As I delve into Malifaux, one thing I am really enjoying is formulating crew lists for different masters. Each faction in the game seems quite well defined, with each having clear specialities, strengths and weaknesses, but all ultimately feeling relatively balanced as a whole. They certainly all have a unique ‘feel’ to them. Many of the leaders, or ‘Masters’, draw units entirely from their own faction and usually have good synergy with specific types of models that fit their theme.
Rasputina is a good example of this. Her theme establishes her as an ice witch and, as such, she tends to have good synergy with cold-themed models with the ‘Frozen Heart’ characteristic. This allows her to cast her spells through them as relay points – much like the Arc Nodes used in Warmachine. Rasputina can, and in larger games should, go beyond these models in choosing her crew, but generally stays within her own faction when choosing units.
Contrast this with several other masters, such as the Malifaux coroner, Dr. Douglas McMourning:
Dr. McMourning, in his dual role as respected Guild coroner and insane Resurrectionist, straddles two factions. When played as a Guild master, he may choose hwatever he wants from the Guild faction, but also complement this with selected models from the Resurrectionists – most notable his Nurses. As a Resurrectionist, he may employ a few Guild Guards or Guild Lawyers to reflect his association with that faction. This opens up new possibilities in crew building whilst also encouraging fun and characterful crews.
The swamp hag, Zoraida, is another example of characterful cross-faction crew construction (yay, alliteration), as she not only has the option of being played as leader of a Gremlin or Neverborn crew, but may also choose any model from any faction that has a willpower score of 4 or less. This reflects the control that she may exert over weaker minds, again opening up a lot of opportunities for more varied crew construction.
There are many, many more examples of cross-faction crew options all through Malifaux, but I do want to point out some other games that take a similar approach to promoting characterful armies. Warmachine and Hordes from Privateer Press encourage themed armies by giving specific, tiered bonuses for creating an army based on the characteristics of their various characters. For example:
In this example, Cygnar Warcaster Allister Caine chooses to limit his army to specific units that are deemed appropriate to his style and theme. Immediately, Caine is given bonuses for making this sacrifice. At tier 2 Caine, himself a Gun Mage, is rewarded for including two units of Arcane Tempest Gun Mages. At Tier 4, he is then further rewarded for including a specialist Gun Mage Unit. In this way, the Caine player has the choice to include whatever units they want in their army, but are actively rewarded for including only thematically appropriate models. There are similar tiered lists for each character in both Warmachine and Hordes.
I’m sure a lot of games do this and I am aware that both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 did some of this too. Specifically, I remember things like Logan Grimnar of the Space Wolves unlocking the option to field an entire army of Wolf Guard Terminators and a marked Chaos Lord unlocking mark-specific cult units as troops, rather than elites.
I think these tweaks and adjustments to army creation serve to give more options to serious players looking to find new combinations and synergies, and gives a more characterful army for those who, like myself, enjoy imbuing their games with a sense of narrative.