My new Infinity rulebook arrived the other day from Maelstrom. I ordered it – even though I haven’t played a game and they’re giving away the rules for free – because the setting intrigued me.
The thing that inspires me most about games is the setting. It’s what I get excited about. If you want to get all adversarial about it you could call me a “fluff player,” but really I think we’re all fluff players. Otherwise why do we choose these games over other activities?
Something about Infinity grabbed me more than any wargame has since I started playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Rogue Trader so many years ago. I combed the blogosphere to find some proper discussions of the setting, but gaming these days is srs business as we all know. There are loads of blogs that discuss, analyze and review rules and miniatures, but not many pay much attention to the setting at all.
A few readers have requested I do a bit of a run-down of the Infinity setting – just for people like me who really get into settings and who might be curious about it. I’m obviously not going to be too deep, as I don’t want to steal Corvus Belli’s thunder or re-write their excellent book. They give away the rules for free in order to whet your curiosity about the setting so you buy it, after all. But some of us would rather it the other way around. I don’t think what I’m doing will harm their business at all – hopefully it’ll help spread the word!
Right, so here it is. My Infinity Setting Review. It’s pretty massive, but I wanted it all in one place so people could easily find it. Most of the artwork in this review belongs to Corvus Belli, and can be downloaded free from their site.
— OVERVIEW —
One of the first things I liked about the Infinity setting is the depth and realism of the (future) history. It’s Earth, about 165 years in the future. I say Earth, but really Infinity is set in the Human Sphere: a collection of systems inhabited by humans, and in some cases indigenous aliens too. Fast space travel is just becoming possible through the discovery of wormholes (OK, so that may not be realistic, but all good sci-fi settings need to hand-wave some fast space travel in there somewhere).
The book I have is translated from Spanish, so some of it is a bit… idiosyncratic. But the history and the setting as a whole are written as if I’m an intelligent reader, not some marketer’s idea of a twelve-year old boy. Which is a definite plus. They use words like “hegemonic” and “jurisprudence.” The history of the world from our time to the present setting is as believable as any sci-fi I’ve read, and better than most. The various Human Sphere factions have complex and believable political reasons for being in such a tenuous balance of power. You’ll never be at a loss as to why a faction is fighting another one in narrative terms.
Infinity differs from everyone’s favourite grimdarknesses and post-apocalypses mainly in that realism: There are no really good guys or bad guys in Infinity, but it’s not because everyone is kind of evil. It’s just that as in real-world politics, even those with high ideals are ultimately out for themselves and their faction, because it’s what they believe in. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, it’s the human condition. Really which faction(s) you identify with the most depends on what sorts of ideals and tropes appeal to you. There are heroes on all sides.
There are a few distinctive ideas in Infinity that are important to mention when discussing the setting. One is Resurrection. Most civilized citizens have a cybernetic implant called a Cube, which records their memories. In the event of death, the Cube can be retrieved and implanted in a Lhost, an artificially created replacement body. Each of the factions has careful ways to control who is Resurrected. In Pan-Oceania for example the Christian Church decides. In Yu Jing it is The Party, and on the Nomad ships techno-shamans perform the duty. This is obviously a clever idea, as it means that named characters can re-appear over and over again, and troops without Cubes, though they face True Death, are invulnerable to certain weaponry.
OK. So we’re playing a wargame here. What about war? Well, unlike some other settings I could name, Infinity has a realistic idea of war in the future. Wars are fought mainly by air and from orbit, but there are some things that still have to be done on the ground – infiltration, raids, capturing facilities undamaged, etc. These are the sorts of engagements you’ll fight. The infantryman of the future is cybernetically enhanced and wired to his squadmates and wider networks, and probably wearing some form of exo-skeletal powered armour. There are no tanks anymore – their role has been subsumed by TAGs: mecha suits worn or piloted remotely by veteran troops. TAGs are the big flashy hitters in ground warfare and most factions have some equivalent of them.
Another important idea is ALEPH. This is the artificial intelligence that guides and guards humanity, and supports most of our infrastructure. ALEPH has re-created several historical figures using old data and DNA and given them superior post-human bodies and minds. These famous figures from history thus return again and again even if slain. Joan of Arc leads the soldiers of Pan-Oceania. Sun Tzu aids Yu Jing, and William Wallace has rebelled against ALEPH and now fights for the freedom of Ariadna.
The alien Combined Army (who have recently begun invading the Human Sphere) have a similar AI behind them called the EI. It feels to me as though all the squabbles of the Human Sphere are just the surface, and really what is brewing is a vast war between two AIs with living soldiers as fodder…
I think another thing that makes Infinity different (besides the anime aesthetic and the cyberpunk, near-future setting) is the sense of beginning. 40k for example is set in a sort of twilight age. It is the end times, and humanity is crumbling. The Eldar are finished, everything is about the past coming to fruition. In other, post apocalyptic games, it’s all over bar the shouting and people are just struggling along like doomed animals.
In Infinity, humanity has just started colonizing other worlds. The Combined Army have just arrived. The factions are feeling each other out, and if they don’t behave wisely then war could engulf everything. The battles you fight are these early skirmishes, and anything can happen. The story has infinite directions it can move in, which is, cleverly, why the game is called Infinity.
Right. So if you’re like me, now you probably want to know more about the factions! Well, this is my impression of them, in the order they appear in the book.
— THE FACTIONS —
Pan-Oceania is the evolution of the modern western democracies of today. It was formed as an economic bloc by Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia to protect themselves from China’s aggressive capitalism in the 21st century. India and parts of the EU joined Pan-O, and now it is the richest and most powerful human faction. Pan-O society is tech-obsessed, and their military has the best equipment. The people are comparatively affluent and, like us, live for entertainment and consumerism. Pan-O also includes the knightly orders: crusader knights reborn. They bring a nice warrior-monk counter-point to the techie Pan-O forces. I think the appeal of Pan-O is that they are easy to identify with. They’re pretty much how you would imagine most of our lives 200 years in the future, though with a state religion (New Christianity, which is basically Roman Catholicism advised by ALEPH). They care about freedom, and democracy, and entertainment, and capitalism, and they have powerful weapons with astonishing technology. It is easy to imagine that Pan-O’s elite TAG pilots first learned their skills playing video games as kids. Also, for Aussie players, it’s nice to be the super-power for once!
Yu Jing is China and the Far East, as well as the former US (through an accident of history). They have a complicated political and legal system where The Party (an evolution of the Chinese Communist Party) runs everything, except the justice system which is the responsibility of the Emperor and his Imperial Agents. Yu Jing is a clever blend of classic Asian history and modern China, devised by the Party for propaganda purposes. They are the closest competitor to Pan-Oceania in terms of wealth and military force. To me the appeal of Yu Jing is the asian aesthetic (Shaolin monks, ninja, etc), plus they have an air of cleverness and subtlety. If you’re an asian history buff, or if your imagination is captured by communism, complex schemes and political intrigue, then Yu Jing is the faction for you.
Ariadnans are the descendants of the first human colonists on another world. They were separated from humanity for nearly 200 years until recently, and are made up of the descendants of a mixed bag of volunteer soldiers and scientists from the 21st century, some of whose nations no longer exist on earth itself, e.g. the U.S.A. They are basically modern Americans, Cossacks, French and Scots. Ariadna has huge quantities of teseum, a mineral that is needed to make TAGs, and the Ariadnans are always trying to repel the other factions from basically stealing it from them. They are experts at guerilla warfare and although they have low-tech, they know how to use it. They also have troops of native aliens and human-alien hybrids, or Dog-faces. This werewolf theme helps to add to their savagery. The appeal of Ariadna is that they are the barbarians of Infinity – low tech, grit and guts, and a good dash of crazy. If Pan-O is us in the future, Ariadna is us now, but transported to the future. Navy Seals, Cossacks and the S.A.S. fight alongside kilt-wearing, claymore wielding dogmen.
In the world of Infinity, the Middle East and the US collapsed after an energy crisis, and a new form of Islam emerged, stressing the Koran over all later additions and texts, and moving towards reclaiming the Muslim world’s medieval position as enlightened leaders in science and medicine. It is known as Haqqislam, and is opposed to what today we call Islamism. Under pressure, the Haqqislamites left earth and founded a desert planet, called Bourak, where they have realized their dream. Their doctors, biologists and terraformers are the best in the Human Sphere and rich people travel to Bourak for rejuvenation treatments constantly. Haqqislamite chemists have a monopoly on Silk, a compound they invented which is needed for people to have Cubes (so they can cheat death, remember?) Haqqislamite soldiers are numerous and lightly equipped, with few TAGs but a lot of dedicated infantry. If you are inspired by tough, idealistic and brave soldiers (and sultry women in tight pants) then Haqqislam is for you.
Ah, the Nomads. They are basically a flotilla of three large spacecraft and many tiny ones, with official nation status, and they operate outside the rules of the rest of the Human Sphere. The Nomads are a whole society of people who are free spirits, freaks and criminals by normal standards. Even though the Human Sphere is pretty much free and a nice place to live, like the modern West, it is still co-ordinated ultimately by ALEPH for the good of everyone, and some people just don’t like that. These are the Nomads. They are basically super-wealthy mafia families (of all nationalities), mad scientists, hackers, artists and anarchists. The depths of their ships hold bizarre biological experiments and they have their own net that is impenetrable to ALEPH. A Nomad force will be made up of bio-enhanced mercenary soldiers, techno-religious whackos, genius hackers and modified TAGS bought as surplus from other nations and improved. The appeal of the Nomads as a faction is obvious really: they are the eternal outsiders who the big boys just can’t seem to squash.
THE COMBINED ARMY
This is where it gets proper creepy. The Combined Army of the EI is an advance force of what I suppose could be called an alien empire. The EI is an ancient artificial intelligence built by an alien race (who have long since been absorbed body and soul into their creation), designed to discover how to transcend matter and time to achieve enlightenment and omnipotence. When the EI encounters a new species it assesses them, and if it deems them able to aid in its quest it dominates them somehow and turns their resources towards its own goal. Guess who it just stumbled across?
The Combined Army consists of a variety of aliens, most notably the Morat (a brutal warrior race) and the Shasvastii (a race of born survivors with chameloeonic and mind-control powers). The Combined Army has made a beach-head on the human world of Paradiso, and the whole Human Sphere has united (sort-of!) to fight them. They have strange alien technology (known as “voodoo-tech”) which the Human Sphere’s scientists are utterly unable to figure out, and the Morat soldiers are huge and aggressive warriors more than a match for even a heavily armoured human infantryman.
Humanity has ALEPH as a powerful ally, with its post-human operatives and powers of Resurrection. But perhaps the biggest threat to the Sphere is not just the Combined Army – which is bad enough – but our own inability to stop struggling for power amongst ourselves…
So, there you have it. This is just the surface though. Now go buy the book!