coming Steam Arachnid. He checks the enemy is in range (8" ranged, or 2" close), it is. Excellent. Jakob Lynch pulls the trigger and flips the top card of his Fate Deck.
8 of Rams. Not bad. Jakob adds the Sh (shoot value) of 6 to get a total of 14 Rams (the suit is important as it may trigger extra effects, more on that later). 
The attack states that it is resisted (Rst) by Df (Defence), so the Steam Arachnid flips a card and adds its Df of 4, it flips a 4 of Tomes, so gets a total of 8 Tomes. Jakob is currently winning this duel by 6. Either player could choose to Cheat Fate and play a card from their hand to replace the one they flipped, but in this example, neither of them wishes to (or perhaps they don't have good enough cards). 
The difference of 6 means it's a confident hit from Jakob (a difference of 1-5 would be a slight success, meaning the damage would be two flips, choosing the lower value; a difference of 10+ would be a major success resulting in two cards being flipped for damage, and the highest value being chosen) so he flips a single card for damage. 
Damage flips are given as three values (in this case 2/3/4) ranging from weak, to moderate, to severe. A 1-5 flipped is weak, 6-10 is moderate, 11+ is severe. Jakob flips a 7 of Crows. That's Moderate, so the attack will do 3 damage. 
However, as the attack flip had the suit of Rams, Jakob declares the Unload trigger to deal +2 damage, for a total of 5.
Finally, we can see that the Steam Arachnid has Armour +1, so reduces the damage to 4. However, the Steam Arachnid only has a Wd value of 4, so can only take four wounds before being destroyed. The Steam Arachnid is thus destroyed.

Dark Debts - Jakob Lynch

I know it can appear quite confusing at first, it's quite a change from rolling dice, but I have found that the Fate Deck system (especially with the Cheat Fate mechanic) makes the game infinitely more tactical and tense. The values are a much wider range than 1-6 (1-13, excluding the two jokers) which allows for more eventualities. The idea of flipping a card (or sometimes flipping multiple at once and choosing the highest or lowest) can be much more tense than a dice roll, and the added variable of the suit allows for some very cool triggers. Sometimes you just get a bonus if the right suit pops up (like the Unload trigger in the above example). Sometimes you need the right suit to be successful (like Seamus raising the dead). It really does change the entire game.

Beyond that, Cheating Fate opens up a whole new world of tactical decisions. Damn, I missed that shot.
"Do I use this card and Cheat Fate to make it hit? Or do I save it, because it's got the suit to allow me to trigger that guys ability..."
"I've hit, but do I Cheat Fate to make it a firmer hit and have a higher chance of doing more damage, or should I save it as I'm pretty sure that guy's gonna attack me in his activation and I could use the survivable to..."

If you haven't already, I can not recommend giving Malifaux a go enough. It's an incredible little game that is so wildly different from everything else around it. I hope the above reasons would be enough, but I should also mention that there's a certain underlying level of humour (from one of the Gremlins having a special ability called Pull My Finger, that does exactly what you'd imagine, to the zombie hookers having "She Doesn't Look That Dead To Me!" as a trigger on their Lure ability, not to mention their Undress action...), and speaking of which...

The game has zombie hookers...

And undead gun blade wielding, coffin-carrying burning skull cowboys...

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