second chance games

Search This Website of delight

BATTLETECH from CATALYST GAME LABS This review will cover two closely linked BattleTech packages:  the Beginner Box and wha...







This review will cover two closely linked BattleTech packages:  the Beginner Box and what should be regarded as the core game which bears the subtitle "A game of Armored Combat".

At this point I think it's important to state that in examining these two games I am teetering on the very edge of my comfort zone.  As previous reviews will have made clear, I am not adverse to games involving miniatures, nor complex games with a significant depth of rules, though the days when I happily played and reviewed World In Flames for the pre-internet magazine world are a past country.

However, light skirmish games like Deadzone 2  are my preferred choice when I stray away from my more comfortable realm of counters and hexes or blocks and area movement.  Even when BattleTech first appeared in the 1980s, a game that focused on a few mighty machines, albeit with a human controller inside, and photocopiable diagrams of outer carapaces and inner constructions that needed locations to be crossed off/coloured in to show growing damage was not a likely choice for me.

However, that personal caveat doesn't stop me appreciating the many qualities of this game and, as these two packages are hopefully the jumping off point for a whole new generation of gamers, this review is intended to help them decide whether BattleTech may be a universe they might want to launch themselves into. 

The quality that jumps straight out at you immediately is the physical production.  The bold colours of the art work adorn the type of deep, well-constructed box that we associate with the top end of game company production from the likes of GMT and DVG.  This is a far cry from the sort of flimsy container of the 80s that the original game was housed in.

But what I think stands out most of all when you open the box is the high quality of the miniatures.  This was a feature criticised by many in earlier editions.  Virtually all are a standard 2 " tall on hexagonal bases that perfectly fit the map hexes that they will stand on.  The poses are dynamic and have a heft and bulk that adds to their appearance.

Having been the painter of many Warhammer miniatures in the early days of my son's 40K journey, I really like these figures that have large plains and deep grooves that allow swifter painting of large areas of colour enhanced by dark washes and easy highlighting.  These figures really do make you want to get them out on the battlefield.

Here are all eight housed in their individually moulded tray

The Beginner's Game comes with just two figures [and eight cardboard standees] and a single double-sided paper map, while the core game boasts the eight figures seen above [plus nine extra standees] and two double-sided maps.  I was also very fortunate to be sent, along with these two review copies, the expansion map pack set of six additional maps.  All are 18" x 22" and look brilliant.  They are a visual delight.  Especially the way height of terrain is conveyed gives an almost 3D effect [as can be seen below] and both games contain a small selection of additional thick cardboard terrain overlays.  

If only the maps themselves had been of the sort of cardstock familiar from Columbia Games' maps. Indeed, the one downside is that the new production uses extremely thin paper and I do mean extremely!  After folding one map up twice, it's already showing wear on the folds.  Using my normal practice of storing maps permanently flat means I shouldn't have undue problems, but most gamers I know are unlikely to follow suit.

Another feature whose value I still remain unsure about is the decision that hexes that provide Light or Heavy cover actually have the words printed in the hex and any hex Level above 0 is also printed on the map. The importance of Levels may justify this, but as the base of each model exactly covers the hex, when you need that info you have to lift up the model to confirm it.

As expected, in the core game, there are full size record sheets that contain all the many essential statistics for each type of mech along with the all-important diagram on which you check off damage to the target area that has been hit.

These are absolutely essential and though not a fan of this type of record-keeping there clearly is no other way to handle the level of detail that has always been a main feature of BattleTech.  The way in which damage to the outer armour, once it has been totally destroyed in a given location, can be transferred to the inner structure is a key element of the minutiae of the tactical attack system.

In order to create a much faster and stripped-down version for the Beginner Box, this is one aspect that has been modified, as only the external armour takes damage.  As a result the A4 size record sheets in black and white have become much smaller cards with a central picture of the mech in colour.  

As the game is very heavy on detail and depth this is understandable, but the satisfaction of shooting away part of the outer carapace to reveal the more vulnerable inner workings with the resulting chance of a critical hit is a hugely enjoyable part of the tension and tactics of the game.

For those of you familiar with the game, looking at the card above, you can also see that the concept of Heat has also been removed from the Beginner's rules.  For those of you coming new to BattleTech, Heat is a very important aspect to be dealt with.  Virtually all actions generated Heat, that had its own track for recording it.  Mechs inevitably reached a point when they needed to disperse Heat or risk the dire consequences.  Equally damage to a Mech might result in that Heat dispersing equipment being damaged.

Having touched on just how much there is to learn, it's no surprise that the core game has a substantial rule book.  In this new edition, it comes to a meaty 56 pages: broken down into 44 pages of rules, 4 pages for the scenarios and 8 pages explaining how to construct/design your own mechs.
Substantial as this may sound, it still pales against the length of some of the manuals I've heard referred to in videos teaching the main rules [e.g. "… on page 104.."].

A consequence of this depth is that, if you are going to invest beyond the Beginner's Box, then you can expect to be totting up as standard practice modifier after modifier for every single weapon you fire, on every single mech, on every single attack, on every single turn.  

Some of these will become almost second nature to you, but far more will involve you checking on the mech's stats sheets and on one or more of the many tables contained in the rule book and reproduced on the two identical Player Aid cards. Then you will be doing the same for any physical attacks your mechs subsequently make.  

Even calculating line of sight, never the simplest of tasks in any game, has its extra difficulties, as mechs themselves stand two levels high.  Besides that additional factor, the fact that some of your weapons are attached to arms and some to legs means that having established a LOS doesn't necessarily mean every gun can then physically fire at its target.

That Combat alone takes up 17 pages of rules emphasises two things: the level of detail in this game and the very strong focus on battle.  Manoeuvre plays its part, but combat with a multiplicity of weapons and directly too with mighty kicks and punches is at the heart of this game.  Not to mention the ability of your mechs to jump high and come crashing down on your opponent's mechs with all the weight of their tonnage!!! 

Just explaining Damage takes up a further seven pages, ending in the very useful flow-chart viewed below.

So, how well does the substantial rule book fair in conveying and making clear all this information?  Starting from the simple cosmetic level, it really looks the works with a very good weight of glossy paper, a very helpful index at the beginning and very clear, colour illustrations.

Each section [e.g. Movement, Combat, Damage] is highlighted at the top of each page in white, while side-headings are in prominent bold black capitals.  But far more important than its appearance is the reality that the rule book does a very, very good job of guiding you step by step through the complexities and the wealth of detail to be taken in.  Familiarity and practice will ease the task, but so much information will always need you to refresh your memory and check some things at times.  Thankfully the rule book is very navigable on those occasions.

The beginner's rule book is identical in quality and layout, but the rules themselves occupy a mere 8 pages out of 12.  You can imagine that there has been a great deal more paired away than the two important areas I've mentioned earlier.

This leads me to the conclusion that the Beginner's Box is exactly what it says.  Not only would I see it as designed for those wanting to dip a toe very lightly in to the BattleTech game and its universe, but for the beginner to this type of miniatures/board game hybrid and possibly to the gaming world in general.  To tempt you further, the box also includes a sample of MechWarrior cards that introduce the pilots of these mighty machines, a booklet containing a short story, The Golden Rule, set in the BattleTech universe and a quick Guide to the Inner Sphere [i.e. the universe of BattleTech and its conflicting Houses] . 

If the contents aren't enough to tempt you, then the exceptionally low price of $19.99 should.  I can think of few "starter sets" priced so reasonably and of such good value.  Helpful though I found it in easing me into learning the system, for most gamers it will only serve as an incentive to buy the core box.  This too, on top of all the key components I've discussed, sports its own different short story booklet that develops the story in The Golden Rule, more MechWarrior cards, two identical Player Aids containing the many tables interspersed throughout the rule book for easy reference and also some Alpha Strike cards.  The latter relate to a separate faster playing form of BattleTech, which will undoubtedly be another temptation to buy and expand. The core box too at $59.99 seems equally good value in all respects.  

This is already a well documented, immersive world that has been supported and extended repeatedly with many expansions, story books, CCGs...  The rapidity with which both these new packages have flown off the shelves indicate that there's a great enthusiasm both among new gamers and BattleTech's many existing devotees.  I can see these stomping on for many years to come.

Thanks as always to Catalyst Games Lab for providing the review copies. 

Below are t
hree excellent tutorial videos on game play.

Link 1