Losing at Mechaton

Well, as usual, I lost when we played Mechaton. In fact, this time around, I didn’t just not-win–I was the first to be eliminated, and was the only one to end the game without a single mech still standing, and not even my own station still on my side.

Mr. Green 7
Mr. Green, flexin’ his claws

And I had a blast getting there! I’m not sure whether that speaks to the awesomeness of Vincent’s game, or just to the awesomeness of blowing up little Lego robots with other little Lego robots, but I never fail to have fun with Mechaton, no matter how the game goes.

I played a brief game at Forge Midwest this year, but that was just a brief skirmish: 4 pairs of mechs, a few books and pencil boxes tossed around for “terrain”, a single objective and no stations, and over in not much more than an hour. Prior to that, I think it’s been 3 years since my last Mechaton game? Maybe only two–I played a similarly-brief game at Gen Con either ’08 or ’07. But, in both cases, very simple games, with no story–and I made all the mechs and stations and what-not.

This time, we did it right: Picked the date several weeks in advance, so everyone had time to build their own mechs and stations [Faith came over the week before to use my Lego to build her mechs; the others have enough of their own]. Dan built a cool bridge with drawbridge-bits in the middle, presumably for a canal or small river. Faith built a building and Dan and Faith collaborated on a whole bunch of cars and trucks and trains. I built several more buildings, and brought my tub of trees and BURPs/LURPs, so we could have some semblance of civilazation. It ended up looking a bit sparse–maybe a small exurb enclave outside of a larger city?

terrain 1
the playing table

Though, once we fielded our armies, it was anything but sparse. We all had the same points, so we rolled off for the roles of “defender” and “primary attacker”. I “won” defender. With a modestly-strategic positioning on my part, Michael quickly realized that nearly a quarter of the table was, by the rules, off-limits for starting positions. Also, as near as we can tell, while nobody can start too close to the defender, starting close to each other is no big deal:

deployment 8
Monsoon threatening Daffy

(By the rules, that is–it rather is a big deal if Daffy is your mech.) Anyway, given the desire for good positions, combined with the rule restrictions, here’s what it ended up looking like, just before we started:

deployment 1
we’ve gotten ready to rumble

[BTW, in case it's not obvious, clicking on any image will take you to Flickr, where you can see the whole set--I've only posted a smattering here. And, for that matter, Flickr only has a subset of the photos I took; the rest are on Brickshelf.]

The game itself went awesomely. I mean, I got my butt kicked, but I had fun doing it. And everyone else very clearly had fun. It’s one of the very few cases where tearing something Lego apart is as much fun as building it in the first place. Usually, the taking apart is just a tedious requirement.

We played with the rules a bit, and I think mostly for the better. We used both of the optional weapon rules [2 weapons at the same range add a d8; one weapon can do two ranges, but only 1d at each range]; several of us had doubled up on a range, but I think Faith was the only one who split any weapons across two ranges. In fact, Spike (one of Dan’s mechs) had 4 weapon attachments at the same range. Which, surprisingly, turned out to be a viable, if not optimal, strategy. It meant that it had two attachments completely to spare–losing them made no difference on its effectiveness.

The rules weren’t super clear, so we decided you could only launch one rocket in a round–no missile barrages.

We also added a couple minor rules: a mech with a movement attachment, of any sort, can go over terrain/cover; otherwise, you have to go around it. Yes, this means the mech on tricycle wheels went straight up and over a cliff taller than it was, but it seems in the spirit of Mechaton not to be getting too fine-grained in any rules. Breaking down movement attachments into types might be more realistic, but it just doesn’t seem right for Mechaton.

We decided that objects that were only a brick or so high didn’t count as cover–ankle-high just isn’t cover. Again, worrying about the heights of mechs (such as declaring that cover was relative to the mech trying to hide) just doesn’t fit the game–and there is no “lying prone” in Mechaton. But that also meant that the trees and relatively-thin fast-food sign did count as cover. That’s ok. It worked just fine, with only one edge case showing up the whole evening: near the end, we had to decide whether the low railing on the bridge counted as cover when the attacker was down on the ground and a ways away at a funny angle. [We decided it didn't, ignoring elevation differences for this purpose.]

Finally, we declared that a flying mech could choose to be out of hand-to-hand range. While it never came up in the game, I think it was implicitly agreed that this also meant giving up any use of cover. In future, I think that, if we’re going to have flying mechs, we should require them to use movement to change altitude–though keep a low ceiling on things–there’s just no reason, given the rules, to get more than out-of-melee-range high. Well, ok, there would be getting high enough to avoid direct fire weapons, too. But that (a) would feel like cheating and (b) would necessitate too tall of a stand, which there’s no way I could make stable, clear, and not occupying too much table. Anyway, in this game, I had the only flying mech, it started out flying, and didn’t land or change altitude until it crashed as its wings were blown off in the last round of the game.

Mr. Green throws a limo
Mr. Green, chuckin’ a limo

Those were all little tweaks, really. The big rule change was chuckin’. Faith saw the microscale cars, etc., that I was building for the game, and wanted to be able to throw them at other mechs. That seemed reasonable, so I whipped something up, emailed it around, we tweaked it a little, and ended up with the following rules for chuckin’:

  • You have to have [working] limbs to chuck. You don’t need hands–punting is just fine–but you can’t be limbless, or incapacitated. A tank can’t chuck a car at you.
  • There has to be something nearby to chuck. I.e., within hand-to-hand range–1 unit.
  • The chuckee must be a single, clearly-defined object. Hunks of buildings are not acceptable. Train cars are. Besides, giant fighty robots spend all day bustin’ through overpasses and bashing into walls–clearly, a big hunk of concrete isn’t an effective weapon against them.
  • The chuckee must be explosive. Loosely-defined. So, vehicles explode. They have fuel, and carry potentially-explosive stuff. Water towers do not explode. Well, not combustively, at least.
  • Picking up the chuckee is subsumed into other actions–you can grab a bus as you walk by, or kick a jeep into your hand to throw it.
  • However, you can’t combine chuckin’ with other attacks. It’s meant to represent the last-ditch attack, something you resort to when you don’t have other attacks. And you can only chuck one thing in a round, and can’t combine it with launching a rocket.
  • Once a chuckee is chucked, it can’t be used again. So, disassemble it in some way, so we don’t lose track.
  • Chuckin’ uses a red d8 for the attack, but only has a range of 5 (compared to 9 for normal direct-fire weapons).

Originally, I had suggested making chuckin’ stuff more inferior to one-shot rockets: treating all targets as though they had cover (so, only do damage on 6s), for fear that it became a too-powerful option, and bypassed the usual restrictions on numbers of attachments and rockets. I was outvoted, and I’m glad of it. While one of Faith’s mechs basically relied on that as its only ranged attack, it still didn’t seem to be unbalancing–provided we made sure that potential chuckees were well distributed about the field at the start. If anything, it turned out to be an insufficiently-attractive option. I would’ve like to see more collateral damage and general carnage on the battlefield.

Speaking of disappointments with the game, I think we’ve decided that an all-melee mech just isn’t a good fit for the rules. Hand-to-hand is simply underwhelming, compared to other options. I think the basic problem is that you can’t force someone on to your terms. You can run up to them and punch, but when their turn rolls around they can simply back off and shoot back. So the disadvantage of not having any range isn’t offset by the nominal advantage of being able to get inside someone’s range. Until they’re sufficiently damaged that they don’t have a die to allocate for movement, they can always move the single unit required to step back and blast you. None of us could come up with a good fix for this–we all want to be able to make the melee-only mech that charges through the hail of bullets (or RPGs, or cannonballs, or whatever it is those big Martian tripods shot) and beats up the other mechs, but, for the most part, it just appears to be suicidal to not also have a ranged weapon–as evidenced by the fact that the melee-only mechs in our games have either been completely ineffectual (never even engaging) or early casualties. The green d8 just doesn’t seem to make up for it. Anybody reading this have better luck with melee-only mechs?

Anyway, rules quibbles aside, the game itself was great fun. Some highlights:

Mr. Green seizes the satellite
Mr. Green seizes the satellite

I managed to grab the objective very early on–1st round, I think. Then what? I hadn’t really thought about my strategy at that point. Or, rather, I had, but not very realistically: the plan was to sit there, and clobber anybody who came for it. They, of course, very sensibly shot at me from afar, instead, or picked on my other mechs, particularly my artillery guy. In hindsight, what I should’ve done was claim the satellite, then use his superior movement to close with other mechs and beat them up, but staying close enough to get back to the satellite if anyone got too close.

Eyes goes down
first casualty of the game

So much for getting some backup to help hold the satellite. The big disappointment was that Eyes’ rocket, which went off at the very end of the round, failed to hit Doppler, much less do any damage. It would’ve been awesome if the rocket that went off as–or even after–Eyes died had actually done something.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if that was a house rule, or the actual rules, but we allowed attacks to complete even if the mech lost an attachment or otherwise wouldn’t’ve been able to actually make the attack between when the dice were rolled and when the attack was resolved. Likewise for movement: if you had the attachment when you rolled the dice, you still got to do it when your turn came around. While this was a little bizarre in some cases, we justified it by assuming that a round is actually pretty much simultaneous, and just broken down for game-play purposes. Plus, things like launching a rocket as you go down, or making one last attack as your opponent destroys the weapon, or crashlanding where you wanted to go as your wings are shot off just seemed cool. But now I’m curious if we made that up–I’ll have to check, once I’ve got teh rules in front of me again.

Mr. Green gets bus-ted
second casualty of the game–notice a pattern?

Somehow, chuckin’ stuff didn’t work so well for me. But Faith managed to do mega damage that way, taking out a couple mechs. Well, that’s me and dice.

Thumper's last stand
Thumper goes down
Karma
Thumper’s last stand

After having his point-defense system overwhelmed, his armor blown off, and both artillery weapons destroyed, Thumper valiantly attempted to defend the Blacktron station. Even with good die rolling, it would’ve been a futile gesture; with me at the helm, it was pointless. Still, he managed to keep going on just two legs for a bit, before being blasted into oblivion. Not that the effort had any impact on the other mechs, mind you. At least there was karmic retribution: both of the mechs encroaching on the station were destroyed moments after they destroyed Thumper.

Daffy gets plucked
Daffy gets plucked

Daffy loses both his remaining attachments, leaving him rather naked-looking.

That’s far from all the fun that was had–it’s just what I have photos of. I sorta concentrated on my own mechs, though, in my defense, they did provide the most-spectacular failures. There were many, many, fun little moments during the game, several of them revolving around Monsoon and his lengthy battle with Daffy. Oh, and nobody could hit Wings for quite some time–and then they blew him out of the sky in just 2 attacks.

And here’s what it looked like after everything was over:

The End 1
all quiet on the urban front

Somehow, Bugs, Chicken, and Daddy managed to come through the battle completely unscathed. So, not only was I the only one without a single mech standing, but everyone else had at least one unscathed mech. I must be doing something wrong. ;-) And Michael had all 4 of his mechs, still–which, combined with seizing stations, gave him the win, even though we’d assigned the satellite triple value. Pretty sure Michael has won every game of Mechaton we’ve ever played, so new strategy for the future: attack Michael’s mechs, right from the start, irrespective of apparent strategic value.

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10 comments on “Losing at Mechaton

  1. zeekhotep says:

    Great battle report. Do you mind If I link to it from my blog?

    http://nobsjustabs.wordpress.com/

  2. [...] posted a great battle report on July 11.  You can read it here.  The Battle was fought in Two Plate Scale, and they came up with some wonderfull terain, [...]

  3. Mantisking says:

    Sounds like you had a great game. You should join the Mechaton Flickr group and share your pictures. The Chuckin’ Rule looks interesting, hopefully I’ll get to try it soon.

  4. MrWeasely says:

    Great post!

    Your games seem much more fatal than ours do. We played a 4p with 14 mechs the other day. Only two mechs were completely destroyed, and only perhaps 15 hits dealt total.

    Of course, it was the first game and people were dubious that we were going to complete in finite time, so the doomsday clock unwound in only 3 turns. How many turns did this one go?

    • woodelf says:

      Hmmm…don’t recall for certain. I think…7? I’m pretty sure I ticked it down the first two rounds, and then nobody did until near the end. And I don’t recall more than 2 people ever ticking it down in the same round. So I’m really just reconstructing here, but 7 sounds about right. The whole game, including setting up the field, was something like 5 hrs, I think. But more than an hour of that was the setup, and shooting the breeze, and agreeing on exactly how we were gonna implement the new rules, and so on.

    • woodelf says:

      We determined after our first couple games that there wasn’t anywhere near enough carnage. It was too easy to sit back and let others beat each other up. That’s why we added an objective–a central goal that everyone needs to go for, rather than just the bases. That, plus terrain that tends to channel mechs into proximity (bottlenecks are your friends), really upped the body counts. Which, really, given the game, is the way it should be.

  5. [...] The bridge battle by McDonalds. Mechaton: Winter Campaign 2008. [...]

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