Sunday, June 5, 2011

MERCS Rules: The Basics

I've had a few people asking me how MERCS plays, so I thought I'd run through the basic elements of play. This little write-up is designed to provide a basic understanding of the main concepts of gameplay, so I won't go into further detail - that's all clearly outlined in the Rulebook and on available FAQs.

There are also some How To videos up on youtube, thanks to Soulreclaimer! These are great explanations on some of the finer mechanics of the game, particularly movement.

The gameplay is very fast-paced, with simple concepts that are easy to understand and apply. With a small ruleset, it's easy to get into, but applying tactics and strategy using these rules combined with your faction's abilities provide a wonderful challenge.

Choosing Your Team
Each faction has 6 unit choices. In a 5v5 game, you may choose 5 of these units, with no duplicates (i.e. you cannot choose to field two Snipers in the same game).

The game is played on a 2' x 3' area, with each player having a starting 2' edge. Players deploy their units within one card width from their edge of the board. Players take turns to place their models on the board, after determining who may place first with a roll-off.

USCR Assault Leader and USCR Behemoth deploy one card-width from their starting board edge. The card width is the short length of the card.

Turn Order: Determining Initiative
At the start of each turn, roll a d10 for each model. This determines the order in which the models activate, from highest to lowest (10 first, then 9, etc).
If models have the same Initiative Roll, then the tie is broken with the unit's Reaction number (indicated in blue circle, on the top right corner of the card).
If the Reaction number of the units are the same, a Simultaneous Action occurs. Simultaneous Actions represent the two models acting at the same time and the rules for this are specified in the Rulebook.

In this example, the turn order would be USCR Assault Leader, Simultaneous Action with CCC Demo and USCR Booster, then the CCC Assault Leader.

Actions within a Turn
Each unit can perform a single action per turn. This ranges from Basic Actions (movement, shooting, melee etc) to the Advanced Combat Maneuvers (Bounding, Suppression and Overwatch).

Each unit has an MP number, which are the points they can use for movement, ascending, descending, turning etc.
Movement distance is measured using the Faction Cards. Each card has a starting location, and three destination locations. The starting circle is placed around the miniature, and the unit can then choose which destination circle to move too.
One of the game's best mechanics is Snap-to-Cover (S2C). This allows a model to close a short distance of space to an object of cover after performing an action. A model can take a shot during a turn, then S2C behind a wall, ducking out of the enemy's LOS.

In this basic movement, the USCR Assault Leader (bottom-most model) can move to any destination location - which is indicated above by the other USCR models.

Unless otherwise specified, all weapons have unlimited range. If you can see it, you can shoot it - a unit's LOS is anything in the model's front 180* arc.
Otherwise, the weapon and it's range are specified on the unit's card, and these ranges are measured in card lengths. For example, Range 2 means that the range for that weapon is 2 card lengths away.

In this example, the CCC Demo throws a Frag Grenade at the USCR Behemoth. The Frag Grenade has a range of 2 (two card lengths) and it's detonation point is marked with the dice.

A unit's to hit value is specified on that unit's card, and is called a FN (Firing Number).
The FN is modified depending on various factors (cover, elevation, unit abilities, target unit abilities etc). Once the FN has had all the modifiers applied to it, a d10 is rolled and compared to the FN to see if the shot was successful.

Not all units can participate in melee combat - this is specified on their card.
A melee to hit value, is based on the target's Reaction number - which acts similarly to the FN above.

Drawing Blood
Each standard MERCS unit has 3 Blood, or 3 wounds. Once it has been dealt 3 Blood, it is removed from play.
Once a shot or melee hit is successful, the Weapon Strength of the weapon (gun or close combat weapon) is compared to the target's Armour Value. If the Weapon Strength is higher or equal to the Armour Value, then 1 Blood is dealt.

Armour Failure
Any successful hit also has the chance to cause the target unit's armour to fail.
This has dire consequences:
  • Reduced mobility, in most cases no movement
  • Weakened armour, allowing weapons with lower Weapon Strength the ability to deal Blood.
Units that have high Armour Values, must often have their armour broken first (which can be done by low strength weapons), in order to be able to deal Blood damage to them.

Combat Class
These are actions that are beyond the basic combat actions. Here are three examples, although there are several more.
Fire and Move
The unit can both fire and move during a turn, under certain conditions and at reduced accuracy and speed.
The unit can perform no action this turn, and await eagerly for his next turn - receiving a bonus to his Initiative.
Set and Rip 
The unit must Set for one turn, performing no action other than preparing his weapon for firing in his next turn. This usually applies to heavy weapons.

Advanced Combat Maneuvers (ACM)

There are 3 ACMs, which are the key elements to the ruleset that allow for a higher tactical level of play. These are the basics of each ACM, and specific restrictions and conditions apply.
A coordinated movement between two or more friendly units, allowing for increased speed.
Standing vigil and watching for any enemy action within your LOS, and firing suppressive rounds on any enemy unit attempting an action within this area.
Suppression is not designed to deal Blood damage, but rather prevent the enemy from moving, firing, or performing any action, locking down an area of terrain. They must pass a Courage Check in order to perform their intended action, and even when this is passed their fear still has a residual effect on their abilities.
Like suppression, the unit remains stationary and keeps a watch looking out for any enemy action. Unlike suppression however, the unit does not try to deny enemy action, and instead attempts to deal Blood damage.

The CCC Medic (right) makes a last stand attempt to keep the advancing USCR suppressed until the rest of the CCC arrive!

The USCR Sniper (bottom) locks down the road, and forces a CCC retreat while in overwatch.

So those are the basic rules/concepts for play - if you're interested, the Rulebook is superb quality with lots of detailed diagrams and photo examples - as well as lots of fluff and fiction.

With my two factions fully painted up, I'll have more time to play and run games at home - so expect to see more battle reports soon!

Sync out.


  1. Great write up. Very helpful for a new player like me.

  2. Very helpful -- excellent resource to hand out to new players, and for use during a demo.


  3. One thing, I believe the pic describing throwing a grenade is in error. If I remember correctly, the measure is from the edge of the card, not the inside the movement circle; otherwise you are measuring less than a card length.