Now here is a game with more depth and love than you’ll probably find out there in current circulation right now. Yep, even more so than your Grimdark fan boys of the Game Workshop cohort.
Battletech, a game of armoured combat in the 30th century, was initially released back in 1985 and re-released around 2007. It has the player using bipedal mechanised tanks of varying weights (categorised in Light, Medium, Heavy and Assault) to shoot lasers, missiles and cannons at each other. This game focused right down at the tactical level with each player comfortably controlling 4 “mechs” across a hex map or board.
In this game, practically everything is tracked but I’ll talk briefly about the key 2.
Damage – As you take damage, you not only need to record how much damage but also where. 10Pts of damage to a left arm that has a medium laser is infinitely better than 10pts of damage to the head. Sounds obvious I know, but very few games actually model this and not just armour hits but also internal hits too. That shot to the arm could take out your laser if it gets through the armour. Where as the same hit to the head will not only guarantee to get through the armour, but as well as the extra damage your pilot will quite possibly go unconscious from the sudden “holy-sh**” incident that just occurred.
Heat – The most critical piece of information tracked for each mech is heat. You’d be surprised how much cooling some modern military equipment requires, now translate that to the 30th century where weapons are nastier and there’s a fusion reactor a several meters below your ass. Your only saving grace are heat sinks that are installed to dissipate heat. From the moment the mech is powered up it generates heat, it moves it generates heat, it fires a cannon it generates heat, it fires a laser it generates a whole lot of heat! If before the start of the next turn you can’t dissipate all the heat you’ve just generated then you start the next turn with the left over heat. But mechs don’t like too much heat and will sometimes shutdown in complaint. If it’s hotter still then your ammunition might cook off and all that potential damage has to go somewhere.
The actual playing mechanics of the game are a whole blog entry in themselves but what can’t be missed out in an intro to Battletech is the fluff, the background, the “why the hell am I kicking your butt tonight Larry?”. After a thousand years of space colonisation and warfare, mankind has spread across 100 light years. Mankind has resorted back to a somewhat feudal structure of governance. The most powerful nations, each ruled by a single individual, cover what is known as the Inner Sphere. The names of these nations are often interchanged with their ruling family; Lyran Commonwealth – House Steiner, Draconis Combine – House Kurita, Free Worlds League – House Marik, Capellan Confederation – House Liao, Federated Suns – House Davion. Outside of the Inner Sphere is the Periphery, populated with all manner of smaller nations. The political power play and behind the scenes shenanigans that takes place of the battlefield can be just as interesting as rolling a head shot with a Gauss Rifle… although I’ll concede that latter comes with a lot more punching of the air.
These nations have been fighting on and off for a number of reasons since 2700, and the great thing about this much loved game is that each conflict is, for most part, documented with rules for the time period to boot. A player could design his or her own military outfit, be it a house unit or a merry band of mercenaries, and fight through the ages. There are rules to do all that, from building your own mech, military outfit, campaign play and even character creation and RPG to go with.
I’d love to be nothing but positive about Battletech, but I think it’s safe to say it’s not as popular or even as well known in the hobby world. My opinion is that initially the rules were complex, especially when compared to other games released around the same time *cough*warhammer*cough*. However, the company that now looks after the game is going hell for leather following the re-release, writing expansion rules and even a simpler version called “Alpha Strike” – so each player can comfortably controlling 10/20/or more models. These rule books actually offer more than just a tomb of rules to read and adhere to, but also short stories, hobby pages and rule examples. There are a lot of books for sale in which collecting them could become a hobby in itself, but compared to other games that are right now on the up and up, the rules are still complex in a time when it seems players want simplicity.
The other thing that seems to be holding back the game, being brutally honest, are the models. Back in the 80s/90s I’m sure they would have been lovely, and I know die-hard fans of Battletech may disagree with this, but the model designs need updating. Personally, I prefer MWO’s look to the mechs over the originals. MWOs take is meatier, nastier looking, and much more like military hardware. At the very least the models should be updated to allow customisation similar to what you can get with other games. Right now, each mech only really has one poise.
However, in testament to Battletech’s sheer awesomeness is that despite all of its negatives, it’s still here. Even after 30 years, it is still drawing in new players who are falling in love with it. With its flaws starting to being addressed and the number of exciting and different ways you can enjoy this universe, I can only see that Battletech will be around for longer still. I fully expect to be teaching my kids to play this game… if I ever get around to having them…
One last final, very exciting dit, the last link below is to a company that has the creator of the original Battletech, Jordan Weisman, and with the amazing people over at Harebrained Schemes are releasing a new Battletech PC game in 2017. I won’t say any more other than to check out the link and drool over the super-pre-alpha game footage!