Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Infinity the Game N3 Rulebook Review (Part #1)

 Note: This half of the review was written before the birth of my second child, when I was getting ready to get back into Infinity. This ambition has been temporarily shelved, but I thought I would release Part #1 as it's been sitting in "Drafts" for so long it has cobwebs on it....  I decided to release it "warts and all" in a less polished state as I can't see myself having the time to get deeply into Infinity in the near future...

This is a big review, so I'm going to break this into a few pieces.  I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty of rules changes from version 2 (there's far more informed people on the official forums for that) but rather general observations for someone who might be interested in "getting into" the system for the first time, and I've simplified the general concepts as best I can.

 Simply the most gorgeous rulebook I own. Comes in a two-pack case with the fluff book. 
Twins, Basil!
The Shiny
It's very shiny.  My new favourite rulebook.  They have divided into two books - the rulebook and a "core book" with fluff and faction info.  This is a great idea - I often complain rules are "weighed down"with fluff, and now the key rules and fluff have been separated.  It has amazing production values and both 250-page softback books fit into a neat hardbacked case.  If you are a rulebook junkie get this - it's pure wargaming p0rn. In any case, the complete rules are free as a pdf.

A lot of effort has gone into the layout and explanations.  The original Infinity rules were beautiful, but mistranslated in a kind of "Spanglish" and were so inaccessible I actually made my own rulebook from the quick start rules and stuff I copied and pasted from their wiki pages. The N3 rules are light years ahead - in fact making the rules more accessible was the primary reason for the new edition.

A lot of effort has gone into organizing the rules and making them more accessible...

They even explain how (and why) to lay out a table -a big thumbs up!

It has a good index (I referred to it a few times and always found what I was looking for) and the rules are sequenced sensibly with colour-coded pages.  You can see they are trying to gradually introduce the player to gradually more complex concepts, i.e.
Quick start rules -> Basic rules -> Combat -> Skills -> Weapons -> Advanced Rules.

However, you can't hide there are a lot of rules. When most wargames rules I play have ~30 pages of rules, Infinity's N3 combines the old V1 rulebook and the Human Sphere expansion, and you get 250 pages of stuff to learn. By the numbers:

7 pages of Introductory rules
15 pages of Basic rules
83 skills, abilities and special rules across 49 pages
28 weapons....    .....with 19 different types of ammunition
17 types of equipment
10 hacking abilities
28 different "game states"(things that require counters/markers)

That's a very hefty time investment to get "into" the game. It's not a hefty financial investment though - although you could pay $80+ for the dual rulebook set it's completely free via pdf.  I would have liked to see the core rules/fluff book available for purchase separately though. The fact the rules are also downloadable for free means this is a minor quibble.

 No matter how well explained... 250 pages of rules is 250 page of rules... I mean, there's 5 levels of the martial arts special skill...  This is all rules, no fluff (which has its own separate book) i.e. about 8x more rules than the average rulebook.

....and 19 kinds of ammo, each of which works differently....
There's quite a few, as usual annoyingly using unfamiliar nomenclature, but it tends towards humanoid miniatures -  the way rules like WIL and PH are an amalgam of several traits thus doesn't describe really weird aliens without recourse to special rules. 
MOV = Move
BS = Ballistic Skill (i.e. shooting skill  - very important)
CC = Close combat (i.e. melee - less important due to the lethality of shooting)
PH = Physique (strength, agility)
WIP = Willpower (smarts, bravery)
ARM = Armour (modifier to offset weapon damage)
BTS = Biotech Shield - resistance (armour) to hacking, EMP, viral or biological weapons. NBC.
W = Wounds (some mech suits and heroes are multi-wound models)
S = Silhouette (the template used to determine line of sight)

In addition, most models have several (3+) special rules, and most are limited in their availability (i.e. you can only field x amount of units in your army).  Each unit also has a points value and special weapons have a SWC (support weapon cost) which stops you loading up on bazookas, HMGs and sniper rifles etc to an unrealistic degree. 

 You can choose from free unit builders such as Aleph Toolbox which calculate your army creation for you. Then press print and voila! (Yes, you can have Scottish werewolves, Cossacks and SAS in the one faction...) 
Infinity is one of my favourite games to play as it is chock full of decision points - vital decisions.  Although submerged under an increasing mass of special rules, the core concept is very clever.  I'm going to give you the simple version:

*You get an activation counter for each miniature to create an "order pool"
*You can spend a counter to get 2 actions (or one "long action") with any miniature in your force
*You can activate the same miniature more than once... so if you have 8 minis (and thus 8 counters) you could activate the same mini 8 x in a row...  ...or two minis 4 x each... ..or each mini once... ...or any combination and order you desire.   So there is a massive amount of decisions as to who to move, when, and how often...

Wait - this sounds crazy! Couldn't  one guy use all those moves to just charge all the way to the enemy base line, slaughtering everyone on the way?  Sure.  Well, he could try.....

*Every model in line of sight of the active model can react; every time it activates.  So your lone Rambo could trigger gunfire from every model on the enemy team... ...every time it acts. In fact, vital decisions and actions occur when it is not even your turn.  As it says on the box "it's always your turn."
*Gunfire is very lethal.  Cover (and the modifiers it provides) is very important.  Minis tend to pick their way from cover to cover very realistically.  In fact it's recommended there be no long fire lanes/or even gaps in cover further than 4" apart. 

I haven't come across a wargame with such a Chess-like feel.  Players go to pick up a mini, then hesitate, change their mind and decide to move another - the decisions are vital and gripping.  A wrong choice is lethal, and there are so many choices to make.  Who to move? Where to?  Who has line of sight to whom?  Where to position your model so it covers the best fire lanes for when it is the opponent's turn?  How to get the best modifiers to force advantageous opposed rolls? There are so many choices - you really feel like you, the player, make a big impact on the game.

The game uses "line of sight" - v3 rules introduces silhouette templates so it isn't exactly "true line of sight" (which makes sense as most Infinity models are very dynamically posed). In general, if you can see a model, it can see you right back. 

Throw in a plethora of special abilities like therm-optic camo (Predator cloak), infiltrators and paratroops which add a further layer of decisions.  Sometimes fire teams can activate multiple models together.

In short, it's one of the most interesting and clever activation mechanics I've played, being simultaneously cinematic and requiring fire-and-move tactics that suit any modern (WW2+) era. 

 The models are beautifully sculpted, but I find their fine detail intimidating to paint....

These are not initially the most intuitive - it uses a RPG-like d20; models roll under a target number; with a critical occurring if the exact number is rolled.   Most rolls are opposed rolls (e.g. active player shoots, reactive player(s) shoot back. In that case, the highest roll under the TN wins, i.e. a BS (shooting skill) 14 trooper exchanges fire with a BS 11 trooper.  The BS 14 guy fires 3 shots and gets a 4,7 and a 16 (miss); the BS 11 guy gets a 9.  As the 9 is the highest number which is also under the TN, the second guy gets a hit.  If the BS 14 guy rolled a 12, 13 or 14 the BS 11 guy, being a poorer shot, could not beat him, except with a critical hit. 

The damage roll works by the shooting player rolling under the Damage rating of his gun - say 12 on a d20 for an assault rifle.  This roll is modified by body armour (say +2) and any cover.  

Troopers who roll under this modified damage score die, unless they are a multi wound hero or heavy power armour trooper.  Troops passing the roll must roll against their Will - if they fail they are forced to duck back into cover, thus losing LoS to the target - 'suppression' if you will.  

The mechanics are initially a bit jarring, but the actually makes sense after you play it  - I've actually switched to a similar system on my homebrew pulp rules as it works quite quickly in practice. 

.....This is where I got up to in the review, and again note I have simplified my explanations on activation and mechanics (with so many rules, there are a lot of extra factors to consider I haven't mentioned). I strongly recommend (even if you aren't interested in the sci fi genre of the game itself) that you download and read the quick-play rules - it's interesting from a game-design perspective and the quick-play rules remove Infinity's biggest weakness - the plethora of special rules, abilities, equipment - leaving only the good core gameplay which can be easily adapted for modern/pulp/WW2/sci fi with little effort.  There is a Youtube channel where they explain the mechanics as well, as a helpful wiki and forums - Corvus Belli have cultivated excellent customer relations.  Their minis are expensive, sure, but they have lots of goodwill and seem to have none of the vitriol directed at other successful companies. 

TL;DR The plethora of special rules makes the learning curve almost vertical, but Infinity is a great game buried beneath them, with some of the most involving and gripping decision making you'll have in a wargame.  

My recommendation: Download the free rules and try them with random models sans the special rules, before you dismiss them as "too complex" or "I don't like anime."  You might just find your new modern/sci fi rule set, for free.


  1. As usual, great review. I can see the mechanics of these rules applied to other game settings.

    1. I think that's my main point: people focus on the minis (which they either love for the amazing sculpts or dislike as some factions are anime-esque) but it's the rules - especially the quick start ones - which are most worthy of consideration.

      I'd go so far as to say every wargamer should try or read through them; I'd rank it alongside rules like Crossfire, DBA, Stargrunt in terms of game design.

  2. I am intrigued by the reference to Crossfire, which I know only by reputation, and fairly vaguely at that. As it is somewhat elderly, I'm wondering whether it's still a viable alternative to Chain of Command, or whatever the closest contemporary equivalent may be (I'm not quite sure what level of unit it focuses on). For what it's worth I have a set called Fireball Forward - unplayed, or even seriously read, believe it or not - which I recall being described as sharing mechanics with Squad Leader and Crossfire. I played the original version of Squad Leader in the distant past, but my recent experience with tactical WWII rules and board games can charitably be described as limited. A handful of games of Flames of War is probably all I've mustered in the last decade - pitiful, is it not?

    1. Crossfire is a "revolutionary" game in that it was one of the first games to use a reaction mechanics, unlimited range moves, and variable length turns - players turns which lasted until they suffered a setback.

      I.e. units can move unlimited range until they run into something, you can keep moving units until one is suppressed, then momentum switches to your opponent etc. Like Infinity it requires a lot of cover, or troops rapidly (and realistically) get pinned down.

      It's more a company-scale game akin to Flames of War rather than Chain of Command - the smallest unit "stands" or bases are squads and they move together as a platoon.

      I've never really played it much, just tested it and combed through it for game design ideas.

      Flames of War is simply "WW2 40K" - a very successful attempt to lure GW gamers to historicals, which uses the successful 40K template of codexes+army building gamesmanship and metagaming combined with popularity of WW2. A canny commercial operation but meh rules.

      Bolt Action is an attempt to replicate that success at platoon level - they are Chain of Commands "elephant in the room."

  3. Thanks for the helpful descriptions. The mechanics you describe do appear reminiscent of Fireball Forward, from memory, though I don't know how, or whether, that game is an evolution of its obvious inspiration. I will look into it, in any case, assuming it is still to be found.

    I had gained the impression of Flames of War as a Warhammer-style game from my few plays of it, which were entertaining enough, but didn't tempt me to invest in it myself (though I found it less boring than 40K, with its absurdly crowded battlefield). This was at a club I attended for a while, where the players admitted it was inferior to the long-standing game by Frank Chadwick whose name I can't remember - a sudden memory suggests it may be Command Decision - but preferred it for club play as it was allegedly faster, though I have since seen this view challenged.

    To my subsequent embarrassment, I was seduced by the advance publicity surrounding Bolt Action, and pre-ordered a copy - the only time I have ever done this. I've started reading it a few times, but never got far enough to form an impression of it. I do, however, have far more sets of the order dice than I will ever need, even in the unlikely event that I play it avidly. (Something to do with a special offer, I think. I note that these are also used in Beyond the Gates of Antares, which seems to bring the wheel full circle, assuming its other mechanics also resemble Bolt Action - I've not had enough interest to look into it). I've read enough of your previous discussion of Bolt Action, and comparisons with other sets, including Secrets of the Third Reich, to realise it was not one of my better purchases.
    The models are quite nice, though.

    Even more embarrassingly, in spite of the universal praise it has received, I have yet to acquire a copy of Chain of Command, though it is clear that I need it. I do have a copy of the Lardies' I Ain't Been Shot, Mum, which is on a similar scale to Flames of War. This seems to be one of the forgotten rule sets - not only by myself, but the war gaming community at large - since the introduction of CoC, in spite of the difference in focus. another in this category - which I also own, is Battlefield World War II, by the designer of Fire & Fury.

    There is probably a lesson here somewhere.

    1. Remember this blog has evolved to cater to the supercilious rules nerds who like to dissect every bump and pimple of a rule set. Bolt Action and FoW provide an excellent "gateway drug" into WW2 gaming.

      It reminds me when a mate said "If you're 15 and haven't played 40K, you're not a proper wargamer. But if you're 30 and you're STILL playing 40K you're not a proper wargamer either."

  4. That's a bit problematic for me, as I played my first game of 40K - purely because it was all that was on offer - well over the age of 30. I may be a proper something - and nerdism is certainly part of it - but a wargamer, by your mate's definition, I am clearly not.

  5. BTW, your mate's dictum has reminded me of the sage words I could only dimly remember when attempting to quote them in another thread, uttered by young Master Paolini, now rendered in definitive form: "If you haven't read Terry Brooks, you haven't read fantasy". His views on Warhammer et al would doubtless be equally compelling.