So I went and looked into Infinity (and Infinity looked into me
). Now I'm back to share my thoughts with anyone in the Eastern Fringe contingent that might be interested. And, sadly, they are not very happy thoughts. I was really hoping for a great game. What I got is generally okay, and I'd still play it and probably have fun, and there are some great elements in there, but there is so much in the game that just feels off to me that Infinity as a whole comes over as a rather mediocre experience. Let's take a closer look, shall we? This is all of course strictly IMHO. And I should warn you, this will be a looong rant. Maybe I should have submitted it as an article?
Right, first off: the miniatures. One word: beautiful. Really superb work. Like with every miniature line, there are some models that I like less (there are some that were infected with the butt-ugly face disease which always claims a few victims), but on the whole those are some of the very best pieces I've ever seen. They have a very unique feel, quite different to the miniatures from Citadel and Target Games which I'm most used to. They look to be overall slimmer, taller, more lithe and better proportioned than most other miniatures I've seen to date, which always seemed a little stocky and big boned to me. And the obvious anime styling does not hurt either. The sculptors are Masamune Shirow fans, no doubt about it. The Yu Jing Guijia and Haquislam Maghariba (obviously inspired by Appleseed Landmates and GitS Fuchikomas, respectively) are dead giveaways (not to mention Nomad Reverend Moiras' almost naked bums, Motoko Kusanagi style
). In all, I love them and won't hesitate to buy some, if I can only spare the expense. But then again, I've been noted for having weird taste before, as I find myself liking most of the new Citadel miniatures that most everybody here hates and complains about...
Second, the fluff. In all honesty I must say I'm not that wildly enthusiastic abut it. It feels rather bland: oh look, five competing human factions made up of cultural groups colonizing space and a terrible, evil alien alliance army that wants to kill them all. Will the humans unite in the face of the menace, or will they fall, absorbed with their own petty quarrels? So, so the drama (yawn). This could be actually interesting, if it hadn't been done to death before, by Warzone, Void and even, after a fashion, Battletech, just to name a few. Still, being a reheated dish, the universe of Infinity is reheated and spiced fairly well, at least for my taste. It's written well, the history is up to standards and the human factions and aliens have enough of an unique identity to be interesting. A quick rundown (you can read a much better description on the official site and the Wiki):
179 years from now, the multi-planetary nations of the Human Sphere are superficially united under the O-12 - a kind of United Nations. It controls interstellar travel by controlling the Circulars - giant space ships using worm-holes to get from system to system, and keeps the peace with the help of ALEPH - an omnipresent AI overseeing all aspects of life and the Maya (Infinity's cute name for the interplanetary internet). Technology is advanced to the point where a person's mind may be stored digitally (in an implant called Cube) and after their death brought back to life in a cloned body. The factions, which are amalgamates of former Earth cultures, are as follows:
Pan-Oceania: the biggest, most influential player, made up of the former cultures and countries of Europe, Oceania and India. Their technology and economy is the most advanced. The Church plays an important role in society and politics. Proud and headstrong.
Yu-Jing: former far east united under the influence of (presumably still Communist) China, the second in importance and power. They are cautious and calculating, preferring subtle schemes to open conflict. Their forces seem to favor assault over long range and contain a higher proportion of powered armor infantry.
Haqquislam: the New Islam, a breakaway faction created by a visionary man who didn't like the path to self-destruction he saw his culture and religion on. Centered on learning and humanism. They have the most advanced bio and medical science and a current monopoly on the drug needed to resuscitate Cube stored personalities, which gives them weight on the interstellar scene they would otherwise not possess, ruling only one planet as they are.
The Nomads: living and traveling on three gigantic starships, a nation of outcasts, misfits, dissenters and free spirits, refusing to accept the control of O-12 and ALEF. Masters of information technology and espionage. Seen as mercenary, wild and untrustworthy.
Ariadna: descendants of the first, multi-national colony ship from Earth that was lost in transit. A century of isolation created a somewhat technologically backwards but resourceful, hardy and independent people. Their forces make use of the semi-sentient wolf-like natives of their planet.
The alien threat comes in the form of the Combined Army: an alliance of several alien races, conquered and ruled over by the Evolved Intelligence, a powerful alien AI of unknown origin. It sends its armies crusading across the galaxy to subjugate or eradicate all life. Currently only a relatively small contingent invaded known space, but it resisted all attempts of counterattack and its strength does not bode well for humanity after the main force arrives. The only force to possess a technique that allows hacking of the very minds of enemy soldiers. The ranks of CA contain creatures ranging from xenomorph-like close combat nightmares, through bug men equipped with symbiotic bio-rifles, to Klingon-esque religious fanatics.
The only one that falls a little flat to me is Ariadna - Americans, Russians and
Scots? Their units are quite fun when considered separately, but when viewed together they look like a haphazard collection of motives the authors thought were cool and wanted to include in the setting but couldn't find a place for it, so they threw them all together to form a new faction that feels rather rushed and mismatched (but the miniatures still look lovely
). And I realize the fluff has a good explanation for it, and their struggle for identity may be actually their defining, most appealing aspect - it just falls a little flat for me, but that's just me.
A point in Infinity's favor is that it avoids some setting elements that, with prolonged exposure, managed to became my pet peeves. I've had enough of grim, dark, gothic universes in which There Is Only War™, everybody is out to get everybody all the time, individuals are meaningless cogs in the machine of the oppressive state, hate and prejudice are the social norm and (and this is what pisses me off the most every time I see it) technology is a dark, forbidden / lost / misunderstood power shrouded in idiotic religious ritual, myth and superstition. It was fun the first time, but now it just feels retarded
(No offence to WH40K fans, despite everything I actually like the game enough myself, but its atmosphere is a just a little stifling for my personality. One such game is enough, thank you, I don't need to see it replicated endlessly.). I realize the Infinity universe is not all fun and games either, but at least someone could live there and actually be happy - and nobody prays to their toaster
One more minor point are the names. Most of the nomenclature in the game universe feels somewhat weird to me (Maya, ALEF, Algauciles, Akalis, Guiland etc.) but that's probably just the language barrier.
To summarize, the setting didn't strike me as particularly stellar, but it definitely doesn't suck either. Most of the factions are interesting enough and I had no trouble finding a place for myself in the universe - Yu Jing FTW!
Third, let's talk about the actual play mechanics. The basic die-rolling mechanic is simple: roll equal to or lower than the pertinent attribute on D20 to succeed. It gets a more fancy with Face-to-Face rolls which are made when two models directly oppose each other, for example in close combat. Both roll and the final result depends on their individual performance: if both fail then (obviously) no one wins, if one succeeds and the other fails the one to succeed is the overall winner, if both succeed then the winner is the one who rolled higher. It works well for close combat or opposed hacking, but looks strange when applied to shooting, which happens when a model shot at by an enemy returns fire as their Automatic Reaction Order (more on ARO in a moment). The shooter that wins the roll-off hits, but only with those shots whose to hit roll was both successful and higher then the enemy to hit roll. The one to loose the roll-off misses altogether, even if his to hit rolls were successful. I hope the WTF factor comes from the strangeness of the mechanic rather than my poor explanation...
The game is balanced with small, skirmish level forces and battles in mind.
It uses no squad system - when constructing a force you may buy whatever models you wish, regardless of type, so you may end up with an "army" made up of a single representative of every unit type in your army list - which is somewhat strange.
Infinity also uses the pre-equipped soldiers mechanic, meaning you don't get to choose weapons and equipment for your soldiers, rather you have to buy models which already have defined and unchangeable gear. This does not pose much of a problem, as every unit type has models with a broad range of different weapon and equipment sets, but is a little too inflexible for my tastes. It means that, if you want to have the ability to use, for example, smoke grenades (which seem to me to be essential equipment because of the ARO), you are forced to buy models for your army that have them as part of their standard gear, instead of adding them to any convenient model. This creates what I think is an artificial and arbitrary limitation on your force selection.
All forces use the same equipment and weapons (with some minor differences in case of the lower-tech Ariadna and the aliens). They may look different on the model, but an assault rifle has the same stats weather wielded by a Pan-Oceania Fussilier or Nomad Zero or growing from the arm of a Combined Army Iskeller. I guess this makes sense, at least in the case of the human forces, where the technology is so similar as to make no real difference (in 40K a Lasgun is a Lasgun, regardless of which Imperium planet it was made on). But I kind of miss Warzone's distinct armories. It also removes one variable from the equation, making the game more predictable which may be seen as both good and bad.
The game has some nice camouflage rules. Models with appropriate special rules may be deployed as camouflage markers. Until they reveal themselves by doing anything other than moving or the enemy models Discover it, the opponent has no idea what type of unit it is and may not attack it. And several such models may be represented by a single marker. Models with Thermo-Optical cammo may be deployed in complete secret, by noting down their position. Even after discovery enemy models have penalties to hitting such models. What is less nice is the fact that models without camouflage rules may not hide at all.
The game appears to be shooting-heavy. Even basic rifles may fire three times in a single action, whereas in close combat a single action equates to a single attack.
Wounding a model is a two step process: To Hit roll by the attacker and, if it's successful, an Armor roll by the target.
A models that looses its last wound is not immediately killed. Instead it is placed prone and counted as incapacitated. It only becomes a casualty after it is wounded again or a medic botches his roll to revive it or is unavailable. Some special types of ammunition and close combat weapons, designated as "Shock", bypass the incapacitated state and kill the model outright if they strip it of its last wound.
EMP weapons are an important part of the Infinity arsenal, used to incapacitate power armored troops, combat remotes and high-tech equipment. Their effects may be recovered from with the help of engineers.
All forces have their own medics and combat engineers.
The turn sequence is the old and tried I-Go-You-Go, with an Order Reserve system governing your actions in your turn. I have never before seen a system like the Order Reserve system, and I must say it doesn't look too hot. You have as many Orders as you have miniatures and you may spend them in any way you wish. If you have more then 10 fighters you have to split them into groups of no more then 10 and the groups can't share orders. From a commonsensical point of view the system simply fails to make sense. So, one turn all of your soldiers get to perform one action each, but the next turn 90% just stand there doing nothing while 10% become the Flash and perform 10 actions each? I realize a miniature wargame is just an abstraction of a real conflict, but this is very far beyond any abstraction level that I've seen to date. No matter how abstracted the time duration that a single turn represents is, every soldier should be able to perform exactly the same amount of actions. He may decide to do nothing, but how can that mean that his friend can do more? They are living in the same time, they can't borrow it to one another. If I choose to do nothing for 5 minutes, that doesn't normally mean that my friend can squeeze 10 minutes worth of action into the same 5 minutes, now does it? One good thing about the system I have to honestly say, the game appears well balanced against actual abuse of this "cheerleading" system. There are no units so powerful as to be invincible and anyone thinking he may buy a bunch of cannon fodder to provide Orders for a single super-soldier who will then single-handedly butcher all opposition will quickly find himself outmaneuvered, overwhelmed and his cheerleaders eliminated. Unfortunately part of the balance comes from the ARO system.
Let's now talk about the Automatic Reaction Orders then. Every enemy fighter that can see your fighter can always react to every of your fighter's actions. Every time. And then act at full effectiveness in his own turn. So, in addition to being simply extremely brutal to the enemy, the ARO make the time warp even worse. Not only can your soldiers act in their own time, they also gain additional time for action for every enemy that they are able to see act - but only if they see him. So again, in the same amount of time (the enemy turn) one of your soldiers gets to act (for example) 5 times but another can't do anything. I hope you see what I'm getting at.
In light of all that the fact that a model has to be physically touching a piece of cover to gain any benefits from it, regardless of how much of him it is hiding from view, or that cover and camouflage to hit penalties do not stack are just a minor annoyances.
Finally we come to Hacking, probably the most original wargame mechanic I've seen to date. The basic Hacking mechanics are fine. A Hacker uses an Order, makes a Willpower check and if he succeeds he accomplishes whatever he set out to do. Hacking needs no line of sight. A Hacker may make hacking attacks against other Hackers (to fry their brains), guided missiles (to make them miss) and certain other units (more on this in a moment), or may hack defensively, defending friendly units from enemy hacking. Defensive hacking has an effectively unlimited range, but offensive hacking may only be done at 8 inches. It's a little strange, but I accept that as a game balance thing and won't make a fuss about it. I also won't complain about the realism of the general idea of hacking enemy units on the battlefield or frying other hackers through the net - it's a cyberpunk concept of dubious realism (linking your brain directly to a computer would have to have some insane
advantages over hacking with a keyboard and screen for it to be worth risking getting your brains cooked by your opponent's firewall), but it has enough appeal that I can work and live with it, and anyway, discussion on it really belongs on a different forum. No, where it falls apart for me is the rules governing the possible effects of hacking of enemy armor units. Allow me to explain.
There are three main types of units (other than Hackers) in Infinity a Hacker may influence with his ability:
Heavy Infantry (HI): guys and gals wearing light powered armor, like WH40K Space Marine Power Armor, or, for the more anime inclined, Hardsuits from Bubblegum Crisis;
Tactical Armored Gears (TAG): heavy powered armor bordering on mecha, between WH40K Space Marine Terminators and Tau Battlesuits, or, again for the anime fans, like the Landmates of Appleseed fame; It is worth noting that some types of TAGs do not actually have a pilot physically inside them, instead they possess the Remote Presence attribute, which, fluff-wise, makes them functionally identical to:
Remotes (REM): semi-autonomous combat robots not unlike Tau Drones in WH40K, but relying more on remote orders rather than their own AI; All possess the Remote Presence attribute.
All of the above may be hacked and Immobilized, in which case they may do nothing except try to reboot their systems to free themselves. I'm okay with that, look below for an explanation. What I'm not okay with, is the Possession rule. If the Hacker successfully performs another hacking order on an already Immobilized unit of one certain type from the above three, he takes Possession of it. From now on, until the model manages to reboot, it is treated as part of the force of the player who controls the Hacker that performed the hack. So what's not to like you ask? So you can possess your enemy's Remotes and turn them against him. It's cool. The Shadowrun RPG has rules like that. Yeah, it's cool. But the problem is you guessed the unit type wrong. It's not the Remotes that may be Possessed. It's the TAGs.
So, a hacker can Immobilize HIs, TAGs and Remotes. And he can Possess TAGs. Can you guess what I'm going to say? Exactly - this makes no sense. And I'm not the only one to think so. People have asked about it on the Infinity forums. To the complaint why is it TAGs that can be Possessed and not Remotes, the gurus said (quoted directly):
TAGs due to their nature are more vulnerable to hacking, hence they can be Possessed.
A HI is not piloted, the user moves using his muscles to make it move, the hacker probably shuts down the power supply to Immobilize it.
Same goes for REM who are semi-intelligent so probably their AI is isolated from the battle network for security purposes and the Hacker must shut their power supply or haywire their IFF to Immobilize them.
TAGs on the other hand are piloted, the controls are there and a skilled hacker can take them over making the pilot unable to control the TAG.
And the reason that you can hack a TAG even with a pilot is that you just take over the piloting controls. The body of the pilot can't put up enough resistance to stop you doing anything like in an HI so they can just take over and you get to be the passenger.
To my understanding of things something is very wrong here. How can a Remote's combat AI be isolated from the net? That's the way it gets its orders - it's a Remote after all. It has some autonomy, but is mainly ordered about, well, remotely. Sure, its brain is not directly plugged into Maya, but it has a communications connection for receiving orders and sending reports - otherwise, how could it be remotely operated? So an indirect connection exists, and a hacker can exploit this and get into its brain that way (at least that's the way it seems to work in the movies), making the Remote his slave (dance, puppet, dance!
). Hell, he doesn't even have to brainwash the thing, he may "just" decode the enemy comm. frequency and scrambling protocol and spoof the Remote's command signal, sending it false orders. But how can he Possess a TAG with a pilot inside? They say the pilot is not strong enough to fight the TAGs limbs if they decide to move on their own at the hacker's urging. My question is: how could the hacker possibly gain access to the TAG's movement controls? It is they, and not a Remote's brain, that would be completely isolated from Maya. Because why should they be connected? The pilot is the connection - he receives orders by comm. and follows them, making the TAG move by manually operating the controls. Even if the controls are not manual but instead a neural interface, and even if the comm. link is also a neural link, there is still the pilot's mind in between them. And his mind can't be hacked (at least not without a Sepsitor - a wicked hacking virus the aliens use). There's absolutely no reason for the TAG's movement and/or power supply controls to be connected to the net, even in the most indirect way. The only reason for such a connection to exist would be to allow a hacker to Possess the TAG - and that would be just plain silly (not to use heavier words), wouldn't it? All of the above also applies to HIs. Of course when the TAG has no pilot physically inside it but instead has the Remote Presence attribute, then, at least for the purpose of hacking, it stops being a TAG and becomes a Remote, and so may be Possessed with exactly the same rationale. So I think that the ability to Possess a certain unit should not be arbitrarily dependant on its type, but rather on weather it has or hasn't the Remote Presence trait.
But then, somebody might ask, going by the train of logic I'm presenting above, how can a HI or non-remote TAG be Immobilized by the hacker? What I imagined is, the Hacker doesn't get into their control systems. Instead, he hacks and scrambles their sensors, comm. and tactical systems, which could conceivably be connected to the net (for example to receive IFF signals, situational updates and remote targeting data and just plain orders). So he doesn't paralyze their limbs directly, but instead makes them blind, deaf and stupid.
I imagined His, TAGs and Remotes rely on and make use of those systems much more than normal infantry. Otherwise a hacker might be able to paralyze any unit, except the most "primitive" ones. Which would be quite interesting I think, but would be a huge change to make to the game.
So that's my case. That all being said, I really like the hacking rules inclusion in the game. They are cool. But they wouldn't become any less cool, quite the opposite I think, if they made just a little more sense.
Summing it all up, Infinity is not a terrible game. If nothing else it has some interesting ideas. But there are just too many WTF? elements in its design for me to call it a very good game either. And I'm quite lenient when it comes to stuff like that. Robbie for example will most probably rip Infinity a new one.
So what do you think? Feel free to ask me to clarify any point (I realize this stream of consciousness review is a little disjointed) or about anything I failed to mention.