Considerations for an Official Response to Play By Intent

General Remarks

This paper concerns Corvus Belli’s (CB) tabletop game Infinity, and their stated intention to provide a ruling for an alternative style called ‘Play By Intent’ (PBI) that changes the game’s core mechanisms. It is assumed throughout that the reader is already familiar with the game and with PBI.

According to the Infinity N3 rulebook, players manage movement by describing a unit’s path and intended destination, then using independent skill and judgement to estimate placement appropriately.  The unit’s declared path is then measured out, and its actual final position resolved. 

Newly discovered Lines of Fire (LoF) are checked, and opponents declare their Automatic Reaction Orders (ARO.s). The Active player declares their second Short Skill, measurements are made for Ballistic Skill (BS) range, appropriate Modifiers are applied to unit attributes, dice are rolled, and the combat is resolved accordingly.

PBI contrasts markedly by allowing players to agree in advance whatever (legal) outcomes for LoF and ARO.s a player wishes to achieve, and places models notionally, ignoring their actual positions. It manages the game’s challenge, uncertainty, drama and risk by eliminating N3’s visual estimates for placement, and uses player agreement to control the Order Sequence and its interaction with ARO.s. 

As a consequence, it effectively allows players to avoid unwanted ARO.s by declaration, so it also changes the cost balance for units’ abilities, Special Ammunition and Support Weapons.

These changes make the game less confrontational and more co-operative; less visceral and more cerebral; and strips Infinity’s drama, character and flair, making it more like other tabletop games. 

This control over the Order Sequence and reduction of the challenging, stressful and risky aspects of the game is advantageous to particular groups of players who’re highly motivated to use the style. 

The English rulebook’s explanations of Infinity’s unique core mechanisms are regrettably rather vague and these groups have taken advantage of this, and popularised the idea that PBI has a basis in N3. They present an unlikely interpretation of the etiquette section, ignoring its own definition for Line of Fire in a notably strenuous chain of reasoning to persuade others of PBI’s legality.

In fact, there is no ‘available reading’ of N3 for PBI, and such a reading would require several new paragraphs and the extant rules for LoF to all be rewritten accordingly. Nonetheless, it’s clear that PBI advocates aren’t interested in playing the game as it was designed, and so anyone objecting to their  ‘interpretation’ is subjected to aggression and hostility online, and in the real world too.

The longer Corvus Belli have maintained an official silence on the subject, the bolder PBI’s advocates have become, and unless CB break their silence and make a ruling, there is no reason to think they will cease their aggressive dissemination of the style or their hostility towards rulebook players.

However, making such a ruling for PBI is not straightforward, because whilst it’s easy to see that PBI is not like Infinity N3, it’s also not especially easy to see exactly how it differs. And the almost-religious belief of its advocates does make it difficult to see how to manage a ruling appropriately.

This essay provides an analysis of those differences; provides observations and insights, and makes some recommendations to Corvus Belli for managing the PBI problem, should they decide to do so.

Distinguishing Infinity N3 from Play By Intent

The General Movement rules, and the way the Order Sequence interacts with ARO.s are critical to the character of Infinity, but Play By Intent makes changes to control these in three main ways:

  1. Model Placement – estimated or agreed: whether models are placed on the table by visual estimates, using players’ independent skill and judgement; or by players’ agreement
  2. Unit Positions – real or notional: whether unit positions are real, actual and measurable; or only notional, and maybe only theoretically possible, (such as so-called ‘infinitesimal pie slicing’)
  3. Consent – optional or required: whether the reactive player may choose to concede the active player’s intent for a unit’s position, however disadvantageous; or is obliged to accept it. This is an important distinction in casual games where players commonly concede positions.

These differences can be illustrated using a ‘pie slicing’ scenario (see diagram) where the active player (blue) wants LoF to only one of several enemy units (red), so’s to avoid multiple ARO.s. 

 

A typical ‘slicing the pie’ situation. The Active player wants to move far enough forward to gain LoF to ARO #2, but not so far to gain LoF to ARO #1. The available distance between the two positions is a very small distance, Critical Depth CD – usually less than a millimetre in real-game situations.

This requires they judge the position of their unit so that it’s far enough forward to gain LoF 1 to ARO 2, but not so far that it also gains LoF 2 to ARO 1. The Critical Depth (CD) available to judge the position is usually small; often less than 1 mm and impossible to judge, or anyway to measure.

Thus, whilst rulebook players will enjoy the challenge of trying to make the judgement correctly, they’ll most likely end up with LoF to both units and therefore take ARO.s from both of them. Whereas PBI uses notional positioning and allows players to achieve the otherwise impossible tactical outcome:

 

 

  1. Model Placement: the active player doesn’t compete using independent skill and judgement to position their model within the CD; the placement is managed co-operatively with the opponent
  2. Unit Positions: the position is notional and ignores any measurable contradictions; instead it has whatever legal and theoretically possible tactical attributes the active player wishes
    1. for models positioned closely together and at medium range, PBI’s ‘infinitesimal pie slicing’ can be used to allow a notional situation that is physically impossible in the real world
  3. Consent: the reactive player must accept the unit’s claimed position, and cannot challenge its placement however unrealistic, disadvantageous, or physically impossible it might be

Understanding ‘Soft’ Play By Intent

Historically, PBI hardliners tried to persuade other players that PBI is a legal style by vociferously arguing a peculiarly strenuous interpretation from the rulebook . In early 2018 though, the idea was generally discredited and we began hearing more about the idea of ‘Soft Play By Intent’.

Its idea is that if players place models without checking their positions, it amounts to the same thing as Play By Intent, and because this is a very commonly used style, everyone is therefore using PBI…

The styles are superficially similar, because units are placed by agreement (i), and the unit’s positioning  will seem notional (ii), but in practice, the circumstances and significance are radically different.

In fact ‘Soft PBI’ is commonly used to concede situations for obvious outcomes, in the same way that players of other sports and games, notably matchplay golf, provide a ‘gimme’. Infinity players concede unit positions likewise: when the active player could obviously easily estimate its placement.

We can refer to the previously described differences between PBI and N3, and use the same pie-slicing scenario to illustrate why providing ‘gimmes’ in the convenience style is not PBI per se:

  1. Model Placement: in conceding a position, there is a courteous assumption that the active player could have easily estimated that position using their own independent skill and judgement 
  2. Unit Positions: that assumption is likely based on a sufficiency of Critical Depth for an accurate placement, so its possible to place a model casually without checking its position
  3. Consent: the reactive player is mindful of the Movement rules, but freely consents to the opponent’s intent as a temporary courtesy; as opposed to PBI that obliges their consent
  4. Additionally, ‘gimmes’ are usually provided in situations where the outcome is beyond debate, so that even in match-critical situations, the reactive player doesn’t need to contest the positioning

Thus, so-called ‘Play By Intent’ does use two of PBI’s mechanisms, but is radically different in practice, primarily because conceding the position is optional, and at the reactive player’s discretion. 

This is an important consideration for making a ruling, because if Corvus Belli will officially ring-fence the reactive player’s consent, it’s likely that most of the problems of PBI will simply go away.

There may be other alternatives to calling this courtesy ‘a gimme,’ but the phrase provides plenty of comparative context from other games and sports to clearly mean ‘concede an undisputed situation’.

Whatever term is used, it is strongly recommended that the phrase ‘Soft Play By Intent’ is  conscientiously avoided, since it has been deliberately used to confuse PBI with convenience play.

 Remarks about on Official Ruling for Play By Intent 

In terms of the way Play By Intent feels in use, it’s a very different game to Infinity N3, but if Corvus Belli wanted and was prepared to rewrite the rulebook, it could be integrated.

This would demonstrably reduce competitiveness and player interaction, and remove much of the game’s character and flair. It would also make the game correspondingly more intellectual, and likely  shift Infinity towards dependence on the list-building meta-game we see in other tabletop games.

PBI’s more co-operative style would have to be properly tested, and an explanation would have to be written and published. The existing rules for Line of Fire would all need to be revised, and Army costs for unit skills, Special Ammunition and Support Weapon would all need to be recalibrated.

It also bears comment that despite repeated requests over two years, PBI advocates have proven unable to produce a definition for their ruleset, which begs speculation about the difficulty of the task.

On the other hand, those changes to the game would be welcomed by a very vocal group of players, which has some value; and the reason they’ve been unable to produce a definition for PBI probably lies more in the character traits of its advocates rather than its difficulty per se. 

In short, none of these things would prevent PBI being integrated. More important questions are whether such a change would really improve the game, which is arguable at best; and whether or not Corvus Belli actually want to change Infinity anyway, even if it would.

However, a glaring issue beyond the rules changes or whether they’re more or less desirable is that the conditions under which change is being sought by PBI advocates is itself most undesirable.

Other groups who’ve created systems that also alter the ruleset such as mission card sets or scenario generators go to the effort of documenting the system, then publishing it online and notifying others in the official forum. If such systems proved widely and enthusiastically accepted as an alternative to N3, one could imagine a reasonable approach might be to then invite CB to adopt that style of play.

But instead, PBI players consistently bully and demand that other players must play in their style, deceiving themselves and lying to others to persuade them that their style is rules legal. Their reaction to reasonable discussion is often hysterical, and their behaviour is characterised by outright hostility.

Thus, even if the style were demonstrably superior to N3, which it is not, Corvus Belli should question whether or not acceding to the aggressive demands of a vocal minority should be heeded at all.

The chief characteristic of Corvus Belli is that they’re a design-led company who take great interest and spend most of their effort creating the characters and setting of the world of their game. Thus, they’re disinclined to comment their ruleset, or even maintain it in the way other companies do. In fairness also, PBI is certainly peculiar, almost religious phenomenon, that is difficult to grapple with. 

Nonetheless, CB’s disinclination to comment on the style has allowed PBI advocates to aggressively disseminate it, and effectively wrest control of CB’s own intellectual property in the N3 ruleset. It is most strongly recommended that CB reassert control over their IP, and make a ruling about PBI.

Aims of an Official Ruling

An official ruling should fully clarify how the Order Sequence was designed to work, and also provide scope for the normal ‘gimmes’ to concede outcomes for indisputable situations as an exception to normal placement; that may not be enforced; and only allowable at the reactive player’s discretion.

Preserving the reactive player’s right to require proper model placement is the key to clarifying the situation without having to make further rulings on the matter. It would safeguard Infinity’s competitive nature, and the cinematic character and flair that sets it apart from other tabletop games.

Note that although prohibitive clauses may seem unnecessary for native-Spanish speakers, the ruling must use them quite freely if absolute clarity for native-English speakers is to be ensured.

Recommended Ruling

Clarifying the Order Sequence, Positioning Models and the Role of Player’s Intention

  1. Players must declare their intention for units’ path and final position, and must then use their own independent skill and judgement to place the model, by eye, in their best estimate of that position
  1. The path and provisional position is then measured to discover if the estimate was within the unit’s legal movement range; if not, the model is moved back along the declared path accordingly
  1. The model is then in an actual, physically measurable final position which supersedes both the players’ intentions and any speculation and agreement about tactical outcomes or Lines of Fire
  1. Having thus resolved the unit’s actual final position, it can be checked to discover any new Lines of Fire so that the reactive player can properly declare their Automatic Reaction Orders (ARO.s)
  1. No distance measurements can be made until after the reactive player declares their ARO.s when range is discovered to calculate Modifiers, and combat is resolved with dice rolls accordingly

Conceding Unit Positions

  1. In situations where the active player’s intention for a unit’s position is trivial or uncontested, the reactive player may, if they choose, concede that position and its tactical outcomes
  1. Both during that Order and also henceforward, the unit’s tactical outcomes for LoF etc. are still dependent on its actual, measurable position as usual; so the model must be placed appropriately
  1. Thus, positions should not be conceded for situations that are critical or contested, nor if the model’s position is unlikely to be obtained easily and accurately without measuring
  1. In critical or contested situations, players should, in the spirit of competitive play, require one another to position their models properly by eye, using their own skill and judgement as usual
  1. Important: the reactive player is never required to accept the active player’s claim for a unit’s position; they may always require them to place the model properly. Conceding a trivial or uncontested position is always strictly at the reactive player’s discretion

Appendix I: The Psychology of Play By Intent

Play By Intent (PBI) has not been accidentally or arbitrarily devised as an alternative to Infinity N3; the system changes and controls certain aspects of the game for the benefit of two sorts of players.

These players are unhappy or uncomfortable with the way Infinity differs from other tabletop games that use more traditional mechanisms such as strictly alternating turns, independent dice rolls, pre-measurement for model placement, and a scarcity of tabletop scenery.

Infinity’s other distinguishing mechanisms include the Order Sequence, ARO.s, Face To Face Rolls, Critical Hits which all combine to make Infinity a more risky, interactive and unpredictable game.

Its physical design also means that as units move towards the centre of tables crowded by scenery, the difficulty of making accurate model placements increases, escalating pressure on the players.

For most players, the escalating stress, the unpredictable drama and confrontational nature of ARO interactions, and Infinity’s essentially competitive nature make it a thrilling and visceral experience. But for players who’re particularly anxious and generally need to control stressful situations, these unfamiliar mechanisms are problematic and provide uncertainty and stress that can be overwhelming. 

For this group, PBI provides a way to manage the game’s risk and drama, and make the game feel safer, and more familiar. Hence in online debates, they are anxious, aggressive, threatening and disproportionately hostile to interference; even towards Corvus Belli’s rules authors and play testers.

Meanwhile, a second group of players are also unhappy with the game’s core mechanisms but are characterised by competitive ambition, personal confidence, and sense of entitlement. They would prefer Infinity to be a game of purer strategy that’s more cerebral, less visceral and less of a gamble. 

For this group, PBI provides a way to control the variability of visual placements, player interactions, ARO.s and Critical Hits. They appear dispassionate in online debates, but resort to threatening that without PBI, they’re entitled to use as much time as is necessary to position models perfectly.

So the personalities and motivations of these two groups differ, but they find common cause politically in seeing Play By Intent sanctioned. They both claim to believe there’s an interpretation for PBI in the rulebook when clearly none exists, and both say it makes Infinity more skilful, courteous and practical.

These arguments have the alternate aims of firstly claiming that PBI is the game Corvus Belli have designed, therefore obliging others to play the style; and secondly, claiming PBI is anyway the best way to play the game, that everyone does — or should prefer it, and that CB should rewrite their rules.

The reality is that PBI’s purpose is to manage the game’s drama, uncertainty and risk, and to make it feel safer, more predictable and more comfortably like other tabletop games. That’s advantageous to these small groups of players, but not to most other players , nor to Corvus Belli’s business either.

It’s in the nature of tabletop games generally to offer a more immersive experience than pure strategy games, but also have to manage practical issues like model positioning and scenery misplacement. The effort to use Play By Intent to strip this tabletop game of its character and macho flair because they’re uncomfortable with its core mechanisms is, at very best, a badly misplaced effort.