Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

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Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby benlehman » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:15 pm

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 ( d6W d6W d6Rd d6Rd d6B d6G d6Y) 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 d8G and d6G . A favorite mech looks like:

d6Rh d6Rh d8G d6G d6Y d6B, 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.

Or d6Ra d6Ra d8Ra d6Y d6B 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.

yrs--
--Ben

* 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.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Joshua A.C. Newman » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:29 pm

I am comfortable saying in public that, as of the IM of five minutes ago, a beer — an entire beer — now rests on the outcome of this debate! Ben lives all the way across the country from me, so we'll probably only get a chance to play this out if I manage to make it to PAX Prime. But we both want that, and we both want multiplayer games, so if the opportunity arises, we'd love to have some fellow combatants!

(The question, of course, is who gets the beer when we both lose.)
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Wadmaasi » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:42 pm

Joshua A.C. Newman wrote:(The question, of course, is who gets the beer when we both lose.)

That one, at least, I can answer: the winner gets two beers!
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Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Forged » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:42 pm

If you need another opponent at Pax I'm in! I will even up the wager to two beers.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby David Artman » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:48 pm

I guess that I intuitively build squads that are "toolboxy" in that I build them kind of like the A-Team: specialists with enough overlap that losing a frame doesn't cost me all ability to function in the lost frame's specialization. For any given frame, it has a specialty; and a backup frame is competent in the specialty.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby MittenNinja » Mon Apr 23, 2012 2:56 pm

Forged wrote:If you need another opponent at Pax I'm in! I will even up the wager to two beers.

Seconded if I can get out there!
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby calculus » Mon Apr 23, 2012 3:52 pm

Thanks beniehman. I enjoyed reading that. Fun to see how it stacks up against artillery heavy or mele heavy builds.

One thing you've got very right - that many untested builds don't have - is a spotting dice on each frame. That's critical to landing damage in.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Tetrajak » Mon Apr 23, 2012 5:58 pm

I'd be very interested in hearing of other frame builds using this strategy, and how each one might be used. I'm also very keen on hearing the outcome of this battle of strategies.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Joshua A.C. Newman » Mon Apr 23, 2012 6:46 pm

This is a great way to play, though I'd really divide up into a squads with d6Rd d6Rd d8Rd and d6Rh d6Rh d8Rh . The direct fire is important for applying pressure and using bounding overwatch.

Cedit: No one fixed Joshie's wrong dice pictograms. No one.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby benlehman » Mon Apr 23, 2012 9:18 pm

Clearly, this has to happen.

Joshua, I think d8Rd and d8Rh are over-rated. The change to spot dice means that d6Y gives better offensive capacity in pretty much any situation, plus it's way more flexible. d8Ra still has some uses, though.

yrs--
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Dukayn » Mon Apr 23, 2012 10:12 pm

Joshua A.C. Newman wrote:This is a great way to play, though I'd really divide up into a squads with d8Rd d8Rd d6Rd and d6Rh d6Rh d8Rh . The direct fire is important for applying pressure and using bounding overwatch.

I think your Rd dice are backwards
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Joshua A.C. Newman » Tue Apr 24, 2012 4:15 pm

Ben, you might be right. I didn't mean the red d8, actually. I meant the direct. In general, though, I like to use a double direct to increase the number of hits similarly to the increase of damage for HtH.

But I'll tell you: double HtH is the strongest attack in the game. Since it will typically come with a green d8, you'll get there slightly faster than without, and you're already doing something like twice as much damage. Combined with the ability to be standing on an objective when the opposition falls, it's pretty mighty.

On the other hand, replacing the second HtH with a d6G means you'll move much more reliably, which might be worth it. Getting that frame where you need it to be is probably at least as valuable.

(thanks to no one for fixing my dice diagram)
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Dukayn » Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:57 pm

Joshua A.C. Newman wrote:(thanks to no one for fixing my dice diagram)

Well only an admin or moderator can edit your posts, so if no-one with those roles saw it, no-one could have fixed it ;)
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Ced23Ric » Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:08 pm

Joshua A.C. Newman wrote:Cedit: No one fixed Joshie's wrong dice pictograms. No one.
Joshua A.C. Newman wrote:(thanks to no one for fixing my dice diagram)
*cough*
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby schoon » Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:59 pm

So here's an interesting question for the Toolbox vs. Combos debate (with some preface).

I've found that I tend to be more of a Toolbox force designer in most games I play. It's worked well over time, unless encountering a Combo player that's in a situation that sings to his combo (in that case it can be like watching a train coming at you and knowing there's just not a lot you can do to slow it down!).

However, from what I've seen thus far of the game, the two goals are taking objectives and dismantling your opponent's frames. If you're good at doing those two things, you ought to do well.

Does this mean that a Combo that overlaps those two objectives trumps a Toolbox, and are there other goals (I'm a big story-driven gamer at heart) that we haven't seen yet?
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby benlehman » Tue Apr 24, 2012 10:02 pm

Schoon: Not exactly. But "take stations" and "kill guys" are, well, very broad goals. There's a lot of ways to go about doing those.

What I think is generally a winning strategy is, instead of pre-planning how you're going to go about killing guys and taking stations, make a diverse array of mechs and take the killing and station opportunities the game gives you. So, for a combo example, I could do this as a squad:

1x d6Ra d6Ra d8Ra d6B d6B
4x d6Rh d6Rh d8Rh d6B d6Y d8G

And go "okay so my melee guys are going to move forward in a wave, spotting for the artillery and ganging up on each other." That's what I mean by "combo design:" you are going into the game with a discrete plan and purpose built mechs for that plan.

This is great, until:
1) Your guys get spread out.
2) There's a station you really want to get to but your unreliable d8G means that you're going to have to isolate your guy.
3) The enemy outflanks you, severely injures Mr. d8Ra and takes your home base. Now you're stranded in the middle of the board.

A squad which contained a diversity of mechs (someone with d6Rd , more d6Y , and more d6G ) would be able to cope better with those situations. Basically what I'm saying is "give up your grand strategy: take the fight into the details." The game will reward you for it, over and over.

And, yes, get stations, kill dudes.
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Re: Toolbox Approach to Squad Design

Postby Joshua A.C. Newman » Tue Apr 24, 2012 11:50 pm

There's something to be said for having no prominent units to shoot at.
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