Wednesday 19 September 2012

BattleTech Canon 3


As I have mentioned in the two previous posts I have after my jury service found myself musing on rules of law and playing with the idea of the consequences of having canon versus apocrypha.

One of the recurrent themes on the official forum is that Catalyst Games Laboratory is somehow moving the game back to its one true path, and that the things that happened in the MechWarrior Dark Age by WizKids will be corrected, and that the game will get back to its core values of being about hundreds of battlemechs swarming across battlefields conquering all before them.

Unfortunately none of this is true.

CGL has pretty much the same core of creative people developing the BattleTech franchise as when it was owned by FASA. The original creator of BattleTech owned Whiz Kids, and the current line developer has said on several occasions that while details might change in the new Dark Age, they will not be rewriting the future of BattleTech.

Furthermore, I would add that BattleTech the game has never been about massed battles, and while we see stories of the massed conflicts in the Inner Sphere, the board game as always works best at the small and personal level of a lance/troop/platoon per side. And there is a reason for that, and the reason is fundamentally embedded within the rules as they were originally written. Furthermore CGL seem driven to make that more so, not less so. Judging by the enormous rule books that they have published that go ever more into the minutiae of things to do with battlemechs when playing a game.

What I do is just ignore all the extra rules. Keep the game simple. Keep the game flowing along nicely. YMMV.


  1. I would like that fundamental reason spelled out, as I cannot figure out what it is on my own.

    Second, I would like to welcome you to the ranks of the Girl Genius readership. Now go look up Gunnerkrigg Court....

    Third, my blog is no longer listed on the side bar *sniff*. Is that because the project is done?


    1. No, it was Blogger losing you, but I've updated it for your new site. Does that work for you?

      Fundamental, you gotta be kidding me, right?

      You and I discussed the granularity of the rules way back when on this blog, several years ago.

  2. There are already higher-level games for people who want them: Quickstrike at company scale, BattleForce at battalion/regiment scale, and whatever the Succession Wars boardgame mutates into for Interstellar Operations. I'd also like to see something slotted in between those last two, that lets you run an entire planetary invasion including aerospace and logistics in a reasonable time - something on the division/corps level like the old GDW Invasion: Earth, though one hopes not quite that complex. But then I also like rule sets that scale, so that I can use the big system to generate individual engagements if I want to.

    I think that play time is roughly proportional to (complexity of a single unit) x (number of units on the board)^2: you have to manage each unit on your side, and you have to choose which enemy to target. Certainly a 4-on-4 is the "canonical" BattleTech game for me, over in a few hours (less with forced withdrawal), whereas 8 or 12 on a side can easily become a full day's undertaking.

    On an aesthetic level, the game I most enjoy playing is the original BattleTech rather than the more abstracted versions, and the universe setup sometimes makes it possible for a lance-on-lance fight to decide the fate of a world; even the early novels largely reflect this (somewhat inevitably, in the pre-4SW days of declining tech where one 'Mech more or less can make a huge difference). Yes, one can always say "as below, so above" and adjudicate the result of the big battle based on how the little battle played out, but why not just play it straight? I'd rather play through a bunch of small battles as a campaign than a few big battles.

    So in many respects I welcome the Dark Age: small numbers of units, patched together with improvised weapons, as opposed to massed regiments of shiny new tech. For me that takes the game back to its 3025 roots. And if I want to play the massed regiments, well, there's plenty of material available for eras other than the latest one.

    1. Quickstrike doesn't float my boat, as I find MWDA does a far better job of quick play at this level of command; say a dozen models, or more, per side. YMMV though and I would recognise that there are some limitations from using Clix; for one you can only use Clix units, and can't make your own easily.

      My campaign is set in the new Dark Age for exactly the reasons you give too.

      Funnily enough, I've recently discovered quite by accident that my campaign is foreshadowing stuff being developed for the new Dark Age. Not unsurprisingly really, all things considered, as I'm using the same material to extrapolate stories, which is what a campaign is.

    2. Well, as I implied, of the various options for Giant Stompy Robot Death I prefer the original BattleTech game over QS or BF or Clix or the one-on-one gamebooks or anything else I've met.

      Which isn't to say I'm not looking into speed-ups, but I don't like to change the game to do it; for example, I've put together a couple of sets of hit location dice, which give exactly the same location probabilities as the existing tables but are quicker to read.

    3. And there is the rub... How to speed up play without changing the game?

      I suppose one thing of note, I wonder at what makes us players push the boundaries of the game rules so much with BattleTech, yet other games like OGRE?GEV for example I play just as written?

    4. I think it may be the same thing that's kept me interested in BattleTech, whereas if the OGRE reboot hadn't happened I might have forgotten it: infinite variety. Unit design is a game in itself (not only putting together a custom 'Mech, but combining several customs or standards into a lance). Randomness happens in fire resolution no matter how much you play the damage curve. Terrain and environment affect things, and skill comprehensively changes the shape of the game (a high-skill warrior can jump and still expect to be able to hit, so he'll want more heat sinks than someone who'll be doing the jumping and shooting on separate turns).

      Also, of course, individual identification: it's not a generic tank crew in that Wolverine, it's one specific named person, and even if the name is all I know about him that's still more immersion than you get with a tank platoon in most wargames.