Gaming Unplugged: Malifaux

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.


It’s Christmas time so I figured this month we’d go with a little brutality, magic, and horror. Festive I know. It’s time to cross the dark portal and horde your soul stones in Malifaux.

This is the first time in Gaming Unplugged I’ll be focusing on a larger scale game. Malifaux is a traditional style table top miniature war game. This war game in particular is on a smaller scale then some of the bigger powerhouses in the genre. What’s good about that is it keeps the price point down, and therefore makes a good gift for that person you know who wants to declare war.

Malifaux does everything it can to separate itself from the major war games already on the market. First off, the armies are small; starting out with four to six figures is enough to get right into a full blown game. Second, it’s army choices are not like any others you’ll see. It’s like the creators got together when deciding on factions and said, “Pick any style you want! They don’t need to mesh.” The major factions in Malifaux range from western to demons. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. Even people who don’t want to resign themselves to one style or look of characters can choose to make a mercenary army comprised of units from all the other factions. Lastly, Malifaux is the only war game I’ve seen that doesn’t use dice as encounter deciders; in this case they use cards.


A big pull of Malifaux, at least for me, was the scale. I used to play Warhammer 40k and that game is big. it’s huge, it’s sort of absurd. With Malifaux, a single purchase of a base box starts you with any army ready to go (some assembly required). After that, you only need a rule book and a deck of cards. It doesn’t even have to be the Malifaux brand cards, although it should be. The figures are inexpensive enough you have the option to have two different factions without breaking the bank. You want steampunk and magical beasts? No problem. Get them both and decide which one you like playing more.

The most interesting thing Malifaux has going for it is the different army/factions to choose from. If there is a subgenre of fantasy you like, Malifaux has it. There are seven overall Factions to build your crew from and each of them has different leaders with a little different style between them.

The Guild (Old West) – Fire, Guns, Steampunk

Resurrectionists – Undead, Serial Killers, Japanese Ghosts

Arcanists – Magical Beasts, Ice Monsters/Magic, Steampunk/Electrical Magic

Neverborn – Demons, Witchcraft, Nightmares

Outcasts – Criminals, Mercenaries, Assassins

Gremlins – Goblins and pigs

Ten Thunders – Treasure Hunters, Asian Mystics, Evil Spirit Possessed People

There is basically anything for anyone.

The Malifaux gameplay is very original but can be confusing. Certain creatures have stats that others don’t and the rule book doesn’t always explain the finer points in the best way. What sets Malifaux apart from other table top war games is the fact that battles are decided with a deck of cards instead of the tradition dice rolls. You are also given a chance, every turn, to “cheat fate”. What that means is if you don’t like the current outcome of a duel you can draw another card in the hopes that you’ll have a more favorable result. The catch is you could have bad luck and wind up with a worse outcome than before. Let’s say your opponent attacks one of your figures and the initial result is your figure is going to take one or two damage. You could cheat fate and draw a new card to hopefully take no damage. You could also draw a card and wind up making it a critical hit instead of just a regular one, therefore doing more damage. It’s an interesting way to handle things, but can also draw battles out a little bit. Not only can a defender cheat fate, so can the attacker if they so wish.


Like any other war game there will be work that goes into getting your army set up. First and foremost, you will have to assemble your pieces. Your characters do not come with arms and/or legs attached. They are also metal, so basic super glue isn’t always strong enough to hold everything together. I don’t know how many times the legs of my steamborg executioner fell off. Get yourself something good for metal.

I really like Malifaux for its style and it’s scaled down take on the traditional table top war games. It’s easy to get into and plenty of fun to play. I do wish there were more customization options, though. One thing some of the other miniature war games have going for them is being able to choose your army’s weapons and armor. In Malifaux, all of your figures have predetermined load outs. Also some of the finer rules, such as what the hell happens with “terrifying units”, is a little muddy and takes constant rechecking in the rule book for how to handle it. Over all, though, Malifaux is fun and will eat up hours in your day before you know it. And that’s a good thing.

All pictures belong to Wyrd Miniatures.

Gaming Unplugged: Elder Sign

Gaming Unplugged is a monthly musing of different table top games played, examined, and reminisced by Scott McCauliffe.

elder sign

I realize Halloween is a week past, but I want to keep the scary going. Also, it’s completely cooperative so it can be a family game. Look how I tied Halloween and Thanksgiving together! Elder Sign gives you and your friends a chance to fight terrible horrors in an effort to save all of humanity from one of the many ancient gods.  The idea is simple, through the rolls of dice and the use of special items, uncover elder signs to lock away the elder god before he awakens and really wrecks everyone’s day. Oh yes, and it all takes place in the realm of H. P. Lovecraft.

You and a group of other investigators are looking into strange happenings at a fairly creepy museum. As you go room to room there are puzzles to be solved and monsters to be dealt with. All of these problems are handled with the rolls of dice. This game is nearly impossible to win, by the way. As you close down certain rooms and handle certain creatures you gain elder signs. These signs are used to keep the ancient god at bay, if you collect enough you win. But to make it a little harder, with some of the elder signs you gather, more monsters will be released into the museum.

Each of the investigators you can choose to play as have slightly different stats and starting equipment but the gameplay doesn’t differ from person to person.  The private investigator might start with a weapon whereas the scholar might start with a spell.  The other difference is how much sanity or health each character has starting out. Sanity and health keep you character alive, run out of either and you must retire that person. I’ve played where as long as there are still investigator cards left you’re more than welcome to pick up a new one. This is usually a good idea considering the difficulty of the game. A few unlucky rolls of the dice, and you could find yourself dead or insane rather quickly.

You and your group go room to room, which are picked at random, to find awards and hopefully seal away the big bad for another time. This is done by using dice, and consumable items be they spells, weapons, or mystic items. Each room has a certain combination of dice that must come up on your rolls to take the room off the board, instead of numbers though the use symbols. The catch is certain rooms need rolls to be in a certain order and every time you roll the dice, you will lose one or more. This happens even if your roll fails. This game can be punishing.

I realize from what you just read, this game seems confusing, and the bottom line is: it is. There is kind of a steep learning curve, and it will take more than one play through to get the hang of it. And you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned the difficulty of Elder Sign a few times.  I think the bottom line is defeating Cthulhu isn’t supposed to be easy. Dice get locked, monster appear, bad stuff happens. You might be asking yourself why you would want to play something so challenging. Well a lot of the fun is teaming up and helping each other. I really enjoy the wave of cooperative games that have come around recently. The creators added some great theme and style elements to the game. Flavor text brings fun story elements and provides atmosphere. The artwork is wonderful. Everything looks like it’s out of an old pulp book, but with a little more high end quality to it.

Elder Sign is extremely well thought out and put together. You can tell the creators have a love for the source material. It may crush your soul at some times, but that’s half the fun. If ancient evil gods and their minions were easy to deal with that wouldn’t be fun, and it wouldn’t fit into the atmosphere of the game. Elder Sign is a tough game meant to be played with friends, hopefully ones you won’t get mad at if they roll poorly. Go get it just in time for some Thanksgiving Day fun!