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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Game Day: Battletech

by Ken Newquist / January 15, 2017
Three mechs slug it out on a hexagonal orange-and-brown battlemap. Two six sided dice are used to indicate modifiers.
The chase is on as Jim and I (the mechs in the front and back) chase after Nate's mech (center). Credit: Ken Newquist.

Classic Battletech is an old favorite of my gaming group. A few years ago we flirted with the idea of a Battletech campaign using a variety of possible rules (Battletech A Time of War, Risus, Savage Worlds) but it never quite took off Instead most of our games have been one-shots at Nuke(m)Con or on game nights when we failed to reach critical mass for one of our RPG campaigns.

That was the case last Sunday when the wings came off our Weird Pulp campaign just before take off. We decided to go with Plan B and pull out my Battletech starter set.

It was a great session that let us introduce one of our newer Blackrazors to the game. We divided up into two teams: Nate, the most experienced player, took two 50-ton mechs while Jim (the new player) and I took two 50-ton mechs of our own. It went as most such games go: lots of maneuvering early on, followed by a few up close engagements that ravaged on of Nate's mechs. Jim blew off its leg with long range missiles, than I ran up with my mech and got the headshot with my autocannon.

After that it was a game of cat-and-mouse as Nate's surviving mech jumped around the battle map, trying to evade our mechs while getting in a few good shots of his own. Fortunately I was able to blow off one of his mech's arms and subsequent hits blew out his center torso, killing the mech.

The starter set, which is sadly out of print, was a great birthday present back in 2008. It comes with a bunch of plastic mechs (light, medium, and heavy), reference sheets for each mech, the basic rules, hex-based battlemaps, and a booklet explaining the game's history.

That said, I know the minutia of Classic Battletech can be had to get your head around, particularly the various modifiers for attack rolls. It took our newest player about two hours of game play to start grokking the system. And as much as I love the level of detail that that the game offers (e.g. which arm or leg got hit, which subsystem housed by that limb was damaged) it can take a while to run, especially for games with a lot of mechs.

There's a newer version of the game, called Alpha Strike (Amazon). Published by Catalyst Games, it looks to streamline game play by replacing the standard stat sheet with a simplified card (Example: a Clan era Hunchback). The idea is to strip the game down to basics, allowing you to quickly resolve combats while simultaneously fight larger mech battles. I haven't read through the rules, but based on the introductory blog posts I read, it seems like this version would be a lot easier to play with the kids or new adult players. It's intriguing enough that I'm thinking about picking up the core rule book (Amazon).

One really nice thing about the game is that there's an online database call the Master Unit List that contains customizable and printable stat cards for hundreds of different mechs. It's a cool utility, and particularly appealing after I spent 15 minutes on Sunday hunting around the internet for Classic Battletech mech sheets ( the basic set came with the sheets I needed, but my printer/scanner is out of ink).

All in all, it was a far better Sunday game than I'd expected given our last minute scramble to find something to play. I don't know that it will lead to a Battletech renaissance in our gaming group, but it might lead to a Saturday game or two with the kids.