Posts in Battletech
Sword & Dragon Prep: The Initiative Coin

The two command lance packs available for the Sword and Dragon Classic BattleTech campaign each came with a cool metal medallion imprinted with each house's symbol. They look pretty cool and rather than just having them sit around as pretty pieces I decided to make them functional for our campaign by kit-bashing them together into a single coin that we can flip to determine and track initiative during our missions.

The first step was filing down all the nubs of flash hanging off these things and then gluing them together. Once it was solid, I molded a bit of green stuff around the edges and then rolled a ridged bottlecap along it to get a nice even coin ridge pattern.

Once that was done I gave them a quick spray of black primer and gave them a solid base coat of Reaper Scorched Metal paint. From there it was just a matter of trying to recreate the house symbols color. House Kurita was pretty easy with just a red background and the dragon symbol itself in black. The Davion symbol is a bit more complicated, but the sun in the center gave me a good opportunity to practice doing a gradient on a smooth flat surface and I am mostly pleased with the results.

When the paint was dry I gave it a few sprays of clear cote for protection on each side. I lost some of the shininess of the metallic paint by doing that, but it's worth being able to actually flip the coin without being terrified of paint chipping off every time it hits the table. With just a little extra elbow grease I was able to turn those somewhat superfluous (but cool!) medallions into a piece I can actually use at the table that just adds to the flavor of the campaign. 

How I Got Into Battletech

My first encounter with Battletech was listening to the excellent podcast Fear the Boot a few years ago. They described some of the encounters they had played through in this feudal sci-fi universe dominated by corrupt nobles and 100 ton walking tanks. Despite having spent a fair amount of time playing tabletop games and hanging around game stores I'd never heard of it before then. Maybe you've never heard of it either.

That is because Battletech as an Intellectual Property has a long strange history involving copyright disputes and changing hands between companies nearly half a dozen times over the course of more than 30 years. It hasn't been incredibly popular since it boomed in the late 80s, being overshadowed by other games and eventually all but disappearing from local game stores. I was able to find one store in my area that carried the books, but no store I have been to carries miniatures.

Even if you've never heard of Battletech, you may be more familiar with things like Gundam, Pacific Rim, Voltron, Evangelion, or any one of a million movies or TV shows that feature pilots flying humanoid robots with awesome fire power into battle against the backdrop of a corrupt political system. So when I heard about this tabletop RPG called MechWarrior that had a fully fleshed out tactical mech combat game to go with it I knew it was love. If any of what I described sounds right up your alley, I suggest listening to Fear the Boot #374 for a great primer on the game and setting.

Once I knew about the game I started diving in headfirst, picking up the starter box of miniatures and basic rules. While waiting for that and getting my miniatures painted I started pouring over the truly breathtaking Sarna.net wiki. The timeline of the game's lore is vast. We're talking from the 2500 A.D. up through the 32nd century and it is jam packed with war and technological development, alliances and betrayal, terrible deeds and great heroism. It is the perfect setting for both RPG campaigns and detailed wargaming campaigns.

The only "warning" I give, perhaps less of a warning and more to set your expectations appropriately, is that Battletech is a human focused science-fiction. It is not a space opera. There are no aliens, nanotechnology, nothing akin to the force. The technology they have is gritty and mechanical. This isn't Star Trek where you can zip from star to star at Warp 9, it is a setting where making a jump to another star takes a great deal of time, calculation, and fuel. Think more like Battlestar Galactica's style of ship and you are on the right track. Then imagine that the Galactica could deploy two dozen mechs from low orbit.

If you like sci-fi but you're not keen to play in a Star Wars, Warhammer, or a more Cyberpunky game like Shadowrun I would implore you to check out Battletech. It's an old game, but there is a reason it still has die hard fans and still puts out products. It fills a niche not a single other game I have heard of can fill in.

Miniatures Rules in Classic BattleTech

This past Saturday I experienced the joy of playing a huge 'company on company' (12 mechs vs 12 mechs) game of Classic BattleTech down at my FLGS. It was my first time playing on 3D terrain since my 6th edition Warhammer 40k days. I had a blast, but it reminded me why I was so happy when I learned BattleTech usually plays with hex maps instead of modeled terrain.

In my experience I have found that using measuring tape and eyeballing line of sight and cover allows a certain fudge factor to enter into the game. Hobbyist gamers tend towards the competitive side of the spectrum and I have seen plenty of arguments erupt over whether a base was just a hair out of range or not. Thankfully this past Saturday we didn't have any problems of this nature at our table and I got my first taste of combat using the non-hex miniatures rules.

In standard miniatures play each mech has its movement points (MP) converted to inches by doubling its value. If a mech has walking speed of 5MP it will be allowed to walk 10 inches on the table.

The GM running the game determined that we would be using a house rule where 1MP = 1 inch. This made our mechs less maneuverable than they would typically be in this kind of game. I suspect this restriction was put in place to compensate for the table size we had compared to the number of mechs in play. In a game with 24 mechs on a 6'x4' table managing combat between 6 players is hard enough without everyone zipping all over the map. As a frequent GM myself I respect that choice.

I point out this house rules change because my conclusions about tabletop vs hex rules might be biased based on how this house rule impacted the game.

There is a higher level of density and variety to the terrain on hex maps produced by Catalyst Game Labs for BattleTech that I don't believe can be produced easily with 3D terrain. The amount of tactical choices to be made for a unit moving on a hex map is greater than the choices presented to the same mech playing with the miniatures rules. This is simply a matter of how map design works between the two 'engines'.

3D terrain is limited by the real world physical properties of what you're using to build it. Light woods and heavy woods need to be a certain thickness to block line of sight or provide cover. Buildings must have a realistic footprint in relation to the roads, trees, etc. To a certain extent scale must be preserved across your terrain.

The scale of the hex maps doesn't have this constraint and as a result terrain feels more "gamey". River hexes can wind tightly around building hexes placed next to deep canyons, all within a few movement points of each other. Replicating the same setup in 3D terrain could be a month long project that may not in the end provide the same level of tactics as the hexes.

I'm not 100% sure on this hypothesis but it is my gut reaction after playing a game with admittedly weird house rules. In the future I plan on comparing 3D terrain pieces to their equivelant hex map setups and seeing the difference to actual play in the future.