Learnin’ Malifaux: Part 1 Stats and Core Mechanics

Hello everyone, time to start up the Learnin’ Malifaux series. This is my favorite game right now we’ll see if it can maintain it’s throne. I really like how scenario focused it is and the different synergies to be found in the crew selection as well as crew selection timing there’s so much ‘interesting’ here. I’m already rather familiar with the rules but we’ll start with the basics and run through the game mechanics in detail over the next several posts. It may even help me right? I did play back in 1e but quit before ulix and mah came out. I primarily played Ophelia. I still do like to play Ophelia but I’m still trying out new combinations. That’s one crazy thing about this game. You can have a really diverse match every time by changing your combinations and experimenting with different things. Since starting up miniature gaming again I’ve gotten in 6 games of Malifaux and I’m 0 and 6. Still learning and working on lists for the Gremlins. But without further ado let’s dive into the rules for this sexy beast of a miniatures game.


The rulebook we’ll be using is the Malifaux 2e Rules Manual. It’s a handy condensed relatively updated version of the rules, sitting around 120 pages. Malifaux is a character driven skirmish game. It’s focused on characters in a grand story arc that’s been unfolding for some time so things are changing and a rich world is established (fluff if you will). It’s dripping in fluff and flavor because each card and faction is so different with unique abilities and strengths. In a nutshell there was a great breach opened and a rush to gather a new resource called soulstones. This led to a western\steampunk\gothic horror amalgamation of city and surrounding world of craziness that we’ll definitely go into for future posts as knowing the story and characters better can add to the enjoyment of the game.

Malifaux is a 2 player skirmish level game with alternating activations on the model level. It’s played using a deck of cards rather than dice and it’s quite a clever mechanic if I do say so myself.  The playing area is 3×3 and terrain is really a great thing to have in the game leading to some beautiful thematic boards and stories. You’ll need a slew of models from your faction. Now I say a ‘slew’ because you’ll want 2-3 masters and some supporting pieces to round out a faction. As far as choosing factions play what you like the look of because you’ll be looking at them quite a bit. At least that’s my philosophy for most game faction choices. There’s also a sweet wiki called Pull My Finger that outlines crews, masters and tactics. The card deck I mentioned is called the Fate Deck, it consists of a standard 54 card poker deck. Instead of Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs and Spades we’ve got Rams, Masks, Tomes and Crows. Each is represented by a little symbol that’s pretty obvious. You also include both jokers.

At a birds eye view models in your crew have stats and abilities as well as actions they can perform on their activation. Players first declare which faction they’re playing (Gremlins, Neverborn, Guild, Arcanist, Resurrectionist, outcast, ten thunders)  then they build an encounter when sitting down to play. They do this by deciding a universal Strategy that has victory conditions. Then 5 schemes are randomly selected, these are more victory conditions but each player chooses two secretly (some are revealed depending on the scheme). After players know what Strategy and schemes are in the pool and terrain has been placed for the Encounter they go to their declared factions and build a crew. Crews are built by spending soulstones. Games play at 35 and 50ss primarily. 50ss is the only thing I’ve been playing at and what most tournaments and leagues go with sans escalation or campaign leagues that is. Each crew has to have a leader which is called the Master and masters can choose to have a totem or a little utility piece as well. There are also models called Henchmen who can lead the game at smaller soulstone levels. Each Master also has a cache of soulstones they start the game with that can be used to buff things and do stuff. You could choose not to spend some of the allotted 50 soulstones to bring extra soulstones to the battle on top of your cache creating the Soulstone pool. Most folks tend to run 4-7 of these. There are several markers for the game that use 30, 40 or 50mm bases or templates. Let’s dive into stats now. We’ll use one of the provided preview cards from Wyrd’s site to learn. Of course it’ll be a Gremlin and it’ll be the newest addition to the crew the Master named Zipp a jatpack\laser gun wielding sky pirate. You really can’t go wrong with that combination.


Beneath the name we’ve got his type (Master, Living) some folks are dead after all. Below this we have the faction (also represented by the stamp in the top left corner) and characteristics. These are referenced by abilities and used in game. For example some effect may only target sky pirates or only heal Gremlins. The soulstone cost or cache ( for masters like Zipp) is up in the top right corner. So Zipp brings  a cache of 4 soulstones to the game. If zipp weren’t a master then this would be a cost in soulstones to hire the model to the crew instead. The acronyms below the characteristics are the Stats and a major piece of the gameplay. We begin with Df your defense so Zip has a 6 this his base Df value. During actions in the game you’ll flip cards to add to these values in duels and Target Number tests. Wp is the second stat this is the base stat for willpower, used in fear tests and different abilities. The next stat is Wd these are the wounds the model has which are also displayed in circles beneath the stat line for easy tracking of wounds. After that is Wk which is the distance a model can move in inches when declaring the Walk action. Zipp’s walk of 8 is very fast for the game most models sit around 5. Next is Cg Which is the distance a model can move when declaring a charge action. In most cases this number is greater than the Wk distance but Zipp must be a unique bloke. The last stat is Ht which is the models height and helps to determine LoS and different things in the game.  There are three other stats on the back of the card. Shooting (Sh), Melee (ml) and Casting (Ca) if a model doesn’t have these on the back of the card then they don’t have those abilities to choose from when preforming actions.

Abilities are the last piece of the Front card that we need to cover. These are always-on or active throughout the game and effect how they model interacts with things. These can trend across factions adding to synergy or be super unique to the model itself. These abilities may be difficult to understand but we’ll go into more detail later on. The first on his card is ‘trigger’ called ‘Blasting Off Again’. Then he has ‘Flight’ which makes him immune to falling and lets him ignore terrain. Constant Yammering means enemy models within 6 inches of him must discard cards when declaring a certain action (Interact). Insignificant means Zipp can’t take the aforementioned interact actions.

On the back of the card there are two types of Actions Attack and Tactical. Atack are actions that a target model resists and Tactical actions are those that are made without resistance but to meet some target number. Each of these actions can have one or many ‘Triggers’. They alter results or effects in different ways and require certain Suits to activate. For example (1)Zipp Zapper below has a Trigger with the Crow suit called Convulsions. If Zip flips a Crow when using Zipp Zapper (more on that later) then Convulsions will also happen.  Base size is the last thing to cover on the stat cards it’s down in the bottom right, as you can see Zipp is on a 30mm, the options are 30mm, 40mm or the rare 50mm.


There’s another type of card used to hire your crew and that is the Upgrade cards. Upgrades have a SS cost and model restrictions as far as who can take them. These really diversify your faction and change things up. They allow masters to specialize in things and give henchmen faction abilities Some can include additional triggers to add to the abilities on the cards and others will include new abilities for the master or model you’ve attached them to. Most have restrictions like Rare 2 which means only 2 models could take it or Lady Justice which means only Lady Justice could take the upgrade. I’ve typically seen people spend 3-7 SS on upgrades for 50ss games.

One of the unique mechanics in Malifaux is the Fate Deck! Instead of rolling dice to make decisions within the game cards are flipped from the deck and added to a stat to achieve certain effects or win duels. The deck is a 54 card standard deck with both jokers using Rams, Tomes, Crows and Masks numbered 1 to 13 (face cards are just numbers). The suit is important for things like the Triggers we mentioned earlier and in general the higher the better as far as the number is concerned. The red joker is worth 14 (you choose it’s suit) and does some other cool things while the black joker is worth zero and really ruins your day. Each turn you’ll be able to influence things by playing cards from your hand this is called you control hand, generally set at 6 cards. It refills every turn and acts as the main game resource mechanic. A discard pile is created with only the top card visible. (note players should be allowed to see which cards are discarded when they are.) When you’d have to flip a card from your deck and it’s empty you shuffle the discard pile up again. One should offer their deck for cutting but it’s kosher to pass on that or ‘knock’.

In Malifaux elevations are not calculated into measurement. You measure in inches from a top down perspective. Pre-measuring is HUGE in this game, I recommend using a measuring widget over a tape as you’ll be checking things left and right to get different buffs or pull off different strategies and schemes. It’s really a great mechanic and feature of malifaux that allows extensive planning before a decision is made if you’d like. Embrace the pre-measure at least in this game!

There are five common ‘flips’ or actions that result in flipping a card from your deck to achieve a random number and suit. These are the attack flip, the defense flip, damage flip, Healing flip and Initiative flip. We’ll expand upon them shortly. When you flip you’re normally in what’s called a ‘Duel’. Duels are you vs your opponent ‘opposed duels, or you vs a target number (TN) these are called simple duels. Throughout the game different effects will grant + or – modifiers. Each modifier is an additional card to flip during the duel. For example a simple duel would normally be flipping a single card but a simple duel with a + flip would get to flip two cards and pick the highest, two + flips on the duel would mean you could flip three cards and pick the highest. A – flip means you flip an additional card and choose the lowest these stack as well up to three – flips or four cards. A – flip cancels a + flip so a duel will only ever have a + or a – modifier not both. Once all cards are flipped and the highest (if a + mod was included) or lowest (if a – mod was included) card is chosen the rest of the cards go to the discard pile. If cards are tied at value the player can choose which one to use. The main thing to remember about – flips is that a model cannot cheat fate during a duel that includes any – flips. Jokers are handled differently when mods are included in the duel. Flipping a black joker is bad and it must be chosen even during duels with a + flip. Flipping the Red Joker is awesome as long as you don’t also flip the black joker that is. The Red Joker (worth 14) can always be chosen. Even during duels with – flips.

There are a few uses for extra soulstones during duels. These are the soulstones that you’d bring to the encounter, those unspent during crew selection. A master or henchmen may burn a SS for a + flip on a simple duel. They may burn a SS to add a + to an attack flip as well. A model defending may burn a ss to gain a + flip to it’s defense flip AND impose a – flip to any damage flip it may suffer from the attack. Another less common option is to burn a SS to add a specific suit to a duel, let’s say you REALLY need a crow for something and can’t afford to miss. The defender declares their use of SS first then the attacker can. All SS use must be stated before flips happen.

Something I glossed over earlier that’s rather important as well is ‘Cheating Fate’. After you chose your active card in a duel you have the option to cheat fate by replacing it with a card from your control hand. Although not if there were any negatives on the duel! Players may cheat fate on duels, damage and healing flips nowhere else unless explicitly stated. Jokers affect the fate cheating mechanic. If a player flips the black joker she is not allowed to cheat fate. If a players opponent flips a red joker from their deck then the player is not allowed to cheat fate. Flipping jokers represents the winds of fate shifting entirely in or against your direction for a moment so the outcome is normally memorable to say the least.  If any rounding is needed in the game round up! One trigger may be used during actions if the duel has the suit required for the trigger. Additional actions granted through triggers are free as far as AP is concerned and the bread and butter of some synergy and models in crews. Stats can also be modified by different effects like Sh + 2 so any shooting action get’s + 2 to the duel or Wp +1 to give +1 on any Wp duels, some bonus are applied to the total not the stat so add them when it says to. To determine random models for effects or shooting into melee the player taking the action flips a card for each model in the melee or to be randomized and the model with the lowest card flipped is the winner\loser.

That’s really it on the core mechanics of the game. The rest of the rules and mechanics alter and affect duels and stats granting buffs or debuffs. In the next part of this series we’ll do a quick example of a simple and opposed duel as a refresher before reviewing soulstone use and digging into the turn structure of this wonderful miniatures game. I’ve played 8 games of Malifaux so far and I want to play so many more. See you next time.


Extra Life Donation Page: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=account.profile Playing games for 24 hours November 5th to raise money for the children’s miracle network hospitals!



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