Updated: May 28, 2021
Campaign play is one of those things that every wargamer says they want but only a tiny number ever actually use, and I’ve always thought that was a huge shame. But having run wargaming clubs and organized events for both tournament and narrative play in the past, I understand both where the desire for campaign play comes from and why it so often fails to live up to its hype.
We all love a good story. It’s practically part of what makes us human. And a campaign is a chance to not just read a good story but to vicariously live our way through one - just like a “campaign mode” in a digital game like Skyrim or Titanfall 2. And when we think about tabletop miniatures games, a campaign is chance for epic battles, heroic failures, last-minute victories and even-more-last-minute-defeats. Who wouldn’t want to get involved in something like that?
But campaigns also require a huge commitment of time and effort. You have to coordinate with all the participants. You may have to change your army from session to session. You’ll have inter-game administration to go, tracking losses and new recruits or upgraded equipment etc. Generally, the more detail a campaign has, the better the story it tells but, the more difficult it becomes to coordinate. A campaign told between two people is tricky enough to organize. But each new person you add substantially increases the complexity of coordination.
Horizon Wars: Infinite Dark gets around this problem by linking the campaign mode explicitly to the solo game. Like a digital FPS game, there’s really no way to “lose” a campaign. You just play through missions, earn XP and see where you’re at when you stop playing. Future supplements will add much more narrative to the campaign experience, with scaling enemies and grand, decisive final boss battles. But the core of it is just you, your ships and the Red Fleet.
But you don’t have to play campaigns alone. You can absolutely play the solo game as a co-operative one, with each player controlling a number of vessels and each turn discussing and agreeing who will activate next. If a player then can’t make it to a session, you can either leave out their vessels or, if it’s convenient, allocate them among the players who do turn up. Some players may end up with more experienced pilots along the way, but because you’re playing as a co-operative group, there’s nothing really to be lost.
All that said, you can, of course, apply the rules for experience and campaign play to the Versus game as well. There is literally nothing stopping you. And in a two-player campaign, playing through the missions in the book in order, that would likely be a lot of fun. But the rulebook itself doesn’t provide you with the tools to organize a multi-player Versus campaign for all the reasons I explain above and, right now, there are no explicit plans for a supplement that will do so. If there’s enough demand, I won’t say I’d never do it. But I feel it’s something best designed by players for the people around them.
I’ve talked a lot in this blog post about the solo game, of course, but we’ve not really touched upon what that looks like, so, next week - which will be the first blog post after the rules are released, if all goes to plan! - we’ll talk about the solo game.
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!