If you're a vicious bastard with control issues, and you want to watch your friends squirm in agony as you slowly draw a metaphorical noose about their necks then you may be asking, "Golly, which Malifaux faction will really rev my proverbial engine?" First off, that's a weird way to say it, and secondly, congratulations, you have good taste! The answer is the Neverborn faction. There's no faction that's quite so tricky, flexible, and downright brutal. Neverborn may not have the raw damage output of the Guild, or the nonsense utility of Arcanists, but they do have a delicious smorgasbord of cruel tricks available to them.
Malifaux is a great game, as Wyatt pointed out in his review, but he just doesn't understand why the Neverborn are the best faction. I can tell you why though: You'll be thinking three steps ahead, laying in wait and watching your opponents stumble into your traps in the dark corners of their minds as you cackle on the other side of a mirror. Well, maybe not, but they're a fun faction to play in a war game, at least. They're fun, they're trick, and they really highlight some of the great ways this minis game is different from a lot of others.
In broad strokes, the Neverborn have expensive units with a lot of manipulative skills. You get your money's worth, though. The Illuminated are some of the toughest and most dangerous melee minions in the game, though they come with a pricetag of 7 stones, which stings. There's a line of terrifying, Kaiju-sized monsters at the high end, like Barbaros, Bad Juju, Teddy and the Mature Nephilim, and that's just in the first book. While it's hard to find any units that cost less than 5 stones to field you know that you're getting some potent combat and utility effects.
What the Neverborn excel at is warping the rules in your favor. Their defensive tricks are the Terrifying, Incorporeal, and Regeneration keywords, so they intend to not get hit instead of soaking the damage. Often they have vampiric effects or triggers to heal as much damage as they dish out to stay in the fight longer. Additionally, there's almost no units that have less than 5 walk. You can get your guys where they need to be when they need to be there. Many units have auras or attacks that reduce willpower to make your lures and mind-influencing spells easier to stick. Surprisingly long-distance movement shenanigans are available.
The one thing that Neverborn really lacks is ranged offense. There's almost nobody with a gun, and you'll have trouble closing ranks on a Guild gun line before you get shot to pieces. Understanding the defensive tricks that your crew has available, combined with fast movement and support from the rest of your units is key. You can't flood the board like Gremlins and just win through sheer numbers, or out-tank your enemy's damage with beefy idiots like the Ressurectionists do.
Different crews can focus on different aspects of the Neverborn mentality, but they are all slippery and tricky enough to get the job done.
Nothing like handing out magical crack to really make bank. If they renege on their debts you can send your crackheads after them.
Jakob Lynch - This slick man of taste was my first Master, and remains one of my favorites to this day. The quintessential card shark, his mechanics and theme tie together to create a crew that can take on all comers. His melee units are some of the toughest in the game, even though they do come at a bit of a price. Lynch himself is a utility master, allowing you to draw an extra 3 to 5 cards per turn over your opponent. You never have to rely on luck when the deck is stacked in your favor, and Lynch will cheat like a professional to give you the cards you need to stick the critical maneuvers when you need them. However, you have to know when to call and when to fold or you'll be wasting your time and lose the pot. Dumb poker puns aside, every time I play with Lynch I'll look up at my opponent and be surprised when they have two low cards left in their hand and I'm still sitting on four 9+ cards. The ability to have the right cards to win important conflicts is great, but it does tend to make other masters seem less reliable by comparison. Lynch is a great starting master for a new player, 5/5 for his training wheel mechanics and super solid box. Just get a pair of Beckoners and you'll almost never need another unit. I have written a tactica for Mr. Lynch that you can read!
Creepy Children are still Creepy.
Pandora - You don't need to kill your enemies if they do it for you. Pandora (of Pandora's Box fame) is an area-of-effect misery bubble on legs. Anyone that gets caught in her swirling vortex of despair is going to end up dead. She's tough and surprisingly mobile if you know her tricks. While she does have a pretty significant number of ranged spells, I wouldn't consider her a ranged caster like the Arcanist's Rasputina or the Guild's Sonia Criid. She needs to be within six inches of most units to really make them suffer, and she pairs incredibly well with the upgrade Fears Given Form because of her brutal 3 inch melee range. Luckily, she has the defense to back up that close range requirement, because she can use her really high willpower to defend against any other unit's physical attack, and then slide four inches for free every time she wins a willpower duel. Pandora on her own isn't actually the workhorse of her crew; her support units are what pile on the death-of-a-thousand-cuts strategy. Keep them safe, and your opponents will drown in their own tears. 4/5 for starting players. Her box is very self-supporting, but her play style is a little weird and it might be tough to get a handle on without some research. I've also written a tactica for Pandora that you can read!
He's so cute! And he brought his friends...
The Dreamer - Before I get into the rules for this guy, can I just mention that his backstory is perhaps one of the weirdest? The child is human, but is so mentally strong, his nightmares and his daydreams project and manifest in the weird otherworld that Malifaux actually is. Right before his army dismembers some poor victim, the last thing they sometimes hear is "Let's play monster tag....I'll be the monster first!" I don't know what's more terrifying, the fact that the dreamer causes so much destruction, or the fact that he doesn't realize the damage he's dealing.
The littlest nightmare-summoner is a swiss army knife. The ultimate support master, he can puppet his friendly minions and flood the field with minions of varying size. He's no Lady Justice, and without a swarm of tiny nightmares around him the boy will fall. So make sure to know what his tools are and use them well. He's probably one of the higher skill-cap masters in the game, considering the diversity of his skillset and the flexibility of his crew selection choices. You need a lot of his nightmare models if you want to support his summoning mode, which makes him not a great start for a new player exploring the Neverborn. 1/5 due to mechanical complexity and the fact that he's a summoner.
A proper analysis of the Dreamer's full suite is beyond the scope of this article. If you'd like me to go over it, tell me in the comments!
To be honest, I prefer Zoraida's original metal sculpt, even if she was...shirtless. I had to greenstuff a shirt on her.
Zoraida - This old hag is one of the best control pieces in the game. Obey is her signature move, where she can mind control other models directly, She's far from being a one trick pony, but even if she just had "Obey" on her stat card she'd still be powerful. I find that she is best used when obeying your own minions to get them in position to strike an unsuspecting enemy that is out of position, or capitalizing on a mistake to ruin your opponent's positioning. Beyond that, she is pretty tough and has some neat utility card draw and the ability to ruin an enemy heavy-hitter with a voodoo doll. The voodoo doll does exactly what you'd expect; you can stab it, burn it, poison it, and even walk it around! Then whatever scary beastie it's made to look like suffers the exact same fate. Keep in mind that like other Neverborn masters, she can't do too much on her own. While she is relatively simple mechanically, you'll want a deep hiring pool to really make best use of her. 2/5 new player friendliness.
This is as close to Pokemon training as you can get in Malifaux, except maybe for Marcus. No one plays Marcus.
Lilith - Okay, if anyone is going to be able to scrape a team single-handedly, it's Lilith. This lady is a combination of Kitty Pride and Lady Justice. No one plays the terrain game like Lilith, and she hits like a truck. She ignores ALL terrain, all the time, so she can charge people through walls. I have only played one game with her, but she loves playing with her nephilim and having them grow up into nasty murder machines. I consider her to be the least tricky of the Neverborn masters, yet she is no slouch. Her spell Transfixing Gaze allows her to pull some unfortunate slob right into range of her massive sword, yanking someone out of position. Also, she can swap a friendly unit's position with an enemy, delivering a healthy dose of whallop right into the enemy lines and pulling some anemic support unit into her claws. She can single-handedly upset the terrain on the board, blocking charge lines and making your opponent tear their hair out when their carefully laid plans are ruined by a sudden illusionary forest. Highly recommended for new players, her simple mechanics and straightforward (well, relatively) play-style are only hindered by the fact that you'll want to buy the box of Young and Mature Nephilim to support her demon evolution strategy. 5/5!
If you fight the Law, the Law will win.
Lucius - The Man in the Mask, and the Power behind the Throne in Malifaux. Part of the fun of this group is the flavor: lawyers that have magical powers to force you into submission and obeying their version of reality. Yes, you can feel like a right bastard playing this crew right. Flavor-wise, he's fun because he supposedly is a Guild model...but he has his own agenda that seems to be more in line with the nightmarish terrors that the Neverborn stand for.
He's a peerless manipulator, and similar to Zoraida, Lucius excels when giving out orders to his minions. He can generate a ton of AP to have his Guild firing squad blast an enemy crew from a distance before having the delightful Neverborn melee monsters tear into the bleeding enemy. I haven't played him personally, but I'd very much like to. It's just that I REALLY don't care about the Guild models, and I don't want to spend money on them. He's dripping in flavor and can swag out of control. The majority of his abilities affect only your own minions, which is pretty rare in Malifaux. He marches about giving orders and throwing his own soldiers in front of himself as a shield, and loves every minute of it. He might be a good choice for a new player's first crew, if they are very comfortable with the rules and a little lateral thinking. 4/5 for solid starting unit choices in his box.
Something something Metallica reference something Muppet joke.
Collodi - This is a gentleman I have only really read about, but he seems to be exactly what he looks like: a puppeteer. He has unparalleled control over his own puppets, and can even bogart some of the enemy crew's AP. He can hit pretty hard for a control master, but it's all dependent on having his little puppets in good condition. I've heard it said that Collodi works better if you think of him less as a single master with a series of minions, and more of a giant ball of puppet-tentacles that move as a single unit. He crawls his deathball across the map, obliterating anything he can get his tiny wooden hands on. He is weak to pulses and blasts, so call in artillery fire to soften him up before he gets in range. His mechanics are a little tough and the synergy is so intense that you really need to understand the little nuances to make the most of his kit, but his box is pretty well self-contained. 2/5 for new players.
One of my favorite things about Malifaux in general, and the Neverborn in particular, is that they have so much inter-faction synergy. Models from one starter box can be added to another start box with ease to create flexible crews for a variety of situations. additionally, their other packs are incredibly helpful. Lure monsters like the Beckoner and support units like the Stitched Together can play a lot of roles in a lot of crews. Finally, the flavor of the entire faction is totally insane: sure, they are the ones whose dimension is being infringed on, but the acts of terror they commit seem a bit overkill at times. In a dark and grimy setting like Malifaux, no one can claim the title of Villain quite like the Neverborn. Playing the Bad Guys feels really, really good.
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