Monday, August 20, 2012

Malifaux First Look: Why do I feel so dirty?


This weekend I had the ...opportunity to play Malifaux for the first time.  I had been actively avoiding playing the game mainly due to not wanting to be involved in yet another miniature game when I was already actively playing three others.  However, due to the constant pestering by my co-host Josh of the Deployment Zone, I finally acquiesced to playing a demo game and experiencing Malifaux.   
Malifaux is a skirmish level miniatures game that uses a dice-less mechanic for determining successes and failures.  When I was told that the game does not utilize dice, I was completely uninterested in playing because I did not understand how the deck mechanic worked.  It wasn’t until I was watching the game play demo for another game by Sodapop Miniatures called Relic Knights which is currently being kick started and is due out in May of 2013 that my interest in a diceless miniatures game was sparked.  Malifaux uses a deck of cards where the suite and card number determine successes or failures.  There are two ways to be successful when performing an action in Malifaux (that I have become aware of thus far in my single game), one is that you flip a card from the top of the deck and the number on that card plus the number on the miniatures stat line have to meet or exceed the casting cost/difficulty level.  The second utilizes the dueling mechanic where you and the opposing player each flip a card and add their cards number to the offensive or defensive stat and the winner is the one with the higher number (ties go to attacker).  There is another mechanic involved which is called cheating fate where you may substitute cards from your hand to raise the current value to a successful number.  So when this mechanic was first explained to me, I was rather unimpressed and it did little to encourage me to try the game.  When I did actually sit down to play the game however, the diceless mechanic actually made sense when seen in action and was a refreshing alternative to rolling dice. 
The order of operations is different in Malifaux than it is in most wargames in that the deployment and mission type are rolled first then the “army” is chosen.  Not having a standardized army that I would play every game is something of an anathema to me and when it was first explained I once again had very little interest in investing my time in the game.  However, once again I put my initial objections aside after I read the missions and objectives and realized that not every “crew” is suitable for each mission.  So once again I was pleasantly surprised to see a different order of operations work out.
The armies were divided up much like Warmachine and Hordes handle their different army books.  You have different factions with “masters” serving as the generals for that army.  Once you have selected your general you use your Soulstones to purchase additional models til you reach the agreed upon total (usually 35, we played 25).  Depending upon the master chosen, an army will function a specific way.  I chose Lady Justice and her Death Marshals mainly because I liked the look and feel of those models and could care less about their effectiveness at that point in time.  I was not aware that like Warmachine and Hordes, there were multiple masters available per faction. 
The game play for Malifaux is where I had to overcome the most trepidation.  In Warhammer Fantasy, 40k and Warmahordes the players take their full turn and move all their models.  In Malifaux however the players use an alternating activation sequence where one player activates and plays a model then the other player activates and plays a model until all the models have been activated in a single turn.  I was not especially keen on that type of game play at first but as the game unfolded, I began to see how in this small model count game it makes sense.  Without the alternating activation sequence, this game would devolve into a string of combos and chains that would annihilate any semblance of balance or even remotely fun game play. 
Malifaux also uses terrain much like Warmachine and Hordes do where there are certain heights associated with models and how certain types of terrain can block line of sight or grant cover.  I am still getting used to the system but with the sheer amount of terrain required to play this game, I can foresee a player learning those rules quickly.

So let me recount my first game briefly….

Josh rolled or should I say “flipped” the evidence scenario where each of the players has 3 markers to claim and one in the center.  Each of use then chose our factions – I choose The Guild – Lady Justice and Josh chosen the Ressurectionists with McMourning.   We both had 25 Soulstones to make our “lists” or I guess the appropriate term is “crew”. 

It took me a little while to understand the action options of 2 full activations during a turn and what that meant in relation to the stat card in front of me.  Once that had been explained I then decided to shoot at one of Josh’s undead models.  Using the guy with the hawk the Austringer or something like that, I was able to see the first Duel happen where I flipped a card and my offense combated his defense.  Once that action was completed, the rest of the actions came intuitively. 

Movement was very fluid, obvious the “difficult” terrain halves movement and you want to try to maintain cover as much as possible.  The Line of Sight rules in relation to the use of the base were rather clever as well as movement being top down rather than how most other wargames operate where you do actual distance. 

Close combat, ranged combat and spells/powers were very easy to use and the suite convention is a clever one to use for criticals and extra triggers. 

So as I was saying the game…  We only were able to get three turns in before Josh had to leave but in those three turns, I was able to pretty much see how the game is intended to flow.  Josh was doing an excellent job of being a henchman and apparently had stacked his deck to always draw a Red Joker… When our game ended, my Lady Justice had been brought low by McMourning but I had 2 markers and was 6 inches from his deployment zone.

The game itself is actually very simple in form and execution.  I was expecting a large amount of convoluted rules but everything is pretty much a card flip.  This game obviously uses a different methodology when devising tactics and strategy but in its core I think it’s a very simple and dare I say … fun game. 

I will give this game two more tries before writing it off or buying a crew to play.  I particularly liked Lady Justice and so I shall stay with her until I have finished game three and my final decision is made to go “through the breach” or not.

Initial Rating: B-

The game itself is fun but there are some mechanics I feel are going to rub me the wrong way.  I had made the remark that I felt this game was a solid C+ last night but I upgraded it to a B- because as I was typing out this article, I realized that some of the mechanics I was kind of ho-hum about actually made sense after taking a step back.  Obviously this opinion will change if my next two games I get decimated and do not enjoy myself while playing. 

I’ll end this with saying … I didn’t …hate it.  Hell I might even spend money on this game...

That’s all! 

We'll return with your normal Wood Elf nd Eldar dominated content soon!