BattleTech: Tactics

BattleTech is a relatively complex game and you make a lot of tactical decisions while playing it. Here are some things that I try to keep in mind while playing that will hopefully help you in your own games. I’m going to assume that you already know the basics of how to play. If not, then here is a guide to getting started: Getting Started

Focus on Objectives

Before starting a game, understand the scenario that you’re going to play. This might just be a fight to the last ’Mech standing, but it could also be a scenario with a set of objectives and special rules. Make sure that you know what you need to accomplish to win and have a plan for how to do that.

Let’s say that you’re going to play the Meeting Engagement track to start the mini-campaign from Chaos Campaign: Succession Wars. For that scenario, the winner is the first side that destroys or cripples at least 50% of the opposing force. While you could approach that mission as just a slugfest, you’ll do better if you keep an eye on your ’Mechs and focus on protecting any that are getting close to taking enough damage that they would count as crippled.

Know the Odds

Because BattleTech uses 2d6 for its rolls, the probabilities of a successful roll is a little less intuitive than rolling a single die. As an example, here’s the base accuracy of shots for each range bracket with a Gunnery Skill of 4:

RangeTNHit Rate

During an actual battle, those Target Numbers get increased for the attacker’s movement, target movement, and terrain. Let’s say that the attacker walks which adds a +1 to the target number. The new accuracy table looks like this:

RangeTNHit RateImpact of Walking
Short583%10% of previous hits now miss
Medium758%19% of previous hits now miss
Long928%33% of previous hits now miss

As you can see, the impact of walking is a lot lower when the base number is already low and becomes more punishing on shots that were already more difficult. That means that every modifier you can avoid on difficult shots can have a drastic impact on how likely you are to land a hit.

In my experience, you’ll generally have at least +2 or +3 added to Target Numbers beyond the range modifiers. Long range shots rarely hit, and you won’t generally have decent Target Numbers at least until you’re in medium range.

RangeTNHit Rate

While I’ve used weapon attacks in the examples, all of these concepts apply to Piloting Skill Rolls too since they use the same mechanic of rolling 2d6 against a Target Number that gets modified for the situation. Modifiers can add up quickly to shift what would have been an easy roll into a likely fall.

Don’t Get Hit

No matter how much armor your ’Mech has, getting hit by an attack is dangerous. An unlucky through-armor critical hit can take out a ’Mech, and every point of damage chips away at its armor. If you want to survive, you need to make your units harder to hit.

The three things you can control to make your units hard to hit are speed, terrain, and range.

A light ’Mech that can run 7-9 hexes gets a +3 target movement modifier. Even at short range, maintaining that speed can negate about half the hits it would take. If you don’t manage to maintain that speed though, being at short range with light armor can be a lethal mistake. Heavier units generally can’t build up as high of modifier, but even just moving 3 hexes still provides some benefit.

For terrain, the best options are being in a woods hex or partial cover because those situations make you harder to hit without reducing the accuracy of your own shots. If a unit is slow enough that it can’t easily get above a +1 target movement modifier, then standing still in protective terrain can offer just as much protection as moving. Faster units can stack the two modifiers by moving quickly from one protected hex to another, but be careful that you’re not sacrificing hexes moved just to get into terrain that doesn’t make up for the reduced target movement modifier.

Find Your Ideal Range

With the exception of minimum range weapons, every ’Mech gets more dangerous the closer it is to its target. Unfortunately, that holds true for enemy units too. Instead of just optimizing your own firepower, you should try to control the engagement’s range to give yourself an advantage. In order to figure out what range you want to be at, you can compare your own weapons against your opponent’s weapons. If you can position yourself to be out of range of their weapons or at least in their long range bracket while still being able to fire your own weapons, then that can be better than just optimizing the range for your own damage output.

For example, let’s say that you have a Griffin GRF-1N up against a Wolverine WVR-6R. The Griffin’s LRM and PPC mean that its damage output peaks at 3 hexes (PPC at short range, LRMs only suffering +1 from being at minimum range). Getting to that range though means that the Wolverine is able to fire back with its SRM-6 and medium laser at medium range. If you instead keep your Griffin at medium range (12 hexes), you can prevent the Wolverine from firing anything other than its AC/5 while still only suffering a +2 modifier for range.

RangeExpected Damage DealtExpected Damage Taken
611 (0-20)9 (0-22)
127 (0-20)2 (0-5)

Think Ahead

In BattleTech, when you win initiative, you get to move second so that your units can react to how your opponent moves. That means if you lose, you need to think about how your enemy might move and then maneuver to reduce their options.

As an example, let’s say that you’re controlling an Awesome AWS-8Q and you’re facing off against a BattleMaster BLR-1G. You’re currently at a range of 9 hexes and you’ve lost initiative. You know your PPCs are at short range once you’re at 6 hexes, so it might be tempting to talk forward 3 hexes. That seems great, but unfortunately, the BattleMaster gets to move after you. With you only 6 hexes away at that point, it can walk forward to a 2 hex range. That puts it in optimal range for its medium lasers and SRMs while pushing inside the minimum range of your PPCs.

Instead, if you walk the Awesome backwards to a 12 hex range, you make life harder for the BattleMaster. The closest it can get would be running forward to 6 hexes. That would only get it to medium range with most of its weapons while you’d be at an ideal range to use your PPCs. Alternatively, if the BattleMaster decides not to close that quickly, you might still be at medium range while it’s dealing with long-range shots for most of its weapons.

Prioritize and Deny Targets

When facing off against multiple enemy units, it is better to focus firepower on eliminating a target than to end up scratching the armor on multiple enemies but not taking any out. The best targets are ones that are easy to hit and have low durability compared to their damage output. If a unit you want to take out isn’t easy to hit, then consider switching targets since hitting anything is better than missing shots. In battle, this will end up being a balancing act between trying to finish off units and avoiding taking shots that are unlikely to hit.

On the other side, pay attention to your opponent focusing fire on your own units. Depending on terrain, you can make this hard by trying to deny line of sight from some of their units. If your opponent does start to focus fire on one of your units, then consider pulling that unit back to force them to make a choice between trying to finish it off or making easier shots at other targets. If you succeed in keeping it alive, you can always pull the unit back into battle later as needed.

Watch Your Heat

Some ’Mechs are designed to run cool so that they can run around the battlefield firing all their weapons and not build up heat. Other designs don’t even have enough heat sinks to fire a single salvo of their weapons without reaching critical heat levels.

When running a ’Mech that can build up heat, be careful about how much you build up and when. Once you hit 5 heat, you start losing combat effectiveness. At 14 heat, you start to risk shutdown. You should only fire weapons to overheat if those shots are likely to actually hit. That means that when you’re at long range, you should hold back and stay cool so that once you get better Target Numbers you’re free to open up rather than already running hot.

The Rifleman RFL-3N is a particularly hot-running ’Mech. If it fires all of its long-range guns, it generates 18 heat and then only has a cooling capacity of 10. That means the following turn, it would suffer penalties to both its speed an accuracy from the heat build up. That isn’t something you want to take on unless the large lasers are likely to hit. Instead, you should fire only one laser and the autocannons until an enemy unit is exposed enough that both large lasers are more likely to hit.

As an example, let’s say that a Shadow Hawk is closing in on your Rifleman. On the first round, it’s 15 hexes away and closing fast. If you fire all four main guns each round and don’t try to control your heat level, then three rounds could look something like this:

  1. Fire 2 large lasers and 2 AC/5s at a range of 15. The Target Number is 10 and that works out to an average of about 4 damage. Your heat level goes up to 8.
  2. Fire all four again at a range of 10. The shots are at medium range, but the addition of a heat penalty puts the Target Number at 9. That works out to an average of about 7 damage. Your heat level goes up to 16 and you have an 8% chance to shutdown.
  3. Fire all four again at a range of 5. The shots are at short range, but the heat penalty is now +2 for a Target Number of 8. This round gives you an average of about 11 damage, but it puts your heat level at 24. That means you have a 58% chance to shutdown and a 28% chance to explode.

Instead, if you fire more conservatively, you can have three rounds that look like this:

  1. Fire both AC/5s but only one large laser at a range of 15. The Target Number is 10 giving you only 3 expected damage. This doesn’t build up any heat.
  2. Now that you’re at medium range (10 hexes), fire all four guns. The Target number is 8 and you deal an expected damage of 11. Your heat level goes up to 8.
  3. At 5 hexes, switch back to only one large laser and the autocannons. The Target Number is down to 7 and you deal 10 damage on average while staying at a heat level of 8.

Even though you’re shooting less, avoiding the heat buildup allows for more accurate fire. Over those three rounds, the expected damage of the second firing pattern is actually higher (24 vs 22) and you entirely avoid the risk of heat buildup causing your ’Mech to shutdown or explode.

Conserve Your Ammo

A game of BattleTech can easily last ten or more rounds, especially if both sides are fighting defensively rather than rushing to the center of the battlefield. A fair number of ’Mechs carry limited ammunition though. If you have units that carry a dozen or fewer shots for their weapons, then you’ll want to save that ammo for shots that are likely to hit rather than wasting it on long-range shots hoping for a lucky roll. This is especially true for designs that carry only 5 or 6 shots for some of their weapons.

As an example, a Hunchback HBK-4G only carries 10 rounds for its big autocannon. When at long range or looking at an improbable shot, it makes sense to only fire the medium lasers and save the AC/20 ammo for when it is more likely to hit. The same idea applies to the Enforcer ENF-4R where you’ll want to only use the large laser at long range and then add in the autocannon when your shots can be more accurate.

Have Fun

At the end of the day, having fun matters more than winning a game. Even if you make the best tactical decisions, BattleTech is a game where things can swing a lot based on the roll of the dice. Sometimes your opponent will roll a headshot with their first gauss rifle shot of the battle or you’ll fall over walking across a river and ignite your own ammo bin. Make sure you take those unlikely events in stride and revel in them as fun stories you can take away from the game no matter who wins.

By Scott Boehmer

A game enthusiast and software engineer.

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