Staring into Infinity

Infinity has a reputation. A complex miniatures, skirmish game which has an almost cliff-like learning curve. The publisher, Corvus Belli, are aware that the game’s complexity is an issues for bringing new players into the fold. Back in 2020 they introduced the Infinity Code One ruleset, a simplified version of the main Infinity rules. This was followed by products for that line including a two player start set called Operation Blackwind. 

In this set you get a force of Haqqislam, future Islamic science focused faction, and ALEPH, some sort of AI controlled faction, fighting out over some facilities containing sought after tech. The box comes with a bunch of unassembled metal miniatures, dice, counters, playmat, and some scenery to populate your tabletop with. Let’s talk about the game first, then we will come back to the product. 

The core of Infinity Code One, is a cagey action/reaction system powered by an order token economy. Every model in your army produces an order token at the start of your turn. You then use these tokens on any model, not just the one that produces it, to take actions on the battlefield (there are some exceptions of course).

When you activate a model you move with it first then do something else, usually trying to attack an opponent’s model. When a model starts to activate you declare where it is moving to and then your opponent can get a chance to react to that model’s intentions. So you act, your opponent can say ‘I’m dodging’ or ‘I’m shooting’ or similar. Importantly this becomes before you tell your opponent exactly what your model is going to do for the second part of their action. 

This gives Infinity a real feeling of second guessing plans, cagey movement, and careful tactical positioning. You get a fantastic interplay between the players and there is little downtime. The active player may have the most to do but the reacting player gets to mess with their plans and must be paying attention to what is going on all the time. 

When it comes to actually flexing your troops’ skills the dice rolls are straightforward enough. Roll a d20. Compare it to a number. Equal to or lower is a hit with an exact match being a critical. This core role system is then altered by special rules that each unit comes with. All the roll modifiers I’ve seen are in increments of +/-3 making cancelling modifiers out easy to calculate. 

Infinity Code One, more than any other miniatures game I’ve played, really likes scenery. You want a well populated map to move around. Trying to cover all the corners, and making sure your troops are supported as they move forward, seems to be key to success. Of course this means the matter of what an individual unit can or can’t see, becomes absolutely crucial. In a lot of games I’ve played the matter of Line of Sight can lead to annoyance and arguments. Can you see this miniature because it’s ridiculous gun is sticking out from behind cover but nothing else? 

Infinity Code One in play.
ALEPH troops get ready to surge forwards

A lot of games will put this down as a percentage of the model showing or similar, but Infinity gets around this with a rather neat solution. If you are unsure if you can see a model you stick a piece of rectangular cardboard behind it representing its silhouette (shown on its unit profile). If the shooting model can see any part of this silhouette it can shoot at the model. Simple, effective, stops arguments. Brilliant. 

Infinity Code One is an interesting but tough game. I was playing with an opponent who had some experience of the full version of the rules. I managed a couple of wins early on in our 5 scenario campaign, but he schooled me in the latter half. There are a lot of what are sometimes referred to as ‘new player traps’ lurking within the rules.

Certain troops are best countered by others and their facing is incredibly important. Thankfully Infinity put the 180 degree arc that all troops can see on the base of the models and show where the centre of that is. Covering all the angles is key to Infinity play, alongside understanding that a single model can rampage through your lines given the chance due to the order system. 

Despite being a simplified version of Infinity it seemed to me that they maybe hadn’t gone far enough. For instance there are special rules for Forward Deployment and slightly different ones for Infiltration. Both put a model beyond the confines of their owners deployment zone. Maybe there is more subtlety in this when you play the full game but there were a couple of times when two special rules were introduced that felt almost identical and feel like they could have been one. 

I did enjoy my games of Infinity Code One. It’s an interesting game that really uses scenery well and feels very different from other skirmish games I’ve played. The cagey, tactical, back and forth is tense in all the right ways. You can even pick up the rules and a quick start for free on the Corvus Belli Site! That sounds like a mostly full throated recommendation. Hang on to your hats. Let’s talk about the product. 

A blackwind cometh 

Operation Blackwind is designed to introduce you to the Code One ruleset over 5 missions. The troops and buildings come unassembled  and the instructions for putting them together are barely existent for the miniatures and baffling for the buildings. 

I am an experienced miniature game player. Although I don’t really play them anymore, I had years of playing Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Epic, Blood Bowl, some Warmachine etc. I have assembled, glued, and painted hundreds of miniatures and buildings. My brother-in-law Dave, who I was playing against, has assembled and painted all sorts of complicated miniatures (he painted the minis in photos above). I say this not to boast, but to give you context for what comes next. 

At the back of the Operation Blackwind rules is a very sparse general overview of how to go about assembling a miniature. It says there is a guide for all the minis from the box on the Downloads page of the website. It does not exist. This was the first thing I went looking for when I got this from Corvus Belli for review, and it sent up a huge red flag. Both Dave and I had issues assembling the miniatures, but we got through it. When you do get the miniatures assembled there is nothing really to tell you which miniature is which. It becomes more obvious as the missions increase in number of troops, but a quick guide would have been appreciated.

Bits of a miniature ready to be assembled.
How does this go together? It’s not the most straightforward of miniatures.

When I came to assemble the buildings, it was equally frustrating. There is an assembly guide with the set but it isn’t very easy to follow. The buildings are extremely sturdy when built which is great. However, I found that I had to bend some of their sides to get things to slot into place, and that was not a good feeling when trying to assemble something you are likely going to photograph later. I definitely incurred a couple of tears. 

All the tokens are good and chunky but you get all the ones you need to run Code One in general, not just the ones for this boxset. That isn’t really very clear. The font they’ve used on the silhouette chits also makes them all look like they are in the 50s but actually it is S2 or S3 indicating the number of the silhouette on the troop profiles. It took me longer than I would like to admit to work that out. You also get 3 dice for each side but some weapons need 4, so why not just throw an extra dice in there for this 120 euro starter set. 

All of these things are quite minor to the fundamental problem with this introductory set. It is simply bad at teaching you the rules in a logical or clear fashion. There are 5 missions and each one introduces new mechanisms. The first mission is mostly ok, teaching you the absolute fundamentals of actions and movement. The core of the action/reaction system isn’t well explained, but we muddled through. 

Mission 2 is mostly fine but throws up an issue that crops up across all of them. In mission 1 you just have a few regular troops. In 2 you get a lieutenant and learn all the rules around them. You still have the troops from the first mission though, and their profiles are not repeated on the page for mission 2. With no cheat sheet for this, it means you are left to flip back and forth through the rules. I’ve put an image of the page with the lieutenant profiles for this below. As you can see there is loads of room to repeat the profile for the regular troops. 

Lietuenant profile page from mission 2. A map of the mission is below the profiles. The bottom half of the page is taken up by a photo of a model.
The offending page from mission 2. Loads of room for repeated profiles.

Mission 3 introduces silhouettes and some new abilities. Silhouettes seem like such a fundamental ‘cool thing’ about Infinity that I think they should have been introduced in the very first mission. You get another new troop and new weapons to play around with, but you are still flipping back and forth to reference troops. This time the basic troops for the Haqqislam faction get an update. There is a typo in this update raising their armour from 1 to 3, it goes back down in a later mission. Their new profile is included in the description. Not the ALEPH basic troops though. Back to mission 1 you go. 

Mission 4 is more new rules including camouflage. At one point the game tells you about surprise attacks. Doesn’t give you rules for them though. Just that they exist. I have no idea how that works. 

Mission 5 introduces the Unconscious and Dead state. Up till now it has simply been a matter of 0 wounds left equals off the board. Now models can be unconscious. Great. Since there are no rules about reviving unconscious models it is completely pointless to even mention this exists. 

I wouldn’t usually go through such a blow by blow account of the issues in a product like I have here, but I wanted you to realise how much of a mess this box is. It mentions rules that are never taught, teaches rules in weird orders, and has players constantly flicking back and forth through the rulebook. I wanted a cheat sheet for all the weapons and units, by mission if necessary. I would have even been ok with this being a download, but there is just nothing. 

It also doesn’t really introduce you to the world of Infinity very well. Despite there being a detailed breakdown of the two factions you get in the 10 pages before the rules, I have no real sense of the overall setting, bar a paragraph at the very start of the book.

I also have a huge issue with the representation of the Haqqislam as they are portrayed in this set. Here is the description from page 4 of the rulebook

Haqqislam, the new Islam, is a minor power spread across only a single planetary system, Bourak. Haqqislam has built a culture around a humanist, scholarly version of Islam that is in constant contact with nature and rejects all fundamentalism. Biomedical science and terraformation are the two pillars of their development, and Haqqislam is home to the best academies of medicine and planetology in the human sphere. 

That sounds interesting. Then this is the first heading and paragraph underneath this

Hassassin: a cursed name, a name said with fear. Little is known of the Society of Assassins and only what they want us to know. Enigmatic and mysterious, they live hidden by the darkest shadows of secrecy. Come with me on this trip, and enter the fog of the enigma that are the Hassassin. 

That is not only some bad writing, but just makes a mockery of the overall description of the faction. They aren’t extremists, but the first thing we are going to evoke is a mysterious group of assassins. It feels awful. 

I haven’t even gotten to the really mind blowing part. Operation Blackwind came out in 2022. The rules for Infinity Code One were released in 2020. There was also a quickstart set of rules released in 2021. I started to check these out round mission 3 as we ran into more and more questions about how certain rules worked. Both the core rulebook and the quickstart do a much, much better job of explaining the rules in a logical way than this introductory set. It even has an introductory little battle to have with what looks like the sort of layouts you find in this box.

All then Corvus Belli had to do was take the quickstart, expand it a little and then throw it in this box with some cheat sheets and all the bits and pieces. Job done. It feels like they have had to work to make this introductory set deliberately obtuse. 

I genuinely don’t get this product. It is a terrible introduction to the game and the setting of Infinity Code One. You would be much better off picking up the Code One rules for free and grabbing a few models to play through the little intro scenario that is presented in those rules. If you can muddle your way through Operation Blackwind, there is a cool game hidden amongst this set that I think a lot of people would play. They just aren’t going to want to after experiencing this very frustrating starter set. 

Corvus Belli sent me a copy of Operation Blackwind for review. 

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

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