GTM #237 - Throwing Stones in the Malifaux Design Room
by Wyrd

Throwing Stones in the Malifaux Design Room

 To the excitement of players across the world, the latest edition of our flagship miniatures skirmish game, Malifaux, is now available. In Third Edition, we cleaned up rules quandaries and streamlined the tracking systems, but at its core, Malifaux is still the deeply strategic, card-flipping game that sits somewhere between complete mayhem and absolute control, and that’s exactly where we like it.

With a new edition comes new characters and mechanics, such as the Savage Crew. In this article, we’ll be covering those new models and how we came to some of the design decisions in crafting their shared playstyle. When taking a fresh look at all of the Masters, their Keywords, and their Factions, we analyzed them with multiple lenses. One lens focused on weak spots, or areas where a Faction fell short in a theme or mechanic. Sometimes this approach leads to dead ends and scrapped ideas, but that wasn’t the case this time around. The Neverborn are generally a melee-oriented Faction, and so we started brainstorming what a Neverborn Crew would look like if it leaned a little into ranged Actions without breaking the Neverborn staples and themes.

That’s when one of the designers suggested “throwing giant freaking boulders.” And just like that, a foundation was born. We decided to see how deep that rabbit hole went and came up with a few concepts that fit thematically in with the monstrous inhabitants of Malifaux. Some fell to the wayside, but others started to stick. We loved the Cyclops models that came out near the end of Second Edition, and we knew that they felt a little out of place with the rest of the Faction, which meant there was some design space there, and so we started digging in that direction.

What would a Crew look like that used runic magic? What existing themes could we tie in? What loose ends could we tie up? These questions and many more were tossed around the design room. Mythologies and histories were researched for character ideas, various mechanics concepts were jotted down, and the rabbit hole that we dove into splintered in as many pathways as there were ideas.  We started looking at these concepts and reducing them; this started by holding onto the stuff we thought was fun and tossing aside the rest. What we ended up with was an early concept of Euripides, a giant from the northern mountains.

So we had a mountain giant and we knew that if not him, his Crew was going to be throwing stones. We had another character from the mountains who also manipulated icy objects called Ice Pillars. As with lowering Conditions and reducing some Actions, we started talking about consolidating and repurposing other parts of the game, too, which is how the Savage Keyword started to utilize Ice Pillars in a very different way.

With these core concepts at hand, we began to shape the character’s story. Just how did he fit into the world? What themes would he encompass? Where has he been all this time? Once again we looked at the Cyclops and the puzzle pieces fell right into place; they were Fae in M2E. What if Euripides was an ancient soldier to a Neverborn Queen during a long-forgotten War? From there, his background started to take shape, and we started fleshing out other concepts of his character based on that. This is how the early iterations of Abilities like The Old Ways came into existence, which allows a player to use ancient blood magic to manipulate Fate.

While development of Euripides and his Savage Crew continued, other design decisions for Third Edition were shaking out, too. From the get-go, we knew that we wanted to give Masters their own unique Totems, which was a pretty big change from the previous edition. These models found homes without much issue – all except for the Primordial Magic. And as we were creating Euripides, our favorite little worm started making more and more sense. He just needed a different feel, so we went back to the drawing board and breathed new life into the character. Much later, some of the Primordial Magic’s mechanics came from addressing weak spots in the Crew, such as having big models struggling to get around their own Ice Pillars, which is why he is now capable of giving out Incorporeal to his buddies.

Developing the rest of the Savage Keyword felt less like tossing darts at a board and more like building a bridge. The Gigants ultimately filled that boulder-throwing void that we originally wanted to nail with this Crew, and with their inception, we created a subspecies of monsters that the rest of the characters could fill, Euripides included.

The upcoming Savage releases are the Geryon and the Lyssa, and both of these models are going to fill very different roles for their Crew. From a design perspective, each act as puzzle pieces that the Keyword was missing. The heavy-hitting Geryon are essentially malformed Gigants with an extended melee reach and some Ice Pillar manipulation. Their Shoulder Rush Action gives some wiggle room to the player by allowing them to reposition poorly placed Pillars while doing some damage in the process. Meanwhile, the Lyssa fill the “inexpensive” void while also having Incorporeal, allowing them to get around the table without having to worry about the Ice Pillars getting in the way.

And there you have it; a brief look into what it takes to build a new Keyword from the ground up. Sometimes it takes careful consideration and research, and other times all it takes is someone in the design room shouting “boulders.”

Kyle Rowan is the Design Lead Coordinator at Wyrd Games in Atlanta. When he’s not making games, he is watching horror movies, reading comic books, or fighting for the Oxford comma.