A BattleMech Shakedown

MechWarrior 2 Cover

This image was burned into my mind as a youth.

It was the first computer game I ever bought with my own money: MechWarrior 2. The game of giant battling robots and clan honor captured my imagination. While the FASA catalog included in the box hinted at a much larger world to explore, I had no local gaming store to sell me products or tell me where to start. And, perhaps most importantly, I had no more money to indulge in such a game.

Fast forward to last Friday night and all that changes. In a fit of nostalgia, fueled by free rules, John and I sat down to have our first ever ‘mech on ‘mech slug fest. The previously mentioned free rules are the Classic BattleTech Quick-Start Rules; a 31 page–including cover, two fictional stories, and play aids–rule book. The rules presented are a subset of the full BattleTech rules, not surprising considering this is a quick-start.  However, what is interesting is that book presents one set of rules and then has you play a scenario using those rules. In this case, you first learn the basics of movement, attacks, and line of sight and then slug it out with two BattleMechs. Next, combat vehicles are introduced and you field a ‘mech and a tank in the next scenario. Finally, infantry is introduced and the scenario sees each player bringing a ‘mech, a tank, a conventional infantry unit, and a battle armor infantry squad to bear. It successfully taught the game in increments and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more games do.

While the game provided a nice diversion and a great opportunity to get together and game, at the end, we were both left with that “having eaten a twinkie” feeling. Something light, fluffy, but with no nutritional value. Or in board gaming terms, something that keeps you occupied, but doesn’t require hard decisions nor do you spend time analyzing what led to your win or loss. As a wargame, the twinkie feeling is probably the last thing you want your players, and especially potential players, left with.

I blame this on the subset of rules the authors decided to showcase. BattleMech combat was so simplified that it became just move and attack. The things that set BattleTech apart, like heat management and critical system placement and damage were removed from the rules. The one cockpit shot of  the game was wasted. It wasn’t enough to destroy the ‘mech, and chances are another roll of snakes-eyes wasn’t about to happen. It would have been far better to see rules that focused solely on ‘mech combat and introduced the previously mentioned heat and systems rules in later sections and scenarios rather than vehicles and infantry. Let’s face it, you can get tanks and soldiers in a number of war games, big stomping robots armed to the teeth, less so.

But this decision is probably a result of how the Classic BattleTech rules are presented to the player. It seems the quick-start rules are supposed to teach you the basic system. Then the introductory box set build on those basics to teach you the tactics and decisions you need to make. Which  in turn to leads you to the 300+ page Total War rulebook that explains all the rules and possibilities in detail.

BattleTech Boxed Set

Where, oh where, art thou?

However, this model is flawed. The introductory box sets sell out in no time. They become more like collector’s items for those already into the game, than gateways to the game. Even my awesome gaming store that just about has everything, The Source, didn’t have a box set. And on eBay, there is only one listing with a buy-it-now price $25 more than MSRP. This means, going from the quick-start, right to Total War. If the end product is a steak dinner, don’t start me with a twinkie. Give me a twinkie, if the end is a cake.

As it is, the quick-start fails both as a recruitment tool and as a teaching tool. It doesn’t separate itself from any other hex based wargames, by showcasing something unique or interesting and it is so far removed from the full rules in Total War that there no need to bother with them in advance.

It would be interesting to hear from a veteran BattleTech player how they see the quick-start rules and if they find it a useful tool in teaching people to play the game. But for me, I was let wondering if this is a game I’d enjoy with the added complexity or if it isn’t worth my money. As it is, if a fit a nostalgia take me again, I’ll probably spend my time seeing if I can track down Ghost Bear’s Legacy. I never did get a chance to play MechWarrior 2’s expansion.

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3 Responses to A BattleMech Shakedown

  1. Bobby says:

    I have not played the introductory rules, and I don’t know how the new rules are different from the older rules, but I did (and probably still do somewhere) have the 2nd edition rules for BattleTech, along with MechWarrior rules as well.

    The older rules, the combat did get pretty tactical, as you did have to deal with heat build-up, and your armor played a big role as you had to track damage to armor and internal structure. One your armor was gone, it was pretty quick destruction if that area got slammed. You’d tend to try and protect one side if it got hit pretty hard. You also had to deal with ammo, as not all weapons were energy weapons.

    The MechWarrior rules let you expand on the RPG elements of the various pilots and gave you rules to handle the pilots outside of the mechs if you wanted to. Think like a group of mechs rush an enemy fortress, take out the surrounding mechs and defenses, then the pilots have to jump out and storm the base to grab that one map or whatever.

    I also had the mercenaries hand book, that had a lot of good rules on how to handle between missions and keeping the mechs and pilots ready for the next fight. If you had a lot of engagements in rapid succession, keeping your mech from taking damage was even more important, as you might not have enough time to fix all the damage between fights.

    Add in the rules for tanks, jets, and infantry, it gets complicated quickly. The rules were slow for damage resolution, and tracking the damage for each mech got to be tedious. I’m sure with computers, it would be easier today, but it was pretty hard with a large fight.

    • Russ says:

      From what I understand, the new rules are pretty much the same as the old rules. They’d just cleaned them up and combined them where it makes sense. Hence the “Classic” part of Classic BattleTech.

      I bought the Total War PDF since it is only $15 (I figure I can afford that) and started slowly browsing it. From what I’ve seen, the game does require a lot of bookkeeping. Having customer record sheets for everything and finding a solution for tracking declaration and moves seems necessary. (In the book, I’ve notice a die next to each unit, which I’m guessing is the number of hexes the unit moved.)

      A large battle still seems like it would be a pain. Either one person has to manage a lot or you have a number of people who have to wait a long time before they take their turns. A single lance-on-lance seems alright. I’m guessing like anything you soon memorize what’s on the tables so play speeds up.

      I like the rich setting and think there are some interesting things in the game, so I’d be willing to try it out with more of the complex rules.

  2. Bobby says:

    I’ll need to take a look at the books I still have. Do you know if the updated rules have any directions on how old books fit with the new rules?

    Most of our fights, we tried to keep them under 10 mechs, and usually each person got to pilot more than one, which helped keep the time between turns shorter. If you do introduce things like infantry and tanks, each person could control more than one thing in a fight if you want larger combats.

    It is a great universe, and lots of fun ideas to explore. Another old game you could try to track down is MechCommander, a squad-based RTS game that is quite a challenge, but mechloads of fun.

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