Friday, July 10, 2015

Welcome to Malifaux!

Hello, refugees from the Age of Sigmar. I know, I know, it's cold out there for those that love tactical combat, combat that depends on position and out-maneuver. You're lost, you feel alone and abandoned, and just plain scared. Well, may I suggest you take shelter in a little place called Malifaux?

Yes, Malifaux doesn't have those serried ranks that you love so much, and perhaps it seems that a skirmish game can't really replace that. How can 7-12 models replace those 100's of models that you've lovingly painted? How can a single master replace your lord on a griffon and his trusty mage companion, or your giant Nasgash figure? I'm here to tell you it can't.

Wait, what?

I'm not going to lie to you. Malifaux isn't that game. It can't replace those giant ranks of men and huge centerpiece models, at least not in the way you think. The giant ranks and flanks game is Mantic's bag. They're your option for giant model mashes, full of pageantry. And, to be honest, Kings of War looks like a fine game. Go try it, and let me know how it goes. Genuinely, please. I'd love to know. But we were talking Malifaux, and what it brings -pun intended- to the table. What Malifaux does like no other game that I know is combine balance, complexity, simplicity, and probability in ways that should make other gamers salivate.

Simplicity and complexity in the same game? It seems contradictory, I know. But to someone like yourself, who is used to 3-4 dice rolls to resolve a single combat action, Malifaux's duel mechanic will seem refreshingly simple. A model attacks another model by flipping a poker card and adding its attack value; the enemy model resists the attack by flipping a card from its poker deck, and adding that model's defensive value. Whoever gets the higher number wins, and ties go to the attacker. The attacker increases the chances of getting high damage by winning big. It's a really simple yet elegant mechanic. There are no buckets of dice rolled three times, it's one and done.

Given that the duel mechanic is simple, where does the complexity come in? Much like the old Warhammer Fantasy game, complexity is found in the units involved and their rules. Each model has a variety of abilities and actions to take, some offensive, some defensive, and others meant to win the game/buff or debuff friends and foes. Each unit has a different feel, from the gibbering horror of the Insidious Madness to the unsubtle face smashing of the Ice Golem. Models support each other through themed characteristic traits, and thematic crews tend to be playable at higher levels. Remember that simple card duel from a paragraph ago? Those duel results can be modified by triggers, which means that in the right condition, if the right card suit shows up in your duel, you get a bonus rule applied to the duel's result, like extra damage, being set on fire, or any other effect. It's just another small layer of mechanics, but it adds so much depth to the game.

But what about positioning, you ask? Where a unit moved to in Warhammer, and how it moved was crucial. In Malifaux, the majority of scenarios and objectives are position based, and movement tricks are more likely to win you a game than sheer killing power. Position and maneuver might be even more important in Malifaux than it was in WHFB, as Malifaux units often have auras of buffs and debuffs that can make a mistake in placement quite costly. And unlike WHFB, where the large nature of the game forced a side to move/shoot/cast/fight, in Malifaux, the turns have a back and forth chess feel, as players activate a model, finish its actions, and then have the opponent do like-wise., There's a much greater back and forth, and the decision to choose who activates which first can be crucial. There's a great deal of tactical thought that goes into who goes first in a round, and poor choices can put you on the back foot.

But I spent so much on custom dice!

But what about the dice? Yes, that's a point of pain for many of us, reared on dice in games since we were wee lads and ladies, and it's tough to embrace that change, I know. Believe me, I understand. We all love our dice. But we also know our dice can betray us. They are fickle masters. There are always more ones to be rolled, my friends. And that's the beauty of Malifaux using a poker deck with a hand of cards. You draw six cards a turn. If you don't like your flip, you can (once a duel) replace the card flipped from your deck with a card from your hand, discarding the card you didn't want and replacing it  with the  card from your hand. There are only four ones in the deck. There's only once negative trump card. You can manage your luck in ways which Warhammer and 40k players can only dream about.

Malifaux isn't a total replacement for ranks and flanks, but it is a game that scratches the need for a balanced, tactical, thinking person's game.