Friday, January 23, 2015

What's Already in the Box, or Things to Unlearn When Playing Malifaux


"We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars." Jack Gilbert 

I am a gamer at heart. I've been playing game since the early 90s. For me it started with a board game called Hero Quest. My family would spend hours slaying orcs and skeletons on the board and creating new dungeons. From there I have never been able to stop getting excited when new games come out. I've played 5 versions of D&D and twice that in other RPG systems. I've played more card games than I can remember. Malifaux is my fourth miniature game.

The point is, I have a large file in my brain labeled "How to Play Mini Games." It is filled with bits and pieces from Warhammer, Mage Knight, Warmahordes and now Malifaux. Some things are essential no matter what game you are playing and rarely change. Important facts such as, "Know what your models are capable of", "Be careful of Line of Sight," or "Know Where to Make Trades" stay pertinent no matter what games you play. Knowledge is a very powerful tool when you are a miniature gamer and Malifaux is no exception.

Kill them all, let McMourning sort them out.
When you start a new game there is a whole lot of learning you have to take on. New models, new rules, new orders of activation.  However, the danger comes in sitting on things learned from other games and believing that you can win based on past experience alone. Malifaux is a game with a complex set of rules, that vary in many ways from other popular miniature games. The first several games that I played left me frustrated and confused at how I wasn't able to win with what was clearly a good strategy. I grabbed Seamus and his belles, and started slaughtering every model that got within range of his flintlock, and found that my opponent would win by dropping scheme markers that I completely ignored.

So in an effort to prevent new players from having to learn the hard way, I present a list of useful tips to help you get your brain in Malifaux mind set.

1. Schemes and Strategy are more important than board clearing. I've said it before, and at the expense of sounding like a broken record, I will probably repeat it often in this blog. Models have very limited AP in this game and each activation needs to be considered fully. Putting damage on a model over completing an objective will cost you the game. Sometimes killing is necessary. If your scheme/strategy calls for killing, if killing a model prevents a key model of yours from dying, or if removing that model stops your opponent from scoring then fire away. However, putting a few points of damage on a model when you could have dropped a scheme marker and Sprung the Trap instead.

2. Don't create rigid, set crew lists. I went over this last blog, so I'll be brief. Malifaux has a ton of moving parts and requires a lot of pre game thought at the start of every game. Don't come to the table knowing which master and which crew you are going to run before you see the table, scheme pool or the opponent's faction. Doing that will find you with a whole lot of slow melee facing Perdita's shooting gallery. While knowing that certain Masters want to take certain crews is a good idea, leave flexible spots in your lists to accomplish various goals.

3. Models have various purposes. Just because a model is a scheme runner doesn't mean he can't hold down various jobs on the table. Once he has dropped that marker, get him involved in the fracas. Scheme runners tend to be fragile but if they tie up a heavy hitter for a round, you've saved one of your important pieces. Necropunks are a fantastic example of this. With hard to kill, they are more resilient than they look, tying up 1 AP is good, forcing an opponent to waste their entire activation clearing it off is even better. In reverse, don't be afraid to have that bruiser model drop a scheme marker too.

4. Assassination runs do not end the game. One of the biggest Warmahordes lessons is to always be on the look out for the assassination attempt. In larger games it is hard to pull off, but it ended the game immediately. Malifaux changes that dramatically. Games can and are won without the Master on the table. Masters do tend to be the control center of the crew's strategy but they are not essential to winning or losing the game, especially if they are taken out on the last turn or two. (Ignore this piece of advice if Assassination is in the scheme pool. In my experience, if Assassination is available people will go for it most of the time. Probably comes from playing with Warmahordes players) If you lose your Master, don't panic, hopefully you have henchmen and enforcers that can still accomplish what you need. Look at the board state, take a deep breath and figure out how you can keep your opponent from stealing the game. Also, we had a hilarious moment the other week when I realized that Zoraida was a Swampfiend and my opponent's Viktoria was suddenly facing down a very angry Bad Juju.
If you don't hate this model,
you haven't played agaisnt
 Ressurectionists enough. 
As the aggressive player, sometimes taking out the enemy master is the right idea, but keep in mind most Masters are very resilient with plenty of wounds and defensive abilities. Often attempting to kill them is a
waste of AP, especially if they have any ways to heal themselves. ( I'm glaring at you Nurse).

5. Alpha strikes are harder to accomplish in Malifaux. The nature of the alternating activations of Malifaux makes it much harder to simply wipe out your opponent in one fell swoop. They get at least one activation to foil your plans and get out of the way before you can bring in the next part of your plan. It takes a while to get used to the mindset of how the turns work and learning to gauge which model your opponent will activate next. There are abilities that mitigate this fact somewhat, things like Pandora's Incite ability or Companion and Accomplice allow for multiple models to activate in a row. Be aware of them.

6. Models are more resilient in Malifaux. This game probably fields less models than nearly any other miniature game outside of Heroclix. Anyone who is used to larger army games knows that you can often wipe whole units of 1 hit models off the table in a given turn. That's not the same in Malifaux. Beyond defensive stats, most models have some sort of defense ability that means it might take multiple models to take even the smallest peons down. Henchmen and Masters double this resilience. Average wounds in Malifaux stands about 6. While average weak damage is 2, and trust me you will probably be hitting weak damage more than any other in the spread. So on average it will take 3 activations to remove 1 model.

7.  The cards in your hand are very important. Every game comes down to one simple factor. Resources. Learning to make the most use of your resources available is a topic for an entire blog post. I'll
sum up here by saying, make sure to use the cards in your hand at the correct moments. I've seen players start the turn with a big explosion of high cards in an attempt to take out a threatening model on the second turn, only to be thwarted by a high defense or a healing flip. The cards in your hand are vital to accomplishing the goals that you need to hit. Keep in mind that your opponent has their own resources between their own hand and their soulstones. Sometimes its best to find ways to force your opponent to use their resources before unleashing the Red Joker that you can't wait to slam down on the table. If you have a model that can heal, let that negative flip attack go through and heal the model up.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips for learning Malifaux, but its a good place to start unlearning habits that don't translate over well from other games. I've found the transition to Malifaux to be the most challenging so far of all the games I've played on the tabletop, and I remind myself of this list often as I square up against my opponents.
Until next time, Keep Cheating Fate-- John Fox.

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