Sunday, 12 December 2010

BattleTech 2.4.1: Music Metaphor for Rules

In my previous blog I wrote about house rules for games of BattleTech. I removed my first comment I made there, because after other comments were posted, it seemed natural to expand it, and to discuss the links I posted.

Reminder; last time I compared the process of digital encoding of music to how it could be used to compress the time it takes to play a game of BattleTech.  Now I'm going to expand my ideas with an extended, and somewhat tangential discussion on music, inspired by comments made by Bradley & Farady77, with a links to threads on the CBT forum about house rules etc. for BattleTech.  I want to use the analogy of a "cover version" in music to discuss the process of rewriting of a set of gaming rules.

Let me start first by going of on my tangent about music and ask you to listen to Bear McCreary's rearrangement of All Along the Watch Tower used in Battlestar Galactica the TV series by using this link.

Now compare it with Jimi Hendrix's version, here.

Arguably the Jimi's is most well known version, but the original song is actually by Bob Dylan.

That link pushed my GoogleFu on YouTube to the limit, just so many dam covers. Would you all agree that they are just different versions of the same song, and recognizable as such? if not what was it that made it a totally different song?

Now for my second example let's listen to "Mad World" from the Donnie Darko film by Garry Jules.

The original 1980s Tears for Fears version is here.

And just to complicate matters Tears for Fears recent live version of their own song, which IMO appears to be a response to the success of the Garry Jules version here.

Still the same song? What do you think?

And my third example is the cover of Kate Bush's Running Up The Hill for the film Daybreakers by the group Placebo.

Kate's original here.

I would argue that fundamentally that all of the above examples are intrinsically the same song, which have been re-scored for different singers, or instruments. After all, the last time I heard Kate Bush sing live, she openly admitted that she can no longer sing Wuthering Heights the same way she did when she was a teenager.

Now my next example is of what I would call a rewrite of a song. I've chosen a reggae version of Dark Side of the Moon called Dub Side of the Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars.

Versus the original Pink Floyd here.

Now I think, if not this song, then the album by the Easy Star All-Stars, is sufficiently different that though I recognise themes from the original, it is no longer IMO the original song.  OTOH one could just argue that it is a terrible cover of the classic.  What do you think?

So how about listening to this classic version of My Way by Frank Sinatra.

Versus the Punk rock version of My Way by the Sex Pistols.

I would argue that both of these versions are classics.  However, the Sex Pistols version of My Way, is far truer emotionally to the content of the lyrics than the original version of the song, because they really sung the song in a way that was "their way"- Punk rock.  For me BattleTech is all about having fun from playing games of giant stompy robot action.  This was epitomised in the original second edition rules.  Since then there has been a slow, but inevitable layering of extra rules to address perceived shortcomings that has ended up slowing the game down.  So I want to go back to a faster paced game and have a version of the BattleTech that has the energy of Sex Pistols version of My Way, rather than the slow Frank Sinatra version.

Finally, a reach out to Professor Jamie Angus, all of the above links were of course digital recordings that have been compressed, so none of them are exact replicas of the original live performance of said songs.

In gamer speak, we are talking about a game where the ultimate war machines used are really not all they are made out to be, due to unintended consequences of how some of the rules have either shadowed the original intent, or have compressed the affective (fun) component of the game through excessive optional rules IMO.  Now let's move to the comments made on my previous post.
[snip] Bradley said, "The core idea and subsequent extrapolations: First make the turns express 1 minute of time. This allows the hexes to be 6 times larger, and range 6 times greater, to better simulate a longer ranged ground conflict. Second, thanks to the 1 minute turn length, all weapons will fire 5 times in a round. Thus, armor/structure on a mech will be 1/5th. This allows the record sheet to be shrunk to the size of a playing card,... [snip] Third, because damage is being inflicted 5 times as fast, game length will be reduced to 1/5th the duration. So a duel that lasts 20 rounds in BattleTech will be concluded in 4 rounds in BattleCommand... [snip] Forth, and this part really pertains to your post: Change the dice rolling conventions. 2d6 as a mechanic has the advantage of a bell curve, but in practice with modifiers and such requires numerous individual rolls and doesn't make use of the bell curve distribution well... [snip] [snip]... the initial reaction was that if I wanted to speed up BattleTech I should play BattleForce (despite my dislike of BattleForce for stripping too much personality of the mech away); also people were very adamant that their was nothing wrong with the 2d6 system, you just need something like a box of death to handle lots of 2d6 events."
Looking at the description of the comments that were made about BattleCommand, I would infer that the the consensus was that this was no longer a game of BattleTech.  I can also agree with Bradley's comment that BattleForce strips too much of BattleTech's personality away ("personality" here being define as "look & feel"), and that I would have no problem with the house rules as written.  However, the question is more what is it about these house rules that provoked people into labeling them as not BattleTech?  All I can see is the change of dice rolling conventions, because logically none of the other modifications change the mechanics of the game.

Moving on now to the second poster.
Farraday77 said, "There are many ways to streamline the game, and they all boil down to personal preference.   For my own, I i.e. cut down on irrelevant stuff (like FF and ES crits written on the record sheet when they're only relevant in the construction phase), took the good old medium lasers heat and damage as baseline for other weapons as well as armor and internal structure diagrams, and gave the players the option to switch to a 1d8 mechanic and a base THN of 0." 
Looking at the this comment what I see is not so much a "cover version" of BattleTech, but a change in the core rule mechanics, which while perfectly logical would be a new game.  I assume that people on the forums have said as much, assuming Farraday77 has posted them up for discussion?
If not and if Farraday77 wants comments/feedback, then these house rules they could be posted on the CBT forum, assuming that Farraday77 is a member there? Also, talking about ultimate house rules and new editions of BattleTech try reading this thread, link.

"After skimming through the BattleTech: Omega rules from 1992 (not to be confused with FASAs 1999/2000 Omega rules), IMO they seem to me to be more like extended house rules rather than a completely new version of BattleTech, but YMMV."
Or, if you want to see what people think about changes to the BattleTech rules then go here.

As can be seen this topic is discussed quite a lot on the CBT forum. It seems to me, that any new version of the rules would have to feel like the original (so as to keep the diehards happy), but be new, which is a pretty tall order when you come to think about it.  However, if we use the analogy of re-scoring a song for different instruments versus rewriting a song, then perhaps one could end up with a more successful "cover version" of BattleTech that overshadows the original?  More like Bear McCreary's All Along the Watchtower rather than the Easy Star All-Stars album Dub Side of the Moon.

Then the question becomes how?  What can be changed when any change will be seen as not being true to BattleTech?  The only approach that I can see working here is one where basic "look & feel" of the game mechanisms are kept, but streamlined so as to speed up the time it takes to play a game.  Sounds like a manifesto to me, and I'm reminded of my April Fool I posted here.

Talk about full circle etc...

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. >>Looking at the this comment what I see is not so much a "cover version" of Battletech, but a change in the core rule mechanics, which while perfectly logical would be a new game.<<

    One could argue that the differences between the Sinatra version and the Sex Pistols 'cover' also point to a change in the core mechanics. ;)

    But yes, the 1d8 variant of BT Redux (my pet name for the project) is a different game, if only because I give the players the choice between the more 'traditional' 2d6 or 1d8. They always can go with the former.

    [I did change a lot more besides that...IMO BT picked up a lot of baggage with every new edition.]

    >>If not and if Farraday77 wants comments/feedback, then these house rules they could be posted on the CBT forum, assuming that Farraday77 is a member there?<<

    Yes, I'm a member there, and no, not going to happen for two reasons:

    -My native language is German and I quite frankly suck at typing up long pages of rules and/or rules changes in English.
    -I quit posting and even lurking on most BT boards because the diehards get on my nerves. Ever been shouted at because you even politely dared to suggest that a different rule or mechanic would be more elegant/concise/faster? I've been there too many times.

    I guess I'll maybe put up a master file on my webspace in the future, but thats about it.

    >>Then the question becomes how? What can be changed when any change will be seen as not being true to Battletech? The only approach that I can see working here is one where basic "look & feel" of the game mechanisms are kept, but streamlined so as to speed up the time it takes to play a game.<<

    2d6 mechanics and 'Mechs more powerful than any other unit for no apparent or logical reason. That's the only consensus you're going to get IMO. ;)

  2. People have tried to brow beat me down on the forum, but I try just to be extra polite. I agree about the only consensus, but I'll take any I'm given. Positive outlook... mostly.

  3. Faraday77,if it makes you feel any better I don't believe that 2d6 mechanics are the only, or even the best way to go. 20 cluster shots from an LBx are needlessly complicated with 2d6, and require much more beyond just 2d6 to result quickly and efficiently.

    I never really noticed until I tried to play an advanced game of battletech--perhaps 40ish mechs total involved-- at the LGS. Many friends who were observing btech for the first time (and who I wanted to convert) instantly grew bored with the lack of action that 40 mechs were displaying. They would play a 40k game, come over and check on us, and see very little change in 2 hours. We took up about as much space as they were, with fewer models even then they had, and our game had barely even started by the time theirs was done. Not a strong selling point. This was made worse by the concession that a normal game of btech, 4 on 4 instead of 15 vs 24, would still take a few hours. 4 tiny units is uncool, and several hours for 4 tiny units is even more of a turn off, and the sheer amount of independent 2d6 dice rolls needed was the final straw.

  4. On my way to work and only time to skim, but consider that most of the games we play share the same basic mechanic of "attrition", where players forces wear each other down over the course of the game. How much difference is there, really, between Battletech, and (for instance) Star Fleet Battles?

  5. @ Ashley: Yeah, that's generally the best way to handle it. :)

    @ Bradley: The funny thing is that it doesn't have to be this way with 2d6 - including a simple 'use diferent coloured pairs of dice for each weapon if you shoot multiple weapons in a turn' or the infamous 'dice box of doom' someone posted over on will speed up play immensely.

    Why stuff like this isn't covered in the rule book instead advertising that's almost immediately outdated the second after printing is done is beyond me.

    @ Eastwood: Attrition is not the problem, it's the type of attrition chosen. Compare the ablative armour concept of BT with the mechanics used by Mekton/Heavy Gear, Crimson Skies/Renegade Legion or CAV.

    This was another point I compromised on with my players in BT Redux because I knew they wanted to keep this part of the BT feeling - they still can mark out little dots, but there are not so many of them. ;)

  6. >... it's the type of attrition chosen ...

    That's not what I meant - Attrition is the common mechanic. We mark off boxes, or remove miniatures, or remove chits, and all represent a diminishing force. This practically embodies the concept of warfare, and to follow Pip's metaphor, are all variations on the same tune.

  7. Eastwood, funny that you bring up Starfleet Battles, especially in conjunction with Ashley's comment: The only approach that I can see working here is one where basic "look & feel" of the game mechanisms are kept, but streamlined so as to speed up the time it takes to play a game.

    As y'all probably know, the makers of SFB came up with a new game, Federation Commander, that keeps the look and feel of the old game but plays a whole lot quicker.

  8. Attrition...


    Friction, the other main component of warfare.

    Hanging in the balance is time.

    Yes... (Kosh voice). :-)