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 in playing pieces. It doesn't look much like a chess game, but certain elements stand out. For instance, attacks and their results are constants. In chess, if a unit moves into a 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 in chess, the target may not be instantly eliminated, but it will be hit for a fixed amount of damage than remains the same for any given unit -- only upgrades can change the damage a unit does. So if you're used to games where a frontal assault by a few units might succeed because there's a chance the opposition will miss or do minimal damage, erase that mindset now.
The Right Unit for the Job
There's no such thing as the ultimate unit available to a M.A.X. Commander. Each unit has its uses and liabilities and can be upgraded far beyond its base levels. Tanks and assault guns, with their ability to fire even at the end of a partial move, are excellent for open-field battles with lots of movement. On the other hand, put them up against stationary missile launchers that are well supplied and informed, and they'll become so much debris. Likewise, ground attack planes are devastating against undefended ground and sea units, but they drop like flies when anti-air units are present and prepared. Entrenched mobile anti-air units are virtually invincible against a reasonable number of ground attack planes, but they can't fight back if they're caught moving. Some units' weaknesses are obvious; some are not so obvious. Here are some hard-learned lessons we can pass on so you don't have to learn them in the heat of 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-air units.
" Don't put tanks in the first line of a beachhead defense force unless you're interested in providing enemy ships with easy targets. Pull your tanks back and keep them as a reaction force against breakthroughs. If you're defending a small area, don't build tanks; build gun turrets and mobile units with long-range weapons.
"If you're facing a foe without much of an air force, you can use scouts instead of escorts to provide information for gunboats and missile cruisers.
"Submarines can be devastating to a sea-based power. Corvettes, ground attack planes, and sea mines dedicated to protecting shipyards and docks may seem like a needless expense -- until these facilities start blowing up in your backyard.
"Land mines are always useful as a protection. Your units are not affected by them, and the only enemy units that can find them are very fragile. The best use of minefields is in front of a position that can be protected by infantry and scouts who can take care of enemy surveyors and mine layers.
"Infiltrators are always useful. Even if they just keep an enemy from using an eco-sphere for a few turns, their contribution can make all the difference. Remember that armored personnel carriers are amphibious and virtually invisible in the water. The only real failing of the infiltrators is that their abilities are linked to the game's one and only concession to random chance: there's always the possibility an infiltrator will fail when trying to steal or disable an enemy unit, and there's chance that failure will bring discovery and disaster.
Choosing the right upgrades for your units can make all the difference in a long-term game -- and in some of the tactical scenarios. But what should you be putting your research and upgrade time into buying?
"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 really throw the opponent's strategy off -- and, of course, it's absolutely necessary if the enemy has invested in armor upgrades.
"Range is a costly upgrade, but it's 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 is at 4 can turn the tide of a battle.
"Small increases in Armor and Hit Points are not very significant, but neither is their cost. Go for a second upgrade in these attributes; they can be the difference between being destroyed in two shots or taking two hits and getting back to a repair unit to fight again.
"Shots are the most expensive upgrades for a combat vehicle, but they can make all the difference. A missile crawler with two shots can suddenly both move and fire. Buying an extra shot for a vehicle is always worthwhile, if you can afford it.
What to Build First?
A M.A.X. Commander who has just landed on a planet has two immediate goals: Build a successful colony and defend the colony. The opposition is likely to find you early, and you have to be ready to defend your colonists -- but it's pointless to build up your defenses if you have no colonists to defend. 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 (eco-spheres, training halls, habitats, and research centers).
Extra engineers can 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. Eventually, you'll want to build depots, hangars, and -- where appropriate -- shipyards and docks; they're all necessary, except in special circumstances.
Once you have these facilities working, you're left to decide which units to build in them. Early on, scouts are always useful. Extra surveyors can be good if there is a lot of land to check for vital resources. Engineers and supply trucks will always find work, too. If you get into a fight early on, bulldozers should be built as soon as possible to take advantage of the debris; sometimes the debris you salvage can keep a colony alive until the second and third mining stations are up and running.
Which air units to build is always a good question. Air units are fragile; anti-air units are very powerful. Sometimes, the best airborne investments are air transports that can haul your units around the map and drop them in out-of-the-way places for unexpected attacks on the enemy. An AWACS plane 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; it'll protect it from being brought down by anti-air units with extended range. And ground attack planes can be devastating.
Since airplanes never have to land except to rearm and be repaired, they're best used at the fringes of a conflict, taking out enemy constructors and engineers, moving columns 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. Ground attack planes with upgraded range 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.
Interesting Initial Deployments
The training scenarios give you a pretty good idea of the standard units you'll want to start with: Constructor, engineer, a couple of scouts, a surveyor, and perhaps a couple of tanks and an assault gun. It's a balanced group meant to handle threats from similarly balanced groups. But there are a few 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 as many as eight of these vehicles. If you think you're going to land near an enemy colony, this is an ideal force for swarming his defenses and destroying his mining station, power generator, and construction vehicles before he knows what hit him. You are, however, betting everything on the chance that you'll begin close to the opposition. If he's far enough away to have time to build more scouts and other heavier units, you'll be easily destroyed when you finally make contact.
"The Defender 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'll probably work best on an island off to one side of a planetary map. A player taking the Defender route will probably lose to a Scout Horde, unless he has had time to build up his forces.
"The Heavy Metal option does away with scouts entirely in order to add another couple of tanks or an assault gun. Use tanks in pairs to do your exploring, and hit anything you find as hard as you can. It's a reconnaissance-in-force tactic, and it's risky, but it might mean destroying an enemy before he can get started. Obviously, this will work best on a world with lots of connected land masses, although it might also work when your landing area is a large island. And, of course, if you build a light vehicle plant early, you'll soon have scouts to explore a wider area once you've secured your immediate surroundings.
n a game with a lot of units running around, it's easy to lose track of the fixed and passive defenses. Stationary artillery, missiles, radar, and anti-air have obvious uses. Other elements, like concrete blocks and mines, can seem like afterthoughts, but they're handy for channeling and delaying the approach of an enemy force.
As the online tips state, it's not necessary to place a mine in every square of the map grid in order to create anxiety in your opponent. If the enemy loses one unit to a mine, the whole area is suspect until it has been swept -- a laborious process. Use a few scattered mines to divert attacking forces into an area covered by every defensive weapon you've got.
Concrete blocks are less subtle than mines, but they're harder to eliminate. An enemy trying for a quick knockout can be very frustrated by the blocks -- particularly if he doesn't have sufficient long-range detection gear to spot them until he's begun his attack.