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Building a better player



Having recently returned from BK-Faux (A decently sized event in New York City) with my metaphorical tail between my legs I've resolved to become a more competitive player of Malifaux. I've made the rounds through my LGS and found 4 or 5 players that like the idea of being more competitive as well, so we have decided to help each other get there. 

I've played Neverborn since 1.5 and, although I was very interested in foraying into Arcanists, have decided to stick with my favored faction of lovely ladies and terrifying monsters as I figure out if I have what it takes to go the distance! 

What do you think makes someone a more competitive player? What tips do you have for someone looking to turn their game up to 11 (from, admittedly, about 4)? 



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Well, I am speaking from the side of someone who has wargamed for quite some time and was pretty strong in a game I shall not name. 

1. Know your crew.  Yes, I know that the crew can vary depending on scenario in the tourney(minus hardcore), but being familiar with it all click.

2. Challenge yourself.  Run a set crew and see what you can do, it will only make you stronger.  If you can use a Master who is best used for Reconnoiter in another scenario, and still do reasonably well, that speaks volumes.

3. Know your opponent's crew.  This is something your buddies can really help you with.  Variety is the flavor here, learning the capabilities of the opponent is a great way to ensure you don't overstep or play timidly.

4. Know the rules.  Again, this is something gained from consistent playing.  Being able to make sure fair play is ongoing is a huge plus for you.

5. Be the kind of player someone would want to play against again.  I don't mean be a pushover, I mean be consistently composed and amicable.  Being a good sportsman is part of the draw of the game.  This will pay dividends in the future, especially when a tourney incorporates some type of sportsmanship award!

6. Invest time into your minis.  This works wonders for me.  When I paint my minis up and paint them to what I consider a great standard, the only thing that can make them better is when they have winning records!  The fates love painted models! 

7. After learning your models and what fits with certain masters, practice combinations based on scenarios.  Make sure your buddies never take it easy on you, you can only grow in the face of adversity in my opinion.  Learning what is best for specific encounters, schemes, and scenarios will be probably the biggest factor in being competitive.  Always remember to play the scenario, don't get too caught up in scything down bodies!


Anyway, these are just what I found works for me.  Hope it helps.

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Playing Malifaux is mostly a mental pursuit. Thus the relevant ability scores to level up are Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma.

Intelligence determines how well you learn and reason. While it is difficult to actually improve your ability to learn and reason dramatically, it is possible to improve in the context Malifaux by adapting some new habits. Like Armond said, it is useful to know your crew, your opponent's crew and the rules of the game. The best way to improve your knowledge about the game (or anything really) is to always check the rulebook or cards when you don't know something or are uncertain. I doubt there are many people who won't be able to remember the rules of a model by heart after checking them dozens of times. There is also a relatively simple way to improve your reasoning: take your time while making important decisions. If you don't know which decisions are important, take your time with all the decisions you make. It might annoy your opponent, but you are allowed to take your time deciding what to do. Don't get impatient and make rash decisions.

Wisdom describes your common sense, willpower, perception and intuition. There is one very simple way to improve all these things in the context of Malifaux: Play a lot of games against different opponents. As your intuitive understanding of the game improves, you will also have easier time recognizing the important decisions you should really take your time with.

Charisma includes your force of personality, persuasiveness, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and physical attractiveness. Most of these are only important in the sense that they allow you to find opponents for those numerous games you need to play to improve your Wisdom. It is much easier to find opponents if you don't act like a total asshat and have some sense of personal hygiene. However, Malifaux is a game played face to face and is a game of incomplete information, both in the sense that you don't always know the objectives of your opponent and that you don't have complete information about the state of the game (control hands). This means that it is possible to play your opponent in addition to playing the game. This can include something as simple as bluffing with your control hand, or go as far as manipulating your opponent to make him impatient and get him to make rash decisions (which most people probably wouldn't like). It is also useful to be prepared to face tactics like that, but I guess that falls more under Wisdom, and the best way to learn to face them is still to play lots of games against different opponents.

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I really can't add much more than what was so well said here.

Some additional things I'll add are play as much as possible and don't end games early (i.e. prior to turn 5 unless someone is tabled). You can always learn something from a lose or a win but ending a game early means you may have missed seeing something and therefore not be prepared for it in a tournament game.

Last but not least, make sure to practice schemes (and strats) that you know you have trouble with. That way if they're in a pool and the options aren't great you know you've figured out a way to handle it. This is even more important in 2016 since a lot of us are still getting comfortable with them.

...oh and make sure you and your group start taking the trip to other stores/locales (which I know you already do) to get some even more variety of opponents.

See you on the gaming table bud!

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Expanding on a couple of thoughts from above.

There is a reason college profs want you to read the chapter before you come to class--even if you understand very little, you have a general sense of what is going on and where things are headed.  It makes it easier for you to understand, and hopefully remember, the material when you get to it in class.   The same is true of the rules and the models' cards in Malifaux.  You can read the entire rule book and all of the cards (the big rule book and Crossroads and Shifting Loyalties have all of the cards printed in them) and only just get a general sense of what is going on.

You build from that general sense.  Personally I start with the models I am playing and the rules. 

Learning your crew(s) and the rules is more than just memorization--it also requires thinking about how those pieces fit together.  Knowing that a model can do X is only useful if you have thought about when you might use X.

However, memorization is fairly easy and can be done away from the table.  If you have any "dead" time during your day have 6-8 models worth of cards in your pocket to pull out and memorize.  Maybe a pdf copy of the rules.  Have something game related to look at/think about whenever you don't have something else to do.

Practice makes permanent.  The reason athletes have coaches watching them is so that mistakes can be corrected before they become permanent handicaps.  You either need to make notes when you screw up and actively think about what you should have done, or play with someone who is a lot better and is willing to help you strengthen your game by making you correct mistakes in practice games.

Review, review, review.  As you get new information from reading/watching game reports or strategy guides, or tips from the discussion board go back and think about how that fits into your current understanding.  Many new players focus on killing as a goal--it is easy to understand (and kinda fun). The more experienced players know that killing is only a means to an end---you only kill something if moves you closer to VP.  This transition is gained by remembering that learning is more than memorization--it is taking the information memorized and applying it.

Playing is good practice--it gives you a chance to apply what you have been learning.  But reading/writing and similar may be even better.  In the Chess world there are a variety of exercises that you can do to improve your game play.  You have to build your own exercises in Malifaux.  

  1. For a given starting crew, how do you use each model's activation if you are playing unopposed?  How does that change if you are playing against a crew heavy with armor, WP duals, etc?  
  2. Given a core 50ss crew, what do you change for each of the strategies and schemes that could show up?  Do you swap out models or change how a given model will be used?  Change upgrades?  Deploy differently?  
  3. If you are faced with flank deployment rather than standard deployment, what do you do differently?

Give yourself time.  It takes time to build a foundational mental model.  Once you have that there is a period of fairly rapid learning as you take advantage of the framework you now have.  But once you reach a certain level of expertise learning goes more slowly as you 1) have less to learn, and 2) what you are learning is a great deal more subtle and may only be relevant against strong opponents.  

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Lots of really great advice here! I just wanted to drop a note to say how great it is to have an overall community that is willing to help others get where they want to be and learn new things without tossing the age old "git gud" out there. I really appreciate everyone that took the time to provide such thoughtful and helpful advice: I have a lot to think about going forward and a great starting point thanks to @Armond, @Myyrä, @PeregrineFalcon, and @paradoxstorm

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I actually forgot one that should always be taken into consideration.  Make sure to ask your opponent, especially if you lose, what you should have done differently when facing their kind of crew. 

In any case, you are welcome.  It isn't much of anything to help out, mostly just typing it all out haha

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A lot of good advice already,

Some additional advice: 

Use your opponent's turn. Put yourself in his position. Consider his possible moves. Which hurt you the worst? What can be done to mitigate that? From his perspective which of your moves hurt him the most? 

Think about improving in a rational way. Imagine that there is a super computer that has completely solved Malifaux. If your every move is identical to the computer's you are playing perfectly. Any deviation from perfect play is clearly a mistake but, also clearly, not all mistakes are equally bad. So what makes a mistake bad? Two things: (1) The frequency with which the mistake occurs and (2) the degree to which the mistake decreases your chance of winning. 

Simple enough, but a few important things follow. 

1.) Just because a decision is difficult does not mean that a decision is important. There is a razor thin decision to be made and you agonize over it and eventually decide one way rather than the other. The decision sticks in your head and you wonder if you really chose correctly. If both options are very nearly identically good then it is likely very difficult to determine which option is better but it is also largely irrelevant because by reason (2) even the "wrong" choice only decreases your chances of winning by an insignificant amount. 

2.) The correctness of a decision is determined at the time the decision is made. A long close game against a tough opponent is nearing the end of turn 5. The score is dead even 6-6. Your primordial magic is engaged by your opponent's 3 wound Howard Langston. Your opponent is out of activations and can't score this turn. You have two activations left: Nekima and the primordial magic. If Nekima kills Howard with her melee expert attack the primordial magic can run into scoring range for Leave Your Mark and win you the game 7-6. You have the twelve of crows in hand and can guarantee that Nekima hits Howard. If the game goes to turn 6, however, your opponent could move three arachnids into position to score for Occupy Their Turf and win her the game. You decide to kill Howard in hopes of a win on turn 5 rather than tie up the arachnids to prevent yourself from losing on turn 6. You score your point and then a 13 is flipped to see if the game continues and you lose 7-9. The move you made was correct. You had about a 75% chance of winning and a 25% chance of losing. Had you moved Nekima to engage the spiders and the primordial magic disengaged successfully from Howard because he black jokered and the game proceeded to end you made a major mistake by criteria (2) despite winning. 

3.) Crew building, and scheme selection are extremely important. It's the beginning of turn two you look down at the board and realize that two of your models are overextended and vulnerable, your opponent has bunkered down... "The initiative flip is going to be key here. If only I had hired a doppelganger" you think to yourself and "how am I ever going to score a quick murder in time when she's playing so defensively."  The decision in example two was dramatic, you were three times as likely to win the game taking one path compared to the other the decisions made when hiring your crew and picking your schemes won't affect your likelihood of winning or losing nearly as much (2) but will happen every game (1). Moderate increases in your chances of winning every game can be worth more than large increases in your chances of winning few games. 

4.) Hypothetically, if you were offered the ability to play perfect Malifaux on turns 5 and 6 or 1 and 2 you should take the later, no contest. Why? Turn 6 will only happen a little under a quarter of the time but turn 5 will always happen and aren't there often game deciding decisions to be made on turn 5? No, not exactly. It's true that when there is a big decision to be made on turn 5 the difference between a better and worse decision will often have a huge impact but... Your opponent wins initiative on turn 2 and snipes a key model before you can react declaring a quick murder for 3 points. Having lost your most expensive model without it having done anything the rest of the game quickly goes from bad to worse and by the middle of turn 4 it's clear that you won't be able to score any more points, from this point on you're playing for fun and VP diff. In this scenario the ability to play turn 5 perfectly is worth precisely nothing because nothing you can do will increase your odds of winning. Likewise, if you are already a lock to win, playing out the end game like a God doesn't matter much at all. Turns one and two always matter so it pays to optimize them. 

5.) Hand management wins games. My opponent has five cards left after cheating a high card for a suit she needed, I still have six. I activate my Illuminated that's engaged with a rotten belle. First attack a 9 of masks, I hit the belle and declare flay, cheating in a 6 to do a healthy 4 damage. Second attack, ugh the two of crows putting me at 8 but then she's only at 10 herself. I'll cheat in this 8 bringing me up to 14. My opponent cheats an 11 of crows bringing her total up to 15. Swing and a miss. If you find yourself in situations like these and afterwards think 1 success, 1 failure then you are missing a big part of the game. Here's what really happened: you won twice, once against your opponent's belle (spending a 6 for 4 damage is a bargain) and once against you opponent's hand (spending an 8 for an 11 of crows against ressurs is often at least as good). You are both at 4 cards now but you have spent what is most likely the bottom of your range and she's spent what is most likely the top of hers. 

6.) The best mistakes to fix are a combination of costly and frequent. I forgot that hunting party was in the pool and fed my opponent 3 easy vp by taking Collodi with marionettes. Think about your mistakes. Do you make the same mistake often? Does the mistake severely decrease your odds of winning? If the answer to both is yes then you know exactly what you need to be focusing on fixing in your next few games. 

7.) List build to score and deny victory points. I declared Neverborn and my opponent declared Guild, the strategy is squatter's rights and the scheme pool is interact heavy including Leave your mark, Public demonstration, Take prisoner, Convict Labour and Covert Breakthrough. The deployment type is standard and there is enough cover near the central and center-left squat markers to approach without being shot at. I've decided to take Pandora as my master and now it's time to build my crew. The schemes and strategy both reward speed and interact actions so right away I'm going to take two insidious madness' since they are fast and have lots of abilities that target willpower to synergize with Pandora's misery aura. Next, I'll take Candy since she also generates willpower duels and benefits greatly from Pandora's (0) action incite. OK we've got a lot that targets willpower but not much that targets defense so I'll add Teddy and Kade to the list, who not only shore up an area where the rest of my list is lacking, but also synergize really nicely with each other and even have lure, gobble you up, and terrifying 13 to target willpower with. I'll give Kade the depression upgrade since that helps set up Candy for her sours ability and helps ensure that Kade gets his sweetbreads trigger off for a monstrous minimum damage of 5. That brings us to 38 soulstones so we'll round out the list with a Lilitu and the box opens upgrade leaving me with 6 soulstones. 

Before launching into why building a list this way is a significant mistake please note that if this is how you build your lists then you have already gained some good insight into the game. By thinking this way while list building you've: identified how to adjust towards specific schemes and strategies, identified significant synergies between your models and considered areas where your list is lacking and taken steps to cover those deficiencies. Why is this type of list building a significant mistake then? Because the vast majority of the crew building decisions noted above were made for a reason other than scoring and denying victory points (2). What about synergy and list balance then, do they just not matter? They matter inasmuch as they help you to score or deny victory points, they're not worth focusing on just for the sake of having synergy and list balance. These types of mistakes manifest every game (1).

Last but not least, have a healthy mindset towards improving and enjoy your time playing. If you like the game, you'll play more, you'll focus better, you won't give up and you'll be more enjoyable to play against. Don't worry if you lose, even a lot. Everyone comes to the game with a different set of skills built up from other games and the rest of your life. Try to have a realistic view of your skills: sometimes players can get stuck in the mindset that they're as skilled as the best they've ever played. If your results are hot and cold what's happening is likely not that you're winning when you play well and losing when you play poorly. This attitude actually hurts you because it blinds you to what is likely happening which is that your level of play doesn't change all that much but sometimes the particular mistakes that you've been making heavily affect the outcome of the game and other times they don't. Good Luck!

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I find the game is one of resource management.

Activations, cards, wounds etc are all resources for you to trade with your opponent.

You have ways of expanding your own resources eg fast or dropping scheme markers without spending ap, card draw etc and ways of reducing your opponents resources through things like slow/paralyze or straight up killing stuff. The trick is to make sure any trades are in your favour.

As said above if you can make your opponent cheat against your low to mid cards that is great. + Flips really help with this as often you can force people to cheat first and then choose wether it is worth a card to win the dual or not.

Again reiterating the point above knowing your own stuff and knowing your enemies always helps. You'll quite often lose the first time you play a specific master just down to unfamiliarity and the "she does what???" factor.


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