So for today I’m going to be doing a fairly short review on the Explorer’s Society Faction Book for Malifaux. I thought I would write this up while it’s fresh in my mind. I’m going to keep it spoiler free, as it really is a treat to read, and if anyone’s wanting to find out any details there’ll be plenty of places to go to find out. For me, it was the first Malifaux book I had read, although their Breachside Broadcast is a fantastic podcast series for catching up on any existing lore, so I’m looking at what it offers and whether it was useful/interesting from a newcomer’s perspective.
I’ve been trying to get into Malifaux (a tabletop miniatures skirmish game by Wyrd Games) for probably a little over a year now. I say trying mostly for the part of, it’s been hard to find opportunities to actually play the game in an otherwise Warhammer-dominated student environment (at first, and then obviously multiple lock-downs etc that I won’t go into here) formed the major barrier. It’s still a game that I’m incredibly interested in however, and after having started playing online (and trying to persuade others to do the same) I settled on the newest faction being the team I wanted to commit to for physical miniatures. I bounced around a lot as there’s a lot to like to draw my own interest both thematically and mechanically but, I know myself, and the excitement of shiny new models was always going to draw me to the Explorer’s. It helps that the themes and gameplay styles are incredibly flavourful too…but enough on that for now.
I will take a moment, before continuing, to say that my background is pretty much exclusively in Games Workshop products too. I’ve read a number of TTRPG rulebooks for stories (and rules) but for miniatures games…despite flirting with others I’d never felt enough drive to commit to buying their lore products. So most of my previous experience has been with GW, which will inevitably colour my reading.
But, here follows the actual review:
I have to say the feel of this book is just wonderful. It’s A4 sized, with really nice, smooth paper quality. The pages feel thick enough that I’m not scared I’m going to tear them and it’s bound nice and securely. Usually, with wargaming books, I’m used to hardback editions, so this being paperback is a little different. Whilst on the whole I prefer hardback (it feels nice and like a tome to me), this is definitely influenced by transporting it. For Warhammer books, you really need the book with you to play, as all the rules for your models are in them, therefore hardbacks do have the edge there. However, whilst the rules for the models are in the back of this book, the way Malifaux uses individual, tarot-sized cards to track rules for each model (and has an incredible app to support the game with this information on it too) means you aren’t required to carry this book around with you in the same way. Therefore its lightness is perfectly fitted to lounging around to read some lovely short stories.
I’ll take a moment here to mention the art, as flicking through a book is the first thing I usually do so the art really jumps out in my first impression. It is all gorgeous, many of the pages are decorated with full-length pieces of the characters involved in the stories (or being introduced with their rules at the end), and in particular each short story is bookended with a lovely 2-page spread of a sepia (wood-cut style) drawing of a scene from that story. These really grab the eye and pull you back to the writing when skimming through.
Moving on to what’s actually inside. Now here is where I’ll stay a little light on the detail, because I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the stories, but as an overall impression, this book was an incredible read. The major difference coming from Games Workshop army books to this, was that rather than getting lore describing the faction in a more global, zoomed out overview, this book is much more personal. It takes the form of short stories, picking little snapshots of events that focus on specific Masters and really showing you how they tick, how they interact with others (often other models you can play in the game too), what they are trying to do and really just showcasing why they’re cool. This seems to be one particular advantage of the skirmish-level gameplay of Malifaux, where nearly every model is a character in its own right, or at least there is little need to understand anything as a ‘cohesive mass’ such as a full regiment of soldiers. More attention can be given to the differences between everything that makes it an exciting experience to see how any crew you choose to put together might interact with each other.
It is worth mentioning that despite every Master appearing in the book, not all of them get a story dedicated to themselves. Whilst this is a shame, with the length of the stories provided, they book would have to at least double in size for that, and I appreciate the consistent quality of the stories rather than forcing more content into it. I found it particularly great that the stories picked focused on the characters that, I believe, really needed the elaboration to better understand them and their theme. For example, the EVS crew (led by Maxine Aggasisz), are a very disparate collection of characters and their visual aesthetic doesn’t carry through to character as strongly as Ivan or Cadmus (particularly Ivan who had the advantage of already having appeared in earlier stories). Therefore EVS taking spotlight away from them allowed them to really be showcased and explained, where the models may not otherwise have sold them as strongly as ‘creepy spider faction’ or ‘super spies with shadow monsters’. Personally, I’m not certain that the book needed the extra story on Lord Cooper, as he is a straightforward ‘safari hunter’ theme with not the most complex of characters (in my personal opinion), but I think he’s the lifeblood of the faction in a sense of its general theme, with the others fitting the role of outliers comparatively. He was also the character transitioning from the RPG to the wargame so showing how he had changed between iterations was probably also important. I will admit his story was still very enjoyable, and was important for beginning to establish inter-faction conflict, so whilst I lament that he isn’t the character I was most interested in reading more about, his story did serve a useful purpose for the collection as a whole.
The latter part of the book is dedicated to showing the rules for every model in the faction, with each entry also supported by a nice large piece of art depicting them, and a short lore paragraph explaining who (or what) they are. These lore paragraphs in particular are fantastic. With everything seeming more unique because of the size of a crew, it’s important to know who everyone is when you’re recruiting them, so making sure each character has a good introduction to the player is important. Particularly when the stories are snapshots not broad sweeping faction coverage, making sure everything gets some introduction to the player helps fill in any gaps left by the stories themselves. There’s not much more to say of these other than that many of the entries left me interested in trying the models out myself to play the characters I was reading about, and the length of their introductions was perfectly bitesized. The fact that each model is listed in the contents too with the page containing their lore (usually surrounded by the rest of their keyword) means it’s very easy to quickly learn about whichever character takes your fancy, a great help for any players already drawn in by particular models.
One comment of improvement here is that I’m not certain the actual unit stats are that important here. I understand this may be a hangover from ‘how it’s always been’ in Wyrd’s books, but with the readily available stat cards in the app, provided in the boxes with the models, and available for download from the site, it’s unlikely this book would be a ‘go to’ for rules reference. I would have loved to see the space saved from these maybe help contribute to another story in the book, or maybe more unique art (as the majority of the pieces are bigger versions of those provided on the stat cards themselves). This said, the stat cards do help to fill out the white space of those pages and perhaps there are others who use these books during games, so it’s only a minor niggle really and it’s a tough tightrope to ask them to walk. Perhaps I’m just hankering for more of those gorgeous woodcuts here.
On the whole it’s a really nice quality book. I went into it knowing the minimum about the faction and not only do I feel like I got a good introduction to them and feel I understand who they are or what they’re doing, but it genuinely got me interested in the characters I was lukewarm on. I would be tempted to put Cooper on the field now, and EVS are very appealing from their story. Which is pretty much the best you can ask for. It did a great job of introducing an entire faction, and its focus on snapshot stories let me ‘experience’ a bit of being in Malifaux to dip my toes into the overall lore. From this book, I would recommend the faction books to people interested in the game, as despite not giving a ‘this is Malifaux’ overall introduction, it definitely felt like a good starting point, if you’d only seen some models you liked and wanted to know more about the game as a whole.
So for those of you who read through this review, I hope it’s been interesting and/or useful to you. And for anyone interested in Malifaux on the whole Wyrd’s site is a great place to start, and I’ve had nothing but good experiences from its community as a whole so far. Which is always a positive I have to extoll.
So anyway, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.