Goonhammer’s Ashes of Malifaux Review Part 3: The Explorer’s Society

We’ve climbed the Ten Peaks and descended into the Bayou.  Now, time to visit the most hostile, desolate territory of all: a rich lady’s house.  That’s right – it’s time for the Explorer’s Society review.


ahool’s on first? Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Earthside, legends tell of the Ahool: a flying predator native to the jungles of Borneo.  The natives of Malifaux know better.  The Ahool is a creature of the Bayou, one of many to slip into Earth via a smaller portal before the Great Breach.  It has one noteworthy trait beyond its razor-sharp claws and foul temper: it’s one of the few creatures with a natural immunity to the Cadmus mite, making it a carrier for the infection without becoming infected itself.

The Ahool straddles the Apex and Cadmus keywords, and frankly, I really love its design.  Like most Explorer’s Society models, it has great Df and bad Wp, but it’s fast and Hard to Kill – against crews without many Wp attacks, it’s going to be annoying to remove.  Hunting Partner lets it do its thing in melee without disrupting the many guns in Apex, and Predatory Instinct is as good here as anywhere else, giving you the flexibility you need to ensure a hit (or, if necessary, really get to a straight flip on damage).  Pack Sickness is the Ahool’s unique ability, and it really makes you want to Place it.  There are a few ways to do this, most notably with Kainhearse (of whom more in a moment), but when the Ahool takes its bonus action, it can Place itself.

I’m a bit annoyed about Withered Wings, since the Ahool basically doesn’t really have a bonus action; it just has Flight, but only once it’s activated.  Models that are locked to 2AP are often harder to justify, but the Ahool might get there.  Its attack isn’t that special, but the triggers are very good: Hold Down is worth another Lord Cooper shot, which is incredibly strong, while Pouncing Strike both gives you extra effective AP and triggers Pack Sickness.  And Drink Blood is a great heal, especially since it’s built in.

Terrorize is nice to have, but it’s not the Ahool’s primary purpose – you’ll know when you need to use it.

I am torn on this guy.  Pack Sickness is a bit interesting in that getting a Parasite Token on someone is way stronger than giving them Adversary (Apex) for a turn, but then again, Hold Down is an insanely strong trigger with Cooper and almost useless in Cadmus.  I wish this guy had We Are Legion; I’m a little worried that he’s squishy for a 7ss enforcer who needs to be in melee.


he’s not from any kind of -souls or -borne, before you ask. he’s just not, ok? Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Fresh from Yharnam, Kainhearse and his (her? their?) pet Ahool are a unit.  They’ll work for Cooper, but they won’t say a word… at least, to anyone other than the spider at the middle of the Cadmus web.  Cooper may not realize that Kainhearse is a spy, but he knows better than to trust them… but at least they’re handy in a scrape.

Kainhearse’s card has a lot of text on it.  We Are Legion is great, mitigating their pretty poor defensive stats, while Scent of Blood lets them do their best Cooper2 impression.  Cooper2 has never quite gotten there since the Malisaurus Rex is pretty bad and the Society isn’t exactly overflowing in broken Beasts, but Kainhearse brings one very important tool: Lost in the Hunt lets you make anyone a Beast.  The extremely obvious, top-of-the-list choice here is Model 9, and frankly the possibilities have me salivating.  How about you spend a bonus action to make Model 9 a Beast and make him Charge, triggering Blade Rush and letting him throw a knife (or stab someone in the face), then shoot his target (ignoring Friendly Fire due to X Marks the Spot) and pitch a card to make Model 9 swing again?  

Seems good!

Kainhearse’s gun is reasonable, too, especially with those triggers.  Being able to toss out pit traps is very strong, but tossing one and then pushing it into the enemy is even better.  And of course there’s great synergy with the Ahool, although the Scent of Blood -> Hold Down -> Custom Firearm -> Scent of Blood loop is the very definition of Magical Christmasland (i.e. it’s never gonna happen, folks).

I even like the triggers on Kainhearse’s sword, although you have to be very brave or very desperate to be making attacks with it.  Especially at Stat 5.

So far I’ve just discussed Apex, but I think there are good possibilities here in Cadmus, especially since We Are Legion makes Kainhearse way more durable.  Another source of Web Markers is always useful, and you’ll pick up the odd free Nightsilk Creeper attack.

Alleyway Echo

that’s exactly what i picture when someone says “alleyway echo.” exactly that. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Somewhere in Malifaux City, there’s an alley that you can’t find unless you already know where it is.  Widdershins Lane moves, and it moves you with it – canny explorers can get anywhere in the City in moments.  Of course, there’s always a cost for this: Widdershins Lane is guarded, and the Alleyway Echo always exacts a toll from passersby.

As a Wastrel model, the Echo has to be considered in the context of McCabe’s Artifact upgrades, and it does not disappoint.  A min 3 attack that can swing up to four times in one activation is the absolute perfect carrier for the Timeworn Blade, aka the Lightsaber.  And the synergy is obvious: activating with an Artifact gives the Echo Fast, which it can then immediately trade for a Leap.

The dream, of course, is to give it an Artifact, then before it activates hit it with Burn Out from Gibson, so it can leap, activate, leap, eat a shadow marker, leap, and then swing three times after crossing basically the entire board.  That’s more Christmasland, but the incredible flexibility of Terror of Widdershins Lane is why I think this is a very strong hire even at 9 stones.  It’s a remarkably straightforward model to use: It doesn’t need to spend Focus since its damage track is so flat (which incidentally makes Know the Warrior very strong on it).  It is perma-Concealed against ranged attacks.  Against melee crews your opponent can’t leverage their hand to ensure hits against its Df 5, so it has a very good chance of surviving.  And once it gets in there and starts laying about itself with Lash Out, it can heal with Eat Your Fill.

Claustrophobia is a cute action, though I don’t know how often I’ll be using it. Often, I’d rather just Charge, though if I have a high Ram and the Stagger matters it’s worth trying.  I think that you’ll really want some means of generating Shadow Markers when you hire this guy, even in Wastrel, since you really want to make use of that Bonus.  Amusingly, though, the bonus action doesn’t rely on friendly shadow markers, so in the mirror – or against Misaki – you can snipe your opponent’s resources for value.

Host Ducat

my man stackin’ ducats. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Host Ducat thought he knew better than the Loa.  He mishandled sacred objects without a care in the world, until the voodoo practitioners of his native New Orleans cursed him to a painful death.  Fleeing to Malifaux for a cure, he managed to get himself a mystical version of Three Stooges Syndrome: he’s handling so many hexed objects at once that their conflicting curses sort of cancel each other out, leaving him, in the wavery words of Mr. Burns, invincible.

Ducat’s an odd grab bag of abilities.  He’s Incorporeal (really? is he?), he draws cards with Looted Supplies (although Umbra-heavy crews don’t make many Corpses or much Scrap), and most amusingly of all, he has Forever Doomed – thus far the signature ability of the Hanged, this is a way stronger ability than it looks.  I mean, it looks strong, but rarely applicable – but treating your own Black Joker as a the Red makes it a good cheat, and you’ll find it in your hand a decent amount of the time.  And breaking your opponent’s Red down to Black is downright soul-crushing.

His attack actions are similarly weird.  The Derringer may seem like an afterthought, but with Ungentlemanly Affairs it’s sort of reliable (as long as you’re throwing down Shadow Markers), and you don’t care about clocking someone for a Severe 4 as much as you do dropping Schemes with Draw Out Secrets.  I quite like his Fang-Edged Umbrella, too; those are all good triggers, and the ability to Distract himself for subsequent attacks is very good.  The stat is bad, but it’s not too hard to set up some Distracted on yourself, and then you’re at a +twist to hit.

You’re really taking this guy for his Tactical actions, though.  Reliable healers are very, very strong, and this guy’s heal even generates Shadow Markers (the only reliable source thereof in Wastrel).  And Dark Bargain is quite simply one of the strongest Tactical Actions in the game.  Especially in GG4, one of the most Interact-heavy GGs we’ve seen so far; this guy can vote three times, without even having to be Fast first.

I think you basically always hire Host if you’re hiring the Echo into McCabe.  The package of the two is a bit pricey, but in my mind it’s worth it.  They do a lot and carry artifacts very well.

Cayce Jones

yet another real world reference! between this and maco joe, someone at Wyrd loves train lore. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

A lifetime contract is a lifetime contract.  Cayce Jones found that out the hard way.  An engineer for Condor Rails, he died in the sort of corner-cutting, it’s-cheaper-to-replace-the-man-than-the-machine accident that Condor is famous for.  That wasn’t the end of his story, however – a chance encounter with Jedza reanimated the man and fused him with the boiler that had killed him.  And when she heard, Anya pulled his contract out of storage and put it back in the active file.  Lifetime means lifetime at Condor Rails.

Cayce Jones leans heavily into an aspect of his Keywords that hasn’t been a major focus up to now: geode markers.  His signature ability, Fail-Safe, creates a huge bubble where your models can ignore Geodes for basically all purposes.  That has interesting implications: for example, your Sz 2 models can snipe from complete safety behind a wall of Blocking Geodes, or you can create a maze of Hazardous, Impassable terrain that your own crew can waltz through with impunity.

The chief problem with this plan is just how difficult it is to make Geodes in the first place.  Jedza2 can do it once per turn as a Shockwave, assuming you don’t want to summon a Moorwraith.  But beyond her, the only source is Surveyors, and their Geode creation is heavily limited: you have to heal a model within 6″ of a Surveyor and discard a card, and you’re limited to dropping the Geode in base contact with the model healed.  It’s doable, but Surveyors aren’t anyone’s choice for minion of the year.  Cayce himself can make Geodes with Trouble Ahead, up to three per turn, and that helps a lot, but he’s a pricey model and spending his whole activation slowly setting up the Geode gimmick – at pretty short range, too – is a lot to ask.

I’m a bit cool on Cayce for this reason, though I know some Seeker players love him, and I will grant that on some boards (those with narrow choke points) and in some matchups (those without Blow It to Hell or similar anti-Destructible tech, and without lots of low value AP to spend Slamming), he will really give your opponent fits.

That said, there’s some interesting synergy here with the Keenes, who can push the Geodes around (and in the case of Altus, make more).  And the rest of Cayce’s card isn’t awful.  Constant Motion is a really strong rule, doubly so on a model with Price of Progress, and while his bonus action is just so-so it’s got a low TN and two strong triggers.  Cayce’s attack is a bit odd, too; a 2″ engage is nice, and it has reasonably good triggers, but 2/4/5 is a pretty mopey damage track.  If you can push someone into a Geode for a 3/5/6 that’s not bad at all, but it requires some setup and a suitable target.  I do appreciate that his weapon ignores Incorporeal, since Incorporeal models otherwise ruin his entire gimmick.

Why isn’t he Incorporeal, by the way?  He’s a ghost!  I guess the metal part isn’t.


ah well ah everybody’s heard, about the aua… Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

With their new alliance with Janus and the Society, the Aua have been reclaiming much of their lost treasure.  Slipstreamers are the fruit of that partnership: their kickin’ rad hoverboards are a favorite of young Aua and Maxine’s EVS crew alike.

Look, guys.  I love Bygone.  I love EVS.  These models look really cool.  But I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you: Slipstreamers are really bad.

Their front of card is… fine, though not setting the world on fire.  6 Df/4 Wp is a surprisingly common statline for minions in this book, and it brings with it some obvious problems, most notably that Twist Reality or similar attacks are going to mess you up.  Slipstreamers can conditionally have a sort of Arcane Shield, but only conditionally, and to get it they trade off their mobility, which is really weird! Mobility seems like it’s these guys’ whole “thing!”  Why is it conditional!

Deep Discovery and Reconfigure are obviously great rules, and Scars of Cherufe heavily depends on the quality of the model’s triggers.  And that’s where the wheels, or sand-sail, fall off.  The back of the Slipstreamers’ card is appallingly bad, bad in a way that makes me wonder what the heck happened.  Their attack has both a bad stat and a 0″ engage, but don’t worry, its damage track sucks too.  The Defensive Fighting trigger is bizarre here, since stacking Shielded on a single model usually only works if the model has a lot of health or some other form of damage reduction, neither of which is present here.  Pushing your target is neat, but it’s not much of a push, and it does require a trigger which you only sometimes can build in.

Drag Under can do some work, but the synergy is just not there; sure, it makes Earthquake easier to hit with, but why not just attack with Earthquake first and Stagger the enemy while doing damage?  And setting up their own crappy attack doesn’t matter much.

Their Bonus action is the weirdest part of all.  The TN is weirdly high and requires a suit, which means if you’re in Mobility Mode then you can’t even guarantee the action goes off.  It’s hard to set up and get value from, and its one trigger requires you to hire two of these things, then goes back to being useless if one dies.

I guess they’re trying to make a sort of scheme runner?  But these things are miles worse than Beebe and Calypso at the same job.  And in Bygone, they’re fragile, pricey, and super low impact.  They’ll look pretty.  Paint ’em and put ’em on the shelf until M4E.

Hand of Janus

now with 50% more faces. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Gretchen Janus has plans.  Big plans.  What they are, nobody knows – at least, nobody who hasn’t read Ashes of Malifaux (no spoilers!).  But whatever she’s planning, it requires a giant ass kicking robot.

10 stones is a lot, so let’s see what we’re getting for that price.  The Hand’s statline is uninspired, with 4/5 defenses and 9 health leaving it extremely vulnerable for a 10 stone Enforcer.  Sure, it has Armor 2, but anything that ignores Armor will be putting it in the ground in a hurry.  Even crews that don’t ignore armor will be able to chip it down very quickly if it just barrels into combat.

Of course, this thing is huge: the Hand won’t be able to hide from anything, but nothing will be able to hide from it, either.  Helping out with that is Towering Figure; the Hand can charge right through terrain and screening models, and it can see over the heads of all but the largest foes, meaning it’ll be next to impossible to keep it from drawing a bead on vulnerable support pieces.

The other two front of card abilities are both very strong in different ways.  Excess Funds is great and frequently reason enough to include Flush with Cash in your list.  Funds lets you build lists with smaller caches, too, because it helps fix your hand, and it really rewards cheating the Initiative flip, since it activates after you do so and draws you back up to full hand size (i.e. discard three, draw four).

Frantic, on the other hand, is the sort of model-defining ability that gives opponents fits.  It’s the equivalent of Focus on every single attack you make, but it also stacks with Focus, meaning even Hard to Wound enemies or Soulstone users can’t keep you off a straight flip.  Trying to activate Frantic – or keep your opponent from activating it – is going to be a minigame with the Hand.  You need to reduce it to 4 health to activate Frantic due to the way “halves” work in Malifaux, which is a perilously low total – but crews that don’t have easy access to armor piercing attacks will struggle to do more than 1 or 2 damage to the Hand at once.

And once you see the Attack Actions, you’ll understand why it’s so important to never let this thing go Frantic in your lines.  Its melee attack, Janus’ Wrath, meets the gold standard for beatsticks in Malifaux: a 2″ reach, Stat 6 3/4/5 with three good triggers.  In particular, Shove Aside is a nasty trigger on everyone who has it, especially a model that tramples right over other models and terrain.  Remember, without Soulstones the Hand can’t build in any of these triggers, so saving appropriate cards is very important.

While the melee attack is great, I am actually way more excited about the Hand’s gun.  12″ is a long way, and the Hand’s enormous Sz means that it’ll be very difficult to screen it out from shooting your backline.  It ignores Concealment, Cover and Friendly Fire, and can even be fired out of melee, since it’s not a projectile attack (so no Bulletproof damage prevention for you!).  The damage track is a bit odd at 2/4/4b, but the Burst Damage trigger ties it together.

This is a gun that wants Severes.  Hitting a single target for 2 damage is not the sort of thing you want your 10 stone beater to do, but hitting a target for 4 and then spreading out two 4 damage blasts is hideous.  That’s the sort of attack that just rips crews to pieces, especially when you can shoot past the frontline at the vulnerable Df 4 support pieces in the backfield.  Against crews that can’t or won’t spread, a couple of Seeking Bolts flipping Severe damage with Burst Damage are going to do insane amounts of damage, probably killing two or three models in a single activation.  That’s why Frantic is so important: if you can get to a straight flip to damage on the gun, and you have Severes to cheat, you are going to just vaporize crews.

Finally, the Hand has a nice little bonus action to heal itself or other Constructs.  It can even remove Conditions, though because it takes a trigger to do so, it won’t be able to remove its own Stunned – removing Slow or Distracted from itself, though, will be worth it all by itself.

So how do you use the Hand?  Well, the obvious answer is you lard it up with Focus, Fast, and Shielded (to the extent possible), stack your hand, and send it into the fray.  Tiri and Gibson DeWalt are both more than capable of this task; both have good card draw, both have Burn Out, and both can hand out Focus.  Both Umbra and Bygone can also accelerate the Hand up the board pretty easily, letting it save its AP for murderin’.  The gold standard, though, has to be EVS.  Maxine hits all the boxes: she can give the Hand Fast and/or Focused, she draws a billion cards, and Beau Fishbocker or Orville can move the big guy into position via Lead the Way or Up We Go.  Machinists are also worth a shout, since their melee attack heals any friendly construct, not just EVS ones.  The Hand of Janus slots neatly into the slot Kiya Manimi was occupying, and I expect to use it with Maxine a lot.

The Bell Teals for Thee

And that’s it for the Explorer’s Society!  There are some high highs and some low lows here, but overall I think the Society made out well enough.  I have very little table time with either Cooper or McCabe but the Wastrel/Apex models are really making me want to try both keywords out.

Join us next time, when we visit the civilized (mostly), law-abiding (when it suits them) scions of the Guild!

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