Strategy to the M.A.X.
by Steve Perrin
Writing a strategy guide for a game can be a proposition fraught with
peril. In this essay I will attempt to avoid that peril and provide some
helpful hints based on basic strategy and how it is implemented, or
avoided, in M.A.X..
In general, I will be dealing with long term games of conquest, the
Custom Games. The tactical scenarios included with the game often have
divergent strategies and special lineups of units that might or might
not ever arise in a standard conquest game.
How It Works
The first thing to keep firmly in mind with M.A.X. is that it was
purposely designed to emulate a chess game with a lot more variety of
units and terrain. It doesn't look much like a chess game, but certain
elements stand out.
For instance, attack and damage are constants. In chess, if a unit moves
into a square (is in range of the square) the piece already in that
square is taken. In M.A.X., if a unit is in range of another unit and
shoots at it, the target will be hit. Unlike chess the target may not be
instantly destroyed, but it will be hit for a certain amount of damage.
This damage is always the same from any one unit. Only upgrading the
unit can change the damage it does.
Thus, if you are used to games where a frontal assault by a few units
might succeed because there is a chance the opposition will miss and a
chance that the damage the hits do will be small, erase that mindset
now. In the worlds of M.A.X., targeting is an exact science and
munitions are manufactured to rigorous tolerances. The sights will put
the shell into the best possible spot and the shell will always do its
exact amount of damage.
Obviously, Electronic CounterMeasures are useless in M.A.X.. Sighting
devices cannot be fooled. It's a hard fact that a M.A.X. Commander has
to learn to live with.
The Right Unit For the Right Job
There is no such thing as the ultimate unit available to the M.A.X.
Commander. Every unit has its uses and liabilities and every unit can be
upgraded far beyond its base attribute levels. Tanks and Assault Guns,
with their ability to partially move and still fire, are excellent for
open field battles with lots of movement. Put them up against implaced,
well-supplied-and-informed missile units and they become so much debris.
Ground Attack planes are devastating against undefended ground and sea
units, but drop like flies when anti-air units are present and prepared.
Implaced anti-air units are virtually invincible against a reasonable
number of ground attack planes, but cannot do anything if they are
caught moving. Move your mobile anti-air weapons and you leave your
other units wide open for the ground attack planes.
Some of these weaknesses are obvious, some are not so obvious and are,
in fact, game balance decisions. Here are some hard-learned lessons we
can pass on so you don't have to learn them in the middle of a battle.
* Keep mobile radar scanners or scouts with your long range units so
they can make the best use of their range. Protect moving groups against
ground attack planes with fighters, not mobile anti-aircraft.
* Do not put tanks in the first line of a beachhead defense force unless
you just want to provide targets for enemy ships. Pull your tanks back
and keep them as a reaction for against breakthroughs. If you are
defending a small area, don't build tanks, build gun turrets and mobile
units with long range weapons.
* If you are facing a foe without much air capacity, you can use scouts
instead of escorts to provide information for gunboats and missile
* Submarines can be devastating to a sea-based power. Corvettes
and-Ground Attack Planes dedicated to protecting shipyards and docks and
sea mines may seem like a needless expense until these facilities start
blowing up in your back yard. Of course, a sea mine field is also a good
* Mine fields are always useful as a protection. Your units are not
affected by them and the only enemy units that can find them (without
blowing up in the process) are very fragile. The best use of minefields
is in front of a position that can be protected by infantry and scouts
to take care of surveyors and minelayers.
* Infiltrators are always useful. Even if they just keep an enemy from
using an eco-sphere for a few turns, their contribution can be
invaluable. Remember that Armored Personnel Carriers are amphibious and
virtually invisible unless on land. The only real failing of the
infiltrator is that its ability to take over or disable enemy units
contains the game's sole concession to probabilities. There is always
the chance of failure, and the chance that failure will bring discovery
The right upgrade to units can make all the difference in a long-term
game and in some of the tactical scenarios we have provided with the
game. But what should you be putting your research and upgrade time into
* Attack adds to the damage done by a combat vehicle's weapon. It can
make a definite difference, especially if multiple upgrades are
purchased. Enemy units designed to be able to absorb two or more hits
suddenly start blowing up early. This can be very discomfiting. And, of
course, it is absolutely necessary if the enemy has invested in armor
* Range is a costly upgrade. It is also vital. For tanks, remember to
upgrade the scan (also costly) as well as the range. Having tanks with a
range and scan of 5 when everyone else has 4 will make all the
* Small increases in Armor and Hit Points are not very significant and
cost accordingly. Go for a second upgrade in these elements. It can make
the difference in being destroyed in two shots or taking two hits and
getting back to a repair unit to fight again.
* Speed is relatively cheap upgrade and can make a significant
difference, particularly for units that are normally slow. Fast tanks
are always frightening, and fast repair units and supply trucks can make
the difference between a blitzkrieg and a deliberate advance.
* Shots are the most expensive upgrade for a combat vehicle because they
can make all the difference. A missile crawler with two shots can
suddenly both move and fire¦a deadly attack combined with mobility.
Buying an extra shot with a vehicle is always worth it, if you can
What to Build First?
A M.A.X. Commander who has just landed on a planet has two imperatives.
Build a successful colony and defend the colony. Unfortunately, this is
the classic guns and butter problem. You have only so many resources and
only so much to do with them in a restricted period of time. Likely as
not, the opposition is going to find you early and you have to be ready
to defend your colonists. But you have to have colonists to defend or it
is pointless to build up a major defense force. The classic tactic is to
put your constructor to work on a Light Vehicle plant while the Engineer
works on storage units for the mining station and connectors between the
plant and the mine. Extra constructors (which generally don't have
supplies at the start of a game) need to be put to work on the habitats
and other colonial buildings like eco-spheres, training halls, barracks
and research centers. Extra engineers need to set up some fixed
defenses, like anti-air, radar, and missile installations.
Early on, you also need a heavy unit plant to build the major fighting
vehicles and an air unit factory. Don't forget things like depots,
hangers, and, where appropriate, shipyards and docks. Everything is
necessary except in special circumstances.
Once you have these facilities working, you are left with deciding which
units to build in them. In the early game, scouts are always useful.
Extra surveyors can be good if there is a lot of area to check for vital
resources. Engineers and supply trucks are good. If you get into a fight
early on, then bulldozers should be built as soon as possible to take
advantage of the debris. Sometimes the debris you pick up off a
battlefield can keep a colony alive until the second and third mining
stations are built.
Which air unit to build is always a good question. Air units are
fragile. Anti-Air units are very powerful. Sometimes the best investment
is Air Transports to haul your units around the map and set up in
out-of-the-way places for unexpected attacks on the enemy. An AWACs is
an excellent investment, especially if protected by a flock of fighters.
Upgrading the scan of an AWACs might be very important in the later
stages of a game, to avoid being brought down by anti-air units with
As stated earlier, Ground Attack Planes can be devastating. Since
airplanes never have to land except to rearm and be repaired in this
game, they are best used at the fringes of a conflict, taking out
constructors and engineers trying to build new facilities, moving
columns of enemy units without fighter support, and wayward surveyors
and scouts. They don't have a lot of use in straight conflict unless the
enemy has somehow been deprived of anti-air units through an active
ground offense or gunboat bombardment. In such cases, they can range
throughout the enemy position and destroy his strategic facilities.
However. if the player is using the right clan and can produce them
early, enemy ground units are easy meat for the Ground Attack plane if
the opposition hasn't built any anti-air units.
Also, ground attack planes with upgraded range and good intelligence are
probably the best answer to the anti-air problem. Anti-air is often only
as good as its supporting radar. Take out enemy radar and your ground
attack planes have a longer lifetime on a battlefield.
In a game with a lot of units running around, it is easy to lose track
of the fixed defenses and the passive defensive. Implaced artillery,
missiles, radar, and anti-air have obvious uses. Other elements, such as
concrete blocks and mines, can seem like superfluous afterthoughts.
The main use for these two elements is in channeling the approach of an
enemy force. As the tips for the game state, it is not necessary to fill
up every square of the map grid with a mine to create anxiety in an
attacking opponent. If one unit blows up in an area, the whole area is
suspect until it has been swept¦a laborious process. Use a few scattered
mines to make an opponent channel an attack into an area covered by
every weapon the defender owns.
Concrete blocks are less subtle, but also less easy to eliminate. An
enemy trying for a quick knockout can be very frustrated by the blocks,
particularly if he doesn't have the long range detection gear to see
them until he is in mid-attack.
In M.A.X., Intelligence gathering is essentially the employment of lots
of radar and the use of infiltrators. It is never a bad idea to upgrade
radar range and build radar units, both fixed and moving. Mobile
Scanners are quite capable of operating at all times, unlike mobile
anti-aircraft units, and the information they bring in on the move can
be vital to an attacking force or to a colonial force trying to get the
lay of the land. One unit that can provide knowledge of an enemy's
location and composition is worth three combat units flailing about
blindly without a clue. Remember this when determining what units you
Interesting Initial Deployments
Common unit selection for an initial mining station colony follows the
ones shown in the training scenarios. Constructor, Engineer, a couple of
scouts, a surveyor, and perhaps a couple of tanks and an assault gun.
This is a balanced group meant to handle threats from similar balanced
But here are a couple of other possibilities you might want to try.
* The Scout Horde is a deployment that fills up with scouts, perhaps a
bit upgraded in Attack and Speed. A new colony group can have up to
about 8 of these vehicles. If you think you are going to land near an
enemy colony, this is an ideal force to swarm his defenses and destroy
his mining station and power generator and building vehicles before he
knows what hit him. You are, however, putting everything on a fall of
the cards that puts you close to your opposition. If he is far enough
away to have time to build more scouts and other heavier units, you may
be destroyed easily when you finally make contact.
* The Defenders option calls for extra construction vehicles, very few
scouts (maybe just one) a scanner and a couple of missile crawlers and
or rocket launchers. The plan is to sit tight, call very little
attention to yourself, and destroy anything that gets close. It might
work best on an island off to the side of a planetary map. A Defender
will probably lose to a Scout Horde unless he has had time to build.
* The Heavy Metal option does away with scouts entirely in order to add
another tank or two or assault gun. Use tanks in teams of two to do your
exploring and hit anything you find as hard as you can. It's a
reconnaissance in force tactic and chancy, but it might mean destroying
an enemy before he can get started. This will work best on a world with
lots of connected land, though it might also work on a landing area
that's a large island. And, of course, if you build a light vehicle
plant early, you will have scouts to take care of wider scouting after
you secure the immediate area.