Corvus Belli was at Adepticon this past week/end and unloaded a lot of new material for Infinity. A lot of it deals with a new Combined Army sectorial- the re-issue of the Morat Aggression Force but they also released the official Fireteam rules. The previous rules were released as “provisional” with the start of the latest edition N4. COVID and other factors delayed the final release until last week. The rules represent a pretty significant shift in how armies are created due to the incentives the Fireteams provide. This has caused me to unofficially call the new change N4.5. I’ll go over my take on this new change and see what it will mean for how I play Infinity in the future.
First up, for the provisional rules, Fireteams were only available in the Sectorials so the main faction army lists (AKA “Vanilla”) did not get to use them. This was one of the main benefits to choosing a sectorial over the full faction: a narrower field of available units for the opportunity to efficiently group those units in smaller squads and activate them as a group. Vanilla armies were forced to activate a single unit at a time, using up valuable orders to do so.
In the most lopsided example, a sectorial using a Core Fireteam of five units can spend one order to have them all move up the field. The Vanilla player would need to spend an order for each unit or spend an order and command token to group activate up to four of them. You only (typically) have four command tokens per game so this can be limited. The trade off is the Fireteam needs to stay in a cohesive 8″ radius bubble to stay in the team and get all the bonuses.
The bonuses are substantial too as all the team members gain these bonuses the bigger the team gets:
- 2 unit team: all members of the group activate with one order
- 3 unit team: +1 burst to shooting attacks (essentially an extra attack die)
- 4 unit team: all members gain Sixth Sense (negates Stealth and other nice things)
- 5 unit team: +3 to the Ballistics Skill (bonus to your target success number when shooting)
These bonuses are cumulative so they stack very well and can create powerful “Voltron” units (as friend Colton is like to say). The Provisional rules didn’t care who was in the team as long as you could make one. Each sectorial had a list of specific units to call out what Fireteams could be formed and how in their roster. Some sectorials were simple and discrete while others were complicated and almost endlessly flexible.
All in all, it was a nice niche for sectorials to trade off the limited unit selection. At first read, I thought this would be overpowered and that Vanilla armies would be second tier due to not getting these bonuses. This hasn’t been the case and Vanilla factions hold their own quite handily. This is due to a complication of factors:
- It is difficult to keep Fireteams operational. Moving five units around the board and not having the weaker links picked off by reaction fire or template weapons is tough.
- Forcing Fireteam cohesion to a tight space gives up a lot of the battlefield and commits the player to operating in a smaller place that opponents can avoid or work around.
- Smaller unit selection limits sectorial build options and can be challenging to build for multiple tournament scenarios. Opponents familiar with the sectorial can quickly recognize the limited “tricks” the sectorial can pull off and counter them more easily.
All these things help to keep the game roughly balanced. There are a lot of heated opinions about if sectorial Fireteams are too strong, if the ever-widening unit variety in Vanilla is too powerful, etc. I was happy to see in my own games that Fireteams did not break my experiences when facing them as Vanilla or using them in sectorials. I’m not a competitive player in Infinity but the game “works” for me right now.
Enter the newest changes. To start, I really don’t know the game confidently enough to say that the changes will ultimately ruin the game. Infinity is really complex and the player base is very savvy at finding ways to exploit and overcome new changes. In other systems like X-wing 1.0 or Dropzone, I felt like the games were simpler and I had enough competitive experience to be able to call out bad design decisions without even needing to put models on the table. Yes, there is a healthy dose of hubris in that statement but I confidently stand by it.
The big shake up in Infinity Fireteams has to do with the units that form the group. Corvus Belli says they want to move towards a separation of “pure” Fireteams and “mixed” ones. Pure being a Fireteam composed of only the same unit, ie. All Fusiliers vs Mixed, where you make a legal team out of those cheap Fusiliers backing up a really strong attack unit like a Kamau Sniper. There are other reasons, of course, but this is one of the main ones talked about. Corvus Belli also used the opportunity to reconfigure what sectorials can use to create teams and buff or nerf certain sectorials based on feedback and results. Being a Living Rulebook now also allows them to tweak things dynamically if they feel the system is getting out of balance.
- 2 units: group activate like before
- 3 units: +1 burst like before
- 4 units: sixth sense like before
- 5 units: +1 BS (dropped from +3)
- 2 units: group activate like before
- 3 units: +1 burst and +3 to Discover rolls
- 4 units: sixth sense and +1 BS
- 5 units: +2 BS
If we look at the changes, the first two levels changed only slightly. 3 unit teams (known as a Haris) don’t lose anything from before if they are mixed but gain +3 to discover if pure. 4 unit teams (only available as a Core) also don’t lose anything if mixed but gain +1 the Ballistics skill. Finally, the big change where mixed teams lose the BS bonus at +1 down from +3. The pure team keeps the bonus overall and spreads it to help keep the bonuses up during attrition.
All of this really means nothing to sectorials without also looking at how they can combine units to make their teams. As expected, that “4 cheap Fusilier + 1 Kamau Sniper” build is nerfed as it becomes mixed. You can make a 5 unit Fusilier with the 5th a Fusilier Sniper but his native stats and abilities aren’t as good as the Kamau so it might not be warranted. One thing to note is the “rising tides” situation where it lifts all boats. In this case, the tide is out and all the boats are going down. PanOceania used the mixed approach a lot along with Nomads, Yu Jing, and I’m sure other faction sectorials.
I play mainly Invincible Army and the Haidao sniper mixed in with cheaper fodder units to make a cheap and powerful defense team. As expected, this mixing now drops my sniper down 2 BS points. He now covers fire lanes looking for a target value of 17 or lower instead of 19. A drop of 10% per die thrown. Same with the Kamau from PanO and other sectorials. My cheap Zanshi Sniper in a pure team will also now shoot at 17s but doesn’t have the extra armor, the extra wound capacity, or the ability to see through smoke and ignore some of the common shooting penalties like mimetism.
I’m actually ok with all of this. I understand this must have been creating a lot of no-fun situations for players as they struggled to deal with an artificially propped up super defensive unit like the premiere snipers. I liked the concept of emphasizing pure groups saying that units of the same name train together and are therefore even more in tune with each other and can work better. Corvus Belli even took that to the logical conclusion of saying named characters of that unit qualify as pure.
This mean Krit Kokram, who is a named character for Invincible Zuyongs, counts as a Zuyong when making a pure team. Same with Tai Sheng, and even the whole Shang Ji unit class as they are Invincible Zuyongs with upgraded tech. All of this is nice and good. Corvus Belli keeps some cool fluffy reasons to differentiate teams and strike down those naughty tower defense sniper jerks.
But what about the other Haidao? The sniper is just one profile in Invincible Army and that unit is one of the key pieces that helps the sectorial do its job. The Haidao engineer mixes in cheaply to help keep the team of heavies going while the killer hacker provides some safety against comms attacks, which is critical to an army built mainly around large hackable power armor bruisers.
Every time you mix in one of those critical Haidaos, you are not going to get back to that provisional level of Fireteam power. That is sad and big blow to Invincible Army as a whole. But is it? 5 unit teams are a bit unwieldy and most of the time, player compensate for this by building the big defensive tower that will just sit all game and dare people to approach their fire lanes. 3 unit teams, on the other hand are usually flexible attack pieces that roam around.
In the new rules, the 3 unit teams lose nothing from before and only gain a discover bonus if pure. This discover bonus is nice but likely not critical to the job of most 3 unit teams. Several vocal players online have already switched to using multiple smaller unit teams to accomplish what they want and have eschewed the 5 unit tower defense plan. I’ve played with both and like the latter as well so, while it is never fun losing power in your favorite army, it doesn’t sound too terrible.
On the plus side, the changes to Yu Jing were big in some very nice ways. They “fixed” White Banner sectorial, rearranging the teams to a more logical and competitive fit while shoring up one of the silly limitations (pushing the 4 Zhanshi limit to 5). Imperial Service Sectorial also got a lot of nice options in their teams while losing none of their previous flexibility. ISS also gained one of the lucrative abilities to carry two Haris teams (most sectorials are limited to one).
With everything said and done, Yu Jing Invincible Army took a hit and made it less fun to build in but White Banner and ISS are looking quite interesting now. If this was the end of the story, I’d say things are looking good overall but in a last curveball, Corvus Belli added one last thing: Vanilla can Fireteam duos.
Duos are 2 unit groups and while they don’t get a lot of the fancy bonuses, they do shore up some of the order efficiency liability. This is, by far, the most annoying change to me. Most Vanilla factions were already strong and the preferred army for players. Nomads, Combined Army, and even Yu Jing vanilla armies are typically much stronger than their sectorial counterparts. Giving them this new buff is quite aggravating to me since those armies lost nothing, gained more foothold just by knocking down the power of sectorials generally, and now gain again by adding two duo options to their already inflated roster. If Vanilla would have taken a hit by removing some of their bloated roster list (like a lot of the random mercenary characters and units), I think things would have been great.
The Escalation League opens up all rules starting next week so I’ll get to see all these changes in action soon enough. Hope this doesn’t push me back to Vanilla as I’ve been having a fun time playing in the sectorial game for some time now. Dahshat supposed got hit as hard or harder than Invincible Army, which is really bad timing as I start to paint more of that sectorial up for the league. Time will tell, I guess.