Monday, 31 December 2012

Infinity the Game: Modern Warfare Version

I think Infinity is one of the best skirmish games out there, but it has disappointed me somewhat:

#1. Tendency to add ever-increasing numbers of weapons and gadgets
Infinity's strength is in its basic mechanisms and unique "ARO" reaction system, but now it is in danger of getting smothered by trying to react to "special rules" (110+ at last count).

#2. The Paradiso supplement lacked a meaningful advancement system
I was hoping for a Mordhiem-style warband system but in Paradiso only one soldier (the Spec Ops) could actually be upgraded in a campaign.  So out of your 10 or so guys, only one guy learns from his experiences? Meh.
So I am going to create a modern campaign, to "fix" these gripes by stripping out the more esoteric rules, and also paint up some of my awesome Empress moderns (which will also serve in Battlefield: MMW, an innovative miniatures game which mimics the PC franchises CoD, Battlefield 3 and Ghost Recon and has game modes ideal for multiple player fun. 

The Empress modern range rivals the detail of Infinity miniatures themselves, at a quarter of the cost ($2.50 vs $10 a miniature)

Removing the weirder sci fi stuff (also the most complex "special rules") should be simple. I'm going to keep weapons as similar to Infinity ones as possible for the purposes of balance.  For "damage" I'm going to align it to 9mm (11), 5.56mm (13) and 7.62mm (15).  

Special Skills
The skills are restricted  and usually represent the lower end of the spectrum of Infinity skills. I'm going to keep the following skills:  Airborne Deployment L3, Mimetist/Limited Camouflage, Climbing Plus, Doctor, Engineer, Forward Observer, Infiltration L2, Inspiring Leadership, Martial Arts, Mechanised Deployment, Religious Troop, Terrain, Valour L2. 
The only equipment retained from Infinity is the Medkit.  Armour will be 1 (helmet) for basic troops, and 4 if soldiers have both helmet and bulletproof vest. 

The bare metal photos do not do the models justice.  They are have an elegant simplicity and good proportions. I give them a 8/10 - they now edge out the Perry line as the best historicals I own.

Squad Weapons
5.56mm Assault Rifle
This is your standard 30-round mag rifle such as M16, AK74 etc.  Treat as Combi Rifle.  

5.56mm SAW/PKM
Portable sustained fire weapon.  Treat as a Heavy Machine Gun with a Damage of only 13. 

Underslung Grenade Launcher (M203, GP 30)As per Light Grenade Launchers. 

9mm  Pistol (Makarov, M9 Beretta)
As per Pistol.

Shotgun (Benelli, Mossberg)
As per Boarding Shotgun.

Light Anti Tank Weapon (RPG, LAW, AT-4)
Any disposable shoulder-fired bazooka/rocket launcher.  As per D.E.P.   

Squad Marksman Rifle (L86 LSW, HK417, G3, SVD, M14, SR-25)

Treat as having X-Visor (medium range 0, -3 max range) If 7.62mm, Damage is 15 and only 2 shots (Semi auto). 

This is from the Red Star Miniatures website.  Empress is a distributor for their wonderful Chechyan/Russian range and I suspect both companies use the same sculptor.  Check out their gallery dioramas - they look like news photos....

Platoon/Support Weapons
Support machine-gun (FN MAG, M60, RPK)
Typically 7.62mm with two man crew, used at platoon level.  Treat as Heavy Machine Gun. 
An extra crew member adds +1 to the weapon's burst.

Sniper Rifle (M24, L96)
Typically a 7.62mm bolt or semi automatic weapon. Treat as Sniper Rifle.

As per Anti-personnel mines.

40mm Automatic GL
As per Kaytatusha. 

Anti Material Rifle (Barrett .50)
Treat as a Sniper rifle, which rolls twice to wound and ignores armour.   

 I also have some Eureka miniatures. They are a little chunkier then Empress but very solid sculpts and paint up well (this is a photo from their website).   Both Empress and Eureka have excellent service and communication and I was impressed with both. I recommend you check them out. 

I may fiddle with the stats mildly but as it stands it seems a solid selection, a bit easier to remember than the 61 weapon types available in Infinity itself.   Part II will be working out campaign and sensible "advancement" perimeters.  Part III will be scenarios, missions and (hopefully) an AAR. 

The core rules I am using are free from the official Infinity website.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Campaign Paradiso: Infinity Campaign Book Review

The postie bought me some long awaited Ariadna reinforcements, as well as the Campaign Paradiso rulebook which finally introduces scenarios and a narrative campaign to the previously deathmatch-centric Infinity sci fi skirmish rules.

The folks at Corvus Belli know how to make a quality product

It's so Shiny
The glossy 200+ page hardback rulebook, as always, has superb production values, great artwork and inspiring pictures of miniatures by the impossibly talented Angel Giraldez.  This book is a pleasure to flick through for the art alone. My main complaint: the quality of the paintjobs on display make me frustrated my miniatures will never look even remotely as good. As usual, it is packed with interesting fluff, which, as usual, tends to obscure the rules themselves a bit.  I can't say the rulebooks are laid out in a particularly user-friendly manner, but all key rules and weapons stats (everything you need to play Infinity to the latest version) are available for free on their website.  In fact this is the first time Corvus Belli have not uploaded the complete rules content on the net (like they did for the first two books) - to play the Paradiso scenarios (and get the copious fluff), you will need to buy the book.

Support troops such as engineers are needed for some scenarios

Campaign Fluff & Scenarios
There are 20 pages of history giving information about the alien attacks on Paradiso. I skimmed this - I will come back and enjoy it later.  

The scenarios were sandwiched after the fluff, but awkwardly separated from the actual campaign rules at the very back of the book.  The 14 scenarios provided, if linked in order, actually tell the official "storyline" and you could play them as a narrative.  The "official" force lists are at 300 points, using a 48x48" table.  I wouldn't launch a new player straight into these - 150 point straight deathmatch games would be a better starting place. Infinity's mechanisms themselves are not that complicated but it DOES have a steep learning curve, and a 300-point game including more "specialist" models with unique abilities exacerbates this.

The scenarios necessitate having hackers, engineers and doctors and include data recovery, triangulation, building/objective seizure, ambush, infiltration, exfiltration, hijacking, evacuation, and rescue missions.  All scenarios are well written and detailed but rather too specific - in many cases with a rather precise table layout and even including where elevators are located. 

TL:DR A great variety of well-written scenarios, but some scenarios are quite "rigid" in layout. 

Except for the Corax, I found all the Spec Ops troops rather boring sculpts. Ironic, as they are the only upgradable "hero" unit.

Faction Fluff
Like all Infinity rulebooks, each unit has a paragraph or so describing their history and role. There are also historical "facts" which help flesh out the feel of each faction. They contain news snippets, random anecdotes, comics and art as well.  They are kinda quirky and not at all like GW codexes. I enjoy them, but to be honest I think this should be placed at the back of the book, with the unit stats, instead of in the middle where it separates the campaign rules from the scenarios (which means a lot of flipping back and forth through the rules.)  This is a hefty chunk of the rules - 110 pages in fact.

I won't be able to resist buying them, but the Tohaa "not-Eldar" do seem like lazy design

The big news is the introduction of a new race, the Tohaa, who seem designed around 3-man fire teams (I suspect they are trying to get away from the current all-or-nothing 5-man fire teams - due to the way bonuses stack people usually field a 5-man squad or none at all). They have symbiotic armour and viral weaponry; and are a manipulative mentor race (*cough* Eldar *cough*) who "uplift" other races ...  ....some say to make them their servants...

TL:DR  Quirky and cool content, but best relegated to the back of the book with the actual unit profiles. The Tohaa "space elves" don't exactly break new ground.

The Spec Ops troops were surprisingly bland. The poses are very static and uninspiring compared to the usual fluid action poses
Campaign System
This is the bit I was most interested in.  The scenario victory conditions provides XP (experience points) but the only up-gradable solider is the "Spec Ops" class - a line trooper who can gain up to 3 special skills, 3 weapons and 3 pieces of equipment, based on its faction profile.  He can also gain stat increases - extra strength, wounds, shooting accuracy etc. 

Most of the time, XP will be spent on force-wide special abilities - the ability to have an extra "army points" when building a force - bonuses to initiative, increased availability of specialist troops, the ability to know an opponent's army list, higher retreat thresholds, etc. 

I was disappointed with this section - only one trooper being able to gain experience (under very strict guidelines) was a bit rigid (though I understand it would be done thus for balance reasons). The scenarios were linked in specific order - i.e. everyone plays x scenario, then the winners play y and the losers play z complete with a flowchart and diagram.

TL:DR  A fairly "tight" campaign without much flexibility.  The scenarios are a welcome addition to Infinity but Paradiso seems to focus on competitive club play. 

For example, base Wildcat line troopers look more "Special" to be honest...

New Rules
These are all available free from the website (Corvus Belli always provides everything you need - including templates and markers) to play the complete game - kinda like providing free rules and codexes for each faction, so you are constantly updated to the latest edition. (There was Infinity, Human Sphere and now Campaign Paradiso so - there has been no core rule changes, simply new weapons and abilities added.)

Although Paradiso introduces far less new content than Human Sphere did, I feel Infinity is headed down a slippery slope. A game with unique mechanisms and gripping gameplay, where it is "always your turn" - the reaction (overwatch on steroids) system and order pool make for a cinematic, ruthless game where careful positioning and resource management are supreme.

However the base Infinity started out with 54 special skills and Human Sphere added another 22.  Paradiso adds 7 more, for a total of 83 unique skill rules.  In addition there are now 61 unique weapons which fire over a dozen ammunition types (each with their own unique effects) and 31 pieces of equipment.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks 200+ rules in addition to the basic mechanics is excessive.

Infinity players have a saying - "It's not your list, it's you" - inferring that unlike say 40K and Warmahordes, your skill in creating a uber army list has little bearing on victory. However I feel this is no longer true - "It's not your list - it's your memory" - is perhaps a better motto.

I'd prefer to be "ambushed" by clever tactics, not an unexpected rule.

TL: DR  New content keeps the game "fresh" but too many special rules will make it like Warmachine (a game so unbalanced by excessive rules that it's actually naturally balanced) - the winner is the player with the best memory for the zillion unique rules, not the best tactician

 Infinity is in danger of choking great mechanics with too many "special rules"

Paradiso was a bit of a mixed bag, for me.  A beautiful rules book, you are nonetheless effectively paying $50 for 14 scenarios, 30 pages of rather rigid campaign rules and 120 pages of fluff.

The fluff, art and production values were exceptional as ever. I felt satisfied with my purchase based on the "shiny factor" and I will get enjoyment out of simply reading through it.

As a gaming resource, the scenarios were detailed but somewhat prescriptive (i.e. place elevators at exactly x and y location on the game map) and there are already some well-made and widely used houserules out there such as YAMS(which contains many similar scenarios).  That said, getting away from deathmatches is a welcome change and many people are most comfortable with "official" rules.  
The ability to only "upgrade" one line trooper with your XP and only army-wide generalised "buffs" will be disappointing to those who have played Necromunda, Mordhiem and similar "true" campaign games. Paradiso reminds me more of those one-off campaigns that GW runs for 40K.

TL:DR  Basically, this game seems well-balanced for the competitive club crowd at the expense of long-term playability and all-round usefulness.

Verdict: Will fire up Infinity players at your local club, and give a much-needed variety to vanilla deathmatch play for those who insist on "official" scenarios.  It seems to be carefully balanced to avoid uber-characters/armies-of-doom but it's prescriptive structure means it won't rise to be the Necromunda replacement-but-with-awesome game mechanics that it could have been.

Recommended? Definitely for a club campaign or if you love the artwork and fluff.  Otherwise, you can save your $50 and use YAMs for scenarios as the "campaign mode" and experience system doesn't add that much flavour to your army besides a few tweaks.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Goalsystem Delves Rules Review - Generic Fantasy Skirmish/RPG

Song of Blades and Heroes was a revelation in rules sets - a simple, generic toolbox that allowed you to play with ANY miniatures, not just those licensed to a particular product line. Capable of quick, 30 minute games full of action and colourful escapades, with a series of linked games (be it a campaign or dungeon crawl) playable in an evening. However the single stat line (the "Combat" stat amalgamates defense, offense and missile skill) is a little too grainy, limiting replayability. (Ironically, the use of a single one-size-fits all stat necessitates so many special rules (scattered across several rulebooks and supplements) that it actually complicates  more than it simplifies.)

So while I loved SoBH, I am ready to move on.

Does what it says on the tin.  Blends RPG and skirmish for a relatively quick-playing dungeon-exploring toolkit.

 Goalsystem Delves was a Kickstarter advertised as "adventure skirmish roleplay" for classic dungeon crawls: a skirmish game with RPG elements that could be played co-operatively or competitively, with or without a GM.

The Shiny
(Note: this is the $15 pdf edition not the hardback rules) Whilst it is easy to read and has generous fonts, the 255 pages (I was really surprised by this) means printing off the pdf will require felling a small tree and/or investing in a toner factory.  I question why anyone would want anything other than the "printer friendly version" as the artwork in the "electronic colour" is rather ordinary.  Probably a better layout than SoBH, but on the other hand it is 200 pages longer. I do like the "in a nutshell" rules summary at the back of the text.

The "Goalsystem" is basically this: most actions require a "goal roll".  The player rolls a pool of dice, counting each 4+ as a success. I.e. Gaylord Pointyears the elf wants to fire his bow at a goblin; he rolls 5 dice with 2, 3, 4, 4, and 5 for a total of three "Goals".
Any roll of "5" counts as 2 goals - so if the above roll was 2, 3, 4, 4, 6 it would count as four "Goals."

This works as a simple RPG system - when unopposed, goals required vary according to the difficulty of the task:
Easy = 1 goal
Routine =2 goals
Challenging = 3 goals
Heroic = 4 goals ...and so on.

In opposed actions, both sides roll and compare goals. The amount of goals you succeed by can also influence the effects of the action: i.e. Gaylord fires his bow (2, 3, 4, 4, 6) = 4 goals; at the goblin who dodges with 1, 5, 3 = 1 goal.  Gaylord wins, and adds +3 dice to his damage pool.

TL:DR - utilises a simple system that suits itself well to RPG aspects

Models have four traits -  Class, Defence, Strength and Toughness. In Classes the generic thief, mage, ranger, warrior, priest, druid don't deviate from the norm too much but have several "sub-classes" each.   Strength is used for smashing stuff and damage - a strength 4 character would get 4 dice when attempting to damage an opponent.  Defence is used to avoid incoming damage and Toughness is the ability to absorb damage. Characters also have a base Move - usually around 6", Hit Points (usually about 6) and Fate which is a finite resource allowing a player to "bend the rules" with re-rolls etc.  A player's Initiative is his combined Defence and Class trait level.

Characters can only go to Level 10 in Delves so she would be impressed...
At the start of the game, each player adds 2D6 to his Initiative which determines the order of turns for the rest of the game. Players with high initiative can reserve their move for later in the move order.

Each player can perform one move, and one combat or special action. Also a number of free actions are available depending on the Class trait of the character. The rules for charging, rough terrain, knockdown, crawling, falling, hiding and jumping are very generic and offer no innovations gameplay-wise over 20 year old games like Mordhiem.   However, there are rules for aimed shots, bypassing shields, disarming and driving back foes, grabbing, fighting defensively, surprise attacks, trips and trick shots - which add cinematic flavour. When characters lose all their HP, they receive a wound and are required to make a saving roll to avoid death.

TL:DR. No points for originality, but far deeper than SoBH while remaining simple. It plays a heck of a lot faster than d20 RPGs but using only 4-6 man "warbands" and tracking hitpoints leans it more into RPG territory

Delves gives an unabashed nod to old-school D&D

The other 200 pages are RPG stuff....
 Character Creation
The blurb says Delves is a skirmish wargame with RPG elements. I'd argue it is more of a fast-playing, combat orientated RPG like Savage Worlds (which isn't a bad thing.)

All the classic races are represented, e.g.
Move 5"
Notes: +1D Toughness, -1D Strength, Small, +1D to Arcane Tasks
Languages: Gnomish, Common

Classes are also pretty recognisable
Cleric [+24 pts.]
Powers: Divine Power, Healer, Price of Power, Turn or Rebuke Undead
Equipment: Start with a 1H weapon and a small shield; also start with
the holy symbol of an appropriate god.

Both races and classes follow fantasy archetypes, but you can build your own races and classes with the guidelines provided.  A XP-system for leveling up from Levels 1 to 10 is provided.

Equipment lists are reasonably thorough with common armours and fantasy weapons listed. You could use a simple encumberance system if you wish.

 Oh I forgot to mention you choose your alignment....

Spells & Powers, Foes and Monsters
There are about 30 pages of spells (a far cry from the two spells available in SoBH!) and show the range, level of character that can use it, the action (is it a free action, a "reaction", or a specific attack), the effects and amount of times it can be used. 

There are a good selection of powers and abilities (ironically, less than SoBH which uses a plethora of "special powers" to try to cover defects in its "One Stat to Rule them All" approach)

The monster creation rules add good depth and allow you to balance the threats your heroes will face with a points system.  The value of the monster also determines its "Reward Level" which contributes to XP. You can also use "hordes" of 5-20 monsters which can be moved as a single entity to speed up play.  There is a random sampling of 40+ monsters provided which provide a good benchmark for making your own nasties.

There are also guidelines for creating campaigns as well as two sample adventures.  Successful players can roll to gain XP based on completion of objectives and slaying of monsters.  There is a balancing system to allow warband PvP (Mordhiem/Necromunda style) as well as more traditional RPG adventures.  There is a phase to recover from wounds, replace dead comrades, fence loot, and get new toys (including magic weapons and gear), as well as perform "tasks" which can provide benefits and bonuses in the next game. There is also an option to role-play "set piece" scenes.

Ah, the word "Games Master" conjures up so many images...

Game Mastering
A few suggestions for balancing encounters, making traps, hazards, and exotic environments. Rewards and loot limits, artifacts, and a simple sketch of a possible game world and its deities. This section is very basic and is not as fleshed out like a proper RPG book would be.

Delves does not have the deep background and GM info of a true RPG

TL:DR - With 200 pages devoted to character creation, equipment, spells and a bestiary, Delves is obviously striving to be a simpler, combat-orientated alternative to traditional dungeon-crawl RPGs and is not exactly a "true" skirmish wargame in the Mordhiem mould. Delves is RPG first, wargame second.

Although if you want fast-playing dungeon crawling, FFG's  Descent has all the bits ready to go....

Overall Summary
Delves is more RPG than skirmish game. It is aimed at 4-man "warbands" and has more in common with Savage Worlds than Song of Blades and Heroes.

It has a simple combat system with an interesting range of special moves, and the "Goalsystem" game engine works well with simple RPG tasks. Delves has a more sensible range of stats than SoBH and actually has a proper magic system (compared to the two generic spells in the latter game).  While being easy to learn and relatively fast-playing, it involves record keeping (tracking hitpoints etc) and has a few extra "layers" which means it cannot be played at SoBH's lightning pace.

Recommended?  As a wargamer, it was a bit more RPGish than I anticipated, and seems squarely aimed at the "mage-thief-warrior-cleric exploring dungeon" rather than "two warbands clash" focus of games like Mordhiem and SoBH, although it can be played as such. Like the two latter games, it has a solid campaign and advancement system.  Without being particularly innovative, Delves does well to simplify d20 RPG concepts and mesh them with a simpler wargame system.  I suspect old-school RPGers would enjoy its "back to basics" streamlined approach to dungeon crawling but those wargamers seeking a bring-your-own-models competitive Mordhiem replacement will probably keep looking.

If you like "Savage Worlds" fast-playing quick-combat style RPG then you will appreciate Delves.

EDIT: The author Scott Pyle is also the author of the sci fi skirmish ruleset "Blasters & Bulkheads" reviewed here in the excellent blog Dropship Horizon. Seems to have "build it yourself" rules which are always welcome. And did I mention the ability to field "not Jedi?"  As you see in the comments below, a new improved v2 is coming out soon.