It finally fucking happened!
After years’ worth of slogging around through the Warhammers, X-Wings, Bolt Actions, Infinities, and even Frostgraves of the world, I’ve finally found a miniatures game (and a fledgling community) that I find worth following and getting completely lost in. And wouldn’t you know it, I still only need grade school maths knowledge to play it!
Still waiting on that IRL moment I need to pull an integer or a matrix out of my ass to get through the day’s challenge, Mr. Bălșeanu, my former math teacher who kept selling us that!
Anyway, just look at this stuff:
Well, that’s a top-tier game and setup, most of your initial contacts with the universe will look something like this:
Still cool, and fairly bloody exciting to play, I promise!
Battletech, for those of you who are even bigger noobs than I am (I only read my first line of lore for this universe just last year, when the latest Kickstarter hit) takes place in a future timeline spanning across several thousand years (it covers everything up to and including the 31st century) where men and women, both with cojones the size of overweight Baby Yodas step into giant-ass mechs and do battle with each other because… Because.
The reasons behind the battles are so numerous they’d fill a toilet paper roll’s worth of lists. That said, clashing ideologies and upbringings, politics, resource necessities, and even pure desire and thirst for power feature prominently among them. Saying this is simply “mech on mech” combat is doing the entire backstory a disservice, and even though I’m only just getting into it I dare say the content here rivals the most complex -of the Rings, -Trek, -hammer, or -Wars lore you may know and love. Actually, it might surpass it.
You need only look at the Battletech timeline to realise that this entire thing has long since moved past a rabbit hole and become an outright black one that’s looking to suck your face, time, and money in along with your social life. And I’m down with that.
As you do when getting into an IP you have next to no info on, I hopped online, found the best spot to lose myself in the lore and started reading. About five months or so later (which isn’t to say I’ve been spending the past five months just reading lore, much as I’d like to), I figured I’d finally choose a faction or two to go with and fill in my Kickstarter pledge manager. This was important, life-altering stuff that would define my gameplay experience and the look of my minis, to boot, not to mention the choice of minis I’d have to play with if I were to go 100% thematic with it.
Now, for better or worse, most of my future experience will revolve around casual play with friends, and while it’d be nice to field some period-appropriate combat stars now and again, my main focus will hone in on having fun and hopefully looking cool while doing it.
Before I tell you about the clans I went with and the why behind that choice, let me just run you through a crash-course in what we’re dealing with, thematically.
The crux of the Battletech events takes place some ~1000 years into the future, pitting space-faring-capable humanity against its biggest enemy, itself (looks like we’re all alone out there so what else are we gonna do if not follow our tried and true tradition of killing each other?), in a violent struggle for utter dominance. As any good story, the focal point of where everything goes wrong comes down to a coup enacted within the very bosom of Star League, the main governing body of the galaxy.
Leaders get assassinated by confidants, loyal armies get nuked out of existence, you know, regular coup related stuff.
This fractures the League, and sees many people secede from what was known as the Inner Sphere alongside loyalist badass Aleksandr Kerensky. They (around 6MLN of them) all fuck off space-faringly into the Deep Periphery, and become clans under the guidance of Kerensky’s son, later on. From there, they subsequently end up re-invading the IS around 200 years later, armed with some serious tech and a serious thirst for vengeance, liberation, and giving the IS what for and metric-hot-lead tons of it.
That’s where the Kickstarter steps in time-wise, hence: Clan Invasion.
More on that and how it happened, in painstaking detail, can be found on the great resource website Sarna.net which has been a vital tool in my slowly stepping into Battletech, one ten-and-a-half foot at a time. Eleven in crocs.
If you’re big on the podcast end of things, you can’t go wrong with listening to Tex’s Youtube takes on the matter over on the BlackPantsLegion YT channel while you’re busy pretending to work. Like I am, now.
The latter also covers the Battletech/Mechwarrior videogames, so the channel is worth a look even if you’d rather lean that way in your hobby needs and wants.
Now that you know what’s going on ever so roughly, we can focus on the Kickstarter which had its main Clan Invasion box on offer, featuring a neat helping of five minis and some ancillary packs and materials either unlocked via Stretch Goals or added via pledge levels.
So, naturally, it was off to clan up for yours truly!
Eventually, I ended up fixating on a weird duo: Snow Raven, and Wolveri- sorry, I mean the Not-Named Clan.
Why are the latter Not-Named?
Long story short, Snow Raven and the Wolverines were on assignment together and the latter ended up being scapegoated for some seriously bad, treasonous shit. This happened because they were beginning to bother the higher ups with their “I don’t need this hierarchical shit, fuck you, I’m out and possibly inspiring others to join me” attitude.
The ilKhan (biggest dick among the clans’ leadership) needed to make a statement and keep the other clans from going full Wolverine, and the cuddly love badgers were used as a warning and a means to that end. They were subsequently erased from history, line by line, mech by mech, and member by member, partly with the help of clan Snow Raven, among others. There are also talks (meta confirmations and in-universe legends) about a few Wolverine Clan warriors still making a living around the universe, under a fresh coat of paint and keeping a very low profile...
Now you see my conundrum: I’m about to go for a clan (SR) that had a serious hand in BTFOing my other clan.
I’m also quite big on ComStar, but that’s its own bag of dicks, so more on that at a later date, when I get into the Inner Sphere history some more and can talk about it from someplace other than hearsay and/or my ass.
At their core, the rules of Battletech are fairly simple. I’m only going to tackle the beginner box rules here, which are even more straightforward than the full ones, but I’ll expand upon the full experience at a later date, as well. I still need to play a full rules match before that.
As I see it, Battletech is carried by two main mechanisms that coalesce into a seemingly crunchy but ultimately straightforward system: shooting modifiers, and damage locations.
These form the basis upon which everything else is built, and while the damage locations are determined by random rolls, the shooting modifiers are very specific and clear cut and influence every little move, jump, and turn your mechs will perform in a battle.
In order to determine said shooting modifier total, you need to follow a list of items abbreviated as GATOR, which not only sounds cool to your inner 12yo or LSU alum, but it’s also easy to remember, or just use an online calculator for. These range from things like pilot skill and range modifiers to the type and distance of movement both your mech as well as its target have performed.
This latter aspect is very interesting to me: even though BT is a fully turn-based game, it tries to abstract the constant manoeuvering and firing happening on the battlefield, on both ends of it.
A mech that jumps and shoots at a target that has remained stationary will have an easier go of it than one that’s run and is shooting at a target that has also moved a hefty number of hexes, for instance.
Have I mentioned how much I love hexes before? I really do.
I even bought my wife some hex-shaped earrings for Xmas, so she’s contractually obliged to love them as well.
Armed with a very basic amount of knowledge and the very basic beginner box rules, I met up with another ‘tech-head (hi, Alex!) at the friendly local gaming store (hi, Red Goblin!) and we slogged our way through a fair number of turns. This all ended up taking up the better part of three hours during which each of our mechs sustained about half the damage they could possibly take before having to succumb to their innards (ka)blooming outward.
We both ran the same couple mech types (Griffin & Wolverine), with slightly different loadouts which saw us each run one close-range and one long-range combatant. In my case, it was the WVR-6R and GRF-1N.
Yeah boi, we’re getting technical about it!
First thoughts I had were “holy shit, that’s a lot of adding to be done and tracked”.
Things went slow at first as we were trying to figure out every modifier and make sure we were shooting versus the proper targeting numbers, and there was a lo(ooo)t of double checking with the tables and double checking each other just to make sure we were getting everything right and weren’t veering off course. But things settled in fairly quick and by the end we were very fast to figure out the proper numbers and mark what each mech had done with ye olde trusty d6s (yay! for getting an excuse to buy another pack!), so do not get discouraged by what seems to be a fairly crunchy (and a bit on the long and “what the hell was that, again?!” end) first few turns.
The weapons are also easy to understand and keeping track of ammo and seeing it go to waste with every missed shot was probably one of the most frustratingly fun parts of the entire game. Also, being able to shoot with EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVERY SINGLE TURN is a pretty great thing and makes the mechs feel like the truly dangerous weapon platforms they are.
The second thing that became obvious - though more so during the second half of the game - was that initiative can make or break your turn, with a big caveat: it is much more important in close quarters than it is at long range.
Our battle began from opposite ends of the map and we slowly started getting in range, moving from cover to cover, and trying to outflank each other. That’s fairly difficult when you’ve only got two mechs to work with, but fun to attempt and get the hang of, anyway.
Determining Line of Sight is a breeze and a far cry from having to squint from behind models, through buildings and terrain, and then having to debate whether or not that particular model has cover or not. I’m all for stuff looking pretty and realistic, but sometimes I just feel like sitting down and actually playing the game, not having the game play me and my opponent pining for a laser pointer. Depends on the type of opponent for that last bit...
Anyway, when things got tighter and we both started playing faster and more efficient turns, it became apparent that manoeuvering would be much more important than we could’ve realised. Especially since the beginner rules do not include melee combat.
We basically ended up taking point blank shots at each other, many of them being one-sided turns where only one of us (luckily, me) took any shots off thanks to carefully and strategically using the terrain and positioning advantages against the enemy to deny them their shots and take aim at their backsides.
Read: I basically won initiative every time for like 5 turns running and just kept jumping behind Alex’ mechs, which saw me get unopposed shots so I riddled his mechs with holes.
This is what also gave me what we ended up calling a “total damage dealt victory” since it was getting late and we couldn’t actually finish the match and neither of the four mechs on the table had blown up by that point. /sad
By the end, we both had a mech that had lost the use of its right arm and was otherwise heavily damaged. The other one was probably blowing plumes of smoke from every orifice, most of which had not been there to begin proceedings.
Bear in mind that this all took place within the confines of the beginner rules. This means no rules for heat generation, no piloting tests for manoeuvres, no elevation changes, no rivers/lakes/etc.
This is to say that while the beginner game is fairly (very) basic in nature, I’d tend to recommend it for a first time play, especially if you’re not into wargames to begin with. I’ve been playing these things for a good while now, and while I’m biting at the bit to get into the full rules (and maybe even bring some infantry/armour/fliers into it later on) I appreciate the role of the beginner rules: they drive home the way things unfold when it comes to the core mechanisms and ease the use of them when further rules come in. This also doubles for not overwhelming a new player with another couple mathy/pencil-y modules that would probably bog down the first few turns even more and thus take people out of it.
In any case, I’m in love with this universe and this game and it’s here to stay as I get more acquainted with it all and hopefully get some time to paint the minis too.
I have it on good authority that somebody else in the GHG gang (hi, Scott!) is also planning on getting some painting done on his stuff when his all-in pledge arrives, so keep your eyes out for that one, too.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
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