Box of Mechs

February 1, 2023 at 17:45

I’ve been a fan of BattleTech since the 90’s. It’s not that I was a huge fan of the game, at the time. But I did play a lot, really quite a lot, of the MechWarrior 2 demo my father downloaded for me, and eventually the full game. Was I good at it? Of course not! I was a child! But I enjoyed it very, very much. I still listen to the soundtrack from that game on occasion.

As a teenager, someone tried to introduce me to the tabletop game, and I wasn’t in a real position to absorb the rules, so it sorta bounced off (I suspect they would have had more luck if they’d said “This is the game MechWarrior 2 was based off of”, but that didn’t come up.)

In my late 20s, I was hanging around my local waiting for a game of X-Wing to start up, and one of the other gamers offered to show me a couple rounds of combat of this game he had. Dave, conversely to that long-ago time, was smart enough to lead with “This is the game MechWarrior 2 was based on!” and we passed a very entertaining 45 minutes playing with little stompy robot miniatures. I finished the game with a much more positive impression- so much so that in 2019, when I attended probably my final Origins, I signed up for and, in high spirits, attended a demo of BattleTech: Alpha Strike, which was billed, and which I was really hoping would prove out, as a good stand-in for X-Wing- at that time going through a really rough transition from the excellent if power-creeping First Edition to the frankly worse Second Edition.

It ended up going… very poorly. I blame this on four things:

  1. My opponent was that particular class of person, “the guy who just walked past and looked interested”, meaning he had nowhere near the motivation to learn the rules that I did. Because of that,
  2. We used two mechs each with no special abilities to give them flavour, just “line up and chuck dice”, and we used no objectives, just “last man standing”.
  3. Because the guy running the demo was working under “teach these guys quickly and only one of them really cares” as a starting condition, rather than giving the breakdown on how to calculate target numbers, he’d just give us a number to roll for in each shot. That meant we had no idea what went into a particular shot and had no idea how to make it more or less likely to hit and, finally, the big one
  4. There’s an optional rule that inovlves rolling for each point of damage instead of once for a whole attack. In Alpha Strike, you might, on a ‘Mech absolutely loaded for bear, do five damage. It doesn’t take that much longer to resolve, particularly not if you’re using multiple colours of dice and can just roll them all at once. We did not use this rule.

As you might guess if I’m mentioning rules to make doing glancing blows vs all-or-nothing more likely, the dice did not do well for me and they did fantastically for my opponent. When you each need to beat an eight and I’m rolling fours to my opponent’s tens, well… it’s rough.

I got absolutely smashed flat by an opponent who seemed mildly pleased but mostly indifferent to the whole experience. I decided I did not, after all, want to get into BattleTech.

Cue The Secret Cabal’s Battletome episode on BattleTech at the end of August 2022. Not only did the guys clear up some of my misconceptions, they let me know that there was a recently-released boxed set of thoroughly reasonable price.

Well, I picked up A Game of Armored Combat to get started with. Yes! This was what I remembered playing with Dave, what I remembered from my MechWarrior days, where I could force someone to overheat and shut down, or knock them flying with a bodycheck, and where I had to manage my heat - where I was basically playing multiple simultaneous flight simulators at once in a tabletop game. I absolutely loved it, and picked up the Beginner Box not for the rules, but so that I had two more models.

Then I learned that there was a quarterly fiction magazine, but I wasn’t terribly interested in that, until I discovered that Michael A. Stackpole, potentially my favourite writer from the old Star Wars Expanded Universe, was a prolific BattleTech author (I have been buying one issue of Shrapnel per month until I am caught up- Issue #6 just arrived today).

Monday I bought the fourth of the box sets… for Alpha Strike. I originally just wanted it so I could use the truly staggering number of ‘Mechs (13!) inside, but I did read the rules… and I think it could, actually, replace X-Wing, with a few notes:

  1. Use the per-point damage rules.
  2. Last Man Standing is atrociously boring.
  3. For the love of all that’s remotely holy, explain the breakdown of a shot so people have a chance to modify their targetting.

There’s rules to use it on hex maps instead of with rulers, which honestly I might also do- because I’m taking my kit to Kobold’s tomorrow to see if anyone wants to play.

Now I just need to find the third box set (Clan Invasion). I know I don’t need it- I am 100% within the rules to field, as my army, intricately painted official models, unpainted official models, 3d prints, or bottlecaps with names Sharpie’d on ‘em- but it turns out I’m a gigantic fan of stompy laser robots, and I want the pretty box.

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