A Little Bit of Battletech

Back in March, I ran a classic Battletech scenario at the local gaming convention (Madicon). Jeff, of Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog, posted about the game today and it inspired me to talk a little bit about the experience and about some general Battletech musings.

First, not to steal his thunder, but I ran a pretty classic teaching scenario at the con. It’s been in several of the “introductory” rulebooks, including the most recent, in one form or another and it’s probably my favorite teaching scenario.

The scenario is very simple, and posits a training situation for Mechwarriors still in he academy. It pits three novice mechwarriors in light Battlemechs against a single, damaged, Assault Mech and the goal of the scenario is for the three lights to defeat the heavy before it crosses two map boards and exits the field.

For my version, I pitted a Jenner, a Panther, and a Whitworth against a damaged Zeus. It was Draconis Combine versus Lyran Commonwealth and it felt great. My play group consisted of two inexperienced players (I think they were entirely new to the game) and Jeff – an experienced player. I didn’t want to play, rather overseeing the whole thing, but they decided they would take on the roles of the three lights and have me play the fleeing assault. Works for me, I guess.

I tried to do a little teaching as we went. I had kept the technology level and the mech designs to a 3025 (Level 1) standard because I wanted them to have as easy an introduction as possible and we discussed the particulars of movement, weapon fire, missles, etc. and built on to what they knew each turn as we played. Jeff was a big help because he could speak to them as a “team member” and share his knowledge while I had become the opponent.

The Assault did make it off the field but it was a badly mangled wreck by the time it was all over. I felt bad for one of the players because he actually missed with every. single. shot. he. took. The entire game… it was painful.

They played reasonably well – using cover, trying to set me up to only have clear lines of fire to one or two of them at a time and leaving someone to flank me and try to get my weaker rear armor. I was happy that the outcome was so close. I also made a pretty straight run across the board, only stopping twice to engage in a round or two of actual stand up fighting.

But there are a few things that I think are hard for new players to learn about Battletech that I think stems from the differences it has to most other games that are similar. I think certain strategies and expectations are so ingrained in the minds of players of war-games that Battletech sets those expectations on edge.

So, here are my two “insights” about Battletech. I put the dreaded quotation marks around insights because I’m always reluctant to assume I’m saying anything particularly new or original. Anyway, take them as you will; these insights reflect my experience of playing the game.

1. Battletech rewards aggression. So many war games/minis games reward slow play, careful hoarding of resources and skulking around the edges building up your forces. Many others reward the dreaded turtle strategy. Battletech is not one of those games. Battletech rewards moving a lot, getting close to an opponent, shooting all the time, even punching and kicking as soon and as often as you can. This game is about getting up close and violent. And I love that about this game. The best part of BT is that it really does reward an aggressive strategy. Sure, moving makes it harder to hit, but it makes you harder to hit too. And closing the range is super-important. Sure, if you play games with amped up pilots with Gunnery scores of 1 all the time, you might lose some of this level of play… but how many Kais are there really? And the strange thing is, the lighter your mech, the more aggressive you want to be. Sure, you can run 10 hexes every turn and be almost impossible to hit but if you aren’t closing up with someone and taking your shots, why bother? All it takes is one average hit on your Commando or Locust and you’re out of the game – and if you never shot anything then what good did all that running and jumping do you? Get in the fray!

The addendum to this, of course, is that knowing when it is the perfect turn to say… “I’m standing still” can make all the difference.

2. Embrace inefficiency. I can’t really stress this enough. A lot of players who cross that first threshold from being total newbies to having a few fights under their belt will bemoan the ridiculous inefficiencies of the book mechs. I went through this phase. I think you have to get it out of your system as a player. And I’m certainly not saying that some book mechs aren’t just awful… but if you take the time to think through the book mechs and really break down what they are able to do – mainly through play experience – it becomes more obvious what balance the designers were striving for. And it is awesome when you have that breakthrough. There is nothing like the site of a Warhammer or a Battlemaster just going all out Alpha Strike on some poor bastard and then stumbling away steaming and shuddering. Balance in Battletech is a different animal than it is in something like 40K or Malifaux. You can’t bring the same type of thinking to the game. And I much prefer BT thinking.

Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for reading. Wish I was playing Battletech right now.

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