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.
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.