Friday, 27 May 2011

Infinity: The best game there's ever been? Part 1.





Lets get this out of the way right now; the title of this blog is a rhetorical question. Oh yes it is and while other people might feel differently and (erroneously) believe other games are better, they are unequivocally wrong! Sorry you are (only joking). However I'm going to explain why I believe what I do, because if all I said was it's the best ever and left it at that this would be a pretty damn short blog. In short I just want to express the love that I have for this game in the hope that others who read it might be inspired to to give this fantastic game a go. Before I do though I want to show you a piece of art work from the book entitled 'Citizen' from the insanely talented Chester Ocampo, it shows the universe of Infinity off perfectly... there's nothing grim or dark about it:



The game

It seems a pretty logical place to start for me, even though it's always the mini's that first attract me to any game. I've played so many game systems that I've got a pretty damn good grounding in just what games are out there, but it is fair to say that until recently my hobby was mainly dominated by Games Workshop. However that has changed pretty rapidly in the last 24 months as I've slowly decided to start playing other peoples product way more. You'll often read how game systems are revolutionary or 'really different' and while a lot of games do have the odd thing that is an innovation over the well known market leaders products, none can really be considered truly revolutionary... Infinity IS revolutionary in so many ways its hard to know where to begin.

Lets be honest we're all from the computer game generation aren't we? We're twitchy, we are used to always having a modicum of control, we're used to always playing! However pretty much all wargames follow the chess principle of 'you move then I move' and while that's OK it can be frustrating and also doesn't do a great job of actually representing modern warfare, I mean just ask a soldier if they take it in turns with the enemy to take pot shots at each other... sounds really silly doesn't it? We don't like taking turns and spending half of the game having things done to us (that sounds dirtier on the page than I intended). We've all sat there while our opponents seem to take an age to move, shoot and do whatever else was required. To be fair its not that bad a system and it has served us well since the invention of chess, but the larger a game becomes the more boring it can be.

Nobody wants to sit during a game for 45 to maybe 60 minutes essentially doing nothing. This is where the genius of Infinity first rears its pretty little head. What am I talking about? AROs!!! No not the type you use with a bow! Sure other game systems have tried 'overwatch' and other such rules, but the Automatic Reaction Order or ARO is such a central part of Infinity that it feels completely natural and fluid, and it flips the normal game mechanic we're all used to on its head... in a cool way!!! You see you don't have to do anything special in 'your' turn to get an ARO, they're just part of the game, its a simple mechanic and its one that keeps you as a gamer always playing; and that's the first thing I love about Infinity, there's no boring down time.

You see in Infinity you're either the active gamer, doing all the normal things that any other wargame does or you are the reactive gamer using ARO's to play, responding to the active gamers moves. Hell the really good gamers will sometimes do some of their best work in the reactive phase of the game, even using their active turns to set up good situations for when they're being reactive. The level of tactics and strategy this opens up to the game is utterly mind boggling at first, and the learning curve can be very steep if you're used to playing pure turn based games as your army can get shot to pieces by well placed snipers, TO (Thermal Optical camouflage, I'll explain some other time) ambushes or maybe a TAG (Big FAT robots) on a mission. If that all sounded bewildering I'm sorry, its not meant to, because with perseverance this game brings its own rewards and if you stick with it like I have this mechanic can bring a lot of joy.

While its the ARO's that give the game its totally unique sense of always playing it's the order pool that I think really sets it apart from other games. If you don't know about Infinity then I'll explain, to do stuff in your active phase you have to spend an order, and you only have as many orders as you have models in your force. So why is that so important? Well you can spend as many orders as you like, pretty much, on a single model rather than spreading them out equally, so you can have one mini have a truly heroic turn leaping around like an acrobat shooting everything in sight and ending by pounding an opponent into the ground with the butt of a combi-rifle as the rest of your force watches on with awe. Now while that's cool in and of itself, the really clever thing is the really expensive stuff like big robots (TAGs) or super hard aliens (Anathematic) only generate a single order just like the cheapest combi-rifle toting grunt... and as I've already said the order pool is key in this game and needs to be a decent size...

Other game systems have tried to come up with ways of forcing us gamers to take more balanced armies and stop the inevitable 'power gamer' in us all coming out and picking all the cheese that afflicts Games Workshop games and to a lesser extent those of Privateer Press. We've had core, special and rare units, force structures along with Field Allowance, but none are as elegant and beautifully realised as Infinity's order system. You see you can take a few TAGs if you want but you'll only have a few orders, while your opponent with their balanced force might have 10 orders they can dump onto one super hard trooper or TAG and run rings round you. Truth is if someone has a huge order pool advantage over you with a nicely balanced force, yeah with a few nice toys, and you've gone for an über force with only a few orders, you're likely to get obliterated. Brilliant!!!


The next most important thing about Infinity is the scale of the conflict on show. This isn't a massed battle game like 40k, so the rules don't have to be simplified to the point of being... well crap! If you were to play a 40k scale game with Infinity's rules there's no doubt you'd be there half a day (you'd still probably have more fun though!), but at between 10 and 15 miniatures you'll get through a game in a fair amount of time (1 hour 30). The rules can be as detailed as they are because of the scale of game. I won't go through all the individual different types of rules here because there are too many to discuss... and that's the job of the rulebook itself... but rest assured this game is the closest thing on the market to representing how deadly ranged modern warfare really is and throws in cool things like hacking and invisible warriors you deploy on the table without your opponent knowing what it is or in some cases where it is.

The D6 is dead, long live the D20! A bold statement I know, but you see the trusty D6 just doesn't have enough sides to properly represent a subtle wide range of variance and possibility, there is no room for subtlety. 2D6 might give a better range, but drops a bell curve on what you roll bringing a fair degree of certainty to wargaming, with 7 being the average dice roll and 12 being sodding unlikely!!! That's cool in its own way, but I like to have that element of randomness to a degree, rolling the dice knowing that it could still go horribly wrong, adds an element of tension to proceedings that wargames should try to keep. However I also want that variance and the D6 is just inadequate and that's where the RPGers best friend the D20 comes in handy. You still might know you have a far better chance of success than your opponent, say you needing 15 or under than them needing an 8 or under, but there's no 'average' roll with a single dice and that brings the tension back into the game. Yet another reason to love Infinity and I haven't even mentioned criticals... and for now I won't!

The final thing I'll say about Infinity is the universality of most of the special abilities and weapons. I can't emphasise enough just how much it really, really pisses me off when games give certain factions special abilities or rules that others don't get. Why? Because it adds a further variable into the mix that generally leads to a natural imbalance in games. That  can then lead to the dreaded rock, paper, scissors syndrome!!! Yeah sure my rock army might kick ass against a scissor army, but can I be sure its down to skill? However that same rock army will fail hard against the beyatch that takes the paper army, as 9 times out of 10 it'll tear my rock army a new one. Its a really crap and outdated way of adding 'character' and variety to a faction. Infinity's approach is way more mature, everyone pretty much has access to similar toys and abilities, sure some armies might have more of a certain 'thing' but everyone will have access to something similar. Therefore everyone understands how it all works and will have ways of countering it. Infinity just somehow feels fairer because of this.

The best thing is though that these amazing rules are free, and can actually be downloaded from here:

Infinity Downloads

That's right, its the official website and they give you the rules for free!!! However I really must emphasise just how totally cool the actual rulebooks are. Both the Rulebook and the Human Sphere book are worth it for the artwork the fluff and the fact that they're really handy to have around while playing!!! Go try it out for yourself; its a great game and well wort playing. Peace out!

PS - Part 2 of my love letter to Infinity will be published tomorrow.

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for that, I really enjoyed reading it!

    I'm a new recruit to Infinity, having just ordered the rule book (yes, I know they are free to download, but I like to have a book in my hands). You have just help assure me that I made the right choice. :)

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  2. Pacific... I too brought the rulebook because I just like having them as well. Its nice to hold in your hands!!! Hand on heart its a truly fantastic game. Played a few intro games for peeps today, 3 converts out of 3 and 3 more probably on the way too!!! People who play it, invariably love it. Glad to have you on board. :)

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  3. If you have ever played Shadowrun, then you'll enjoy this game, as it seems to be a carbon copy for table top war gaming... I love it!

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  4. @Buffo that's actually not a bad spot. Hadn't noticed the similarities with Shadowrun RPG before. I do love Infinity so very much, most Tabletop wargames I can pick a few faults with but seriously I've yet to find a fault with this game.

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  5. I just started playing Infinity recently (been painting the models for a while), but only just convinced a few other people at the club to pick it up. It is awesome!

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  6. heya Darth, how are those mini's coming along?

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  7. Sounds a lot like NUTS, the WW2 game, really looking forward to playing infinity - struggling to pick my first faction (going to have to do them all eventually) but Ariadna Merovingians followed by some Nomads (Bakunin) is the place to start I think. Then maybe some Haqqislam, and then some Yu Jing Japanese Sectorials... Aargh, at least the miniature requirement is minimal :D

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    1. Whatever you do, do not let the low miniature count fool you... and it will... into thinking collecting Infinity is a nice cheap pursuit. Don't get me wrong, it can be. BUT, as you've already pointed out, all the factions look nice and shiny and you want them all. Well take a look at the miniatures range, each faction literally has a shed load of interesting and cool looking models and you'll want the all. No question about it, Infinity has the ability to suck all of your hobby money out of your pocket.

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    2. Looking at the costings, which are still pretty damn reasonable for metals, I didn't think it would end up being cheap :P But definitely worthwhile, and easier to get two factions so I can always have a game and not depend on an opponent having minis

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