Monday, 5 November 2012

BattleTech Infantry: Player Offside View

Today a guest post by my good friend Clive who sent me a very apposite set of observations that pointed out the Elephant in the Room about infantry in BattleTech. Over to Clive who hopefully won't mind the bits of editing and pruning I've done to turn his email into this post?

The problem with infantry is as follows:
1) Lack of Mobility (by comparison to everything else)
2) Fragility
3) Artillery
4) Mechs
Numbers one to three have been the PBI problem since the Stone Age, and they still seem to be important, even today. BattleTech has gone out of its way to make them unimportant, when compared in the modern era, where it is possible for an infantryman to carry a weapon that will total a MBT 1000m+ away

So BattleTech has from day one emasculated the PBI, because otherwise they get in the way of fighting it out mecha-a-mecha, because combat is scaled to battlemechs. Given the premise that battlemechs are masters of all they see, and basic infantry are one hit wonders, everything that isn't a battlemech ends up just being so much roadkill.

In my opinion infantry are only capable of two jobs; holding a building , or observing the enemy and bringing down an artillery strike

Given that agroup of powered battle armour (not basic infantry) attacking a battlemech did frankly derisory amounts of damage over several rounds, at no point did I get the feeling the battlemech was in any real danger. The main balancing in most cases is that mechs don't normally have a whole load of anti personal weaponry.

In the last battle the queen of battle, artillery, was back with a vengeance, but 20 points will wipe anything but a battlemech. Given an artillery strike of 1 will kill basic infantry, logically you would set the burst up to 20 times the size, or at least spread it out by N, where N is the number of guns in the battery, and accept an attack of 20/N. Perhaps one of the first things that could be tried is to tie the FO cards to how many actual artillery battery cards have already been dealt, which would cut their impact by half, or so?

So, what is the correct use of the PBI in Battlemech?

I think the only use they appear to have is to stop the other side easily acquiring buildings to hide their infantry from all the things that kill everybody's infantry, or have I missed something really subtle?

So as they say, let the discussion begin.


  1. I think that's pretty fair - as I was saying in answer to the last post, the game is deliberately written to make 'Mechs the most effective units.

    In the real world, infantry still have a place in a world with tanks because:

    - they can carry weapons that can kill a tank before the tank crew can kill them;

    - they can hide better (particularly in buildings, but even in relatively open ground), and disperse themselves to the point where a heavy attack may do them no damage at all.

    BattleTech basically doesn't have one-shot-kill weapons; unless you're playing blind you can't really hide; and while the big guns are less effective against infantry than against armour they're still pretty effective.

    So my inclination is to keep 'em in buildings (possibly delivering them by fast APC before the main battle gets joined), and back-shoot the enemy as they go by.

    1. Remembering the Total Warfare that has most weapons attacks divided by ten against infantry, except for machine guns, flamers and small laser variant IIRC? However, saying that I think all infantry should class as being in cover when attacked be battlemechs and vehicles. Given all the other advantages that battlemechs and vehicles have IMO it seem pointless to allow attacks against infantry as happening in the open.

      Saying that though, I could see infantry having a critical fumble roll that allows for the chance of them being shot at while in the open. Sorry if this random thought is not all that clear. In general I would always expect infantry to be moving from cover-to-cover, and at the scale of BattleTech for them to gain the in cover modifier.

      I also think that the infantry-versus-infantry battle is rather bland as it stands, and I'm thinking of having three attack values to represent infantry. One for close assault (using their assault rifles etc), ranged suppressing fire (using a light machine gun analog etc.), and ranged ant-vehicle/battlemech attack (using short range rocket launchers). Oh, and add to that mortars mostly for smoke, and ranged suppressing fire too.

    2. I suspect what one really wants is not just a weapon skill but an overall troop quality value - e.g. when they start taking fire, do they follow training and hit the dirt or do they just stand around saying "what was that"? (But BattleTech goes to some lengths to avoid having any sort of defensive skill.)

      My basic problem with tweaking BattleTech is that a big part of why it's fun is the baroqueness of it. A realistic future warfare game could be an awful lot of fun, but it probably wouldn't involve giant walking tanks! It's therefore potentially an error to change rules in a realistic direction...

    3. My agenda is more playable and fun from a more realistic approach.

  2. Battletech has always really been a game where blindfolded robots duke it out with shotguns. It is not a simulation, and you really can't treat it as such. I have played the game since its inception with mechs, but I find that other rules sets do a better job incorporating Infantry and Armor in a futuristic setting.

    1. Correct of course, but the background material makes BattleTech quite an interesting setting to play in. I'm loathe to change rules, but accept that I may have to.

    2. Oh yeah, I love the background information and have amassed just about every written word from the 80's, 90's and 00's. When Clickytech came out it seemed like they were better suited to the 6mm scale, and the BT rules were better suited for the larger scale. (For better or worse, clicky-tech made record keeping easier for larger battles) I was enamored early on by the Eridani Light Horse, and was often frustrated that the integrated Armor, Infantry and Mech lances couldn't deliver in game terms what the fluff promised. Thus, I play my mechs solo in Battletech, and my combined arms with games like Future War Commander now.

    3. I've enjoyed all the Clix games I've played over the last couple of years, but only came to it after its demise. Pity really.

  3. Well, we have a house rule to basic infantry to give them little bit higher survive rate. This works only in miniature rules (which are more or less incomplete by official means and work only in housegames).

    We have divided platoons to squads so one platoon is on 3-4 different bases. Platoons bases must be max 2 inch way from each other. This means that platoon can for example form a line wide as 8 inch plus bases. Which is about 120 meters in real life. This also gives infantry platoons some chance to survive from LongToms fury as in real life.

    When infantry is attacked only those bases visible to attacer is affected. For example 4 base/squad platoon takes damage over 40 points but only one base is on line of sight -> only this base is killed = 1/4 of platoon is KIA instead of whole platoon.

    Attacker always chooses bases to be removed. If multiple bases are KIA attacer must choose adjacent ones. This of course can lead to situation were unit is divided, there is more than 2 inch gaps. If platoon gets "routed" and distance between bases goes more than 2 inch, platoon must correct its positions next movement phase and move to "coherent formation" or it cannot act (shoot/swarm etc).

    When swarm, board etc. all platoons bases must be on normal movement range from their target. Or at least that there is only one pltoons own base between target and utmost base and all bases must be at contact. If anyone understands this unclear river of letters...

    Probably pretty stupid rule...

    1. Sounds a pretty good rule to me. We are working towards this in our games. It is getting all the players to understand what the rules allow and how to best use the rules to achieve ones goal.

  4. Total Warfare did a lot to buff infantry, Tech manual and Tac Ops did even more, even if it took TRO 3085 to show us how. (many of which you can use in pre jihad eras)

    I find the PBI is best used as a defensive option. For example

    Motorized XTC Infantry (pp 204 TRO 3085) make an excellent companion and defender to a pair of LRM carriers

    any infantry with the paratroopers rule (pp197 or pp203) can be deployed directly on an objective and hold it until relief arrives. particularly if said objective is a building, in a building or near a building and can be taken to said building.

    Or may provide a means of cheap bridge building across narrow gaps, particularly if you provide them with cover vis a vie big tanks or mechs (pp 205)

    offensively it is better to use Battle armor and fast transports. otherwise foot sloggers are best used in an ambush role vis a vie hidden units and taking advantage of cheap BV to overwhelm opponents.

  5. From what I have read of Klinktastic's treatise on the subject, infantry in BattleTech boil down to one thing - control of the board. Terrain denial on the cheap, as much as possible, and there are many ways to do it. Defensive is a natural, but offensive use of infantry is quite possible and can be very effective, depending on the forces you use.

    You don't field slow-moving infantry if you know your opponent has artillery. That's all.

    You don't use your infantry to 'chase' 'Mechs or even (up to a point) tanks. You use them to occupy terrain features that would be useful to the enemy's attack or counter-attack, such as features on your flanks. Your troops are quite able to bite, and bite hard, at anything that comes near. They bit in two point chunks, so you figure someone who gets near them has already had some holes gouged. Crit-seeking is a time-honored pursuit.

    But the real point is that you are playing not so much against your opponent's forces as you are playing against your opponent - intimidate him with unknown forces, in large quantities, and he or she will likely take an easier, less time-consuming path than plowing through terrain that might rear up and bite at any time. Get your troops to cover in areas the opponent will need to deliver an attack, or vantage points that give your C3 or LRM-equipped forces multiple spotters.

    Infantry are far from useless, and the rules have added not only flavor, but a good degree of flexibility. Keep in mind that you are better off specializing than trying to develop a platoon that can 'do it all'.


    1. It's the whole we are using artillery thing that caused the horrendous infantry casualties in the last game problem for us (me). Artillery sure makes mechs look like a good choice as vehicles tend to be too fragile by comparison.

      Certainly it would appear that the rules support the premise of the game, in that mechs rule the battlefield, which is no bad thing in a game about battlemechs.

  6. Infantry are *very* powerful in Battletech, just like the real world, and just like the real world you have to use them properly to see that.

    1) Infantry carriers without weapons, with very high speeds, are *VERY* cheap BV wise. The Ferret Cargo VTOL is 17 BV, has a speed of 15/23, and can easily drop your grunts off wherever you need them. As infantry doesn't increase BV of units, good tanks that also carry infantry are also great for getting those grunts in closer. With Tacops infantry you can easily see infantry with 4-6 movement, with no movement penalties, which isn't exactly "slow" anyway. In some terrain they are less adversely affected by it, and can move faster. How many mechs do you know that can move 4 hexes underwater?

    2) Sure, in the open, infantry vs a tank means a lot of dead infantry. This is as true today as it was a hundred years ago. Putting infantry in the open is a failure of the commander, not a failure of the infantry. Tanks (or mechs) are for open fields. Plop an infantry battalion in a city and find out that they can be more durable than the hardiest of mechs. Plus, add some 2 divisor armor, or some enhancements, deploy them by squad, and fragile they are not.

    3) While infantry is the "Queen of the battlefield", artillery is the "king". Today we can pretty effectively and quickly drop artillery rounds on top of infantry with surprising effectiveness. Why would you deploy your infantry against artillery forces? And heck, if so, that is what those 15/23 APCs are for... simply fly to the artillery, dismount casually, then kill the guns. Artillery in BT is very ineffective, and if your opponent is using that arty mech to target infantry, they aren't targeting your mechs and tanks, and thus they are less effective and infantry is still useful. What was the BV of the arty mech, and what was the BV of the couple infantry platoons it wasted turns firing at it?

    4) Mechs, ha... I'll take mechs against infantry every day of the week. BV by BV infantry is simply a better purchase. Use hidden (aka realistic) deployment and see what 50 mediocre infantry squads in a city will do to your mech company. A Merkava Mk3 is a great tank, but throw it in a city against AT5s and it burns quite easily.

    Granted, I am a former infantryman in the US Army for 7 years, so perhaps I'm biased. But I do know that when used properly, infantry, like mechs, fighters, or artillery, can rule a battlefield just as easily. But like everything else, when used improperly, they suck. I think the #1 reason people think infantry suck is they simply don't know how to use them (they aren't mechs).

    My infantry designer app I wrote a couple years ago lets you create infantry platoons of 2000 BV.

    A 6 man WoB squad, with ECM/IR/Camo sneak suits, an M42B and 3 Heavy Support Lasers, they can do 8 damage out to 15 hexes, with +3 to hit. That squad costs 95 BV. They have 2 MP, are hidden to active probes, are +2-3 to hit while moving (+4-5 stationary), get a +1 initiative, are a C3 node with a 2 hex AEP, and take -1d6 burst fire damage. PLUS, they take half damage from flamers, and don't take double damage in the open.

    Put 15 of those against a 1500 BV mech, and put some terrain on the map. The infantry deploy hidden as they always should, see who wins. In a typical short range engagement the infantry squad will be +5 to hit, and they'll be shooting at a 0 or -1 if under 7 hexes range.

    1. I agree, and my aim is to get everyone up to speed, but the trouble has been scheduling regular games. A year between games is far too long for anyone to actually remember pretty much anything about playing the game. Also, in all fairness only myself and Dan are hardcore BattleTech gonks, my other players come to hang and socialise.

      So my plan is to somehow simplify, and yet at the same time add subtlety to the infantry part of the game. Simplify involving no paperwork, and subtlety requiring explanation of how a play a unit that is on multiple bases.

    2. No paperwork is pretty easy, make squads with 3/6/9 attack doing 1 damage per figure on the base. Give each base 1 or 2 MP. Each figure on each miniature base represents an infantry damage point. Then, take red straws, cut them up into little bitty pieces, and place them over each soldier that is "out of action" (or if each is a platoon, each figure could do X damage, and yellow straws are -5 damage, red -1, or something). Soon as all the soldiers have a red straw piece around them, that unit is gone. We used to do this for Civil War and Napoleonic games.

      I would break units into squads, and if they are all the same there really isn't a point in "moving them together". Infantry always move last as they have a much easier time reacting to anything else.

      That should make them easy, and consistent enough to use. Feel free to just make up squads that make sense instead of trying to create them according to the rules. Heavy infantry move only 1, but take 2 damage/trooper and do 2 damage/trooper. Light move 3, but take double damage. Commando are harder to hit, militia do half damage and take double damage, etc, etc.

      If you really want to get infantry into a game just totally simplify the way they are played. Once people are use to playing the grunts, and their advantages and disadvantages, then you can start making the minor changes necessary to fit within the canon rules.

    3. You have just taken the words right out of my mouth. I had written something very similar that still needs a bit of work to polish up before posting here on the blog, but yes all good points.

  7. I am curious, Ashley. What does your off-side commenter think of these various responses? It would seem there is more use for infantry in BT than what he or she listed. Or am I reading it incorrectly?

    1. Clive thinks, if I've understood him correctly, that infantry should dominate the battlefield, and kill all the vehicles, or mechs with one shot weapons, just like in real life?

      My counter-point is that while this is the promise from arms manufacturers, looking at recent wars, it is a lot harder to kill vehicles in real life than they make out.

      Unless Clive decides to post here, and blog posts are not his thing, then you have to rely on my anecdotes.