This is the second part of a two-part post on strategy in Mechaton. This part deals with actually playing the game. As before, it’s not intended to be definitive so much as to spark debate. Feel free to post in the comments, and I’ll make excessively snarky replies.
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 their 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.