By Ian Mackinder
There is a great deal I like about MechWarrior, but there are also aspects that can be improved. Plenty of people enjoy the game "as is", and I have no problem with that. These ideas are intended to enhance enjoyment of the game and to widen its scope (without necessitating major rules changes). Feel free to experiment with the following as you see fit.
The standard battlefield area of 3' x 3' is fair enough for beginners, tournament play and "quickie" games. For anything else, consider the following:
Any sizable army (ie. 600+ points) gets awfully crowded in this space.
Most artillery units have enough range to cover 60%+ of the board - without moving from their deployment zone.
Longer-ranged non-artillery units near the map's centre can also dominate the field.
Zero room to maneuver. Basically, each side assembles an army and charges it straight at the enemy (or prepares for the enemy to do this). Flanking moves? Hah. Beyond occasionally blind-siding individual units or dodging around bits of terrain, it is not a factor.
The closeness of map-edges artificially distort gameplay. Many tactics used by MW players emphasize trapping enemy units against map-edges or, conversely, siting their own units in corners to prevent outflanking. This may be 'legal' but is NOT, by absolutely any stretch of the imagination, in the spirit of the game (..."Sorry, Kerensky. Regardless of the circumstances, you cannot cross this line on your map. Ever....").
For all of the above reasons, I advocate enlarging the play area. At least double the standard dimensions, more if both players are willing (and have long arms). Doing weird stuff with map edges becomes slightly less of an issue, and players have to THINK about what their armies will do.
The 'Perfect' Battlefield:
No, not what you might think. MW's standard battle area comprises a surface that is (arguably) "perfect". It is stable and level enough that all units of all movement types can navigate across it with ease; and there are no issues with line of sight. To this are added patches of less perfect terrain - representing obstacles and cover of varying sorts.
But, military history records many battles in terrain that was definitely imperfect. So imperfect in a few cases that people have afterwards marvelled over the ingenuity (or lunacy) of the participants. Sometimes, one side chooses to fight where the other side is disadvantaged (Agincourt immediately comes to mind). Other times, it has been because the alternatives were even worse (or simply non-existant).
What follows are a few ideas for battlefields that are imperfect (or simply weird). In all cases, both players should be warned beforehand, so their forces can be modified accordingly.
Water - The entire map area is treated as Shallow Water. Water terrain pieces represent areas of Deep Water. Hindering and Blocking terrain are as normal (being islands and artificial structures jutting above water).
[In this terrain, hover vehicles and mechs should reign supreme. Tracked vehicles can muddle through (more or less), and wheeled vehicles (under the present rules) should simply stay at home. Infantry units may be effective, if they have the means to hop-scotch between numerous conveniently-placed 'islands' - such as transportation or Jump Jets.
Devotees of classic Battletech will recall that the original vehicle rules also covered watercraft (including submarines). I continue to hope that MW will eventually include naval units.]
Jungle - The entire map area is treated as Hindering terrain. Any hindering terrain pieces placed on the board represent open clearings. Water and Blocking terrain are as normal. Having narrow Clear Terrain "roads" passing through the area is optional.
Castle Brian - Castle Brians were immense underground military bases built by the Star League, with lesser versions also built by some of the Successor States.
Borrow some dungeon pieces from 'MageKnight' and create an underground maze (multiple levels are possible). Size and weight considerations will limit where specific unit types can go. Mechs will be confined to major passageways and a few branches (make sure these passages all link up with each other and with the deployment zones); vehicles will be able to transit the aforementioned plus a few other areas; and infantry will be able to go everywhere.
Other restrictions apply. Streak Missiles basically "go round corners" so they may function well enough, but other forms of Indirect Fire will be downright impossible. Also, it is very unlikely that any helicopter pilot would be crazy / desperate enough to fly through an underground maze. The use of Jump Jets will be severely limited as well - Infantry may be able to use them in mech-sized areas at best, and Mechs nowhere at all. Dang those low ceilings!!!
Players may think of digging tunnels. This would justify inclusion of a few Mining or Construction Mechs in one's force. However, tunnelling should be VERY slow (1-2" per turn?). It is worth remembering that Castle Brians are constructed of materials much tougher than natural rock (although deterioration is possible). Also, tunnelling should require at least one unmodified Mining Mech to do the actual work, plus additional units (preferably Mining / Construction Mechs) to clear away debris and (this is very important) shore up the walls of the newly created tunnel. Digging a tunnel is easy. Preventing said tunnel from caving in is the real achievment.
Which leads us to something that Players wil certainly ask about. Specifically, collapsing parts of the Castle Brian on purpose - preferably onto opponents. Note that Castle Brians are intricate and incredibly tough structures, and it would take a lot of carefully directed destructive power to trigger a collapse on cue. Far more luck and skill would be needed to prevent things from getting totally out of hand - such as the entire structure falling down instead of one seemingly unimportant.section of it.
Tunnel fighting is notoriously dirty, dangerous and confusing. There are no spysats or RPVs to show you exactly where the enemy is. So, using hidden deployment and movement (probably Referee-moderated) will be appropriate.
A typical MW game is straightforward. You go out and hurt your opponent worse than he (or she) hurts you. The only dilemma is in which of the three standard Victory Conditions you like best.
As a general rule, this approach works. But consider the following hypothetical.
Task Group Alpha is ordered to proceed to Hill #12 in Map Sector #345 and hold it against an expected enemy attack. Close to the objective, Alpha encounters Task Group Bravo (the enemy!) with the usual results. Ironically, Bravo has zero interest in hills - they are heading to their base in Map Sector #349 for R&R, but took a wrong turn and are now lost. Neither side knows what the other is up to - Alpha thinks Bravo is out to grab Hill #12 first; and Bravo thinks Alpha is trying to cut off their escape. And so it goes.
Military history is full of this sort of thing. Enemies blunder into each other accidentally, or work at cross-purposes instead of in direct opposition, or totally misread an opponent. There may be an important life lesson here someplace....
With all this in mind, a few situations follow that could be incorporated into MW. These are only suggestions, mind you. Depending on the level of difficulty, etc.; each may be worth bonus Victory Points for a given bout - or even count as an automatic "win" (or loss) for one particular Victory Condition, regardless of what happens otherwise. The opposing side may or may not (probably not) be aware of these special conditions during play.
Emergency Redeployment - Somewhere just off-map, allies of one Player urgently need assistance. That Player's force has been ordered to get there ASAP. To that end, they enter on one side of the board and must exit somewhere else. Speed is important - that faction gets bonus VPs which decrease turn by turn (the longer you take, the less there are...). When the battle is over, the remaining VPs are multiplied by the percentage of combat-capable units (by point value) that successfully completed the crossing - ie. if 10% of that Player's force was destroyed, reduced to salvage or failed to get across; then 10% of those VPs are lost.
This can give both sides some interesting choices. The Player making the run has to decide whether to simply run; pause to exchange a few shots with the other side before continuing (and if so, when?); or just write off the bonus VPs and plaster the blocking force. The other Player? Given the uncertainty about the enemy's actions, his best chance for victory is to be aggressive right from the start. So, hanging back to see what the other side does first, or setting up for a long artillery duel, may result in severe embarassment. War can be like that - it is not always about being the strongest or smartest, sometimes it all comes down to who reacts first.
Rescue / Recovery (I) - Hidden on the map is a person or object important to a faction's war effort. It may be a top-flight spy who wants to come home, or a downed satellite's Black Box, or a valuable piece of lostech. Your force has been assigned the task of rescuing / recovering this 'McGuffin'.
To complete the rescue / recovery, you must get any unit of yours to a pre-set location and have it spend at least one turn at that spot. It must then return to your Deployment Zone and escape in order to gain the bonus Victory Points. If that unit is destroyed, so is whatever it is carrying.
Rescue / Recovery (II) - As above, except that BOTH sides are after the same McGuffin. In this case, it may be advisable to rule that the McGuffin is indestructible, since it will otherwise die very quickly.
Rescue / Recovery (III) - As (I), except that the McGuffin's exact location is unknown. To find it, a unit must pass within a certain distance (possible modifiers for use of some Special Equipment).
Rescue / Recovery (IV) - As (III), except that BOTH sides are trying to find the McGuffin.
Defense - In addition to its own units, one faction gets "something" that it must safeguard. This might be in a fixed location (such as a bridge, building or supply dump); or move under that Player's control (such as a Command Vehicle); or move on a predetermined path at a fixed speed (such as a convoy of transport vehicles). If the object in question survives, the defending faction gets bonus VPs. Otherwise, the other side gets those VPs.
Take / Hold That Objective! - A nasty variation on 'Defense'. A specific geographical feature (or set of coordinates) on the map are set as the primary objective. To win, that faction's units MUST be the sole occupiers of that feature when the bout ends. Now for the bad news - any other result means that the other side automatically wins.
In MechWarrior, there is an unspoken assumption that every military unit worthy of mention is a frontline force (with maybe a support unit or two attached). But any army worthy of the name also needs a wide range of specialist groups to support its combat element - engineers, logistics, maintenance and medivac to name a few.
There is a further assumption that commanders at the section / platoon / company level of any MW army are free to pick and choose whatever units they want (provided the point value budget is not exceeded). When a new force is built up from whatever can be found (acquired / inherited / salvaged / borrowed / stolen / suborned / etc.) and there is minimal outside assistance (/ interference), this is acceptable. It is a familiar theme in the Battletech novels, and certainly justifiable in the early stages of the MechWarrior background.
However, for a more formally organized military force this approach will not work. Think about it. Suppose that you command a platoon / company sized group that is part of a Regiment. Further suppose that your particular unit has "assets" that are noticeably scarce elsewhere - such as artillery or repair vehicles. Which of the following is your superior officer likely to say?
(A) "... Captain? Gee, do you think maybe the other guys could borrow your ______ ? Only when you don't need it, of course. Can they, huh? Huh? Pretty please? ..."
(B) "... Captain. I know how useful that ______ is to your command. But, we also need it elsewhere - and reassigning it to my HQ will make for more efficient usage. ..."
If your answer was (A), then whose faction are you in?
Following are suggestions for specialist groups. Depending on the faction, unit availability, force organization, local conditions and the whims of individual commanders; the exact composition of specialist groups can vary considerably.
ENGINEERS - If your army needs an obstacle removed or emplaced; or to build a road, base, bridge or airfield where there was previously nothing; these are the guys to do it.
Units: Several IndustrialMechs (any type, preferably unmodified); some cheap infantry (manual labour and perimeter security); transport units (movement of materials and personnel); possibly a few cheap fast units (survey and courier work); possibly a Mobile HQ (coordination).
FIELD HQ - The bunch who tell the rest of the army what to do. Depending on circumstances, they may be commanding anything from a single Regiment up to everything their faction is doing in that particular star system. The composition of a Field HQ will vary considerably, as other units may be close by "awaiting orders".
Units: At least one Mobile HQ (more for larger formations); a few combat units (protection); several fast units (scout / courier work); possibly a MASH, Recovery Vehicle and/or a mixture of other units close by.
FIRE-SUPPORT - The big guns (and missiles). Portions may be routinely loaned out to other units, but massed artillery fire is almost a force of nature.
Units: Artillery (lots); a few small fast units (artillery-spotters); transport (to carry extra ammo, and for any artillery that cannot move unassisted); possibly LRM-based units (especially if proper artillery is rare).
RECONNAISANCE - The guys who snoop around, looking for the enemy. If there is anything dangerous or troublesome out there, they are usually the first to find it.
Units: Fast-moving and relatively inexpensive units. The very few exceptions should have such Special Equipment as Infiltrate, Camouflage, Evade, Decoy and/or Electronic Camouflage.
SALVAGE / RECOVERY - The guys who scavenge around battlefields after the event - recovering anything of potential value as well as helping to locate the wounded, round up prisoners, dispose of unexploded munitions and so forth.
Units: At least one Recovery Vehicle (guaranteed!); infantry (to look for, pick up and/or guard stuff); transport (to carry stuff away); possibly an unmodified IndustrialMech or two (to pick up or carry big stuff).
SUPPLY CONVOYS - The guys carrying food, ammo and spare parts to where they are needed most.
Units: Transport (well, duh!). Depending on circumstances, supply convoys can have armed escorts of broadly similar movement capabilities. Keep in mind that any convoy is limited in speed to that of its slowest member. So, unless something strange is happening, it is very unlikely that transport helicopters will be travelling cross-country in company with IndustrialMechs.
This idea may be conclusive proof that I have a sick, sick mind. Admittedly, it is hard to see how MechBall could be played "for real" - the best I can come up with is that some bored recruits creatively re-programmed their classroom simulator....
Set up a MW game as per usual. The only extras needed will be a small die (or similarly sized and shaped object) and a stiff-edged ruler. In addition to placing the usual units and terrain pieces, position the die in the centre of the board. This is the "Ball" - it has a Defense of 10 (due to its relatively small size) and is indestructible (ie. no amount of damage will harm it). The Deployment Zones count as goals - each side must somehow get the Ball into the other side's goal to score points.
How is the Ball moved?
(1) Inflict damage on it (via ramming. hand-to-hand, weapons fire, artillery strike, etc.). Each click of damage will move the Ball 2" in a direction exactly opposite to where the damage arrived from (the stiff-edge ruler is essential here). The Ball immediately stops moving if it meets Blocking terrain or the base of any unit. If passing through Hindering Terrain, the Ball's remaining movement is halved.
Units ramming the Ball do not take damage, though they will be damaged as per normal if ramming anything else.
If hit directly by artillery, use the scatter rules to randomly determine which direction the Ball goes in.
(2) A unit whose base is touching the Ball can move, and take the Ball with it. Vehicles have their movement halved if moving in this fashion. Infantry and Mechs move as per normal (arms are useful), and can reposition the Ball anywhere around their base whilst doing so. If opposing units base the Ball at the same time, then it cannot be moved until only one side has possession. Units do not have to roll to successfully disengage from the Ball.
(3) The Ball can be loaded on any transport vehicle as per normal rules. The Ball MUST be unloaded to score a goal, or if a Free Kick is called for.
"Free Kicks" - Under certain circumstances, one side or another may get a Free Kick. In this case, that side is treated as automatically having initiative for that turn.
"Fouling" - A unit may only be legally damaged when it is basing the Ball. If damaged at any other time, this is treated as a Foul. If so, play immediately halts, the specific unit(s) that inflicted damage must leave the field, and the side that was attacked gets a Free Kick from wherever the ball was located when the offence took place.
When a goal is scored - All play stops, each side moves all units to their respective ends of the board, and the Ball is returned to the centre. Play then resumes, with the side scored against getting a Free Kick.
When the Ball crosses a map edge - The map edge is treated as Blocking Terrain, meaning that the Ball simply stops movement. Alternatively, the Ball may be treated as having gone "out", in which case the side that did NOT hit the Ball out gets a Free Kick from the map edge.
Rebounds - When using movement option (1), the Ball rebounds when it hits anything, instead of merely stopping. Use of a small protractor is recommended.
Wrecking Ball - When using movement option (1), the Ball damages anything it hits. The damage done is a number of clicks equal to the number of inches the Ball has yet to move (eg. The Ball was to travel 6", but hit a Mech after travelling only 2". Thus, the Ball stops and that Mech takes four clicks of damage).
The Ball Of Death - Use the Rebound and Wrecking Ball ideas together.
RollerBall - The 'Fouling' rule is waived. Units may hurt each other whenever they choose.
Sports aficionados may think of other variants for MechBall.