Hello, TechRaptor readers. Let’s change direction a bit and move away from over-the-top high fantasy and take a look at a tense, suspenseful world of rising international tensions, futuristic intrigue, covert operations, and giant mowhawk-sporting Scottish werewolves dual-wielding rifles.
Yes, we’re talking about Infinity, the squad-based skirmish-level tabletop wargame from Spanish creators Corvus Belli. The terrain-heavy, manga-inspired game pits small squads of operatives ranging from front-line troops to field medics, elite hackers, and the omnipresent giant mecha suits referred to as TAGs (Tactical Armored Gear). Rather than the simple “kill every model that isn’t the same color as yours,” Infinity relies a great deal on completing various objectives in the allotted amount of turns. That’s not to say that exterminating your opponent’s thoughtfully crafted force isn’t an option, by any means. It’s just not your only option.
I made the drive all the way across town to Empire Games in Mesa, AZ earlier this week to meet with Tom and Kip, the local volunteer coordinators for the Infinity community here in Phoenix. After a brief bit of conversation that mainly consisted of “so what exactly are you doing again?” I got a chance to walk through the basic mechanics of the system and get a solid overall feel for the game itself.
Infinity was first launched in 2005 and is currently in its third edition. The previous editions were plagued with translation issues and sometimes shaky rules that created a great deal of confusion. This was apparently due to the translators Corvus Belli employed at the time. According to Infinity players I’ve spoken to, the translators’ first language was German, then Spanish, then English. Even simple sentences and concepts would get at least a little muddled going through such a linguistic telephone game—you can test this out yourself with Google Translate—so you can imagine the difficulties this caused when trying to explain more complex and abstract concepts like cover, line of sight, and all of the other trappings of wargames that cause problems even when both developer and gamer speak the same language. Fortunately, this has been resolved for the most part in the third edition rulebook released last year. You may run across a sentence here or there that may sound a bit odd, though this seems to happen primarily in the background sections of the book and not with the rules themselves.
I personally didn’t see it as an issue and am more than willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt as English isn’t their first language. This can also be a bit of a sticking point if you’re looking for information online, as a good portion is in Spanish, which will require some additional legwork at times to find what you’re looking for. If you’re already a speaker, this won’t be an issue for you. And if my mother had had her way when I was in high school, it wouldn’t be an issue for me either. Unfortunately, I can sometimes be too stubborn for my own good at times. But I digress.
The cultural differences also manifest themselves in the overall speed of releases. The work culture in Spain is much more languid than it is here in the States, meaning releases tend to come at a much slower pace than other companies. While this may not seem like a major issue at first glance, it can be somewhat frustrating to see other games and model lines get their shiny new toys much faster and more frequent than you. A major downside to this, however, is the speed in replacing models that actually need to be replaced. Older models that were created before 3D sculpting tend to be a great deal smaller than newer models. While the game’s cover mechanic makes this less of an issue, it is a sticking point with some players.
Infinity takes place 175 years in the future in what is referred to as the Human Sphere, the area of space currently occupied by Humanity. Vast cargo and merchant ships ply fixed interstellar trade routes by way of wormholes linking the various human worlds together. Each human faction generally represents a rather eclectic mix of cultures, from the Australian-Filpino-Southease Asian fusion that comprises PanOceana to the mixture of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese forming Yu Jing, to the hodgepodge of Scottish, French, American, and Russian cultures that make up Ariadna. Smaller polities exist, like the Arabic-inspired Haaqislam and the anarchic Nomads. Linking all these disparate groups together—with the notable exception of the Nomads—is ALEPH, a vast and all-pervasive AI designed to keep human society functioning. To round everything out are two alien factions: the Combined Army, an eclectic mix of various species conquered by a monstrously powerful AI known as the Evolved Intelligence, hell-bent on transcendence; and the Tohaa, an alien species fighting to stay free from the Borg-like Combined Army.
As you can imagine, with so many different factions and ideologies knocking about the galaxy, there are bound to be … disagreements. Rather than the all-out warfare commonly featured in most wargames, Corvus Belli have taken a different approach, opting for a Cold War-like tempo of small-scale skirmishes and low-intensity conflict acting as a sort of release valve for tension to avoid an all-out war. According to the hostility scale used by the O-12, an interstellar governing body analogous to today’s United Nations, the “Infinity” level is one step above all-out warfare. If this review were being written by the guys at Cinema Sins, you’d see a “Roll credits!” pop up about now.
As I mentioned previously, the model count for this game is very low compared to other games. Larger forces may come up to about a dozen models overall, which has several benefits and down sides. With such a small force at hand, there is no room for chaff or cannon fodder. Every model on the table has an important function, and its loss will be keenly felt. While losing a line infantry model won’t be as painful as losing a hacker or a medic, for example, it’s still going to hurt.
It’s also a big boon to people who enjoy spending a great deal of time painting their models to a high standard, as you won’t be painting seemingly endless hordes of similar models to the point of feeling your soul being crushed under the weight of spray primer and plastic. If you’re unsure what this is like, feel free to speak with your local Tyranid or Skaven player. They can tell you all about it, most likely while basecoating another unit of termagants or clanrats.
A smaller model count also gives the game a much lower barrier to entry. While the individual models are more expensive than a box of Space Marines, for example, each Infinity model on the table is as important as an entire squad of Space Marines in 40K. Meaning your hobby dollars will go much farther and make it easier to truly make your army feel like your army. Whether it’s spending a bit more time getting the blending just right or getting some detailed resin bases for your troops, a smaller overall model count allows players a great deal of time and money saved that can be re-allocated to other areas.
My only gripe with the models is the material they’re made from. All of my previous modeling experience has been with either plastic or resin up until recently. Working not only with metal models, but small metal models with a great deal of small, fiddly bits like antennae proved to be incredibly frustrating. At one point while assembling the models for the Operation: Icestorm starter set, my wife worriedly inquired if I was OK or if I’d somehow managed to injure myself due to the frequency and volume of the profuse swearing coming from upstairs. I quickly assured her that everything was fine, aside from the fact that my demonically-possessed carpet has devoured another small fiddly metal bit somewhere after half an hour of trying to get it glued to the small spot on one model’s helmet. The fact that I also wondered how many days I would be going without thumbprints after multiple attempts at gluing said models together seemed less important.
This is something to keep in mind when working with metal models. Assembly will generally go one of two ways:
–Everything fits together perfectly the first time and will survive being shot from a cannon into a brick wall.
–You will spend two hours trying to keep one arm from falling off after going through half a bottle of super glue, and every time a seagull in Fiji flaps their wings one time too many your model will spontaneously dissolve into its component pieces—the metallic tink sounds ringing in your ears like the faint mocking laughter of distant gods.
I’m sure you can guess which category my experiences fell under. While I realize this may not be everyone’s experience, and my luck will improve with more time working with metal, it’s something to consider if you’re a neophyte.
The quality of the models—once you can get them to stay in one piece for longer than thirty seconds—is incredibly high and well-done. Corvus Belli recently moved to 3D sculpting for their models rather than traditional means, allowing for more crisp and intricate details on every model. This is another factor that can be a bit intimidating for new players and painters. Games like Warhammer 40K have models in what’s referred to as “heroic scale,” with more exaggerated proportions that can be easier for novice painters to work with and master. Since Infinity’s models are more realistic, within reason, the proportions are much smaller and hence more difficult to work with. The painting techniques learned for other games translate very well to Infinity models, and tutorials abound on YouTube to assist painters of every skill level improve their painting quality.
The main area that Infinity stands out, however, is its mechanics. One of the game’s selling points is the idea that “it’s always your turn.” Movement has to be carefully planned out to avoid crossing potential firing lanes, as any enemy model that sees you cross one has the opportunity to take a shot at you. This really ratchets up the tension, as a half-inch mistake when running between one building and another can be a matter of life and death.
Another unique mechanic is the order system. Each model gives you one order that can be allocated however you’d wish. You can use one order per model, dump every order into one and leave everyone else pulling security, or divide them amongst a small number of units. Each order gives a unit a primary and a secondary action, allowing a model to sprint across the battlefield, move up a short distance to line up a shot, hack into an enemy unit’s armor to shut them down, or whatever else is required.
The presence of sectorial armies give players an additional way to customize their forces. Sectorial armies are forces themed around the various cultures that comprise the major factions. Going this route will decrease the number of models you have to choose from, but not only does it unlock new units, it also unlocks the use of link teams. Link teams still generate the same number of orders; however, it will only take one order to act with the fire team as a whole, rather than one order per model. This frees up the rest of your force to move and act much more swiftly than a traditional army. Further details can be found in the Human Sphere book.
Infinity is a game designed with tournaments and competitive play in mind. The Infinity Tournament System, created by Corvus Belli, is a free PDF containing everything from organization to rankings to missions designed with tournaments in mind. This helps in standardizing tournaments around the world rather than relying on different systems for different parts of the country, or other countries. Everyone knows exactly what to expect when stepping up to the table, so there aren’t any major surprises. While having a limited number of missions to choose from can get a bit stale over a long period of time, it helps to eliminate mission-specific variables that can affect the outcome of a game that is meant to be determined primarily by skill. The company also has a program for volunteers (referred to as “Warcors”) to run monthly tournaments at their FLGS and help promote the game overall. I had a chance to talk with both Tom and Kip, the local warcors, earlier this week about the game, and they were a huge help in getting this information together.
Getting started with the game is incredibly easy. The “Operation: Icestorm” starter set is readily available at most local game stores and is also available online in many places. While you could order it directly from Corvus Belli, I personally wouldn’t advise it unless you live in Europe already, as the prices for the products and shipping are in Euros, obviously, which will raise the prices drastically for anyone outside the Eurozone. Aussie gamers will know exactly what I’m referring to, as they tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to shipping.
The starter set comes with a handful of models for both PanOceana and the Nomads, including one specific model for both sides only available in the starter set. The Nomads get the Reverend Healer, and PanOceana gets the Father Knight. The starter set includes a guidebook that mixes the game rules with six missions designed to walk new players through the game system in short and easy steps. The game also comes with enough markers of various types to help with the required bookkeeping. The markers are simple cardstock, but their lifespan can be greatly increased with the purchase of clear bottlecap stickers. Unlike most starter sets, “Operation: Icestorm” also comes with a handful of cardstock terrain pieces, allowing players to quickly get stuck in with the game. In a game that’s a cover and terrain dependent as Infinity, this is incredibly helpful.
Overall, the game is a refreshing change of pace from the large-scale games currently on the market. The change from large-scale wargames like Warhammer 40K to small-scale skirmish games can be jarring at first, but can be a welcome breath of fresh air. The game has seen a small spike in popularity recently, as people angered about the changes to Warhammer Fantasy Battles loudly and blatantly declare their switch to games like Infinity, though it remains to be seen if this increase will be maintained in the future. The models are great, if a bit frustrating to assemble, and the mechanics mean you’ll be keeping your head in the game from the first die roll to the very last.
- Low model count
- Highly detailed models
- Game mechanics require more tactical planning than most
- Metal models are more difficult to work with (yes, I am going to harp on this to a ridiculous degree)
- Slower release cycle can be frustrating
- (Currently) less popular than other systems, which can make finding games difficult at times
The copy of “Operation: Icestorm” used for this review was purchased by the reviewer. Cameronian Werewolf, Daktari, and Operation: Icestorm box art images courtest of Corvus Belli. All other images courtesy of my iPhone 5S.
A fast-paced and in-depth skirmish game that’s easy to get started with and can provide a highly rewarding experience for players looking for small-scale gaming.