Thursday, 11 November 2010

BattleTech 2.2: More Rule Problems

Quite clearly the BattleTech Universe is not the real world, because if it is were then the underlying rules of what makes sense to people have radically changed due to a combination of technological handwavium, buckets of unobtanium, and an economic system that defies our understanding of how the free market, or even state controlled economies work.  Though BattleTech clearly tries hard to hold onto some sense of rationalism, what makes for a cool game background leaves the players a lot of choice as to where to strike a balance between cool versus realistic.  I would go so far as to argue that 90% or more of the current discussions on the CBT forum are generated by the friction between the assumptions that players of the game make about the way they reconcile the irreconcilable to themselves.

This leads to the problem of people taking entrenched positions on the rules i.e: the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs, and can be modified by agreement.  I should applaud the CGL crew for taking the latter position, but often see the forum members arguing the former.

At its heart the BattleTech the game is a set of rules for small unit actions, ideally around lance on lance (four to six units per side).  In short a highly detailed skirmish game.  However, the rules can be stretched to cover company versus company actions, if the players are very organised and dedicated to playing the game, but at the cost of escalating time to play each game.

Certainly as I've got older what I would have considered a reasonable time to play a game to a satisfactory conclusion as dropped.  I remember back 25 years ago thinking nothing of playing any game for eight or more hours.  The thought of doing so now just seems to impractical, because playing late into the night, or the early hours of the morning would just wreck me the next day.  I no longer have the luxury, or ability even, to just catchup my sleep after burning the candle at both ends.

So time is a problem, because the detail of the rules eats away at time like a horde of locusts eats a farmer crop.

The original BattleForce was a game that sought to reduce the time costs of BattleTech, and therefore allow players to game larger conflicts.  Unfortunately, IMNSHO, the original was deeply flawed by the concept of having to field lances, rather than mechs, because this choice change the game from individual units to groups as units, and as a result lost a lot of the flavour of BattleTech.

I remember rewriting the rules to do just that, and again IMNSHO, this made for a far better game as a consequence.  The latest edition of BattleForce, in its Quick Strike variant, does exactly this, and is all the better for it.  However, for me, this game feels rather like closing the stable the door after the horse has bolted, because MW:AoD Clix does a far better job of allowing players to play big games in far less time, with no paperwork, and finer granularity of damage resolution.  YMMV on this opinion.

I also hold to the opinion that BattleTech is about battlemechs.  Battlemechs are meant to be the "Kings of the Battlefield". If only FASA had called the game BattleMecha when they decided to change the name from BattleDroids back in 1984.  For me this means that battlemechs have to be better than any other similar sized unit that a player can field, by combining the strengths that other units have e.g: act like infantry for occupying territory, provide a heavy punch like tanks, and be able to deliver fire support like artillery.  These three things are what would make a battlemech unique and so necessary for winning future wars.

However, what we have is a game where hovercraft etc can wipe the floor with battlemechs, and this is despite of a rewrite to limit vehicles.  For the definitive discussion of this that I've ever read one really need to have a copy of Glenn Wallbridge's Iron Wolves article that appeared in the long defunct Games Review Monthly in the late 1980s.

Another problem is that within the structure of the BattleTech rules is that force homogeneity isn't necessarily the best strategy for winning games.  In the real world you would mostly likely want all your tanks in a company to be the same for logistical reasons, if nothing else.  Within the BattleTech Universe while it can work with some mechs, allowing them to deliver coordinated close and long range attacks, by and large there is no real benefit, or downside for fielding forces with one of everything.  However, in this case I think rule of cool wins, but YMMV.

So how to fix this?  Well one way is to rewrite the rules, and in some cases I think that this is exactly what needs to be done.  However, to quote Bad Syntax, from this thread here (broken link removed).

There are only 2 ways at going about this:

#1. Fluff is law, rules kinda sorta follow fluff. End result = game is nothing like the writings.

#2. The rules are law, artistic licenses allow the fluff to vary a bit either way. End result = game is fun, imagination is fluff.

Personally, I prefer to go with the RULES, and not the fluff, the fluff doesn't win arguments in games, the RULES do.  Fluff is for RPGs, CBT is *not* an RPG.  The single RPG type CBT book released in the last decade (ATOW) is a huge chunk of non-rpg."

I shall end my post on that note as their is lot that can be discussed about background "fluff' and rules, because this brings us back to my first point on whether the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs and can be modified by agreement.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.


  1. Hi Ashley, A nice comment. You may remember from a Salute a few years ago I ran a Battletech game (I think you mentioned you made some resin buildings that are still on the market now). To cut a long story short I have started work on a re-write of Battletech with reduced damage grids and a host of exciting customisations to make build a mech fun. Rather than just different weapons, the core systems will enable some interesting game play. I will share as I get near to completion, I would welcome feedback. For the moment I am focused on getting Gruntz out there :)

  2. Keep me in the loop and keep watching this blog, though my plans are probably less radical than yours, as I want to keep all the official weapons and building rules, but streamline the game rules. Thereby keeping backward compatibility to the core game.