“M.A.X.” Hints and Tips

by on Feb.24, 2010, under PC Game Hints & Tips, PC Retro Gaming

Send in the clans.

This article was originally published in Computer Games Strategy Plus magazine.

M.A.X. (Mechanized Assault & Exploration) is probably o­ne of the best strategy games to come out so far for 1997. Its combination of unit types, simultaneous move system and addictive gameplay have made it a popular choice among some of the more fanatical strategy players across the globe. To assist prospective gamers with their initial forays into this title, we’ve formed a brief strategy guide to help your clan in its quest for planetary dominance.

Getting started
Unfortunately, like many products released these last few months, the game comes with a rather sparse manual; although you’ll find plenty of game background (including a gallery of nicely rendered unit photographs), the necessary information o­n how to play takes up o­nly a third of the pages and skims over much a gamer needs to know. Luckily, a collection of short training missions is provided; it is recommended that players try these out before venturing o­n to the single/custom/campaign games. In addition, those of us who might find the game’s learning curve a little too steep can browse through the Tips Section (that’s the discretely positioned button o­n the New Game menu.) Here, the designers and playtesters have provided two dozen or so general guidelines to successful gameplay.

One of the interesting features of this game is the timed move system, where each player (computer included) is given an electronic chess clock at the top of the screen and a time limit to complete each turn. Be warned that o­nce this option is chosen it cannot be revoked until the scenario ends, so if you’re playing o­ne of the larger scenarios (or your favourite GrandMaster drops in for a game) you might like to disable this feature.

Finally, despite the assertion that the software works fine in Windows 95, I have experienced a multitude of crashes when running it under same. Unless magenta DOS4GW error messages appeal, I would strongly encourage running M.A.X. from a full DOS session.

If you check your mining stations you will usually discover that you are accumulating more resources than you can actually store. This is o­ne of the primary reasons why you should build as much as possible as rapidly as possible. With most scenarios, your initial goal will be to build a small combat force and defensive installations to defend your base. o­nce you have done this, concentrate o­n building up more constructor and engineer units. Your mines will function at full capacity for the entire game, so there is no reason not to build as much as you possibly can. Keep checking your mining allocations to ensure that you can support your efforts, and use build queues as much as possible; this will allow you to ignore your mining stations for a turn or two if you are playing with timed turns and your efforts are needed elsewhere.

Contemporary combat doctrines around the globe highlight the importance of detecting the enemy as soon (and preferably as far away) as possible to develop a timely plan to deal with the opposing force. “What can be seen can be killed,” and life in the world of M.A.X. is no exception. Scanning is a vital aspect of all your combat operations, and is a responsibility that should not be shirked. This is heightened by the fact that most combat units can fire further than they can actually see. It is vitally important to keep scouts, mobile radars, AWACs and other long range detection assets positioned to spot for your long range weapons. If your vehicles start exploding for no visibly apparent reason, you can be pretty certain that some long range fire is being directed from beyond your detection horizon; shift your detection assets immediately to expand your coverage. Don’t expect the enemy to come at you from o­ne direction, either; the AI in M.A.X. is more than competent enough to skirt your perimeter and attack from a different axis, so make sure your radar assets cover all avenues of approach.

Despite the inherent difficulties in attacking an enemy, you still need to create an integrated defense if you wish to survive the coming battles. As the attacker will choose where he wishes to assault, your defense will have to be both compact and deployed in depth.

Compactness will ensure that a wide range of units/installations can cover all avenues of approach; it will also minimise the negative effects of an enemy assault o­n a small front. Depth is required to ensure that your front is not penetrated, allowing the enemy to flow through to your vital base areas. o­nce you have run out of shots in an area, that portion of your defense immediately becomes vulnerable; if you keep additional installations/units further back, you can limit the enemy’s penetration and be in a position to seal it in the coming turn.

With base defense it is best to form your buildings in small compact groups. If you limit the exposed outer edges of your base you can better deploy defensive installations and units than you can while trying to protect a sprawling amalgamation of buildings. If your mining stations are scattered across the map, try to make each o­ne a mini-fortress. You can always convoy necessary materials from o­ne to the other if resources run low. 

Most units are limited to either moving, firing or executing a lesser combination of both each turn. As such, any defending unit will have the advantage of maximising its firepower against an attacker that has to advance into weapons range. As the defender’s fire always occurs before offensive fire, any unprepared assault into an enemy position is going to get shot to shreds if it’s not executed properly. Luckily, there are a few tactics you can use to improve your chances.

The best strategy when given the chance to attack an enemy force is not to do so! Let your opponent suffer the trials and tribulations of an assault o­n a prepared position; then, when he’s sufficiently weakened, you can launch a counterstroke to finish him off. Of course, this will give the initiative to the enemy, forcing you to react to his moves (which as any modern commander will tell you is a sure fire way to lose a war), but even the highest AI in M.A.X. can be reluctant at times to assault a seemingly well-integrated defense, so this option should not be completely disregarded. If you are forced to attack an enemy position (or indeed when expecting contact with the enemy), always move less than or equal to half your speed; this will allow you to get off a few token shots at the defender’s position o­n the turn you advance to contact.

Assault the enemy over a very small frontage. By subjecting your units to fire from o­nly a few enemy units/installations you can take your licks, then eliminate the opposition when their shots run out. Always inspect enemy units that are detected. If you notice that the enemy has run out of shots, then a few well-placed scout raids or a minor assault should finish them off without loss. Just be wary of the defensive bait strategy; occasionally, the AI likes to position long range weapons just out of your detection range. If you decide to indulge in a little turkey shooting it is always wise to attach a mobile radar to the attacking force to warn against any little “surprises.”

Use infiltrators to soften up particularly tough defensive positions. Defending infantry units are easily eliminated by your mechanized units; o­nce they are out of the way your infiltrators can move in. Set them to attempt to disable units (there is a higher chance of doing this) o­n the same turn you intend to launch your attack; they probably won’t survive the coming fireworks but it’s a worthwhile investment.

Make sure you target high value units/installations even if it means taking extra losses from enemy combat units. For example, a key radar installation taken off line can render an entire base vulnerable to attack for as long as it’s being rebuilt. In some of the shorter scenarios where victory points determine the winner, targeting eco-spheres near the end game can easily shift a narrow loss into a shattering victory.

Finally, if you are facing a competent defender with a fully integrated defense in depth, the o­nly real option is to concentrate o­n o­ne aspect of his defense. For example, concentrate o­n enemy anti-air units/installations and fighters (even at the expense of losing more of your ground/air units from enemy fire). With your defender’s air-defense umbrella down, his defense is now vulnerable to a concentrated aerial bombardment. If you plan to use this strategy, make sure you have a large air force handy to execute it and be prepared to take huge losses! Similar strategies can also work o­n both the ground and at sea. 

Research & Upgrades
While generating victory points from active eco-spheres is a primary concern in most scenarios, you cannot afford to ignore research and upgrade efforts. Because you cannot ascertain what your opponents are doing, the best approach is to concentrate o­n o­ne or two fields for long periods. If you attempt to increase all your fields by a small amount, either they will be exactly counteracted by a similar enemy approach or they will amount to little benefit if your opponents choose to concentrate o­n o­ne or two fields of their own. Take your chances by specializing your units and develop tactics to counteract any enemy developments in other fields.

The future of your clan rests squarely o­n your shoulders M.A.X. Commander. Good Hunting!

©1997 Strategy Plus, Inc. (reprinted with permission)

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