“I run a heavy infantry list and hacking is absolutely ruining me. What’s the best way of countering enemy hacking?”
I recently asked around for questions people would like answered for future mailbag articles, and this one caught my eye as complex and important enough to base an entire article around. Hacking totally changed in N4 Infinity and has gone from a weird gimmick mostly used to buff remotes to a serious threat that every army needs to have a plan for, especially heavy infantry armies. This week we’re going to be doing a deep dive into what it means to go up against a serious business hacker and how to keep your TAGs from betraying you at the worst possible moment.
The Digital Battlefield
Terrain in Infinity is physical, as laid out by walls and doors, but it’s also digital – and the digital battlefield is generated by repeaters. Repeaters are the terrain of the cyber battlefield, and engaging through one of your opponent’s repeaters is like engaging when they have cover and you do not. If you have a feel for Infinity gunfights, that’s always a bad situation.
Repeaters are generated from a variety of sources. Deployable repeaters are items dropped off on the ground to project a hacking bubble, similar in placement rules to a mine. Fastpandas can run 8′ from the deploying model, and then project an 8′ hacking bubble. This gives a Fastpanda model a twenty inch threat range from where it starts its activation. There’s no counterplay to Fastpandas, if they want you in the repeater zone you’re going to be in the repeater zone because these can come out of forward deploying camo models. Combat remotes frequently carry repeaters in addition to their other equipment, of particular note on PanOceanian war robots – and the Nomads have one on a drop trooper. Finally is the Pitcher – a grenade launcher that fires Repeaters. Be aware that Pitchers can benefit from link team bonuses and be reloaded from a baggage bot, and a move I have seen crop up recently is a lady with a Pitcher just blanketing the entire board in half a dozen repeaters. Some factions rely on hacking to win fights and they will have the tools to project a ludicrously good hacking network that makes simple plans like ‘just avoid the hacking area’ ineffective.
Two other relevant features is firewall tinbots. These give their stated malus to enemy hackers, -3 or -6, as well as giving the +3 BTS from cover. If one is in a link they apply this effect to the entire link. The program fairy dust maintained by an EVO hacker can also give this benefit to all friendly models of a type – Heavy Infantry, TAGs, etc, tablewide.
(As an aside, also take into account the actual battlefield. Hacking benefits from tight, closed spaces with lots of hook turns and vertical space. If you’re consistently finding hackers impossible to engage that might be a sign that the tables you’re playing on are too dense and you should open the map up some more.)
Off The Shelf Spyware
There is good news, though – hacking is primarily reactive and always non lethal (unless you’ve got a hacker of your own, which can make you vulnerable to killer hackers). Oftentimes your opponent will content themselves with laying down a scary repeater net and forcing you to waste the better part of your turn picking through it. Because hacking programs are low burst and are opposed with free reset activations – that if successful clear all current hacking states – people rarely spend orders on them. There are a very rare set of hackers who actually want to take fights in active turn – most notably things like Aleph’s Danvas who has +1 Burst on Oblivion.
Another common theme amongst these programs is the damage is often very low. Good BTS is actually enormously important when you take into account the low damage rating on these programs, especially if combined with a Firewall. A BTS9 model like a Knight of Justice or the Avatar with the benefit of a firewall ignores Carbonite 90% of the time.
Finally, theses states give stacking modifiers to reset rolls. If you are targeted, immobilized and isolated you take a -15 WIP to reset.
These programs are common all across the game so it’s important to get to know them:
Carbonite: Damage 13 Double Action. Inflicts Immobilized-B. This is a program that will rarely be the one that comes at you first, it’s often applied as a coup de gras after a successful Oblivion.
Oblivion: Damage 16 Armour Piercing. Inflicts Isolated. This is the hacking program. It stops you spending orders on a model, renders it irregular, and knocks it out of any fireteams. Notably anything with the Veteran special skill is immune to Oblivion.
Total Control: Damage 16 Double Action. Inflicts Possessed. Something you must plan for if you’re bringing a TAG of any kind – even a BTS 9 TAG has to make two 35% saves or be lost.
Spotlight: This is relevant because this works on anything, not just hackable targets. Some lists pair this with a guided missile remote in order to punish light infantry that think they’re safe against the hacking network.
Trinity: Damage 14 normal ammo. The killer hacking device program, most notable for its abysmal damage. The Nomad Interventor behind a Firewall is BTS12 and she can laugh off Trinity attacks all day.
The Children of the Dark Web
Hacking is a complex topic because it can be invested in a tiny amount to add some teeth to an existent repeater network, or it can be an army’s primary combat arm. One hacker is a deterrent, three hackers is a dedicated commitment. If your opponent is bringing multiple quality hackers then that’s how they plan to win the game; you can’t think of it as a sideshow.
Here’s how to assess some common hacking profiles
Category One: WIP 13 BTS 0, no special gear: This is the bare minimum of a hacker that exists to do classified missions, play to the scenario, and maybe punish someone who ignored the hacking game entirely by dropping some Spotlights here and there.
Category Two: WIP 13-15, BTS 3-6, various hacking gear; pitcher, fastpanda, +upgrade programs: This is a solidly mid tier hacker in the 25-35 point range – and this hacker will rarely be alone. It’s enough of an investment that the list will have thought about a counter to a basic killer hacker, usually by including a second hacker that can force a killer hacker to split their Trinity attacks.
Category Three: WIP 15+, BTS 6-9, multiple wounds, powerful hacking assets: The Charontids, Asuras, Interventors, Knights of Justice – the top shelf hackers whose presence totally alters the hacking battlefield. These assets clock in at 50+ points and utterly dominate lesser hackers, usually laughing off Trinity attacks like they’re not even there. You almost never want to get into a hacking duel with one of these.
It’s the Category Three hackers that render a lot of planning useless. These are demigods of the digital battlefield and will crush Category One hackers like tinfoil, often while bringing a huge and powerful repeater net synergy to ensure their dominance. In the old days a simple Ninja Killer Hacker was sufficient to threaten any piece on the board. Today that Ninja is a Category One hacker and does not cut it against a dedicated hacking elite through a repeater net.
Mandatory IT Security Training
Heavy Infantry got price cuts across the board in N4. This was to compensate them for how commensurately dangerous the hacking battlefield has become for them. If you want to run a faction that focuses on Heavy Infantry you need to have a plan to engage all three categories of hacking threat.
The Tinbot Killer Hacker is something available to a lot of Heavy Infantry attack links – in Starmarda, this is a Betatrooper linked with Hector, in Military Orders it’s a Santiago Knight, in Invincible Army or WhiteCo it’s a Haidao. Some of these factions will include Tinbot -6’s, which means engaging a regular enemy hacker through an enemy repeater you’ll be rolling dice at WIP (+3 trinity, -3 firewall) while they’re at WIP -6. WIP 13 Burst 3 vs WIP 9 Burst 1 is a good fight to take in active. This is solidly tier two hacking ability and will get you past most tier one and two hackers – but be aware this math changes dramatically if they’ve got multiple hackers of their own that you have to fight all at once.
The way to ensure your Tinbot Killer Hacker can punch through multiple enemy hackers is to bring an engineer and focus fire your opposition. Engage by putting your entire burst into one enemy target at a time and let the others make unopposed hacking AROs against you – starting by targeting their killer hacker, if any. If you win the face to face roll you put them in the ground, if they win the face to face roll you’re just stunned for an order and can be immediately repaired by an engineer. By focusing your fire you can ensure that each fight is easier than the one that came before. It may take half your turn to kill the enemy hackers in this way but that’s fine, stay calm and disassemble them bit by bit, you’ll have the advantage when the hackers leave the battlefield.
This strategy is insufficient against a category three hacker. Trinity is only damage 14 and if you’re engaging an Interventor with it he’ll laugh as you throw your entire turn away failing to hurt him, it’s like shooting a Jotum with a rifle. Luckily, these are rare sights and not all factions have access to them. But if you’re up against one, your objective changes to denying the enemy repeater network.
Repeater network destruction is hard, thankless, awful work especially if you’ve seen a lady with a pitcher lay down six of them in a turn. It takes time to shoot all of them down, and it takes time if they’ve landed in tricky spots where it’s hard to draw line of sight to them. In order to guarantee destruction of the enemy repeater network it is best to have a disposable, fast moving light infantry piece who can walk into that mess and pick it apart. A warband is ideal for this role, but otherwise if you’re packing a heavy infantry list you need a small handful of light infantry assets who can clear enough space for your heavy infantry to move into midfield. Military Orders comes equipped with the extremely cheap Trinitarians whose job it is to shoot apart any repeaters that the core link itself can’t get to. Additionally, many heavy infantry links have the option of inserting a light infantry character in as a wildcard – take advantage of this option. These characters can spearhead through the repeater network while the rest of the link hangs back on the edge of the bubble.
In the end this will cost orders. That’s unavoidable. Stay calm, stay patient, be methodical in your advance, things will shift once you engage.
You can also forego the heavy part of the heavy infantry link altogether. There are some quality light/medium infantry links out in the game that are immune to hacking, such as Aleph’s Yadu troops, or Ariadna’s Veteran Kazaks, or who are natively resistant to it in some way, such as Morat’s across-the-board immunity to Isolation. If you want to take the price cut of getting real, hackable heavy infantry then you need to invest those savings in support for your link.
To safeguard a TAG against possession, an excellent trick is to start with a friendly model in base-to-base contact with it. This means that if the TAG is hacked then it immediately becomes Engaged in close combat, and has to therefore spend orders potentially having an ineffective slapfight instead of hosing down your backfield with a heavy flamethrower. Be careful with this though – I’ve lost games because my TAG couldn’t fall back behind cover due to being body-blocked by her minder.
Finally, consider assassination. Landing a drop trooper, impersonator, or infiltrator who can trade her life with that of an enemy lynchpin hacker can render the entire enemy repeater network worthless and set you up for a dominating advance. This is often easier said than done, but you’re likely to have enough firepower superiority out of your deployment zone to hopefully clear a landing spot. If your opponent likes using pitcher spam then having a hidden deployment sniper can be a devastating counter – they will be utterly unable to engage you at that range, meaning you’ve got as close to a free shot as possible against a fragile computer geek.
Hacked troops aren’t dead. This is really important.
Firstly, they can Reset as an ARO. They can do this in a lot of situations, such as whenever they spot a model move across the table in the distance, or when something moves in their zone of control. One successful reset clears all states and returns the model to full capacity. Most commonly, you’ll have some WIP 13 model who has been Isolated – 20% of the time she’ll make that WIP4 roll and come back online at full capacity. As such, when up against hackers position your models to maximize line of sight rather than to maximize safety from gunfights. If you force your opponent to spend time killing something they’ve already hacked to death because of the threat that it comes back online at the worst moment then you’ve forced them to spend the time to destroy that model twice.
Secondly, hacked units still count as points in zones. An immobilized, isolated, targeted ORC troop is essentially a brick – but that brick is still worth 30 points and is armour 7 in cover. Lists that are good at hacking often have to cheap out on big guns as a tradeoff, and the fact that it just takes a lot of orders to kill that ORC for real to stop her scoring points can be your own roadblock. In any sort of area control mission try to at least get your HI out of the deployment zone so that your opponent can’t just disregard them for the rest of the game.
Thirdly, they can be repaired by engineers. Ideally your engineer isn’t also heavy infantry so doesn’t get taken out by the same hacking assault as the rest of your team. Engineering repairs are extremely order inefficient so this should in no way be your primary plan, and often lands you right back in the same repeater network that took you out the first time around, so consider have your engineer be shooting repeaters with his sidearm before he fixes the asset.
Finally, don’t panic. It can feel miserable losing your elite luxury superheavy hypertech to some guy pressing buttons in his apartment from the other side of the board, but this is the nature of cyberpunk conflict. You have more guns than they do, just disentangle, cautiously advance, and accept losses in the same way that you’d accept losing people to bad gunfights.
And finally, always be thankful that you’re not playing against Tohaa biohacking.
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