Fritz’s Tabletop – Let’s Talk Battletech

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It is the 31st Century, and Mankind is once again at war. The battlefields of the future are dominated by huge robotic war machines known as Battlemechs…

It is the 31st Century, and Mankind is once again at war. The battlefields of the future are dominated by huge robotic war machines known as Battlemechs. THE classic game of mech combat, Battletech is and continues to be one of my favorite wargames. This week’s tabletop takes a look at some of the ideas found in the game.

 

Why Battletech is one of my favorite miniature wargames, and why YOU will enjoy playing this fantastic game.

The difference between “good” damage vs. “bad damage”, and keeping your mechs in the fight.

Risk vs. reward, and trying out new plans on the tabletop.

 

~See you on the table.

-Fritz

 

  • Damistar

    Battle tech is one of my first and favorite war games. There is a strategy to it called “combat loss groupings” where you’ll suddenly find that the effectiveness of your force will diminish rapidly as a certain damage threshold is passed. The real trick to the game is knowing this point and building your tactics around delaying it on your side and anticipating it on your opponents.

  • TDog

    Loved the game until they turned it into a half-rate Star Wars-Tolkien mash-up wannabe knock off. “Knights of the Sphere”? Some folks wandering around with weirdo mystical powers and then a disgraced clan coming back for the king of Middle Earth… er… ruler of the Inner Sphere when they were needed?

    It was cool once upon a time, but then some fanboys with little imagination took it over and made it really stupid.

    • georgelabour

      You obviously never even played the game during the time period you claimed to be commenting on. In fact it readss as if you’re just rehashing some whining written on a BBS back in 19933 without any clue as to the context.

      While thoughtout the game’s life certain factions have been given a mystic vibe the only incident of ‘magical powers’ were some eventss occurring in a couple of the early novels which were done in the late 80s early on in the game’s existence.

      So basically you said some stupid fanboys ruined it…by beginning the entire game in the first place.

      Furthermore Since that time the game’s developers have made it very clear there is no magic, jedi, psychics, etc within the setting.

      • Vomkrieg

        So, did they retcon all the “phantom mech” psychic stuff with the Kell brothers?

        I found that pretty weird at the time, but not genre breaking as , like 3 people ever had it, it was still an odd decision to include though

        That wasn’t in novels though, that was in the Kell Hounds campaign book.

        • georgelabour

          It happened and is as canon as the aliens on the other side of the galaxy but the current developers have made it clear that such things simply won’t happen again.

          And that kell hounds campaign book is based on some of the early novels where the phantom mech events occured.

          • Vomkrieg

            Ah, cool. I had the kell hounds book back in the day. So that was my frame of reference. I had never heard of the alien stuff though, must have been in a book i missed. I never read the novels, just the source books.

          • georgelabour

            It was the novel Far Country which was supposed to be the lead in to a new side line of products.

            Sadly it never took off and the concept of aliens proved so controversial they’ve never been touched on again.

            Fortunately the producers at the time had the foresight to make the new setting somewhere far far away, and the current developers have made it clear it’s canon as they hate retcons. However nothing will ever be done with it in an official capacity outside of their April Fool’s day stuff.

          • Vomkrieg

            Fascinating, that must have happened after i stopped following the product closely, as aliens would have caused some serious debates in our group at the time as well.

          • georgelabour

            it was about 1995 or so I think, and it definitely did not prove to be their most popular novel.

            Especially as the whole clan thing was still very much chugging along around that time so very few folks had time to read about bird people worshipping a Locust battlemech.

          • cudgel

            I really enjoyed the story at the time, and since I am working on my Locusts at the moment in MWO its nice to know they are dangerous somewhere in the damn galaxy (besides to my Win loss record…)

          • Vomkrieg

            Sounds right, Battletech was really big for me from about 1988-1993 or so. After that point i was playing more 40k and the like.

            But it was still the first wargame i really got into. Ran a club at my intermediate school (ages 10-13 or so)

      • TDog

        I owned and played the original boxed set and played it until the early 2000’s. The whole invisible mech ability and the King Arthur nonsense with Devlin Stone and this whole emphasis on “The Republic” and its awesome “knights” that would keep it safe? Plus Clan Smoke Jaguar returning to redeem themselves ala Return of the King?

        Yeah… it was ruined by a bunch of morons.

        • georgelabour

          The neo-feudal aspects complete with arthurian mythos were a staple of of much battletech almost from its inception.

          Heck much of the flavor of the Davion faction is rooted in those notions. Their freaking capital planet is called Avalon for Blake’s sake.

          Kerensky himself was mythologized in a similar manner to Arthur during the early fluff. Fluff that would later turn out to be a precursor to the return of the clans.

          The entire man and his horse concept behind much of the early battletech lore was also centered around romanticized ideals of chivarly combined with the mad-max with gundams fluff of the original game’s primary time period.

          Various orders of knights were also in there decades before wizkids breathed life into their atttempt at advancing the plot line from its FASA days.

          For example Thoms Marik’s Knights of the Inner Sphere which preceded the Dark Age era by over a decade. Those are just one of many neo-chivalric concepts that had been running through out the game’s inception.

          They even had freaking samurai, in space…complete with katanas.

          And Clan smoke jaguar returned in about the same way the original SLDF did. That is to say, if you squint really really hard and sprinkle a lot of pixie dust around you might be able to convince yourself it’s the same thing..

          So again, If you actually had played the game as long as you claimed you’d have known most of that.

          But instead you regurgitate some ignorant bile that shows you really don’t know the material you’re trying to denigrate.

          It also shows a remarkable ignorance of what’s been done with the game under the stewardship of the current developers who have expanded the game’s history in all directions and also made it more accessible to all manner of gamers.

          • TDog

            Accessible – code for “pandering.” At least in the early days they had the gumption to take cues from history and geopolitics rather than rehashing works of fiction other people did first and better.

          • georgelabour

            So you actually don’t mind the things you were whinging about, and are in fact merely complaining because some other guys took those elements and …didn’t really do anything that hadn’t already been in the game from its inception….

            That’s not much of a way to validate your statement that ‘morons’ destroyed the game by putting those things in there.

          • TDog

            I would also like to add that while the Arthurian myth was a staple of the culture of the FedSuns, it was never so mind-numbingly literal as when this new crop of idiots decided to proclaim that one day Stone would return! Ooh! How original!

    • Severius_Tolluck

      I sstopped playing in the mid to late nineties. What magic are we talking about? I agree the weird armor buffs of the Mech Assualt two were strange. I suppose some of the clix?

      • georgelabour

        He’s just being a troll. But it’s likely he’s regurgitating a combination of complaints made about two different times periods in the game’s history.

        Incidentally the game’s current developers have gone back and improved on not just the game’s most popular timr periods but ‘the bad’ one made for the collecitble miniatures game, and even the game’s ‘historical’ periods earlier editions had provided little real mention of.

        To put it in 40k terms they’ve not only shown us what happens after the 13th black crusade but given us the Horus Heresy, information on the 35-38th milleniun and even stuff letting us play in the pre-imperial Age of Strife.

        • Severius_Tolluck

          Yeah seems that way, I peek my head in every so often. I think he may mean the word of Blake that kinda came and conqured everything after the clan wars?

          Which was strange to me I guess. But then so was the mass purge of all battlemechs and to only have industrial mechs, only to have full blown mechs come out of the wood works real quick XD.

          There was so much fluff and lore, and hash and re hash that it could get really confusing for any one on the outside looking in. My first dabble was second ed going into third. I didn’t make the initial jump due to my brain not understanding a third ed simply meant a third revision, I thought you needed earlier ones! XD

          Was a fan of the silly cartoon as a pre teen. Wish we could have had more!

          • georgelabour

            The word of blake thing actually is known as the jihad period and is IMO one of the more fun periods of the game.

            The time period that occured for the wizkids collectible game occurs sixty or so years after that and did cause some ‘hurt’ amongst fans who like to be mad at things.

            However the current developers have revisited that ‘future’ era and many of the current players are quite happy with how they’ve handled it. Especially in explaining the time period’s initial focus on armed industrial mechs and improvised warmachines that gave way to the advance death bringers everyone was more familiar with.

            It’s also worth noting that the game’s core rules are still pretty similar to the original versions. So if you want to play it the old school way you can just do that.

            What they’ve done is revise and expand the rules for just about every scale of play you could want. But they divide it all up into different books and levels so you only need to use what you want. So you don’t need to buy the book letting you run your own interstellar empire, or the book letting you design a unit of elephant mounted infantry equipped with stealth suits and laser rifles unless you really want to.

            I’d also recommend giving their alpha strike rules a look. it’s a far faster playing variant of the game that IMO captures the feel of a lot of the game’s charm but also lets you play quicker games with more models than the classic rules do.

            As an example a friend and I played a regiment on regiment game (150+ models a side) in under five hours. In the classic rules a game of that scale would have been a weekend style marathon.

          • Severius_Tolluck

            hmm yeah, it was tricky where to start. Mainly I still have my core box the last time they re released it as classic battletech. I prefer the hex’s but everyone out here switched to free range with tape measure and that got too slow to determine quarter move etc. Then there was each technical book with this unit or that unit and you had to go let me see that!

          • georgelabour

            Alpha Strike works just as well with the classic hex maps as it does with 3D terrain. The core rules even include a chapter on just that thing.

            And as for unit stats…

            http://www.masterunitlist.info/

            Almost every canon unit with information on when, and who used it ready for play.

          • Severius_Tolluck

            sweet, I may try to get back in, however no one really likes it in Illinois that much anymore, aside from a group that meets like twice a year in Mount Prospect hmm :/

          • An_Enemy

            I occasionally play BTech at Unique Gifts and Games in Grayslake. It’s not huge there, but not dead either.

          • megatrons2nd

            I live in Crawfordsville Indiana. About 3 hours away from Mt Prospect. If you are near enough, maybe we can get together and get a game in more frequently.

          • Severius_Tolluck

            That sounds awesome.

      • SacTownBrian

        Morgan Kell had the Ghost Mech ability and literally made his Archer mech dissapear from the screens of the Genyosha when he fought in a duel.

        • Severius_Tolluck

          Not exactly magic though..

  • Alexandre Comtois

    I could probably be convinced to play a 3025 or 3050 game for nostalgia’s sake. The system definitely feels like something written in the 80’s.

    A lot of my friends are playing the Java-based version, Megamek. Having a computer take care of the die-rolling really helps in situations where you have scatter weapons rolling multiple hit locations.

    I see some controversy over the plot elsewhere in the thread. There’s stuff I don’t like, like Victor Steiner-Davion being a huge Mary Sue, but the franchise is 3 decades old now. Like any long-running comic series there are going to be writers and story arcs that not everyone likes. The only thing to do is just figure out which parts you like and ignore the rest.

    • georgelabour

      You may want to give the Alpha Strike rules a try sometime. They greatly speed up play, and have more of the feel of a ‘modern’ war game like Warmachine or Bolt action compared to heavy record keeping focus of the classic rules.

      Plus they make all the unit stats available for free online, and even include handy references that tell you what time periods the unit is available in.

  • georgelabour

    Possibly the best, and most new player friendly, campaign I’ve ever run was done using the game’s Alpha strike, and Chaos Campaign rule sets.

    The former simplifies all units down to something that makes playing with larger forces far more manageable so that you can play battalion sized games in an hour or two instead of an entire weekend. That Catalyst publishes all these unit stats for free on their website is also a bonus.

    The latter is a pretty straightforward points based system wherein a lot of the crunch that simplifies the logistics of campaign play into a tidy points base system most people can quickly pick up.

    That they have dozens of scenarios that are objective focused beyond ‘kill stuffs’ also makes designing things on the fly a lot easier for campaign coordinators.

  • nurglitch

    I really don’t like Battletech, and I played a lot of it. In part it’s the fact that you can’t aim, that you carefully grind off armour before doing anything, and in general taking hours upon hours of time to accomplish not much at all.

    • georgelabour

      Actually there are advanced rules permitting you to aim without use of specialized equipment. They however show up in the books where they add a lot more rules for just about every aspect of the game.

      There’s also rules for ‘obsolete’ armor types that suffer from the kind of penetration you’d expect from more real life armore warfare rather thar the magically ablative super armor of battletech. They even did a TRO:1944 as an april fool’s joke and showed off just how those rules could recreate world war 2 units.

      • nurglitch

        Yes, and the Centurion rules did a better job of representing how damage could combine friction and shock. I still don’t like hit boxes.

  • Kloothommel

    I love BT…. Been playing it since ’98-’99. Comstar is my faction of choice.

    Tension is indeed one of the motivators, but also setting/background, force assembly, miniatures (are awesome).
    And the vast array of games that let you explore the background even more. (MechWarrior and MechCommander series).

    -A player from the Netherlands

  • Donald Wendt

    Loved BTech back in the 90s. I’ll admit it played super slow but at the time I was a 14 y/o with no money to have a massive numer of Mechs so at most I probably had 2 lances and a few tanks. Would love to check the game out again if I found some players.
    I am kind of shocked that in 30 years half the mech designs still look like crap, though. It’s like they never bothered updating the old 3025 designs (many of them) and are just making plastics of the old Ral Partha casts.

    • georgelabour

      They are in fact updating the original unseen models so they can be used as poster mechs for new succession war era books that give more details only hinted at in the original materials.

      If you play mechwarrior online some of them will be kind of close to that but with a few design elements shared with the ‘phoenix’ and primitive versions they’ve also done over the years.

      however the plastic starter box mechs are indeed based on older Ral Partha sculpts.

  • OldHat

    My first wargame. <3 Give me a Steiner Assault Lance any day. I keep meaning to pick this game back up, even if just for nostalgia sake.

  • Thatroubleshootah

    I bought the 25th anniv set ages ago and have not painted it because I’m concerned that the paint will come off due to the miniatures being kind of bendy. Can anyone shed some flight on this?

    • georgelabour

      I can say they take paint fairly well, possibly better than a lot of old lead models do.

      The plastics a lot softer than GW stuff though, and usually requires some line removal and the occasional gap filling but they paint up well enough.

      Just remember to use a thin base coat like you would any other 6mm scale model.

      From there it’s usually a simple matter of drybrush, pick out metal areas, and a wash. Then finish it off with some detail or highlight work and you’ve got a table ready mech.

      • Thatroubleshootah

        i was mainly wondering about the models bending after you paint them. the models in the starter are not plastic like warlord or gw and have quite a bit of bend in them. I’m concerned about that bend contributing to the paint job getting messed up after it dries and you are handling the models.

        • Severius_Tolluck

          should be fine, many companies use the same kind of plastic, as long as you got a solid prime job and a matte varnish, the paint shouldnt chip off too much unless you are trying or or your just throwing them in a shoe box

        • georgelabour

          I’ve got a few dozen of their more recent plastics and for the most part they do okay. I’d say they’re less of a problem as far as chipping and bending than the metal ones.

          So far they’ve not use any mechs with super thin features aside from the mad cat’s pipe cleaner arms and those seem to hold up about as well as the barrels on my GW Skitarii rad carbines.

  • zeno666

    If this game got some new miniatures that look more like the ones from the Mechwarrior PC-game I might be tempted to give it a go.

    • georgelabour

      Good news. A lot of the new designs for the dark age era and some of the ‘historical’ eras is the same guy who did a lot of the concept art work for MWO.

      I do believe he’s also the one handling the remakes of the 14 original designs (AKA the unseen) that were also put into MWO last year.

      • zeno666

        That is good news 🙂
        IIRC the minis are made by some other company?

        • Severius_Tolluck

          well you can for the mean time ebay some of the clix that Wiz Kidz did, and repaint them! Some are really great when you strip them of the often too thick factory paint job they do!

        • georgelabour

          Iron Wind Metals handles the metals, and even sells a lot of old Ral Partha stuff.

          They even do crowdfunding campaigns so fans can get the exact units they want to see made…if they’re patient.

          There’s also a Ral Partha Europe that used to sell older sculpts but I haven’t checked up on them in a while.

          I’m not sure who does their plastics though but they’re for the most part the same sculpts as the metal ones. Albeit with a softer lower quality plastic then you’ll get from GW.

      • cudgel

        They look so good, I can’t wait till june for my damn Phoenix Hawk!!

    • Lexikon

      Yeah, I love the Battletech universe but I just can’t get excited about purchasing any of the minis they make for the game right now. If they made plastic or resin miniatures based on Mechwarrior Online designs I would want them all.

      • cudgel

        100% I could literally make better models with green stuff then the ones in the header. I am not even joking and I am no that great a sculpting…

    • SacTownBrian

      Just about every mech ever designed is available from Iron Wind Metals and the unseen can be acquired by locking up the Robotech game by Palladium books. The ones you indicate you like are already available.

  • BT

    So yeah… jump jets plus hills equals win over mechs with no jump jets. Fitz… you took a Cicada? Seriously? Maybe if your playing with alternate load outs from the 3025 book, but the stock one kind of sucks. I would take a Stinger or Wasp over a Cicada any day of the week (well, actually two if we are playing equal tonnage).

    • georgelabour

      Looks like they’re using units from the classsic starter set. Sadly the stinger and wasp are one of the 14 unseen designs t hat got removed due to lawsuits and thus weren’t an option for the starter set as it is based around intro tech mechs (AKA 3025, or original battletech).

      Fortunately they’re bringing those designs back with updated works beyond the later project phoenix ones, and the new ‘old’ warhammer is already resuming its time as the poster child for some of the cover art.

      • BT

        Here is something you might be interested in, made a separate post elsewhere, but will add it here for you. Kickstarter for a new computer game of classic battletech that was successfuly funded.
        https://community.battletechgame.com/forums

        • georgelabour

          Yes a lot of folks are looking forward to its success. Especially considering their handling of the shadowrun franchise.

  • Vomkrieg

    I’m a big fan of battle tech. The House books they published back in the early days are some of the best world building anyone has ever done.

    I didn’t personally like the tone shift of the clans though, and the change is tone, as well as clans being so OP, kinda killed the battletech tabletop scene here.

    I get loads of people grew up with the clans, but to me they always felt really artificial compared to the rest of the setting.

    • Severius_Tolluck

      They always outclassed everything it seemed, and often were kinda silly fluff wise. As a Kid Kurita drew me in. And the fluff made me kinda resent liking steiner as the Lady grew more and more… Despotic. Highlanders kinda call to me now.

      • Vomkrieg

        I just couldn’t get their culture. It was so very over the top Saturday morning cartoon sci-fi, in a world that had been built on very realistic and grounded things.

        I think the most fun we had was actually playing with 2750 tech in the era just before the clans arrived. Xl engines and the other upgrades made lights so much more nippy and cool, while not really damaging how good heavies and assaults were. Each class came into it’s own with those additions.

        Then “boom”, 50 ton clan mechs with targeting computers and ERML’s arrived.

        • georgelabour

          You’d be happy to know that they fleshed out the star league era a couple years back with new house books, and other source material. They even have a 2 part book covering the Amaris-Kerensky civil war and all the fun toys used therein.

          They also released another era book for a pre star league time so you can play games set back when the very first battlemechs were just wobbling their way onto the battlefield, and things like jump jets weren’t entirely safe yet.

          • Vomkrieg

            Cool, I could probably still play my old trusty Orion in those settings, as it’s meant to be an ancient design

          • georgelabour

            Then you’ll be happy to know the Orion is still in service even in the latest time periods of the game.

            Fluff wise it could even be the same Orion used, rebuilt, and upgraded over centuries of service

            One of the nicer things about the game is it’s fairly flexible as far as letting you use any toy you want.

            ‘I found it in a hole’ or ‘stole it from some space-ninjas’ is usually enough of an excuse to let you justify bringing in whatever you want.

          • Vomkrieg

            I remember reading the description of the Orion in the 3025 update when I was a kid. Big, lumbered, archaic, but reliable as heck, and because it wasn’t a robotech design (my friends who played were also into macross), it became my stock mech.

            I was looking at some of the newer stuff, as I haven’t looked at much battletech in years. Saw the design quirk stuff and thought that was brilliant. 3025 had all this stuff about “this mech leans funny” or “this one has reloading issues”, and it never came into the game (except the javelins “top heavy” rule).

            I’m going to try and get a modern copy of the rules for a look to see what they have done.

          • cudgel

            Stop trying to make me buy some Orions in mwo, especially as a staunch Marik loyalist…

          • Vomkrieg

            Hahaha. I tried MWo, it was looking ok for a while, then ECM came it and kinda threw the game for me.

            As i joined early, I didn’t have the option for any of my fav mechs. So went Atlas/Dragon

          • Vomkrieg

            I just patched it (50 patches overnight). I have about the most Steiner sounding handle you could get.

            Blitz Krieg

            Might give it another go

  • BT

    For all of the Battletech fans here… there was a Kickstarter for a computer game for the old system started up, here is a link to their forums.
    https://community.battletechgame.com/forums

  • matty199

    I’m keen in the universe and minis but the game sux. Please re do this game with fast fun rules and I’m in

    • Alistair Collins

      And along came Alpha Strike – the fast play skirmish “non hex” variant for Battletech. Check it out on the Catalyst Game Labs site.