Sunday, 16 March 2014

This is Madness, This is BattleTech!

I've been thinking again about BattleTech, and what I think slows the game down.  In my not so humble opinion, I think now more than ever that the original game played better before they added so much chrome on top of the basic rules.  This in my opinion turned a fun game of giant battling robots into a bloated monstrosity with five plus volumes of rules that added nothing to the fun from playing the game.

So I've culled all the current core rulebooks but the A Time of War from my collection, and I've only kept that just in case I find myself in need of the opportunity to learn another set of rules.  I am aware of the irony involved in this decision, given that the core rule books would be ideal for all that extra added gribbly detail that RPG campaigns thrive on, except that when I GM sessions I tend to play fast and loose with tech, being much more interested in the plot and story, rather than the technical aspects of the weapons as such.

If I could go back and change the basics of the BattleTech rules I would do the following:

1.  Fix the ranges of the weapons by the simple expedient of making all the long range limits from the current stated start and extend them out to line-of-sight.  So a machine gun shoots at one, two and three plus hexes at a base to hit of four, six and eight.  Given the addition of movement modifiers this will make hitting with a machine gun a rather unlikely affair, and in my opinion will not adversely affect play balance.  Just to be clear I would apply this to all the other weapons too, and allow dice probabilities decide the outcomes, rather than imposing artificially short ranges on everything.

2.  No double heat sinks period, ever, full stop.  The one big game breaker that renders auto-cannons less than worthless is the double heat sink.  Get rid of them, end of problem.

3.  Ammo explosion rules amended to reduce the damage to be one round cooking off, and applying the this first to the armour of the section, then the internal structure, and only carrying over any excess to adjacent section after that.  Yes I like targets that go boom, but mechs are supposed to be state-of-the-art weapon platforms, so they should be at least as capable as a twentieth century Abrams MBT when it comes to containing an ammo explosion.

4.  Internal hits on mechs should take into account the volume of the mech, in that there is a lot of space inside a mech, which means harder to do damage when something gets through the armour.  So no re-rolls on empty spaces, armour allocation etc.  Battlemechs should soak up damage.

5.  Vehicles are meant to go boom, and therefore should not in my opinion be allowed to use anything to soak up critical hits.  In addition, the construction rules for vehicles should result in vehicles that are less capable than mechs, otherwise what is the point of having mechs in the first place when one can build vehicles that make more sense?  Otherwise you might as rename the game HoverTech.

6.  All weapons post 3025 should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, with in my opinion those that add rules requiring more dice rolls, or shooting modifiers etc. being eliminated.

7. While we are at it, the missile launcher rules need simplifying with less rolls of the dice to calculate number that hit and location.

What I want is a game where one pilots a battlemech with a platoon of infantry and one, or two vehicles per person that plays at BattleTech's sweet spot, which in my opinion was always at the tactical come gladiatorial level of mecha-on-mecha level of play.  YMMV on this, but you youngsters can get off my lawn is what I say.


  1. 1. Yeah, if you're prepared to say "the maximum range is 'bigger than these mapboards'" then I think this works.

    2. YES.

    3. Ammo explosions and head hits are the way of stopping a big 'Mech without slowly slowly grinding it down piece by piece. If you're going to tone those down, I think you need to make 'Mechs die faster by other means, otherwise games will still last for ages even if individual turns go much faster.

    4. Removing rerolls for empty spaces generally benefits light 'Mechs more than heavy ones. Which may well be a good thing; it's certainly simpler than having a size-based modifier to hit.

    5. I mostly did this with terrain movement costs. Vehicles are great if you have an open field. When you need to move through the rocky hills, not so much.

    6. Probably right. This is part of why I haven't written Tin Soldier 3050 Edition yet.

    7. Agreed. If not my fistful-of-dice approach, then maybe a binomial table. It might well be faster to integrate all identical missiles, so you roll once at "40" for an Archer that hits with both its 20s.

    It is very important to remember to fix the initiative system, as you already have on previous occasions, which removes the O(N²) effect of having to choose which of your units to move while taking each enemy unit into consideration.

    I've generally felt that BattleTech is strongest in the 4-vs-4 game. I tried to scale up Tin Soldier so that it would work at 12-vs-12, but it's not ideal there.

    1. Having given your post some thought, I think I should point out the obvious that the AC20 becomes a real game changer, though one would need to field designs that carried more than eight rounds to be effective.

    2. That's where Tin Soldier got some of the most intense numerical analysis: both the Hunchback and the Swayback (replacing the AC/20 with six more MLs and some heat sinks) should be useful designs. In my experience of BattleTech the Swayback ends up doing better against lighter designs than the Hunchie, and no worse against heavy ones even though the hits are spread out across armour rather than concentrated in one place. The chance of headcapping is nice (and once of the things I think is good in the 3025 rules is that the only headcap weapon is the very short-ranged one), but the number of times it actually happens is pretty small. (Even if you hit with all ten rounds, you've still got a 75% chance of no head hits.)

  2. How about making the range not in hexes, but map boards?

    1. It would change the dynamic of the game too much i.e: the distance one can move to the distance one can shoot.

  3. I only played the first edition of BT (i.e. post Battledroids pre-Clans), so most of this means little to me. I understand 1&3, but don't recall them ever being an issue. Maybe just my memory, but all the "new" stuff never had too much appeal for us.

    I do agree with RogerBW that Lance command is best level.

    1. All of it will make sense in the context of playing a game where machine guns can't hit targets at 90 metres, mg ammo destroys whole mechs, where GEVs own the battlefield making mechs pointless, and where auto-cannons are a pointless addition compared to double heat sinks and medium lasers. In my opinion all of these things break the game.

  4. I think one of the problems is that so few shots hit. It takes time to calculate the roll for each shot and lots miss. Mechs take lots of hits. I was proposing to my group to add a blanket 1 or 2 point bonus to hitting with ranged weapons.

    More successful attacks is more fulfilling. Mechs can also move faster and maintain reasonable to hit chances. Longer engagement ranges should also occur.

    1. Or here's an idea start at base 2 to hit.

  5. Want the game to go faster? Do this:
    #1. Subtract 2 or more to hit. Less misses = more deaths (major speed enhancement)
    #2. Group missile hits into 6 (SRM) or 10 (LRM) point hits (major speed enhancement, slight mechanics change)
    #3. Remove move costs for turning (major speed enhancement, slight mechanics change)
    #4. Timer on unit movement, stop letting people take too darned long (major speed enhancement)
    #5. No special ammo (minor speed enhancement)
    #6. Drop range bands totally (this would probably replace #1) and just use the max range (minor speed enhancement, major mechanics change)
    #7. Use unit and force withdrawal (major speed enhancement, folks don't hang around longer than they normally would). Can also do 1 lost leg or 1 lost torso = eject.
    #8. Ignore critical hits (minor speed enhancement, minor game mechanic change, major in 3025)
    #9. Group all similar weapons into a single linked to-hit roll (and combine missiles and stuff) (major speed enhancement, minimal mechanics change)
    #10. Stick to 3030 or earlier.

    Or, just play Alpha Strike ;)

    1. I think we are down to the crux of the matter, and the differences are just a matter of taste. I think we are both talking roughly off the same page here, unlike the official boards where difference is seen as dissent I think that the consistency of ideas I see suggested is indicative of the problems that need to be addressed.

      However, Alpha Strike does nothing for me, and I will do something in the future about why I hold this opinion, but I need to go away and marshal my thoughts and construct the argument.

      Thanks for posting.

  6. While I will also buy the german version of AS for different reasons, I can't really see myself playing it. Still hope AS will sell because it means further funds for CGL. I'd love to see an official game with a crunch and mechanical level somewhere between TW and AS, but that will never happen.

    Regarding your points (see below for a partial list of my own) - yes, most of it will boil down to personal preferences, but I still enjoy reading about other players POV. The official forums are incredibly toxic when it comes to this.

    1. I prefer +1 TH per base range of a weapon beyond short range.

    2. No. While DHS have their own problems, the culprit here is the crappy weapon design philosophy used by TPTB since 2nd Edition. Make the standard ACs lighter, make them capable of rapid fire and able to fire all special ammo, give them CASE for free, make them able to load half ton loads of ammo and you''re golden. 3050+ use improved versions for versatility and RACs for firepower. Done.

    3. Give everyone CASE II for free.

    4. I don't think there's a lot of empty space in a 'Mech. And I'd rather see the concept of internal hits reworked/decoupled from the construction rules. It doesn't matter how many crits a weapon has in standard play, one hit renders it useless for the rest of the game. Boil down the dice throw or let your opponent chose one piece of equipment that just got wrecked if weapons fire/mêlée; controlling players makes the choice if self-inflicted damage.

    5. I got the impression the 3025 Scorpion was meant at first to be some kind of Abrams/Leopard equivalent of BT, but like everything else that escalated quickly. Cap the tonnage and/or restrict them to one tech level below that of the 'Mechs (or two, depending on the era).

    6. Consider the official POV when it comes to balancing and making older equipment obsolete. Cutting the fat will suffice for most of them, with a few exceptions.

    7. That or dropping the Macross model of 'missile swarms are kewl'.

    1. It's nice to see someone agree with me about the toxicity of the official forums.

      I disagree strongly with #6, because I don't want to play a game set in that kind of universe as a wargame; as an RPG it makes sense.

  7. I love the dazzle cammo job on the mechs. Is that the livery the Ogres will wear too? I've never seen that color combo before, and wouldn't have believed it would work until I saw what you did. *applause*!

    1. My Ogres can be seen if you click on the Ogre/GEV links under Labels. My Combine Ogres are in a scheme inspired by German ambush camo, but done as a differential dazzle. Differential meaning lighter colours towards the bottom, darker at the top. Dazzle meaning using bright tones.

  8. For rule simplification, I strongly recommend ditching GEVs and infantry from your games. A GEV can't really go anywhere not perfectly flat, unless it's really a helicopter. If it is, it's stupid to limit it to ground level. On water, shoot in front so intakes suck in splash water. Bloop! it sinks. If it floats, it's unarmored. Just shoot it.

    Imagine GEVs invading a city. Everyone dumps their TPS reports into the streets. GEV air intakes clog and GEVs are dead. Or people barricade straight streets, and GEVs have to come to nearly a complete stop to make a 90 degree turn. Dead GEV (if they know where you're gonna stop, you'll never start again). Drive a pipe into the middle of the only straight road in town. GEV hits and tears off skirts.

    A skirtless hovercraft is a helicopter, and they're popular, since we don't have mechs yet. And the helicopter that can survive even a single LRM hit neither has, nor ever will be, built. Any missile capable of punching a hole in a mech's armor will obliterate a helicopter. Tanks rarely bother with anti-helicopter weaponry because there are lots of better ways, mostly other choppers, fighters, shoulder launched SAMs, etc to do it better. Mechs are designed to fight alone, and would certainly pack SAMs in a helicopter threat area.

    Real infantry hate to be near tanks because they can't survive being in the vicinity of a tank battle. A battery powered green laser pointer the size of a flashlight will blind pilots thousands of feet up. A laser that can barely singe the paint on a mech will burn infantry's faces off. All mech battles would start with a small laser at the mech's knee level fanning across the infantry. The lucky survivors will be permanently blind. Kung fu movies to the contrary, blind soldiers are worthless fighters. And the laser will keep fanning as long as the mech is alive.

    Dropping GEVs and infantry will add realism while dropping a bunch of rules.

    1. All good ideas, and thanks for taking the time to come and post here. I hope you will enjoy browsing the content.

  9. I played for several years with a friend who had all the materials to play. I moved for work and haven't played in ages, but I am going to start playing a bit personally again.

    I do recall the double heat sink issue and I agree they should NEVER be used unless specifically playing some sort of clan invasion scenario where the SLDF tech is present from pre-exodus of Kerensky. The detriment of ammo explosions combined with the LACK of a real heat build problem due to double sinks led most of us to almost totally ignore ammo based systems because the heat sinks kept us from shutdown and with no ammo we had less fear of an internal hit nuking our entire mech which allowed us to stay on field with significantly less fear of total mech loss or pilot loss. This led to several scenarios where we were able to save weight (no ammo or CASE used) that allowed us more armor in addition to our PPC, Lasers, etc. which made us significantly more survivable than stock mechs from the time period that we were generating to be our opposing forces.

    1. Welcome to the blog. You remind me that I must get my BattleTech groove going again. I've just been too tied up with Ogre stuff for the last couple of years, and then there is Heavy Gear to distract me too. Life - not enough hours in the day.