Hello, Mali-folks! Welcome to Malifaux’s first column of GHOULHAMMER 2023. As the rest of the site acquires a distinctly spooky air, and the aroma of pumpkin spice fills the air, I too have decided to take a walk on the scary side. Malifaux is already a game with a lot of movie horror in its DNA, and on occasion Wyrd finds itself inspired to make things… nightmarish.
Nightmare Crews and You
Ok, so there’s the Nightmare crew, and then there are Nightmare Crews. (So far, there’s no Nightmare Nightmare Crew). But just what is a Nightmare Crew? At its core, it’s a set of alternate sculpts for a specific Keyword.
The history of Nightmare Crews stretches back to Gencon 2011. Malifaux was a fledgling game, still in its first edition, and a year away from its first plastic kits. There were just five factions, and just four Masters per faction. And you had to walk uphill, in the snow, both ways, just to score a single measly Strategy point.
The first Nightmare Crew had an astoundingly simple premise: what if the Guild’s premier undead hunter… died?!?!?!?!
Lady J Loses Her Head
Dead Justice was the first Nightmare crew ever, and very much the prototype for what would come next. There were just five models: Lady J, the Judge (who back then was a weird chain-wielding goggle man), and three Death Marshals. No Totem – back in First Edition those didn’t come in the crew boxes. And no specific thematic resonance, either. Lady Justice died! That’s what’s happening here!
For all that, it was a cool idea, and a pretty bold move. Malifaux was never a huge game, but back in 2011 it was a lot less established than it is now. Making a set of models is a pretty big investment: you need sculptors, you need to get molds made, you need a new set of packaging and raw materials… doing all that for a crew that wasn’t new, and that many of its prospective audience already owned, was definitely a risk. But it paid off: Dead Justice sold like hotcakes. There are a few box sets still for sale out there, but good luck paying less than $100 for one.
And from there, we were off to the races.
Get Obliterated, Scrub
2012 was a big year for Malifaux; in addition to the release of Storm of Shadows, which introduced the game’s first new faction since launch (the Ten Thunders), 2012 also saw an abrupt and wholesale changeover into hard plastic. With all that, it may not be too surprising to hear that there was no Nightmare Edition crew that year. There was a Nightmare Hanging Tree, which was a piece of terrain, but that’s not a crew and we shan’t be talking about it.
Gencon 2013 was another watershed Malifaux had grown by leaps and bounds, but it was preparing for its most difficult test yet: the first edition changeover. Every game gets these, and they’re always a bit of a dicey time (I guess a card-flippy time in this case?). Will the players stick around? Will the new rules land? Does the game really need a new edition?
The answer to the last question, at least, was yes; the first edition Malifaux rules are charming and fun to read, but not super functional by modern wargaming standards. There was a lot of Extremely Weird Bullshit, and some pruning was necessary.
Of course, Second Edition wasn’t just First Edition Simplified. It was ambitious, revealing all kinds of sprawling plans. Bayou split off from Outcasts to becomes its own faction, the seventh (and last until 2020’s Explorer’s Society). Dual-faction Masters weren’t just a Ten Thunders thing anymore, with McMourning splitting his time between Guild and Resurrectionists while Lucius revealed his Neverborn allegiance. Joining them was the game’s newest Master, Tara, and the Obliteration keyword, who were both Outcast and Resurrectionist. (Since then, Tara has gone pure yellow, while Jack Daw now occupies the split green/yellow spot).
The Nightmare Edition Tara box is… odd. It’s definitely a Nightmare Edition, says so right on the box, but it isn’t really different from the normal version. Oh, the sculpts are different, and the Nothing Beast is a lot bigger and gribblier, but everyone is just… who they are, only moreso. Persistent rumor says that the first set of Tara sculpts that Wyrd sent to the printer came back way too big, and so they just made them the Nightmare Box, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense – why would they sculpt an entire second set of figures for the same crew? It is a mystery that will remain until someone tells me what happened. Maybe never.
Juggalos everywhere rejoiced in 2015, as Gencon saw the unveiling of a new Nightmare Crew. Colette and her merry band of Performers were replaced by ringmaster Mr. Cooper and his crew of freaks and uniques: Thin Lizzy the bearded lady, Mercury the Strongman, Baritone Lola the… weird shirtless clown? And some flying monkeys, of course.
Malifaux has always had a particularly baroque horror aesthetic, so I think a dark carnival fits here a bit more than it might in other systems – it feels less shoehorned in. The Coryphee mannequins are popular to this day, since they look pretty cool when placed on the same base to function as a Duet.
Get In the Van
The Wild Ones replaced McCabe, who was at that time dual faction Guild/Ten Thunders (he’s since ditched his red jacket for a teal one). There’s nothing particularly nightmarish about the 70s/80s punk scene (unless you’re a parent or a school principal), but this box showed the Nightmare Editions pushing out a little bit from their pure-horror roots. It also wasn’t a one-to-one replacement for the existing McCabe box, which at the time didn’t feature Rough Riders. In fact, Rough Riders didn’t even exist yet, so these two in the Big Wheels were substitutes for Mounted Guard. I do wonder a little how much the development of Rough Riders in Third Edition was influenced by wanting McCabe’s Nightmare Box to still be legal after he left the Guild… probably not much, but it’s a fun thought.
This box still comes up for sale from time to time, and it’s a great kit. It also has a totem! Little Iggy Pup!
We’ll Just Call You Snowball ll
Hamelin’s pretty terrifying on his own, but what’s even scarier than a piper with a swarm of rats? A mad old biddy with a swarm of cats!
The Hamelin box set was an ambitious choice, since the crew is known for fielding up to a dozen Malifaux Rats. Of course, the new cat sculpts are tiny, but still, that’s a lot of sculpting effort! The box looks great on the table, though. This was the first (to my knowledge) Nightmare Edition to come in variants: in addition to the standard grey-plastic sprues, there’s also translucent plastic versions that are designed to be played unpainted. I actually have a couple of sprues of transparent yellow cats somewhere. Let me tell you, those tiny, fiddly little bastards being see-through does not make them easier to build.
Obviously There’s a Krampus Model, Come On
2017 was a year of surprises, including a second Nightmare box! Christmas horror-comedy is a grand cinematic tradition, and these models strike a great balance between creepy and goofy. There were some production difficulties with the Winter Wonderland box – specifically, the Rasputina mold collapsed in transit, so she had to be recast in resin. By way of apology for the delay, Wyrd upped the ante and included Festivus Arborus, an alternate Ice Golem, in every box. These models are adorable, but unlike past kits, they’re not standard sprue plastic – they’re “pre-assembled” one-piece models, sometimes called “board game plastic.”
Wyrd has done a few pre-assembled kits since, most notably the Third Edition Starter Boxes and the Rotten Harvest crews (of which more later), but this was an early example. That type of kit is divisive – some people are sprue purists – and I agree that in some cases the detail is lacking, but the Winter Wonderland models look superb.
Age-Inappropriate Cartoon Fandom
What is horror? Is it a specific genre, with genre conventions? Does intent matter? Must the creator intend to terrify? Or is “horror” in the eye of the beholder? Is it defined operationally? Is horror that which scares you?
If so, the Ulix Nightmare Edition is slap bang in line with Malifaux’s horror tradition. The first Bayou Nightmare Edition, appropriately enough, went so far in the opposite direction that it sort of looped around and became horrible again. There’s a long tradition of weird Bayou models – you can see in the image above the Eggapult, Daredeviled Egg and War Wabbit, none of which are technically part of the crew – but the Unicorn Vomit and Pixie Farts Nightmare Edition took it to the next level.
Not only that, but Wyrd actually supplemented the plastic box set with a few sold-separately additions- specifically, the Minicorns (piglets) and the Sparkle Steed (war pig, seen here rearing up with an impaled hand on its horn). These guys are metal and I actually use them in my regular non-Nightmare Ulix crew… but while I own the rest of the gang, they’re too frightening to put on the table.
Shiver Someone’s Timbers, Anyway
You like pirates, right? You like zombie pirates? You like the Pirates of the Caribbean movie? You do, right? And the old Sartosan Vampire Pirates list from White Dwarf? What about old-fashioned diver suits? You idiots love that shit, right?
Ok, it’s a bit fanservicey, but I actually love this crew. The models are gorgeous, they all fit together thematically, and they feel Malifaux-y. Even Archie gets in on the fun – he doesn’t get an entire new model, but the kit comes with a little pirate hat to turn him into Yarrrrr-chie.
This is perhaps the first “modern” Nightmare Edition, in that all subsequent editions followed this pattern: a box basically mimicking the Core Box, plus a subsequent separate box that expanded it (here, the Salty Seadevil standing in for the Rogue Necromancy).
If you thought the Ulix Nightmare Edition was a thematic departure, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Mei Feng’s 2020 Nightmare Edition is insane, in all the best ways. I’m not totally sure how it fits into the world of Malifaux (Nightmare Edition crews are supposed to represent characters that actually exist somewhere in the world). I think they’re inside a computer? There’s a Through the Breach adventure about it.
Anyways, the 1988 Nightmare Edition was cyberpunk as heck, with bubblegum-popping Gumdrop leading a crew of cyberpsychos and, uh, a fish? Apparently that fish is a nightmare to assemble. There was also a Metal Golem stand in, Fat Cap, who like the Rasputina Nightmare Edition was preassembled plastic.
This crew looks extremely cool on the tabletop, but the models are definitely pretty fiddly. That said, if you can get the details to pop like in the example above, they’re very striking.
HOME DAGON HOME HOME YHANTHLEI SEA TO THE SEA
Did you know Wyrd makes more than one miniature game? It’s true! The Other Side has struggled a bit to find its footing (though there’s a big new expansion coming soon), but Wyrd has kept supporting it – often by creating models that function for both games. That’s what happened here: Adi Adara and her minions serve the Gibbering Hordes, but also the Neverborn, as she’s a stand-in for Nekima.
I actually own this crew, having won a box in a tournament, though I haven’t built them yet. Not that fond of purple! That said, the aquatic theming is top-notch, and I’d especially love to see an Adi Adara v. Clampetts grudge match. Sushi’s Revenge, or something.
Let Me Solo Him
Malifaux Burns brought Titles to the world of Malifaux, and so 2022’s Nightmare Box was the first to include a Title version of a master. Lord Galehault and his mechanical minions function as a Hoffman crew on the table, but while the Fallen Kingdom box includes a mounted Lord who acts as Hoffman’s title, the Legend Reforged expansion box includes a foot version who represents OG Hoffman. This Nightmare Edition actually has a third box, with some alternate Riotbreakers – as keywords grow with new releases, Nightmare Editions have to keep up, since there’s nothing more distressing than having a half-Nightmare crew.
Stylistically, Galehault and pals owe a lot to the Gothic horror of Soulslike games, which was a deliberate aesthetic choice. Horror comes in lots of forms, and video game horror is as rich a vein as cinematic horror.
The Bones Are Their Money
Most recently, the Reap and Sow box brings good ol’ fashioned SKELEBONES to Malifaux with Nightmare Jedza, the Skeleton King. Accompanied by his Stalwart Knight and Bellringers, and heralded by the Ghostly Coach, the Skeleton King is a grand old return to form – Harryhausen would be proud. At time of writing, the Crown & Thorn box with equivalents for Jedza’s Title form and Austera & Twigge isn’t out, but probably will drop during the Wyrd Black Friday sale.
I bought this crew with the actual intention to paint it! I love playing Jedza, and the Nightmare Edition really grabs me. I haven’t gotten around to painting the King and his Court yet (my pile of shame is quite large) but it’s on the list.
Life Ain’t Nothing But
But wait! That’s not all! There’s actually a second vaguely-scary-themed series of alternate crews. The Rotten Harvest box sets are a different spin on “scary variant crews” – these ones focus more on Halloween, with all the seasonal silliness that entails. Rotten Harvest boxes tend to come with a number of follow-ons, sometimes a year later or more, that fill out the keyword, and they’re usually more direct takes on pop culture.
The first Rotten Harvest crew, released in 2020, was Pandora’s. As you can see, Witches and Woes has a distinctly bewitching vibe, in that Pandora appears to be cosplaying Samantha Stevens. (At least, that was my ride, but she’s distinctly, uh, fancy relative to Samantha). She’s got her pumpkin-headed helpers, and Candy, Kade and Iggy showed up in adorable little Halloween costumes as add-ons. The models are pretty high-quality, and if you’re the type who likes to field the Carver, he fits right in here.
Cursed With Idiot Sisters
Continuing with a theme, the 2021 Rotten Harvest box featured Zoraida. They’d already done Bewitched, so this time Wyrd went even lighter; while Zoraida herself is a classic, apple-toting Wicked Witch, her Witches of the Wood (née Waldgeists) are Winifred, Sarah and Mary from the Halloween classic Hocus Pocus. Come, little children!
Mama Imelda Would Be Proud
Last year’s Rotten Harvest box traveled south of the border to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. I don’t think this is strictly a take on Coco – I mean, Dia de los Muertos is, you know, a real holiday, with real traditions – but if we’re trying to make a “Halloween movies” theme fit you can do a lot worse than Coco. Anyways, the crew is wonderfully evocative – I especially love the Alebrije totem. And there’s an expansion box, too, although I think it is a bit of a stumble to make the cucuruchos Exorcists instead of Death Marshal Recruiters -the latter actually show up in crews from time to time.
Actually, It’s Pronounced Fronkensteen
And now we come to the present, and the latest Rotten Harvest. This year, Wyrd’s decided to pay homage to one of the funniest comedies of all time – the late, great Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein.
Featuring the Bride and the Creature as Anna and the Valedictorian, a madly grinning Eyegor as the research assistant, and three cute little Misfits as Undergraduates, this box stars the irreplaceable Gene Wilder as Dr. Frank N. Steen, nee von Schtook. There’s a second box coming with a medium-based Steen (complete with giant Tesla coil) to represent Schtook’s title form. It’s adorable and I love it to death.
And if you like this box – why not learn to play von Schtook with Danger Planet’s Keyword Tier List? This video goes through the whole Transmortis keyword, along with the best out-of-keyword hires, and lets you know just how to use them to best effect. Check it out and subscribe for more Malifaux content!
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