24 May 2018
Find your character in the Human Sphere
When you pick up an RPG set in a well-established universe, it can be a little intimidating to find that the core rulebook is packed with around 200 pages of lore. In this case the universe is Infinity, home to a long-running sci-fi wargaming series from Spanish developer Corvus Belli, and whether the prospect of sifting through the solid slab of setting fills you with joy or dread is probably a good indication of how you’ll feel about the game itself.
Appropriately enough for a game that bills itself as unashamedly cinematic, the setting is a manga-flavoured mishmash of pulpy action and hard sci-fi. It sets up a universe where humanity has spread across the stars but found itself pressed by conflict on every side, both from hostile aliens and good old-fashioned factionalism. Across a dozen worlds mech suits level battlefields with volleys of missile fire, while corporate-backed hackers battle with robotic guards to splice their way into computer systems.
There’s plenty of room for GMs to drop their players into their favourite parts of Infinity, and the scope of missions and adventures open to the players is impressive. As you would expect, this is reflected in the rules themselves, which are both broad-ranging and incredibly dense.
The core mechanics are based on the 2d20 system that will be familiar to those who have played Modiphius-published RPGs such as Star Trek Adventures and is simple enough to wrap your head around.
When a player attempts to achieve something tricky, whether shooting a particle cannon or hacking a military firewall, they attempt to roll beneath a target number determined by their innate physical and mental attributes as well as their learned skills. Tougher challenges require more successful rolls, with particularly good results being able to generate ‘momentum’ that can be used to activate various bonuses that range from critical hits to extra dice for a future check. Conversely, particularly terrible failures give the GM a point of ‘threat’ that can be used to make things even trickier for the party down the line.
While the basic interactions aren’t too complicated, Infinity isn’t shy about adding in layers of complexity. Different attacks have varying damage types and defence reactions and cause different sorts of harm and stress. While this becomes more fluid and intuitive over time, most gamers are going to spend a fair bit of their first few sessions flicking through the rulebook in search of the appropriate tables to consult.
This is a game that isn’t shy about its wargaming roots and delights in random effects and results. Some players will love seeing the world build itself around them without relying on the GM’s quick thinking, but if the idea of rolling on a table in order to determine which sub-table you need to roll on next fills you with horror you should stay well clear.
There is perhaps no better example of this than the character creation process. Unlike most RPGs, Infinity isn’t designed around each player creating their own character exactly the way they imagine them. Rather, it requires you to roll randomly to determine everything from their home life as a child to which languages they speak.
You can nudge things here and there, but your capacity to do so is severely limited and for the most part the character you’ll be inhabiting throughout the campaign is decided by the roll of a die – or, rather, about 20 of them.
The process of seeing your character’s life develop before your eyes can be surprisingly rewarding and a great storytelling exercise – why did they run away from their happy home as a teenager? What was it that led them to join the police? – but it can also be frustrating if you have a preferred play style or an archetype in mind that is wrenched away by the hand of fate.
If you’re already a fan of the Infinity wargame then this might be exactly the dense and uncompromising RPG you’re looking for. But there’s so much that the GM needs to have at their fingertips (as a side note, it’s irritating that a rulebook released in 2018 uses exclusively male pronouns when discussing players) that it’s hard to recommend to the casual gamer looking for something new to pick up.
The Infinity universe is appropriately vast, and long-term fans of the setting will love the depth of both its story and the rules. Getting a solid grip can be hard for newcomers, but if they dig deep enough you might hit gold.
Buy your copy here.
Designer: Justin Alexander, Jay Little and others
Artist: Pierre Droal, Corvus Belli, Linggar Bramant
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