BattleTech is a table-top strategy game (not a RPG; the complementing game MechWarrior makes it a RPG, though). It was made by FASA until they closed down in early 2001; Currently made by Whizkid Games. As it stands, BattleTech's last version is the 4th Edition.

The game is fairly simple to understand. The players control, on their turn, a number of units. First, everyone moves (player who lost initiative moves first), and then everyone's weapon fire is resolved at once.

On my opinion, the rules are basically very simple, but at the fullest possible set of rules considered, an enormous amount of time will go to playing each turn...

The core of the each unit is made of BattleMechs, bipedal anthropomorphic war machines with enough firepower to effortlessly blow up everything less powerful than another BattleMech of equal tonnage. Apart of these walking horrors, the Master Rules also include rules for power armor units (such as Clan Elementals), normal vehicles (tanks, boats, VTOLs, and such), normal infantry and, of course, artillery.

Some people criticize the armor rules are getting old, but at least they work: Each unit has armor and internal structure points; When armor gets pierced, internal structure gets damage and eventually leads to critical hits. But the coolest (no pun intended) part of the rules is the heat: Using weapons and running around understandably generates heat, giving another risk of damage. (BattleTech is one of the few games in which "go jump in lake" taunt actually might be construed as a good advice =)

The background world of the game, the conflict between worlds of Inner Sphere and The Clans, and even the internal schisms of the said factions, is something fairly epic. Not many science fiction settings can reach this level of detail. As one reviewer of Pelit computer game magazine said, "the larger-than-life machines need a larger-than-life story behind them".

Some random opinions about Fondue's writeup: Personally, I think BattleMechs have much more "style" compared to Japanese creations. This is just a matter of taste, of course... however, I'm not saying that Japanese Mecha stuff would be inferior. BattleTech is simply something that I prefer to do more often in one form or another. =)

2001-11-12: Some comments about Stride's writeup: Anger makes you leap forth, and you forgot to duck my LRM strike and now you are 1 XP poorer. =)

"Awwwww, our cool little game was a sport for priviledged excuse me - curious few, and now they are trying to popularize the game and when everyone is doing it it is not as cool as it used to be..." Damn that way of thinking!

Personally, if the newer offerings will turn out intolerable, I will stick with the old FASA stuff (undoubtedly excellent) and build new "house rules" on top of those if such is needed (though I may not need that - so far, with people I have played, we are not even using all the rules in 4th ed!); if the newer things are good, there is no reason not to try them out.

(And pre-painted miniatures sound good even when newer rules might not. Certainly, this thing sounds better than the cardboard counters we are using now =)

You know, I found BattleTech via "trivialization for masses" too. My first exposure to BattleTech was Mechcommander, a computer RTS! Some boardgame fanatics thought that the very idea of reducing an intricate turn-based strategy came to a point-and-click real-time strategy game was repulsive. I thought the game was damn cool and immediately wanted to know more of the game background and games with similiar themes.

After that followed MechWarrior 2 (still one of the greatest computer games in my opinion!), and I ended up buying the Battletech board game and tons of source books.

"Any exposure is good exposure."

Go with the flow and adapt.

- a Random Warrior with Timber Wolf from among the Wolves.

(Warning! The following writeup contains opinion. People who argue about what Wolverine eats for breakfast, actually play tabletop games, don't floss regularly, etc. should look away now.)

I had to chuckle slightly at Raistlin's writeup above, specifically the line "cheap ripoffs that steal the ideas of the original BattleTech." This is particularly ironic as FASA's entire giant robot operation came about in the late 1970's as a reaction to the popularity of Japanese mecha comics, animated shows and (most lucratively) model kits.

Collectors were keen to snap up anything Gundam-related, but there was little attention paid to the plots and back story surrounding these items (probably because there was a scarcity of translated material at the time). Seeing a niche, FASA created their own mechs (which, IMO don't hold a candle to the exceptionally stylish Japanese originals) and penned a fantasy backstory, putting it all together in a tabletop strategy game which became very popular.

Twenty years later, Battletech now seems like a legitimate 'universe' in its own right, even though the mechs still look like Volvos. Incidentally, the first edition of Battletech was first published with the name BattleDroids, but George Lucas (hey, another guy stealing stuff from the Japanese!) was not overly pleased. So now you know.

A lot of of the "classic" (3025) Battlemech designs were "borrowed" (stolen) from japanese anime.

The Shadow Hawk (=Dougram), Griffin (=Soltic Roundfacer), Wolverine (=Blockhead), Battlemaster (=Bigfoot), Thunderbolt (=Ironfoot) and Goliath (=Crabgunner) were all taken from the 1981 show "Fang of the sun Dougram".

The Marauder (=Glaug pod), Rifleman (=Defender), Warhammer (=Tomahawk), Archer (=Spartan), Wasp (=Valkyrie), Phoenix Hawk (=Super Valkyrie) and Crusader (=Armored Valkyrie), were taken from the 1982 show Super Dimension Fortress Macross, which made up a part of the US show Robotech.

FASA eventually decided to phase out these "borrowed" designs, and thus these mechs are absent from recent Battletech products. However, Fantasy Productions (FanPro), who have acquired the rights to continue the Classic battletech line, are trying to revive the classic mechs by giving them new designs. (See for more information)

Press Release :
Friday, August 10, 2001
''Jordan Weisman, the original creator of BattleTech, has assembled an all-star team of writers and game developers (including authors Michael A. Stackpole and Loren L. Coleman, as well as game designer Randall N. Bills) to help him re-launch BattleTech for a new generation of players.

Evolved into a new experience while maintaining its unique setting and technologies, BattleTech is set to storm the market in the summer of 2002.

The new BattleTech will be a collectible, expandable miniatures game. Every plastic 'Mech, vehicle, infantry unit, and other figure comes fully assembled and painted. Like a card in a collectible card game (CCG), each model in BattleTech has a unique set of statistics and abilities that make it valuable in battle, so collecting and designing armies is a lot like building decks for a CCG. Unlike a CCG or any other miniatures game, these abilities and statistics change during combat, thus offering a greater depth of play and strategy but a simpler and faster system than other games.''

Fuck WizKids LLC, fuck their followers, and prison fuck all this ''a new generation of players'' tripe.
I WAS the new generation once, and I played the same game the old generation played! THAT is what makes a hobby! It bonds people. It gets fresh blood. The new players strengthen the game and it lives on. ANYONE WITH A SOUL doesn't toss out 15 years of carefully crafted evolution to create the next collectable craze.

Do you hear me Jordan Weisman...? you fucking tool... I don't give a rat's ass what part you had in BattleTech's birth; it wasn't yours anymore. It belonged to the fans. And if you had any honor you would have gladly accepted that it is now your duty to protect the game's good name from commercial bullshit.

And you still could have started a revolution to roll around in! You could have made plenty of money by increasing support for BattleTech. You could have produced pre-painted plastic minis to make it easier to start armies. You could have re-created and re-instated the "lost 'mechs". You even could have used your clicky-bases to revive BattleForce. Remember BattleForce? Clicky-bases would be perfectly acceptable for large scale combat like that! THAT could have been your cool new thing to lure ''a new generation of players'' into the market. You could have made your money, you shortsighted whore. You could have made your money!

...but your after that Pokémon, gotta catch 'em all, 3-year quickie income.
You want the money that old folks give to the grandkids cuz they won't visit without a bribe. You want to start a trend that those bored 11year-olds will eat up! ...until it isn't cool anymore. Cuz now even their baby brother has a BattleTech backpack. How uncool is Pokémon when your mom changes diapers on a Pikachu blankie?

You could have been a Warden. Coulda joined the StarLeague.
You sold out to the Crusaders.
But you don't even play BattleTech anymore, do you Jordan?

The BattleTech universe has many games within it:

My first board game, my first RPG, both were from BattleTech. Yay FASA!

I'm sorry to say that there seems to be a disturbing trend in the area of BattleTech and all of the spinoffs. It seems that instead of trying to reach a new audience with the video games and new miniatures game, that every different manifestation of BattleTech, or whatever you want to call it at this point, has driven the players farther apart. I was first exposed to this game back in either 1988 or 89 when I was only 5 through the box set CityTech, which was BattleTech urban combat, cool stuff. Granted, at that point it was huge freaken robots with rocket launchers blowing crap up, but it was probably the coolest thing I'd ever seen. As I grew up I started to play it more and really get into it, every new suppliment added a lot more depth, made the game a little bit better. I remember the superb graphics of the first MechWarrior game on the PC, and how that was the best thing I'd ever seen. I also remember the two Crescent Hawk games and how tough they were, again remember, I was really young. But every new game made the whole system that much better and got more people interested in BattleTech. Unfortunately, the person who had all the sourcebooks moved away and I stopped playing.

Then MechWarrior 2 hit. When I played that game it was one of the coolest, if not the coolest, thing I'd ever seen. I renewed my interest in BattleTech and caused me to search for the books with a completely renewed interest. Having played the game before, back in the 3025 era, I knew what to expect and The Clans added a whole new world to explore. The problem came when MW2 drew many other fans into the tabletop game and they all wanted to play with omni-mechs. I remember an intense argument between two gamers. One accused the other of cheating because a Large Laser cannot fire at that range, but the shot was from a Mad Cat, or Timber Wolf if you prefer, and thus was a ER Large Laser so, actually, it could. I'd never seen people so mad over a game, at least not when money was not at stake. So then there were the 3025ers, the 3055ers, and those who felt shut up and play the damn game!!

Without going into a detailed history, basically the same thing happened when the other BattleTech computer games came out. Each new one had a new hook to draw in new players. The newbies were interested in the tabletop game too, they just wanted the new toys. So more suppliments came out and new arguments started; the 3055ers needed some group to look down on. The whole time those of us who just want a good game are sitting there watching the other player's argue. The number 1 rule of wargames is that all rules must be agreed upon before the first move is made. The BattleTech System is even set up for this, Level 1 is the "old" tech from 3025, Level 2 is the standard tournament level and has all the goodies from the clans, and Level 3 had all the really new toys from the really new 3067 equipment. They also released new versions of Battleforce, BattleSpace, and AeroTech to make it easier to use this new stuff, but no where does it say that these rules must be used! There are even era-specific tournaments if you really care that much. So if you don't like the new equipment, don't play with it, but don't assault those of us who choose to. The point of the game is to have a good time and blast the hell out of your opponent's units. That is ALL that matters, nothing else.

The same can be said for Wizkids' new version, MechWarrior: Dark Age. A lot of people see the advantage for that new system and I myself will likely buy a set to see what it's like and if it sucks then I at least get some painted and assembled mechs from the deal. I have not yet played it, and I likely won't for a long time. However, I also won't take the attitude that those who do pick it up are inferior to me.

The point is, enjoy BattleTech in the form you enjoy it, if its CBT, or MechWarrior, or MechCommander, or any other of the many games that have been made from it. The flip side is also to respect that others likely enjoy it in a different form, and that's perfectly fine. I'm sorry if I've pissed some of you pureists off, downvote me all you bloody well like, but please let those of us who have grown up beyond caring what everyone else happens to be doing enjoy the game in our own damn way!

Some Thoughts on My Experience with Battletech,

I got into Battletech when my aircraft carrier was stuck over in the Persian Gulf for ten months. This game made the time pass quickly and enjoyably (well, as enjoyable as an extended tour in the Gulf gets). I came home and immediately began teaching my son to play the game. He's eight.

We had a blast. The background and rules of Battletech have been hammered out and worked on for the past twenty years, not just by FASA, but by the Battletech players themeselves. This give-and-take teamwork results in a very 'real'-feeling universe, one where quirky people - just like you and me - exist. The details and characters have the odd, unexpected taste of reality, and that adds so much to the gaming experience. It becomes easier to suspend disbelief, and that's vitally important in this game.

Unreal Reality?

After all, we're talking about giant robots which are, somehow, inherently superior to conventional tanks and aircraft. Even though all these weapons of war have access to the same futuristic technology, somehow the giant robots are way, way more powerful than conventional arms. I have a friend of many years who refuses to touch the game because of this. He played tabletop wargames back in the old days of sand tables and 1/76th scale models, and he just can't get his head around the concept of battlemechs. He won't even discuss Cav, a game which attempts to make the mecha concept more palatable. A close look at the rules for Battletech reveals why.

A Method to Their Madness, or How They Did It - And Why
The designers wanted a game where the battlemech was the 'queen of battles', the top dog. Doing that in an anime production is not difficult - you just show the 'mech dodging cannon fire, then blowing a tank up with one shot. But playing a tabletop wargame is different. What they did was, they removed a layer of survivability from the conventional vehicles. It works like this:

Imagine a conventional vehicle of any type as a single box filled with fresh eggs. The outside of the box is covered in armor, in some cases very thick armor. The box walls themselves have a specific amount of punishment they can absorb before the box ruptures. Once a bullet or a punch or a laser breaks through the armor and the box wall - on any side, mind you - the eggs are ruined. And the unit is now salvage. Even if the box wall is only damaged, there is still a chance of critical damage which will partially or even completely ruin the vehicle

Now imagine a diagram of a man. Divide the torso into three parts - left, center and right - and add the arms, legs and head. Imagine each of these as its own, separate box, complete with armor. As with the vehicle 'box', you have to penetrate the armor to get at the internal structure (the box walls). If you go internal, there's a chance of scoring up to three critical hits (and destroying whatever was in the slot you hit). Damage to the arms results in poorer aiming skills with weapons in that arm. Damage to the legs reduces your movement, with often-disastrous results. Internal damage to the torso sections may result in ruined weapons, increased heat from a cracked fusion power plant shield, or even a spectacular ammunition explosion which destroys the battlemech! Finally, a head shot which goes internal may kill the pilot.

Notice the difference? No matter how big the tank, no matter how destructive its firepower, it's still just a single box. If you get through any side, and destroy the internal structure on that side, the entire tank is ruined. Worthless. A Battlemech, on the other hand, can lose both arms, a leg and both left and right torso - and can, conceivably, still stand upright and fire back (although not with much). It sounds silly, but as long as the vitals of the 'mech aren't destroyed (the engine shielding, the gyro, the cockpit), this anime-spawned monster can survive and even fight back.

And that's how the Battlemech got to be top dog in the Battletech universe.

Level 3 Rules were created (and we use them all the time) to increase the survivability of tanks, wheeled vehicles, hovercraft and VTOLs. The designers realized that the uneven playing field they'd created had pretty much guaranteed no one would ever play anything but battlemechs. Yet, most of the stories they told in the popular paperback books and in the supplements for the RPG, spoke of the frequent use of combined arms - that is, weapons of war other than 'mechs.

Of course, the question on every player's lips was "why would I field conventional weapons in the game, if these are so inferior to the battlemech?" The desired link between what a person read in the books and what he tried to play out on the table was weakened, and this was bad for business. A good quarter of the miniatures designed and sold for the game are non-Battlemech-related. I don't know exactly what each gamemaster did for their own group, but the sum result was Level 3 Rules. Essentially, these were all the 'house rules' ever submitted by players, vetted by the game designers themselves and designated for 'non-Tournament' play. They are all in a supplement called Maximum Tech. Some were so popular and effective, they actually made it into Level 2, or Standard, Rules!

History Repeats Itself: Will Big Egos Ruin the Game?

Unfortunately, it almost did for us. All of the miniatures purchased, all the wonderful paint jobs and custom decals and memorizing of the rules, is wasted effort if you have no one else with whom you can play the game. I'm not talking one-on-one - that is fun, but the best fun is to be had with loads of other players, even organizations of them. And that is where this game begins to fail.

The sad fact is, the only local CBT organization in our area is very, very clique-ish. Let me expand on this through a couple of personal anecdotes. We tried organizing a tournament, even offered prize money. No takers. We were ignored by most of the gamers at the shop, including the local Battletech League. We joined this Battletech League. We were still ignored. We even attended a couple of weekend scenario games. Every Friday, we'd show up with our miniatures and our sheets and our rulebooks, only to be told 'sorry, I'm playing someone else' or 'I don't have time'. Curiously, no one was forthcoming with their phone numbers so we could arrange a game weeks in advance. Nor did they respond to posts on their website forum. It seemed they considered playing with 'n00bs' a chore, someone else's job.

The Balance Tips

We put up with this for about six months, but the last straw was a scenario game set up with two of the more experienced players in the League. Just looking at the table, and at what they brought, and the rules for successfully completing the scenario, I could tell this was going to be a slaughter. But me n' the kid put our game faces on, and went in with a will.

It broke my heart to see my son go from an excited kid, running in and out of the room with his battle plans, to a sad little guy who had finally realized the deck was stacked against us. Our opponents were simply jerks.

All of this happened in a matter of hours. I watched my son wilt as the opponents badgered him to 'hurry up' with his movement and shooting, so they could get their licks in with their purpose-built Assault 'mech killers. It wasn't that we were going to lose, it wasn't that they were going to take whatever they wanted of our ruined 'mechs, it wasn't that they were going to walk away with all the victory points.

It was that they didn't need our stuff, they didn't need the victory points (they had hundreds already, in a game where an evening's play might net you eight points, if you were lucky). And they went to great lengths to remind us of this time and again. The game, for them, wasn't about winning any of this stuff - it was about denying it to us. In other words, my son and I were, quite simply, being used to feed this pair's egos. Apparently, with thirty years experience between them (as opposed to our two), they didn't see us as enough of a challenge. No 'honor' in it, no 'winning worship', as the Pagans used to call it.

We still lasted ten rounds, finally quitting after one of the players accused us of going deliberately slow (they fielded nothing but Assault 'Mechs, while we fielded Heavy and Medium units and tried to make the most of our speed). Of course, we forfeited our share of the victory points, as we had to go home for dinner.

Where Does the Game Go from Here?

Not very far, I'm afraid. Between FanPro and Wizkids, the interest in the game (not all that great, even at the best of times) is waning. Too much for the new gamer to take in, not enough promotion, not enough sociable players taking it to the people. In other words, not enough to enable Battletech to successfully compete with the rest of the card games, game consoles, online RPGs and whatnot which clutters today's gaming scene. See, the point is not that we lost. Frankly, I knew enough of these two jerks to expect a loss, going into the scenario.

No, what really got me steamed was that they very nearly killed my son's interest in the entire game. I have been very carefully blowing on the remaining embers of his interest, and being very generous with the tinder. You see, I want my kid to know something besides how to rule at Halo 2. He already knows how to dry-brush paint a miniature. I want him to have some kind of skill or interest in a non-video related hobby, one that he can pass on to HIS child, when the time comes for such things.

That's not going to happen with the current generation of CBT gamers. I am pretty confident of this. The game, as it stands, does not attract sociable players - that is, people who try to fulfill (or even acknowledge) the implied social contract of a public game. They simply don't care if anyone else in the world ever plays the game again. They cme to play, get their jollies, and leave. It's someone else's job to recruit and teach the newbies.

Of the twenty or so members of this League, I think maybe two of them are actually decent players who will put something under 90 tons on the table. The rest? Pfah! They are good for nothing but discouraging and driving off any new blood that might try to play the game. But it is much worse than this. This asocial mindset is quickly killing off even the supposed 'entry level' version of the game.

Where MechWarrior:Dark Age Fails the Gamer

It's not a question of complex rules vs. simple clicktech, either. The Mechwarrior: Dark Age crowd around here is almost all late twenties to early forties by now. Why? Because this 'entry level' game suffers from 'rich-kid syndrome', and without a product-linked cartoon to drive sales (eg; Yu-Gi-Oh), it is rapidly becoming something only the deep of pockets can play. You think a kid can walk in and pick up the game? Why should he?

This 'dumbed-down' version of the original game has become so complicated, you need to study the rulebook, and all the errata and extensions to the game they've made since early 2004 (the last update to the rules on WizKid's website). Worse, you're hosed if you don't have full color vision (something I lack) to keep track of what does what on the base. It's actually far worse now than CBT.

With CBT, your rules are right in the book, and the rest is on an easily-read 'mech or vehicle sheet. Each player takes turns moving, then takes turns shooting. Every vehicle or 'mech gets to shoot, because it's all considered simultaneous. In Mechwarrior:Dark Age, the game is turn-based, and I have seen armies designed to lock down or utterly annihilate the opponent on Turn One. With clicktech, you have the same problem the Warhammer folks do - rules lawyers poking loopholes in the existing rules and then jumping through them. Cheesemongers abound, but as the game gets more and more complicated, the interactions get beyond the playtester's ability to predict - or weed out - and so far, WizKids has not shown any tendency to revise the rules (they have the same problem with Pirates of the Spanish Main, IMHO). They just pile on more 'corrections' in the form of new abilities, in the next expansion. Feh. I predict even 'collectibility' will not save this version of the game from extinction within a few years. Why collect if none of your friends play? Why will your friends play if the only gamers at the table are you and a bunch of grumpy old guys?

On the other hand, the most common abuse you will find with CBT is in a tournament or league-style 'kill kill kill' environment, where the type of scenario most often played is 'my side against your side, with a set Battle Value, and our respective 'mechs min-maxed out the wazoo. Objective: Kill everything in sight.' Naturally, this setting, repeated for, oh, about five to eight years, yields some weird players and a league list consisting mostly of assault-type 'mechs. Nothing else survives. About the only saving graces for Classic Battletech are as follows: (a) the rules are pretty much finished, and conveniently packaged, and (b) the miniatures cost what they cost - there is no collectability factor to drive the price through the roof and no new, abusive 'abilities' to go with the higher-costed miniatures.

Did I mention you can paint them, they are made of pewter, and you can collect them if you like? Even make dioramas from them? Not to mention the roleplaying that enters even the most combat-oriented games? This game has attractions beyond the combat itself.

And In Conclusion...

So yeah, the game has problems. But it's not the designer's fault. Most of the CBT players we've met haven't got the time, the imagination or the talent to write scenarios which actually involve goals other than blowing everything up.

Right now, we are participating in a once-a-month game up in Everett, Washington State. It's a long drive from Bremerton, but I try to make the whole thing as much an adventure as possible. And as pleasant as it can be. The kid really is good at the game, especially in the cockpit of a Thunderbolt.

I just hope the game is still around for me to play with the grandkids.....


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