I was looking back over the old Sydney-and-Ralph threads and I thought I would write something about the very basics of squad design: mainly how to approach the problems that play presents.
Joshua has been the primary person writing about squad design, and he has a very particular view of it: He likes to build squads with pre-planned tactics that involve combos. Combo based design (basically where we're relying on this game element's subsystems to have a positive interaction with our other game element's subsystems) is pretty familiar to a lot of tabletop gamers. In many games, it is absolutely the dominant strategy. For MFØ a combo-based unit involves building purpose-built mechs and pre-planning their interactions. It's not a terrible way to design a squad, but it is far from the only way. In particular, I want to talk about tool-box based squad design.
Essentially, the chaotic play environment of MFØ presents a puzzle, which you must attempt to solve with the pieces at hand -- namely your frames, and their die results. The puzzle you will be presented with is pretty much unique to every game, but you will invariable end up with a problem or opportunity (there's two guys coming at me! there's an unguarded / lightly guarded objective in the center of the table / whatever) that you didn't necessarily plan for. Combo-based squads are powerful, but not flexible: you have to choose whether to break up your formations and plans to take advantage of the opportunities presented, leaving yourself disorganized and open (the "ooh I hope I roll a 6" approach), or whether to decide that "regardless of the situation, we're sticking to the plan" and bypass your opportunities entirely (the "when all you have is an anvil, every problem looks like a hammer" approach). To be blunt, this is a great way to come in second but, barring some luck on your part or panic on your opponents part, you're not going to win with it.
A toolbox based design says, instead of planning out what we're going to do, let's plan out what we will have available to us, and build a squad which can handle a variety of scenarios and do the widest number of possible things. Instead of trying to create our victory, we'll simply be ready to exploit our opponents' mistakes and shortcomings. This is a much harder sort of squad to plan, but it is very rewarding in play.
In terms of military terminology, the goal of a toolbox is not to have the most powerful squad on the board, but to have the shortest OODA (observe, orient, decide, act) loop of any squad on the board.
It would seem like a "balanced" mech (
) is a good tool for this: it's flexible! It can do different things! But it's actually not great. Simply put it's mediocre at everything, and what you want with a tool-based approach is to make sure that, in any situation, you have the right tool for the job, not a tool which isn't quite good enough for the job.
Creating and exploiting opportunities requires a lot of yellow dice (which are both excellent offensive dice and also very good at punishing your opponents' mistakes and creating temptations for your opponents*) and a lot of green dice, both
. A favorite mech looks like:
, who is excellently situated to do any of the following:
1) Take and objective and squat on it, while providing support for other folks.
2) Move in to hit any weak or highly-spotted targets.
3) Move in to a fray and come out on top of it.
who can take very strong advantage of any weak mech, of which there usually is one somewhere on the field.
Obviously this is just a tiny, tiny iceberg tip of a very large strategy.
Here's a few caveats:
1) Handling a toolbox squad can be cognitively exhausting. Because you don't have a default "this is the thing I do," it can be very hard to make decisions on your turn, particularly in a timely fashion. To a certain degree, the tighter OODA loop of these squads takes advantage of the fact that MFØ gives you as long as you need to do the "decide" part of the loop.
2) Toolbox squads work way better in multiplayer games than two player games. In multiplayer games, there is considerably more battlefield chaos, and thus a lot more advantage. In two player games, not only is the battlefield more solvable (bad for you: you want complexity and confusion) but also you can create opportunities for a third-party to exploit.
3) Sometimes you will fail catastrophically, generally because you rolled bad at just the wrong time. Because you tend to be doing 3-4 things at once, you're much more susceptible to bad rolls. This strategy is not good for coming in second: you will probably win or come in last.
* You can use someone else's spotting die. Laying a big spot on a third-party mech can be a great way of distracting your enemy.