Battletech can be an unforgiving game, especially for someone new to the series. Even though I know the game, it still took me some time to figure out how to best go up against 4v8 type fights. Here are some tips so that you won’t have to save scum as much as I did.
1. Learn your hit allocations
Unlike more tactical games like XCOM who have an overall health system, after you hit a mech (or vehicle or turret) in Battletech, you next have to randomize where the damage is dealt. Your hit-allocation rolls will be based on where you are situated, relative to your enemy’s facing. This will greatly affect how painful the damage is to your opponent.
Front arcs generally means distributing your damage across the most number of systems, which flanking will reduce. Rear arcs have the fewest different spots, and often also have the weakest armor, which means that you are most likely to punch through the armor from the back. Have your pilots focus fire on the same mech, on the same side when at all possible. Distributing damage is the worst thing you could do. At least whenever I did I usually regretted it afterwards.
In the same way, use hit allocations to your advantage. When your mechs move, you can also choose where they face. This dictates your LOS (and where you can attack), but also determines the side you present to your opponent. Where possible, show your least-damaged side to your opponents.
2. Know thy enemy, know thyself
During the battle, it is important for you to know exactly what each mech you are facing is packing, and where. It’s impossible to know everything immediately, so at the start of combat I often spend time mousing over each enemy and their respective hit-allocation charts. This tells me which mechs I need to take out ASAP, and where their weak points are. Use called shots (more on that later) and positioning to target areas with big, dangerous weapons, or with ammo (you get a chance to ignite the ammo, dealing even more damage to the mech).
This goes double for you. Check out your weapons and their optimal ranges and damage. Plan where they are going to go and fallback positions. Think of it like a normal RPG. You want your don’t want your elven archers (lightly armored, high range mechs) in front of your dwarven fighter (more armored, short range ones). Never get caught with your pants down, you never know when and where reinforcements are going to spawn.
3. Also, know thy terrain
Many long range weapons can shoot farther than your LOS, and missiles can also indirect fire. This means that a spotter unit in front (either a heavy armored tank or a zippy scout) can ensure that all your long-ranged weapons can hit your enemies, while your opponents may only be able to hit your forward-most unit. Sensor locks also reveal an opponent for one round.
When outnumbered, you need to use the terrain to your advantage. Use LOS, elevation and hills to ensure that the enemy is unable to bring their entire offensive force to bear on you.
In most maps, walking to the target in the most direct route usually means you will be caught in a crossfire between two groups of enemies. One useful method is to to skirt around the edges of the map so you are able to clear one group of enemies before the second group shows up.
4. Stability is king
Missiles and cannons deal normal damage and stability damage. When a mech’s stability meter maxes out, it gets knocked down. This pushes the mech’s initiative back for one round (a light activates with the mediums, etc). More importantly, it allows you to make called shots on the mech, which means follow up attacks will be more likely to damage what you would like to damage.
Stability damage will be reduced when a mech activates, and can be further reduced by bracing, which means if you are trying to knock a mech down, you will usually have to commit one or more mechs to ensure you succeed.
Protip: LRMs are pound for pound probably the best damage and knockdown dealers right now.
5. Manage your Morale and Heat
You have access to two special abilities in battletech. Precision strike is a called shot on non-knockdown mechs, while vigilance grants you a one-turn buff against damage (and increases that mech’s initiative in the next turn). Both of them can turn the tide in life-or-death situations, and both require morale.
Morale is a gauge that can be spent on these abilities, and that also grants a lance-wide (party-wide) buff above a certain threshold. Morale is gained by doing things in combat (knockdown, destruction of a part or a mech, etc). This means that while you can’t spend morale willy-nilly, spending at opportune moments is a good idea, especially if doing so will kill a mech (which refunds some of the morale you spent anyway).
Heat is another resource that you manage for your mechs. Each weapon generates heat, and a certain amount of heat is lost per mech per turn. Too much your mechs overheat, dealing damage to itself, and in extreme cases shutting down for a turn. Don’t shoot weapons that max out your heat if they’re not likely to hit or damage your opponent. At the same time, alpha-striking and overheating your mech to kill your opponent makes sense if they were going to destroy you next turn anyway.
Overall tips for Battletech
I limited the tips to stuff that happens in Battletech’s combat. There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t talk about (mech customization, pilot experience), and I’m sure some of you have more tips to share, but I hope some of you new to the game will appreciate some of these tips. I know they really helped me.