First Impressions: WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus 3D Printer

Late last week I picked up a WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus 3D printer. The cost is low enough that I could justify it as a backup and secondary printer, as well as just to have first hand experience with this popular model. These are some thoughts after a few days’ use and a number of prints, with a mind specifically toward miniatures terrain and similar hobby work. The upshot is that I think this is a great printer for the price, well suited for terrain production, and very accessible to newcomers to 3D printing provided they’re willing to look for and utilize other documentation.

I also have a walkthrough here for newcomers of some basic 3D printing concepts in the context of miniatures wargaming. A detailed tutorial on 3D modeling and printing using a miniatures wargaming example is here.

Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus all set up and ready to go.

Cost & Availability

It’s stereotyping a bit to say, but in many respects the WanHao i3+ is typical of low cost but solid quality Chinese electronics. WanHao itself doesn’t produce retail products, at least for the US market, so there’s a confusing medley of rebranders under which the printer is actually sold. Monoprice is probably the most common; they sell their version as the Maker Select Plus on Amazon and elsewhere for $400. I bought a PowerSpec branded model from Micro Center for $350; it’s apparently sometimes offered on sale there for $250, a steal. I refuse to let it not be amazing that I can pop out to the store for under an hour, spend just a modest amount of cash, and come back with a robot that can make “anything.”

It’s worth taking some note of that availability. A big part of why I got this specific printer was because I could pick one up right away that evening when my main printer went down for non-trivial maintenance. Contrast that with Prusa Research, whose manufacturing is continually overwhelmed by their popularity and notoriously have backlogs of weeks or more. I produce a lot of prints for events and other deadlines, so it’s useful to know what I can likely grab with essentially no delay if/when necessary.

Tools

The PowerSpec edition, and I assume most rebrandings of the WanHao i3+, come with everything needed to get started. Included are the few tools necessary to assemble the printer and some extras for later maintenance; enough PLA filament for a a couple small prints; a spackle knife for removing pieces from the print plate; and an SD card with a few ready-to-print test designs preloaded. Including an SD card is a nice small touch, removing the need to hunt down or buy one to get started.

The spackle knife is a somewhat negative note among the included accessories. It’s useful, and more so than some other removal tools. But it has sharp corners that can easily gouge the print surface. I quickly switched back to the print removal tools I’ve been happily using for some time (especially the small tool).

A sidenote on the topic of tools to get started, I also use a simple pair of curved tweezers all the time. They’re handy for plucking at loose bits and threads of filament, or holding a cloth or paper towel to clean off a heated hotend.

Left to right: Spackle knife packaged with the i3+; knife that comes with Lulzbot printers; the Foreasy print removal tool I actually use; and curved tweezers for plucking filament threads.

Setup

Shipped in just a few major sub-assemblies, physically putting together the WanHao i3+ is intuitive and takes only a few minutes. Again typical of rebranded electronics though, PowerSpec’s documentation doesn’t quite track with the final product or packaging. The first indicator is that a description of the locations for the handful of bolts to be put in isn’t quite right. More problematic, the booklet doesn’t mention a cable you have to plug in (don’t miss cable E!). But it all makes simple sense: Bolt the gantry onto the platform; attach the filament holder on top; and plug in cables A through E. The cables & plugs in particular are very neatly and clearly labeled. The whole process is quick, the necessary hex wrench is included, and many good videos and writeups are available online to correct for the somewhat unclear documentation.

Plugging in well-labeled components.

Usage

Using the WanHao i3+ is also more or less straightforward, with the caveat again that the documentation is not great. Unfortunately this includes the touchscreen prompts. Sometimes these are just funny quirks and bugs, like the bed leveling procedure listing “x/4” steps when there are really 5.

Sometimes they’re less funny. Most notable are the instructions in both the documentation and the onscreen prompts for bed leveling to adjust the print plate to be “a millimeter away” from the hotend. That’s excessive, and even contradicted by more detailed notes in the booklet. Getting this distance right is where 3D printing starts to blend art and science, and there are tradeoffs: Too far and the first layer won’t adhere well and the print may fail; too close and the print’s first layer may blob up too much, or the hotend even potentially gouge the print plate. I’m still learning the best distance for the BuildTak print plate surfacing supplied with PowerSpec’s version of WanHao’s i3+ as I’ve found it to grip extremely well. That’s good in that prints adhere very well, achieving which is more commonly the challenge in 3D printing, but can make prints difficult to remove. I’m adapting by permitting a bit more gap in the bed leveling adjustments to compensate. A distance more like 1/3 of a millimeter seems appropriate, such that you can just barely push in a standard business card. For those just coming to 3D printing that might not seem like much of a difference from “a millimeter,” but it’s actually huge—under common settings each print layer is only 0.1–0.2 millimeters, and that first layer is the most critical in the whole print.

Misleading prompt for the bed leveling procedure.

Adjusting the bed leveling with a business card.

With the print plate pushing down just slightly to accommodate this business card under the hotend, for about 1/3 of a millimeter gap, prints seem to adhere very well and remove reasonably.

In general the touchscreen interface is workable but not great. I wish more or all screens had the hotend and print plate temperatures on them, e.g., to avoid having to go into subscreens to monitor cool down once a print completes. Some of the screen flow is not obvious or ideal, and there are some minor oddities or shortcomings like the limited number of visible characters in the file listing. But the control screen works and is ultimately straightforward once you learn the quirks. With the printer assembled and leveled, getting going just involves slapping in an SD card, hitting “Print,” and selecting a file. I’ll almost certainly set up an OctoPrint server on a Raspberry Pi to drive the printer, to have a better interface and remotely monitor progress, but it is nice to have a built-in SD card reader so the printer is ready to go on its own out of the box.

Fortunately, these issues with the documentation and limitations of the controls are mitigated by readily available resources. Since so many people have this printer, there are many guides online from which to learn the basic routines, and multiple active forums on which to ask questions. For those new to 3D printing, I strongly encourage watching a few videos or reading a few writeups about assembling and adjusting the printer before diving in. The aforementioned OctoPrint and similar open source projects can also supplant and improve the control interface if desired.

For slicing 3D models into G-code to drive the printer, I have been using the open source Cura and as expected had no problems. Several commercial and open source options exist. All of the settings needed to configure slicers for the WanHao i3+ are listed in the documentation, and many notes on the topic may be found online.

Although probably not the quietest available, I find WanHao’s i3+ to be very quiet. Certainly not a problem to run in a den or home office and not be noticeable elsewhere.

Print Quality

Straight out of the box, with no adjustment or tuning beyond basic bed leveling, I think WanHao’s i3+ produces very good prints given its price. Certainly they meet my expectations for tabletop ready miniatures terrain with which I’m happy to play games.

Some first prints on the WanHao i3+, from my Kolony designs.

Closeup on a building.

Fine details on small scatter terrain pieces.

With some tuning of settings I’m sure the quality can get even better, and no doubt some will be required for more challenging designs featuring tough retractions and bridging. Physical modifications of varying expense and difficulty to improve the printer can also be made and are extensively discussed online. An easy one for which I’ve already ordered parts is adding a brace to the gantry to further reduce unwanted motions. Thicker print plate chassis are also available and seem simple to install, reducing bed warping and making leveling easier and less frequently required. However, I think this printer is more than suitable for miniatures terrain out of the box.

Filament

WanHao’s i3+ uses 1.75mm filament, probably the most common size these days. Unlike some other popular entry level printers it isn’t restricted to proprietary spools, a huge boon for better availability and lower costs. Just as with the printer itself, it’s nice to know that in a pinch I can run to any of several nearby stores and grab more filament. A kilogram of PLA, almost certainly the most commonly used filament type for miniatures terrain, runs about $15 to $23 for typical quality without any shopping around for a better price and is enough to print quite a pile of models.

Cost and Longevity

From a filament price we can do some rough calculations on the cost efficiency and longevity of the printer. Obviously the value of a 3D printer can be hard to quantify. If you do custom design work it could be invaluable in expanding your capabilities. Just being able to acquire and build niche models is similarly hard to put numbers on. But we can do some basic calculations as a value floor. In particular, presumably one of the tradeoffs of a low cost printer is some reduction in expected lifetime. As a baseline, how long does this low cost printer have to last to make sense under the minimal use case of just printing existing designs? In considering miniatures terrain of the styles in which I am most interested (i.e., buildings, not interior tiles), we can put some numbers to that through comparison to buying MDF terrain.

Kolony 4×5 Habitats

A Kolony 4×5 Habitat, rendered above, is arguably a bit more detailed but fairly directly comparable to a simple MDF building commonly used for Infinity and other ~28mm games. It consumes ~120–150 grams of filament depending on whether or not it’s printed with a floor (the roof is also designed to be optional and easily made with foamcore or styrene instead to save print time, and burns about 1/3 of the filament, but is included here to fairly compare to similar MDF buildings). So a standard 1kg spool for $15 will produce 6–10 of these buildings for $1.50 to $2.25 each in direct filament costs. Electricity consumption is negligible for home use (i.e., not mass production).

Compare that to about $8–$9 for a comparably sized simple MDF small building (e.g., from Shark Mounted Lasers or Black Sheep Industries, both of which I play on often and like a lot). With the printer factored in at retail pricing, the 3D printed buildings using $15 spools become cheaper at about 50–60 small buildings [e.g.: 54*$1.5+$350=431 while 54*$8=$432]. Using $23 spools the crossover is higher, but not considerably.

So, as a very raw measure of pure economic sense, will this low cost printer produce at least 50 small buildings before additional costs are incurred, such as its semi-consumables needing replacement (like the print plate surface), or more serious repairs becoming necessary? I don’t myself know yet for sure. But I’m fairly confident it will.

Total costs for collections of small buildings for MDF versus 3D printing.

From that simple evaluation the capabilities scale very differently. 3D printing simply takes a long time and as such isn’t well suited to producing large terrain. It’s much better applied to producing small pieces to augment and detail larger constructions. On the other hand, 3D printing scales well with increasing model complexity. Even simple structures like the Kolony Outpost and Storage Shelters, the prints pictured earlier in this post, would be somewhat more complex and costly MDF models, but still only use about 100–150g/$1.50–$2.50 of filament with typical settings and take similar or less time to print. The Kolony BioDome, pictured below, also only consumes about 108g/$1.62 in filament and similar print time. But an MDF version would be very complex with numerous parts and almost certainly sold at a good bit more than $9.

Kolony BioDome (printed in HIPS on a Lulzbot Mini).

What these very rough calculations indicate is that if you’re producing a non-trivial but modest amount of terrain (a couple tables’ worth, figuring a typical generic layout is equivalent to ~15 small buildings in the analysis here), then there’s some reason to believe that this low cost printer will last long enough to make basic economic sense: Provided it does last that long, it’ll be similar or better in terms of pure dollar outlay relative to prices for reasonably comparable market offerings.

This isn’t to say 3D printing terrain like this makes sense for everybody. Maybe the finish quality isn’t acceptable, you feel it simply takes too long to print, or printers are just too much hassle to work with and maintain—these are all reasonable viewpoints to hold! Further, maybe you simply don’t envision printing enough to make it worthwhile. Alternatively, maybe printing is extremely valuable to you because you love a niche game for which models are really only available through 3D printing, or you have grand plans for crafting many boards full of bespoke, personalized terrain. I’m just arguing that under some plausible assumptions, parameters, and requirements (such as acceptable quality level), the per-piece cost using this printer is reasonable.

Newcomers

For people coming to 3D printing new, the WanHao i3+ seems a very reasonable option for those willing to put just a little effort into researching, thinking about, and using the printer. It’s affordable, prints well, and is ultimately pretty straightforward. My only hesitations for true beginners stem from issues like the touchscreen prompts and documentation. You have to know just enough to realize those are a bit off and then either figure out or track down better information. Light searching will also yield a number of improvements that are easily made but come built into some other, more costly, products, such as better G-code boilerplate to plug into your slicer to make printing more convenient by moving the hotend entirely out of the way when done.

A more subtle example is that the printer’s design essentially has three points of contact along the Y axis: Front, back, and the gantry. If they or the underlying surface (i.e., the table or shelf) are not level, it can rock a bit. So, for example, I assembled mine on one table and then moved it to another as its current home. A very slight difference in these surfaces led to the printer rocking just a bit front-to-back on the latter. So I loosened the gantry bolts, re-settled it in place, tightened the bolts back up, and the problem was solved. Anybody could do this very easily. But you’d have to be paying just a bit of attention to notice the rocking is possible, realize it could be a problem, and be just the tiniest bit mechanically minded to resolve it. This particular issue doesn’t come up with some other common printer configurations, so it’s an example of a small potential issue that could trip up an unwary user.

All of this is to say that, despite Micro Center’s questionable shelving decisions, 3D printing and especially this printer are not as thought-free as a typical 2D inkjet printer or similar appliance. If you’re happy going into it with just a hint of a hobbying and tinkering mindset, then WanHao’s Duplicator i3 Plus is probably a great option. Otherwise it might be worth looking elsewhere.

Summary

Long story short, my early impressions of WanHao’s Duplicator i3 Plus, and specifically the PowerSpec version from Micro Center, are very good. It and its filament are affordable and easy to find. Installation and usage is fairly straightforward. The output is good enough for ~28mm miniatures terrain, my main interest, even before any significant tuning. A tremendous number of people have one of these or a closely related model, so there are many tutorials and notes online. Numerous modifications are also possible and available to improve it even further. As a low cost printer I think this is a good option, and newcomers willing to put just a bit of thought toward the process will get a lot out of it for the money. Good luck!

WanHao Duplicator i3 Plus, hard at work!

NeX-1119: Construction

Recently I finished construction of my next miniatures terrain board: NeX-1119, a secretive high-energy research facility. I’d built much of this last summer, and a few people have actually played games with some of the pieces. But the collection has lain unfinished on my shelves until I could figure out what game I was making it for and how to complete it. Now it’s all built!

NeX-1119, a secretive high-energy research facility.

In the end the board is oriented toward Infinity miniatures, but should work for other games as well. The big difference versus 40k, my other main game (along with X-Wing), is that there isn’t really any area terrain. If I’d focused it on 40k I would have mounted the smaller components on hardwood bases to create intuitive area terrain, much like many of the buildings in my Medea Refinery. It would probably also need fewer pieces. That said, there’s enough large line-of-sight blockers here that I think it’ll also work for 40k. It’ll just play differently than more typical ruins+forests+LOS boards.

At the same time, these pieces will also foster somewhat different Infinity dynamics than more typical MDF terrain. Much like my Derelict Depot, there aren’t many parapets and railings, so there’s limited ability to move on the top of the structures under partial cover. Instead you need to hop across gaps between generators, radar dishes, and so on to stay covered.

Front oblique overview.

I was mindful while working to line everything up and ensure I covered at least 4 square feet, 25% of a standard 4×4 Infinity board. That’s the default density my group has largely aimed for, though recently we’ve shifted to more like 20%. In the end I built a good bit more than that, so this collection might be able to provide for two somewhat less dense tables. Certainly it can provide for multiple 2×3 RECON+ boards.

Rear oblique overview.

Building Modules

Much of the collection are simple constructions of electrical boxes combined with 3D printed parts for detail. Here and there some other parts crept in, like hatches from a Rhino. With the exception of a tower shown below, all of the 3D printed parts used here were designed and printed by me. Some are available on my Thingiverse profile.

These buildings have very different dynamics from typical Infinity MDF buildings in that they have much less roof area to run around on. But I think they work great as sci-fi, space-colony-module looking pieces. Several different sizes and types of electrical boxes are used, and many different kinds of bits, to create a pleasantly varied look.

Half-size module.

Full size module.

Comms center.

A few simple scratchbuilt ladders and walkways add some vertical dimensionality, making it easier to access and move between the roofs. To further vary the overall look and heights, a large block is included on which some configuration of buildings can be placed, making them noticeably taller than the others. This also functions as a LOS blocker that covers substantial area/angles, but only for shorter figures.

Half modules with integral balconies, raised on a large block, and connected by a walkway.

Twinned small modules, connected by a walkway with a ladder at one end.

Walkway construction.

Major Buildings

A few simple pieces scratchbuilt from packaging foam provide larger LOS blockers. These are not especially detailed, but have interesting enough shapes that a quick paintjob should bring them to life and look good in play. Notably, all their sides include built-in cavities or protrusions large enough for figures to tuck behind for partial cover. This reduces the amount of scatter terrain needed for the table as it’s not needed to create positions for models to leapfrog between in advancing along the longer walls.

Major LOS blocker.

Landing pad.

Towers

Rounding out the buildings are several distinct towers. One is made from a laundry detergent can with a foam base and some tape wrapping to break up the shape, and an optional long ladder to reach the top. It provides the tallest location on the board. An interesting feature though is that, provided you put no scatter terrain on top, I don’t think it’s an automatic choice as a sniper location for Infinity. There’s just enough lip at the edge that a prone model won’t see anything, but nor will it get any cover if it stands to shoot. So there’s some built-in balance to its commanding height.

Compute tower.

The other towers provide more straightforward sniper positions with partial cover, but in return are much lower. One is made from 3D printed parts custom designed to fit a canister of Gatorade powder. The other is a fully-printed piece that my friend Adam designed to fit some of my Kolony buildings. He left it behind at the shop one day and I figure he can always print more, so I’ve absorbed it into this collection.

Liquids tower.

Gases tower.

Scatter

The last portion of the collection is a bunch of scatter terrain. There’s of course a small pile of the containers and chests in my Deployable Cargo set. New are some vaguely sci-fi looking pylons made by 3D-printing details and bases to fit a commonly used style of drink mix tablet packaging. Here I’ve used Nuun sports drink, but Airborne vitamins and other companies are also sold in this style canister. These should be interesting in that they provide good partial cover even for larger figures, and if you work the angles carefully you can move around a bit in total cover. But it’ll also be easy for an opposing figure to get an angle through the pylons to take a shot at your troops.

Energy pylons.

Painting

Despite the long gap in the middle, the actual work time for this build was fairly short. My collection of 3D-printable bits work well with these electrical boxes, and some quick scratchbuilding filled out the set. Next up is a (hopefully) quick paintjob to complete the NeX-1119 research station. I’m not sure yet what direction I’ll take that, but probably cleaner and more high-tech looking than many of my previous projects.

Cube Jägers and Battlefield Tasks

For this tournament season Corvus Belli has added a new mercenary unit to all the vanilla Infinity factions: Cube Jägers. I’m super interested in Airborne Deployment troops and the Jäger is the most 40k thing in Infinity right now (it’s essentially an Apothecary, running around harvesting geneseed—I mean, cubes—from dead troopers). So when a discussion about it came up in our local group my comments got long and I’m posting them here. Along the way I hope this post introduces useful general ideas for newer players toward evaluating troops (not that I consider myself especially experienced at Infinity). Comments, questions, and corrections are welcome!

Model

One quick real life sidenote is that I’m not excited about models exclusive to winner’s kits. I really liked the Scarface Turner model last season and being able to buy it would have tipped me over into picking up his TAG, which I was seriously considering for a while. At least in the Jäger’s case there are plenty of very similar proxies to choose from (Scarface had a lot of unique personality) and I like the model but aren’t super captivated by it (I think the green Tohaa “hair” on the demo model is putting me off).

Profile

More important: Gameplay, starting with availability. Unlike Scarface in the previous season, the Jäger wasn’t added to any of the sectorials (as far as I can see spot checking). So whether it’s a useful troop or not depends in the first place on whether or not you’re playing a vanilla faction. Otherwise it’s not even an option. The Jäger also only has an AVA of 1, so beyond that you’re back to your usual choices.

Assuming it’s available, next up is the troop’s profile and options.

First thing to note is that, fairly unsurprisingly for a mercenary, the Jäger is Irregular. That’s a big tradeoff, but less punitive than on a typical trooper because it only matters for at most 2 turns under Airborne Deployment. If you’re bringing a Jäger you’re also probably doing so to achieve a specific active task, so presumably it has something to do each turn and being Irregular isn’t a big limitation. That’s different from, say, a Crusader or Akalis airborne troop that I might bring mostly to drop in and cover a forward area with Suppressive Fire while their Regular order is used elsewhere.

Second is that the relative utility of Airborne Infiltration versus the higher levels of AD, most commonly Combat Jump, depends a lot on the size and density of the boards you play on. The local tournaments I play in tend to have very very dense boards. Every other month they are also RECON+ events on 2×3 tables. Pickup play naturally goes similarly. In the overwhelming majority of my games therefore there are limited viable options to drop in versus walking on. So for me, having Airborne Infiltration isn’t hardly different in practice from having Combat Jump. In other scenes that won’t be the case.

Third, the Monofilament Close Combat Weapon I see as at best a small bonus for hunting TAGs and Heavy Infantry rather than a primary feature of the Jäger. On this troop it doesn’t seem that scary. The Jäger has no Smoke to shield an advance toward close combat and that could be tough for squadmates to provide given it’s likely arriving forward on the battlefield—if it’s easy to get the smoke up there, you probably have better forward CC options anyway. Further, most of the units for which I find Monofilament terrifying (TAGs, Father Knights, etc.) have the edge against the Jäger in CC even if it manages to Stealth in without getting shot. We do have to allow somewhat that CC without genuinely superior skills is very unpredictable due to the low number (B) of D20 rolls. The Jäger could win these matchups; but you can’t count on it. So the limited value I see for the Jäger’s Monofilament CCW is to quickly kill TAGs and HIs that have been Immobilized with the E/Mitter, the latter being the real threat because at that point they’re mission killed anyway. The Jäger would be more efficient without the Monofilament CCW and presumably thus lower points or SWC.

Battlefield Tasks

Beyond that, given its abilities, equipment, and cost, the Jäger isn’t a general purpose troop to bring without a specific role, in which terms it should then be evaluated. I see five primary battlefield tasks for the Jäger:

  • Doctoring: A paramedic coming in up the battlefield could resuscitate your prime mover without having to spend orders following behind them or getting there.
  • Suppression: Walking on with an SMG to cover a forward area with Suppressive Fire and deny the enemy easy movement in that space could be useful.
  • Trooper Hunting: Appearing on the side edges with a Boarding Shotgun can be a fun way to hit advancing troops from their rear and either stop or divert their forward thrust, or to go after backfield cheerleaders.
  • TAG/HI Hunting: Coming in behind advancing Heavy Infantry or especially TAGs, because they’re more likely to be visible, and tagging them with an E/Mitter can really neuter your opponent’s main weapons.
  • Button Pushing: A Specialist with Airborne Infiltration can be real handy to tap objectives, especially on RECON+ boards or missions with many objectives where they will be easier to reach from the sides.

That might seem like a lot, but there are many other roles in the game. Most obviously, between its abilities, weapons, and BS, the Jäger is not, for example, well suited to provide any kind of relatively static mid-to-long range fire support. The Jäger’s ability to arrive late & either forward or somewhat flexibly where you need it also puts it in a different class of these roles: It’s not just Suppression, it’s Airborne Suppression.

First up is simply thinking about how viable these roles might be for the Jäger in general, setting aside for now whether it’s the best option.

Doctoring

Airborne Doctoring sounds real neat but I think is easily dispensed with in any general discussion so this post won’t talk about it more. For that to make sense you would need to have a specific plan and very expensive key trooper to support. There are very low odds it’ll pan out—that critical trooper needs to not be outright killed, in a position readily reached from the sides, and pass a PH-3 roll. Airborne Engineering would be much more useful, because a TAG is generally much more valuable and it’s much less likely to be outright removed from the game. I would, for example, be very interested in such an Engineer to support my Seraph, because a regular Engineer can’t keep up with it 6-4 Super-Jumping up the board and even a Palbot would require spending orders to follow along with the TAG or run up to it once downed.

Suppression

Certainly seems that tucking into cover with an SMG in Suppressive Fire with a lot of flexibility to do so around the board as necessary is a useful ability.

Trooper Hunting

Being able to exploit weak points and uncovered angles to rob the enemy of Orders and weapons is also definitely a useful thing to do.

A quick follow-on then is that if we’re specifically tailoring the Jäger to hunt troopers via Airborne Infiltration to get into close range and confident we can do so, then the Boarding Shotgun is indeed the weapon to take. For example, face-to-face against an Alguacile in cover at ≤ 8″, the Jäger SMG has a 40% chance of killing its opponent, with a 22% chance of the Jäger itself being killed. With the Boarding Shotgun though the odds improve to a 49% chance of killing the Alguacile and a 20% chance of the Jäger itself being killed. Roughly similar matchups in this tactic, such as the Alguacile being out of cover or in Suppressive Fire or fighting a Medium Infantry target instead, continue to favor the Boarding Shotgun. However, if we won’t be able to get into 8″, the SMG becomes dominant via its extra die, though generally by a somewhat slim margin.

TAG/HI Hunting

It’s also worth thinking generally about the TAG/HI Hunting role to make sure it’s viable at all, because that’s not obvious. This is really about the Jäger’s SMG+E/Mitter profile:

  • SMG can do 3 shots at DAM 13 with AP, cutting ARM in half.
  • E/Mitter can do 1 shot at DAM 13 with E/M2, which forces two rolls on half BTS, failing either of which causes the target to become Isolated and TAGs/HIs/REMs to become Immobilized-2 as well.

Some newcomers miss this due to the name, but Immobilized prevents attacks as well as movement. That’s likely a mission kill, most times it’s not going to do anything else that game. So the E/Mitter can possibly one-shot a TAG, but how likely is that?

Let’s assume the TAG has ARM 7 and BTS 6, which most of them do. If you manage to use the Jäger’s Airborne Infiltration and Stealth to get around behind a TAG, you could:

Those are of course best case scenarios, and the likelihood of getting into that position highly subjective. If the cliche that TAGs never leave their deployment zone bears out, it’s going to be difficult. Playing any of the several ITS missions that heavily encourage TAGs to move forward, you should have a better chance. For me, frequently fielding a Seraph whose whole deal is to advance hard forward, I’m pretty scared of this attack.

The odds are also not impossible even in worse situations. Most TAGs have BS 14 and an HMG. Say your only chance is to go at one head-on. Within 16″ and the TAG not in Suppressive Fire, there’s a 34% chance the Jäger takes it down with the E/Mitter, 34% chance the Jäger goes down, and 32% of nothing happening. Of course it goes downhill from there, but that’s a better matchup than I would have guessed.

All told, whether or not it’s the best approach or if it’ll even work are huge questions. But it’s at least not ridiculous on its face to send the 18pt Jäger TAG/HI Hunting.

Pretty scared right now, actually.

Button Pushing

Finally, it seems completely reasonable to assume that a ~20pt AD Specialist might be pretty useful and efficient to send after objectives.

Given that the Jäger might be applicable to at least the latter four of these battlefield tasks, we can start comparing to other unit options available, evaluating from the perspectives of each because effectiveness and relative cost varies per role.

Tomcats

One of the most immediate comparisons for the Jäger is to Nomads Tomcats, which are also Airborne Infiltration with Specialist options and similar cost.

I don’t play Nomads, but I don’t think you’d take the Jäger over a Tomcat unless you really really didn’t have the points. Across the profiles, a few extra army points and equal or less SWC buys you:

  • Regular instead of Irregular—it’ll only matter on 2 turns, but this is still significant
  • Climbing Plus—super useful for arriving in total cover & getting where you need to
  • Combi-Rifle for long range & Suppressive Fire
  • Light Flamethrower for short range & Intuitive Attacks
  • Extra point of BS
  • Extra point of PH
  • Doctor over Paramedic—WIP 13 vs. target PH-3, opportunity to reroll on Cubes
  • Alternately, Engineer+D-Charges—an auto-win for the Sabotage Classified
  • A Cube

In contrast the Jäger has:

  • Monofilament CC Weapon
  • +3 BTS
  • +1 CC
  • Shock Immunity
  • Stealth

I think the Tomcat’s abilities are well worth that short list plus a few points. A Combi-Rifle alone is valued at a point over a Boarding Shotgun (see, e.g., Crusader Brethren and Akalis Commandos options for fairly direct AD troop comparisons), covering the difference between that Jäger profile and a Specialist Tomcat. Regular and Climbing Plus are probably each worth a couple points, and +1 BS another.

Evaluating in terms of the Jäger’s primary battlefield tasks we then get:

  • Suppression: Generating a Regular order combined with +1 BS, other abilities, and greater utility of the Combi-Rifle for +1pt tips this role toward the Tomcat.
  • Trooper Hunting: At close range the Tomcat with a Combi-Rifle would do 3 shots on 15s while the Boarding Shotgun Jäger does 2 shots on 17s. Against a BS11 Alguacile with a Combi-Rifle in cover, the Jäger Boarding Shotgun would hit & win 49% of the time while the Tomcat Combi-Rifle would only win 43% of the time. However, if the Alguacile is not in cover, the Tomcat would hit & win 62% of the time while the Jäger would hit & win 60% of the time. Further, at ≤ 16″, even with the Alguacile in cover, the Tomcat Combi-Rifle leaps out ahead: 43% win versus just 27% win for the Jäger, and that pattern continues for not in cover and other situations. The Tomcat Combi-Rifle would also of course dominate the Jäger SMG due to the range bands and higher BS, except against less common targets where the AP or Shock ammo on the latter really matter. So, this role could be swung by a small set of specific expected situations, but considering the Combi-Rifle’s wider applicability and that it alone usually costs 1pt more, combined with the Tomcat’s other advantages, for +1pt I’d say this role goes to the Tomcat.
  • TAG/HI Hunting: Tomcat also has an E/Mitter option at just 2pts more, as well as a D.E.P. option at just +1pt (AP+Explosive though Disposable 1), so with its better stats and other abilities this role as well seems to tip toward the Tomcat.
  • Button Pushing: Climbing Plus is very very helpful toward getting to objectives after walking on hidden, so I think that plus better stats for just +4pts tip this role as well toward the Tomcat.

So unless I’m mistaken or misjudging, there’s no reason for Nomads players to take a Jäger unless they’re desperate for a couple points. The very similar Tomcat is better at each of the Jäger’s battlefield tasks and costs only slightly more.

Parachutists

Haqqislam and Ariadna also have very similar units among their Parachutists, and I wouldn’t consider them dominant (better in all roles) as I would the Nomads’ Tomcat.

Haqqislam

For Haqqislam, Bashi Bazouks are very similar to the Jäger but cheaper.

Notably, Bashi Bazouks are also Irregular. The two have similar stat lines, with the Jäger at +1 WIP and +3 BTS in trade for the Bashi Bazouk’s +1 CC and +1 ARM. However, the latter’s Holoprojector L2 is a very useful piece of equipment, even in using their AD ability (which would normally make L1 much less useful), as the Holoechoes provide substantial protection for the unit. The Bashi Bazouks are also a little to much cheaper across the board. Evaluating by the four battlefield tasks though:

  • Suppression: Bashi Bazouk is better as it’s cheaper (in some cases much cheaper), has Holoechoes and better ARM, and selecting a deployment location in advance doesn’t hinder this role as much.
  • Trooper Hunting: Many will debate this hotly in favor of the Haqq troop, but I think there’s some competition between these units for this role. The Boarding Shotgun Bashi Bazouk is a big 6pts and 0.5 SWC cheaper, and has Holoechoes. But for this role it’s just so useful to not have to commit to a deployment segment in advance that I would consider, but not necessarily choose, the Jäger.
  • TAG/HI Hunting: Somewhat surprisingly, this is a close call, I think leaning toward the Jäger. The two unit’s SMGs of course have the same effectiveness, so with the Bashi Bazouk’s considerably lower cost that’s a question of how effective that weapon might be in this role. Comparing the Jäger E/Mitter to the Bashi Bazouk’s AP Rifle though, at their shared best situation, from the back at ≤ 16″ so good range and no ARO, the E/Mitter has a 54% chance to disable a typical TAG, while the AP Rifle has a 72% chance of doing at least one wound, 27% of doing 2+, and 4% chance of 3+ wounds. To a large extent these are doing different things, going for a lower probability (but likely) quick kill versus a more reliable whittling down. So comparisons from there get complex: Airborne Infiltration versus cheaper Parachutist with Holoechoes? How long will you actually live to whittle down a TAG? The Jäger of course also has both SMG and E/Mitter. At minimum I would say there are reasons to at least consider the Jäger for this role. I personally am probably slightly more inclined to try for the one-shot kills.
  • Button Pushing: This task of course goes to the Jäger as the Bashi Bazouks have no Specialist options.

It doesn’t seem to be the case that Bashi Bazouks are a strictly better choice than the Jäger across all roles. Indeed, at the very least there are reasons to consider the Jäger for Trooper Hunting, and very much so for TAG/HI Hunting. The Jäger in turn also isn’t obviously better or as efficient, but it’s at least competitive enough to be a plausible alternative selection. And of course there’s relative utility in the Jäger as a flexibly forward deploying Specialist, which Bashi Bazouks simply can’t do.

Ariadna

Ariadna also has very similar troops in its Para-Commandos and Airborne Rangers.

The relative utility of these to the Jäger are close calls, in large part because of their inferior AD level requiring you to choose their arrival segment during deployment. A big counterpoint to that though is the Jäger being Irregular while these are Regular. Which is better among these units I think varies by battlefield task:

  • Suppression: This is tight, but I would give it to the Para-Commando at 20pts and no SWC. In this role you can often plan in advance where to AD the unit, so parachuting isn’t a huge disadvantage. The other two units have a better gun for Suppressive Fire, which equalizes the range bands between the Rifle and SMG but keeps the latter’s AP or Shock modes. However, the Para-Commando’s Mimetism will help it win firefights. It will also provide a Regular order while it sits there.
  • Trooper Hunting: This goes to the Jäger. The extra point of BS on the other two is maybe worth the couple extra points, and the Para-Commando’s Mimetism is a big plus. But being able to choose where to walk on based on the current game situation is such a huge advantage in assassinating something. Being Irregular also isn’t a huge disadvantage for this role because it’s frequently sacrificial.
  • TAG/HI Hunting: The Jäger is a cheaper SMG than the Ranger, but otherwise these units go at this role in totally different ways. At minimum there’s space to consider the cheap E/Mitter approach of the Jäger versus the Ranger’s Molotok or Para-Commando’s HMG, especially given its higher AD level.
  • Button Pushing: This is a toss-up which I would maybe give to the Para-Commando. Flexibility to arrive on the battlefield wherever is best is important, but if you’re running at an objective you can also do a lot of advance planning. So the Para-Commando’s Mimetism and higher WIP probably edge out its inferior AD.

Spetsnazs also have Parachutist profiles, but at considerably more cost (starting at 31pts) and no Specialists. Ariadna also has a variety of units with Infiltration at similar cost that provide strong competition for the Jäger in these roles. I would guess though that at minimum it might still have a place in the two Hunting roles, because it’s just so useful in those to be able to deploy precisely where needed to best hit a juicy target.

Akal Commandos

For PanOceania, my primary faction (albeit in MO and SA sectorials), the Jäger is also interesting. The most similar unit is the Akalis Sikh Commando, of which I am a big fan.

The Akal Command starts just a few points more than a Jäger and has +2 BS, +1 ARM, +1 PH, and +1 CC, with the downsides of being slower (2″ secondary move) and -3 BTS. The value of Religious is somewhat subjective as it depends on what you usually want to do with the troop. I think it’s mostly a strong benefit that occasionally gets your unyielding dudes killed. Combat Jump versus Airborne Infiltration is strictly better but, again, may not actually be more useful depending on play area size and terrain density.

With its range of options, the Akal Commando can tackle all the same battlefield tasks:

  • Suppression: Combi-Rifle at +2 BS, +1 ARM, Religious, and Combat Jump for +3pt tips toward the Akal Commando for being more likely to win shootouts and hold its ground. E.g., in Suppressive Fire against an Alguacile at close range, the Akal kills 45% of the time and dies 28% of the time, while the Jäger kills just 35% of the time and also dies 35% of the time.
  • Trooper Hunting: Boarding Shotgun at the same cost and less SWC with better ARM and Combat Jump means the Akal is strictly better than the Jäger for this role.
  • TAG/HI Hunting: With an E/Mitter at +6pts, and a Hacker or Spitfire at +10pts, there’s space here to consider the Jäger. Comparing the E/Mitter options straight-up, it’s close: Again in the best situation, the Akal has a 61% chance to one-shot a typical TAG, while the Jäger has a 54% chance. For +6pts I’m not sure that’s worth it, especially with the Jäger having Climbing Plus and the Akal only +1 ARM and -3 BTS. Either way, it’s enough of a points difference that the Jäger might fit in a good number of lists that the E/Mitter Akal doesn’t, especially in RECON+ games.
  • Button Pushing: At +10pts for a Specialist, there’s almost certainly space here to consider the Jäger, particularly if you generally won’t see the benefits of Combat Jump versus Airborne Infiltration.

Crusader Brethren, the other PanO AD trooper (setting aside Kirpal Singh, a 35pt Akal character), cost more than the Akal but has +1 ARM and +3BTS.

So, off the cuff it’s a tough call between the Crusader and the Akal Commando for the Suppression and Trooper Hunting roles, but the Jäger doesn’t win either way. For TAG/HI Hunting the Crusader has HMG and Spitfire options, so it’s debatable between that and the Akal Spitfire. But all of those are a different and more expensive approach from the E/Mitter, leaving the Jäger viable versus the Akal’s E/Mitter as discussed above. There’s no Specialist option at all for the Crusader, so it also leaves space there to consider the Jäger since the Akal isn’t an auto-select for that role.

Among the other PanOceania units, I don’t think there are options that dominate the Jäger for the latter two roles at its cost and in the fashion it approaches them. The Specialists with Infiltration all cost quite a bit more (starting at 27pts for a TO Camo Spec Sergeant Forward Observer), which might be worth it for their various abilities and equipment but leaves a place for the Jäger in low-cost flexible Button Pushing.

Button Pushing

I’m not as familiar with the other factions and there aren’t as direct comparisons as the Tomcats and Parachutists—unless I’ve missed some there aren’t other low-to-moderate cost Airborne Infiltration or Parachutist units in the vanilla factions, excluding a few somewhat pricier characters here and there.

But I would guess the other factions largely shake out like PanO:

  • There are better options for Suppression and Trooper Hunting;
  • Some place for the Jäger in TAG/HI Hunting if you think the low-cost Airborne Infiltration E/Mitter approach is viable;
  • But almost certainly space to at least consider the Jäger for Button Pushing.

To the latter, surveying the vanilla factions for Specialists with Combat Jump to use as very flexible objective grabbers, we get:

  • Tohaa Gao-Tarsos Paramedic is +12/+9 pts; effectively an extra wound, +3 CC, +1 BS, +2 PH, +2 ARM, Combi-Rifle, D-Charges; but -2″ second move and -3 BTS
  • Aleph Ekdromoi Hacker is +8/+6 pts; has Martial Arts and Super-Jump, +8 CC, +1 BS, +3 PH, +1 WIP, +1 ARM; but only -3 BTS and whatever your take is on the merits of Chain Rifle and Nanopulser versus the Jäger’s SMG or Boarding Shotgun
  • Combined Army Fraacta w/ Hacking Device is +17/+14 pts; effectively an extra wound, +3 CC, +1 BS, +2 PH, Combi-Rifle and Nanopulser; but -1 WIP
  • Nomads Meteor Zond Forward Observer is +3/0 pts; has Sensor, Sat-Lock, Repeater, +1 PH, Combi-Rifle, +2 primary movement; but is -6 CC, -1 ARM, and an S3 Remote so harder to move & hide and an inferior Dodge
  • Nomads Hellcats Paramedic is +6/+3 pts; has Superior Combat Jump and Courage, +1 BS, +2 PH, +1 ARM, Combi-Rifle; but -2″ secondary movement
  • Haqqislam Hassassin Ragiks Hacker is +14/+11 pts; has Dogged and Religious, +1 BS, +2 PH, +2 WIP, +1 ARM, Rifle and Light Shotgun; but -3 BTS
  • Yu Jing Tiger Soldier Paramedic is +11/+8 pts; has Mimetism, +1 CC, +2 BS, +2 PH, +1 WIP, +1 ARM, Combi-Rifle and Light Flamethrower; but -2″ secondary movement and -3 BTS
  • PanOceania Akal Commando Hacker is +10/+7 pts; has Religious, +1 CC, +2 BS, +1 PH, +1 ARM, Combi-Rifle and E/Mitter; but -2″ second move and -3 BTS

Here again I think the Nomads have better options in their faction already unless you really can’t squeeze out the points (and the Tomcat dominates anyway).

Among all the others though the point savings are significant enough that it’s worth considering the Jäger. For example, in RECON+ games I see the boundary of what I can usually scrounge up without changing the basic character of a list as being about 4pts, which all these options are well over. The counterpoint to that is if you significantly value Combat Jump over Airborne Infiltration; think the Irregular Order is a real limitation; or will make use of the faction unit’s other abilities, such as hacking.

Conclusion

I started looking into the Jäger because I enjoy using Airborne Deployment troops extensively and wanted to see if it’s worth considering. Many people on various forums have of course immediately decried the Jäger as trash completely useless to everyone. I disagree with those takes. If you break down the analysis by battlefield roles, there’s most likely a place for the Jäger in every faction except Nomads. Even against Haqqislam Bashi Bazouks, for example, cited by some as totally superior, the Jäger seems at least competitive in several roles, and can fill one they cannot.

More generally, I hope newer Infinity players take away the idea that there’s often limited use in just comparing units generically. You have to evaluate units and their profile options in context of how you’re planning to use them. Of course the ability for a unit to adapt and cover multiple roles as the situation changes is very important. But in choosing a list you should be thinking of your strategy and evaluating efficiency and effectiveness of units and options in light of the specific tasks that plan entails. Most of us do that intuitively, but it’s worth explicitly framing the process.