There’s Nothing Wrong About Breaking Games With Cheap Strategies. It’s Fun.

The Grasshopper was always a good weapon in BattleTech, but it took some good drops and utter shamelessness to make it a great one.

Jun 4 2018, 3:46pm

Screenshot courtesy of Harebrained Schemes

The Grasshopper was always one of my favorite BattleMechs, going all the way back to the original FASA BattleTech board game. In a game that valued maneuverability above armor, the fast-jumping Grasshopper was able to jet around the battlefield and maintain near-continuous fire on its targets while they struggled to hit back. There were harder-hitting mechs its size, but they were shot-magnets, getting absolutely smashed in the opening volleys of each game, but the Grasshopper would often be hanging tough right until the end as its complement of medium lasers finally started drilling into critical components on enemy machines. If it overheated, all it needed to do was jump into some cover and rest for a turn before resuming the fight. Let’s see an Awesome manage that.

But the final card the Grasshopper could play, if heroics were called for, was a Death From Above attack. It was dangerous, as its legs would take damage in the effort and there was a risk it would fall on landing. But it was also a way for the Grasshopper to turn its tremendous mass into a weapon deadlier than most mechs’ entire arsenals.

It took me a while to get a Grasshopper in the new BattleTech tactics game. I had been waiting to get my hands on this mech since I installed the game, and arguably since the last time I played the board game in college. I killed a couple but got poor salvage off them, as their aforementioned evasiveness often meant that they died in hails of missiles and cannon fire rather than from disabling surgical strikes. But shortly I after I finally cobbled together my own Grasshopper—and found it was about as good as I remembered—I spotted an unusual piece of loot a list of salvage: A leg modification that would add 15 points of damage to each Death From Above Attack.

A couple missions later, I got an even rarer leg mod that would reduce by 30 points how much damage I would suffer from performing the attack.

Look, I can read a sign as well as the next guy, and in the vision of a dive-bombing Grasshopper, I saw my road to conquest.

The first draft of my DFA machine

It wasn’t easy getting both mods on the Grasshopper. I stripped off its Large Laser and while there’s an argument to be made that the Large Laser is so weight and heat inefficient as to be worthless, it gave the Grasshopper a very useful long-range ability. Now, with both its Large Laser and its tiny long-range missile launcher sent to storage, my Grasshopper was going to be completely reliant on short-range lasers and Deaths From Above.

I needn’t have worried. With my best pilots flying it, the Grasshopper has turned into a bird of prey. The moment they break cover, my Grasshopper puts enemy mechs on the ground with swift strikes from the sky. Every turn there’s the sound of metal getting ripped apart, usually followed by the sound of ammo explosions and enemy mechs hitting the deck. Only rarely do they get the chance to stand up again, while the Grasshopper has already flown after its next target.

This strategy may not be entirely balanced. Knockdown attacks are so devastating in BattleTech that the Grasshopper’s ability to execute them at-will means that I can basically destroy an enemy mech every single turn. On the other hand, BattleTech is a game that is at least partially balanced by the scarcity of truly great equipment. I have put something like 60 hours into this campaign and have seen this particular damage-reduction leg mod exactly once. Like Icarus’ wax wings, my Grasshopper is going to crash back to earth if one of those souped-up legs is ever critically damaged. But for as long as I’ve got them, I’m going to use them to absolutely ruin my enemies.

When I shared my mech design on Twitter, I received some useful ideas for further augmenting the Grasshopper. A lot of folks want me to go all-in on its already somewhat min-maxed design: Small lasers have almost no range in BattleTech, but at point-blank they pack as much wallop as a medium laser and at half the weight. Since that’s where my Grasshopper already lives, I’d probably end up with greater firepower overall. It’s something I’m thinking about, though I might like the Grasshopper as a skirmisher too much to commit fully to the strategy.

A fistfights-only version of an Atlas made by Twitter user @lim_ak

But people also started sharing their own attempts at gaming the system, and creating their own idealized murder machine. One person is still rocking a plucky little Vindicator, cutting it down to wafer-thin armor but kitting it out with an even greater arsenal of jump gets and sniper weapons. One follower, Andrew Lim, showed me a 100-ton assault mech that carries upgrades to both its fists so that each melee attack will do about 240 extra damage (apparently its performance in the field has been disappointing).

It dawns on me that in each of our attempts to “cheese” a favorite game, we reveal a little something about ourselves. I can’t quite bring myself to make the Grasshopper a one-trick pony, but I’ve transformed its underlying flexibility and survivability into a weapon in themselves. There might be a more specialized, efficient build available, but none that expresses so perfectly the the hopes I harbor in each battle, and the eventualities I am forever hedging against.

What is your favorite cheese tactic or build that you’ve created? How was it meant to work, and did reality match your expectations?

Let me know in today’s open thread!