Why You Should Try Malifaux
Summarizing Malifaux is a difficult task. One is tempted to write a novella; likewise, one is tempted to make word-soup. “Gothic Victorian Wild West Horror Punk” is technically accurate, but it doesn’t really convey the struggle of the Death Marshals to track down the necromancer behind the brothel killings in Redchapel.
Still, a little word-soup can be tasty: Zombie hookers. Whiskey golems. Cannibal cultists. Gremlin hillbillies. Saloon-fights between gun-toting samurai and Victorian necromancers. Undead cowboys. Exploding pigs. If any or all of this intrigues you, welcome to Malifaux.
Malifaux is the flagship product of Wyrd, the game company which gave us Evil Baby Orphanage and The World Needs a Jet Pack Unicorn. (I swear, half of this article so far is just random words). Malifaux is a tabletop skirmish miniatures game – a specialized genre, to be sure, but one which Malifaux makes strangely accessible. This article, then, is my humble attempt to persuade you to try it.
A huge part of Malifaux’s appeal is the setting. It’s alternate Earth wherein magic has shaped the flow of history. Malifaux is the name of a boom-town known for, among other things, mining soulstones – crystals which empower magicians to do their thing. It’s a lucrative business and, like all lucrative businesses, it’s cutthroat. Seven factions vie for control of the city, each with its own agenda; as a player, you choose your faction, define your goals, and hire crews of quirky, homicidal characters to fulfill them.
This setting is great, and I’m not even coming close to doing it justice. If you’d like to read some more of the history, Wyrd’s homepage is wonderful for it. Through the Breach, an RPG set in Malifaux, has been on my to-play list since it came out last year. If RPGs are more to your liking than tabletop skirmish games, you might want to give it a look – It’s got its own slew of clever game mechanics, great art, and awesome fluff.
Tabletop Skirmish Games
If gaming is a zoo, tabletop skirmish miniatures games are kind of like monstrous killer jellyfish. Pretty to look at, unusual, even inspiring, but potentially difficult to interact with meaningfully, tabletop skirmish games have always had some difficult barriers to entry – in my opinion, the three biggest are cost, skill, and rules.
A quick disclaimer: In this section, dear reader, I’m trying to persuade you to try Malifaux by making the assumption that you’ve never played a miniature wargame before. In any case, you should investigate all my claims for yourself.
The first barrier: Cost. Collecting an army for Warhammer 40,000 (the biggest and most famous tabletop war game) costs roughly $500 US, depending on what faction you decide to play. That’s the equivalent of ten board games, ten Triple-A game titles, or an insane amount of Lollipop Hammers. Malifaux sets a competitive price point, though: Buy a rulebook, a starter set, a deck of cards, some super glue, and a tape measure, and you’re likely in for less than $100. Still spendy when you’re comparing it to Lollipop Hammers, but definitely near the bottom-end for price for a miniatures game.
The second barrier: Skill. When I first realized I would need to physically assemble miniatures in order to play a game, I thought, “This will be easy! I used to put models together as a kid.” Then I remembered, with growing alarm, that the last time I put together a model kit I was seven and my dad put together most of it. Still, I gave it a go, and my first attempts looked … well, they looked okay. That said, I have a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts (read: I am awesome at making cheap hamburgers), so I had a slight advantage.
Most of Malifaux’s plastic kits are straightforward and easy to assemble. They come with directions, or directions are available online. Some kits, however, are comically complex. The Zombie Chihuahua is sadly infamous for this, and the Torakage have been described as “soul crushing” to assemble. Still, the thing to remember is: You can do it! It might take a couple hours and a band-aid, or you might have to bribe a friend, but it’s worth it to know you created something awesome out of an otherwise useless tangle of plastic. Or that you inspired your friend to do so for money.
The third barrier: Rules. Malifaux has done a marvelous job of streamlining its rules. A year or more of open beta testing in which the game developers sought constant feedback from the community. This transformed not only the game, but the community, bringing Malifaux from an amusing yet wildly unbalanced first edition (1E) to a sleek and graceful second (2E) that fosters growth through competitive and narrative events. Also, the rulebook is chock-full of stories and illustrations, which is helpful to keep in mind if you find its original length off-putting.
The last thing about Malifaux which, in my opinion, makes it perfect for an article on this site, is the awesome Malifaux community. Between A Wyrd Place on Facebook, the Wyrd Forums, and Pull My Finger (a reference wiki for new and aspiring Malifaux players) there is a large, active and enthusiastic group of players helping one another enjoy the game.
Hopefully you’re inspired to take a trip through the Breach – there’s a whole new world on the other side. Just remember to keep your unlicensed activities far from the prying eyes of the Guild, and never go into the bayou alone, after dark, or at all, really, if you can help it. Bad things happen out there.