Welcome to Malifaux Part 2: The Rules

malifaux welcome

In my last post, I introduced you to the concept, background and some of the characters of Malifaux. Today, I’m going to expand a little on the rules and how the game actually plays. I’ll give a brief outline of the rules, then an account of my own experiences thus far, followed by a few examples of how different characters function.


Second edition Malifaux is a brilliant game that streamlines and simplifies a lot of the older rules. Some fans of the original edition(s) say that this oversimplifies the game, but as someone who has only really engaged with the game since the launch of second edition, I really like the flow of the game.


Malifaux models have six different stats represented on their cards.  Here is an example card:


Let’s take a look at what these numbers actually mean:

  • DF (Defence) – This one is pretty self explanatory and represents your model’s ability to fend off attacks. This the first of three defensive stats.
  • WP (Willpower) – Your character’s nerve and mental prowess. A mainly defensive stat, this lets you resist some spells and overcome the terror that so many of Malifaux’s residents instill.
  • WD (Wounds) – Basically, your model’s health points. This is the third defensive stat on the card. As expected, once this number falls to zero, your model is dead. Well, in most cases, but we will come to that later…
  • WK (Walk) – The distance your model may travel normally, measured in inches.
  • CG (Charge) – The distance your model may move once a charge action is declared. This may only be used to bring your model into contact with an enemy model.
  • HT (Height) – The relative height of your model. ‘2’ is considered normal for human-sized characters. The main purpose of this stat is in dealing with cover and specific abilities that only affect models of specific heights.

The cards also contain further information on your models and their abilities, including:

  • The size of the base that your model should be mounted on. These are either 30mm, 40mm or 50mm round bases and base size is quite important as it can have a real effect on range measuring and movement.
  • The faction to which your model belongs is represented by a coloured stamp in top left corner of your card:
    • Red: The Guild (the law in the city of Malifaux)
    • Green: Resurrectionists (necromancers and assorted corpse-botherers)
    • Blue: Arcanists (rogue magic users and members of Miners and Steamfitters Union)
    • Purple: Neverborn (the demons who inhabited Malifaux long before men stumbled upon it)
    • Yellow: Outcasts (outsiders and mercenaries on the fringe of society)
    • Orange: Ten Thunders (an influential family from the three kingdoms who have infiltrated every other faction)
    • Brownish: Gremlins (green dudes who live in the bayou and are awesome)
  • The cost, in soulstones, to hire the model for a game. Each model except for Masters have a points cost. Usually, the better the model, the greater the cost. It’s always a treat to find a good, cost effective model that synergises well with your crew. Masters have a ‘cache’ instead of a cost, showing their starting pool of soulstone for use during the game.
  • Important traits that the model has, such as ‘Living’, ‘construct’ and ‘Undead’ which affect what abilities can be used against them. There may also be sub-factions listed which will affect who can hire the model or what upgrades of buffs may be applied.
  • Guy’s name is there too. Just, you know, to be thorough.

You may have noticed that there has been no mention of offensive stats yet, no equivalent to Warhammer‘s Strength, Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill. This is because the stats in question (Ml, Sh, Ca) are represented on the abilities themselves, rather than the model’s statline. Before explaining the abilities, I should probably explain how the rules for duels work.


A duel is how any actions that is not considered to be an automatic success is resolved. There are two kinds of duels. The first and simplest of these is the unopposed duel. In this duel, the player has a target number that they must beat to, for example, cast their spell. Let’s say that the target number is 12 and the Ca (casting) value of the spell is 6. The player must draw a card from the fate deck (the deck of cards that the game uses instead of dice) and hope that the drawn card can bring his total from his initial casting value (6), up to his target (12). In this case, he would need at least another 6. If he passes, the spell is cast. If he fails, the spell is not cast, but there is still hope. He can cheat his fate. Each player has a hand of 6 cards which they may play to replace a drawn card. By using one of the higher cards from his hand to cheat fate, the spell may still be cast.


An opposed duel is a little more complicated and usually happens when an attack is taking place. Let’s take, as an example, a shooting attack with a Sh (shooting) value of 6 against and enemy with a Df (defence) value of 4. As with the unopposed duel, the attacker will draw a card and add the face value to his starting Sh value. Let’s say he gets a 5, giving his attack a total value of 11. In an opposed duel, the defender may then also draw a card, adding the face value to his starting Df value. Let’s say she gets a 6, giving a total of 10. In this case, the attacker wins and may then go on to resolve damage. Both players will also get the chance to cheat fate, starting with the player who has lost the duel.

Once the duel has been resolved, damage must be allocated. Most attacks have three damage values, presented as three numbers separated by slashes, such as 1/3/4. This represents low, medium and high damage. A card is drawn to decide which level of damage is inflicted. This draw can be affected by a number of factors including status ailments, buffs, use of soulstones and the difference between the attacker’s total and the defender’s total in the preceeding duel.


One of the coolest things about Malifaux‘s attacks is the use of ‘triggers’. These triggers work kind of like critical strikes that are initiated by drawing (or cheating) a card of a specific suit during the attack. For example, in the card above, the December’s Curse spell has a casting value of 7 (with a built in tome), a target number (minimum value for a successful cast) of 11 and may be opposed by the enemy’s defence stat. There are two triggers to go with this ability. The first, Surge, requires two tomes. One of these is already built into the casting value of the attack, and the second would come from the attack card that is drawn or cheated. Once triggered, this would let the player draw a card, replenishing their hand with more cards with which to cheat their fate. The other one, overpower, required and tome and a mask. Again, the tome is built into the attack, leaving you to draw or cheat the mask. Once activated, this trigger let’s you take the entire action again! A free spell cast! There are loads of different triggers in this game and whilst some themes are common (attack again, draw a card, set the defender on fire, inflict poison), others are quite unique and exciting.


Action Points (AP), are the currency of acitivity in Malifaux. As a rule of thumb, all models except for masters have two AP as standard. Masters, being the badass mofos that they are, have three AP as standard. This value can be affected by abilities and status effects. For example, the Ice Golem has a third AP that may be used only for melee attacks. Models with Nimble have an additional AP that may be used only to make an additional walk action. The fast and slow status effects also give the model one more or one fewer AP respectively.

Each action on a model’s card has a value in AP. Abilities generally range from 0 to 3 AP, and a model may only use on 0 AP action per turn.


Now, Malifaux is a fun game when you have two crews kicking the crap out of one-another, but the game really shines with the use of Strategies and Schemes.


Strategies are common objectives that both crews are trying to fulfil. There are five in the core book and they generally represent the core goals of the encounter. These could be focused on placing markers (a 1AP interact action), killing models, or having models in a specific place on the board.

Schemes are functionally similar to strategies, except they are chosen from a small pool of options and do not need to be revealed to the enemy. You could be trying to assassinate or capture a specific model, establishing a line of markers or protecting one of your own models from harm. You could even mess with your opponent by placing markers in a line to make them think your are trying to do the ‘Hold the Line’ scheme. Sneaky, eh?

Next Time

The focus on objectives over straight combat is what allows the game to be so varied. This point actually segues quite nicely into our next section on the differences between  some of the masters which will feature in my next post.

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