Home Gaming TableTop Gaming: BattleTech – Because Everybody Likes Giant Robots…

TableTop Gaming: BattleTech – Because Everybody Likes Giant Robots…

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Something that’s been missing from the CriticalHit spread is TableTop gaming.

There’s just something different about playing a game with physical pieces, relying on the fickle “Dice Gods” to grant you that critical roll.

So this is my first attempt at rectifying that, starting with my poison of choice: Battletech.

While not having as much spotlight as Warhammer or SW: Legion, as a gaming system it is great fun, and has a devoted international fan base, as evident by the massive support for the Clan Invasion Kickstarter.

BattleTech is a science-fiction “space opera” set in the factional, militarized universe of the thirty-first century. Humanity has spread to the stars and spawned titanic interstellar empires, each controlling hundreds of worlds across a combined region of space stretching more than a thousand light years.Following the rise of six Great Noble Houses, a mighty Star League was forged, heralding a golden age of prosperity. However, treachery undermined the Star League and led to the murder of the First Lord and the fall of House Cameron. The rulers of the remaining five Great Houses each proclaimed themselves the new First Lord of the crumbling Star League, and thus began the Succession Wars. For twelve generations, armies of BattleMechs have clashed across more than 2,000 colonized planets of the Inner Sphere, visiting such destruction on humanity’s technological capabilities that old, scavenged Mechs often outperform newly built models.

The year is 3025, and the scars of the Third Succession War remain a fresh memory across the entire Inner Sphere. All five Houses have paused their military campaigns in hopes of rebuilding their armies and rediscovering part of their lost technological base.

Whether wet-behind-the-ears recruits or grizzled veterans, mercenaries are the wild card that can tip the balance in combat. These MechWarriors run the razor’s edge between legend and destruction, and possess the necessary skills and the right amount of luck to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. THIS is BattleTech.

Introduction:

If the primer text above looks familiar it may be because both Mechwarrior and HBS Battletech are based on the original TableTop Boardgame.

Battletech is a turn-based strategy game played on a hex-based map. Players each manage one or more Battlemechs, to fulfill game objectives. Each ‘mech has a record sheet, detailing it’s weapons loadout, critical components, armour etc. All movement and weapon ranges are measured in hexes – though it can be converted to use inches/centimeters for hexless play. All action successes are determined by rolling one or two D6 dice.

While no game can truly be balanced, Battletech assigns a Battle Value (BV) to each unit, and BV is used to determine army sizes, allowing for generally balanced play.

battletech table top gaming
Inner sphere forces face off against the (unpainted) Clan threat

So Why Battletech?

Accessibility

All you need to play a game are the basic rules, record sheets, tokens/mins for ‘mechs and at least one pair of D6 dice.
All books and resources are available in physical and digital format at Catalyst Game Labs.

One does not even need record sheets anymore, as Flechs generates digital record sheets.
Though it is a contentious topic, many people – myself included – design and 3d print models to play with. With the current kickstarter nearly completed, retail stock of minis should also be available soon.
The Battletech Wiki Sarna is comprehensive and contains up to date information on each ‘mech, character and even planet.

Replayability

Due to the random nature of dice rolls, no two games are ever the same, even with the same ‘mechs on the same map. You could lose your best ‘mech to a headshot in round 1 (my opponent nearly flipped the table) , or bungle a run on concrete and have your mech slide off a cliff.

There are also plenty of official and unofficial scenarios available to spice play up a bit.

Price

The new authentic plastic minis will on average set you back $5 each (before shipping and import) – though due to covid stock is non-existent at the moment. Catalyst has stated they would do more production runs.

For the price of a single Warhammer 40K commander mini, you can have 4-6 battletech minis.

Taking into account that you only need around 4 ‘mechs for an average game, and that said 4 ‘mechs have multiple loadout variations, it’s just so much more viable.

Spoiled for Choice

Stability

The rules have been pretty much set in stone, and apply to all factions and ‘mechs. There is no such thing as Codex Creep, and no ‘mech is truly obsolete as there is a variation for each era. None of your models will ever be worthless because a new one came out. 

Versatility

Because each ‘mech has so many variations, you can build your force to suit your playstyle and counter your opponent. Don’t like any of the variants? Make your own with mechbuilder assets such as MegaMek.

Painting

Now some may hate this, but it’s the reason I got into miniatures in the first place. Though I’m still a total amateur, there is a lot of fun to be had interpreting existing and developing new colour schemes. And while you CAN paint 100 ‘mechs the same scheme, I personally prefer making small themed task forces so I can have some colour variation.

Unit Colour Compendium has an exhaustive list with examples of the in lore colour schemes, but nothing prevents you from painting your ‘mechs how you please!

Example of a Flechs record sheet

Legacy

Battletech has been around since 1984, and due to no retcons(*cough GW cough*) the lore is well fleshed out. Between the many novels (The legacy collection has 53) and sourcebooks,  there is around 600 years of in game storytelling, with 652 different individual base BattleMechs – 

disregarding variations on each.

It is worth noting that there is a faction or merc unit for pretty much every demographic too. Especially for something established back in the 80’s the universe is extremely diverse – without being forced at all. It’s logical that people from every country would colonise space, and it’s reflected in the cast and population.

Hell there’s even a Planet called New Capetown, which as expected from the world’s view of South Africa pre ‘94 is a pretty terrible place – hope the lore gets updated a bit there.

Clan Jade Falcon fends off the Freebirth Scum

Closing Thoughts

From the age of 7, waiting for the Battletech cartoon to air on K-TV I have been pretty much obsessed with all things mecha. Then a work colleague introduced me to the novels a few years ago and I went down the rabbit hole. Bought the Beginner Box and a Game of Armored Combat,and when the Kickstarter was announced I immediately pledged. My fate was sealed.


What got me hooked was the sheer randomness of the game. Even an underpowered force can win with good placement and a few good rolls.
Even when you’re ahead, the game can turn – Ammo explosions, cockpit shots, even had a ‘mech fall over, damage the engine and explode.
With basic knowledge even a total beginner can play on an even footing, and when you play for fun, even losing can be hilarious.

My end goal* is to establish and support a community in South Africa, starting with an open day where anybody can come try the game out. I have the ‘mechs, I have the maps, I have the dice!

*Once I’ve moved to a permanent residence and social gatherings are a good idea again of course! 


Note from the Author:

Thanks for reading this article about something I am really passionate about! This is my first attempt at writing, and all criticism will be taken as constructive. The photos were taken from my phone and thus are not great quality. If the feedback is positive then I’ll look at other less known systems (such as Infinity). I will also do an unboxing article once my Kickstarter loot arrives, which should be pretty awesome. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested.

Last Updated: July 19, 2021

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