Getting Started: Malifaux

By tgn_admin
In News
Jun 24th, 2011

Getting Started

This article is the first in a series that examines what you need to get started in one of the many games that we report on here at Tabletop Gaming News. These are not reviews but an examination of the costs and requirements for two players to start the game with some additional commentary based on experience playing the game.

These articles are intended to be written by people familiar with the game and so will have insight into the actual requirements of the games being discussed based on real gaming experience.

We’re also seeking feedback on what games you want to see profiled in this series as well as comments on what information you found useful and what was missing from this first article.

About the game
Malifaux is a skirmish game published by Wyrd Miniatures and uses their range of 32mm figures. The game uses a unique setting created by Wyrd that combines elements of westerns, horror and fantasy into a game that really is novel.

In Malifaux crews of five to ten models, lead by a Master, fight against other similarly sized crews on a 3′ x 3′ table. Larger games, with two Masters can be fought on 4′ x 4′ tables. Models have a Soulstone cost ranging from 2 to 11 with an average of around 5. Masters are free and also come with a cache of Soulstones that can be used in the game to influence combat, heal wounds and other effects. A small game is 25 Soulstones and a large game is 50 Soulstones. A standard game is 35 Soulstones.

Instead of using dice, Malifaux uses a deck of cards with four suits and cards with values from 1 to 13 to determine the success of actions in the game. The values of the cards are used as a replacement for dice rolls and the suits of each card (Crows, Tomes, Masks and Rams) are also used in the game as requirements for spells and some in-game effects.

Bare Minimum
Wyrd Miniatures sell 22 different starter sets with miniatures from the five factions (Guild, Resurrectionist, Arcanists, Neverborn and Outcasts), with each starter containing four to six figures and the stat cards required for playing. The sets are priced from $28 – $45 US with the average being about $35. The Leviticus boxed set has the highest cost ($45 US) and also the second highest model count at 7 figures.

Most of the starter sets appear to be designed to be able to play a 25 Soulstone game either with the models supplied or by giving the Master more Soulstones as compensation. For example the Guild Ortega Gunslingers starter has 25 Soulstones worth of figures in the box, but the Legion of Sorrow starter for the Neverborn has 23 Soulstones of figures and can be expanded to 25 by giving the Master two more Soulstones to use in a game.

Each player will need their own set of figures and at least one rulebook. Wyrd provides a free PDF of the current Malifaux rules (ZIP file) and also has a “mini” sized version of the rules available for $15.00 US.

In addition to miniatures each player will need a Malifaux card deck. Technically you could use a standard card deck, and Wyrd does provide a table to match standard card suits with the suits in Malifaux, but the card decks are fairly inexpensive and make the game much easier to play. They also have some interesting and characterful art on each of the cards that helps set the proper tone for your Malifaux games.

Malifaux uses a larger amount of terrain than similar games (less than Infinity but more than Warmachine) and so gamers will need access to enough terrain, especially terrain that blocks line of sight, to play the game as intended. Wyrd recommends 2-4 pieces of terrain for each square foot of table. If you are playing at a store or club this might not be an issue but if you have your own gaming set-up at home you may need to invest in some additional terrain.

Out of the box
Malifaux plays surprising well with just the starter sets. Most sets are close to 25 Soulstones and many of them are very beginner friendly. Some sets, like Colette Du Bois, the Dreamer, Leviticus and C. Hoffman require a better understanding of the game to get the best out of them, but with 22 starters to choose from there are a lot of options for people new to the game.

Games played with starter sets tend to be well balanced as they can all be used to build forces to the same point level and provide a very good gaming experience. A 25 Soulstone game is only slightly smaller than a standard 35 Soulstone game and the starters provide a good range of models and abilities allowing players to get the full experience of the game.

A 25 Soulstone game might take 90 minutes to two hours to play while you are learning the rules but since the game uses an alternating activation system both players are able to stay engaged in the game.

Each player will need a starter set and deck of cards. On average this should be about $45.50 US per player. The Mailifaux rules are available for $15.00 US and these aren’t technically necessary for both players given that the rules are also available in PDF format. That means that two players can start playing the game for about $106 US. That will give each player four to six miniatures, stat cards, the Malifaux card deck and one printed rulebook for reference.

Depending on your supply of terrain you may need to pick up some more to make sure that the game board has a suitable density of terrain. Many model train stores sell suitable Western terrain or early industrial terrain that not only works well with Malifaux but is also quite inexpensive.

Malifaux requires tokens for Soulstones and for other in-game effects such as Body Counters and status. Almost anything can be used for Soulstones and there are several free PDFs available with tokens for the game. Colour printing of these PDFs will run from $5 – $10 depending on the prices at your local printers.

Wyrd Miniatures provides quite a few PDF based downloads for the game from their forum. As mentioned, the Malifaux rulebook is available as a free PDF download. This is exactly the same as the print book but does have the illustrations “censored” so you won’t be able to view any of the new art or the descriptive illustrations in the rules.

Wyrd also have PDFs with the updated cards for all of the initial Malifaux miniatures that were released prior to their v2 update of some of the models. These are not only useful to replace any old cards you might have, but they also let you check out the stats and abilities for a significant number of the Masters and minions in the game for free.

There is also an officially recognized fan-created set of downloads that have counters, Quick Reference Sheets and other game aids that you can download for free and print out.

Expanding the game
Expanding your crew to 35 Soulstones or higher isn’t too difficult unless you are playing a Master like the Resurrectionist Nicodem who has a habit of summoning vast numbers of cheap Undead models or one of the two Gremlin Masters who rely on a weight of numbers. Getting your crew from 25 to 35 Soulstones might only require two or three figures. Wyrd’s miniatures are relatively inexpensively priced with single models averaging about $9 US and three figure packs being around $18.00 US.

Blisters and starter sets are all colour coded so you can make sure that the figure you intend to buy is appropriate to your faction and often one of the most inexpensive options for expanding your force is another starter set. Prices per figure average out at about $6 US with the starter sets, and staters from the same faction have models that are usable regardless of the Master you use. The Witchling Stalkers that come in the Sonnia Criid starter work just as well with the figures from the Ortega Gunslingers starter and Nicodem can just as easily use the Belles that come in Seamus’ starter set.

Most Masters can benefit from a model called a Totem and it is typically one of, if not the, first purchases you make when expanding your crew. The Totem has various skills but its main use is to cast one of the Master’s lesser spells each turn.

Factoring in the cost of the Totem you can typically expand your crew to 35 Soulstones with an additional purchase of $27 – 36 US per player.

  • Myrthe

    Must … resist …. yet …. another … game ….

    “Resistance is futile … ”

    OK, sign me up !!! 😉

  • Nightbee

    I have zero interest in Malifaux (just not impressed with the character designs or sculpts), but this looks to be a great series of articles.

  • I am just starting this came through a “Call-to-Arms” promotion at my local store. I am pretty excited. it seems like a neat game.


    Thanks guys for the series of articles on a same game. It looks really methodic and at the same time it deals with all the newbie worries and doubts.

  • tuco

    I want to like Malifaux, but there just aren’t enough minis that appeal to me in their line total, let alone enough in a single crew. The card mechanics appeal to me and the setting does as well. I’m also a big fan of skirmish level games. But again, not enough minis in the line call to me and some are, to me, off-putting.

    But I do want to say, keep this style of article coming. I’ve been a table top gamer since the late 1980’s, but I am well aware that there are loads of good games out there that I am totally unfamiliar with. Being able to benefit from other’s familiarity with a system from a smaller company saves me the time and money needed to check out a new game.

    • Dead Kennedy

      From what I’ve seen on the Wyrd forums (I’ve only been there a week or so) there’s a lot of folks who appreciate not-Wyrd models used in Malifaux. In fact its not a bad plan, since the profiles of Malifaux allow for pretty diverse minis. Go nuts, I’m planning on it.

  • Shades

    Great idea on this type of article. Go, Malifaux.

    Please write articles for Freebooter’s Fate and World of Twilight!

  • PanzerKraken

    Great game, and requires very little investment.

    Though I wouldn’t say that totems are a must purchase, lot of players and lists omit them. Some Master’s totems are definitely better than others. They are though a good purchase as they are excellent for filling in a list when you have little points left to play around with.

    • Repeter

      Good article and a great idea for series.

  • Amarel

    I like Malifaux, and own a decent chunk of models for it (four starter sets plus a good amount of filler models to take them up to good size crews). I want to love it, but until MKII comes along and balances the whole the thing out, it can only be a game to play if you don’t care that often your force is going to lose no matter what you do if you’ve picked the wrong one, and sometimes that’s going to be on turn 1.

    • Dead Kennedy

      Do you think that is a product of an experienced playing scene? That sounds unlike the game I’ve been reading about.

      • Amarel

        Potentially, yes. We do have some very solid competitive gamers who play Malifaux and they can generally find the ‘best’ interactions.

        That said, there is one Faction* that regularly wins more than its fair share of national comps is often all of the top three placings. That does point to at least one big issue.

        Not named on purpose due to this thread potentially being read by new players who should keep their innocence until / if they find a problem for themselves.

    • Zac

      Are you using the full encounter rules?

      • Amarel

        Yes. And very much enjoy them – without them I’d probably put Malifaux on the back burner for a while. But some of those strategies can be the cause of the issues – LCB & Dreamer can pretty easily complete “Deliver a Message” against most Masters on turn one with no risk to themselves.

  • deedoublejay

    I haven’t played yet; I’m building up the 2 starter boxes I just got. I bought the Ortega and Lilith starter boxes to go together thematically, but I’m concerned now that the Neverborn would be at a disadvantage, as they only total up to 19 soulstones, and really, the Mature Nephilim shouldn’t be on the table to start, as one of the Terror Tots should Grow into a Young Nephilim (which I also got a blister of) and then Mature. Sorry for the run-on.
    Does anyone have any experience/advice with Lilith’s box?

    • Zac

      The Terror Tots can transform into Young Nephilim which aren’t included in the starter set. The Mature Nephilim can be started on the table it is just that you have the ability to grow the younger Nephilim into the older versions.

      Check out the Wyrd Miniatures forum. Its a great place to get answers to questions like that and they are a pretty good group of people.

  • capsfan34

    I had some Malifaux stuff, even had my LGS get it in stock, sadly the local meta was not interested unless it was 40k or Warmahordes… so I sold my stuff and picked up MERCS which is awesome.

    If I get back into it, I would like the Friekorps just because those models look awesome 🙂

  • Veritas

    The thing that turns me off Malifaux is the disconnect between the various models inside their own factions. The Guild doesn’t suffer this so much, but, for example the Kirai starter just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Ressurectonists and I wouldn’t want to use non-Japanese undead mixed with them or vice-versa. I know when Malifaux started Wyrd shoe horned a lot of models into factions just to use as many models from their current ranges as possible, but I wish they’d stick with having models that line up with what they have rather than continuing to make thematically jarring choices.

    • Zac

      Kirai is definitely different but the Ressurectionists aren’t exactly a consistent bunch. She summons the spirits of the dead and fashions them into forms that are pulled from the stories of her youth. She certainly isn’t a necromancer like Nicodem but I think she fits in the Ressurectionists better than anywhere else.

      The Guild is certainly a lot more visually consistent but I think that its good when a company pushes the envelope of their game to try to come up with something different. Rising Powers is a great example of this, all of the new Masters for each faction are distinct from the other Masters from the first book either in terms of how their abilities work or how they look.

  • McMarlin

    Looking forward to more articles of this series.

    Concerning Malifaux, as some others mentioned – in our local gaming group most agree that the game doesn’t seem too well balanced and wouldn’t want to play it on a competitive level. But on the other hand the game is a pretty unique one with some great mechanics and it can be a lot of fun; it’s up to the players in the end, if you know some match-up is really bad there are ways to adjust things a bit.

  • bluntforce

    I found this game to be a bore, but any business taken away from GW is good business, but would rather shift it to Warmachine

  • Ken

    This is a great style of article, that is needed in the hobby. Thanks for doing this, Zac. This is one of those games I’d like to try for its novelty.

  • ish

    The trick to imbalance is that you build your crew after you determined your main objective (Strategy). Once you know what you have to achieve you will pick a crew that can actually do it. I know it requires more models then just a starter box and 2 blisters, but frankly, you will end up buying more of them anyway just for the fact that they all look great. 😀

    Most people overlook the fact (and so did this article) that in this game you don’t need to eliminate your opponent’s army at all. There are a few objectives that require model kill (assassination or slaughter) but most of them are centered around terrain and table interaction, model interaction, etc. Once you learn the basics and start concentrating on getting Victory Points, the game will suddenly become one of the most exciting ones out there.

    • Zac

      Most people overlook the fact (and so did this article)…

      Its not a review so there isn’t any reason to be discussing gameplay elements. THose belong in a full review.

  • Kolonel K

    Very good intro. I’ve been playing Malifaux since the first releases, and there are certainly some balance issues, but the rules are solid and the card system is great – I would love to see similar in more gaming systems.