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Puppet Wars: It Begins


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“Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief…” What follows is neither short, nor funny.

~Richard Armour, Twisted Tales from Shakespeare

Greetings to the Wyrd community!

The following and anteceding battle reports will describe a fantastically fun journey of three people learning how to play Puppet Wars.

Before any story begins, it’s always a great idea to meet the characters. Without further ado:

Hashmal: The Narrator and yours truly for this little escapade. Wargaming experience: 12 years, 3 different game systems. W/D/L ratio: Seamus couldn’t even resurrect it.

Emperor Fabulous (Emperor for short): Proto-gamer and relative. Wargaming experience: 1 game of Warmachine 2 weeks ago. Rumored to be a Greek god of old.

Wren, Bringer of Cute: A young woman who delights in foiling the plans of other players. Wargaming experience: not a bit. Adaptability: like a cat MacGyver and you just put tuna on the top of the fridge with nothing but string and duct tape in reach.

Link: A 9 month-old kitten, very lovable but extremely stupid. Favorite pastimes: sleeping, chasing his sister, staring vacantly at a wall while ~3” from it.

Zelda: A 9 month-old kitten, sister to Link. Slightly smarter and much more devious. Favorite pastimes: attacking my feet while I’m sleeping, failing to clean herself, flipping out at imaginary mice, purring.


And we’re off!

Game 1: Hashmal vs. Emperor Fabulous

A little sibling rivalry never hurt anyone, and neither did a friendly game of puppet-induced slaughter. Well, maybe the slaughter hurt. They certainly tried, at any rate.

With this in mind, it was a quiet evening when Hashmal and Emperor Fabulous threw down for what was the first game of Puppet Wars played, following Hashmal’s compulsive purchase of the board game and every single booster available. Buy-in costs: severe. Gratification: high.

Knowing little and less about Malifaux, aside from there are a few things that are ripped straight from his nightmares, Hashmal elects to field the creepiest Master he can find: Pandora. Emperor Fabulous, showing a penchant for Victorian fashion and mass-murderers, selects Seamus.

Both players digested the rules and a few beers each. Then, it was time for the throwdown! Who would emerge victorious? Pandora, with her cute box of doom and no-you-don’t-get-to-play abilities, or Seamus and his annoying tendency to never die?

As much as I’d love to give a play-by-play of this game, time, lack of sleep (game finished at 4:30 AM), and beer have all dulled the exact turns of the game. Fortunately, I’ve got a great mind for gist.

The highlight of this game was our complete inability to play by the rules, or really to comprehend them clearly. We did very well for our first game, but several key errors were committed – oddly, most by me, the most litigious of rules lawyers and the one with the most gaming experience (by a ton). Reading rules is half the battle; being cogent enough to understand them wins the rest. I claim not-drunk on this charge, merely stupid.

Game Size: Shoebox

Map: 2

Hashmal’s Toybox

Master: Pandora

Sidekicks: Bete Noire, Baby Kade

Pawns: Malifaux Cherub, Silurid, Guild Austringer, Hog Whisperer, Piglet

Emperor Fabulous’ Toybox

Master: Seamus

Sidekicks: Nino Ortega, Judge

Pawns: Executioner, Death Marshal, Ronin, Rotten Belle, Guild Austringer

Note: I am aware now that the Shoebox size does not include the Master, but missed that for the purpose of this game. Thus, we were each playing one puppet down.


Not even a bit of it. Emperor and myself were pretty evenly-matched here. I understood hitting and exceeding target numbers better than he did, but I still hadn’t grasped how the Combat statistic worked. I blindly stumbled onto a pretty decent force, entirely because I’d been reading the Malifaux rulebook (for the stories) and really liked the theme of the Neverborn (mostly because they creeped me the hell out). So, I picked mostly Neverborn puppets, with the Bete thrown in because YAY SPOOKY and the Hog Whisperer + Piglets in because I like combos and the gremlins make me laugh sooooo hard.

Emperor wasn’t so lucky, though. See, neither one of us had really grasped activation costs yet, nor did we realize AT ALL that each master allowed us to ignore a specific suit. That’s where my love for a theme helped me and killed Emperor – I was able to ignore a lot of Masks, whereas Emperor picked a ton of Guild puppets under Seamus and ran into serious activation difficulties, particularly when we started burning cards.

Both of our strategies were based on what we liked the look of more. It just so happened that I sucked into a good combo, where he ran into a cold card-induced coma halfway through the game.

The Game Begins

Both of us began bringing pieces onto the board, quickly learning the animation benefit each master provided (and double-checking the non-played masters to make sure that, in fact, every one of them had a suit reduction Ability). Our overall lack of strategy led us to bring in those models that we thought were the coolest – or, in my case, whatever I could afford to bring on, since my Control Hand resembled something Hamelin dredged up. Emperor brought in his Rotten Belle, the Judge, and the Executioner; I brought in the Malifaux Cherub and Bete Noire and amassed a less-frightening hand off a few good animation card flips. He pushed his Executioner and Judge forward towards the workbench to my right. I advanced cautiously, a fledgling plan forming in my head. Next turn rolls around after a bit more animating, and he gets another high Ram, animating his Executioner and pushing him into my grill. About this time I actually read what was on my Puppets’ cards, specifically the two I had in play.

What follows is a school of hard knocks education in combos.

I animate the Bete Noire and use Sense Stuffing on the Executioner after advancing forward one space. He Dodges high, (12 Masks), but not high enough: I draw a Mask and play a 12 Rams from my hand. In one fell swoop, his heaviest hitter is now an upgrade waiting to happen.

Needless to say, the Emperor was not pleased. Playing an animation card from his hand, he throws the Judge in my face. I do not elect to Dodge the Judge’s attack and, with a modest flip, he connects. Boom, Bete has one Stitch remaining.

I think you know what happens next.

The Cherub animates and uses Can’t Say No To You on the Bete Noir, who immediately uses Sense Stuffing again. Emperor, now realizing how bad that ability is and profusely and roundly cursing my name, can’t Dodge high after burning his two high cards. Snip snip go the Bete’s knives and in two short, sweet animations, Emperor is down two powerhouse puppets.

The Game Progresses

After Emperor is finished with his recent round of profanities and I duck the shoe he unceremoniously lobs at my head, we continue (note: some of this may be exaggerated for effect. There was another round of profanities and possibly a duck thrown too. ~ed). I exploit my position as the dominant ringleader in this game and bring all of my puppets onto the board over the next several animations. Fabulous does the same. I begin throwing my puppets in his grill, but it gets rocky on the following turn: I lose my Bete to a rather cheesed-off Ronin led by a rather cheesed-off Emperor as he plays the Red Joker to counter what I thought was a good Dodge (13 Tomes). Baby Kade runs out into western nowhere to snag a Workbench. I misplayed Knife Wielding Baby, thinking that I could use Free Actions and Run, so the good Baby isn’t as quick as I thought – still nasty, though! Emperor shoots a token Death Marshal shot at him, but balks at his natural Defense of 13. I blow up his Ronin and his Death Marshal with my own hitters: the Silurid and the Austringer, with a parting shot by Kade as he’s running wide.

Maybe it was the beer I’d been feeding him all night. Maybe it was my incessant taunting (actually, he felt terrible ~ed). Maybe it was 3 AM and none of us were coherent at this point. Whatever the cause, Emperor figured out two critical things that flipped the tables completely against me: Scary Face and Upgrades. See, I had taken relatively few Stitches, whereas Emperor was sitting on a treasure trove of Upgrades. What’s more, Seamus was still firmly camped on his objective. What’s MORE, for two turns straight, he drew incredible Crows and Rams hands, allowing him to attach whatever he wanted. Fast forward a few animations of him discarding low animation cards to pimp Nino’s ride and using Seamus’s Scary Face on an annoying interposing Rotten Belle. Suddenly, Nino is sitting on the Executioner’s Glowy Claws and the Judge’s Torn Bandana. He’s now Combat +STUPID and Powerful +1. One guess what the average Stitch total of my puppets is. Yeah.

Nino, in turn, goes on a killing spree. Emperor, through cunning use of Rampage’n, kills my Piglet, my Cherub, and my Silurid, without even blinking. In a few short animations, the game is entirely his. I do what any experienced wargaming general would do: I panic and blame the cards. Oh, and upgrade Baby Kade to a Df 14 (thanks, Fairy Wings!) and send him straight for Seamus’s throat.

Baby Kade puts two wounds himself on Seamus, thanks to a blown Control Hand on the part of my opponent since he was busy exacting brutal, horrible revenge on me, as Emperor runs him away. The Baby does suffer a Rip, though, since I have to double-animate him to keep pressure up. Through excellent use of interposing models and terrain, Seamus gets the slip while Kade is facing none other than Mr. Steroids himself, Nino Ortega. Fortunately, that +1 Df bump is all the Baby needs; despite drawing an insane number of cards, Nino can’t catch the Red Joker.

Meanwhile, on my side of the board, Pandora, who I never did end up animating, is under siege. The Rotten Belle has made her way to melee and is attacking! His Austringer is providing supplemental support; however, my Defense cards are made of liquefied victory (multiple Aces and I sucked out and drew high on the subsequent Flip when I played them) and he can’t crack Pandora’s steely visage.

The Game Ends

The game’s getting close. Pandora’s under siege, unwounded for now, but how long can my cards hold out? Seamus is sitting on two Stitches remaining. The Turn begins anew. He animates the Rotten Belle first, swinging at Pandora and scoring a hit! I animate a model and Run it next to Seamus. He animates his Austringer and makes an attack against Pandora, but fails to land (another good Dodge on my end). I animate my Austringer and punk Seamus before Scary Face goes up. He dodges, but it’s average and I hit. Seamus goes next, Scary Faces himself, and advances two spaces away.

I know it. I feel it. I can see victory. I animate my secret weapon, the puppet I’ve held all this time, the puppet I know who alone can show me victory.

I animate the Hog Whisperer.

He suffers a Rip, since I’d run him up to Seamus to allow the Austringer the attack, and advances next to the big, scary Resurrectionist. Takes a swing.

Emperor elects to Dodge.

Red Joker.

With Scary Face, I’m looking at a 14 Crow Whatever (he chose Masks).

Flip gave me a Crow.

Control Hand gave me the Red Joker I’d been sitting on for about three turns.



Immediate thought after the game and the one that has stuck with me since: any game where I get to say the phrase “The Hog Whisperer wins!” is a game I want to play. We had a riotous amount of fun, despite a rather slow learning curve. The game lasted approximately 4 hours, with us jabbing insults back and forth, making rules error after error, and learning how this thing was even supposed to be played. For your sake, I cut out the first two hours of the game, which was largely just rules explanation, proxy battles, and immature jokes.

We both also got a great feel for how unique the models are and how incredibly important it is to READ YOUR CARDS AND YOUR OPPONENTS’ CARDS. We also learned that, just because you take some heavy losses early, you’re hardly out. Smart play can zip you right back up to the top. To use a real-time strategy term, while I focused on production of units, he took to the defense a bit and quickly tech’d up. I didn’t have those resources, so later in the game he came out with power I simply couldn’t equal. Emperor capitalized on how desperately low on Stitches my models were by juicing up a Range 3 model into a combat hoss, then mercilessly plugging me. Thank goodness I kept Nino busy; with the ability to hit Cb 3 Powerful +2 on an attack, he could demolish Pandora with one shot.

The ability to come from behind, not by luck but by smarts, sold me on Puppet Wars completely. That’s the hallmark of an excellent game: one where nobody’s out until they’re OUT.

The Hog Whisperer is still riding high, drunk on victory.

Next Time

Wren steps into the arena against Hashmal! Also, I find out how Emperor Fabulous was able to manifest a duck to throw at my head, and investigate why we did not eat it afterwards.

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