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Overview: Classic BattleTech – Gameplay In a Nutshell

4 Minute Read
Jun 24 2011

The BattleTech system revolves around the Battle Mech; a 20 meter tall, 20 to 100 ton robot piloted by a Mech Warrior (you).  Lets take a quick look at the gamesystem. 

While Battletech does also have extensive rules covering infantry, artillery, armored vehicles, VTOLs, Aerospace fighters, and capital ships, the focus has always been, and will always be, on the Mechs.  Each Mech is a complete fighting force in and of itself.  Armed with missiles, lasers, and all measure of ballistic weaponry, Mechs rule the battlefield of the 31st century. 

The basic game has three phases of play; Movement, Combat, and Heat.  The first phase, Movement, covers all the basics for maneuvering your Mech around the board, which brings me to the primary difference between BattleTech and other war games; it is meant to be played on a foldable hex map or grid, rather than a traditional open war games board.  There is a PDF available from Catalyst ( to convert all pertinent information into inches for a standard board, though.  Each Mech has a base walking speed determined by its weight and the size of its fusion engine and listed in Movement Points (MP).  It may also run which is 1.5 times its walking speed.  Some Mechs are even equipped with Jump Jets, allowing them to literally leap through the air.  Changing a Mech’s facing and moving in a forward direction cost a single MP.  Walking backwards or through difficult terrain, such as woods, water, or differing elevations, cost additional MP.  Moving through some of these hexes may require a Piloting Skill roll to stay on your feet. 

Battle Mechs on a hex map.

In the Combat Phase, you have the opportunity to make any physical attacks (punches, kicks, charges, or, my personal favorite, Death from Above) and fire any weapons you may be equipped with.  Apparently range finders haven’t gone out of fashion yet in the 31st century, so you are always free to measure your range at any time.  Once you have chosen your target(s) and the weapons you will fire, you need find out the respective ranges of your weapons.  Each has a separate Short, Medium, and Long range bracket.  Calculating your Hit Number would come next.  Starting with a base number representing your Piloting Skill (4 is average), you add modifiers for your movement, your target’s movement, and any range modifiers for your weapons, as well as any other circumstantial modifiers involved.  Once you have your number calculated, it is time to roll the dice. 

So far, none of these rules are specific to BattleTech.  This is where the system really starts to shine.  Once you have hit your target, you need to know where your shots landed.  There are 11 different Hit Locations on every Mech.  After you figure out where the shots hit, it is time to apply damage.  Each Hit Location has a specific armor value, represented by boxes or circles on a Mech’s Record Sheet.  Each point of damage forces your target to mark off one box in that location.  Once the armor is gone, any future shots will damage a Mech’s Internal Structure and sensitive equipment like weapons, engines, gyroscopes, and ammunition.  This system outdates a similar one by Privateer Press’s Warmachine and Hordes by nearly two decades.  This damage tracking system provides players with a unique and realistic representation of their Mech’s damage level.

Record Sheeet for a variant of the classic Rifleman Mech.

The final phase, Heat, is used to keep track of the effects that moving and firing weapons have on your machine.  This aspect of the game is completely unique to BattleTech.  Each type of movement and every weapon has an amount of heat it generates.  Mechs are equipped with Heat Sinks to help bleed off any excess heat generated by operating it.  Any excess heat is calculated and kept track of into the next phase.  Side effects of overheating your Mech can range from loss of control or accuracy, causing and ammunition explosion, or shutting down the Mech completely.  Managing your heat can make the difference between winning and losing a game.  Knowing when to push the limits of your Mech’s heat tolerance is a very useful tactic.  There are also several weapons in the game that can cause heat to rise on your opponent.  These can be fearsome weapons indeed. 

While these rules seem involved, they are also very intuitive.  After only a few games, a player will find themselves reaching for the handy charts in the back of the book less and less.  The depth of each phase separates BattleTech from its competition.  It is truly a more advanced system, but it is also very appealing to newcomers thanks to the incredibly detailed record sheet for your Mech and the clearly written rule books. 
So what do you think?  Is BattleTech worth a shot?  Have you already started playing or are picking it up again?  Stay tuned for a more in depth look at each of the three phases of the game.