What is Malifaux: Part 2

In part 1, I covered the background and the various factions of Malifaux.  Now in part 2, I will cover the game mechanics and the real heart of the game, the Fate Deck.

Malifaux is referred to as a “skirmish” game.  What that means is that each player typically only controls 4-10 models in their crew during a game.  This is different from games like Warhammer where one player may have anywhere from 50 to 100 individual soldiers plus tanks making up their army.  For a standard “scrap”, each player’s crew consists of a single Master and a number of other models.  In a larger game, or brawl, players can bring two Masters.  Each Master is allowed to hire crew members from his faction using soulstones from a supply that is agreed upon by both players before the game starts.  Any soulstones leftover after hiring a crew are added to the Master’s cache and can be used to influence the game later on.  This means that even if you aren’t able to use up all of the available soulstones for hiring crew members, the excess soulstones are not going to waste.

One aspect of hiring a crew that is significantly different from most games, is that you don’t actually hire your crew until know what your strategy and schemes are going to be.  I will go over strategies and schemes in a minute, but basically they are your goals for the game.  In most games like Warhammer you build your army prior to the game knowing little to nothing about what kind of goals, terrain or opponent you will be facing, so you need to be prepared for anything.  In Malifaux, you determine what your goals will be and what the terrain will be, and then you hire your crew.  This means that you can build your crew to best fit the goals of the game.  For example, if the goal of the game is to recover some object, then hiring the faster members of you faction is in order, but if the goal is to survive, then the hardier and stronger members might be the best choice.  It is a unique mechanic of the game that adds quite a bit of flavor.

Speaking of strategies and schemes, Malifaux is a heavily story driven.  The objectives in the game go beyond the standard “kill the enemy forces” or “take and hold this position”.  While those do exist in Malifaux, there are also numerous other strategies such as kill the opposing Master, sabotage a specific piece of terrain, and grab and hold the treasure.  There are also special strategies like finding and delivering parts of a potion to a witch’s cauldron, which was one of three strategies specifically created for Halloween this year.  Each crew has a primary strategy, plus from 0 to 2 secondary schemes that they are trying to complete.  The players randomly determine the strategy for their crew at the start of the game, and are know to both players.  Then they can choose their schemes.  Schemes add extra minor goals to the game, and each faction has schemes that are unique to that faction.  For example, the Neverborn have a scheme to kidnap an opposing crew member.  Some additional strategy is added to the schemes because they do not need to be revealed to the opponent.  If you decide to reveal what your schemes are, then you get more points for completing them.

Once the board is setup, and the strategies and crews are chosen, then the game can begin.  Players take turns activating their models, each activating only one model at a time and completing all of that model’s actions.  When a model is done with its activation, then the opposing player gets to activate one of his models.  This sequence goes back and forth until all models have been activated.  There are ways to allow players to activate multiple models in sequence before the opposing player gets to activate a model.  When a model is activated it gets two Action Points (AP) to use during its turn.  These AP are fittingly used to perform actions in the game.  Some models (usually Masters) get additional AP to perform specific actions like spellcasting or attacks, while others are just plain fast and get 3-4 AP.  Some actions that models can perform are the standards like walking, attacking, and charging that are available to most all models.  There are also special actions like spells and more advanced attacks that are unique to each model.

The real heart of the game comes into play when a model attempts to attack another model or cast a spell.  This is the Fate Deck, and it is what truly separates Malifaux from nearly every other miniature game out there.  Instead of using dice, Malifaux uses a standard deck of poker cards with jokers.  The only difference is that the suits on the cards have been changed to more closely reflect the Malifaux feeling.  Standard weapon attacks work much like the card game War, where each player flips the top card of his deck and adds the appropriate stat (attacker adds Combat, defender adds Defense).  The model with the highest value (ties go to the attacker) wins the duel.  If the attacker wins, then another card is flipped to determine the damage done.  Spell casting works a bit differently where the player casting the spell flips his card and determines the total spell power with any modifiers before the opponent tries to resist the spell by beating that total.

Where things get really interesting, is the ability to “cheat fate”.  During any duel and for nearly every case where cards are flipped, it it possible to cheat.  Each player has a hand of cards that they draw at the start of each turn.  After a card is flipped from their deck, a player can decide to replace the flipped card with a card in their hand.  They can only do this once per flip, though.  Some models, such as Masters, can also use soulstones to cheat.  They can spend one soulstone to flip another card and add it to the total.

As an example, Lady Justice is attacking Nicodem with her sword.  She has a combat skill of 7 and Nico has a defense of 3.  Both players flip a card off the top of their decks, Lady J gets a 3 of Tomes, while Nico gets an 11 of Crows.  Since Lady J is losing with a total of 10 to 14, she gets to cheat first.  She has a 13 of Rams in her hand, and decides play it to replace the 3 to bring her total to 20.  She feels this is enough, so she doesn’t use a soulstone to add any further.  Nico’s turn to cheat, and he doesn’t have anything better than the 11 in his hand, so he decides to just use a soulstone to add a flip.  He flips another card and gets a 4 of Masks.  This brings his total to 18, which is a loss to Lady J by 2.  Lady J would then get to flip a card for damage.  Because she only beat Nico by 2, she would get a negative “twist”, meaning she would flip two cards and have to use the lowest card.  But she also has a trigger called Critical Strike that states that she gets a positive twist for each card with a Ram suit in her combat total.  Since she used the 13 of Rams, she gets one positive twist, which then cancels out the negative twist.  She flips a single card for damage, and get a 7 of Masks, meaning she deals Moderate damage for her weapon.

The Fate Deck and the ability to cheat fate add a lot of strategy to the game.  Not only do you need to pay attention to what cards are in your hand, but you need to decide what order to activate your models in, because as you get further along in the turn, you will know what cards have been flipped from yours and your opponent’s deck, making it easier to predict what cards will come up next.  It’s not a completely random chance like it is with dice.

And that is Malifaux in a nutshell.  As the tagline says,  “Cheat Fate or lose your Soul”


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