Thursday, March 28, 2024

Battletech: The Technical Readouts


The TRO's are the "fun" books of the line. They give you game stats for a bunch of mechs for a given time period but they also give you a big illustration and then they also give the history of that design, where it was produced, how it was used, variants, and some sample mechwarriors who use it. The original 3025 TRO up there was where the BT universe really started to take off as a "real" place. It set a certain tone and a certain look that has never been exceeded in my opinion. Part of this was having a single artist do all of the work for this book - that consistency really welded the whole thing together. 

Time marches on though and later there was a 3026 TRO covering more vehicles and personal gear, 2750 stepping back to Star League mechs, then 3050 bringing in the clans and updating the Inner Sphere mechs to higher tech, and 3055 adding even more and then on and on for a few of decades. There were tweaks to the content as the whole "Unseen" kerfluffle erupted resulting in the need to remove the images of some of those classic anime-sourced designs. Then there was their eventual replacement using new looks for the same stats - a mixed bag there. Then the eventual reinstatement of the originals after some legal victories.  The basic mix of TRO's was the same though - new ones tended to add-on rather than replace old books.

Recently though Catalyst has revamped the whole thing and tied them in to their more formal "Era" approach. Now instead of "3025" and "3050" TRO's we have  "Succession Wars" and a "Clan Invasion" TRO. 

I will say they do look good and the design and branding and all that ties them in to the rest of the line nicely so you can easily tell these are the current thing and not an older edition. With as much Battletech stuff as is floating around out there I think it does matter.

There are others besides these two - one for Jihad and Dark Age and probably ilClan too but I haven't delved too far into those eras yet as my existing familiarity peters out around the Jihad timeframe. These do use a lot of the old artwork which is nice but there are some quirks. Despite the legal issues being resolved some of the iconic unseen mechs do not appear in these which is disappointing. You have to go to the "Recognition Guide Vol. 1" to get those. 

This one covers all of the old IS mechs plus all of those clan second-line mechs that were based on them - the "IIC" versions some of you may recall. 

Like this one ...

Also a lot of the old Star League mechs have been retconned into having a 3025-era declining tech version, presumably to fill in the gaps left by the missing classic mechs. It's weird to see a Black Knight and a Flashman mixed in with 3025 staples like an Archer or an Orion. But it does make them useable with an official version in that time period so it's not really a problem - just a wrinkle in time for some of us old-timers that skipped out for a bit.

So where do these books fall? Well, once you've played the base game you could pick up the Succession Wars TRO and use most of the mechs in it in your games.  The Battlemech Manual discussed in the prior post will give you all of the rules you might need for the rest of them, plus it would cover the mechs in the other volumes like the Clan Invasion book. 

On another level these effectively serve as a catalog for picking up mech miniatures - here's what it does in-game and here's how it looks ... see anything you like?  I know that just showing people that original 3025 TRO pulled in a lot of new players back when so they are powerful tools when done right. 

Today there are effectively four elements to the Battletech tabletop game: The Boxed Sets, the Rulebooks, the TRO's, and the miniatures. You can certainly start with just one of the boxes but if you enjoy the game you will likely be picking up some of the other pieces as well. 

Let's talk about the miniatures next.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Battletech: Beyond the Basics


So the box sets are the main entry point to Battletech these days as you get rules, maps, and mini's all in one go. But what about after you have that? You picked up a box, played a few games, decided that you want to do more ... what now? There are options.

One fairly easy option is the Battlemech Manual which is one of the newer books in the line. It contains all of the rules you need to play fights with mechs. It's about 150 pages long and is ridiculously comprehensive. This one has all of the relevant rules - the sequence of play, movement & terrain, ranged and physical combat, plus environmental and battlefield types and effects - which take up about half of the book. The other half is all of the equipment for mechs in the game and covers all eras, including some stuff I do not recognize which I assume is from the later "Eras" of the game that have come out since I let it go years back.  A short final section covers "common misconceptions" and discusses specific situations that come up in play that people seem to get wrong. These kinds of reviews and example are great and I have enjoyed seeing them in 40K "Rules Commentary" sections so it is a good feeling to see them here. 

This book will let you run any kind of mech fight and isn't that what most of us are looking for in a Battletech game? This is the most recent wording of the rules out there and should be the easiest to use. It's a great product. If you have a boxed set and want to do more this is probably the way to go next. That said, it is priced about the same as the next book which has ... more.

Bonus Points: This book contains a section on "Quirks". Quirks are a section that covers all of those minor things about a mech that aren't really part of a particular rule or piece of equipment but that give it flavor. One example: the Warhammer's should mounted searchlight. It's a holdover from the Robotech/Macross model but it's been there from day one and some earlier versions of the rules covered it but it was always kind of a weird outlier. Now it's a quirk - "Searchlight" that has a few rules tied to it. There are positive quirks like "Ubiquitous", "Easy to Maintain", and "Rugged". There are also negative quirks like "Bad Reputation", "Cramped Cockpit", and "Weak Head Armor". 

Now in a typical one-off fight these may not matter a whole lot but in an ongoing campaign - particularly an RPG campaign like I am running right now - these are just great. More flavor without a complicated system to drive it is exactly how this kind of thing should be handled and I applaud it being included here. 

Well here it is, the big daddy of the BT rulebooks. This one is 300 pages long and covers everything the Batllemech Manual does and then adds a bunch more. Besides what I listed above you now have section on vehicles (that's non-mech vehicles like tanks and artillery), infantry (foot, mounted, and battle armor), protomechs, and aerospace combat - this has an entirely separate chunk in the movement chapter covering space movement and then a later chapter covering the units and how they fight and take damage. This mainly covers fighters and dropships - not the big boys - but those are the parts most likely to show up in a mech-focused game. There is also a chapter on scenario design which is something game has needed for a long time which gives examples of selecting maps, units, and victory conditions. This is a solid section and gives more options than the typical basic approach of just blowing up each others' mechs for a few hours. 

Now there are additional books out there to add more rules for things like extended campaigns and space operations but those are more like add-on systems for doing particular things. This book is generally the one-stop shop for all things Battletech when it comes to getting out some map sheets and rolling some dice.

Bonus Points: There is a short section near the back that covers "Mechanized Battle Armor" This is guys in powered armor suits (like Clan Elementals) grabbing some handholds and riding along on the outside of a mech. This section in particular covers all of the bad things that can happen if, say, you get shot while they are clinging to your mech ... or if you fall down while carrying them ... or drop prone on purpose ... or run into something. In my experience this is a fairly uncommon situation but this shows you the level of things included in this book.

One note - neither of these books contains the construction rules, they are strictly about using what is already built. For full building things rules you need the Tech Manual.

This is 350 pages of mech construction, vehicle construction, aerospace unit construction, battle armor, etc. Years ago much of this kind of information was spread out among different boxes and books but this covers it all now. There is a lot of lore on various pieces of gear such as how it was developed and when it came into service which is great for an RPG campaign but the vast majority of it is design sequences for the various elements of the BT universe. I love this stuff but it's definitely more relevant after you have been playing for a while.

So there are the two big main rulebooks for Battletech plus the big construction book.. There are other books which I will cover in some additional posts  - TRO's, the Advanced Operations books, and of course the RPG options. For now though if trying to decide between these it really comes down to what ou expect to play for the immediate future: Are you good focusing on mech to mech combat or do you want to go full-spectrum and pull in tanks and infantry and air support and the rest? If you are new or just getting back into the game I think the 'mech manual is a great escalation point and I would go there after the main boxed game. The tech manual is a serious piece of work but I would look at it after picking up one of the major rulebooks for sure. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

Battletech: Starting Out


With Battletech/Mechwarrior in full swing around here I have spent a couple of months re-familiarizing myself with it and catching up on the current state of the game. Knowing there may be both old lapsed grognards out there like me as well as some  potential interest from new players I thought I would run through the basics on where things stand with the game these days.

First a bit of an overview: Battletech started out in the 80's as a board wargame, quickly added miniatures (using the same boards), expanded into a role playing game set in the same universe, and morphed into a series of computer games soon after. There is an extensive line of novels, some comic books, and a Saturday morning cartoon. These days there are some real no-hexgrid miniature rules, an alternative set of tabletop rules,  games for space combat at various levels, and at least 5 versions of an official RPG. 

 The setting is described by Era. The original setting is now called the "Succession Wars Era" but here we still call it 3025. That's 3025 AD as the game is portrayed as the future of our own world with Earth being a significant location even if most of the action does not happen there. There is also the Clan Invasion Era (circa 3050), a prequel-ish era when the Star League was in control of known space (circa 2750) and then a bunch more eras set after the Clans finish invading and settle in for the long haul (circa 3067 or later). 

Originally the game was set in a time where repeated wars had degraded the technological and industrial base of the inner sphere to the point that advanced technology like mechs and spaceships were difficult to produce and not as effective as they had been in the past. This has largely been eroded with each subsequent future Era and is much less of a factor once you get into the Clan era and beyond. 

Much of the classic Battletech lore, mechs, tone, and just the general vibe of the thing is from the early days and the 3025/ Succession Wars era. Material from that time is what established the game we have today. Subsequent releases and updates have built on this foundation for better or for worse. 

Other notes: 

  • There are no aliens in this setting. It is humans only. There are alien life forms like animals found on other planets but no alien civilizations and no intelligent aliens.
  • Also there is no supernatural or psychic element here as you would find in a lot of modern sci-fi games. It is a grounded universe based on what we know now, outside of various violations of the laws of physics to allow giant fighting robots to be a sensible design choice and to allow for FTL travel.  

So if you're interested in the setting and the game where to start?

Currently there are 3 Battletech boxed game sets and the first one is the Introductory set. This is the smallest and least expensive set and it does serve as a decent introduction to the game.  If you're not sure about the whole thing this is the one to get. That said, if you do dive into the game and pick up the core set you will not be using this one much afterwards. It does come with two mech miniatures which is great but it is very much a product that will be superseded by the full rules in the main box. 

The contents are shown above - Mechs, mech sheets, maps, rulebook, dice, and ... fiction. Stories are a big part of the setting's appeal and they hit you with that from the start. This is where the characters and the color of the BT universe start to shine. 

The core set looks like this and is the current version of that original box up at the top. Besides more maps and more miniatures the big addition here is a) the full set of rules for playing the game with mechs and b) the construction rules. Mech construction and modification has been a part of the game from the very beginning and this set continues the tradition. So after playing a few games you too can start down the path of "what if I replaced these PPCs with large lasers?" and "How many medium lasers could I fit onto this mech?" and other fun exercises. 

This is plenty to get going with the game. The gear is limited to the 3025 era technology which is an awesome balance of size/weight/heat/ammunition that has been battle tested for almost 40 years now and the mechs here are classics everyone knows. You also get a decent breakdown of the structure and politics of the Inner Sphere which will give you a basic understanding of the setting and its factions. 

One note here that I see pop up online sometimes is that I've never felt like faction in this game is the kind of choice that it is in a game like Warhammer 40,000. Building something like an Imperial Guard army in that game is a major undertaking in time, money, effort, shelf space, and personalization. A lot of people may only have one or two armies for a long time with that game. Battletech is the opposite in many ways: you can play a game with one miniature, you can paint it however you like as there is no "House Kurita" paint job - there are many units serving the house and while there may be official schemes for some of the more famous units they use the same mechs as everyone else. So you are never really locked in to a "faction" choice in BT the way you are in 40K or Age of Sigmar, or even Bolt Action or Flames of War because any mech could show up in any army. 

If you're only going to get one set for this game this is the one to get.

The third boxed set is the Clan Invasion box. This moves the timeline up to 3050 and introduces a bunch of advanced technology for both the Inner Sphere and the invading Clans and a bunch of new mech designs as well. This really blows the game open though many long time players either dislike the whole Clan thing or feel like it is at least less well-balanced than the more limited 3025 era. I do not completely disagree with this take - and I was playing when this was the hot new thing - but if you keep playing Battletech at some point you will probably run into this. 

 I would call this the "Advanced" rules for sure. There are a bunch of new weapon types (added to all of the old ones), a new unit type   - "Elementals" - which are 5-man squads of powered armor that have their own rules, plus a new way to build mechs - Omni-Mechs  - which is used by the Clans and later copied by the Inner Sphere. The Omni option means that most weapons are in swappable modules so now each mech may have 4 or 5 standard configurations instead of a fixed loadout. The game does get a lot more complicated with all of this but if you want to play in newer eras of the setting it's something you will want to familiarize yourself with sooner or later. 

The change to this new technology base also complicates scenario building. In the old days we tended to set up fights by tonnage - each side takes a lance of 4 mechs, say 200 tons max. This approach relied on your knowledge of the mechs and possibly the terrain to pick a decent force. With 3050 tech you really have 3 different tech bases: old 3025-era IS, new and improved 3050-era IS, and Clan Tech - which is better than either of those. Ton for ton there is a tremendous difference at each of those levels. This brought about the introduction of BT's first point systems many years ago and the early versions were not good. I assume the current version of Battle Value (BT's points system) is workable but I haven't played enough games paying attention to it yet to be sure. If you're coming from other games where points are commonly used to balance opposing forces it is definitely something you want to look into at this level.

Finally there is a fourth box set coming following a Kickstarter last year but it is not out yet. This one focuses on Mercenaries in the BT universe which are a common trope from the earliest days of the game and are also the focus of many tabletop RPG campaigns as well as many of the computer games. It's a topic well worth a boxed set focus but we will have to see what it brings to the game. 

There are many, many other elements to the game, particularly books that add in the complete rules for other units in the game: tanks, infantry, artillery, air and space units, buildings and more. There are also a lot of "historical" supplements based on the setting describing the various factions and famous units of each era, various campaigns and events that happen in-universe, and everyone's favorite technical Readouts that show the mechs and vehicles of a given era.  I will talk through those in future posts.