Terrain Control Guide

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This guide was originally posted by xDeityx in the forums. Although written several years ago, the fundamental concepts this guide discusses are still relevant for 0.8.6.

The target audience of this guide is new players who do not understand Terrain Control (short: TC) concepts, and want to improve their play. The goal of this guide is to improve the strategic level of public server teams. This guide will focus on Terrain Control because it is the most classically tactical game mode currently available. This is a high level guide for teams in general, and will not go into too much specific detail for single units. Please point new players this way. As always, many thanks to the developers and server hosts for making this game a reality.

Bases

Neutral bases are what define the Terrain Control game mode. Not all neutral bases are created equal. Bases with full hangar bays are better than bases without them. Bases in the middle are better than bases on the edge.

The Early Game

The start of a Terrain Control game is the most important. This is because of the c-bill system, and the ticket system. If you gain an early monetary advantage, you can use that advantage to leverage more c-bills by buying better assets, which can create a snowball effect. If you create an early lead in tickets, you can then play defensively for the rest of the game. This puts pressure on the enemy by forcing them to attack defended bases.

The easiest way to create a lead in both tickets and c-bills is to not dick around in the hangar at the start of the game. Capturing bases rewards c-bills and credit towards your next rank, so consider the neutral bases free money. Know exactly what asset you are going to pilot, buy it QUICKLY, and get it out of the hangar and moving to a neutral base as fast as possible. The start of the map is NOT the time to browse through the assets and see what their variants are. If you look in the upper left corner of the UI you can see the assets that are being built in the order that they are built, and with this you can figure out in which hangar bay your asset will spawn.

Whichever team completely caps a base first is going to gain an advantage, because of the way the tickets deplete. If one team has more bases than the other team, the team with fewer bases will start bleeding tickets until the bases are equalized or they have a majority. It’s slightly more detailed than that, the bases are “weighted” so that a more strategically important bases reward more tickets. But since we don't know what those weighted values are, using the rule of thumb that holding the majority = tickets lost for the other team is useful. A way to turn this mechanic to your advantage is to pick a fast asset (ASF, VTOL, Harasser, Owens with MASC), and immediately sprint to the closest neutral base. If you are faster than everyone on the opposing team, you just gave your team the ticket lead. This early ticket advantage is huge on the maps that have an equal number of bases because stalemates occur more frequently and this small advantage can last all game.

The goal of the early game is to capture as many neutral bases as possible without overextending. Both teams should avoid full-out engagement unless it is over the central “odd” base (D4 in DV, in Mirage it’s the central base with the repair bay that is the most valuable). It is important here to mark the distinction between maps with an odd number of bases (Death Valley, Mirage[1]), and maps with an even number of bases (Marshes, Thunder Rift, Kagoshima). In Death Valley and Mirage, the goal of the early game should be to cap and hold the majority of the bases for the duration of the game, or at least until your team has an insurmountable ticket lead. In all other maps, the goal is to cap and hold the majority of the bases until you have a ticket lead, and then you can fall back to a stalemated position with the lead if necessary.

The Middle Game

The majority of the game is the middle game. The middle game is reached when all neutral bases have been capped. At this point, your team is either losing or winning.

The Middle Game – Winning

Your team is winning when you have more bases than the opposing team, and roughly equal or greater tickets. When you’re winning, the goal is to preserve and increase your advantage. This means playing defense, and waiting for intelligent opportunities to expand your territory. Overexpansion is one of the things that cause teams to fail in this stage. They will get 4 of the 6 bases in Kago or Mirage for example, but then will neglect to defend them adequately and end up swiftly losing their majority because 90% of their team all zerged to one base. This is because playing defense as a team is not intuitive and requires a small amount of communication and sacrifice. Everyone naturally wants to head to the big fight, so nobody wants to really play defense. The best solution to this is for someone to suck it up and play defense, hopefully to be relieved by a teammate later. If nobody is willing to do this, there is an alternative if the base which needs defense is one which has a ‘mech bay. Get as many teammates as possible to spawn at the base. Doing this creates a constant stream of activity in the area of the base, so the chances that it will fall without advanced warning is much smaller.

To defend a large number of bases, scouts and brawlers are required. Scouts call out enemy movements, and brawlers respond to those movements. It’s that simple.

A scout is an asset with high speed and good radar/electronics. You can still act as a scout without speed and an electronics suite, but you will not be as effective. To scout, you need to patrol and cover the ground between the bases, and keep your eyes on the radar and the field. You also need to be willing to communicate. Something as simple as “Inc to G4” will suffice, but the more information you provide to your team, the better. For example, “Inc to G4” is inferior to “2 contacts inc to G4” which is inferior still to “Bushie and Owens inc to G4 from F7.” You should still communicate even if you have C3, because people are bad at looking at the map. One example of a good scout Mech is the Raven.

A brawler is a short range asset that can operate effectively in the confined spaces inside the bases. The reason that brawlers are desirable over support units (long range units) in the TC middle game is because they cannot fight as effectively in bases, which is where all the tactical fighting will take place. Support units can be effective in bad (non-tactical) “lemming” style play and situational stand-offs, but that is what this guide is trying to avoid. Most of the time weaker players will pick support units because they are fearful of brawling. Some support units can still be effective due to sheer offensive power, but these are usually not available in the early stage of the middle game. An example of a good early brawler is the Puma D.

There is a debate as to whether heavy tanks or scouts are the best defensive units, and the answer depends on how responsive your team is to chat. The advantage tanks have is that most variants are very heavily armored brawlers, which means that the base is harder to take away from your team. The disadvantage is you risk doing the job “too well” and you end up being totally bored because nobody wants to try and attack your tank in close quarters, so they go elsewhere. Also, tanks aren’t as mobile as scouts, so if the enemy team swarms a different base, the tank can’t get there as quickly as the scout could. If your team is good at responding to chat, and the scout gives the warning in time, scouts will be more effective. In a general public server setting, tanks may be more effective. Either way, having anything on defense is better than having nothing.


The Middle Game – Losing

When you have fewer bases than the enemy, and roughly equal or fewer tickets, you are losing. When you are losing, you need to capture bases until you have the majority, and then defend. This needs to be done as soon as possible. Your attitude should borderline panic if you do not have the majority of the bases, because every minute that goes by makes it harder to win. If you are defending when you are losing, you will continue to lose and a win will slide further out of reach as time proceeds. If you are losing by a lot, you may need to capture more than just the simple majority, you may need as many as 100% of the bases. Because tickets also deplete when assets are destroyed (see chart at end of guide), you can still lose the game despite having 100% of the bases captured.

Scouts are still useful for the losers, but you mainly just want a crapload of brawlers. This is because you don't need to know where the enemy is as badly as you do when you are defending. The enemy will most likely be defending their bases. It does still help to know the enemy asset locations so your team can make more informed decisions as to which bases to attack, but it is almost always better to just zerg down a base with brawlers. Some scouts are decent brawlers anyway, such as the Owens C.

There are two ways in which bases change hands: peacefully, or with a fight. By peacefully I mean that you flip the base without a defender ever presenting itself (the “ninja”). This is usually how out-of-the-way bases are flipped (i.e. Death Valley C2/F7 and Kagoshima B2/G7). Out-of –the-way bases that are flipped peacefully will usually get re-capped due to lack of defense, so flipping these bases is more of a diversionary tactic. People tend to congregate at the central bases, so these bases generally don’t get flipped without a fight. If you’re a chess player, you know the importance of having a strong center. If you’re not a chess player then take it from me – having a strong center is important in any game with a map or a board.

A common scenario in TC maps is when the winning team caps all or most of the bases, and then moves to “base rape” the losing team by gathering just outside the losing team’s main base. This is 100% the losing team’s fault for not using effective strategy, but unfortunately team stacking is the common scapegoat. When the winning team is camping on the front door of the losing team’s base that means that they likely do not have any defenders for their rear bases. Sending passive ninjas to cap the rear bases will pull assets away from the base rape, and suddenly the blockade at the losing team’s doorstep melts away. The worst possible thing you can do is try to “break” the enemy blockade line with a line of your own. This costs you time (which you don’t have as the loser), and it lets the winners keep their bases without having to defend them. It’s always better to flank than fight in that situation. The winning team should feel threatened by the losing team. The winners should be forced to defend all of their bases, not just the 1 base at which everyone feels like fighting.

If you are losing and you get into a pitched battle, you are just digging yourself a hole as your tickets bleed away. The losing team should NEVER engage in a pitched battle unless it is inside of the last base they need to obtain the winning majority. Remember that the goal of the losing team is to work to obtain the bases they need to win, and then hold. Guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run strategies are going to be favored for this at first in order to break the defender’s hold on the target bases, but keep in mind that you have to defend what you take. The enemy “rear” bases (i.e. Death Valley C2/F7 and Kagoshima B2/G7) are not conducive to defense due to a lack of repair facilities and/or remote location. Take rear bases as distractions only, and focus on getting a defensible group of bases that are clumped together. This means that you should ninja the rear bases and then make an organized push on the bases you really want soon afterwards. If you cannot hold a group of bases, the only other winning option as the loser is to constantly cap all of the bases without defending them, and try to keep a majority that way.

Example: Inner Sphere is losing on Death Valley. Clan currently holds 4 of the 5 neutral bases with F7 being the only IS base, but the tickets are still within 50 of each other. The winning strategy for Inner Sphere here is to distract Clan assets by capturing C2, and then push for G4, which has 2 full-service repair bays as well as a repair pad, or B5 which is almost as well equipped with 1 full service ‘mech bay and a repair pad. Either of these bases will be useful as a staging point for an assault on D4, which is the next step after securing G4. Having these three bases (D4, F7, and G4 or B5) will form a neat and defensible triangle, with F7 being the weakest point. If the Clanners are playing tenacious defense at D4, the IS should switch to lightly but constantly aggressing C2 and B5 in small groups while trying to hold G4 and F7. If this doesn’t work, it will at least soften up D4 for a coordinated attack. The losing strategy for IS here is to engage the clan forces in the open desert (anywhere) or in front of the IS base. Participating in desert skirmishes only keeps the Clan lead secure without forcing the clan to have to commit assets to defense.

The End Game

The end game is reached when the ticket count is roughly equal, and both sides have large bank accounts and ranks to fund expensive assets. The end game is outside the scope of this guide, because most pub games are decided in the opening or the middle game. End games are generally reached when both teams are using a high level of strategic play throughout the match, or are making relatively equal strategic blunders.


Notes

Thanks to Az and all of the other folks who posted feedback on the MWLL forums. Thanks to Cygma for putting this up on the wiki =).

[1]: Mirage has seven neutral bases. Only six are shown on the Heads Up Display as of the time of this writing.