This post is by way of an introduction to both myself and one of only two or three games that have kept my near undivided interest for the last twenty seven years of my life.
I started gaming when I joined secondary school. Like many people my first foray into this world was through the Steve Jackson “Fighting Fantasy” choose your own adventure books. I bonded with a group of friends sitting on the school steps with a pair of dice, crawling through dungeons or fighting aliens in the make believe land of my imagination. From those, we progressed to Warhammer 40,000 and Epic when a new friend joined who already played and regaled us with tails of his battles.
When, a year or so later, a gaming club started in my home town I signed up as a founder member and got my introduction to a universe of other games, the joys that are RPG campaigns and the somewhat geeky, but equally enjoyable, offshoot that is Live Action Role Play.
But of all the games I played in the first few months of joining that club, BattleTech is one that I keep coming back to. BattleTech was the genesis for all the MechWarrior PC game titles that gave it a bit more global brand recognition but which, despite this, has remained a popular table top game to this day.
There are three reasons I keep coming back BattleTech:
The first is I’m a sucker for big, stompy mecha and BattleTech has those in spades. It’s a game where the bulk of the units you will use are twenty to one hundred ton walking behemoths armed with enough fire power to level a city block… And who doesn’t feel a frisson of excitement at the thought of that?
The second is that there is an ever expanding fictional universe backing up the game, something else I am a sucker for. At last count there were well over one hundred novels, more setting and campaign books that I can shake a stick at, and a thriving online community with not one, but two active forums and an online fiction site with regular stories posted both by users and a host of known writers.
Finally, there’s the system itself. I’ll be the first to admit that the system has grown in complexity since I first played it with the full game now coming as three thick, hardback books of rules covering everything from unit construction, buildings through to planetary assault and logistics that let your run a galaxy spanning campaign if you want to. That being said, the core rules are easy enough to learn in a couple of hours play and most of the people I have introduced to it since I joined a new gaming club a few months ago have picked them up quickly and in a few cases been hooked by a rules system that is now thirty years old.
In a nut shell, each Mech, vehicle, fighter or infantry squad has a sheet that lists the basic information required to play. Each unit has a movement value, an armour chart, a weapons chart and a heat scale and with those, the sheet contains all you need to know to play at a glance.
The battle is played out on hex maps that come with any of the boxed games or which can be bought separately in map packs. This may feel a bit old fashioned in the modern world of complex table tops full of terrain but I find it ensures that there can be no arguments about who is where or what terrain counts as. Rule are available for full table top play but I prefer the hex maps as that is where the game came from.
There is some math involved in play, specifically when it comes to calculating to hit numbers and tallying up the heat scale during play but even this becomes second nature and can be done in your head with ease and on the fly. Faster units are harder to hit, terrain makes units harder to hit, weapons fire generates heat… which can make it harder to hit and slows your unit down. As you take damage your armour gets ablated until you start taking damage to your internal structure and, potentially, critical damage to systems. Eventually bits start to fall off your Mech and it either becomes immobilised or blows up.
Official and semi-official unit creator software exists which lets you build your own units from infantry platoons to space going warships and adds an additional dimension to play you lack with a lot of the modern games where unit types only possess limited customisation option.
What you end up with then, is a fast paced, easy to learn, ultimately customisable game system that lets you run anything from one-on-one duels to massive, regiment scale games that play out over a weekend or longer. You also do not need to worry too much about official miniatures early on. Most of my early games were played with simple marked tokens and Warhammer 40K Epic vehicles and infantry. The BattleTech community is very tolerant of substitution and representative models.
If you’ve never taken a look at this classic game I cannot hesitate to recommend picking up one of the starter box sets or even a second hand set of rules and giving it a whirl. Most of the basics of the game rules and unit creation have not changed in well over twenty years so a second hand set of the “BattleTech Master Rules” is still a valid starting point to learning the game.