Battletech redux – almost
17 Aug 2020
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Big walking tanks whomping the bejeezus out of one another. That’s the basic premise of Battletech, a game with its roots dating back to the mid 80’s. On discovering it around ‘87 I was besotted – growing up watching things like Robotech, Star Blazers and Transformers, Battletech tickled more than an itch. That it had great miniatures only sealed the deal.
My romance with it though only lasted a year or two and by the time I hit uni, my gaming days were sliding into the past, replaced with other, more outdoorsy things. And while I effectively stopped playing, I held on to my compact collection of miniatures, occasionally drifting back to thinking about it.
Fast forward to 2016 and by some strange coincidence, I happened to find that an authentic computer based version of Battletech, real Battletech with the game’s original creator at the helm (as opposed to Mechwarrior), was in the works. Luckily, while I had missed the original Kickstarter campaign, I still managed to hop on board through the official website. How could I not? A glossy, authentic, 3D version version I could play on the Mac? It would be the answer to 28 odd years of thinking ‘if only’. What’s more, the vehicle concept design work was being undertaken by Duane Loose, the same chap who illustrated the original data books and the like – which to me, gave the whole game a certain element of crispness. Dang! So it was though hopping on board with this that I discovered that Battletech, the table top version, was still alive and well. In fact, it had expanded to quite a universe.
No longer owned by FASA, a new company, Catalyst, had taken it over and run with it. Actually, the choice of ‘stuff’ was quite bewildering. Seeing that the 11 year old had spied the collection of miniatures when we took them out to get to the Warhammer figures I collected at the same time, I decided to grab some rules and started thinking about getting the tabletop running once again, 30 years after I first rolled out the hex maps; I even called up fellow dad, to ask if he would be interested in having a dabble (which he was) as his boy might also be potentially more than a little interested.
But it was not to be that simple. In the years since I played, there were now more rules and data books and info and, and….. and… While I downloaded some quick start rules, and then some other rules, and then yet more, it all came across as some sort of secret boys club – knowing where to start, even for someone with *some* idea, was a nightmare; and in terms of being a useful resource to learning (re-leaning?) where to start, the official website was a no show. Since I did this, luckily things online have been redone and it’s now easier to find one’s way around the various aspects of the ‘Battletech’ universe. This PDF guide is a great primer,(though the designer in me finds the layout somewhat cheesy).
So faced with a muddy confused mess, I decided the best course of action would be to go back to the start and get all old-school. A quick trip to Amazon netted a copy of the 1986 rules as I knew them, a 1986 printing of the Mech data book (the one before FASA got into all sorts of legal trouble with some of what was in the book – read copyright infringements) and the Battletech Compendium, which came after the rule book I originally had; perversely, all are now considered ‘collectors items’!!! (Am I *that* old??). Combined with my original mech miniatures, kept in their carry case since I stopped playing, I had everything needed to pick up exactly where I left off; the aim being if there was an all round enthusiasm, moving into the new editions of the rules would be a simpler step (and a new totally revised set of rules is now in public beta testing).
But it was not going to happen.
While the rules and data book brought back a whole raft of good memories, it dawned on me pretty quickly that as a game, it was complex, ponderous and slow. With a whole lot more record keeping for each ‘mech’ in play that I honestly have the patience for, I was more than certain getting the lad enthused about the mechanics was going to be an effort, especially considering how fast, ‘attractive’ and fun our latest foray, X-Wing Miniatures, can be.
But surely, after all these years, it was just the old school version (which I happened to be enamoured with for obviously sentimental reasons) that was the issue? Apparently not. Battletech has a very healthy following, so it’s fairly easy to dig into information… and opinion. It seems in the 30 odd years, the basic rules/mechanics of the game have not really changed. A few tweaks here and there but one can just as happily play with the rules I have on my shelf now, as one can with the latest. So it’s in this vein that you can find plenty of accounts of old school players doing exactly what I was doing and coming to the same conclusion – no one has the time to spend playing a game with what can easily amount up to 40 MINUTES A TURN!
Catalyst does have a quick play set of rules that is aimed at addressing this glaring issue but after reading through it, to me they just lack the vital ingredients that are needed to draw in younger players, something that is top of my list. Where Steve Jackson’s Ogre, which dates back to 1977, is still blindingly good in its theme, simplicity to learn and difficulty to master (like a good game should be), or X-Wing Miniatures is ‘sexy’, fast and fun, Battletech now just seems dated and a little dull – I still need to photocopy paperwork and boxes still need to be filled in…. yawn!
I am a little saddened by what transpired, I was hoping that Battletech would be everything I had remembered it was. But that was a different time and the speed of gaming was slower, more intensive; not better, not worse, just a different. Today, with video games providing so much bang for buck, analogue games need to offer something to counter that. Being analogue is not the issue, being ponderous and a little dull is.
But Battletech is not dead. What I am a little more than excited about is the digital version, just watch the below – it’s fast, beautifully executed and looks like a lot of fun! Maybe this is the Battletech I have actually been waiting for all these years… maybe this is what the Battletech universe was really meant for.
Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.