As we established last week, Battletech is not just a game about mechs, it is a combined arms game that features all sorts of units. We covered tanks as part of our rebellion against the corrupt Goonhammer establishment last week, so we should cover their usual partner this week, the poor, mistreated, misbegotten Infantryman.
Infantry in Battletech comes in two main flavors, rules wise. First you have the bog standard infantryman, same as in the modern day or in most other war games, and second you have Battle Armor. We have talked a bit about Battle Armor in the past, and this article will mostly be focusing on the first type, generally called “Conventional Infantry” by the game system.
This book has too many rules
Conventional Infantry have a bit of a pile of special rules and exceptions that all varieties share, so lets, in brief, go over those first. They take damage in the form of losing a single trooper out of the platoon for each point of damage inflicted on them. In addition to that, they take massively reduced damage from anti-mech weapons, like PPCs and Autocannons, because yeah, the guy who got atomized by a PPC is suffering a significant emotional event, but everyone else in the unit is probably going to live. Some weapons do more than others, there is a chart in the book and covering all of it would be a pain and bloat this article more than it already is going to be. The main thing to know is that pulse lasers and anything that inflicts heat damage are your best bet to deal with infantry from a distance. Some weapons have a Burst keyword, which makes them deal damage by rolling a given amount of D6s, with that many infantrymen dying. This is one of the reasons that the Piranha is death on legs to infantry, because it can kill 24D6 infantrymen with its machine guns in a single turn. Generally speaking, you will want to bring anti-infantry guns to deal with them. They do take double damage when standing in a hex with no cover, so they are best used in a woodline or building.
Another exception is that they have no facing. Infantry have a 360 arc of fire and do not need to turn when they move. They tend to have very low speed/mobility to make up for this though, with a few exceptions. They also have some weird specific interactions with buildings, but the gist of it is that they really really like to be inside of a building.
Any infantry that manages to end up in the same hex as an enemy mech or tank can try to swarm it, either planting satchel charges on its leg joints/tracks to try to crit its ability to move, or climbing up on top of the mech and trying to pull the pilot out of their cockpit. This is massively fun, but difficult to do due to the very low speed of most infantry.
Infantry can also be carried by certain vehicles, anything with an Infantry Bay. This massively increases their speed and ability to get into good positions, and is basically mandatory to use them in an offensive role. APCs and Infantry are both incredibly cheap in terms of BV, and they can serve as really good objective holders or area denial tools. Infantry in general does a shocking amount of damage compared to what you would expect them to do, and anything that helps them get closer is very valuable. Jump/hover capable infantry can dismount from a VTOL without forcing it to land as well, which combos really well with the extreme speeds a lot of VTOLs can get to.
Varieties of Infantry and why you would want them
Infantry come in a huge amount of variations, and I will try to cover them and why you would want to use them here, in addition to a few things to keep in mind while using them. I am sure that I will miss something, or just not talk about it due to it being so incredibly niche that it will never get used. I am aware you can arm a unit with swords and bows and play Battletech as a medieval historical game, for example, but I really don’t think it needs it’s own section. I’ll first cover each main weapon type in the total warfare book, and then the various variations that are not a dude on foot. One thing to note before moving on is that non-rifle infantry move slower than normal, to the point that foot infantry with anything other than rifles have to chose between moving or shooting in a turn, which can be very annoying. All other movement types can both move and shoot, even with the heavier weapons, though they are slower than their rifle armed counterparts.
Primary Infantry Weapons
Ballistic Rifle Infantry
This is a platoon of dudes with assault rifles. They have a pathetically short range, only 3 hexes, but do a shocking amount of damage in exchange for that, with a 28 man inner sphere standard unit doing up to 15 damage. They also tend to be the cheapest of the various infantries, and are a good place to start. Generally they desperately want a transport, and struggle to take offensive action more than other weapons.
Energy Rifle Infantry
This is a platoon of dudes with red glowing assault rifles. Man portable laser weapons in Battletech are generally portrayed as being pretty damn effective, and the rules here are kind of a weird let-down compared to how they are in the fluff. They have twice the range of Ballistic Rifle infantry, but only deal half as much damage. This does make them better in a lot of situations, because half damage is better than no damage and ballistic rifle infantry will frequently struggle to do any damage at all. Generally a good all round option for weapon, you gain range and stay very cheap.
Machine Gun Infantry
Nearly identical to the ballistic rifle infantry, with the exception that they do much more damage to other infantry and gain 1 point of damage against mechs, going up to 16. I should mention here that Infantry do damage in 2 point clusters (for the most part, we will get to that), so you can’t headchop with AK-47s, as funny as that would be.
Missile infantry are probably your best option for actually damaging mechs and vehicles, much like in the real world. SRM infantry have the range of energy rifle infantry, but do nearly the same damage as ballistic rifle infantry. They are a bit more expensive, but infantry comes so cheap that you really shouldn’t notice the difference. A good option as a general rule if you are not expecting to fight much enemy infantry, as you will lose against any infantry that isn’t kitted to kill mechs.
LRM infantry are honestly my favorite infantry. You trade a couple of points of damage away compared to SRM infantry, but you gain 3 hexes of range, going up to the same range bracket as a basic medium laser or SRM. This means that they can deny a much larger area to your enemy, and can bunker on an objective and still meaningfully engage targets that are around the objective, rather than only the targets that are on top of it. You have the same weakness to other infantry, but in my opinion it is well worth it for the extra range.
Flamer infantry is similar to machine gun infantry, in that they do heinous damage to other infantry with an incredibly short range. They do have less damage though, and the potentially neat trick of doing 1d6 heat damage to an enemy mech, which can really mess with your opponent’s heat management. I would generally advocate for one of the types with more range though, the 3 hex max range is pretty brutal.
Infantry movement types
Basic guys walking around. They generally can only move 1 hex per turn, so they are best getting dropped off in a position by an APC and just holding there as long as they can. Fairly boring but very cheap.
Dudes on motorcycles and other very, very light vehicles. They are significantly faster, are on motorcycles, and function otherwise basically the same. Generally a good choice if you want to actually use your infantry for anything that requires movement.
These are dudes with jump packs that let them jump like a mech. They move about the same speed as Motorized, but come in smaller unit sizes and are more expensive. They also can jump out of VTOLs and aircraft and deploy that way, which is rad, and ignoring terrain when they jump makes them way more slippery in an urban/hilly/forested environment than you would think.
These are dudes in space MRAPs. They come in three varieties, Hover, Wheeled, and Tracked. Basically Hover is fastest but can’t enter all terrain, Wheeled can enter more terrain but is slower, and Tracked can enter basically any terrain but is the slowest. Generally I would recommend either Hover or Tracked, Wheeled is an awkward middle child. Mechanized also takes double damage from anti-mech weapons, so you will be slightly more vulnerable at a distance. Generally a good choice, and have the lowest reliance on APCs, because they basically come with an APC baked in to their sheet already.
The first of the weird, non-Total Warfare infantry types, Beast Mounted basically just means cavalry. They are riding horses, Chocobos, Guar, Silt Striders, or whatever other wacky and wild alien creatures you like. They act as a sort of middle ground between foot and motorized, and are a lot of fun.
Aerial Beast Infantry
These are dudes riding flying animals. The picture on Sarna looks like a fucking Dragon. This is infantry riding fucking Dragons, Pern style. This goes hard and absolutely rocks, and if you don’t want to strafe offending mechs with your fucking dragon mounted anti tank troopers you are no fun and should feel sad. That said in terms of actual gameplay they are quite fast and can ignore terrain, which makes them surprisingly good, if suffering from a lack of canon varieties.
Field Gun Infantry
One of the more devilish things this game has ever produced, Field Gun Infantry are infantry that are towing some sort of mech grade ballistic weapon behind their jeeps. This can be anything from an AC-2 to a god damn Gauss Rifle, though the canon variation is using light AC-5s. These are shockingly good, being very cheap for the amount of anti-mech damage they can put out. They also are frustratingly hard to kill at a distance, so you have to close in, but their damage ramps up quite a lot as you get closer, making them fantastic area denial tools, and very effective at mauling mechs that run up on them. They are very pricy by infantry standards though.
Infantry are a lot of fun, and can add a lot to games. A lot of mechs carry anti-infantry weapons that are broadly seen as useless by most of the community, but that suddenly become very important when infantry are an actual battlefield hazard you may run into. That might be the best way to think about infantry. They are less a unit you bring to engage the enemy, and more of a hazard or land mine that you scatter around the map, creating little pockets of surprise damage where your opponent would really rather not stand. Using cheap, fast APCs to scatter infantry into half of the woodlines and buildings on a map can be a fun tactic, if prone to slowing games down a bit if you are inexperienced. Once you know what you are doing infantry mostly just act as initiative sinks, as they will often spend most of the game sitting still, but the faster varieties, like the fucking dragon riders or hover mechanized, can actually chase after and annoy targets that are much, much more expensive than them. They add a lot to the game, and while they are the first unit we have talked about where I heavily recommend having a good, solid understanding of the game before you start playing with them, due to the amount of exceptions to the normal rules, they are still not that bad. There are simplified rules coming for infantry soon, if you are a purely mech based player who wants to add a little spice to your games, I recommend giving infantry a shot some time, especially if you want to run some sort of narrative campaign.