Thursday, 21 August 2014

Infinity - Escalation League Round Five

THE FINALE OF THE ESCALATION LEAGUE FINALLY ARRIVES




Welcome to the final report for the Infinity Escalation League and the end of our Infinity learning experience! With the end of this fifth game and the Tournament last month, Winner Dave and myself have a good idea of how to play Infinity and carry it on into the future. In this post I will discuss the strengths of the Escalation League as a learning method for playing Infinity, how myself and Winner Dave have advanced as players, and what steps we will be taking in the future for Tournament glory and ITS (Infinity Tournament System) rankings. First, however, I will discuss the final game of the League.

In our last game, we had played an Annihilation mission featuring Spec-Ops (personalised models that work from a basic troop type and can have their weapons, stats and skills "upgraded" with experience points) and Classified Objectives (secret objectives that contribute points at the end of the game if they have ben achieved, but require Specialists such as Hackers or Engineers to complete). Having chosen very similar load-outs for our Spec-Ops models, we proceeded to lose them both early in the game and promptly spent a great deal of time in a quasi-Mexican stand-off around a large yellow crate. Dave used his Minelayer to shut down my movement, trapping my force with the threat of powerful mines, before sending in Ajax (an almost unstoppable killing machine with the stats of a small TAG) to smash my Gecko (a small TAG). Ultimately the drop troopers saved the day, with the Tomcat Engineer coming in from the flank and taking out the mines, while the Hellcat with HMG cut down Ajax with several rounds of concentrated fire. My Wildcat Engineer then repaired the Gecko and returned it to basic functionality, denying Dave precious Victory Points.

It was an interesting game, with neither side holding the advantage until the closing stages of the final turn. Unfortunately for Dave, he only completed one of his Classified Objectives and scored less Victory Points than me, while I had taken down the expensive Ajax and achieved both of my Objectives. This left our Campaign Points Totals at SEVENTEEN for Dave and TWENTY-SIX for myself.

Game Five, the Decider, the Grand Finale loomed. 300pts each, with one Classified Objective each (worth ONE Campaign Point) and no Spec-Ops. Three Antennae across the middle of the board would be worth THREE Campaign Points each at the end of the third turn, provided they had been accessed by a Specialist who had passed a successful WIP roll. They could swap hands as many times as they were accessed, so it would be important to capture them and keep them captured.

The Gecko
Lunokhod Sputnik with Crazy Koalas
Reaktion Zond
PREPARING FOR THE MISSION
For this mission, it was important to have a team with a lot of Specialists, but this was no different to any of the ITS missions, even Annihilation (where though the focus is on shooting and taking out the opposing team, there are two Classified Objectives per player, worth TWO points each). My list would not have a problem there. Perhaps more important than before, however, would be good Reactive and specifically long-range firepower. If the Antennae were to be covered adequately, I would need troops that could shoot from a good range and survive the opposing player's Active Turn - skills like Total Reaction and Camouflage would be good here, as they would cause Dave to think before committing troops to accessing the Antennae.

Before this game I had concentrated on close-range firepower, perhaps due to the density of the boards we tend to play on. For this mission, however, and with the low-density boards of the recent Tournament in my mind, I chose a Reaktion Zond and an Intruder with an HMG, which I had recently converted after seeing an excellent conversion online. These two models would form a firebase in the centre of the deployment that could cover the objectives and allow the rest of the team, especially the Specialist-heavy (Specialised?) Wildcat Link Team to advance. In order to take the Intruder I would be forced to drop the Gecko, which was a shame.

Following from our last game, where my team was trapped by the threat of mines, and also thinking that the Crazy Koalas (imagine a mine shaped like a Koala bear that jumps on people who get too close and explodes) would be fantastic for defending an Antennae, the Lunokhod Sputnik was the next investment. This model had a rule I had not used before, Minesweeper. If used correctly, and with a good roll, I could take over Dave's mines and make them target his troopers! This was an opportunity I did not want to miss.

The Wildcat Link Team, Tomcat Engineer and Hellcat with HMG were staples of the list and would serve their usual roles, with both a Hacker and Engineer in the Link Team to make them useful for almost any situation.

For the final few points I looked through some special rules I had not used before and found an interesting, underused rule called Sensor. Usually only found on dedicated Remotes, this rule would allow me to Discover Camouflaged troops and mines within the Remote's Zone of Control, but without needing line of sight. Combined with Forward Observer and the model could Mark his target without even needing to see him - and would also make him a Specialist that would help with the mission! Screw just this mission, the Stempler Zond would now be a valid choice for any game of Infinity in the future! I had a spare Zond Remote from the pack that contained my Reaktion Zond, so it was quickly built with a few extra sensors and added to the team.

This left a few scattered points, enough for a Salyut Zond that could sit in the second Combat Group and give the Reaktion Zond an extra Order which might help in the Active Turn. It also has the Minesweeper rule, an added bonus - this guy would sit in my deployment zone and assist with stopping any more mine shenanigans. The Salyut is based on the larger Nomad Remote chassis - fortunately I remembered I had a second Lunokhod with some missing pieces, a model I had intended to return to the shop. Converting it with some extra spines and sensors to replace what was missing, I had my Salyut.

The team had four Remotes, which made for a visually striking force and one unlike any I had used before. It was unusual in some respects, given my general disparagement of the Remotes that had attended the recent Tournament. Nonetheless, they had a combination of new rules that I wanted to try out and believed would assist me in stopping what had occurred in the previous game. The introduction of the Intruder with HMG would also bring a great deal of firepower to the Corregidor deployment zone, and hopefully free up some space for the Wildcats to get the job done.

Hellcat with HMG
Tomcat
Moran Maasai Manhunter with Crazy Koalas
THE TEAMS

NOMADS - JURISDICTIONAL COMMAND OF CORREGIDOR ──────────────────────────────────────────────────

 GROUP 1 (Regular: 10/Irregular: 0):

 WILDCAT Lieutenant Combi Rifle + Light Flamethrower, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (19)
 WILDCAT (Number 2) Combi Rifle + Light Flamethrower, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (20)
 WILDCAT Engineer Combi Rifle + Light Flamethrower, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (23)
 WILDCAT Hacker (Hacking Device) Combi Rifle + Light Flamethrower, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (0.5 | 31)
 WILDCAT Spitfire / Pistol, Knife (1.5 | 25)
 HELLCAT HMG / Pistol, Knife (1.5 | 29)
 TOMCAT Engineer Combi Rifle + Light Flamethrower, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (22)
 INTRUDER HMG / Pistol, Knife (1.5 | 44)
 STEMPLER ZOND (Forward Observer) Combi Rifle, Sensor / Electric Pulse (22)
 LUNOKHOD Boarding Shotgun, Heavy Flamethrower, CrazyKoalas (2) / Electric Pulse (29)

GROUP 2 (Regular: 2/Irregular: 0):

REAKTION ZOND HMG, Antipersonnel Mines / Electric Pulse (1 | 28)
SALYUT ZOND Minesweeper (8)

6 SWC | 300 Points

ALEPH
────────────────────────────────────────────────

 GROUP 1 (Regular: 10/Irregular: 0):

 AJAX  Lieutenant 2 Combi Rifles, Nanopulser / Pistol, EXP CCW. (0.5 | 43)
 SOPHOTECT Combi Rifle, D-Charges / Pistol, Knife (31)
 THORAKITES (Forward Observer) Submachine gun, Chain Rifle, Flash Grenades / Pistol, Knife (16)
 NAGA Combi Rifle, Monofilament Mines / Pistol, Knife (32)
 AGEMA MARKSMAN Missile Launcher / Pistol, Knife (1.5 | 38)
 THRASYMEDES (Infiltration) Submachine Gun, Flash Grenades, Nanopulser / Pistol, Shock CCW (27)
 MYRMIDON Spitfire, Nanopulser, Smoke Grenades / Pistol, AP CCW (1 | 32)
 MYRMIDON Chain Rifle, Nanopulser, Smoke Grenades / Pistol, AP CCW (16)
 MYRMIDON Combi Rifle, Nanopulser, Smoke Grenades / Pistol, AP CCW (25)
 MYRMIDON Officer (Chain of Command) Combi Rifle, Nanopulser, Smoke Grenades / Pistol, AP CCW (1 | 39)

 4 SWC | 299 Points

THE GAME
The terrain was laid out with tall buildings across the right side of the board while crates, shipping containers and small hab-units dominated the left side. The three Antennae were placed down the centre of the board, which far lighter in terrain than the dense edges. Clear lines of sight were possible between the tall buildings, but the Antennae were shielded from one another with crates and holographic advertisements - this game would be decided those troops stationed on the rooftops, but won by the troops on the ground, securing the objectives.

The Nomads were positioned around the centre of their deployment zone, the Wildcats and Lunokhod behind large shipping containers while the Reaktion Zond and a mysterious Camouflaged trooper held the rooftop overlooking the centre of the board. The Stempler Zond was out on a flank, unsure where its Sensor would be needed. In turn, ALEPH scattered their troops throughout the buildings, with Ajax and the Myrmidon Officer at the centre. Two unknown Camouflaged troops Infiltrated forward, close to the objectives. The Agema Marksman held a rooftop position, facing down the Reaktion Zond on the other side of the city.

ALEPH took the initiative and the Myrmidons immediately laid down a wall of smoke, before the Agema Marksman fired at the Reaktion Zond with his missile launcher. The shimmering haze next to the Remote suddenly became a distinct shape - an Intruder! He fired in response, while the Zond also unloaded the HMG blindly into the smoke. The missile corkscrewed off target, and the Marksman fell, caught in the hail of retaliatory fire.

Detecting further movement, the Reaktion Zond continued scannng, while the Intruder was more cautious and drew a bead on a lone Myrmidon who was preparing to lay down more smoke grenades. A single shot at long range forced the warrior to dodge behind cover, dropping prone.

His forces being cut down before they could close, Ajax advanced. His second-in-command followed in his wake, accessing the nearest Antenna and securing it even as her superior officer was bracketed with fire. Ahead of them both, Thrasymedes coalesced out of the mist and secured the central Antenna before disappearing once more. They were securing the objectives, but could not see their enemy and could not move for the wall of fire laid down by the Nomad sharpshooters above them.

On the left flank, the Myrmidon with Spitfire moved into the cover of a fast-food vendor, but was caught by the Multi-Spectral Visor of the Intruder and taken down. On the right, the Naga Minelayer moved forward and lay a Monofilament Mine, hoping to at least secure that side of the area. Infuriated at their impotence, Ajax broke into a run toward the Nomad position. Cool in the face of the charging juggernaut, the Reaktion Zond emptied its reserves into him, finally slowing and finishing the beast just shy of the third Antenna.

With the loss of their covering Marksman and their leader, ALEPH was on the back foot. The Wildcats moved forward, securing the nearest Antenna before slinking back behind cover. The Lunokhod and the Stempler moved forward, sweeping for any sign of infiltrating troops or hidden mines. Ultimately they were too far away from the Naga to catch him just yet, though the Stempler did use his Sensor to Mark the Naga's position and achieve the Telemetry objective. Sure of their position, the Nomads waited patiently for the AI to make its next move.

The Naga moved forward, quickly engaging the Lunokhod and taking it out with a burst from its Combi-Rifle before ducking back, though not quick enough to avoid the Heavy Flamethrower damaging its Camouflage skin. The Sophotect moved up, looking to get the Myrmidon with Spitfire back in the fight, while the Myrmidon Officer dallied with engaging the Reaktion Zond and the Intruder before ducking behind cover. The Naga then stealthily approached the Wildcat position, laying a mine to restrict their movement.

The Hellcat and the Tomcat appeared from the flank, the Hellcat ambushing a Thorakitai and taking him down with a burst from the HMG before jumping round and joining the Tomcat. The Stempler revealed the position of Thrasymedes, and the Hellcat finished him, though it took significantly more effort than shooting the lone Thorakitai.

Once again the Stempler Zond proved its worth, revealing the position of the mine and allowing the Wildcats to shoot it before taking out the Naga. The only thing now denying them the central objective was the revived Myrmidon with Spitfire, who covered the Antenna from behind the food-vendor.

The Zond was sent forward first to secure the Antenna, but was quickly shot down before it could complete the task. The wreckage of the Remote did provide cover for the Wildcats, however, who moved up and deployed their Specialists.

The objective lost and the team shredded by superior Nomad firepower, ALEPH withdrew the Assault Sub-Section from the area and began a re-evaluation of the situation.

Wildcat Link Team
THE AFTERMATH
A brutally uncompromising game from the Nomad side, ALEPH had lost a great deal of their troops and only secured one Antenna. The Nomads had covered the board and faced minimal resistance, only really facing a challenge in the last turn as they struggled to secure the central objective.

With the Nomads holding two Antennae and having achieved their Classified Objective, they scored SEVEN Campaign Points. ALEPH in turn held one objective and had not managed their Classified Objective, giving them THREE Campaign Points. This brings the final totals to TWENTY Campaign Points for Winner Dave, and THIRTY-THREE Campaign Points for myself. A strong victory for the Nomad Nation!

The Painted Team so far
LEARNING POINTS AND CONCLUSION
This was an uncharacteristically one-sided game, and Winner claimed it to be one of the most unpleasant games of Infinity he had played - a bold claim given he had a game that lasted one turn at the recent Tournament. Obviously I was not happy to hear this, but I have been in situations similar to Dave where your force is trapped and cannot move, and what strategy you can come up with escape the situation immediately falls apart when the dice betray you. It is unpleasant, and there is little I can say to defend or excuse it. The terrain was agreed between us, but perhaps was too open in the centre, allowing my Reaktion Zond and Intruder to cover too many of the Antennae. His opening moves were fine, but bad dice led to me taking out two of his expensive models in his first turn, and the unexpected appearance of the Intruder with his Multi-Spectral Visor made any tricks with Smoke Grenades very difficult.

From there, the dice were bloody awful. Ajax was taken out by two critical hits, shots he probably would have survived otherwise, and the Myrmidon with Spitfire only recovered at the end of the game, too late to stop the Link Team securing the central objective. In the end, I had a team built for the scenario and had a good idea of Dave's capabilities, knowing his list almost as well as he did. His force was very similar to his previous teams, and perhaps relied upon certain tactics that I was already wise to, or had countered even before the game started. The surprise of the Multi-Spectral Visor on a Camouflage trooper standing next to a Reaktion Zond stalled his advance, and denied it entirely once the Marksman and Ajax has been dealt with - which was far quicker than expected owing to my critical rolls.

Who knows what the future will hold? I imagine Dave will be concocting a revenge scheme involving Total Reaction Remotes, and planning to run a pure Assault Sub-Section list with two solid fireteams. This will work well for him, as Link Teams are a powerful aspect of the game and should never be underestimated in ITS missions.

THE ESCALATION LEAGUE
So what have we learned over the past few months? The format of the Escalation League is a nice way to start to learning Infinity, with a sliding scale of complexity and size of games that has helped us both learn at a good speed. We could have done with playing the games a bit closer together, no doubt, but then we cannot underestimate the impact of attending a good-sized Tournament between games three and four. 

Many aspects of the game were not given a chance to develop within the Escalation League - things like Hacking did not feature in our games, and I am still not sure how the Retreat rules work. On the other hand, Classified Objectives and Spec-Ops are areas of the ITS that I was not comfortable with, but am now more than happy to use again. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the Escalation League helped us learn the Infinity Tournament System, rather than Infinity as a game in itself. I know for one thing that games lasting beyond three turns, or without any Objectives, Classified or otherwise, would be anathema to me now.

We both had some experience with Infinity before beginning the Escalation League - Dave had played several practise games at a local club, while I had played a year previous with some friends, though this had been with a different faction and wildly different opponents. The Tournament in the middle of the Escalation League also proved a massive learning experience, as we got to play and mix with some of the best players in the country. It also gave me the push to paint my team to completion, a massive step that sent me a long way down the Infinity road.

Ultimately, I would recommend the Escalation League a great deal, and think it would be a lot of fun with more than two players as well. It is not, however, the definitive way to learn Infinity, and I would supplement these games with lots of practise, reading over the rules you're unfamiliar with or have avoided (I purposefully avoided Hacking for a long time as I worried it would be complicated), and reading the forums. If you an attend a Beginner's Tournament, or even a normal one, do it! No better way to learn the game quickly than being thrown into something "serious" like that.

Infinity is a complicated game that takes a lot of time to get used to and begin to master, but it is intense, fun, and constantly evolving. The models are some of the best on the market, and the support network around the game is huge - terrain, tokens, an entire wiki for the rules and multiple army builder programs - everything you could want and more. If you are at all interested and can find some like-minded opponents, I cannot recommend it enough, and I would give the Escalation League a go as a good place to start.

THE FUTURE

Second Wave - more Remotes, more Wildcats, more Specialists
Intruders - Sniper Rifle, Boarding Shotgun and HMG
Converted Salyut Zond
Stempler Zond
Hellcat Hacker and Hellcat with Combi-Rifle
Wildcat with Rocket Launcher, Clockmaker (or Wildcat Engineer), and Wildcat Hacker
Dave may have been disheartened by the horror of Game Five, but hopefully he has not been broken. A second Tournament awaits us in September, and we have agreed to do some practise for that as the competition will be fiercer and the missions a bit more complicated. Beyond the Tournament, we intend to play out all nine ITS Missions, hopefully before the beginning of the next season, and also give Operation: Icestorm a lookover once it is released at the end of this month. I would love to work on a narrative campaign to link some of these games, and getting some other friends involved to shake things up a bit between Dave and myself.

I have been gripped by the Infinity bug, and with this excellent Escalation League to help me learn and spur me on, I hope it will not die down as it has done before. I have plans for terrain, expanding my current collection, and may even have enough for five (!!!) tables by the end of the year. Whether they will be painted is another question...

Model-wise I am content with the Jurisdictional Command of Corregidor, especially with the release of Operation: Icestorm and the new Alguaciles and Mobile Brigada. Hopefully the future will bring some more of these guys to give the full range of options. Next things on the painting table will be a few additions for the next Tournament, including the awesome Intruders and Stempler Zond, as well as a Rocket Launcher-equipped Wildcat and converted Specialists for the Link Team. Beyond that? I think a few civilians will be a nice break and give me the opportunity to focus on some real individuals - the O-12 Commissioner, the civilians from the Dire Foes boxes and the Corporate Security Unit from Operation: Icestorm will all be making an appearance in the future.

Exciting times ahead!

Thanks for reading,

George

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