Malifaux Terrain

I’ve found that most wargames follow a general rule: as the miniature count goes down, the terrain density goes up. Malifaux is no exception to this, so you need a reasonably-sized collection to put together an enjoyable game. Nothing as out-of-control as Infinity, just some buildings, obstacles, a few forests, some scatter terrain, that sort of thing.

Terrain has traditionally been something I’ve lazily left to other people to provide, but a few years ago I thought I better stop freeloading and get some of my own. First stop was Sarissa Precision, purveyors of fine old west-style buildings. The Battle Flag Blackwater Gulch range also caught my eye, but they were too big, and much more expensive! I bought seven of their buildings and painted up four of them, invariably drifting off to some other project… so since then I’ve been playing on the same set of partially-finished terrain.

Sarissa Precision corner hotel

Sarissa’s Corner Hotel, the centerpiece for my old west town

During that time I discovered that Malifaux isn’t that fun with large, clunky buildings. Even the smallest Sarissa buildings, which are only 10cm square, really clog up the board. I’m now glad I didn’t rush to paint all my buildings right away, as I don’t really like playing with them as is.

The Plan

To remedy this, I came up with the idea of having a ruined town made up of L-shaped buildings, with two walls missing. This frees up all that internal space, is easy to move around in, stops preventing pushes so much (something I feel bogs down Malifaux), while still giving almost the same amount of cover and line-of-sight blocking. I spent a few hours and put together a table layout that I felt would work well. Malifaux doesn’t make this easy as you have to factor in two deployment options (6″ and 12″) for all four sides, plus two options for each corner! I found that the grid layout of a town suits this quite well, as you can have two lines of walls at each 6″ and 12″ mark, leaving a reasonably open 12″ x 12″ area in the centre. So, something like this:

img_4089

Layout, with all the buildings intact – demolishing to occur later

My plan is to have an impact crater in the centre of the board, near the rear corner of the hotel, which has sparked the ruin of the town – while also nicely marking out the centre. Buildings provide most of the cover at 6″ and 12″. Two exceptions are the fence and “Welcome to …” sign on one edge, and a hedged and fenced railway line on the opposite edge.

The Execution

I’d just finished a block of troops in my DBMM army, and was going up to my parents’ place where I can use Dad’s bandsaw, so took the opportunity to test out my theory of how to turn a perfectly good Sarissa building into a ruin.

img_4090

First L-shaped test building

Overall I was really happy with how easy it was to make – a bandsaw makes short work of MDF – and it’s still very sturdy even with the single join. I painted it the next day and feel like it came out really well. It was my first time stencilling and while it wasn’t perfect I think the rough-painted look fits the old west aesthetic very well.

img_4093

Coming up with the names is the best bit

I printed out the top sign on paper and cut out the letters by hand with a craft blade. Next time I might try laser-cutting a stencil onto some thin material.

The next job is to mark up the rest of my buildings so I can get them all cut next time I’m up at my parents’ place. I hope to report back in a few weeks with more finished buildings!

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Diary: 31st of August, 2016

Date: 31st of August, 2016

Opponent: Valerii

Factions: Gremlins vs Outcasts

Strategy: Extraction

Schemes:

  • Convict Labour
  • Take Prisoner (me: Nurse, opponent: Gracie)
  • Show of Force (me)
  • Framed for Murder (opponent: Trapper)
  • Inspection

Deployment: Standard

Terrain: My usual: fairly open in the middle, scattered small soft and hard cover around the centre with a lot of blocking hard cover around the edges.

 

Crews:

Som’er Teeth Jones, Dirty Cheater, Can O’ Beans
2 x Skeeter
Gracie, Saddle
Lenny, I’ll Love it and Pet it…
Burt Jebsen, Dirty Cheater
Slop Hauler
3 x Bayou Gremlin

vs

Jack Daw, Writhing Torment, Twist and Turn
Convict Gunslinger
Johanna
The Hanged
Freikorps Trapper
Nurse
The Guilty
2 x Desperate Mercenary

My plan: Use my heavies to control one side of the centre to prevent a possible Inspection, while being close enough to score both the strategy and Show of Force. I assumed that he’d probably win the Extraction tussle so I had my Bayou Gremlins to charge in at the end of each turn to score my strategy points.

How it worked out: I had a strong opening, by the end of turn two I had taken out the hanged and a desperate mercenary and had moved Gracie and Lenny into a threatening position to get into the centre the next turn. We were both scoring strategy points but as predicted Jack was able to move it further back into his own half. As there were no non-Master upgrades in the opposing crew Show of Force was quite simple to score.

From turn three onwards it became a sprawling melée in the centre around the informant marker. We exchanged models for no great effect however I was having to shift more and more into the centre to get the strategy points. By the middle of turn four my position was looking very precarious – only Gracie was nearby and one Bayou Gremlin in range.

Somer and the slop hauler were stuck in the backfield drawing the attention of a guilty and Jack Daw. They both managed to escape relatively easily (Jack failed to give Somer Tormented and the guilty pushed back into the centre). Somer used this opportunity to charge into the melée and managed to summon a pig after giving himself a crow and dispatching a wounded Desperate Mercenary with his pig sticker – the extra activation and significant minion in the centre of the board really tilted the game back in my favour, I don’t think I quite appreciated at the time how important this was!

The last turn was very quick and just decided a the last few crucial VPs. Gracie had been neutralised for two turns by the nurse and in hindsight it was obvious that she was a target for Take Prisoner. I foolishly moved my last non-Tormented model away from her so Jack Daw was able to push Somer away (he’d been given Tormented by the guilty earlier in the turn), then moved in for the 3 VP capture.

Score: 9-9 draw.

Lessons:

  • I’m becoming familiar with Jack, it’s my second game against him and I was a lot wiser to his movement tricks. The volume of pushes that his crew gets did still take me by surprise a few times and I need to always have it in the back of my mind when I’m planning my turns. Also listening to the Jack episode of Schemes and Stones helped! 🙂
  • I finally got to use Somer’s Come & Get It! trigger! I’d always seen it as a bit of a gimmick, but if you’re able to get the crow with Do it Like Dis! and either focus or charge in (or hit someone reduced to 1 Wd already, maybe from Hard to Kill) then it’s a great way to get an extra body on the ground. Piglets are a real pain – Df 6, 5 Wd, – to Sh attacks, and having one in the right place can be critical. Something to think about when I’m low on models to contest something.
  •  This is the most important – I have to think more about my opponent’s schemes. This was two-fold:
    • I was pretty sure that he had taken Frame for Murder, the Trapper is always a favourite sucker model, so I should have ignored the trapper till after turn three. He was fairly inconsequential where he was so if I just left Gracie until after the Trapper had activated I could have hurled her into the centre for much greater effect – Lenny’s Ram and damage avoidance makes her nigh-unstoppable.
    • Also towards the end of the game it was obvious to both of us that we’d both chosen Taken Prisoner. If I’d thought about it more it was obvious it was on Gracie – Jack struggles with her Armour, the Nurse had been nullifying her to keep her where she was, and he was pulling the Informant marker further away from her to keep her alone. Then in my last activation I handed him 1 extra VP by moving my slop hauler right away from Gracie. The hauler was only on a single Wd so was unlikely to have survived anyway but at least it would have meant a few flips!

Why we paint

Modelling and painting miniatures is the part of the hobby that I spent the most time on by far. It can be a gruelling task, spending your evenings hunched over a small desk working on a never-ending pile of toy soldiers, but I find it’s always worth it when you finally get your latest model or army on the table.

Like almost every other gamer, I’ve watched as my pile of unpainted miniatures has grown larger and larger. I’ve found that this was sapping my motivation – I’d buy something on sale (or, my eternal weak spot, a limited edition miniature) and add it to the end of the queue, then by the time I got to it I found I wasn’t that interested it any more. Kickstarter made this far worse but thankfully it only took me one big pledge to find that out. I felt bad painting something up straight away instead of getting through my old stuff first.

So a couple of years ago I made the decision to not buy anything else until I had everything I owned painted up and ready to use. I sold a lot of miniatures that, once I was honest with myself, I knew I was never going to game with. So all my unpainted Infinity went (including all my limited edition stuff), and all my various Hasslefree, Reaper, and Red Box purchases that I kept making for some ephemeral RPG experience I was collecting miniatures for but never quite knew what it was going to be. I’ve been working through my backlog and now only have a handful of Malifaux and Infinity models left, plus a lot of Space Hulk miniatures. My resolve did crumble somewhat and I ended up with about 300 miniatures for a DBMM army – my excuse was that Foundry were dropping their amazing bulk-buy deals so by doing so I saved myself a few hundred dollars. (Usual excuse!)

Space hulk miniatures

23 Terminators, 42 Genestealers, 1 Broodlord, 1 grail, and yes, 2 CATs. Don’t ask.

So after all that, staring down the barrel of nearly 70 Space Marine Terminators and Genestealers has led me to the surprising decision of getting them professionally painted. Long ago I thought I would never become one of those barbarians who does so – what’s the point of gaming with miniatures that you didn’t paint yourself? This was another me in another time though, a me who had much more free time on his hands, and couldn’t care less if he spent every evening and the entire weekend painting (even if he should probably work on his essays for uni). I’m in a much different space now and I have other things I want to spend time on. I want to be able to spent my hobby time doing the things that I really enjoy, putting together models that I’ve only just bought and enthusiastic about, and not feeling guilty that I haven’t done my “homework” and cleared my backlog first.

Once I made the decision to have them painted by someone else I felt a massive sense of relief. Besides my DBMM miniatures they make up the overwhelming bulk of my remaining backlog – 69 minis compared to about a dozen for everything else. I set about researching who I could get to do them, I wasn’t going to paint them myself but I still wanted them to look at nice as possible! After a few evenings’ research I settled on Awaken Realms in Poland. Their prices weren’t cheap, but pretty reasonable given their quality, and their example work looked very impressive. After a few emails with their team to confirm I spent a few weeks preparing the miniatures and looking up source material before shipping them off half-way around the world.

Awaken Realms

I think I could handle my stuff looking this awesome.

This really got me thinking about my hobby, and why it is that I paint. Do I really enjoy painting that much if it causes me all that anxiety? Or do I get stressed about because I enjoy it? Or is it just because it’s been a big part of my life it for 23 years and I can’t imagine not doing it? I’m so close to it that it seems I can’t think rationally about it, not being able to see the wood for the trees. At times it seems a little daft to think about it that much, but it is something I spend a huge part of my spare time doing so it’s worth taking it seriously. I’ll have a clearer idea once I’ve done two things: totally cleared my backlog (most of a DBMM army still to go…), and played some games of Space Hulk with miniatures I paid to have painted. I look forward to being able to report back.

Diary: 21st of August, 2016

Date: 21st of August, 2016

Opponent: Hayden

Factions: Gremlins vs Outcasts

Strategy: Headhunter

Schemes:

  • Convict Labour
  • Exhaust Their Forces (me)
  • Leave Your Mark
  • Undercover Entourage (me, opponent)
  • Search The Ruins (opponent)

Deployment: Flank

Terrain: Desolate Wasteland from VASSAL:

VASSAL game 21st Aug

Crews:

Som’er Teeth Jones, Can O’ Beans, Encouragement
2 x Skeeter
Trixiebelle, Gun for a Lady
Gracie, Saddle
Lenny
Burt Jebsen, Dirty Cheater
Bayou Gremlin

vs

Leveticus, Desolate Soul
2 x Hollow Waif
Rusty Alyce, Scout the Field, Desolate Soul
Johan, Oathkeeper
Desolation Engine, Oathkeeper
Freikorps Trapper

My plan: His lack of blasts meant I could bunch up and benefit from a bevy of auras, so I was going to move all my heavies up together popping heads and picking them up. Somer could be delivered safely to the other side of the board while I also took opportunities to exhaust the other crew. I didn’t give much thought to my opponent’s plans – might need to work on this!

How it worked out: The board was quite odd and forced all the action to occur in one small area, the gap between the large rock and the barrels in the bottom right. This worked out okay for me at the start – Hayden’s emphasis on shooting attacks wasn’t that good for Headhunter so I was happy to bide my time there. The Desolation Engine came screaming in and Gracie only just survived thanks to her armour 2 and Lenny’s damage prevention. I was able to turn the Engine into a head marker and two abominations, one of which was exhausted and another turned into a second head marker. Things were looking pretty good.

I lost Gracie and Lenny quickly thanks to Leveticus and the trapper. Leveticus was able to jump around a lot, I understood this in principle but hadn’t seen it before. Despite this I was able to exhaust him a couple of times (turns out when he dies he doesn’t lose it, useful!). His damage wasn’t as apocalyptic as I was expecting (praise be to the errata) however he did damage Somer enough to get below half-health which cost me a crucial VP.

In the last few turns the damage dropped significantly, the only major event was me foolishly throwing Burt into Leveticus to try to exhaust him one more time. All this did was occupy a few more AP and deliver a head marker straight to the enemy. We were easily able to get into each others’ deployment zones and were too focussed on this to try to stop each other from doing so!

Score: 7-8 loss.

Lessons:

  • Gracie with Lenny behind her becomes a serious tank. She was only taking 1 or 2 damage each hit from the Desolation Engine.
  • If I’m taking Undercover Entourage, I really need to take some healing. One bad damage flip is all it takes to knock off at least 1 VP, if not all 3. At the moment I only have slop haulers, I could look at some lightning bugs.
  • I finally got to use Somer’s Bigger Hat Than You. Amazing ability! Won initiative, used my high cards on Somer’s activation, and saved a high card to guarantee this action would succeed. Bayou Two Card meant I was still able to cheat (sort of) in defence and the rest of the turn went much easier on me because we each had no hand. Coupled with Survival of the Fittest it’s a pretty mean combo.
  • Leveticus is incredibly mobile, but quite predictable. If I took something to take out the waifs *cough*pigapult*cough* it would be harder for him to get where-ever he wanted.
  • If I’m sacrificing models in Headhunter, it has to be worth more than 1VP. Otherwise it’s only an even trade at best.

Diary: 17th August 2016

Date: 17th of August, 2016

Opponent: Anna

Factions: Gremlins vs Guild

Strategy: Extraction

Schemes:

  • Convict Labour
  • Show of Force (opponent)
  • Leave Your Mark (me)
  • Mark for Death (opponent)
  • Inspection (me)

Terrain: Plenty of blocking terrain around the edges of the board. Quite open in the middle around the informant marker but with some obstacles to give hard cover.

Crews:

Som’er Teeth Jones, Can O’ Beans, Family Tree
2 x Skeeter
Gremlin Taxidermist
Slop Hauler
2 x Piglet
3 x Bayou Gremlin
Pigapult
3 x Stuffed Piglet

vs

Sonnia Criid, ReincarnationCounterspell Aura
Samael Hopkins, Witch HuntVengeance Bullet
Witchling Handler, Disrupt Magic
Guardian
Guild Rifleman
2 x Witchling Stalker

My plan: Send out the taxidermist with the piglets and a skeeter to take one table corner for Inspection. Have everyone else huddle behind some cover while summoning more gremlins, lobbing exploding piglets, and flinging gremlins over to the other table corner. I’d feed gremlins into the centre to contest the strategy, expecting them to die every turn. Som’er would have to move into the centre on turn 3 or 4 (depending on the aggressiveness of my opponent) to make use of his boomstick.

How it worked out: The taxidermist was able to advance to the corner almost uncontested, his only opponent being the witching handler who engaged a piglet for three turns without killing it! Very lucky pig. Sonnia flamed the other piglet and injured the taxidermist but then had to move into the centre. So they claimed that corner from turn two on.

The pigapult performed wonderfully: lobbed three gremlins into the other corner, one of which also ran into the opponent’s half and placed scheme markers for Leave Your Mark. Its fire was mostly ineffective except for turn four in which it finished off Samael, a stalker, and killed the rifleman outright.

Som’er and the gremlins did their part too. He got eight bros in the first three turns, then moved into the centre to damage Samael, Sonnia and the Guardian. He helped to contest on turn five.

Score: 10-6 win.

Lessons:

  • The pigapult is a wonderful, wonderful thing. For strategies which you have to contest the centre it intimidates your opponent no end. And being able to lob minions all over the board is great for breakthrough-style scheme pools.
  • Som’er (or any model with a powerful ranged attack) pairs up very well with the pigapult. Som’er damaged quite a few models which the pigapult was able to finish off very easily.
  • The guardian is a real spoiler – Ml 7 with a 3″ range. I have a very poor understanding of the Guild robots so after the game I read up on all the models that I faced and he stood out as a particularly good one. Still, only eight wounds, so unless he gets his Df trigger off he’s not too tough.
  • I ignored Show of Force because I wasn’t planning on taking it, however that just encourages your opponent to take it because it’ll be easy points. Even with Anna sending off the handler into one of the corners, just leaving Hopkins to score it, she still earned two points and nearly three from it. Even taking a single 1SS upgrade on a tough enforcer can be enough to deny the points.
  • Piglets are very good at staying alive if you’re prepared to cheat. They are awful to control however! I would have been better off either swapping them for bayou gremlins, or taking a hog whisperer instead of the taxidermist.

Diary: 10th August 2016

Date: 10th of August, 2016

Opponent: Valerii

Factions: Gremlins vs Outcasts

Strategy: Guard the Stash

Schemes:

  • Convict Labour
  • Exhaust Their Forces
  • Hunting Party (me) (opponent)
  • Search The Ruins (opponent)
  • A Quick Murder (me: Montresor)

Terrain: Fair bit of blocking terrain but a mostly open centre. Crews would be able to advance under cover but to contest the stashes they would be exposed in the middle of the board.

Crews:

Som’er Teeth Jones, Can O’ Beans, Encouragement
Skeeter x 2
Bayou Gremlin
Francois LaCroix
Lenny
Burt Jebsen
Gracie with Saddle
Slop Hauler

vs

Jack Daw, Writhing TormentTwist and Turn
Montresor, The Creeping Terror
Ama No Zako
Guilty
Hanged
Crooked Man
Nurse

My plan: Split up into two forces: Burt, Gracie, Lenny and a Skeeter on one side, and Som’er, Francois, the lone Bayou Gremlin, the Slop Hauler and a Skeeter on the other. Each would attempt to hold their stash marker. Burt, Gracie, and Lenny would aim to also take out Montresor and any minions they could.

How it worked out: Burt, Gracie, and Lenny worked wonderfully well. They took out Montresor easily and one minion a turn while contesting the stash marker. Gracie was able to dance around a bit and get the boys into position, however she did get paralysed by the Nurse so didn’t have as much direct impact as she would have liked. Lenny’s immunity to conditions made him perfect against the Nurse and Hanged. Burt was just enjoying Lenny’s ram and hitting with 4/5/6 damage.

On the other flank Francois went screaming into Ama No Zako in an attempt to kill both of them with Dumb Luck. It took a couple of turns, some soulstones, and some healing from the Slop Hauler but he did succeed eventually. The exchange was worth it as it nixed his Hunting Party. Jack Daw cursed Som’er and the Slop Hauler which decreased their effectiveness, especially when Som’er got paralysed by the Nurse. Luckily he was standing by the stash marker the whole time! At the end of turn 4 he just managed to remain on it despite the best efforts of Jack and the Crooked Man.

We called it near the end of turn 4 as it was getting late and the outcome was fairly obvious by that point.

Score: 6-4 win, probably would have been 9-5 at end of turn 5.

Lessons:

  • Lenny, Burt, and Gracie make an amazing team with a ton of synergy. Main thing I need to work on is positioning Burt and Gracie so that he can pull her into combat with his built-in trigger. As she’s on a 50mm base it can be hard to get it to work.
  • Skeeters are good at taking off the last few wounds off incorporeal models with Pull My Finger, however I need to remember that they can shut down triggers from 13″ away and this can be far more useful. If I’d done that to Jack on turn 4 it would have been impossible for him to leap around and threaten Som’er.
  • Nurses are awesome and I can’t wait to get some into my Zoraida crew! Nurse/Lenny seems too good to be true.

Dear Diary

I’ve decided to start recording all my games of Malifaux to note my successes, failures, and, most importantly, my learnings. A large part of the fun I get from games stems from learning and mastering their systems, so it makes sense to do what I can to improve that.

It’s a good time to start too because I’ve just ended my sabbatical with the Viktorias and am returning to my primary faction, Gremlins. I’ve been playing them since I got into Malifaux at Gen Con 2011 with Ophelia and picked up Som’er Teeth Jones a year later. I’ve used those two for five years now, mainly Ophelia in v1 and Somer (sans apostrophe now) in v2.

Miniature pool

Where I’m sitting at now is with a collection of about 50 miniatures to choose from. They’re mostly original metals with a scattering of plastics. I’ve got everything from v1, including 13 Bayou Gremlins, except for McTavish because I wasn’t a fan of the original model. Unpainted I have the new Zoraida box set and the Nightmare Whiskey Golem, and I’m making eyes at Brewmaster. I’m not a fan of Wong or Mah, but Zipp and Ulix interest me, especially after reading previews of the Iron Skeeters.

Gremlin pool

My gremlins, in all their green and pink glory. Greek mercenaries for DBMM to the left, Outcasts crew to the right.

I haven’t picked up any new models for a long time for a couple of reasons. First, I find the new models difficult to paint due to the incredibly fine level of detail. Secondly, I don’t like having a backlog of painting projects so have spent the last couple of years not buying anything. I’m getting to the end of my pile of minis so am looking forward to expanding my collection again soon!

Modus operandi

I consider myself a fairly competitive player, I can beat most of my opponents on a good day but am far from guaranteed a win! I have a few models that I rely a lot on (Burt, Gracie and Saddle as anyone would tell you). I only have a couple of regular crew types: Somer the Summoner, or Somer leading a crew of ram-intensive heavies. My only regular mercenary is a convict gunslinger for taking out hanged.

Gremlin rider

The Pork Rider! The most expensive of the riders, weighing in at 18SS. Capable of rendering down most opposition to a meaty pulp in a matter of seconds.

Goals

I’ve got a few goals for keeping a diary.

First off, I want to think more about the scheme pool and come up with a plan each game, and then look back and see how that plan worked out. I can be pretty sluggish when playing and most of the delay comes from me not coming up with a plan beforehand.

Secondly, I want to learn some more finesse with synergistic models I already use together. Malifaux can be a very fussy game and I often activate models in the wrong order, or get them in the way of each other, and by writing down what went wrong I can make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes.

And lastly it’ll help cement the knowledge of the crews I face. I don’t play that often (maybe 2-3 games a month) so I often have forgotten what a particular model does before I face it again. The best games are the ones in which both players know all the models on the table so this will help me get up to speed faster.

First entry coming soon!

Kingdom Death: Monster

Just roll over and let the lion eat you, it'll be easier in the long run.

Just roll over and let the lion eat you buddy, it’ll be easier in the long run.

I’ve now played Kingdom Death: Monster on two separate occasions: the first was a weekend-long 20 hour binge with my brother and a friend, the second a few months later with just me and a friend for about six hours. The verdict: it’s the game that I wished Arkham Horror was.

Kingdom what?

Brief recap: Kingdom Death began as a range of boutique horror miniatures. They are known for producing extremely high quality miniatures depicting the denizens of their unique dark fantasy world, melding traditional Western fantasy and anime sensibilities with a strong horror theme. The miniatures are often creepy and sometimes disturbing, contrasting sexually-charged imagery with mutant monsters, gory detail and perversions of reproduction. This culminated in their most notorious work, the Wet Nurse (not linked here, but Google it if you’re curious and not at work), which brought a lot of attention.

A game was always in the background and after three or so years of just selling miniatures, in late 2012, the Kickstarter for Kingdom Death: Monster was launched. The range had already built up a massive fanbase so the success was never in doubt, only the scale of it. A month later it ended with just over two million dollars pledged. With that amount raised the scope of the project increased hugely and it only just shipped in mid-late 2015.

So what is it?

Whatever else it is, this is a BIG game.

Nine kilograms of cards, miniatures, death, and misery.

Nine kilograms of cards, miniatures, death, and misery.

There are plenty of sites and reviews that will extol the virtues of the production, but suffice it to say that most everything is absolutely top notch. The one fault I would say is that the book is quite flimsy for such a large and often-referenced manual. I’d have loved to see a hardcover edition, especially with multiple ribbon bookmarks because you’ll be doing a lot of flicking back and forth.

The game itself is a multi-session co-operative game, much like Hero Quest and Warhammer Quest (one of its early inspirations). You meet up regularly, hopefully in the same group of four players, and play through a campaign over many sessions. I found it to be very close to a role-playing boardgame.

There are two main parts, plus one small minigame glueing them together. The first is the Showdown phase – you pit your four bravest (or most foolish) warriors against one of the terrible monsters that inhabit the world. The second is the Settlement phase – you take the materials that you gained during the showdown and use them to expand a fledgling settlement, build arms and armour, and do what you can to lead your people in this desolate land. The Hunt phase occurs between the two and depicts your survivors attempting to track down one of the beasts.

Monsters

The monsters that you fight during the Showdown phase are the stars of the show. Which is good, because you’ll be spending a lot of your time hunting the same monsters again and again! At first I thought this could get quite dull – staring at the same five miniatures (the monster and the four survivors) for hours on end and we grind our way up the resource ladder. However these monsters are the cleverest and most interesting card-driven foes I’ve faced.

Two dead survivors, coming right up.

Two dead survivors, coming right up.

Each monster has a deck of cards that controls its actions, and you randomly construct this deck from a set of specifications for each monster. Pick so many cards from deck A, so many from deck B, add this card in, shuffle up, and you’ve got yourself a monster. This means that each monster has its own themes while also still being able to surprise you. Generally lions will charge all over the place so you want to avoid standing in front of it, but one might be fond of knock-downs and mauls while another likes to play dead.

They can do stupid things sometimes – in one battle we were able to game the system and kite the monster for most of the battle, dealing damage with almost no risk of return damage. Though, perhaps we had just worked out how to hunt that monster effectively? I suppose one person’s clever tactic is another’s cheesy game-breaker!

When we started there seemed to be a lack of depth to the system – just roll some dice, hope for hits, and fingers crossed the monster missed in your turn. However while it is a simple system, we did pick up a lot of subtleties that we didn’t pick up on straight away. One of the most important realisations was that you can spend survival points to take actions at specific points during the monster’s turn as well as your turn. This led to a bit of a brain-explosion moment as we all realised how powerful that could be and got to working out some nasty combos.

Overall I was pretty happy with how the showdown phase played out. I was expecting a watered-down miniatures experience typical of miniatures boardgames, but it was a satisfying and dynamic game that presented us with interesting tactical puzzles to solve every turn. Plenty of difficult decisions during each game helped keep everyone on their toes.

One thing I’d have liked to seen though: whenever you injure the monster you flip a damage card at random. This means that when attacked from the front you have an equal chance of hitting the monster’s head, leg, belly, or any other body part. I’d have liked to have seen a system that tagged each damage card to a particular side of the monster, and you flipped until you found an appropriate one. This would add another layer to the system that you could learn and plan for, as well as making the story of each encounter be more coherent. Of course the trap mechanic would have to be re-worked for this to stay balanced.

Roleplaying

The settlement phase and the hunt phase both provide more of what I see as the role-playing part of Kingdom Death: Monster. I know it’s not really role-playing, but because the outcomes of your choices are so unpredictable we all found it best to think “Well, what would the characters do?”. This is quite anathema to us grognards so we had to consider it as roleplaying to make sense of it.

The Hunt

The art that saturates the rulebook instills a great deal of theme – not all of it savoury.

These parts of the game are where you are most exposed to the flavour and themes of the world. Random events occur constantly and often you are presented with a choice – pick a character to handle a situation, or pick between two equally horrible scenarios – and then you find out what happens. Often this involves the dreaded phrase “roll a d10”, something which very quickly came to replace Arkham Horror’s “you are devoured” as our group’s stock phrase to instil terror into the other players.

This part of the game can seem very harsh. Because you’re making so many rolls, and any 1 or a 2 is generally awful, you’re often only a short string of bad rolls away from a doomed settlement. Our first game quickly hit a downward spiral when we lost our only three women to childbirth, so the five remaining men led a short, doomed existence. All that because we rolled a one followed by two threes. So to get the most out of it you have to abandon any hope of steering your way through this dismal world, just roll with the punches and hope you roll the odd ten every now and again. And don’t get attached to your characters.

Themes

No talk of Kingdom Death: Monster would be complete without talking about its universe. It is a strange world. When you start playing you are controlling four characters who have just woken up on a plateau of white stone faces, eyes crusted with black ink and dressed in loincloths. They can’t communicate, have no idea how they got there, and their lanterns are the only light in the world. Instantly they are attacked by a huge white lion against which they must defend themselves. Like I said, pretty strange.

It is a very dark world. Bad things happen. Not just regular bad things as you’d expect in most games – people dying, getting badly injured, that sort of thing. In the games we played we had people lose legs, go insane (this happened regularly, and was usually a good thing), die during childbirth, one character had his genitals destroyed by a monster.

As I mentioned earlier it is also a highly sexually-charged world. Most of this comes from the horror theme and the ever-present juxtaposition of the beautiful with the repulsive. This I find unsettling (no doubt its purpose) and often disturbing. One specific page, which you’ll be referencing a lot, depicts a naked man kneeling in a pile of viscera and several dismembered body parts that instantly reminded me of the awful Dead Island Riptide statue debacle.

This would be fine if the motivation behind it was purely to infuse the same sense of unease in the players that the characters are facing. However it’s pretty obvious from a lot of the art in the rulebook, the player miniatures, and the range of pinups sold alongside the game, that the designers have made the decision to crank up the sex appeal for the male gaze. Not really much to be said here, it’s the same stuff we’re used to: male foes are generally fully-armoured (only one has a bare face), the females are lucky to be wearing anything more than a few straps. Same goes once the players start wearing armour, the female versions often follow the usual designs.

Bone Witch. Come on, these jokes write themselves.

Exhibit A, Bone Witch render. Come on, “bone witch”? These jokes write themselves.

This is such a disappointment because the game starts out so well – you have two male and two female survivors that are treated identically to each other and are, as far as miniatures go, quite restrained and tasteful. It’s only once you’re immersed into it that it shows its true colours.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall I’m happy with the time I’ve spent with Kingdom Death: Monster. I fear we shan’t see a game of its scope in a long while so it’s nice to be a part of it. And if the game itself wasn’t big enough the expansions are now shipping – all of which take up about three times the space as the original. This really is a labour of love and despite any reservations I have about it I’m glad that such a thing exists and has been made to a superb level of quality.

Overall I enjoy the game but I feel that despite many improvements to the typical co-operative formula it does fall victim to the usual problems of games without some kind of human intelligence behind part of it. The monsters can get into strange degenerate behaviours, the hunt phase can be nonsensical, repetitive and nasty, and sometimes you just wish there was a way you could have more influence over an important die roll.

So it is a flawed masterpiece? In my mind, yes. The showdown phase is crunchy, difficult, and rewards planning. The settlement and hunt phases that join it together are flimsy, random and give you no foresight into the impact of your decisions, so you can’t make meaningful choices. The problem stems from the fact that these two systems feed back into each other so strongly – if your key warrior picks the wrong answer to a story event or rolls poorly she might end up maimed or killed, even though she’s an unstoppable whirlwind of death in the showdown phase.

Having said that, if you can bear the frustrating randomness of a game that hates you, and can stomach the tone, odds are you’ll like it. Plus the minis are beautiful!

Hunt Phase

Guild Ball

So I swore I was going to stick to only playing two games seriously: DBMM and Malifaux. What I didn’t account for was most of the local competitive Warmachine players jumping on board the Guild Ball train and it taking over my Wednesday night gaming club. Months ago I heard a lot about it from podcasts and it had intrigued me, however I figured I’d give it a miss due to the lack of a local scene. So much for that plan.

Rules

A character from the Brewer's Guild.

A character from the Brewer’s Guild.

While umpiring the Malifaux tournament at ValleyCon 2016 I got a demo game from the local pusher and long-time friend of mine, Mike Thorn. From what I had heard it was a slick system that was fast and easy to follow, yet allowed a lot of per-character variation. This is totally accurate! The combat is great and allows each character and team to have a lot of individual flavour, not to mention possible synergies once you get further into it. Like most sports games (and by “most sports games”, I mean Blood Bowl) it has to balance bash vs. skill. From my three games so far it seems to balance this out fairly well: skilled teams have to race off to an early lead as they find their options reduced the longer the game goes. One thing it has over Blood Bowl is that it feels much easier to actually play the sport – kicking the ball around is pretty simple when you’re not threatened and you can set up some great plays.

However there are a few bits that aren’t quite as smooth as I’d hoped: different kinds of plays are triggered completely differently (character plays by spending influence or specific combat results, heroic by spending momentum, legendary are free but only once per game), penalties and bonuses for kicks, combat and character plays are all slightly different, that sort of thing. Little sharp edges on an otherwise super-smooth system that I’m sure also bug the designers and, fingers crossed, will be ironed out in an eventual second edition.

Choosing a team

Now to the tricky bit: picking which one of the eight teams I’m going to get. With sports-based miniatures games I prefer to play the teams that focus on the game itself rather than just the bashing aspect of it. I just find it more interesting. So that narrowed it down a bit: one of the Fishermen, Alchemists, or Masons.

What, um, what happened to your leg?

What, um, what happened to your leg?

The next step was looking at the minis. Miniatures are my favourite part of miniatures games – the clue is in the title! So this was a lot of time poring over the website and checking out other peoples’ painted miniatures. Alchemists were struck off the list due to the odd pose for Vitriol.

The last step is a new one in my selection process: representation. It’s not something I really gave a lot of thought to until recently, but now it’s quite important to me that the miniatures I buy and paint (and the companies I support) not wallow in the grand tradition of geek marketing efforts everywhere and pander exclusively to the straight white male. I want to see a greater diversity of genders and races in my miniatures, just like I would love to see the same change in who they appeal to and might get into the hobby.

A rare sight.

A rare sight.

This really showed me how much Malifaux is ahead of the pack on this front: Guild Ball is a real boys’ club with a few token women. Only one team, the Masons, has a female captain and more than two female players in total. Most of the female players have their appearance be a key part of their character, and a lot of them have in-game abilities to go along with it (“Seduced”, “Charmed (Male)”, etc). As for non-European characters, the Fisherman are the only ones to have any: their second captain, is styled on Arab pirate, and the art for Greyscales show him with dark skin (though the studio paint job is a lot paler)

This left Fishermen and Masons tied – the Fisherman won out when I saw that the Masons range has some scale issues, and there were already five Masons players in the local group and just one Fishermen player.

Fiction

I’ll preface this section by saying that I really don’t like miniatures game fiction. I view reading it as homework. Guild Ball did nothing to dissuade me from this attitude: opening up the rulebook and you get hit over the head with dense prose, pages and pages of text in a tiny font. Then a map! Which means a painstaking description of the world and all the cities and races, oh my.

The good bit is that it’s surprisingly well-written and easy to read. The last major story simply takes us through a game and it flows really nicely – everything that happens (except the first trick shot) you could see happening on the tabletop.

What I don’t like is the tone. It’s just so serious! This is something that Blood Bowl did wonderfully – its goofiness and art took the sting out of the brutality of the game. Guild Ball takes the opposite approach: it is Tarantino to Blood Bowl’s Wile E Coyote. Some of the fiction is downright nasty: we are told in grisly detail how in one match Brisket is stalked by a player on the opposite team intent on murder, how she panics and is eventually tacked, stabbed multiple times and is left to bleed out. One of the union leaders is captured by another guild and we hear in detail how he is tortured and mentally and physically broken. The term “bitch” is thrown around a lot and I got the sense the author would have preferred to use stronger terms if they knew they could get away with it.

Blood for the blood god!

Blood for the blood god!

Also the more brutal stories don’t quite match up to the actual game they’re meant to be describing. Some of the games seem to take place in this strange foggy battlefield in which the players stumble on to one another and then engage in one-on-one fights with lethal weapons. It reads more like a world war one comic than a five-on-five football match. What makes this weird is that the game itself manages to capture a fluid brawl like no other game I’ve played – people charging in, throwing a few punches, tackling the ball and pushing off again to make a pass – and most of the stories ignore this and pretend it’s just Warhammer.

Getting started

One of the things that Steamforged Games does superbly however is getting you into the game. All the rules, cards, and even print-out cardboard standees are all available free on their website. I have no idea why other games companies don’t do this! I suppose giving out your rules for free seems a little counter to most business practices, but getting into a miniatures games is a serious commitment and being able to try it out without spending a couple of hundred dollars will certainly increase the reach of Guild Ball. And no-one’s going to be happy playing with paper minis, everyone who’s keen will be splashing out on the real things.

So right now I’ve got my cardboard Fishermen’s Guild team and a few games under my belt. I seem to be losing by less each time which is certainly movement in the right direction. I’m not ordering any figures yet as I want to make sure they’re the team for me (so far so good) and also don’t want any more minis while I still have unpainted figures for Malifaux, Infinity and Blood Bowl left. 17 to go!

Painting metal with non-metallic paints

I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing over how to paint the bronze and iron for my Macedonians. Like a lot of people I learnt to paint 28mm scale miniatures from the ‘Eavy Metal articles in White Dwarf, which always promote metallic paints. It’s certainly the easiest to get started with, but as I got into smaller skirmish games like Malifaux and Infinity that allowed more time per miniature I tried my hand at using non-metallic paints to paint metallics. I was really surprised by how easy it was as well as the striking effect that it can give when done right.

I first used NMM techniques on historical models with my SAGA Normans and they looked pretty cool! They were an easy intro though: chainmail is just focussed dry-brushing with greys and whites, and after that it was just conical helmets and shield rims:

Normans 1

Predictably, he’s called Norman.

Normans 2

This guy’s called Archie.

At first I never even contemplated doing NMM on such a big scale as a whole DBMM army – something like 200-300 bronze helmets and 100 large bronze shields. I did some test paints and talked about it with my brother, and figured I might as well give it a go. My test with metallic paints just didn’t pop compared to the non-metallics—perhaps that’s something I’ve got to work on if the NMM drives me round the bend!

So here’s how I painted my shields:NMM shields 1Base coat of VMC Medium Fleshtone.

 

NMM shields 2Wash with Citadel Reikland Fleshshade.

 

NMM shields 3Glaze of Medium Fleshtone over the top right of the shield.

 

NMM shields 4Repeat the wash of Reikland Fleshshade.

 

NMM shields 5Repeat the Medium Fleshtone glaze, over a slightly smaller area this time.

 

NMM shields 6Shade with Reikland Fleshshade only over the bottom right.

 

NMM shields 7Highlight with 4 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part VMC Dark Sand.

 

NMM shields 8 Highlight with 3 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.

 

NMM shields 9Highlight with 2 parts Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.

 

NMM shields 10Highlight with half Medium Fleshtone, half Dark Sand.

 

NMM shields 11Highlight with 2 parts Ivory, 1 part Medium Fleshtone, 1 part Dark Sand.

 

NMM shields 12Final step: highlight with Ivory. This is just a small, thin highlight but it is the most important! It has to be small but very bold as that’s what’s going to make the whole thing pop.

I’m happy with the speed of it too: while taking photos of these four I was also painting another 14 and got them all done in half of an evening. It does look like a lot of steps, and it is, but each step gets progressively smaller and smaller so by the time you’re half-way through you’re already ripping through them.

I paint helmets in exactly the same way. I find them a bit easier because you’ve got more details to work with. The more details, the easier it is to make NMM work, because you get more shading and highlights to play around with, and it’s the sharp distinction between those two that makes the effect work.

I quickly blu-tacked the shields onto my mostly completed first batch of pezhetairoi and here’s what they look like:

NMM shields pike block

Afterwards I overpaint the helmets and shields that I’m the least happy with with blue (for helmets) and the taxis colour for the shields. This one’s colour is salmon pink so expect them to look a lot more rosy once I’m done with them!