Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Game has No Dice

This is Dorothy
She is, as you can see, a sheep.

And as most people will be able to tell you, a sheep has 4 legs, a woolly coat and likes to munch on grass. They are also not considered the smartest of animals and where the flock goes the stragglers will follow.

I do not have, I'm pleased to report, 4 legs and a woolly coat nor do I munch on grass (except for the odd occasion that Mrs K insists on putting salad leaves on my dinner plate). But in someways I could regard myself as being a wargaming version of a sheep.

Now before you all start sniggering let me explain.

When it comes to the hobby I have to admit I'm not much of a trend setter. Instead, I tend to follow the lead of others, but usually way after the event, just in the same way as the stray sheep eventually catches up with it's flock.

For example, in 1993, in my friendly local gaming store, I picked up a pack of cards for the Alpha release of Magic the Gathering. "A card game?" thought I, "this'll never catch on!" and put it back. 4 years later I was madly trying to buy every card that I could lay my hands on, having eventually cottoned on to the addiction that MtG can be. Then there was the time when, having had my copy of Warhammer Ancient Battles sitting on my shelf for years and years and only possessing "The Armies of Antiquity" supplement, I then went through a mad spending spree buying up all the other supplements only to find out shortly after getting the last one that my version of WAB and the aforementioned supplements were about to be made redundant with the release of 2nd Edition and the eventual release of  the 2nd Ed Army lists.

Blitzkrieg Commander II and my 10mm British Motorised Division was only purchased as a result of the boys and GordonY and DaveT playing a number of games with those rules.

Blood Bowl - played when it first came out in 1986, didn't think much of it, didn't play it again for over 20 years and now bemoan those lost years

And even my playing of Saga only happened because my mate Alan was dead keen on it.

Then about  a month ago, my old mate Kev, e-mails me. Now the last I had heard of Kev, a few years back, he was on a motor bike heading north to the Shetlands (where it has to be said they do have a lot of sheep). However, here he was e-mailing to say he was back in Angus and was looking to get some games played. "Game on" says I, "what sort of stuff do you play?" to which Kev responds with a relatively long list of different games, including one in particular - Malifaux.

Malifaux, - to quote the rule book, the game is - "Based in an alternate Earth, Malifaux uses Gothic, Steampunk, Victorian horror with a dose of the Wild West to inject fun and depth into the magical lawlessness of a world rife with monsters, necropunks, man-machine hybrids, gunslingers, and power-hungry politicos"

In other words all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff with fantastic looking models to play with, including dress-makers mannequins armed with scythes, warpigs, babies with butchers knives' and a psychotic Teddy.

But it was another one of those games that I known about when it was released, have drooled over the models, picked up the rule book many times, but always put it back because I just knew that nobody else I knew would play it.

But here was Kev saying he was playing it, and more to the point his mates were playing it too! Okay they were all just starting out with the rules and getting some crews painted up but according to Kev they were all pretty keen to play this game a lot.

So last week, Kev comes round to Kingsleypark Manor with his figure case stuffed full of Malifaux figs and rule book.

First thing of note, THE GAME DOESN'T USE DICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No Dice!!! Oh bliss! No more would my gaming fate be decided by the vagaries of those infernal cubes. Instead the game system uses a much more subtle, random number generator - a pack of playing cards.........

Okay, I'm no card player (as my woeful years of playing Magic can testify to) but this was no set of cards to build a deck from, but simply a method of generating a random modifier for any ability or combat situation. You turn the top card of the deck over and the number of that card is the modifier that you add to your character's ability score, whether it be for casting a spell, resisting a spell, firing a ranged weapon or for melee. 

Although you can buy what is called a "Fate Deck" which has 54 cards with some fantastic looking art work for the game, you don't actually need to. The game can be played with a normal set of playing cards. And those very helpful chaps at Wyrd Miniatures, who produce the game, even provide a pdf of the rules and the latest version of the character cards here.

So all you really need to buy are the figures, and being a skirmish game, not many figures are required for your "crew". A number of starter sets are available for the different factions, each containing around 5 or 6 models, and that's enough to get you a decent game played.

And being a skirmish game, you don't need a big table, for a 2 player game it is recommended you play on a 2ft x 2ft playing surface.

So Kev picks an Arcanist crew, led by that fragile looking master (or should it be mistress?), Rasputina

Rasputina is a bit of an Ice Maiden and her abilities include various spells that involve blasting the opposition with waves of cold and ice. For this game, Rasputina brought along some ickle Ice Gamins -

And a not so ickle Ice Golem

Not really having any inkling about what the various abilities the characters had, I picked an Outcast crew from the figs that Kev had as the figures looked the most fun. So Som'er Teeth Jones and his Gremlin crew (and pig) hit the table with a view to warming up the Ice Queen.

Unfortunately, Kev hadn't had time to finish painting up the Outcast crew , so Mr Jones deliberately kept his features in shadow to avoid the embarrassment of appearing in an unfinished state.

Eh somebody better tell him he is holding that the wrong way.....

The Gremlin above is standing on his stat card. In these cards are contained the description of all his abilities, traits, triggers and spells. Once you are familiar with these you probably don't need the rule book at all to play.

The game is usually scenario driven, sometimes the crews will have specific objective to reach or will simply be trying to stop the other crew reaching their objective, but for our game we decided just to have a scrap, basically last model standing wins.

Mr Jones and his Gremlins carried various forms of "Boomsticks", which gave them a useful ranged attack. Unfortunately, being Gremlins they also had the "Woops" trait which basically means if they miss an opponent with a Boomstick attack they run the risk of hitting one of their own crew instead...

Anytime you wish to use one of the abilities of a character then you take that character's basic ability score, whether it be it's casting ability (CA), willpower (WP) or the attack value of a melee or ranged weapon, flip over the top card of your fate deck and add the 2 scores together. Some spells cannot be resisted and so as long as the ability score and the flip of the fate card equals or exceeds the score required to cast the spell it goes off. If a spell can be resisted then the target gets to use it's appropriate ability and the flip of the card to try and beat the caster's score and if successful, the spell doesn't work.

In melee or ranged combat the opponent gets to use his defence (DF) score and the flip of a card to see if the attack has been avoided - basically the highest score wins. But at the start of each turn you deal yourself a hand of cards, usually 6, but this hand size can be reduced or increased depending on the abilities of a crew's master. When you flip a card from your fate deck and it doesn't produce the score you need, you can "Cheat Fate" and replace that card with one of the cards from your hand (your opponent can do likewise). If the attack is successful then the difference between the attacker's score and the defender's score will then determine how many cards are drawn from the fate deck to calculate what damage is caused to the target. Usually an attack will have a damage rating for a weak or moderate or severe attack and the score of the card drawn from the fate deck will determine the type of attack and accordingly how many wounds the attack has caused to the target. Red Jokers are good, Black Jokers are bad.

And when a model reaches his wound total then he is out of the game (usually!)

I say "usually" a model is out of the game when it reaches it's wound total but the place where the character dies is marked, as in some scenarios a crew may have an objective of retrieving dead body parts and some characters have the ability to raise the dead or create new crew members from the collected parts of previously killed crew members (friendly or otherwise!)

Each character can normally perform 2 actions per turn (again some characters can gain extra actions). An action will usually to be to either walk or fire. To charge into melee costs 2 actions (1 for the move and 1 for the attack). Using a spell or an ability may cost 1 or 2 actions - the cost will described on the character's card.

The Warpig tries his infamous "Pigcharge" ability on the poor ickle Ice Gamin but manages to run past the poor ickle Ice Gamin without hitting him!

A lot of sneaking about and hiding round corners took place in the game.

Line of sight is important, basically it's a "true line of sight" rule - if you can see the model then you can hit it. Some masters can also project the range of their spells by using one of their crew members to be the focus of the spell they are trying to cast, for example, Rasputina, can use her "Ice Mirror" ability to use any friendly model within 6 inches (whether or not she can see that friendly model)  to draw line of sight and range from. The spell is harder to cast when using this ability but it means that she can hide out of sight and out of danger but still being to use her offensive spells through her crew minions.

Mr Jones, slowed by a "December's Sigh" attack from the Ice Golem (hence the blue marker) and with only a couple of wounds left fires one last desperate Boomstick attack.

Rasputina, sensing the game is won starts to come out of her hiding place.

The skill in the game is definitely in knowing how your character's abilities etc work and how they interact with your other crew members' abilities. Wyrd are continually adding new models with new abilities to their existing ranges and are bringing out alternate sculpts for some of their older models. They have also released a board game "Puppet Wars" which is based on the Malifaux universe.

Okay, I lost the game, but I knew as soon as Kev started to take the toys out of his case that I was hooked. The fluff and the background of the Malifaux universe is totally unique. The models are fantastic (some are apparently a wee bitty fiddly to put together) and it's a game that doesn't require a big outlay in terms of models.

Of course, coming to the game some 2 years after it was released means that a lot of the early models and special releases are pretty hard to come by. The original rule book, which I have picked up and put down many times is now out of print and hard to find. Okay you have the pdf version which contains the rules you need to play the game but the original rule book contains all of the background fluff that gives the game and it's characters their flavour. And since the the game's release there are now another 2 supplements, "Twisted Fates" and "Rising Powers" which add more characters to the ever-evolving Malifaux story.

I must have them all....



  1. I've been looking at these models for the last 10 months or so. I can't see anyone in my group playing Malifaux itself, but the sets should translate into warbands for Song of Blades and Heroes fairly well.

    1. The figs would work well for SoBH although as individual models they can be quite pricey and there are cheaper options out there.

  2. Hello,

    Someone linked to your blog from The Miniatures Page. If you're just getting into Malifaux, you may want to visit the unofficial Malifaux tactica wiki:

    It's an useful resource for planning one's purchases, getting a feel for a given crew's playstyle and learning the game. It also has a crew creator and downloadable play aids.

    Like you I'm pretty new to Malifaux, but am enjoying myself. One of the game's strengths as I see it is the "Cheating Fate" mechanism. Yes, a card deck is still random, but one has more control than with dice since you can cheat in a high card for that crucial attack or defense flip.

    BTW, I post on TMP as Ancestral Hamster and A_Hamster in the official Malifaux forums. Good gaming!

    1. Thanks V. My mate Kev, did mention Pull My Finger as a web resource to me as well so it is now duly book marked!

      Due to my failing memory the reason I don't post on TMP as kingsleypark is that I forgot the password I used for that handle and the e-mail address I used to set up that handle is long defunct so I can't even get a reminder sent out to me! So I use the handle SealladhArd instead for TMP

  3. I've recently fallen in love with the Malifaux figures and am going to start buying them when I get a little money ahead. They're just splendid and will be fun to paint. I'm like you when it comes to knowing what will catch on and have value. I've either thrown away or lost things that later become collectors items and kick myself in the rear end for doing it.

    1. One day Anne, I'll buck the trend and catch on to something big before it happens and reap the benefits.

      So I keep telling myself....

  4. Oh dear, it would appear that the first tentative steps onto a slippery slope have been taken! In your defence, not that you need one, they do look wonderful miniatures and I've been awfully tempted, but I've also got a hankering for the Empire of the Dead stuff that is out - oh what's a poor lamb to do?

    1. Yup the slippery slope has well and truly been slipped on with the first purchase on it's way.

      I have had half an eye on Empire of the Dead. Will be interesting to see how that one develops now that West Wind are just about to press the button and release the game

  5. They sound an interesting set of rules, kinda of like a role-play game, I'm not into fantasy at all, but I like the sound of these.

    1. Well Fran sounds keen, maybe you should try a dual pronged approach to the Rejects and get them converted!!

  6. I think Ferb also did a piece on Malifaux on his blog and he absolutely loved it. No way I'd persuade our crew to try this out (unless they do a 6mm version!) but it looks like a bundle of laughs.

    1. Yeah I don't think it would quite worl in 6mm.

      Can you post a link to Ferb's blog? I'd like to go and have a look.

  7. The Rejects will refuse to play this with me but I do love the figures and your excellent review only makes me want to buy at least a few figures!

    1. Seeing that Ray sounds interested you should go for it Fran and hopefully it won't be another case of shinybloodyitis!!

  8. Oh it's all getting a little weird!

  9. No, No, No, No.
    Although i do like the look of the Outcasts, particularly the Freikorps but
    Hell Dorado
    Blood Bowl
    Is the list endless?

    1. The list is endless but then again we wouldn't be wargamers if didn't keep adding to the list....

  10. I admit is does look very good and no dice BUT!!!

    I am gonna sit on the fence and watch this.

    I think also it was on the 2nd edition of the Ancible which is now free from the Wargames vault. I think I have a hard copy.

    1. I admire your will power Dave but I am weak and easily led.

      I think with your painting talents though you would make a cracking job of the models.

  11. Interesting and unusual figures, and very well painted!


  12. Hopefully Peter, when I get my own figs I'll look to try and produce results as good as Kev's models

  13. This is another testimony on how Chief Dr Lucky cured my HIV disease. Do you need a cure for your HIV disease? Do you want to be cured from your cancer disease? Or you want to be free from any type of disease. Kindly visit his website . He just cured my HIV disease and I’m very grateful to him, he is the only herbalist that can cure you.  
    WhatsApp number : +2348132777335 
    Via Email :
    Thank you all for reading,
    God bless"