Mobile Frame Zero: Dance, Magic Dance

There aren’t a whole lot of shady exploits in Mobile Frame Zero, but this article is about one of them: the Station Dance. For the second edition of Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack, I’ll be rewording the rule that the Station Dance rocks and rolls to and I’ll explain why I’m changing it according to the game’s design principles.

(Thanks to Mantisking for the photo above from the Mobile Frame Garage, with Occam’s Spork green frame trying to steal two stations from Tom’s frame at the bottom)

If [a targeted mobile frame] is within hand to hand range of a station, its owner can choose to have it ignore one damage and instead abandon its position, moving the mobile frame 1 ruler unit further away from the station.

P. 123, Mobile frame zero 001: Rapid Attack

This rule is in place for a couple of reasons:

First, stations cannot be destroyed. If you could destroy stations, the game would become a race to destroy everyone else’s stations because stations can’t defend themselves. They’d be soft targets, a way to cost your opponent points without attacking something that can shoot back.

Therefore, we’ve ruled them indestructible components — the only such component in the game other than the table. And being indestructible should make them pretty great cover, right?

Stations represent something that you’re fighting over, something you agree to want as a player and something your company needs within the fiction and metaphors of the game. It might be an ammo depot, it might be a group of civilians or an important politician or a communications station. You particularly don’t want these things to take hits. So hiding behind them as cover defies the intuition about how you defend something — something that we’ve now had to make indestructible to make it so it’s not a game about shooting civilians and racing to the bottom of the scoreboard. We want you to generally be standing in front of them. You’re defending them from other players, who want to take them (or take them back).

Instead, according to the current rules, the frame draws fire away from the station because, per the rules and fiction of the game no one wants to destroy that station. That means that the frame taking hits can look at the number of incoming hits — most often 1-3 — and decide if it’s worth it to concede the strategic objective for the sake of fighting another round. The player might judge that no other frame is close enough to seize it this round (maybe taking a gamble that the frame with a green d8 isn’t going to roll the 8 that they need to seize it before they can return), and so steps away from the wild shot from across the table, reducing the hit’s value. Good move. Or maybe it’s the toward the end of the game, and holding onto the strategic objective outweighs the value of the frame being heavily damaged. Perhaps they’re in hand-to-hand combat, and if they concede it, they’ll lose it, and the game. Or perhaps the scoreboard will shift either way, and the player judges that they’d rather have the frame to fight with next round against a new table leader. These are choices the players can make, and we make them all the time in the game. It’s why the floor underneath an MFØ table is always covered in little bits of chewed off fingernails. This is what we come here to do.

One of the principles of the game’s rules is that you win by boldly implementing the tactics represented on the table that help you achieve your strategic objectives. The information on the table is a reliable representation of the tactical situation. The tactical situation is most emphatically not hidden anywhere outside of the haze of the future on the other side of die rolls. The information you need to make those decisions is not hidden on character sheets or compendious rules that you competitively memorize. The rules exist to help the tabletop accurately represent the situation so that you can make your own best choices internally, relying on your imagination, intuition, and tactics to tell you what to do.

Hey, chabber! If you’re into in Mobile Frame Zero and its development, support this hutching Patreon!

So what does my intuition say when I see a lone frame guarding two valuable, vulnerable stations? My intuition says that, if I attack that guy, that guy has to abandon the stations or face the consequence of holding them. But here, in the current rules as written we have an edge case:

The frame can step away from Hand-to-Hand range of the station and into Hand-to-Hand range of another. That is, by hanging out between two stations, the frame now always takes one less die of damage. Intuition tells us that a goalie guarding two goals should have a harder time, not an easier time.

To be sure, even in the current rules, it’s a risk. On a game-theoretical level, I’ve always been cool with the strategy. Because that defending frame might be more durable, but when one of those stations is captured, whoever captured them will probably get both of them. It’s a bit of an all-in strategy, and there’s no reason to rule those out. The game is very comfortable with players who want to play chicken.

However, when I imagine teaching a new player, and they’re making their decisions about what move to make, the situation is precisely opposite of what’s expected. The one frame guarding two stations is particularly durable, not particularly vulnerable. And it’s the result of the earlier design decision to make stations — which are unable to defend themselves — indestructible to model the behavior of the pilots and their interests against the interests of the players. So we have to follow through on the decision to make stations indestructible, completing the behavioral modeling that we’re doing by saying “Your pilot would never shoot at that”.

Therefore, the rule in the 2nd edition (and, I recommend, going forward in your games) is the following:

If [a targeted mobile frame] is within hand to hand range of a station, the frame’s owner can choose to have it ignore one damage and instead abandon its claim, moving the mobile frame 1 ruler unit away so it does not control a station. If it can’t get away from a station by moving 1 unit, the frame takes the hit as usual, instead.

2e draft rule

That is, if you place a frame between two stations, now you’re painting a target on your own back. Maybe it’s worth it to have another frame out front! That’s up to you! But that defender’s job is now difficult and vulnerable to attack, just like a goalie that has just been informed that they have to cover two goals.

Modular systems are a function of industrial society. But do people of The Fifth World still know how to agree to standards? With their acute interest in efficiency, I think they might have carried that lesson forward!

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