Friday, August 14, 2015

Infinity - Full Game Impressions

Infinity is a game that keeps bubbling back up to the surface for me. It is enjoying a pretty healthy resurgence across the wargaming world thanks to N3 (their latest revision of the rules) and an absolutely fantastic string of new models. A few people in our gaming group have been pulled back to the game (after initial impressions of it in the previous edition fell flat) and we're in the process of learning the game.

We recently had our first "full" game of Infinity - i.e. the first game outside of the "start up" scenarios in the Operation: Icestorm book using models of our own choosing and the full set of rules - and although it had some rough patches, I overall enjoyed it quite a bit (and a lot moreso than my experiences with N2 Infinity).

More in depth thoughts after the break!

The Rules - Presentation 

N3 did a lot to clean up the rules from N2 (based on my limited understanding of the previous rule set), and probably more importantly it presents those rules in a much, much more accessible fashion. The N2 rulebook wasn't necessarily terribly made (and I fully respect the logistical issues of having to publish a complex rule set across multiple languages), but I found it to be an absolutely abysmal gaming aide.

N3 fixes a lot of that with presentation - clear labeling, generous use of spacing and sub-sections for readability - and organization - lots of page references, robust table of contents and index, and a really thorough "quick reference" section at the end of the book. The net result is a book that is significantly more useful than its predecessor; most of my N2 learning came from using the wiki, but it was often just as easy to reference the rulebook with the N3 revisions.

That said, there is an issue with all of the rules not being in the same place (something Warmachine and Hordes players should be used to). Every faction has some units and equipment that come from books outside of the core rulebook (via the Human Sphere and Campaign: Paradiso expansions), and while those are collected in some quick reference PDFs, its still another document you have to look at. And many of the rules introduced in those expansions (such as Sectorial Lists and their key facet, Linked Teams) still can only be found in those books (which are currently only available in their previous edition forms).

Because the information is so spread out, you can feel like you have to jump between a lot of different sources just to understand your models. Practically, however, I found that the core rulebook covers 95% of what you need to know, and anything else you can easily find in the wiki, so it isn't as bad as it may seem.

The Rules - Actually Learning Them

I have played a fair number of miniature wargames in my time. One of the most entertaining and interesting phases of a game (at least for me) is learning a new rule set, and in my time, I've seen rules that run the gamut from objectively terrible all the way up to incredibly nuanced and sophisticated.

On that scale, Infinity has one of the most robust, nuanced, yet understandable rules systems I've encountered. The core of the game is incredibly easy to parse: either isolated or opposing d20 rolls that are based on a stat, modified by various things (terrain, equipment, special abilities, etc).

What makes Infinity difficult to learn - almost maddeningly so - is that all of the depth in the game comes from the special abilities and equipment that each model has. And all of that is available to you, right from the start. You can limit some of that initial rules crush by taking less complicated models, but those can be tricky to find, and are pretty boring besides. No one gets into Infinity to use normal grunts with rifles; you bought in to use the guy with an x-ray visor and predator cloaking with the sick machine gun. But you pay for all that with increased rule complexity.

To put it another way (and relate back to a game I talk about all the time): in Warmachine, the initial mechanics are somewhat complex (especially regarding timing of certain things, and using units), but once you get those mechanics down the game is pretty much wide-open to you. There are a ton of special rules to take in, but most of them are like special rules in Magic: The Gathering - specific modifiers for that model that are probably communicated totally via the card. You only need to go back to the rulebook if you have core rules questions.

With Infinity, every new rule, piece of equipment, ammo type, etc, is a completely new thing that you need to go back and look up. First time using Aerial Deployment models? Gotta look it up. Using a higher rank of Aerial Deployment model than you have previously? Better look up the differences. Don't know what that ammo type does? Gotta look that up. Never used Smoke Grenades before? Gonna need to look up Special Dodge, Zero Visibility Zones, and possibly a few other rules. Etc, etc.

What that means is that a fair bit of initial Infinity play involves going back to the rulebook until you absolutely know what the things in your army (and/or your opponent's army) do. And if you add in different elements as you mess around with new models, you'll likely have to come back to the rulebook a few times for those models as well.

For any other game, this would be a killing blow to playability, but two things save Infinity:

1) All of the rules are core rules. The downside to that is a lot of time spent initially learning those rules and burning them into your memory. The upside is that once you have those rules in your RAM/ROM (depending on your personal retention abilities), you not only don't need to go back to the rulebook as often, but you're also equipped to understand any model in the game with the rules you know.

2) When playing in an environment with decent access to the internet, the official wiki is a fantastic tool to speed up the process of looking up individual rules. The core rulebook is still overall better for bigger rules concepts, but the wiki is invaluable if you forget/don't know what a specific special rule or bit of equipment does. And, as with the rulebook, the more often you're exposed to it, the less you're going to need to use it (as hopefully the info actually sinks into memory).

Infinity is one of the most absolutely front loaded games I have ever played, rules-wise. If learning Warmachine is a gradual process of accumulating specific knowledge of all kinds of models (that can take years), Infinity is a staggering wall of information you'll need to digest before you can really play the game (i.e. anything above using basic models/starter scenarios/etc).

However, once you are over that wall, you are (by virtue of how the game is designed) extremely well equipped to understand the game at large, so if you can make it that far the game becomes much more about tactics, model choices, and scenarios than it is about learning specific models (or "gotcha!" moments).

The Game - Mechanics

My friend and I opted to play a 200 point scaled down version of Scenario #1 in the Infinity rulebook (i.e. kill the opponent, don't get yourself killed). We also opted to forego using the Classified Objectives for this game, as we had a hard enough time keeping our own models straight, so this was just a straight up firefight.

Overall, the game went smoothly, outside of the random rules questions we ran into. I really like how quick scenario games are - all of the core rulebook scenarios last 3 game rounds ("rounds" being the same measurement of time as Warmachine) - which lets both players really go all out. Models are typically taking fire and giving it right back during the first round, and it is not at all uncommon to have a big pile of dead and dying by the end of the second round (something we discovered even back when playing N2).

I look forward to adding in the Classified Objectives. I can see how they would serve a function very similar to Malifaux's Schemes: they're random additions to player scoring that a) allow for a player to claw their way back into contention if things otherwise go awry, and b) possibly push players to do things they wouldn't do otherwise. It is very easy to turtle up and just wait for the enemy in Infinity (getting shot sucks) and it was one of the things that quickly soured me in N2, so I'm looking forward to seeing how Classified Objectives break that up.

Our game was also relatively fast; if you cut out all the time we spent looking things up, the actual play time was probably only about an hour or so, and that didn't feel short or unsatisfying. One of the interesting things about Infinity is that going to larger point totals doesn't necessarily mean adding more models (just better ones) so I can see 300 point games resolving in a similar time frame. Once we get used to everything, of course.

It is also here that I will note that, due to unfamiliarity with how Infinity dice usually work out, I have found this game to be one that revives dice rage demons I thought I had long put to rest. Hopefully that will die down as we play the game more and I become more familiar with what to expect and what actual smart plays are (instead of the ones that seem smart, but are actually quite dumb).

One mechanic that I keep forgetting is the "Guts Roll" test. Basically: if a model is attacked and damaged, but they survive (usually due to armor or having multiple wounds), they need to test to see if they get the hell out of that dangerous situation.

Although models get shot quite often, this rule doesn't come up as often as you'd expect: either the model ends up dead, or has some rule to get around needing to make a Guts Roll (V: Courage and Religious Troop being the most common that I've encountered). So chances to actually apply this rule have been few and far between.

However, this is a rule that I do need to remember. Firstly, because it is a core rule and you should really follow those. But secondly, it also has a tangible benefit: a model that survives an attack but fails a Guts Roll gets to move 2" in order to improve its cover status if possible (i.e. get out of LOS) and in a lot of cases that extra move would save them from follow up attacks. It is also possible to voluntarily fail a Guts Roll, so it can be used to save models from future attacks if they're in the right spot.

The Game - Fun Factor

Despite all the rules-looking-up, dice induced table flip moments, and forgotten mechanics, I had a lot of fun playing Infinity. It provides an experience that is still very unique in the tabletop wargaming world (even after it feels like the number of skirmish games exploded in the past few years).

Part of that is that Infinity is definitely still a skirmish scale game. That is good news to me after seeing Warmachine grow from a skirmish scale game to a small army scale game (admittedly over the course of many years and book releases). And even though Infinity is skirmish scale, it feels very different from something like Malifaux. I can't put my finger on why exactly, but my gut reaction is that the diffusion of power (you can have one powerful model in Infinity, but it isn't automatic like Masters/Henchman usually are in Malifaux) and activations makes the game feel more about the squad as a whole, instead of necessarily any individual model.

As stated earlier, the core mechanics of the game are simple enough to resolve (especially now in N3) that once you know the rules you can really truck through activations. The flexibility of activations also allows for lots of adaptability on the fly (which ends up being necessary to an extent due to the fickle nature of the dice) and thus makes it more fun to allow plans to come together organically, versus the need to plan everything out well in advance (as is often necessary in Warmachine, and can even be necessary in Malifaux).

Infinity also scratches an itch that I am very particular about: I like sci-fi, but only a fairly narrow band of sci-fi. Many sci-fi miniature wargame settings dip into the fantastic, which is fine, but that is also usually right around when I check out. Infinity is by no means "hard" sci-fi, but it is more grounded in technology and plausible sci-fi than some of its contemporaries, which I like a lot.

And then there are the cool special rules. Just like in any miniature wargame, there is an undeniable satisfaction in using models that have rules you think are neat, and Infinity lets you do some great things.

As an example: in this game, my hacker was able to deploy a piece of equipment that is a hacking relay in the shape of a running panda bear. That panda ran up near one of my opponent's heavy armor guys, which let the hacker lock down his armor, then cut off his comms which screwed him over for the rest of the game. As revenge, the following turn a squad of trained knights dedicated their efforts to shoot a robot panda to smithereens.

Little things like that are what sell games to me.

The Game - Terrain

One of the more irksome things about Infinity is that it has terrain requirements which are going to be a big change of pace for many players (or at least, I think it will be).

Warmachine uses relatively small amounts of terrain. Moreover, that terrain usually adheres to a few subtypes - forest, linear obstacle, wreck markers, trenches, water features, random difficult terrain, hills impassible buildings, etc - so you don't actually need that big of a collection of terrain in order to have a good Warmachine gaming experience.

Malifaux is a step up in terrain complexity, largely due to the scale of the game. Because you're dealing with individual models, it behooves you to have a lot more terrain on the table than you would for Warmachine, and you can get more exotic with that terrain - actual open buildings, multi-level terrain, climbable features, forests w/actual, immobile trees, big rocks, lamp posts, boxes, etc. However, I have found that you can usually make do with terrain similar to Warmachine, just with a lot more of it on the table.

Infinity is, I feel, a step beyond even Malifaux. The most common grunt gun is effective at a range of 16" and can be fired up to 48" away (albeit at a significant penalty). When you're only playing on a 48" table and deploying 12" in (depending on scenario), that means that even an average grunt is able to start getting quality shots on enemy models with just a couple of orders on the first turn. And that is to say nothing about badass guns or equipment that are deadlier at even longer ranges.

The solution to that problem is that you need to have a prodigious amount of LOS blocking terrain and it needs to be set up in such a way as to not allow for too many long, open fire lanes. We played a few games like that in N2, and it quickly turns into a miserable meat grinder as the first powerful model to make it to that firing lane ends up ruling the table.

Infinity also incorporates the y-axis more actively than any other game I've played. It makes a lot of sense; in a game system where everyone is using guns, taking the high ground should have value, and therefore you also need high ground to take.

The part about all this that kind of sucks is that Infinity requires a different set of terrain than I've used for any other game. Infinity is a game that works best in urban combat environments - lots of buildings, alleyways, cars/trucks/dumpsters/etc, to hide behind, climb, and fight over - or something analogous to that. My Warmachine/Malifaux terrain is ill suited for such use, so for the first time in several years I find myself without enough terrain for a game.

There are lots of solutions. Several companies are making terrain for Infinity and that terrain has the benefit of being pretty as well as functional. The solution I'm adopting for now is: random boxes. The upside of trying to simulate urban combat is that it is pretty much a bunch of squares, so any random collection of boxes/square objects will serve in a pinch. It isn't pretty (it is actually distractingly ugly), but it will do until I come up with a better solution.

Closing Thoughts

With all of one "full" game of Infinity N3 under my belt, I'm pretty happy with the game and looking forward to playing it more. It is very pleasantly different from any of the other miniatures wargames I have (or have played in the past). If the games continue to be briskly paced (especially as we actually learn the rules and can just play the damn game), Infinity will quickly become one of my favorite Warmachine alternatives.

If you've been on the fence about Infinity, I can say as a firm hater of N2 that N3 is cause enough to give the game a shot. The rules are the best they've been, the current wave of models is absolutely gorgeous (and shows no signs of stopping), and the new army boxes that are coming out for each faction make it that much easier to get into the game.

I'll continue to post about Infinity as we play it here and there. If I can ever get a non-embarassing table put together (and get my Nomads painted), I'll eventually put up batreps as well.

As always, thanks very much for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment