Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Scale 3: Hex Maps Versus Tabletop Terrain

Carrying on a bit late from the first and second part of this articles, I'd like to conclude my musings for the time being. For me, there are three basic things that one can do when, for instance, when playing BattleTech using miniatures on a tabletop with wargame terrain:
1) Change the size of the area fought on
2) Field more models
3) Change the range of the weapons. 

Using a smaller table is by far the easiest solution that comes to mind. Playing a game on a table top of 2' x 1.5' offers little advantage over using the map boards of the same size. However, making the table larger means that you will probably want to have more models on the table, otherwise four mechs per side tends to look a bit lost.

More Models

BattleTech combat tends to slow down as you add more models. So much so that I wonder whether there is much to be gained from the effort required for the work to set everything up? You need an awful lot of time and patience to play a very large game of BattleTech. So if you want to field more  models you would need to streamline the rules to allow a quicker resolution for each turn.

Weapons Range

Altering either the ground or time scale appears to offer some hope.

Changing the time scale will increase the movement distance, but not the weapon ranges. Whereas changing the ground scale increases the weapon ranges, but doesn't alter the time scale.

However, this can lead to problems, as related earlier, with changing the emphasis of the strategy and tactics. It can all lead to the situation where either mechs race around the battlefield unable to hit a target, because they're not in range, or targets can be hit, but it takes so many moves to close that shooting has become far more effective than the original game designers intended.

If it takes ten turns to close on a target, each turn say is only 5 seconds long, then you've effectively doubled the weapon damage, since you are now firing the equivalent of twice per turn.


As  can be seen, from examining the the various factors above, the increase of space needed can preclude, for some people, the opportunity of having the ground scale the same as the figure scale, because every hex would translate to four inches. This would mean that a table would have to be 60 inches by 68 inches per hex map board.

This only leaves the time it takes to play a game and the scale time it is supposed to represent.

I think the ideal miniatures game would be one where the actual time to play was equivalent to the time the game turns added up to, where the ground scale were equal to the figure scale, and each model represented one of its kind. However, I wouldn't hold your breath trying to achieve this goal. The last point is one that we are unlikely to be able to resolve, so we will have to live with a compromise.

One out of three hardly seems a good batting average, but I think you have to remember the nature of what we are trying to do.


  1. The sort of detailed game that I tend to play is a lot slower than real-time. But I know there are games that run faster - they tend to have battalions and regiments as units of manoeuvre. This suggests that a big company or small battalion game might be about the right level for getting parity.

    I think that BattleTech is a house of cards. The moment you start changing things, it doesn't feel like BattleTech any more. Get realistic about weapon ranges vs movement speeds, and the weapon balance is shot, so you need to break the design system to fix that...

    1. An interesting point of view, and I'm not doubting the truth of what you say, but I am wondering if one can simplify and rationalise things within the rules to produce a more consistent and shared understanding of the way the universe works?

  2. I am a big Battletech fan. I've still got my 2nd edition box set from way back, before cell phones. Every time we tried to play a game where we ran more than 1 mech, it took too long and we lost interest. There is way too much tracking for commanding lances or above. That really is the reason for developing my own rules. I wanted to command a company or more of mechs and support forces, and still have the game be fast and fun. It is what it is, and B-tech is a fun game, especially if it's an arena game with everybody trying to destroy everybody, but the rules aren't meant for much more than that.

  3. "One out of three hardly seems a good batting average, but I think you have to remember the nature of what we are trying to do."

    That's pretty much the crux of the matter. The rules are abstractions, see also the discussion of scale in TW (p36). Besides going completely virtual (read: video game) all you can do is either shrug and blame minovsky particles or switch between scales and mechanics as needed (which will also generate new pitfalls).

    [I don't mind the limited scale to be honest, since I don't have infinite space for my games in my flat or want to play SniperTech. All the other game mechanics are fair game though... >;-)]

  4. In our table top game we determined one of the main bottlenecks to turn resolution was the time it took players to figure out the sequence they were going to move the mechs for the turn.

    We streamlined the process by taking a deck of playing cards and assigning one card to each mech so if we had 8 mechs per side there would be 16 cards in the deck. Shuffle the cards and the mechs move in the order the cards are flipped. We also factored in tactics by allowing the commanders with the tactics skill (we were using the rpg mechwarrior rules as well) to pass his turn to a different mech once per turn if he wanted or if his skill was higher than the opposing commander making the opposing team mech that had a card flip to re-sequence to the bottom of the deck.

    We found this greatly improved game time and also eliminated a lot of bickering between players as to what mech should move during the turn.

    1. That is exactly what we've done too. A card for each mech, but a card per platoon of vehicles, or infantry. It really speeds up the game. We also resolve the combat then, and have added a mechanism for ending a turning before all units can move. However, all units do get to fire at the end of the turn.


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