I’m getting into Malifaux!
Plenty of games try for the steampunk aesthetic–Alternate Civil War 1861’s Kickstarter was just making the rounds (again?), and a buddy and I’ve been eyeing Wild West Exodus for a while. However, one of the major impediments to either of those games grabbing me is their focus on a time and place that provides…complicated choices for army selection. I could say “problematic,” but on the internet that word’s been simultaneously emboldened and drained of significance through over use. Still, it’s probably more accurate n this context.
After you strip out the “good guys,” which I’m just about never interested in for either aesthetic, flavor, or metagame reasons. I eschew the most popular things as reflexive action; I’m tempted to get on the upcoming Harlequin Train, because sinister jesters, commedia dell’arte, and the combination thereof has been a thing for me since college. That’s a case where my utter disdain for eldar can be trumped by a pre-existing preference, but I don’t run into a lot of those. Plus, again, the “good” guys in miniatures games, especially, tend to be utter dickheads.
However, when you strip away these good guys in a game like WWE or ACW (I’m not talking about wrestling but I’m one letter off from looking like I am), you’re left with, again, problematic options. I can either go with awkward cultural appropriation–Native Americans, facing that “culture-not-costume” issue writ large–or play actual, you know, villains. The South is not, at the time these games are focused on, a banner I’m trying to raise. Now, I fully acknowledge that I regularly play a cavalcade of daemons and rapacious, hirsute monsters. But I play rapacious, not rapey. In fluff and aesthetics I work to distance myself from rape and slave-taking with any of my armies, and Dark Eldar are ensconced enough in both that I’ve never considered them an option. I actually enjoy going “No, these guys represent this alternate take an that idea, this path most people aren’t seeing is there.”
See, I can do that with fantastical space monsters. But I find it much harder to do with Confederate culture. A similar problem kept me from ever getting into Dust (Tactics, Warfare, what have you). All of the stuff I found interesting lived in an army I had no desire to play, no matter how…well, whatever the term for the opposite of whitewashing National Socialism by replacing antisemitism with mind-controlled corpses and genetically augmented apes would be.
Still, I love the thematic options present in Westerns, and the stories they lend themselves to, feudal and redemptive. Same’s true, at least in theory, with Victorian-era stuff with its threads of rampant experimentation and looming horror (less so the colonialism and cultural consumption). I love increasing diversity on the tabletop by coloring my models in ways that evoke cultures other than White Space Catholic. However, painting a bunch of Braves and having them shot to death by Confederate guns is not only emotionally problematic, it’s likely to feel tediously familiar. I’m already running three different armies who run screaming and near-skyclad into fusillades of enemy fire, which is to say all of my Warhammer armies essentially do that.
Malifaux, though, shows surprising variety in race, setting, and general rules. The models are flavorful and distinct, and that flavor infuses the gameplay as well. When you play the Jack the Ripper counterpart (and sure, that’s a problematic model for all sorts of reasons), his melee attack–“Backhand”–has a chance to trigger a second strike, which is called “Palm-Side.” I love that. I love the narrative being baked that deeply into everything you do.
Plus, the models themselves are microcosms of gameplay, in a fashion similar to what Warmachine and Hordes promised (but I didn’t necessarily see delivered). The Dreamer lends himself to two different styles, based on how enamored you are with playing a levitating mashup of Little Nemo and Damien versus turning him into a howling avatar of nightmares and murder everything with tooth and claw. Both styles are generally supported by the same models, keeping costs low, but still provide highly distinct gameplay.
My birthday gifts were all Malifaux-related, for myself and my wife, so I’m excited for us to set to playing. I’m picking up the Hamelin and Mei Feng boxes, which will give me a sinister pied piper character with a horde of rats and an Asian railworker with crippling kung-fu stylings and shambling, cybernetic railroad monstrosities. Assuming the game grabs me and I have people to play with, I’d love to also get hold of the drug-pushing gambler (where “drugs” are cosmic illumination from an entity of primordial hunger, natch) who is served by a pair of fellows much like characters a longtime friend and I ran in several DnD campaigns; and Jack Daw, who is the hideous, scarred effigy of the town of Malifaux itself, come to punish all with the shades of the wrongly slain.
How could I not play that?