November 15th, 2010
In Focus Review - BattleTech
The game of BattleTech is broke up into various segments of time. What technology appears is tied to these specific moments in time, and you play BattleTech based on the specific points modeled in BattleTech history. For instance there's a Technical Readout book and Record Sheets both made specifically for 3039, 3060 and 3085, just to name a few of the points in time that are modeled for gameplay.
Here's a quick little run down of the time-line in the BattleTech universe. This is by no means a complete overview, but just a snapshot of the events that stood out the most in my mind....
In the early years there is five noble Great Houses House Stiener, House Kurita, House Liao, House Davion and House Marik, and combined they made up a region of space called the Inner Sphere. In the 2560s they all came together to form the Star League.
Around 2760-ish the five great Houses couldn't agree on who would be the next leader, and chaos ensued. Around 2780-ish disgusted by all of the political nonsense, General Kerensky packs up the majority of the Star League Defense Forces and takes off headed into deep space, as far from the Inner Sphere as possible. He voluntarily exiles the majority of the Star League Defense Forces.
This leaves all five of the Inner Sphere Great Houses alone to create their own individual armies. At this point the First Succession War begins, and the Great Houses now called Successor States brutally fight each other for control of the Inner Sphere. There's four different Succession Wars in all.
All the while General Kerensky and the SLDF (Star League Defense Forces) begin an entirely new life among the stars, and colonize a region of space they dubbed the Pentagon Worlds, because of how the five planets align in that area. They were a band of warriors, not explorers or technicians, and to keep his troops sharp he created a test to allow the best of the best to fight, and the rest would become the much needed techs and explorers to assist in the colonization.
General Kerensky dies in 2801, and without a leader the Pentagon erupts into a civil war, but Kerensky has a son. Nicolas Kerensky packs up 800 loyal followers and once again they decide to leave for greener pastures, headed for Strana Mechty.
Once there he forms the first Clans. Clan Jade Falcon, Clan Wolf, Clan Ghost Bear, Clan Smoke Jaguar, Clan Nova Cat, Clan Snow Ravens, Clan Hell's Horses, Clan Cloud Cobra, Clan Coyote, Clan Star Adder, Clan Sea Fox, Clan Widowmaker, Clan Wolverine, Clan Mongoose, Clan Goliath Scorpion, Clan Fire Mandril, Clan Blood Spirit, Clan Steel Vipers, Clan Ice Hellion, and Clan Burrock are all born.
The Clans introduces a Caste system. The Warrior Caste is the highest of all, below that is the Scientist and Merchant Castes, and under them you find the Technician and Labor castes. The Clans embrace genetic engineering and selective breeding to create the very best warriors possible called “trueborns”.
The Trials are also created, which pit warrior against warrior, a modern day gladiator arena-like setting if you will, and the Clans would use the Trials to resolve most everything. There's a Trial of Grievance to settle who's the better man, Trial of Position to gain promotions and so on.
Now in 2821 the Clans retake the Pentagon Worlds region, once and for all snuffing out any disagreements among the five planets. Of course history has a funny way of repeating itself in the BattleTech universe, because before long there's unrest among the various Clans, and some of them begin to fight among themselves too.
Back in the region of space known as the Inner Sphere around 3025, before the Fourth Succession War begins is the setting in which BattleTech the game is introduced. At this point in time roughly 3022, House Stiener and Davion form the Federated Commonwealth. At the same time the Concord of Kapteyn aligns the three remaining successor states Liao, Marik and Kurita.
Skipping a head now about 30 years. In 3050 the Clans who are essentially the warriors of Kerensky come home, and they invade the Inner Sphere. This is the point in the time-line that I think is the most fun in the BattleTech universe, as it's the period in which many of the PC games took place, and it's the one I'm most familiar with.
The Clans cause all kinds of havoc, because they have superior BattleMech and weapons technology, and they're genetically bred super warriors piloting these Mechs, Mechs which the Inner Sphere has never seen before either. Taken by surprise the Inner Sphere begins to fall to the might of the Clans. Only four Clans participated in the initial invasion, causing all of this devastation.
Clan Wolf, Jade Falcon, Smoke Jaguar, and Ghost Bear make up the initial invasion force. The Inner Sphere has no idea that it could have been a lot worse, because there's around 20 Clans in all. As the Inner Sphere factions join forces to combat the Clans, even more Clans begin to arrive. Eventually the Inner Sphere fights back, but now the Clans are here to stay.
Skipping ahead now to 3100-ish, this is the time in which Wizkids MechWarrior Dark Age/Age of Destruction Clix-based game takes place. In this period more improved versions of the Mechs from the earlier years now appear, as well as all new designs. There's also new alliances, and factions to consider. One thing is a given, there's a lot of combat going on throughout all of the ages depicted in BattleTech universe. Every era depicted makes for a fun and action packed setting to play out the role of a MechWarrior within.
Also all of the books from Catalyst Game Labs keeps it simple to figure out what era each product falls under, because they have little symbols with wording underneath defining Star League, Succession Wars, Clan Invasion, Civil War, Jihad and Dark Age Eras.
So if you wanted to stick with Clan Invasion era Technical Readouts, Record Sheets and expansions, simply look for that logo with the wording Clan Invasion underneath. If you wanted to play BattleTech in years after the Clan Invasion, but right before the Dark Age era, you'd simply look for the Jihad Era symbol. It's that simple.
Using the Total Warfare Core Rulebook to learn BattleTech...
As I stated in my review of the Total Warfare core rulebook, BattleTech using the core rules isn't an easy to pick up and run with game. It will take some time to learn, and it will be a while before you get the most out of it. It's however a very rewarding game in the end. BattleTech is also the only BattleTech game in town since Wizkids doesn't make MechWarrior anymore, so really it's this or nothing for tabletop gaming enthusiasts.
The best starting point to get into BattleTech is said to be the Introductory Boxed Set, but it just so happens that the last one they made is out of print, and the new one they're working on to honor the 25th Anniversary of BattleTech isn't done yet (I'm told it will be ready in Winter 2010). This left me with no choice but to use the Total Warfare Core Rulebook alone to learn the game. This isn't the recommended route to take either, it's a lot harder this way.
I also downloaded and read over the free Quick Start Rules .PDF as well, but those are simpler than the core rules presented in Total Warfare. The Quick Start rules leaves out some important stuff like the Heat management, and it uses a simpler hit location, less cluster weapons, plus there's no internal structures to deal with or Critical Hits either. The number of Quick Start record sheets are limited too, so I couldn't play all of the models I acquired from IronWind Metals with the Quick Start Record Sheets.
I wanted to learn the rules that are the core rules for BattleTech and use the actual core rules Record Sheets, not the simplified versions. Therefore this review is based solely on using the Total Warfare Core Rulebook to play BattleTech. Additionally the game is no longer being called Classsic BattleTech, they've went back to calling it simply BattleTech. Initially they made the change to Classic BattleTech in the early 2000s to make sure there was no brand confusion between the core game of BattleTech, and Wizkids MechWarrior: Dark Age collectible miniatures game.
I had asked Catalyst Game Labs why the name change now, and here's the official word explaining it all...
The first thing I should mention is that true BattleTech is played on hex mapsheets, because it is and always has been a board-game. This is a little confusing too, because most of the photographs you see of BattleTech is taken on nice gaming tables using 3D terrain, in a traditional miniatures/wargames setting.
There's however optional rules that you can download called Classic BattleTech Miniatures rules, which is a small .pdf that helps you convert the existing rules for BattleTech to allow for setting the hex mapsheets aside and using 3D terrain and/or a gaming table. You still however need to know how to play BattleTech beforehand to use those rules.
Learning how the play the game first via the hex mapsheets is likely the best way to go about learning the game first and foremost. Once you have that down, then and only then would I suggest attempting the 3D terrain route via the Miniatures Rules.
All that you need to play BattleTech is a handful of BattleTech models and the corresponding Record Sheets for each model, two six sided dice (2x D6), an official BattleTech gameboard (made from BattleTech mapsheets with hexes on them), and the Total Warfare Core Rulebook.
Technically you could use the printable paper standups that they offer for free from their website, or any number of other models to be used as proxies, paper or 3D models, what ever the case may be. Because they don't officialy say anywhere that you must use official BattleTech models, but it's certainly more fun that way, and it's more immersive, which is why I suggested it.
If you want to write directly on the Record Sheets I'd suggest pencil/eraser, or you could slip them into protective clear plastic sheets and use dry erase markers on them. This way you can use them over and over again. The later option is the route I took.
A single round of play is broken up into the following phases...Initiative Phase, Movement Phase (Ground), Movement Phase (Aerospace IF you're using any), Weapon Attack Phase, Physical Combat Phase, Heat Phase and End Phase.
Setting up a force can be done a couple of ways. The main option is force composition through using the BattleValue system, and most of the Record Sheets have a BV value listed on them to help give you an idea of what the Mech is worth in a points-cost-like way. It can also go a few steps deeper than that.
You can use their BattleValue system as I did, or you can opt to simply make sure each side uses the same number of units, and that they're balanced. There's different Mech classes like Light, Medium, Heavy and Assault. Players would want to each pick say 2x Medium, 1x Heavy and 1x Assault per side, or 1x Light, 2x Medium and 1x Heavy per side, and so on. I've used the same number of units system myself, and balanced them as best I could via the BattleValue and classes listed on the Record Sheets. For me at least, that seemed to work well enough.
There's also a random route you can take with the BattleValue system, but it's a bit more involved than what I wanted to deal with honestly, and it requires rolling on charts to see which Mechs you take at random. I personally like to build my own force based on what I want to take with me, when I can. There's optional rules in the Total Warfare rulebook that goes quite in-depth to allow you to roll for a specific type of scenario as well, and to choose from a variety of different types of victory conditions as well.
While there's a number of unique scenarios to choose from in the Total Warfare book, my only concern is that some of these require mapsheets you might not have, because its assumed you have ALL of the mapsheets available, since it asks you to roll on a chart to see which mapsheets you're to use for the game. I had to overlook that part.
Since I didn't have even the Introductory Boxed Set mapsheets to work with, I was sent the Lakes and Rivers Hex Pack expansion pack. It's an 18-inch x 22-inch gameboard made of hard board material, which also folds up nicely into a single section size piece. The previous Introductory Boxed Set mapsheet is said to be the same size, and if you want to play a larger game you simply butt a few boards up against each other. The Lakes and Rivers board is also double sided printed in full color, plus there's a 16 page booklet included with some scenarios designed specifically for the expansion.
In terms of bookkeeping, the majority of what goes down in the game is tracked via the Record Sheets. This is what I think sets BattleTech aside from all of the other games out there. The depth at which damage is tracked, and how it effects systems and performance has yet to be matched by anyone else. You either photo-copy or print off (if you have the pdf Record Sheets) the Record Sheets you need to represent your force. These can be obtained via the softcover books of Record Sheets from Catalyst Game Labs, or from the PDFs you can purchase and download from them as well.
The majority of the stats you need to utilize, and damage is kept track of via a Record Sheet. Only it's quite a bit more complex than that, because visually you'll find a graphic of a Mech on the sheet. This outline has tons of wee little circles that you can fill in, and these are damage points. Damage is tracked first via hitting the outermost shell of the Mech through the Mech's armor.
Once you've filled in all of those circles, then you move on to the possibility of damaging the systems underneath. So there's an Armor layer, and an Internal Structure layer of damage circles to fill in. These are all separated into sections like head, right arm, left arm, left leg, and so on.
There's also along side that a Critical Hit Table to determine damaging the various systems through Critical Hits. Then there's the HEAT Data/Heat Scale area of the Record Sheet. Here is where you track the heat your Mech generates through the firing of weapons, movement, etc. Depending on where you end up on that table, you may have roll to avoid shutdown, or even worse, to avoid an ammo explosion.
End up generating too much heat and there's no avoiding a shutdown, it just occurs. In between all of the really nasty shutdown and explosion events, there's also various negative modifiers effecting things like movement and firing of weapons along the way. So heat management is pretty vital in BattleTech.
The Record Sheets also show what weapons you have on-board to use during combat, which is found within the Mech Data box. You're given a minimum range, short range, medium range and long range stats for each ranged weapon, and where it's located on the Mech, because if that limb is destroyed you also loose the weapon(s) mounted on it. Your movement stats are also covered within this section with stats for Walking, Running and Jumping, along with how many Tons the Mech weighs and what is its technology origin (Inner Sphere, Clan, etc).
Lastly the Warrior Data box lists the Pilot Gunnery and Piloting Skill stats, plus two bars to track how many hits the pilot has taken, and a consciousness bar. The Piloting Skill number is your unmodified to-hit number for Pilot Skill checks, and the Pilot Gunnery number is your unmodified to-hit number for conducting ranged combat. The Piloting Skill stat also doubles for the unmodified to-hit number for Physical Attacks. That just covers a Mech Record Sheet, as there's Record Sheets for Infantry, Vehicles, ProtoMech and Aerospace models as well, all of which are a little different from each other.
After players have determined initiative via the Initiative Phase (2 D6 roll off), the Movement Phase for all Ground units begins. Oddly the player that lost the Initiative roll goes first by moving a unit, then the side that won initiative moves a ground unit, and both sides continue to alternate until all units have been moved.
The Movement Phase
Movement is handled in a straight line forward, or backwards, and it cost 1 Movement Point (MP) to change a single hex-side facing. Some hexes depending on the type also can cost multiple movement points to enter or pass through, and there's various types of hexes in the game to consider. All of the possible types of terrain in a 3D terrain game like water, blocking, and rough terrain (just to name a few) are also depicted via hexes on BattleTech Mapsheets.
So the mapsheets are treated very much like a 3D terrain environment rules-wise, you're just confined to 2D flat map surfaces with hexes printed all over them. They even differentiate levels on the hex mapsheets, as there's higher and lower elevations to take into consideration, which depicts hills, water, valleys and so on, all of which are clearly marked via the wording Level 1, Level 2, Depth 1, etc.
Mechs for instance can Walk or Run and some can even Jump, if they have Jump Jets mounted. Walking incurs a +1 modifier going against your to-hit number if you make an attack in the same turn, since you moved. However moving also works to your advantage if you become the target of an attack too.Running incurs a deeper penalty of +2 to your to-hit number when making any attacks, and Jump Jets incur a penalty of +3.
Walking generates a single point of heat, Running generates 2 points, and Jump Jets incur a penalty of 1 point of heat per hex jumped, with a minimum of 3 points of heat generated no matter what. So if you use Jump Jets and only jump a single hex, you are still generating 3 points of heat.
There's a few other unique circumstances that can occur during movement too. A ground unit Running on pavement runs the risk of skidding, and you must make a Pilot Skill check to see if you fall or not. If you do fall, you then have to deal with falling damage, and it will cost 2 MP to get back up. Charging and Death From Above attacks are also handled in the Movement Phase, since those are movement-driven forms of attacks too.
The Weapon Attack Phase
Combat is handled a little differently than in most other skirmish/war-games, and it takes some getting used to. See in BattleTech you Declare all of your attacks first, then the other player(s) Declare all of their attacks, and after everyone is done Declaring, then you both proceed to actually work out the attacking part via rolling to-hit.
Like in most other games Line of Sight (LOS) needs to be determined, and you are limited by your Firing Arcs too, which is also determined by just where a weapon is located on a Mech. The hex sides make this a bit easier, since all models use hex bases. Mechs at the time they Declare an attack can also opt to Torso Twist, which allows them to turn one hex side 60 degrees to the right or left for free. Once the turn is over, the Mech torso is automatically realigned and your Mech is facing straight ahead as it was before the Torso Twist during the End Phase.
Since this is a 3D game being played out on a 2D mapsheet, LOS is a little more involved, but utilizes the same principals as a 3D wargame. Elevation and height come into play for LOS, based on the corresponding data written on the hexes. Stuff like Intervening Terrain and Cover are also considered for LOS. There's also weapon ranges to be considered too. Under normal circumstances you need LOS, the target has to be within your weapon's Firing Arc, and the target also has to be within range of the weapon.
As I stated earlier movement comes into play for combat too, because if you moved during the movement phase you can end up with a modifier adding to your to-hit roll. If the target has moved as well, based on how many hexes they moved also adds a modifier. This reflects realism of how hard it is to shoot while moving, and how hard it can be to successfully hit a moving target as well.
Combat can get a little messy too, because most all Mechs have a variety of different weapons to choose from to attack with. While one Mech might have 2x or 3x of a given type of Laser weapon, it may also have projectile weapons like Long Range or Short Range Missiles, along with a Gauss Cannon, and so on. I've seen some with as many as 14x weapons.
The Atlas assault Mech Record Sheet for instance lists 4x Medium Lasers, 1x LRM 20, 1x Autocannon 20, and 1x SRM 6 as the weapons available. Now 2x of the lasers are positioned together in the Center Torso, as it's marked on the Record Sheet as CT ( R ), and the (R) designates those can fire rearwards. However the other 2x Medium Lasers are found 1x in the Right Arm (RA on Record Sheet) and 1x in the Left Arm (LA). So those are all the same weapon, but being fired from 3x different Firing Arcs!
The LRM is a Long Range Missile, and the 20 designates that it has the potential to do 20 damage (1-point per missile). SRM is a Short Range Missile system, and it has the potential to do 12 damage, as each missile does 2-points each. So not only do you need to worry about figuring out the various firing arcs, but if it's a weapon that expends ammo, then you also need to track ammo as it's fired of in combat too.
Looking closely at the Critical Hit Table it will show you just how the Mech is built, by listing what systems are where on the chassis. This includes where the ammo is stored, and how many pieces of ammo are available for each weapon that requires ammo.
The LRM 20 ammo and the SRM 6 ammo both is stored in the Left Torso on the Atlas. It lists two boxes with 6 shots each for the LRM 20, and one box with 15 shots for the SRM 6. I've been told the easiest way to track ammo fired is to put a little slash next to the value for the ammo on the sheet where it's located. That seems to work the best.
Also the LRM 20 fires 20 missiles at once, but you have to work out IF all 20 missiles hit the target by rolling on a chart, which is why I said you stand the chance of doing 20 damage total, because each missile does 1 point of damage each. And the ammo boxes reflect how many shots you can make before running out of ammo altogether, not how many missiles are shot at once. So the 6 shots listed for the ammo box value is actually the means to fire 6 times, but each time fired it will shoot 20 missiles at once.
There's also stats on the line for each weapon on a Record Sheet giving you the Short Range value, Medium Range value, and Long Range value. Some list a Min Range too. Aside from the LRM 20, all of the other weapons on the Atlas share the same values of 3/6/9, which are the Sht/Mdm/Lng ranges respectively.
The LRM tho since it's a Long Range weapon has the values of 7/14/21 for its Sht/Mdm/Lng range values. These values are the number of hexes away the target has to be within as well. Short range for a Medium Laser is 3x hexes, but short range for an LRM 20 is 7x hexes. There's modifiers that correspond with each range, which is also added to the complexity of the to-hit roll. As you can see there's a lot to get your head wrapped around, and this is where I got lost the most at first, because it's a lot to take in.
Some other concepts to keep in mind... The attacks are played out in the order you Declared them, but if a unit is destroyed during the ranged attack phase, and if it wasn't able to conduct its Attacks, it still gets to do so when its that player's turn to resolve his/her attacks. Nothing is removed from play until after all Attacks have been resolved.
Also if you Declared to fire on say Target X, and it's destroyed, your attacks are still carried out and those efforts are somewhat wasted, ammo expended, heat considered and all. Their thinking is that the declaration being done separately, then rolling to-hit after depicts a more realistic flowing series of simultaneous combat events for both sides.
Once you've determined your to-hit number (based on your unmodified to-hit value for Gunnery Skill+ any modifiers), Firing Arcs, and proper ranges, then you begin to roll the attacks. Once you hit a target, it inflicts damage based on the weapon used, then you as the Attacker roll for a location where the Attack lands on a Mech.
Next the Defender fills in the number of circles equal to the Damage the weapon inflicts on the Armor layer of the Record Sheet for the Mech. Now IF that layer has been filled in, for say the Right Arm, then the Defender would need to begin filling in circles on the Internal Structure layer of that Right Arm. If you reached a section that can take a Critical Hit, then Critical Hits are now rolled for, and applied if any are rolled. So if you run out of circles via the Armor layer, the remaining damage points start to bleed into the Internal Structure areas for any given body part.
There's a system with arrows pointing in different directions as well on the Record Sheet for Transferring Damage. If you run out of circles to fill in for any specific Internal Structure area, you refer to it to determine where to apply the rest of the damage that didn't fit from normal damage, or effects of Critical Hits. So damage can bleed over to other internal areas if you run out of circles to fill in.
The Physical Attack Phase
Once all of the ranged weapon attacks out of the way, players now can begin the Physical Attack Phase, if needed. If there's any Physical Attacks to perform, they're handled now during the this phase, if not you move on to the Heat Phase. Mechs can punch, kick, and even pick up a severed limb and/or objects and use them as a club. Honestly, I haven't done much Physical combat in the game yet, as I'm pretty new to BattleTech, and to keep things simple I've stuck to moving and shooting mostly. However by what I've read in the rulebook, Physical attacks can be useful, if not even quite brutal at times, and it's an option to consider if needed.
The HEAT Phase
I had explained earlier that Heat is generated when Walking, Running and using Jump Jets. After the Combat Phase there's the Heat Phase, and this is where we begin to manage/apply the heat generated during the previous phases. Now when firing most weapons there's heat generated, and each stat line on a Record Sheet for each weapon also has an Ht value, which is the heat generated every time you fire that weapon.
The Medium Lasers on the Atlas produce 3 points of heat every time you fire one of them, and you have 4x Medium Lasers on the Atlas to fire. Fire off all 4x of them and you've just generated 12 points of heat. The Autocannon 20 on the Atlas generates a whopping 7 points of heat every time you fire it. The LRM 20 generates 6 points of heat, and the SRM 6 generates 4 points of heat every time it's fired.
There's the Heat Scale and Heat Data regions on a Record Sheet. The Heat Scale has 30x boxes to fill in, and there's a last box at the top called Overflow. In the Heat Phase you pencil in the boxes on the scale to determine where you are heat-wise. Lets say I generated 20 points of heat in the prior Movement and Combat phases.
Referring to the Heat Data chart at level 20 I loose -4 Movement Points next turn. If I ended up at level 14 on the Heat Scale, I'd be forced to roll for a Shutdown, but I would avoid shutdown on a roll of 4+ on 2 D6. If I hit 23 points of heat, I'd have to roll for an Ammo Explosion, which can only be avoided on a roll of 6+ on 2 D6.
Reach level 26 and I'd have to roll a 10+ on 2 D6 or shutdown, and you will outright automatically shutdown reaching level 30 on the heat scale. At various points in between is various negative modifiers like negative movement points, negative to-hit roll modifiers, and so on.
Now all Mechs have what is called Heat Sinks. These essentially suck up some of the heat generated during a round. They're used by subtracting the number of Single Heat Sinks you have from your total heat generated, then reapplying the points of heat to the heat scale. The Atlas for instance has 20 Single Heat Sinks on the Record Sheet, so I could eat up 20x points of heat with them per turn. Double Heat Sinks can dissipate 2x points of heat per turn each as well if you have them on a Mech.
Here's another example... If I ran my normal movement of 5 hexes with my Atlas in the Movement Phase, I then generated 2 points of heat from running alone. If I fired ALL of my weapons during the Combat Phase I would generate a whopping 29 points of heat. So I'm already up into Overflow on the Heat Scale at 31 points of heat. Now I subtract the 20x Single Heat Sinks that my Atlas has from that, leaving me at just level 11 on the Heat Scale.
I now refer to the Heat Data chart, and there's only listings for 5, 8, 10 and 13 at the lowest end of the chart. Well since I'm at level 11 the negative effects at 8 and 10 apply to me now. So now my movement is -2, and I've earned a +1 negative effect modifier to my to-hit roll to fire during the Combat Phase next turn too.
Now there's a few other things in-game that can contribute to Heat, and Outside Sources is one of them. Standing in Water can help, depending which Heat Sinks are submerged. However the most heat Water can help you dissipate is 6 points per turn, but still that's not bad.
Another Outside Source of heat is being fired upon by another player, using weapons or munitions that can generate heat. The rulebook uses the example of a Plasma Rifle that you roll to see how much heat it generates, and an SRM 6 loaded with special Inferno sub-munitions, both of which are fired upon a Mech, and the combined heat generated after doing all of the math is 18 points of heat. However via the rules no Outside Source can incur more than 15 points of heat upon a player per turn, so 3x of those heat points are wasted and overlooked.
Time for another example. Lets say my Atlas was fired upon, and was forced to eat those 15 points of Outside Source heat via the example above. Adding those 15 points to my 11 that I ended up generating on my own, after subtracting my heat sinks leaves me now at Level 26 on the Heat Scale.
Now some of the negative modifiers listed below 26 apply to me as well, plus the listing for 26 is a shutdown, which can be only avoided on a roll of 10+ on 2D6! Below that at Level 25 is -5 Movement points, and 24's penalty is +4 to-hit. Therefore now I'm left with a pretty nasty to-hit number to make, and I have lost 5x movement points, and my walking movement is already just 3 MP, so I'm sorta screwed next turn.
Although now on the next turn, depending on what I do, or don't do, will determine how much Heat I can dissipate. Doing nothing at all and I can dissipate 20 points from my heat sinks alone, which would get me back down to just Level 6 on the Heat Scale, which has no penalties, but level 5 is -1 MP. As you can see now by looking at the bigger picture, had I NOT fired ALL of my weapons, my heat generated would be a lot less, and I'd be less screwed at the moment for my next turn.
This is the strategy that BattleTech involves, it's all about micro-managing your Heat, partially based on the actions that you take. You want to dish out as much heat as possible on the enemy if you can, and avoid generating to much on your own. If not on the next turn you can end up a sitting duck, or even worse, a shutdown sitting duck.
I didn't cover every single possible scenario either, as there's some special equipment that can help with heat management too, but I just wanted to give you an idea of how heat works in general. I'm sure that there's certainly better strategies and ways to look at this than what I came up with, especially being new to the game myself.
The End Phase
After the Heat Phase is the End Phase. During this phase any pilots that were unconscious during the Initiative Phase can now roll to regain consciousness, Heat Sinks can be Turned Off or On during this phase. There may be other things you can do as well which clearly state they're managed during the End Phase too. Victory conditions are checked upon during this phase as well, to determine if the conditions for victory have been met, and if any side has won or not. Also any Torso Twisting done in the previous combat phase resets the Torsos to their proper aligned position.
One thing is certain the core rules are definitely a pretty big step above the Quick Start Rules. There's about 3x pages worth of charts covering the various weapons in the Total Warfare core rulebook alone. The damage model also goes much deeper than what I covered, as damage to certain areas can effect those parts of a Mech in unique ways.
A shot to the Gyros can inhibit movement, and 3x shots directly to the engine will destroy a Mech. Even worse, if you roll a 12 when Determining Critical Hits for the Head location, it blows the head up, kills the pilot and takes the Mech completely out of the game altogether. Game Over man!.
Some things that stood out to me as a first time player include...Getting used to reading the data on the mapsheets will take some time, because I have to take what I know from playing in 3D skirmish/war-games, and now apply it to a flat hex-based Mapsheet. Calling the attacks before working them out is a little hard to get used to as well.
Thinking ahead I can see where if it were a very large game with 10+ Mechs per side, how chaotic it might get trying to remember just what I Declared by the time I've waited for the other guy to Declare what his 10+ Mechs are going to do. One suggestion I was given by Catalyst Game Labs Randall Bills is that beforehand it might be best to look up all of your to-hit numbers for specific weapons as you Declare, and then pencil them in next to each one, to save you from having to look all of that stuff up by the time you can begin rolling to-hit. It may also help you remember what you Declared.
So there's a lot of stuff about BattleTech that's not necessarily bad, but just different. Change is hard to accept sometimes too, especially when something is very different from the norm. I think the differences also come from the fact that in truth, this is actually a 25 year old game. The majority of most popular wargames being played today were written 10+ or even 20+ years after BattleTech too.
This is however the most complete and updated version of BattleTech, and even Total Warfare states that it's the product of combining all of the various core rulesets together into a single book, plus taking into account 20+ years worth of FAQs as well. Since they did combine most of the old books into one, BattleTech is a true full blown combined arms game now too.
I'm quite impressed with how it exists at present, because even for what's mostly a 25 year old game, it's still a lot of fun, and it's still far more in-depth in terms of damage tracking than any other game I'm aware of that people are still playing today. Other games like Warhammer 40k have been around almost as long as BattleTech, but it has changed drastically since the first Edition. BattleTech on the other hand is very much the same game it was 25 years ago, with a few tweaks, but the core rules are the same for the most part.
Catalyst Game Labs just made BattleTech a wee bit more accessible via outstanding documentation. While some of the book sections can seem like overkill, imagine if you had to attempt to combine 25 years worth of different rulebooks together into a couple of single core rulebooks. I think they ended up pulling it off quite well by what I've seen of Total Warfare and the Tech Manual.
Total Warfare is the core rulebook for BattleTech Mechs, Infantry, Vehicles, ProtoMechs and Aersospace, where as the Tech Manual is the tome covering unit creation for ALL of those unit types and technical data on all of the various weapons and systems. The Tech Manual is totally optional, and I personally don't have much of a need for it, because I'm not about to attempt to create my own units yet, but when I ever feel the need, I'm aware that it's the only book I'll need to get it done.
There's also a variety of different Record Sheets you can purchase, and some you can even download for free from their website. The Technical Readout books are also a good read, and contain loads of technical data on units, but they're more for fictional reading purposes, than they are gameplay supplements.
Total Warfare is also the core rulebook, but you can expand the core game, and add more options to BattleTech by picking up Tactical Operations and Strategic Operations, and once available, Interstellar Operations. All of which bring new rules, technology and some even new ways to handle extremely larger scale battles, like the introduction of BattleForce, and Quick Strike Rules (not to be confused with Quick Start Rules). If you're an RPG enthusiast, A Time of War should be on store shelves any day now, and it's the all new BattleTech RPG core rulebook, which can be used to add an RPG-element to BattleTech gaming as well.
There's also Starter Books which come with scenarios based on the fictional stores included in each one, complete with profiles and Record Sheets for the units taking place in the book. There's a few boxed sets from Iron Wind Metals as well to match the Starter books. Other mapsheet Hex Packs sets are also available, but most are out of print, and the only way to find them is to dig them up on eBay, or to find an online retailer who may have old stock lying around.
Furthermore considering BattleTech takes place in various timelines, there's a lot of ways to enjoy the game. Moving ahead to the later years the technology gets more complex, and the Mech designs even more radical. Everyone seems to have a favorite timeline to play within too.
Again, BattleTech really is a lot to get your head wrapped around at first, and my questions about it in general helped to encourage Catalyst Game Labs to come up with a free PDF detailing what category each of their rulebooks fall under, and in what order they can be made useful.
It doesn't end there either. There's quite a few websites worthy of mention too. The Camo Specs Online website is an outstanding resource for various paintjobs of BattleTech models. If a model exists, then chances are you can find a few painted examples there to draw inspiration from before you paint your first Mechs.
If you can't get enough of the fiction, there's not only hordes of novels available and the outstanding Technical Readout series of books to read, but BattleCorps.com is a subscription-based website, which features new fiction by many of the most popular BattleTech novel authors.
I also have to say that the BattleTech 25 Years of Art & Fiction book is an AMAZING book to consider as well. I've heisted many of the images used in this review from it. Most BattleTech art truly conveys what it's like to play the game of BattleTech too. Lastly Iron Wind Metals is the exclusive producers of BattleTech models, making them the source for all of the official BattleTech models.
I'm certain I may have missed something, because I only covered playing BattleTech with Mechs as a MechWarrior. What I need to make clear is that Total Warfare the core rules is a complete combined arms game system.
The scale that the models are for BattleTech is 6mm scale, and if the Iron Wind Metals models are too much for you, there's loads of other 6mm scale sci-fi model options out there today to choose from as well. If you have a collection of 6mm scale sci-fi models already, Total Warfare might be an option to consider.
Nothing says you can't use IWM Mechs, and another companies tanks and infantry models to play BattleTech with either. I mentioned this only because before starting this feature, I was looking for a rule system to attempt 6mm scale sci-fi gaming, and I think I've found it in the BattleTech Total Warfare Core Rulebook.
Looking at it from a financial perspective, the Total Warfare Core Rulebook is priced at $39.99 USD for the full color hardcover, and the PDF version of any of the rulebooks I mentioned earlier in the article is just $15 USD. The previous Introductory Boxed Set was priced at $39.99 as well, but it also came with plastic versions of models, 24 different Mechs in all, a mapsheet, and a more simplified version of the rules versus what's presented in the Total Warfare Core Rulebook.
I can't comment on the new 25th Anniversary Edition Introductory Boxed Set, or what it will include since it's not out yet, but I'm told it will be worth the wait. So at present the only way to dive into BattleTech is via Total Warfare.
With that being the case, if you wanted to give BattleTech a try the way it was meant to be played here's what I would suggest....To keep things simple I'd think the best route might be the Total Warfare Core Rulebook, the Record Sheets 3039, and about 4x Mech models per side from Iron Wind Metals selected from the Mechs outlined in the 3039 Record Sheets, and the Lakes and Rivers Hex Pack map.
At present there's no PDF version of the Record Sheets 3039 book available (but it will be soon), and the book itself is only $9.99 USD in softcover format. Mech models are on average about $10 USD each, as some of smaller ones are a little less at as low as $7 USD per model, and the very largest ones I've seen were no more than roughly $14 USD each. The Lakes and Rivers Hex Pack is $24.99 USD, but I've seen is for as low as $19.99 if you shop around.
Strictly from a buy-in perspective BattleTech isn't really a cheap alternative to anything else out there, and it's not really much more expensive than any of the other Intellectual Property-based sci-fi games out there either. You stand to spend about $100 to jump into BattleTech outside of the Introductory Boxed Set. You could even shave a few bucks off that price-tag, if you were to opt for proxy models, but the IWM models are so nice that I personally can't see playing without them. Others mileage will vary of course.
The good news is that after you own the rulebook and some Record Sheets, there isn't any other really expensive models that will set you back a ton of cash. Most other games out there after the buy-in period have a bunch of expensive models that you'll want, or badly desire later.
With BattleTech the most expensive models I've seen are the biggest Assault Mechs in the $13.95 USD price-range. The other printed rulebooks are the only other options available that can set you back more than a $20-bill, and they're even available as .PDFs for $15 USD each as an alternative.
In the overall scheme of things after the buy-in cost, BattleTech is likely one of the most inexpensive games out there to continue supporting and playing. With games like 40k or Warmachine, after you get what you think you need to get started, there's another 2nd tier of models and books to hook you, many of which are in the $30-$50+ range a piece. With BattleTech after you have purchased your essentials, the most you risk spending is $8-$14 USD per new model.
All in all, I've really enjoyed my time with BattleTech, and it's one of the few games which I'm going to continue playing well beyond once the review goes live. Some of the differences were frustrating at first and hard to swallow. A first time player can definitely get lost, or intimidated by the learning process as I did initially too. I still don't like the entire Declaring and shooting actions being separate, but I do now see why it's done that way, and I can appreciate now why it has to be that way.
I'm also not totally sold on the entire hex map/board thing, but as I move forward I'll be looking into Quick Strike and the Miniature Rules to attempt BattleTech in a more traditional wargame setting with 3D scenery. There's far more to like than there is to be upset about, and to be intimidated by that's for sure, and it's why I'll continue playing it. It's the kind of game that grows on you, and that gets more rewarding every time you give it some more playtime. Best of all, it's not going to drain your wallet to continue playing it, because once you have the essentials it's not going to cost you an arm and a leg to expand upon them a little more.
Stay tuned for more BattleTech coverage, as my review of the Iron Wind Metals BattleTech models is scheduled to be posted next. Also for more on the Total Warfare Core Rulebook (HardCover Edition), be sure to check out the review of it that was posted before this article, that is if you missed it.