Well actually it should technically be Malifaux 2nd edition – a review but who wants to get bogged down in semantics? So this review has probably been a long time coming, especially as I can’t resist a skirmish game and it must be said that with so many great games out there we did sort of let the 1st edition rules pass us by. That said good things come to those who wait and when Phil dropped the rule book off to me I wasn’t disappointed.
So for those of you that don’t know, Malifaux is a skirmish game designed by Wyrd Miniatures for 32mm scale models. If you are anything like me then I am sure you are saying nothing new there (because I know I did). However that reaction was short-lived. The game, like many others, is based on an alternative version of Earth and is heavily focused on magic, but describes itself as a collection of Gothic, Steampunk and Victorian Horror with a dose of the Wild west thrown in. Now I’m sure you will agree that is quite a combination and makes for a game with a fairly unique feel.
With this mish-mash of genres the game has a really diverse background and brings with it some very unique factions and given Wyrd almost unlimited possibilities when designing the characters for each. This has resulted in some great miniatures and some really likeable characters that I am looking forward to collecting.
For Malifaux 2.0, Wyrd has increased the number of factions so there are now 7 to choose from and with each one being very different. It means there is almost definitely a faction for every brand of mayhem. Wyrd have also been clever as there are different groups within each faction meaning that you can even take the same faction in several different directions.
With such an original background to get excited about I was initially surprised when the premise of the game was quite so standard. A city in ruins begins to be repopulated and opposing factions are fighting for territory and resources (in this case Soulstones). For any Mordheim player (or for that matter any skirmish gamer), this is nothing new. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that is a bad thing. There is a simple reason why so many games use this formula…because it is fun and it works. What Wyrd have done well with Malifaux is thinking up a variety of scenarios to play, including a lot of character driven stories, that will keep things fresh. And I must say some of them sound quite cinematic, which I always like.
So onto the book itself, I am pleased to say that my first impressions were positive. The print quality is pretty good and the book doesn’t feel cheap, which is one of my biggest gripes with some other gaming around, especially when you consider the price you are expected to pay for them. Considering the variety of styles Malifaux incorporates, most of the artwork has done a really good job of capturing the feel of the Malifaux universe and life through the breach.
The book is set out in a logical way which makes sense to read, taking you first on a journey through the background. There are a lot of great stories, setting the scene for each faction and some of their main characters which helped me decide which faction was for me. It also gives you all the profiles and rules you need for each faction so there is no need to buy a separate army book which is always a win. But it’s a two-edged sword as background can be sacrificed on the altar of page limits.
Wyrd have split the Malifaux rules into 3 parts, starting with the basics then going into more depth on the game’s core mechanics and then working examples of all elements of a turn within the game. Examples are well explained and although more diagrams could be useful, it seems that Wyrd have fine-tuned their explanations since version 1 as most of them are very clear. This methodical approach will hopefully prevent a lot of aimless flicking through the book for the one rule you really need but can’t find.
The game has some quite unique game mechanics that make it feel different to others with the biggest difference being that Malifaux doesn’t use any dice. At all. Instead you use a fate deck based on a standard poker deck, and if I’m honest I am not 100% sure of how I feel about this. Call it naivety or delusion but I always feel as if I have some influence over a random dice roll whereas with a card deck you know you will only ever score four 13’s and you are quite likely to score four 1’s. It certainly is an interesting way of ensuring a levelling the playing field, that is unless you want to cheat fate. Once I had read the rules I was interested to see that Wyrd have added a way to cheat fate by allowing you to have a small hand of fate cards you can choose to play instead of drawing from the main fate deck.
The rules seem to work well and make for a very enjoyable game or short campaign, especially if you play one of the character driven story lines but there does seem to be one factor that other skirmish games may do better and that is character development. Malifaux hasn’t completely neglected this as they have included some faction specific upgrades that can be purchased for characters. Whilst this does help to slightly improve your characters I’m not entirely sure it will be enough to really get you attached to you heroes as they develop new skills or issues which is something that Mordheim, for example, really excels at. This could only really prove to be a real issue in long-term campaigns and certainly doesn’t stop it being really enjoyable for one-off games, or short campaigns and it is definitely a game I can’t wait to play more.
The Malifaux 2nd edition rule book is available at Firestorm Games priced £25.19.