This installment is the first in what I hope to be many. I have had the virtue of playing a lot more Mobile Frame Zero than the average person thus far. I've demoed at cons and set up local games with people in my area, and thus I've seen dozens of games played in a single day. The biggest learning curve for players is generally early on, when they are still playing their first handful of games. This is an effort to reduce that curve a bit. Don't take these as absolutes on how to play, though. Try out that crazy tactic and you might be surprised that it can work in the right situation. Experience is the best teacher, and I'm just trying to share mine with you.
Less is More
"Why wouldn't I always put four systems on a frame?" Its a question I hear constantly when I'm explaining the rules to a new player. "Why would I intentionally make my frame weaker and less versatile than I have to?" On the surface it makes sense that there wouldn't be a reason to do it. Once you dig a little deeper, however, a pretty convincing reason presents itself.
The most ideal situation is where you underbid your opponent by the smallest margin possible. Undercutting by one system gives you the most gain for little lost, where as undercutting by one frame gives you the same potential gain with a much larger loss. Giving up a frame gives you one less activation each turn, and an asset, while giving up a system only slightly weakens a frame by lessening it's durability and versatility. So what you want to shoot for, is one less system than your opponent.
Let's take a look at an example. You're playing a 2 player skirmish and your opponent brings 5 frames fully loaded with 4 systems each, so that means you want 4 frames with 4 systems each and 1 frame with 3 systems. This gives him an asset value of 4 (5-1(most systems)), while giving you an asset value of 6 (5+1(least systems)). With 8 total assets for both players that gives the attacker a score of 32 and the defender a score of 48. Thats a 16 point difference for being down a single system!
Let's look at another example. It's a three player skirmish and you have a company of 5 frames with 20 systems, 4 frames with 16 systems, and 4 frames with 15 systems. Asset values then are 21 for the primary attacker, 36 for the secondary, and 42 for the defender. You're down one frame from the primary and are one system down from the secondary and have a 12 point lead over the secondary and a 21 point lead over the primary! This means that to achieve the best possible scoring position you really need to ride the line.
One of the hardest adjustments to make when playing MFZ is remembering not to play like you do in other tabletop wargames. Most tabletop wargames I've had experience with require you to completely eliminate or pacify all opponents forces. Mobile Frame Zero is not other wargames. Yes it's always a good thing to destroy your enemies, but is it always necessary? No. Is it always your best option? No. More often than not, letting your opponents win a small battle will let you win the war.
As the primary attacker, you pretty much have to hit the gas right away and never let up. You have a very low asset value and (generally) a very large gap in score to make up. Taking stations needs to be a priority over destroying frames. For every frame you destroy, your opponent loses points. For ever station you take, your opponent loses points and you gain points. With your asset value being low, you need to close the gap as quickly as possible. Taking stations is the quickest way, and usually you take out a frame or two in the process (which doesn't hurt). Speed is everything. The longer you take, the less likely you will win. Hit hard, hit fast, and be merciless.
Secondary attackers are put in a much more tactical position. They may be behind the leader in points, but not by as much as the primary, and in most circumstances, after the defender loses a frame or two you're likely in the lead. It's going to be beneficial for you to hang back and be reactive. If the defender passes to you, pass to the primary. Let everyone else reveal their hands before you do, it might be your saving grace. Look for the primary to over extend himself, or the defender to leave his flank wide open, this is when you strike. Don't put yourself in a compromising position though, you may be everyone's number one target very quickly, always be ready. Precision and positioning are your best friends.
Defenders have the most difficult job. They have the weakest force, and have everyone on the table aiming at them. So what's the easiest way to be successful as the defender? Give your job to someone else. "But I'm in the lead! I'm winning!" you say, "I don't want to fall behind now! Especially with a weaker company!" That may be your instinct, but you would be wrong. The primary attacker has to be relentless, the secondaries have to be cautious and purposeful, you have to be hutching crafty. How do you survive the onslaught of two plus larger companies training their sights on you? Make them shoot at someone else. Give up your point station and give someone else the lead. And while everyone is shooting at someone else, snatch that station that the primary attacker forgot about in the back, pick off a crippled frame that pushed too far forward. But what ever you do, do not attack someone head on, you will lose. The ideal scenario for the defender is to lose your point station early, and then put yourself in a position to swoop in and capture a station or two at the last second, bumping your score by up to 7 points a station (and making their former owners lose a few points too). Keep everyone off your back until the game is about to end, and then make them all groan with disappointment when you take the lead as the doomsday clock hits zero.
Now get out there are play some MFZ!