Ashes of Malifaux: Preview Season: NoVa Panel: Elite Strike Force: Justice Division

Hello Mali-folks!  Fresh off our recent look at two starter box henchmen and a robot, Wyrd opened its treasure chest to reveal a thick and enticing booty.  That’s right… more spoilers!

NoVa this year hosted the Malifaux Masters event as well as an open tournament.  Not only that, but the design team hosted a seminar to discuss the direction of Malifaux design – and they brought enough spoilers for everyone!

I remember attending last year’s panel and finding it really fun, frank and informative.  This year’s was no different.  Wyrd gave us a look under the hood and discussed the upcoming Ashes of Malifaux, GG4, and a few other tidbits.  I wasn’t at this year’s panel, unfortunately, but having spoken to some of my friends who were – and viewed images from the slideshow the design team presented – I feel at least competent to talk about Ashes and what we’ll be seeing when it releases!

My Father Works at the Shipyard and Picks Up Ashes

Ashes of Malifaux will be arriving later this year.  It’s another expansion book like Malifaux Burns and Madness of Malifaux, but where Burns focused on Titles and Madness on new keywords, Ashes is focused on providing some new non-Master options to existing keywords.  There are, broadly, three categories of model in the book:

  • The Guild and Resurrectionist starter boxes.  This was already pretty heavily suspected, cf. my last column, but is now confirmed.
  • New dual-keyword models for all keywords.  These models will function a bit like the shared-keyword Enforcers from Malifaux Burns, but will all be within-faction rather than cross-faction.  I’m a very big fan of this: those Enforcers were all really cool designs, with a lot of creativity behind them.  Ashes releases won’t all be Enforcers – they’ll run the gamut from Minion to Henchman.
  • New keywordless Versatiles.  (Well, not keywordless, but they won’t be keyworded to anyone in their faction).  These are meant to provide non-synergistic support or beatstick support without supplanting keyword options.

This design paradigm has me… let’s say cautiously optimistic.  The last two releases have been outliers on the power curve, but that was largely in the Masters; there was only one Burns enforcer who was a problem, and even then only with one specific title Master.  The shared-keyword enforcers were almost universally extremely neat and clever designs that landed right in the appropriate middle of the power curve and gave you cool new crew-building options, and I’m hoping to see more of that.  Ashes has the potential to shake up the meta and give us lots of new toys to play with, all without totally upsetting the apple cart.

It’s planned for release “later this year,” though they didn’t share a specific time.

Design apparently also shared that the two things that are on their radar as major outstanding design issues are excessive card draw and pass token generation, and folks, I could not have been more relieved to hear that.  Those two things consistently break the game, and just knowing that Wyrd recognizes that means that I have a lot of faith in Ashes as a release.

Anyways, all this high-minded design-philosophy stuff is a bit dull.  Let’s look at the Shiny New Objects!

Clipper (Augmented, Frontier)

Heh, humans are always so weak to the death of their own kind! Credit: Wyrd Games

Our first stop is to Planet Zebes, where the fearsome space pirate known as Ridley has been up to his old tricks.  Well, that or Charles Hoffman has been playing Metroid, since his newest creation is distinctly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite space robo-dragon.

Clipper is a good clean example of how these dual-keyword designs work: like most Augmented models he’s got Power Converter, like most Frontier models he’s got Home on the Range, and he kinda does stuff both crews want.  Specifically, he’s a flying, Armored beatstick and gun turret that offers both mobility and enemy displacement, two things that never go out of style.

Because Frontier doesn’t generate Scrap Markers (aside from Clipper himself), he has Dynamic Generator to gain Power Tokens from Charging, which means he can reliably give himself one almost every activation.  Between Flight, Fly With Me and Mv 6, he’s extremely maneuverable, so it won’t be hard to get him where he needs to go.  You’ll have to be at least moderately careful about positioning his big fat base – he can generate his own Concealing Terrain (in the form a dust cloud), but despite his armor his defenses are pretty low, so anyone with armor piercing attacks is going to kill him quick.

His attacks are what you’re here for, and I’m actually a fan of both.  A 2/3/5 isn’t that impressive for a 9-stone beater, but the triggers are both very, very, very good in different situations, and Power Converter lets you build in either one.  That is huge, since it compensates for one of the biggest weaknesses of Enforcers (lack of Soulstone access).

I’m looking at this guy more in Frontier than Augmented, since tossing enemies into terrain is a really great way to set Basse up for success, and Clipper’s ranged attacks is another example of that.  The damage is nothing to write home about (although being armor piercing without a trigger is pretty nice), but Staggering any enemy near terrain sets up Basse’s Caught in Quicksand for a stat 9 vs. Movement.  Or, if you prefer, you can go with Basse first to Injure the target so Clipper can more easily hit them.  It’s a nice bit of synergy that works in both directions, and the Pnematic Spike even has the ability to drop a Scheme Marker at range, which is always stronger than it looks.

Overall, I’m bullish on this guy, especially in Frontier, where he replaces a Rough Rider (for a few more stones, granted, but he also does more).  Fly With Me is a realllllly strong ability, a lot better than Ride With Me in many situations, and I can’t wait to see how Guild abuses it.

Altus Keene (Arcanist Versatile, Syndicate??)

these two look like Resident Evil bosses. Credit: Wyrd Games

Anya continues her unbroken streak of stealing models from other Keywords and Factions.  Did you know that, apart from her and her Totem, there is only one purely Syndicate Explorer’s Society model?

Looks like she’s getting two here, since Altus’s card references his Sister, Irena Keene (the blade-fingered lady there on the right?).  We’ve only got one to talk about, but he’s… pretty neat, actually.

The first thing I notice on his card, after his entirely mediocre stats, is Which One Is Real?  People who have played me recently know that I’ve been trying to make the Anya2 execute spam hand pressure list work, and having one more passive source of discard in the list is a lot of fun.  He’s also got two pretty interesting pieces of defensive tech in Arcane Shield and Swirling Illusions; the former is likely only there to allow him to soak one free Price of Progress damage per turn, but the latter makes it at least a little challenging to one-activation kill him (although, admittedly, a lot of models are just going to hit him, then hit him again with Focus).  Don’t rely on it – keep this guy hidden.

Twist Reality is a great gun on everyone who has it, especially with the ability to build in any of its great debuff triggers, though Stat 5 is a little frustrating; the nature of Twist Reality means that you’ll almost always be at least even in stat with your target, but for 8 stones, a Stat 6 probably wouldn’t be unreasonable.  Dispel Magic is Fine, I Guess, but Arcanists already have access to it for half of Altus’s cost in the Effigy, which you never see.

Altus’s Tacticals are… interesting, to say the least.  Incognito is very very cool, given how many Syndicate models have Flexible Morality; normally, people can avoid the hand pressure by just Focusing, and Altus turns that off.  He may be worth taking just for that (and note that a Concealed Winston is a nightmare to shoot, and this ability stacking with Swirling Illusions may be enough to keep Altus safe, but relies on you taking one to the chin).  The trigger is cute, since a 6″-plus-base-size place is a lot for a bonus action, but it’ll depend on how good Irena is.

Not an Accident is harder to evaluate.  Obviously, this depends enormously on what kind of marker you’re pushing.  Shoving a Pyre Marker over an enemy while playing Kaeris is extremely powerful.  Beyond that, though, the pickings are a little thin.  In Explorer’s Society you could out of keyword hire a Vatagi and push a Pit Trap, but that feels a bit too clever by half (especially since your own models don’t ignore it).  But what else is there?  Pylons?  Sandeep’s rainbow of Demise markers?  It’s cute, but I just don’t know that it really does enough.

I want to like Altus, since he’s tricky and fiddly and does lots of neat things, but he shares the classic Syndicate problem: he’s super fragile for his cost and just doesn’t seem to do enough to counteract that.  But we’ll see when his sister drops what kind of synergy they have – they may be worth it as a package (especially if she makes a cool kind of Hazardous marker).

Ezekiel (Resurrectionist Versatile)

traitor! TRAITOR!!! Credit: Wyrd Games

Next up in the Bayou, we have…

Wait a second.  A green Gremlin?  Not just green, like, literally, but green in faction?  Heresy!  I shan’t be reviewing this guy on principle.

If I must, though…

Ezekiel’s cheap for an Enforcer, but brings some interesting tricks to the table.  He seems a bit like a bargain Asura Roten – he’s more fragile (though Protected helps a LOT) and his summons are still Insignificant, but Intuition is a big deal for a model like this: you don’t have to waste cards on him since you can just stack for your TNs.  Protective Spirits is a pretty strong action if you can set it up right, although there’s an interesting tension here because you need it to fail in order to blow up one of your zombos.  Similarly, there’s some lenticular design with his Healing Energy, since he can either heal an ally or force an enemy to eat a scheme marker (or force an ally to eat a friendly scheme marker, a bit cornercase but occasionally useful).

Fresh Meat is mostly useful for its triggers, though it can be a neat way to squeeze a little bit of extra movement out of your crew.  I don’t think you’ll do damage often, but that’s a cute trick if you want to go all-in on Mindless Zombies.  The dream of spamming zombies is probably not going to happen, even if you put both this guy and Asura in the same list, but 1) it’s certainly possible and would be funny to try, so you should try it and 2) lots of resser masters don’t have that huge a list of core hires (Seamus, for example, kinda does his own thing and lets his crew do its thing), so there’s ample room to experiment.

I am surprisingly bullish on Ezekiel, though the fail case (he eats two min 3 attacks and just dies in one activation) is real.  Have a plan for him, don’t just toss him in a list, but don’t be surprised if he does work.

Delirium (Nightmare, Woe)

insidious madness 2: madness harder. Credit: Wyrd Games

Some of the keyword pairs are getting more than one model, and Delirium looks like it has a little friend there on the right (the Pyramid Head-lookin’ dude).  But we’ll stick with this guy for now.

He looks a lot like an upgunned Insidious Madness, and his front of card doesn’t dispel that impression.  Incorporeal, Terrifying, 9 health and 5/6 defenses is surprisingly beefy for Neverborn, and his Mv 6 makes him speedy as well.  He’s got the standard Woe suite of Misery/Opportunist, this time keying off Adversary, which is an interesting choice because removing Adversary prevents the rest of your crew from taking advantage of it – so there are choices to make there.  He also Lucid Dreams like many Nightmares, though note that he can’t use the removed cards.

His other bonus, Autophobia, applies Adversary and does so in a way that doesn’t punish you for stripping it (since only Delirium benefits from it.  Its trigger, Got Your Nose, is worth mentioning, since it not only affects one of Delirium’s other attacks but also its Terrifying ability, making it hard for its target to hit back.

Delirium’s other Attack Actions are kind of surprisingly aggressive.  Savage Bite is a big-boy attack, and its triggers are both slightly better versions of “draw a card” and “your opponent discards a card,” which are significant effects.  Its ranged attack, Psychotic Influence, is where the real spice is.  It can either deal not-that-much damage or transmute a Condition; the latter effect is really strong, as turning a stack of Focused into Slow really cripples an activation your opponent has been making an effort to set up.

The built-in trigger gives you sort of a weird modality to this attack: you can end another condition and deal an extra point of damage, meaning that if the target has multiple conditions you can either:

  • end them both, inflict a new one and deal a point of damage, or
  • end one and deal some more substantial damage.

Of course, if they only have one condition, you can always pick the second option.  It’s a neat decision tree, and of course the attack also has the extremely strong Glimpse the Void, which also benefits from Got Your Nose.

I really, really like Delirium.  It’s expensive, but it’s both reasonably durable and reasonably dangerous.  The one thing to note is that the lacuna between activations where you get off Got Your Nose and activations where you don’t is enormous, so it may be worth saving a high Mask for this thing.

Fumigator (Freikorps, Plague)

“no, i’m a different guy. my mask doesn’t look like a bird.” Credit: Wyrd Games

If I had a nickel for every time Plague got a new model that was a gasmasked model with a gas sprayer, I’d have two nickels, which etc. etc. etc.

As Plague trends towards mono-dudes-with-poison-foggers, we will distinguish them as best we can.  This one has the classic Freikorps armor and a bit of self-healing in Perverse Metabolism (enabled by Breathing In the Chemicals, a reference I actually get).  Extended Reach will help keep him alive against melee, but decent shooting will still pick him up reasonably quickly, so be cautious.

Like his cousin the DCU, the Fumigator can spread blight and summon rats.  Specifically, the Friends in Low Places shockwave (which hands out Poison and Blight, a little odd since you’d think the gas would thematically represent one or the other) can give you a rat.  It’s a solid shockwave, for all that, and Not a Bomb?! is a much better trigger than it looks, since it’s ranged scheme marker placement that you can do while engaged and doesn’t require an opposed duel.  (It’s not even once per activation!).

The Fogger itself is on balance a slightly better, but melee-only, version of the DCU’s Flame/Plaguethrower, though the triggers are worse and it can only give Blight to its target rather than everyone hit.  That’s a bit unintuitive and also a bit of a shame, since otherwise this guy would have a niche as aoe Blight Spread.  However, the Fumigator’s ability to Reference the Field Guide ties the model together: you can build in any of those useful triggers at the low, low cost of a card, which incidentally gives him a Poison, which heals him, and so on, etc., world without end.

I kinda like Fumi-kun, though the fact that he’s a melee model is a bit odd and not what you’d expect to look at him.  I think that if he takes focused attention he’ll just die, but he’s not really profitable to throw chip damage on due to his armor and passive self-healing.  So maybe he gets there, but it may depend on whether rat-summoning in Freikorps is something they care about, or whether GG4 has enough Marker play that Not a Bomb?! is useful.

Swashbucklers (Angler, Infamous)

i’m more interested in Castaway there on the left, and will be disappointed if he’s not named Wilson. Credit: Wyrd Games

Now we’re talking.  This is the first Minion we’ve seen so far, but not the last (and that Castaway-looking fellow on the left suggests to me that Angler/Infamous is getting more than one new card).  I play both of these keywords a lot, and folks… it may surprise you but I really like Swashbucklers.

They actually haven’t got both keyword abilities, since they Showboat but don’t have Chum the Waters (though Unimpeded at least means the markers don’t slow them down).  Defensively, their stats aren’t great and their health isn’t high, but they have the interesting combination of Combat Finesse and Walk the Plank.  This means any melee attack against them is a gamble, since if the attack flips poorly and the Swashbuckler has a high enough Tome, they can just completely no-sell the attack and stop the attacker from getting another bite of the apple.   I’m also a huge fan of Boarding Action; this won’t trigger that often in Infamous, unless you’re really going out of your way to place pianos to do it, but it’ll trigger constantly in Angler and can probably get them 12″ up the board on turn 1 with no Walk actions required.  That’s a pretty significant amount of movement and continues to accumulate throughout the game, and it’s an “up to” push so it’s totally in your control.  Remember: whoever takes the most Walk actions loses.

Being Distracted near these guys is dangerous, because they have the same Cutlass as Zipp’s title and Distracted enemies are at a negative twist to resist it (which means, since Distracted cancels Focused, non-Soulstone users will have almost no way to avoid getting hit).  The sword hits reasonably hard, and has two solid triggers, so failing to hit a Swashbuckler can be a disaster for something like a Nephilim or Damned, especially if the Swashbuckler hasn’t activated yet.

Biting Insult is also worth discussing: this is a really, really good attack action that has up until now only appeared on fairly crappy models (plus a couple of non-crappy Qi and Gong models, but that crew generates Pass Tokens on its own).  Pass Token generation is very, very strong.  You have to win an opposed duel at Stat 5, which is by no means guaranteed, but Showboating means that your first cheat is effectively free.  Even just getting a card out of oppo’s hand can be worth it, and both of the triggers here have their uses (though neither one is particularly devastating).  I would not bother Insulting someone unless you can get the Pass Token, but if you can, especially if the target is some Wp 4 minion, do it!  Stack those tokens!

Oh, and they have Free Loot.  Which will sometimes matter.

I would not hire these guys if my opponent’s crew has decent guns.  As much as I talk them up, if they get shot, they will Just Die.  But into a melee opponent, especially one without native +twists to hit, they’ll do work.

Sen (Honeypot, Qi and Gong)

is the time period right for flappers? Credit: Wyrd Games


Our last new friend today is Sen (although she appears to have a friend of her own, off to the right there, probably the K.O.T.O. mentioned on her card).  I’ve been vocal about my thoughts on Qi and Gong, and right from the start, Sen addresses one of them: the biggest issue with a crew that generates and spends Pass Tokens for effects is that the most powerful thing you can do with Pass Tokens is to, you know, pass activations with them.  Favor Tokens solve that problem, and they let Sen interact with both of her crews’ mechanics without having to stack too many rules on her front of card.  Beyond that, she’s got Serene Countenance for a little defensive boon (not too much – she’s got bad stats and low health, so she will die if focused) and Rig the Deck because that’s what Honeypot models have.  Siren Song is a particularly interesting aura, because raw stat penalties in Malifaux are very rare (and powerful).  This one’s a bit limited since it only applies to Tactical Actions, but both of her keywords have Boring Conversation, and a Wp11 duel is quite a bit more disruptive than Wp10.

Her attack actions are about what you’d expect: Sharp Wit with a cute trigger for a small amount of damage, This Song’s All About You for either some discard or… a small amount of damage (with Love Hurts, though, it can actually stack up, especially against unarmored targets).   Beckoning Call is the action you’ll probably take the most often, since it both pushes friendlies around and hands out unresistable Distracted or even Brilliance, if you care about that one.  You will sometimes Beckon enemies, but more often this is just a way to move your beaters around spare their lazy feet from Walking.

Finally, her bonus action is a clean, classic Draw 2.  The cards are small, but sometimes just having cards in hand helps, especially when you’re Rigging the Deck to swap bad cards for good ones.  Or using Youko’s Information Broker.

I think Sen does enough that both keywords will be glad to have her, but she’s by no means mandatory.  Beckoning Call is very strong, Favor Tokens are useful, and she’s just difficult enough to kill that if you play cautiously she’s tough to scalpel out.  I’ll reserve judgment until we see K.O.T.O., though.  If there’s good synergy there, and the model is worth taking on its own, her stock will go up.

That’s everything we’ve seen so far!  There are pictures of a few more models floating around out there, including a ghost-train-man who I’m very excited to see, but Wyrd has been tight-lipped on them so far.  So until next time… let the speculation begin!

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