Tournament Tech – Speeding Up Play

By ray flynn

One of the most talked about points in the US Meta is speed of play. We can all improve on our speed (myself included) so today on Tournament Tech, we’re going to tackle this talking point. If you’d like to be able read articles like this earlier than we post them on the website, consider joining our Patreon to get early access to a variety of our upcoming content!


With tournaments happening around the world, with regularity, the questions of “how long should a Malifaux game take?” and “How long should a tournament round be?” have jumped in and out of conversation multiple times. Stateside, the norm is shaping up to be 2 hours and 15-30 minutes depending on location, meta, etc.

What’s been coming up as a result of this vast array of experiences is some people are adopting tactics to score heavy on turns 2 and 3, leaving slower keywords on the bench, because they aren’t able to get all 5 rounds of play in during that timeframe. I’ve talked with many people in the community and the general agreement is that 2 hours give or take is the goal for a 5-round game. Then why are so many people not finishing their games? More importantly, how can we as a community help our fellow Faux players to improve this? I hope to answer that 2nd question here (and by extension the 1st).


There’s no doubt that Malifaux is one of the deepest tactical experiences you can have in the tabletop miniature genre. This means there’s a lot of reading, a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of not knowing what things do. Let’s face it: when you don’t know what things do, you’re going to be reticent to make a move for fear it’s the wrong move. Whether it’s not knowing if you have an ability or tactical to help you, or whether your opponent has some ability that can stymie your strategies; the fear of the unknown can be palpable.

Here’s three things you can do to help combat this.

Know your crew

People have touted this ad nauseum since 2nd edition (really since the inception of wargaming), but it bears repeating. I have seen several people make comments on bringing new keywords or crews to a tournament, to “test its viability”.  I’m here to say this is a patently bad idea unless you know that crew’s cards forwards and backwards.

Here’s the thing: the less you know your crew, the harder it is to make decisions. That’s why practice games and casual games are so important. Every time someone takes 20 seconds to look over a single card, then does it again for 3-4 more, suddenly you’re at over a minute on that person’s side of the table and they haven’t even made a tactical decision yet. They’re just refreshing their knowledge or looking for answers. We’ve all been there, but in tournament play, that is unfair to your opponent.

The benchmark is being able to look at the board-state and not need to look at your cards to strategize. If you need a minute to come up with a game plan, it’s way faster than needing 2-3 minutes because you had to check all your cards. To be clear, I’m not advocating you never can look at your cards, only that by knowing your crew inside and out, you speed up your gameplay by as much as 30-50%. That alone is a marked improvement.

Learn how to ask questions

I’m going to go into this concept in detail in an upcoming article, but learn how to ask the “right” questions at the table. Don’t ask if your opponent has any ways of interacting with scheme markers, when all you need to know is if they have a way to move or remove scheme markers at range. By asking a broader question, they may have to reference cards looking for any and all instances where they care about scheme markers. Not every ability in the game interacts with markers by removing them. Sometimes abilities can trigger just by being near markers. Focus the intent of your question. There’s a time and place for broad questions, and that’s usually at the beginning of the game if you aren’t very familiar with the crew. Once the game is moving though, tailor your questions to what matters. Clear and concise wins the day here.

This obviously requires your opponent to have knowledge of their crew to be able to answer quickly, but the goal is to eliminate as much of the “hang on let me check” as you can. This goes back to the first point where it’s unfair to your opponent to bring crews you don’t really know to a tournament.

Learn how to speed read your opponent’s crew

In a game of such expansive information, the person with the most knowledge can make the best decisions. But unless you plan on memorizing the entire Faux catalogue (not as daunting as it sounds, but still requires quite a bit of work), you need to have ways of understanding a crew that you’ve never seen before. One of the ways you can do this was mentioned briefly above, in asking the right questions pre-deployment. But you can key up your knowledge by learning what is important and what isn’t on a crew’s cards.

I have a step by step method I use when I don’t know the crew on the other side of the table.

Front of card

  1. Keyword “abilities”
  2. Any defensive tech I can’t handle (like Armor and no Analyze or Armor Pen)?
  3. Stat 7 anywhere?
  4. Protected/Extended Reach/Disguised/Stealth?
  5. Any start of activation/turn movement shenanigans?
  6. Anything that removes markers?
  7. Anything that my keyword does that they negate? (incorp if I like hazardous)

Back of Card

  1.  Stat 7 anywhere?
  2. Any mention of built in + flips for damage or attacks?
  3. “Keyword” scan
    1. Looking for words like “scheme marker”, “place”, “push”, “move”, “ignore”
  4. Bonus action?
  5. Any baked in suits that are relevant to triggers?
    1. Common trigger examples
      1. Mask for Onslaught, Shove Aside (or other movement/extra actions triggers)
      1. Ram for Puncture, Crit Strike
      1. Tome for Surge, Drop It/Secrets
      1. Crow for Delay, Daze
  6. Min 3+ damage?
  7. Sev 6+ damage?

This whole process takes me about 5-10 seconds per card; sometimes less. The goal isn’t to memorize information, but to tee up knowledge of existence. If you know they have 4 models that have ranged marker interaction, you know to ask for ranges or abilities. You don’t need to know Iggy has Arson and memorize its stats. You can ask “One of your models can pop a scheme marker as their attack action, think it turns into a shockwave? How does that work?”

It’s about giving you a leg up on knowing what questions you can (and should) ask and allowing you to properly pick schemes that fit what’s going on from a top-down view. If the opponent’s models all have baked in re-position triggers, schemes that require them to sit still probably aren’t the best.


This can get even the best players. When there are so many key decision points for each activation and every action, you are bound, at some point or another, to be paralyzed but the number of options and choices available to you. The key is to try to mitigate this as much as possible. Your opponent’s goal, among other things, is to make this harder for you by asking questions of you that have no good answers. Forced to choose between activating a key piece before it dies, but needing to activate a different model to get you a VP, is an agonizing decision to make.

But you must make it.

The previous section on improving your knowledge is the first part to helping with analysis paralysis. It’s much easier to decide when you know what’s out there, than when you don’t. Especially if you’re having to look 2-3 times at a card praying that is mystically gets an ability that it doesn’t have and you just missed it (I do it too). Two things to consider here:

Bad Things Happen

It’s all over Malifaux’s branding and it most certainly is a thing on the table. Bad things happen. Don’t dwell on them. Don’t think you are exempt. Just keep it in mind.

If that Black Joker is still in your deck, any duel can fail at any moment. Make sure you understand that if this action is make or break… it can break. If that happens, it happened; it’s ok. Yes, it totally sucks and can cost you the game, but it’s a part of any competitive environment we all must come to terms with.

In a tournament environment, the wheel must keep spinning. Keeping your head in the game and understanding that losses and bad choices are inevitable can help keep you focused on the next move. Nothing is gained dwelling on what could have been.

Quick story: Last year at a major tournament, two of the best players in the US came down to an initiative flip on turn 5 as to who would win the game. One of them could cheat initiative, had severes in hand, but didn’t have the red joker. The only way the other guy could guarantee the win is if he flipped the Red Joker. Which he did and then won the game. What can you do?

The answer, quite frankly, is nothing. You have to be almost Zen about the situation.

Lamenting bad flips, being hung up on losing that power piece, mis-remembering a rule, et cetera… it happens to all of us. It’s easy to spiral and focus on those bad things and in casual play, that’s alright to a point if everyone is still having fun. But you’re doing yourself (and sometimes your opponent) a disservice to not refocus on how to take the next step forward.

Understand that in games that rely on randomization (whether it be dice, cards, et cetera), you can never play “perfectly” because you do not control the random aspects. You can play the best game you can and still lose out to cards just not falling your way. The only thing we can do as players, is to focus on the next move if there is one.

When bad things happen, just shake it off, acknowledge the suck, then immediately shift gears to damage control and/or decision making. If you don’t let the negativity or salt of “bad luck” affect you, you’ll make better decisions and more importantly, you’ll spend less time making them. This leads to my next point.

Just play

This is a big one. A byproduct of faster play (really play in general) is that you must accept you will make bad decisions. No matter how good you are, in the heat of the moment, you can make poor choices.

I gave my opponent the game one tournament by doing exactly the thing I had been mentally prepping to NOT do. For some reason I got distracted mentally, lost my focus, and did the thing. Cost me two points, gave my opponent one, and I ended up losing by a point rather than winning by like two or three.

Bad things happen.

But the game itself wasn’t a bad game. I made a bad play; that doesn’t mean the game was bad. Yes, I lost, and ended up not podiuming the tournament. Very unfortunate, but I made a singular bad play out of an otherwise very good game. And I haven’t made that mistake since (pro tip, don’t walk away from objectives you are controlling with the only model that is controlling it).

That’s the view you must take when looking at these things. You can make bad plays in games that you win and have good games that you still lost. Forcing yourself to have these mental distinctions are important for even casual play, much less practice and tournament play.

Knowing that it’s OK to have bad plays is very important because the best way to get faster is to just play faster. Accept you will make a bad choice. Accept that doesn’t mean you are a bad player or that it was a bad game.

Oft stated, oft repeated: practice makes perfect. If you understand why a move was wrong, you generally won’t make the same mistake over and over. Sometimes it will take a few instances of that mistake before it really drives in, but the idea is to train yourself to react to the board state faster. Part of that is just playing fast. Again, knowledge is the first step to this path. You can’t play faster if you don’t know what your models do. But if you do and you find yourself locked up with choices, just pick one. See what happens. Learn why that instinct was good or bad, then adjust accordingly.

Remember: practice games are not about winning, they are about practicing.


Up until this point we’ve been talking about mental and emotional things to speed up play. Let’s talk about physical aspects. Believe it or not, this is important too.

Organization Will Set You Free

Alton Brown chants it for cooking and kitchen management, but I will tell you that It’s just as important in all walks of life as in front of the stove or cutting board and that includes tabletop miniatures.

Come to a tournament prepared to play a tournament. Have your tokens organized, cards ready to go, widgets and other measuring tools together, et cetera. Setup a “tournament kit” for yourself that makes all that easy to get to, use, and have as small a footprint as possible. That way when you need to go to your table, you’ve got your kit and your minis.

As to minis, a lot of people will use tournament trays for the specific crews you are bringing but if you’re anything like me, you use your entire faction… so there’s not an easy way to deal with that. But you can still organize. Put keywords in specific trays and label the tray.  Make notes on the side of the foam attached cards or some such that indicate what larger models are where for ease of finding them. If you had pools before the tournament, try to leave at home things you know you won’t ever take. If you are playing a summoner, have a way to keep that organized and easily accessible during play.

Every little bit helps, and in the realm of limited time frames, if you can be comfortably setup and ready to go in 5 minutes vs 15 minutes, you have that much more time to get your head in the game. I shoot for a 10-15 minute setup time from table announcement to 1st turn activation, but I also build my lists only upon hearing my opponent’s factions and then master picks. But I try to keep the rest of the process as quick as possible.

Practice setup and deployment

You’ve got your tournament kit ready, your lists preselected, and are ready to rock and roll! This is a perfect time to practice deployment and test out the viability of your kit. Setup a table at home (anything will work, cups, dishes, silverware) and practice your deployments. Imagine your splits. Check factions that might have hard counters to your ideas. Practice makes perfect (hmm, that sounds familiar), so the more times you setup and break down your kit and deployment, the faster you will be at it. You’ll naturally streamline processes as well.

Just remember that deployment is mutable based on your opponent’s crew and the table’s terrain, so practicing the deploy is a great idea, but don’t lock yourself in one way of deploying!

This is a test, this is only a test

Remember all those silly things teachers/parents used to tell you as a kid when prepping for a big test day? Well, some of them actually work. Every person is different but (generally speaking) eating fats/protein in the morning helps jog the ole’ brain-meat into first gear. I don’t typically eat breakfast, it’s not a thing my body generally wants. But on tournament days I like to do a good old fashioned eggs and bacon breakfast. And I have noticed a difference in my ability to make decisions when I’m fed vs not. Exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, setting out your stuff the night before, whatever works for you.

The goal is that you are getting yourself in the mental state to compete. This will by it’s very nature allow you to play faster, setup faster, and the like, because your mind and focus are ready and raring to go.

Check your meds if you take ‘em, dress comfortably, whatever you need to do to take pressure off. Be on time, have a lunch plan. Tournaments are stressful enough. Get the nuts and bolts down so that you don’t have to worry about anything but what opponent you are going to try to crush next!


Speeding up play is not going to happen overnight. Like anything you want to be good at, you need to put forth the work and effort. That can be hard with how busy life keeps us these days, but I promise that it’s not as difficult as you might think if you are willing to just give some of the above tips a shot.

Take time to learn your crew and learn how to gain information on the table quickly.

Keep your mind focused and just make plays. Don’t get bogged down by winning or losing while your practicing, just on improving. Keep that negativity at bay!

Get that routine down, organize your kit and your models, and show up ready to bring that A game.

And most importantly… have a fun. This is a game, after all!

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