Note: This strategy guide was written for Mechaton, rather than Mobile Frame Zero. While many of the concepts still apply, much has been made outdated by the revised rules set.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to winning the game. Such a thing isn’t really possible, I think. I’m just gonna post my thoughts on what works, and what doesn’t. Some of it might be a bit controversial (or as controversial as you can get when discussing a game about lego robots). Please also enjoy the collection of mechs I’ve posted here. They’re mostly too large for the scale we usually play, but they’re fun and unusual designs that I think liven up the page and display some interesting techniques.
1: Choosing your army.
My belief is that your first priority in choosing your army should be maximizing your starting points. This is doubly true in campaign play. Army choosing is a classic “rock, paper, scissors” scenario: Your best choice is dependent on what your opponent chooses. There’s no real way to game this process. Try looking at your opponent’s mechs, and which ones they’re particularly proud of. Those ones are more likely to show up on the battlefield.
Ideally, I think, you want one fewer than your opponent. That way you get the benefit of a big jump in points per, with only a small drop in the effectiveness of your force. There are other situations that lead to a similar points advantage (many more mechs than your opponent) but these are harder to engineer. The worst situation you can be in is to have one mech more than your opponent.
It’s tempting to take the maximum number of mechs on the assumption that, at worst you’ll be fighting an evenly matched force, and at best you’ll be facing a vastly weaker force. That’s not bad reasoning, but I’d recommend not getting a reputation for it. You’ll end up with your opponent taking one fewer mechs, and whupping you on points.
1.2: What attachments do I want?
There are two parts to this question: How many attachments, and of what type?
1.2.1: How many attachments?
Once again, I think the ideal situation is having one fewer attachments than your opponent. The same arguments apply to attachments as to mechs. I think it’s possible to assume that most people will take an average of three attachments per mech, so you can figure your number of attachments based on that. If you think your opponent is taking five mechs, you want fewer than fifteen attachments on your own force. On the whole I think it’s best to evenly distribute attachments throughout your force. Doing otherwise creates obvious targets, which you could use to your advantage, but is more likely to work against you. Heavily damaged mechs are more of a liability than an asset in most situations, since you will want to keep them from harm. Given the points loss from a destroyed mech, I don’t think any mech should ever be considered disposable.
1.2.2: What kind of attachments?
Here I’ll discuss each attachment in turn:
Direct Fire: This is by far the most valuable attachment, and should be present on almost every mech in your force. The only exceptions should be dedicated artillery or close combat mechs, and even those do not suffer from an extra gun. Direct fire is the most useful attachment for focusing fire onto a single target, which (as I will argue later) is the key to destroying mechs. There seems to be little reason not to take double direct fire for any mech you intend to keep in the thick of battle (that should be most of your force).
Close Combat: Close combat serves two roles: Defending stations, and claiming stations. Close combat mechs can force an enemy off a station, and keep them away, making them ideal for claiming defended stations. Large forces can afford to have dedicated station defending mechs with close combat and direct fire, designed to stop close combat station claiming mechs, but I think they’re probably a waste of resources. If you’re taking close combat attachments, I think it makes sense to take only close combat attachments. The free green die is very attractive, and helps you fulfill your role – charging down stations and taking them.
Artillery: Possibly the most overestimated attachment. Artillery is more difficult to bring to bear than Direct Fire. Its one advantage lies in being able to pick off mechs left with low armour at the end of the turn. However, I believe it’s more important to be able to focus fire onto a single target. The biggest weakness of artillery is the inability to defend stations. They are actually more useful in a forward role, capturing undefended stations while shelling the battlefield. I would take no more than a single artillery mech in all but the largest forces.
Spotting: The weakest attachment. I base this assessment on the fact that this, along with movement, is always the first to go when a mech takes damage. The problem with spotting is that for best results, it relies on too many factors working in your favor: A low initiative, a good die roll on your spotting die, a target with an armor of 3-4, and an accompanying mech with a higher initiative who can target and hit the spotted enemy. Not that it doesn’t have its uses. A spot that works well is the only way of taking down a well armored enemy. The trouble is making this happen. That spotting attachment could have been spent on an extra direct fire which works every time and also has the potential to bust through tough armor.
Movement: Mobility, especially when attacking, is very useful. I would consider a movement attachment a very good investment for almost any mech, but most of all artillery and close combat. Don’t let the attachment go to waste, though. Any mech with a movement attachment should be actively taking stations. For this reason, they’re more useful if you’re in an attacking role. Smaller forces, for this reason, should take more movement attachments.
Armour: The best (non weapon) attachment. It keeps your mech in the fight, protects those vital guns, and in the end is ablated in lieu of something that actually keeps your mech dealing damage. There is no mech that doesn’t benefit from an armor attachment or two. This is one of the few non-weapon attachments I think is worth doubling up on.
Some Interesting mech designs:
Two Close Combat attachments, one or two armour attachments. This mech has the speed to get to enemy stations, the power to force defenders off them, and the toughness to stay on them until the job is done. For my money, this is the best station-grabbing mech in the game.
One or two Artillery, Movement. This mech stays on the outskirts of the battlefield, shelling vulnerable targets or ganging up with everyone else. Meanwhile, you’re using that movement die to threaten undefended stations, and to keep out of range of enemy units. In the end stages of the game, don’t be afraid to let them under your guns if it means grabbing a station.
Two spotting attachments. A risky design, and possibly not very good. It’s got speed to stay out of too much trouble, and two spot dice makes a good result much more likely. It’s got great initiative too, to make sure you get the best chance to use its spotting. Whether it’s worth a whole mech worth of not shooting, I’m not sure.
2: Playing the game:
2.1: Setting up
Obviously this depends greatly on whether you’re attacking or defending. If everything has gone according to plan, you have just above your opponent’s score in points, and are the defender. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and you should be prepared for both.
2.1.1: Attacking set up strategy.
It’s been said that when you’re attacking, your best bet is to bunch up and fight a concentrated battle for a small number of stations. If your force is not significantly better than your opponent’s, then I agree. Your goal is to fight as few of their mechs as possible, with as many of your mechs as possible. Your disadvantage in achieving this is that wherever you bunch your attack, they can bunch their defence, meaning you’ll be assaulting a reasonably evenly matched force. You might win the resulting firefight, but probably not enough to overcome the original points difference. The ideal situation is to leave your opponent guessing as to where you plan to mass your assault. Put faster mechs on the outside of your force, threatening outlying stations. They can be quickly brought in to join the massed assault. Artillery mechs, which can support an assault from anywhere on the table, are your friend here. The “Stalker” which I mentioned previously, is excellent in this situation. You can threaten an outlying station while supporting the main assault. As for your stations, your main fear is that a breakaway enemy mech will dash over and grab one. You cannot afford to lose a single station. Keep them well back, and behind the biggest group of mechs. Keep them in range of a mech with direct fire.
If, on the other hand, you totally overwhelm your opponent’s force, your strategy is different. Don’t think the game will be easily won, however. Things can still go horribly wrong. What you want here is three evenly matched forces to go after each of their stations. Divide their forces, and only engage where victory is assured. If they mass on one station, ignore it and go after the others. If they bunch their stations together, you can overwhelm them.
2.1.2: Defending setup strategy:
Given reasonably evenly matched forces, defending is the ideal situation. Even if your force is outmatched, it’s much easier to take on opponents piecemeal, and that’s the ticket to victory. Assuming a reasonably evenly matched force, I believe your best option is to defend one or two stations with your entire force, while leaving another well back from the battlefield. Your opponent might chase after the outlying station, but doing so will effectively remove that mech from the main battle, restoring the parity between your forces. You can afford to sacrifice a station, if it means winning the main fight.
If your force is incredibly outmatched, you still shouldn’t consider the game lost. Put two stations close together in cover, and hunker down on them. Put the other one as far away as you can. Put as many mechs as you can in cover around the two stations.
Once again, everything depends on whether you are attacking or defending. However, there are a few axioms that hold true no matter what you are doing:
Focus Fire: In any given turn, you should get as many of your mechs as possible to fire at a single enemy mech. Ideally, this mech will be chosen early in the turn, and will have a low armour. Given average luck and matched forces, the total number of attachments you can remove over the course of a game will be well below the number of attachments fielded by the opposing side. It makes sense to concentrate the attachments you do remove onto a few of your opponent’s mechs, taking them out and knocking off your opponent’s points.
It’s tempting to switch focus onto mechs with low armour, and you shouldn’t neglect them completely (especially if they’re already damaged), just to ensure your opponent uses up their white dice on armour rather than movement or shooting. However, your first goal should always be to first take out enemy guns, and then to take out enemy mechs. Don’t let damaged mechs escape.
Commit: Mechs are slow-moving. You can’t afford to have one blunder off in the wrong direction, and then come lumbering back. If you’re going to move a mech, decide where they’re going early, and keep them going in that direction every turn until they get there. Think about where mechs will need to be two turns from now, and work on getting them there as soon as possible. If you’re going to attack a station, make sure you can get to it before the game ends. Think of movement as an investment in future points gain.
Omit Needless Casualties: A mech alive at the end of the game is worth more than an extra attachment blown off an enemy mech. For the most part, aggressive play is effective, but when it turns into sacrificing heavily-damaged mechs for little gain, it will only lose you points. Pull back mechs who have lost their ability to deal damage effectively. Keeping the points is worth more than anything they could achieve on the battlefield, and you might draw an enemy mech into pursuing them, away from your stations.
Piecemeal: Fight as few of their mechs as possible, with as many of your mechs as possible. As much as you can, you want to keep your mechs shooting every turn, while keeping them out of range of your opponent’s guns. Pick a spot on the battlefield, and get as many of your mechs into that area as possible. You want a spot with few enemy mechs, good cover, and cut off from the rest of the battlefield by distance or intervening terrain. Your opponent will be trying to do the same thing to you, so try not to get drawn into a losing fight. Once you have one mech in range of an enemy, you can only gain by bringing more into range. A mech is much safer in range of an enemy mech but surrounded by friends, than off on its own somewhere.
2.2.1: Attacking Strategy:
As the attacker, your eye should always be on your opponent’s stations. From setup onwards, you should be planning which stations you will go after, and how you’re going to get them. Bearing in mind the “Piecemeal” principle, you want to rush a single station with as many of your mechs as possible. Consider how many mechs you will invest in each station. Also think about how many points you need to win. If you can win by capturing a single station, dedicate all your mechs to capturing their least defended station. If you need several stations, or a few kills in order to win, consider attacking a more well defended station with a large group, while sending a single mech to capture an undefended outlier. Remember the “Commitment” principle also. Once you go after a station, go after it all the way. Look for routes that will take your mech through useful areas on its way to a target station. If a mech can remain in the fight while moving on its way to an enemy station, so much the better.
In the early game, you’ll focus on getting your mechs in close to enemy stations, and positioning your force to engage in the fight in as favorable a position as possible. In the later game, you’ll focus on pushing your opponent off defended stations. Your close combat mechs will be invaluable here. You’ll also possibly have a “second battle” happening off somewhere where you’ve tried to go after another station. In the endgame, you’ll focus on holding on to captured objectives, keeping damaged mechs from being taken out entirely, and on grabbing any final undefended outlying stations. You shouldn’t tick down the doomsday clock unless things have started to go seriously wrong for you. Only tick it down if you’re well ahead on points but starting to lose the fight, or if you’re behind but have a surefire plan for grabbing a station in the next turn.
2.2.2: Defending Strategy:
Defending, especially when you’ve got a big points advantage but a well matched force, is the ideal situation. Your focus should be on holding onto objectives, and taking out enemy mechs. You don’t need to hold all your objectives, and you don’t need to kill all the enemy mechs. Work out what you can afford to lose, and what you’re going to lose, and what you need to achieve to keep the points in your favour. If you’re heavily outmatched, you’ll be lucky to take out any enemy mechs at all. Focus on keeping your mechs safe, and holding on to one or two stations. Keep your mechs together, and keep them in cover. If the forces are more even, you can afford to be a little braver. You can have a “defend team” and an “attack team”. Your defend team stays on your forwardmost stations, and keeps your opponent busy. Meanwhile, your “attack team” aggressively targets vulnerable enemy mechs, and even threatens stations. You can’t afford to send a mech haring off after distant stations, so keep them in direct fire range of the main fight for as long as you can, planning on a final-turns dash for a station. You should be ticking down the doomsday clock as fast as you can, planning on ending the game before your points advantage runs out. The only time you should think about not ticking it down is if you’re already behind on points, or if you’re in a very strong position to inflict further damage on your opponent’s score.