Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Starting out a new Game: Malifaux

ere begins my journey in to Malifaux.

Well, truth be told, that began when Wyrd Miniatures was still just a miniatures company, with no associated game. The original Pandora and Ramos miniatures, and several others were ones I had been eyeing as proxies for Warmachine for years. Eventually it was the combination of a few different factors, including pulling back on other hobby expenses and how nicely the game was shaping up to be, that led me to try out the game finally.

The Good Doctor, himself.
I was originally suckered in by the Arcanists and their steampunk* aesthetic, but Bartertown dictated that Resurrectionists were the starter faction.**

McMourning's mad doctor aesthetic meant I was curious, his Joker-esque look certainly didn't hurt. Reading Malifaux's (Malifaux'?) narrative had me enjoying his character even more, so the redhead became my first Master.

* Unlike certain other companies, I feel there's actually both some steam and some punk in Wyrd's steampunk, and not just slapping boilers, rivets, gears, and/or goggles on something

** For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Bartertown is an active trading/used minis/classifieds community. I thoroughly encourage visiting their forums if you're looking to deal in used minis. i probably get 3/4 of my gaming material through trades and purchases there (the rest being the FLGS and occasional rare find on ebay).

What evil genius(?)'s retinue would be complete
without some fanservice?
His loyal nurses were never a favorite of mine, part of the more adult flavor to the game (for better or for worse: I like the more elaborate rules, the lack of catering to a younger audience (and, with it, lack of feeling sold out), and the fairly strong narrative (not high literature, but well above what I've come to expect in gaming writing). However, I'm not the biggest fan of the fanservice, hardly all of which is plot- or character-driven.

Unfortunately, the white got a bit blown out on these photographs, but I was pretty happy with my paint job, here.

...and he's gotta have monsters.
This fellow was another I wasn't "wow"ed by, but still a nice model. The angle of his limbs make him look much flatter than his pose actually is.

It's awkward, but I'd probably be awkward if I were a collection of corpses stitched together and powered by a lawnmower engine.

...and a hunchback minion, for eating table scraps.
Sebastian is a tiny little model, full of concentrated character (and rules that make him far more dangerous than he looks!).

I really enjoyed painting him, though I'm not positive I feel the best about his skin color. I think, though, that ruddy works with him, over the more obvious choice of a pallid/unhealthy look.

The Canine Remains were pretty fun to paint, some of the fastest models I've done recently. The pug and chihuahua aren't the sort of minis you often get to paint. Some nice, dynamic poses.

On to my impressions of the game…

It was really a blast. We didn't know what we were doing a quarter of the time (biggest error was understanding how damage is modified), but it was really natural feeling.

One of the biggest complaints with miniatures games is the wait for half an hour while your opponent pounds your soldiers to dust. Wyrd's solution to this is twofold: first, the more obvious "alternate pieces" instead of alternating armies. The second, much stronger element is, when defending, you make   a "flip" (more on this in a second) and have access to all of the same ways to modify your abilities as you would if you were the active player.

Which brings me to Flips: this is the equivalent of a Roll: Malifaux uses a 54 card deck (13x4 suits + 2 jokers(criticals)), which could have easily been a gimmick, but turned out to be a fantastic system that I much prefer to dice. There are many nuances to it, but the important element is that, because the deck is only shuffled once all cards have been played, you can, with a bit of memory, prepare for what's coming: Unlike rolling dice, where probability is equal for each roll (that is, the previous roll doesn't effect the next), with a set number of cycling possibilities, not only will you have all options appear (meaning you can't make the argument "the dice (cards) were against me all game,") but if, for instance,  you've drawn nothing but low cards for the first couple of turns, you know you'll have a really strong third turn. Similarly, a strong first couple turns means you'll probably want to save any cards in your hand for when you absolutely need them, next turn.

My only complaint about Malifaux is the complexity of a given model's rules, coupled with an average index/appendix, which made for some slogs through the rules to understand circumstances, but I hear that this is quickly alleviated with experience.

For my first game***, I'd give Malifaux a solid A-: it was quite enjoyable and dynamic, with the only serious complaint being density of rules making it not the fastest to get started with. The low starting point ($40ish, assuming you have a deck of playing cards, a ruler, and the internet (for their downloadable rulebook)) is hard to beat.

As I understand it, most starter sets will require $10-20 more to be competitive, but that's still way better than just about anything else in the wargames market. That a number of starters could have been built better for no significant change in price is a bit disappointing (why it isn't a straight A rating above), but that's acceptable, since they do want to sell their product.

I'd definitely recommend it if your friend/FLGS/roommate/whatever is suggesting it.
*** i.e. as an introductory experience, not attempting to judge an entire game off of one game.