Updated: May 28
'The thing with space, see, well, the thing with space… the real thing with space… the thing most people don’t really appreciate until they actually get there… Space, you see, it’s big.
Now, you probably think “Oh, sure, I get that - it’s basically infinite, right? Of course it’s big. That’s why we call it the Infinite Dark.” But no, you’re not getting it. Do you swim? Have you ever swum in the sea? Have you ever done that thing where you swim along a beautiful coral reef and the water’s warm and clear and the fish are all around you? And then you go off the edge. The seafloor plummets to a depth beyond light and the temperature drops like a stone and you become suddenly, instantly, aware of just how tiny, naked and vulnerable you are to things you can’t see and don’t understand.
Space, see, is like that, except that it isn’t just below you. It’s everywhere.’
When I started working on Infinite Dark I spent a long time struggling with the three-dimensionality of space before I basically gave up and hand waved it with a few mechanics, as most designers end up doing.
But I never lost sight of the fact that Infinite Dark isn’t just sci-fi themed naval battles. Because operating in a three-dimensional environment in which “down” has no meaning (unless it’s “towards the enemy”) presents some serious challenges to how we normally engage with combat on a tabletop. Just by way of example, in space you can basically always hit anything. If you have the computational technology needed to operate independently for extended deep space journeys, you automatically have the technology to spot, track and target basically anything within 100,000km. That’s just how it is. Behind a planet? Doesn’t matter. In a “cloud” of asteroids? Notwithstanding that this just isn’t a thing, it still doesn’t matter. There is no such thing as “cover”.
Now, you can play around with this a bit, with different arcs of fire and suchlike (and I do). But the result is that you risk every battle becoming a game of tedious attrition in which both sides basically move slowly towards each other, shooting everything they have at the enemy until one of them is dead. And if you played 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000 this might sound familiar.
I could have taken the approach that the solution to this problem was to introduce artificial limitations and “setting-justified” impediments, but I decided that this was a cowardly approach if I wanted to embrace the “space” aspect of the game instead of just making it yet another sci-fi Age of Sail port (which, incidentally, is a totally cool concept and one I love - it just wasn’t what I wanted Infinite Dark to be).
Instead, I decided that the solution lay in the missions.
Missions that emphasized manoeuvre, timing, tactics and focus on objectives over smashing up the other guys would, I was confident, allow the game to retain the mechanics that evoked that “space” feeling without resulting in every battle being a tedious race of attrition… whilst still, of course, leaving the attrition card very much on the table as a tactic a player can use and needs to guard against!
Infinite Dark contains twelve missions: six designed to be played against a human opponent and six designed to be played either solo or cooperatively. The focus of most missions is very much not on destroying your opponent and can - at least theoretically - be won without destroying any enemy vessels.
The default table size is always 4’x4’ for the simple reason that this is the size of the tabletop in my studio, so it’s what I get to playtest the game on. But most if not all of the missions are entirely playable on tables of different sizes and shapes, larger and smaller, and changing the table size will certainly present players with interesting nuances in the tactical challenges of each mission.
One of my personal favourite new features in Horizon Wars: Infinite Dark is the use of the Jokers as a variable form of timer in the Control Deck (which plays a role in both Versus and Solo missions). You shuffle a Joker into each half of the deck. When the second Joker flips, if one player is ahead in victory points, they win the game. So you can never be sure how long you have to complete your missions, discouraging players from spending most of the game wailing on each other and never actually getting around to the objectives until time’s almost up.
Anyway, if you have any general questions about missions in Infinite Dark, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them. But… not in the comments, weirdly, because Wix blogs won’t let the blog owners comment on their own blog. No, I don’t know why either and yes, it does make me think about moving back to WordPress.
Next week, we’ll talk about campaigns!
Since this blog was written, Horizon Wars: Infinite Dark has released on time and can now be bought from Wargame Vault. BUT WAIT! Because you've made the effort to read this blog, you can get an exclusive 15% discount on the PDF edition by following this link instead!