Now that we’ve solved* the Avatar, it’s time to move forward to the next controversy: guided missiles. This is a tactic available to most, if not all (looking at you Ariadna), factions in the game with a wildly variable return on investment depending on who you’re playing. While the idea of calling in a guided missile strike to dig out entrenched enemies is a fun and thematic mechanic to exist in the game, at the moment it leads to a gameplay experience that is not only unfun to play against, but also completely exists outside the normal risk/reward mechanic that drives the core Infinity experience.
If you’re lucky enough to not have been on the receiving end of this strategy yet, I’ll take a minute to explain the big deal. You’re minding your own business, starting your first reactive turn. Whether through combat dropping, infiltrators, or even a long-bombed pitcher shot from across the board, you end up with a repeater landing somewhere near the bulk of your forces. Your sphincter tightens. Shit is about to go down. At this point unless you have a hacker of your own within range, the enemy is free to spam Spotlight from wherever they’re hiding while you desperately reset your valuable unit. Eventually, you will lose the face-to-face and enter the Targeted state, because there is no saving roll against it. Then the madness begins.
For up to the next five orders, some robot from across the table has carte blanche to lob missiles at you that ignore range, mimetism, and cover while landing at a whopping +6 to hit to boot. For many factions, this is rolling a single shot on 18’s – something only top-tier marksmen can hope for – while you try to dodge a template from outside LOF at a -3 (unless you have Sixth Sense through some means). Each hit is a full-on missile template strike, which thanks to the specific wording of the rule, can be fired in the direct-fire mode to pick up AP ammunition in addition to its stock EXP, landing in a blast template. That’s right – your missiles are actually improved in effectiveness and accuracy by not seeing the target, because ALL guided attacks turn into a template.
Yes, even you, little Tohaa shotgun.
Your only hope at this point is to Reset out of the Targeted state, provided you live long enough to do so – but this means you eat the missile strike unopposed. With only a few orders invested, your most valuable targets that aren’t in a marker state can be bombarded with literally no risk to the attacker. What’s worse, a hacker with any sort of repeater network not only boasts the utility of regular hackers, but can threaten unhackable units. For a game based around tense and opposed dice rolls where both sides are often in danger, this seems like an overwhelmingly boring way to play the game for both sides. This is probably the closest to 40k this game can feel – sitting there and hoping that you just don’t die until you get to play.
A Brief History Lesson
I’m not usually a fan of dredging up old editions to make points, but understanding the subtle changes between N3 and N4 is crucial to set up the context of why guided missiles are suddenly the apex predator of the battlefield. Back in The Day, the Spotlight program was an active-turn-only program that rolled at a -3 WIP modifier – only for the Targeted state to end at the States Phase after your turn. On top of that, you also had U-Turn – an EVO hacker program that imposed a -3 modifier on any guided attack made anywhere on the table. In N4, the Spotlight program has been promoted to an ARO, letting you affect any model unfortunate enough to cross through a repeater network, U-Turn has been removed from the game, and Targeted state lasts until it is cancelled with a Reset roll. With these three changes, it feels as if guided missile plays have gone from a niche tactic to an overbearing threat that every player needs to prepare for well ahead of time.
So, what do we do about that?
I just want to say it plain and clear; I do not want guided removed from the game and I do not think it’s an auto-win tactic. I do, however, think the uninteractive mechanics involved in launching a missile strike coupled with the relative ease of setting up the play make for very negative play experiences, to the point where I would strongly recommend against playing it outside anywhere but competitive environments, or with a willing opponent. In no particular order, here are some ideas I’ve either thought of or heard elsewhere that I think could be worth investigating.
Pull a U-Turn on U-Turn
Plain and simple – bring U-Turn back. A -3 MOD knocks this attack back into the realm of reasonable effectiveness, gives you more reason to run an EVO hacker, and thematically makes sense. I don’t understand how Infinity is currently a universe where a dolphin can pilot a spaceship but a missile guidance system is completely tamperproof.
Give Spotlight to EVO Hackers
Speaking of EVO hackers, this suggestion is one of my preferred solutions. In the current quantronic ecosystem, regular hackers are able to tangle with any opponent that enters the repeater network with an array of attacks that not only threaten hackable targets, but non-hackable troops as well. And then…you have EVO hackers. For what is supposed to be a support specialist that protects and enhances their forces, why is it that they can’t participate in the reactive hacking network? As it stands these are hackers that are completely defenseless against cyber-attacks beyond resetting – which puts them exactly on par with non-hackers. As it stands, EVO hackers only exist to lay down in the corner somewhere and provide supportware buffs as needed, or maybe scramble an enemy combat jumper’s landing. Why not take Spotlight from regular hackers and give them to EVO devices instead? This would not only reduce the prevalence of guided missile plays, but allows Guided to stay in the current ecosystem without massively changing how it works. Furthermore, it would give EVO hackers something to do in the reactive turn, or give them a way to affect the enemy beyond running supportware in the corner all game.
Make Spotlight Supportware
And now that we’re talking about supportware, we can talk about the nature of a targeting program. After all, wouldn’t it make sense that keeping a target lock on an enemy trooper in the middle of a battle would require some concentration? At the moment, Targeted inexplicably follows you around the table forever until you Reset, even if you enter and leave a marker state. How can you be hidden in Camouflage with a big digital target painted on your forehead? And what exactly are you resetting, anyway? By moving Spotlight into the supportware category, we not only end the proliferation of Targeted spam through repeater networks, but we also ensure that only one model can be hit with it at a time.
Gyro’s Pitcher Changes
Gyro from the SoCal Brawlers has developed a pretty impressive list of suggested houserules that could improve the game in subtle ways. One change in particular resonated with this discussion – the ability for Deployable Weapons to trigger AROs when they are both placed and while they are being used for hacking attacks. This would, in effect, allow you to take a potshot at deployable repeaters after they are placed so that you have a chance to hop off the Crazy Train a couple stops early. Worth noting is that these AROs are decoupled from the hacking attack’s success.
Just Consume It
Taking a page from the Tau in 40k, missile strikes could consume a Targeted token as an activation cost for a guided attack. This small obstacle is no big deal for a lot of targets who fail the dodge, since more than likely your poor idiot has been converted to a light red mist after the first hit. But if by some eldritch luck or superhuman toughness you survive, it feels fitting to make the attacker invest just a little bit more towards repeating the stunt.
Make Guided A Separate Profile
This is a suggestion that aims to do a little housekeeping on a small detail that bothers me tremendously. Any attack, under any firing mode, using the Guided rule MUST attack as an impact blast template. Excuse me? With conventional missile fire, savvy commanders must carefully weigh the advantages and drawbacks of the blast and direct-fire firing modes before picking blast anyway. But close your eyes, and suddenly you can get the best of both worlds – your AP direct fire mode now also totes the template it would normally be giving up. As if this isn’t silly enough, it turns the rare other guided weapons like the Nox sniper into a weapon that is suddenly shooting a bullet as if it were a bomb. By forcing guided weapons into a new firing mode, individual weapons can be tuned to different effects. Not only does this give us awesome new design space to explore, but we are granted a cool and flavorful way to give smart weapons an identity of their own.
At this point I feel like I’ve touched base on the basic foundations of what I think is suboptimal with the current state of guided missile plays. The following are some more quick suggestions that hopefully speak for themselves:
Make Guided Missiles Disposable (x)
Give ECM:Guided to more unit types (credit Methuselah)
Require a BTS save to enter Targeted (credit Methuselah)
Give Traktor Muls Burst 3 in Guided with a MLRS rule (this doesn’t solve anything but if you take a Traktor Mul you deserve to do this)
By now you’re probably thinking that after writing a meme-laden treatise bemoaning guided missiles, that I would be happy if Guided attacks were just removed from the game entirely. I would not. I would, if anything, be pretty upset – I just kept the defense of this mechanic towards the end of this article, mostly so I can tell who actually read this when I wade through the comments after publication. The truth is, Guided as a weapon ability and Targeted state are both very cool, fun, and mechanically rewarding components of the game that I think enrich the play experience overall. I absolutely adore Infinity, and I’ve often listed the asymmetrical aspects of the game as a cornerstone reason for new players to get excited about trying for the first time. I cannot say the same about missile lists. There’s no way I can think of making that a fun or rewarding experience for any player that is not actively searching for a challenging experience.
That’s also not to say that playing this makes you a shitty person. In competitive contexts, I think it’s completely appropriate to go hard, and for many factions this will be synonymous with a missile strike. This is also an incredibly important tool to have available in the game ecosystem. Guided missile attacks rightfully punish null deploying opponents, forcing someone to try and actively defend themselves. This, in my opinion, is a good thing for the health of the game. I I just want this interesting mechanic to feel like another tool in my arsenal, rather than the Tryhard button.
I hope we get to try something new, and soon. And if you miss the old way, you can always just roll some dice by yourself while you narrate your turn. You probably won’t even know the difference.
* As if meme screeching into the void actually changed anything