This month, we get to grips with an excellent skirmish wargame.
It’s not really much of a secret that I have a great love of miniatures games. I started out, as most do, with Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 when I was kid and I played pretty much every GW game that they released. But as I got older my tastes changed — I like to think that I grew up, and outgrew the buckets of dice, clunky mechanics and ‘heroically’ mis-proportioned sculpts.
I collected and played through a number of wargames produced by various companies, but those are stories for another time. Eventually I stumbled upon a little-known spanish wargame, Corvus Belli’s Infinity. I was immediately captivated by the miniature sculpts, but for many years those models sat on my shelf in their blister packs, because I feared that I couldn’t do them justice with my limited painting ability. Eventually I did pluck up the courage.
Infinity is a skirmish-scale wargame, usually played on a 4×4 tabletop and with limited 8–16 models per side. Unlike many wargames, terrain is dense and usually urban, representing street fights and covert, limited-scale operations. Achieving objectives is usually of more importance than massacring the enemy.
At the time, Infinity was little more than a few pages of poorly-translated rules in a little pamphlet that came with the boxed miniatures. It was intriguing because it so obviously hadn’t come out of the Games Workshop mould. The game mechanics were based on 20-sided dice (d20s), not the typical 6-sided dice that so many other games used. You could activate a miniature more than once per turn, using the order system, and best of all, it was always your turn! Which is to say, you had to be vigilant on your opponent’s turn, because if he crossed the line of fire of one of your models you stood a good chance of taking him out. The mantra of Infinity players is “move on your turn, kill on your opponent’s”.
The evolution of Infinity
The game has evolved a lot over the years. The original pamphlet 1st Edition — dubbed ‘N1’ — gave way to a full-colour hardback book known as ‘N2’. The 2nd Edition was more about cleaning up and improving the translation than anything else. The models at this point were very much inspired by Japanese manga, which was part of the aesthetic that attracted me to the game in the first place. Quite a few of the sculpts depicted female soldiers, and while some were clothed in full body armour, many were in ‘cheesecake’ poses, wearing crop-tops and miniskirts. Fortunately, this is something that has improved with the advent of digital sculpting, and most — but not all — of these models have been retired and replaced with more modern, better-proportioned, and properly equipped soldiers for the battlefield.
Infinity is set about 150 years into the future, and mankind is as balkanised as ever. The main political power blocks have reached the stars and settled several systems through a series of naturally-occurring wormholes that need to be forced open and maintained by complex technology. The biggest political bloc is the hyperpower PanOceania, essentially a political union that encompases most of western civilisation. Its principal rival is the Yu Jing, a union of the asian states under a resurgent China. The third great power is the Haqqislam, a unified Islamic state encompassing the middle-eastern countries. All three of these powers are represented in a United Nations-like body called the ‘O12’.
There are two further human powers outside of the O12. The Nomad Nations are based on huge starships that ply the spaceways. They reject the power of the O12 and specifically the ‘benign’ AI that runs the Human Sphere on its behalf. Then there’s the rediscovered colony of Ariadna; tough, low-tech survivors, descended from a mixture of Kazakhs, Scots, French, and Americans. They operate their own territorial claims on the harsh frontier world of Dawn.
Set against the Human Sphere is the great enemy. The Combined Army are the vanguard of an alien cooperative ruled over by the Evolved Intelligence, an alien AI. First contact did not go well. The Evolved Intelligence has subjected, co-opted, and even eradicated other alien civilisations, and has now encountered humans.
Over time, principle armies of the powers have been broken down into ‘Sectorial’, themed sub-armies, to give greater flavour and variety to the forces you can deploy in an Infinity game. Additional factions and sectorials have been added along the way.
The 3rd Edition, N3, overhauled many of the rules; mostly for hand-to-hand combat, which is rare in Infinity. Most importantly, the hacking rules were rebuilt. Hacking is Infinity’s ‘magic’ system, allowing the deployment of tactical hackers who can disrupt communications and take out high-tech weapons systems, like the mighty TAGs (Tactical Armoured Gear, or mech suits).
Infinity’s world changes. Most of the story of N1 focused on the conflict between human factions, territorial control, and political sabre-rattling, with the alien conflict on the fringes. N2 saw the first hints that Corvus Belli were prepared to make radical changes to the story.
A seemingly-minor backstory concerning a Yu Jing special character, Tiger soldier Ko Dali, saw her listed as MIA, presumed dead. Her character was removed from the army builder and was no longer playable. On the surface, this could have been the company rebalancing an unbalanced character — but it wasn’t.
The current edition of the rules is now N3, and has a number of supplements that have inched the storyline forward over the past few years. The big change for N3 was a massive clean-up and a concerted effort to get the English translation right, to tap into the UK and America markets. This went hand-in-hand with the early release of a special army box, ‘USAriadna’, that saw the development of the American sectorial army as part of the larger Ariadna force. Naturally the appearance of this US Ranger-style force went down very well in the USA and helped springboard the game to a new audience.
Then came the reintroduction of Ko Dali. She didn’t fight for the Yu Jing any more, she was fighting for the Evolved Intelligence on the side of the aliens! Up until this point, only the human factions had had named special characters. Ko Dali represented the first of the Combined Army special characters, fighting against her former masters.
The first supplement for N3, Human Sphere, introduced new factions to the game. Aleph, the forces of the human AI, took to the field to combat the Combined Army assault on the world of Paradiso. The Aleph forces were spearheaded by the Homeric Greek-styled Steel Phalanx: artificial AI humans designed to be recreations of the Greek heroes of old, led by an AI recreation of the legendary warrior Achilles. They were designed to inspire humanity to unify and fight together as a single race against the invading Combined Army.
A second alien faction was also introduced: the Tohaa. Masters of bioengineering, the Tohaa have long been engaged in a bitter struggle with the Combined Army… and it remains to be seen whether the old adage ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ will hold true here. The Tohaa have a longer, hidden backstory, interfering with human colonial efforts and pulling strings behind the scenes.
The Uprising supplement cast the Human Sphere into greater political turmoil and infighting as the Japanese state, long subsumed into Yu Jing, fought its way free to become its own independent nation. This book also introduced many themed mercenary forces and greatly weakened the economic and political power of the Yu Jing. This represents the second major upheaval in the world of Infinity.
The Third Offensive supplement brought the focus back to the Paradiso front, as the Combined Army pushed through the human defences like a lawnmower through a flock of overfed pigeons. Only now do we start to see the capability of the alien forces. What the humans believed to have been a full-scale invasion of Paradiso in the first and second offensives was nothing more than recon-in-force and a probing assault respectively. The third offensive was the establishment of the beachhead. It is starting to dawn on the Human Sphere just what is coming…
The Daedalus Falls supplement explores more about the relationship between the Human Sphere and the alien Tohaa. The Daedalus wormhole that connects Paradiso to the Tohaa homeworlds is sabotaged, cutting off the Tohaa forces in Paradiso from reinforcement and resupply. But was this the actions of the Combined Army or of the Tohaa themselves?
Now humanity stands on the edge of a precipice. The Combined Army prepares to launch a full-scale invasion of the Human Sphere through the Archeon wormhole in the Paradiso system.
Where is this going?
Corvus Belli are, at the time of writing, finalising their recent (and first) Kickstarter campaign. Infinity: Defiance will be a dungeon-crawler board game that tracks the fate of a few key heroes and their ship, the Defiance, as it embarks on a suiside mission to cut the Combined Armies supply lines through the Archeon wormhole. This is a one-way mission — the ship and its crew will not be coming back.
The rumour is that Corvus Belli will be releasing N4 later this year, and I believe we will see substantial evolution of the Infinity story as a result of Infinity: Defiance.
Why should you play Infinity?
Clearly I love the backstory of Infinity, but while this is a major selling point for the game, the miniatures are the best quality sci-fi models you will find anywhere. They have character, and are properly equipped for their role on the battlefield, most being in full body armour. Human troops don’t go alone onto the tabletop — they are supported by hackers and ‘remotes’, semi-autonomous robots that bring fire support or simply act as a baggage train. Then there are the TAGs, whose massive all-metal models are brilliantly assembled. In game terms, they offer considerable firepower, but you had better protect them or an enemy hacker will take them offline — or worse, override them and use them against you.
Although massive battles do occur in the Infinity world, they are not the focus of the game. Instead, the game focuses on small-scale skirmish, tactical, and covert operations. Hitting the objective and getting out is, more often than not, the preferred way to win a scenario. There are few alternative mission systems for Infinity, but most of these are fan made. Corvus Belli produce a Classified Objectives deck that allows players to have random primary and secondary objectives that only they know. Your opponent might be able to guess what you’re up to, but only you know for certain.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on books to play!
In fact, all the game system material is available as downloadable PDFs, so if you have models from other games you can proxy and try out the rules at no cost (though you may need to buy a few 20-sided dice if you don’t have any). There is an excellent army builder that cross-links to the wiki to help resolve any rules questions. Of course, you will want to buy the books eventually — they are full of lovely artwork and interesting backstory — but you don’t need them to play.
There are several introductory box sets available that are excellent value — simply choose the one whose forces interest you. They come with a quick-start version of the rules that progressively introduces the concepts of the game through a series of linked missions. Each comes with two starter forces that are an excellent foundation to expand your collection of models from. Each box comes with cardboard buildings and a poster-sized play mat.
It can really help to have an experienced player teach you the basics, but don’t be disheartened if you don’t win a game against them. Infinity rewards player experience and tactical planning. More than any other game I’ve played, you need to hit the table with a solid plan. Know how your models will work together and support each other. Like all games based on dice, sometimes luck is just not on your side — but more often than not, the better player can still pull out a win by completing objectives over simply gunning the enemy down.
Find out more at: www.infinitythegame.com