Saturday, 10 December 2016

Learning Infinity N3 - The ZX81 approach

Infinity, or (to avoid you googling some children's cartoon thing, or a Broadband dodad), Infinity N3, has held my attention a lot these recent weeks. A number of tournaments and pick-up games have given me the opportunity to indulge in my favourite game. The Infinity interest at the club is fairly small (Nathan, Ed and occasionally Ziggy and David E-S). So it was a great pleasure when both James (a 40K player) and Orbital Bombardment's very own Dan and Mike, all asked separately for me to give them a beginners game and teach them about some of the concepts.

Above: 'Now class please pay attention. James put your phone away, and Dan, are you eating chips?'

To help me with my task I used the extremely helpful Lead Rising blog quick starter army reference sheets (cheers Peter A.), which match up with some of Corvus Belli's starter boxes. The blog and the sheets can be found here:

One of Peter's most recent post was a very informative article on ARO options:

I am sure that there are a number of reasons that gamers get interested in the Infinity universe:

- the quality of the models, 
- the low number of models you need to get started,
- the vast number of models you can chose from,
- the cinematic narrative style the game favours,
- the chance to use lots of terrain,
- The wonderful Infinity N3 site, containing the army builder and the seasonal Infinity Tournament System (ITS), 
- the availability of on-line rules (Infinity Wikipedia),
- the dice mechanic,
- the well natured forums (someone else mentioned to me that some other forums suffer from the less well natured and pessimistic visitors),
- the considerable fluff that the game contains, and 
- the simplicity of the rules..........ok, sorry, but not this last one. The biggest challenges when teaching Infinity N3 to a newbie is the sheer scale and complexity of it all. However, there is a fortunate upshot to this, after mastering Infinity, any subsequent game you decide to learn will be a walk in the park. (A bit like learning to drive in a metropolis and then doing all your driving in rural backwaters).

And although the quality of the models is very high, be warned, that a level of ability in construction, pinning and pegging would assist you in putting some of the more fiddly models together. 

Warning: Infinity N3 is not a game to learn fully in an evening. Your brain will not thank you for it. As both Dan and Mike have said; you need to appreciate the time investment required, and if you want to play well, it needs to become one of your 'main games'. As I understand it, Infinity was originally a role play game. This would explain the vastness of the rules. (A company has fairly recently run a Kickstarter for a new role play version of the game - what comes around goes around).

Above: Practice game with Mike. Apparently Jaffa Cakes have AD Combat Jump. Who knew?

Patience is a virtue, and do not be surprised that in early games you will always learn something new and probably make an error, or two. Try not to be put off immediately, and be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of it all, my recommendation is you start small and basic, a ZX81 approach if you will (A reference for all the youngsters). Hacking, specialists, classified objectives and Command Tokens can all wait a little.

And, for those of you who decide to teach a newbie the rules, do not be surprised when your pupil asks a question which you do not know the answer. It's ok to say 'I don't know'.

Above: At a recent tournament. A rules query had the Totally Crit members, Chris, Rob and James, buried in a rule book.

When introducing someone to the game I usually begin by explaining some of the general concepts which need a little bit of de-mystifying rather than immediately putting models on the table. A couple of these are:

Orders - Each model in your army comes with a number of order tokens which are added to your order pool. If you wish you could use multiple orders from a combat group on one of its model in your turn (aka going Rambo). For new players, including myself, this seems very, very broken. But, don't worry, although a highly skilled and armed model could run amok, a capable opponent can deploy their forces to counter it, or at the very least slow the rampaging model down.

Above: It is very important to know your lines of fire.

Automatic Reaction Orders (AROs) - In your opponent's turn you can react to what his models do. This has given rise to the phrase 'it is always your turn'. Usually, in a wargame, you get a respite when it's your opponent's turn to move, shoots etc. In N3 you are permanently playing the game, not only in your turn, but in your opponents, when you need to decide if you can declare an ARO.

Shooting as an ARO at the most advantageous point of a active player's move - This one takes a little getting use to. Should you decide to declare an ARO in your opponent's turn it is within the rules for you to shot at the point in the opponent's move that is most advantageous to you. For instance when they are not in cover or when they are at the best range for your weapon modifiers. However, this is also true for you opponent. So technically both models are firing at different times in an active model's movement, for the purposes of the game mechanic they shot at the same time for the face-to-face roll.

Critical hits - These can be an element of the game which put new players off, because, on first explanation they come across as broken. Also, for those players who like skill to be the deciding factor in determining the winner, they can put a real crimp in your day. A critical hit is where you role exactly the number you require to achieve a hit with a ballistic or close combat attack, and the critical hit will take precedence over any 'normal hits'

Above: Mike's first 150 point game. His Yu Jong versus my Nomads. 

I know that for Mike's first exploration into the game this was a problem for him. Typically in our original beginners game he scored four normal hits with an HMG, but my ARO back at his model scored a critical hit, and negated all four HMG hits. To paraphrase his remarks at the time, and to use Dan's favourite retort, 'that's bullsh*t'.

However, with Infinity using D20s, a critical hit will happen, on average, 5% of the time you may see a critical hit three or four times a game, but of course, in some games they fall like confetti and happen in the most unlikely and devastating circumstances. We have all been there.

Everything has a counter strategy - to not paraphrase the film Highlander 'there is not one rule to rule them all'. Just when you think you have found a winning strategy, there will be a counter strategy which can stop you dead in you tracks. The question is, did you put something in your army to counter it. For example, do you play against annoying camo markers? Then take someone with the 'Sensor' piece of equipment. Now, I will not lie to you, getting the Sensor in the optimal position will be tricky, but when it happens you will feel like the champion of the world. 

Above: Mike, 'Now where can my impetuous Yu Jing bike model go with its massive base?' 

Tournament games last only three turns - Yes its true. I know that newbies find this hard to believe. But I promise you that a three turn game is sufficient to get the job done. [Insert your own joke that otherwise Infinity games would last forever].

This is just the tip of the iceberg of course. But should James, Dan and Mike continue to show interest I hope that their wish to learn and play more games will lead to learning for us all. The hope is the more people who play in the local community the more the level of ability will go up. Oh, and yes, I will get to play more of my favourite game. Win. Win.

As always, happy wargaming to you all.



  1. Interesting article - thanks.

    I think for me the key point is about it needing to be your 'main game'. I have a few infinity figures and the rules... But I don't love the figures or the setting enough to want to make it my main game - which puts me off even trying to learn the game.

    I would like to have a demo game at some point, but I can't see myself wanting to put in the required effort to feel like I was getting the most out of the game.

  2. Hi AD. Completely understand. Something that requires a lot of effort needs motivation and passion. And if something doesn't float your boat then there is always lots of other great stuff out their for you. I'm afraid that I remain a self declared Infinity fan boy, who for the time being, is smitten with the Corvus Belli product. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  3. Thanks for writing the intro article Alex. I've seen a few bits and pieces regarding Infinity, but never really looked into it seriously.

    Fiddly model assembly, complex rules and a small player base are all bit of a turn off :(

    1. Totally agree that the issues you raise have to be overcome by anyone thinking of taking up the challenge, and some effort does need to be made, if new players are going to join the ride. But then again, it could be said that things that take the most effort can be the most rewarding (crikey, that was a little 'deep'). I'm glad that some of the guys are giving it a go and that it will increase my learning and number of games.

  4. I'm really enjoying Infinity so far. The models are really nice, an absolute bastard to put together though.

    1. Really pleased that you are enjoying the experience, despite the miniature construction issues. Not sure I see CB moving to plastic or resin one cast models very soon.