One of the biggest decisions that anyone makes when beginning any war game is what army to play. Infinity is unique because Corvus Belli has not only created the major factions in the game, but has further divided those factions into smaller, more focused armies known as Sectorials; each with their own benefits and tactics. This has sparked a debate about which is better: playing the generic faction lovingly called “vanilla” by the fan base, or Sectorials. Well, I am here to tell you that neither is better than the other and it depends on what your play style is, as well as what you are trying to get out of the army that would determine whether you should play vanilla or a Sectorial. This is the next subject we are going to dive into here on the Sword of Haqqislam - determining if you are a vanilla player, Sectorial player, or a Hybrid player.
Determining which is best for you will take some self reflection, and evaluation of past performances to find out what works for you and what doesn't. People approach this game from different angles all the time, and how they utilize a faction or army might differ greatly compared to how you approach the same faction. What I want to do here, though, is go through the pros and cons of playing vanilla armies and the pros and cons of playing Sectorials to help you make this decision. I will say right off the bat, if I get asked by a new player whether they should go vanilla or Sectorial, I usually tell them to go with vanilla to learn the game even if they have an interest in a Sectorial. I usually tell them to buy that Sectorial starter and then play like you are playing vanilla until you get the basics down. Once you have the basics down and feel comfortable playing is when I would start evaluating where you stand whether to stick to vanilla or go to a Sectorial.
I am a hybrid player and I suspect many people are as well, but there is nothing wrong with being just a vanilla player or just a Sectorial player. The greatest thing about Infinity is the amount that you can customize and format your army to how you play. Sure, the factions have their strengths and weaknesses, but other than that, you can pretty much tackle any faction in the way you want, which might be completely different with how someone else approaches the same exact faction. Use this article to help you determine how you want to approach a faction. With that being said let's get into the meat of the article.
The Differences in List Building.
The first difference you have probably already noticed is the availability of units that in vanilla and Sectorials. Vanilla gets access to a much wider range and diverse unit selection than Sectorials do. Sectorials have access to a smaller variety of units, but can often take more of those units that belong to that Sectorial. This leads to different list building strategies and challenges for each. This alone can be a deciding factor for many people without even getting into the other differences between vanilla play and Sectorial play.
The main advantage of playing vanilla is the wide access to units of the entire faction. This might not be as immediate or flashy an advantage as fireteams are in Sectorials, but it is a huge advantage, one that I think people sometimes underestimate. I didn't fully appreciate this advantage until I had played Qapu Khalqi for over a year and then switched to vanilla. What the diversity in unit selection allows is the ability to easily capitalize on a factions advantages while being able to mitigate the weaknesses to a greater degree than Sectorials can. What I mean by this is that you can establish a synergy between units that you wouldn't otherwise be able to in a Sectorial since Sectorials restrict the diversity of a faction.
One of these synergies in Haqqislam is being able to take a better camouflage infiltration list. Al Hawwa are AVA 3 in QK and only AVA 1 in vanilla, but in vanilla, the Al Hawwa joins its fellow camouflage infiltrators like the Tuareg and Hunzakut, allowing for a greater diversity in list construction and allowing for these other infiltrators to cover the weaknesses of the Al Hawwa (Like the fact that Tuareg and Hunzakut specialists have mines and the Hawwa does not). It also lets you be more unpredictable to your opponent since, if you are playing QK, anyone who knows the army, knows that the only camouflage unit in QK is the Hawwa so they can start to make countermeasures. When you have a Hunzakut joining the Hawwa, then your opponent doesn't know which is which and needs to be more cautious when approaching those camo markers.
For most unit profiles, AVA is higher in a Sectorial than in vanilla, allowing you to take more of a unit that you like. If you have a simple preference for a unit that you really like and you want an excuse to field more of them, the Sectorial gives you this option. This also ties into theme as well. Some armies like Caledonian Highlander Army or the Japanese Sectorial Army, have a theme around a certain culture that may interest you. These units may be available in vanilla but the theme gets diluted among the other units available in vanilla. I have even noticed that some players play better when they’re more excited about, and thus invested in, the army they have down on the table.
There is one place that Sectorials do have an edge on vanilla when it comes to a diverse unit selection and that is in having access to what I have called Sectorial Mercenaries. These are Mercenaries that are only available by playing a certain Sectorials. These include Mercenaries like McMurrough in Caledonia and Corregidor, Avicenna in Hassassin Bahram and Bakunin, and even the new Major Lunah for Imperial Secret Service. Generally, there are lore reasons for why these Mercenaries are so restricted. There are vanilla Mercenaries as well to consider, though, these are the Mercenaries that every faction has access to, units like the Krakot Renegade or Miranda Ashcroft but you will see these units pop up in certain Sectorials like the Krakot in the Morat Aggression Force or Miranda in Imperial Secret Service so they aren't exactly exclusive to vanilla like the Sectorial Mercenaries are.
This leads into the other point is that Sectorials have more obvious weaknesses than vanilla does due to their limited unit selection. When you cut down on the diversity of the list, you highlight the strengths of an army, but at the same time, you also accentuate the weaknesses. Every faction has its weaknesses, they need to in order to have balanced game play, but in vanilla, it's a little easier to mitigate these weaknesses by varying up the lists you take every time. Now, I am not saying that Sectorials can't cover their weaknesses, but the weaknesses of Sectorials can be more obvious and easier to exploit by a knowledgeable opponent since there is only so much variety you can take within a Sectorial. Sectorials only have a few ways to cover their weaknesses which may become predictable even from player to player.
I hate to do this but it is a problem that has to be talked about because there is a downside to vanilla's diverse unit selection. This problem is overshadowing which occurs in two ways, one minor, and one major.
Minor overshadowing is when a unit only has a few useful profiles in vanilla and the only time you would use the other profiles is in the Sectorial when you have a restricted unit selection. A good example of this is the Djanbazan and its role within Haqqislam. The Djanbazan is a medium infantry with 4-2 movement, ARM 3, BTS 0 and most importantly comes with a Multi-Spectral Visor (MSV) Level 2 allowing it never have negative mods for Mimetism, ODD or Camo of any kind. It also can shoot through smoke which Haqqislam has in spades to help do that wonderful smoke trick. Djanbazan also have Multiterrain and Regeneration making them a great boon to both Haqqislam and Qapu Khalqi (QK), the two armies in which they are found. All this makes them the perfect hunters of any enemy troop which imposes negative mods towards BS. That preferred usage means their heavy machine gun (HMG), sniper rifle and shock marksman rifle are all put to use in both vanilla and QK, but the Djanbazan also has access to two specialists: a Doctor and a Hacker. They are good, survivable units, but vanilla has access to units that are suited better in those roles for a variety of reasons. There are just more efficient ways to use your points than putting them into a Djanbazan Doctor or Hacker when playing vanilla. Playing QK, on the other hand, you are way more likely to take a Djanbazan Doctor or Hacker because the Djanbazan have Fireteam: Core in that Sectorial. Using the Core Link, you now have a way to deliver your specialists to press buttons because they have the HMG and Sniper Rifle clearing the path, so you’re much more likely to use those specialist profiles.
More significantly than individual profiles being less useful in vanilla, is you may find entire units less desirable while playing vanilla. For this example, I am actually going to venture out of Haqqislam and use my newly found allies of Caledonia and Ariadna. Caledonia is a great Sectorial filled with some awesome units that I absolutely love (Hence why it's the first army to take me away from Haqqislam...that and Tunguska isn't released yet as well as my love for Celtic stuff, yes I wear a kilt!) but many of its units are overshadowed in vanilla Ariadna, mostly by their Kazak comrades which just delights our friend over in Pride of Rodina. Many of the Kazak units fill the same role as the Caledonian units but do so better for the same, or a comparable amount, of points. The only reason to take a Scots Guard is for their heavy weapons in camouflage but why take them when you can take a Tank Hunter which does the same job but can cover a Classified Objective as well. The same goes for taking a SAS in vanilla when you have access to the Ariadna Scout who not only gets Markmanship level 1 but has D-charges with Mines and a better weapon for just 6 points over the SAS. The king of all overshadows though, is how much the Veteran Kazak overshadows all the heavy infantry except maybe for the Blackjack, especially one of my favored units because they look awesome, the Mormaer. All Ariadna HI are shock immune with one wound and this is where the Veteran Kazak outshines all them because the Kazak has No Wound Incapacitation thanks Veteran L2 along with things like Mimetism. The best my Caledonian HI can do is Dogged (And they are expensive to deal a guaranteed death sentence to, these aren't 5 point Mutts who you can just lose but 29+ point powerhouses that hurt to lose) but Kazaks have virtually the same load out and role in Ariadna and they simply outclass all the other HIs. If I would want a Heavy Infantry bad ass dealing death in vanilla Ariadna, it's either a Blackjack or Veteran Kazak. I wouldn't even give the others a second glance. To really enjoy Caledonia and what makes it awesome, I have to play the Sectorial. It isn't that Caledonia is full of bad units, they really aren't. They kick a lot of ass and I enjoy playing them a lot but there are just better choices in the Kazaks when playing vanilla Ariadna. Volunteers, for cheap orders and the Cateran are pretty much the only things that see much vanilla play time.
Is overshadowing a problem? Yes and no. There is certainly an argument that could be made for every unit, but it can be hard to choose the model you think looks cool over the one that’s probably better to do the same task. On the flip side, this is one of the reasons to take a Sectorial if you love certain aspects of a faction. I love all the units in Caledonia, so taking the Sectorial is an ideal choice for me. Another plus is my purchases are limited to Caledonian units, which is a concern for some players.
That being said, if you are a vanilla player who doesn't much care for Sectorials, play the units that you like. As I have said, the units that are overshadowed aren't bad units, there are just more efficient units to take in their stead if you are trying to best optimize your list. Taking those units means you might have to change something else in your list to help compensate for taking that unit that you like, and there is nothing wrong with that. The beauty of Infinity is adapting your army to your play style, and, as we have discussed this entire article, playing vanilla allows you to do this easily. Evaluating the concern about overshadowing in vanilla isn't meant to discourage people from using the units they like, but merely making people aware of the existence of overshadowing for those whose main focus is getting the most efficient point use within their armies. There is no net listing in Infinity and there is no one way to play a faction, so if you want to use Scots Guard instead of Tank Hunters, do it. Your list won't be bad because of it. Just make sure to cover all your bases when making the rest of your list.
Fireteams: The Main Advantage of Sectorials
The obvious reason to take Sectorials is the ability to form Fireteams. The fireteam bonuses are what gives Sectorials an edge over vanilla that is hard to ignore, especially for some new players. I preached about diversity, because there is a certain subtlety to that advantage that everyone might not realize at first. Fireteam bonuses, on the other hand, is something people immediately understand. Understandably, there are players that gravitate towards them once they find out about them.
Looking over the bonuses, you can definitely see why some become strict Sectorial players. For a three man fireteam, you get an extra burst to BS weapons even in ARO. Four man fireteam gets you access to Sixth Sense Level 2 and the five man fireteam you get +3 to BS Attack Rolls. This improves the ability of the units in a fireteam considerably to help them deal with challenges that would be overwhelming outside of a link. For example, +3 to BS rolls effectively cancels the camo without paying for a model with MSV1+. The added burst helps because extra dice to help defeat opposing rolls is never a bad thing, you can bury your opponent in dice during the active turn with high burst weapons, more effectively split fire or turn low burst weapons into formidable active turn weapons (Burst 2 Missile Launcher can be downright terrifying). Having 2 burst in ARO is also a powerful thing, especially if you have multiple fireteam members in line of sight to ARO. That can easily turn the tables in your favor in your inactive turn and will likely make your opponent think twice about taking the fireteam head on. Sixth Sense Level 2 also allows the members of the fireteam to never be caught off guard and be able to respond at their fullest capability, no getting shot in the back or -3 to dodge because you don't have line of sight. This makes it so that both offensive and defensive fireteams are really hard to deal with. If you don’t have any immediate way to match those bonuses, you have to have more creative solutions in order to deal with an entrenched fireteam.
That's just the bonuses too, the other thing you get with Fireteams is order efficiency since you can move multiple units with one order, something that a vanilla player has to expend their precious command tokens in order to achieve. This also frees up the usage of command tokens some for Sectorial players, allowing them to move even more models up, faster. Since the fireteam moves with one order, it also means they only generate one ARO for everyone in the team, allowing for clever positioning and making your opponent think more about how they will respond with their ARO towards your Fireteam. This means delivering specialists to objectives as well as establishing a midfield presence to shut down enemy advances is easier for a Sectorial army than it is for a vanilla army since Sectorial armies can move multiple models with fewer orders and generate less ARO threats. With all the bonuses gained through Fireteams, a Sectorial really can make up for the lack of diverse units that vanilla has.
The Downfalls of Fireteams
Even with all these benefits, though, there are some downsides to taking fireteams. For one, the bonuses granted of fireteams can be taken away by an opponent breaking up the link by either killing or isolating members of the fireteam. If the member that has been taken out of the link for whatever reason is the link leader, the link is broken and you will have to spend a command token to reform the link with the remaining members. The bonuses will also begin to dwindle as the available team members are taken down. This means you have to take measures to keep your link team survivable or keep a pool of available members to replace their fallen comrades (which is possible especially if you are a person who favors line troops fireteams instead of the beefy more survivable fireteams). This does mean, though, that the Sectorial fireteam bonuses are finite during a mission and a skilled vanilla player can use their own tool box to level the playing field.
Another problem is that everyone in a fireteam has to do the same ARO. If you are facing off against an impact template, for example, and choose to shoot, any link members affected by the template, but not involved in the face-to-face, just have to eat the template. This is why many choose to have everyone dodge instead of firing back at the enemy to better keep their fireteam intact. This can be prevented by learning to keep your fireteam spread out so your opponent can't lay down a template over multiple units. It is something to keep in mind when you are moving your fireteam around the field of battle.
Finally, taking fireteams also gives your opponent a place to focus their efforts on in order to help cripple your advance. Fireteams certainly come with all those wonderful bonuses, but at the same time that is a beacon to your opponent to destroy that fireteam to take away the advantages given by them. I know when I switched back to vanilla after playing QK for so long, one of the comments that my friend gave to me is that he had a hard time deciding what to go after since I didn't have a link team for him to focus his efforts on. This can be mitigated through proper deployment and movement to punish your opponent for coming after your fireteam, but nothing is ever foolproof, especially if you are facing an opponent that love their tricks or a relentless opponent who doesn't have to care so much about casualties and can constantly send threats to break your fireteam. Losing your fireteam early game can be crippling depending on how crucial that fireteam was to your overall strategy which is why you will hear that some players don't like investing a lot of points into their fireteams. It's too much of hanging a sign on those units saying "Come kill me and you win!". It all depends on your play style, and the capabilities of the fireteam you have taken, but losing your fireteam is an important thing to think about when taking a Sectorial and the strategies you plan.
In the End, It's Up to You
This was only a broad overview of the large compare and contrasts of playing vanilla vs. Sectorials. I know I didn't cover everything here because there are a lot of nuances between factions and their Sectorials that might not always fit in the broad strokes I just took in going over this. I am sure there are things I forgot, or could go into more detail about, but this is meant to be an introduction to serve as a beginning of whether you may want to play either vanilla or a Sectorial, or both. It was not meant to be comprehensive in anyway.
I wanted to show that there are advantages and disadvantages to both, but neither is the right, or the wrong way to play. It really depends on you and who you are as a player. Finding out what works for you is what I love about Infinity; no one can tell you how to play. They can give you tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your army, but in the end, they can't tell you how to play your army and players interpret the same armies in different ways that may surprise you. There is no net listing in Infinity, because even if you look at someone else's list, the way they use that list and the way you may use the same list might be totally different. So get out there and explore your army, find out what works for you. Go forth and find out if you are a vanilla, Sectorial or Hybrid player. Make sure you have fun with that journey as well. As always, my friend, until next time, continue to seek knowledge!