Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thoughts on Malifaux

The game book.
My gaming group played a small game of Malifaux this week. 

Malifaux is a 28mm skirmish fantasy game with a Wild West theme.  Each side has around 6-8 models, on average.

Malifaux features some interesting game mechanics.

First of all, Malifaux does not use any dice.

Instead, it uses cards.  Whenever a player needs to generate a random number, they draw a card from their deck, which has Ace to 13 in each of four suites, and two Jokers.  The Black Joker is bad, and counts as a super-failure.  The Red Joker is good, and counts as a super-success.  Each numbered card is also marked "Weak," " Moderate" or " Severe" (based on its numerical value) for determining damage.   Players may have positive or negative modifiers to their draw; for example, having to draw two or more cards and take the lowest or highest card. Players also have a hand of cards, and can play cards from this hand to replace or augment their normal draw.  Hands are replenished and decks reshuffled every turn.

The models are attractive and come in several ranges.  I was playing flaming undead cowboy gunslingers.  My opponent had generically-Asian martial artists.

Fate Cards
Each model comes with a small card describing its stats and abilities, rather like Warmachine.  These are a handy reference, but have no game mechanical effect.  You neither shuffle nor play them.

Game turns are based on alternating activation.  Each movement and every attack, melee or ranged, is an actions.  Each player chooses a model, performs all its actions, and then the next player chooses a model and does the same.

Whenever a model attacks another, the attacker and defender each draw a card.  The model's statistic is added to the card's value to determine whether the attack exceeds the defense.   If the attack succeeds, then the attacker draws for damage Depending on the amount by which the attacker succeeds, they may draw two cards taking the lowest, one card, or two cards taking the highest.  They then do Weak, Moderate, or Severe damage based on the card.

There are several twists, however.  Players can " cheat"  by playing a card out of their hand, replacing the value.  So if you have a good hand, you can save its cards for your key maneuver.  Players can also (a few times a game based on tokens) play a card in addition to their draw, getting an extra boost.  The suites of cards also can have effects.  For example, for my models, a Ram suite card did extra damage.

Game play proved highly enjoyable, simple on the surface but with considerable depth.  I think a good game is one where the player is presented with interesting, meaningful choices each turn.  Malifaux certainly fulfills this expectation.  Optimal play requires tactical movement and several kinds of resource management.  As a player I had to consider whether to keep or play cards in my hand, and whether to flush or keep my hand, each turn.  The alternating movement required me to anticipate and prioritize each model's actions.  (At one point I rashly charged with a model, and watched it get hit by several other models in return, based on the action sequence and movement.)  Every model had several different capabilities, each good in different situations: I had to decide which one to use, and when.

Normally, I don't like games on the skirmish scale.  (" More death!  Give me more soldiers and more death!")  But I quite liked Malifaux, and look forward to the next game.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stepped On By An Elephant: Experiences with Hail Caesar!

http://store.warlordgames.com/collections/hail-caesarA friend of mine hosted a game of Hail Caesar! the other night.  He's really into Greek and Persian ancient history, and we recreated the Battle of Cunaxa.  The war ended when my general, representing Cyrus the Younger was crushed by an elephant, bringing the rebellion to an end. 

I've been wanting to play Hail Caesar! for several years, but never really got around to it.  Hail Caesar! and its sister games, Pike and Shotte and Black Powdershare most of their core mechanics, and have several interesting features.

All three games are descended from the old Warmaster system, which was a 10mm fantasy system for the Warhammer world.  It was never really all that popular with GW players, and languished in Specialist Games purgatory before dying the final death.  There was also a Historical offshoot.  Rick Priestly seems to have kept on adapting it for personal games, in 28mm, and he and his cadre eventually released the results as this current range of games.  Or that's as best as I can gather.

Some thoughts:

  • Hail Caesar! is largely a game of general management.  Your force has one or more general models, each of whom command a division of your army.  They have a leadership rating of 5 to 10.  To issue a movement order to any of your units, the you must roll against the relevant general's leadership. If you succeed, they can move once, twice, or even three times, depending on how well you roll.  If you fail, then the unit just sits there.  Units can only take very simple and obvious moves without a general ordering them.  So much of the strategy of the game lies in deciding what are your top priorities each turn, and in what sequence to issue your orders.  In play I found this actually pretty interesting.
  • The combat mechanics are relatively simple.  In shooting or melee, you roll a bunch of dice determined by the relevant characteristics: clash melee, extended melee, long range shooting, and short range shooting.  Clash melee is for the turn you charge or are charged.  Extended melee is for any subsequent turns.  So some troops are better when they charge, and others are better in drawn-out conflicts.  Long range shooting is pretty self-exploratory.  The short ranged value is also used when a unit supports its friends to either side or in front of it in a battle line.  All units have a morale save, and a kind of hit points, of which bigger, tougher units have more.  Between the basic mechanics and a few special rules, there seems to be a reasonable amount of depth to the combat system.  (One problem with Warmaster was that all fights quickly started to seem the same...)
  • As units take wounds, they can suffer from three different kinds of woe.  They can be shaken, having so much attrition that they fight ineffectively.  With enough hits, they can be destroyed outright.  And sometimes, they can be disordered, a temporary condition from which they recover on the next turn. There is also a chart, on which a losing unit must roll.  This provides extra effects such as being forced to withdraw.  I don't normally like charts, but this one seems a necessary part of the overall game flavor, forcing units to react in different ways to damage.
  • Hail Caesar! is a game of units, not models.  Each unit has statistics. When it takes damage, you do not need to remove dead models.  Just mark it with tokens or a die.  Bigger units have better statistics, more attacks, and more hit points.  The depth of a unit does not much matter, only its frontage.  I love, love, love this aspect of Hail Caesar!  (In other games, like WFB, I hate having to count out the right number of models, fit them onto a tray, take them off again, and so forth.)

So anyway, it was good to finally play the game.  I'll be interested to see how much depth it has on repeated games, but I think it looks fun.