Wednesday, May 23, 2018


I have been a fan of Battletech since it was first released in the early '80s, when FASA was a thing. The idea of walking tanks, which is what a 'mech essentially is, was cool then and remains so, today. My fandom cooled somewhat when WizKids took over the reins, but now that the storyline and products licensed by someone else, from Topps, at least things seem to be back in order.

I really like Alpha Strike, a new edition of which is pending for release this summer, as it speeds up large games tremendously. But Classic Battletech still resides in a warm, soft region of my gamers-heart. I own all of the current core books, and quite a few of the old ones, but I no longer have any of my metal miniatures, except a Battlemaster. In one of my many moves, they disappeared. So, I have to again collect the 'mechs I will need to play a solo campaign. Luckily, the newer plastic miniatures are reasonably priced if in unalterable boxed selections by lance type.

Once I move again, as I will then be a solo gamer, I will convert the rules over to running a solo campaign. I've already got a good theoretical view of how I will accomplish this and look forward to the challenge.

However, the computer version of Battletech was released recently, after a lengthy period of beta-testing (yes, I was a beta-tester) and I have been playing, perhaps too much if I am honest, the single-player campaign and am enjoying the experience. While not a perfect game and while it may not have every feature that I want to see in a computerized version of the miniature game, it IS a good game and a reasonable representation of what is played on the tabletop.

The game is set in the 3025 era, but does have some missing technology available for the player to acquire, some as very, very, rare salvageable loot and others as a reward for completing a critical mission in the campaign story line.

There are some bugs in the game, and a few have reported that their games have crashed, but in the hundred hours or so of playing, I've only had a single crash occur.

From the mechbay on the second of two dropshops the player can acquire.

Although there is a storyline, there is a sandbox element to the game. Players can go on other missions, for salvage and MC, to gain new mechs and pay the maintenance costs for your mercenary company. Yes, you run a company, potentially, of mechs, but you only ever get to field a lance of four at a time.

Salvage is handled in a functional and clean way, gather three pieces of mech salvage for a given mech type and variant and your busy maintenance crews will assemble the pieces into a new mech for you. You can then either store this mech, to save on the maintenance fees each month, keep it in a mech bay, ready to use, or sell it. You can also salvage weapons and equipment, including improved gyros, more protective cockpits, advanced targeting systems, AC and missile ammo, etc. Players "negotiate" salvage rights and MC, using oppositional sliders (increase salvage rights and MC payment decreases), so if you need an influx of hard cash, you can focus on that. If cash rich, then go for the salvage.

Conditional effects are just above the 'mech armor readout to lower left. 

Piloting skill checks are handled far differently than in the tabletop version, which may be off-putting for die-hards, but it is done in a fairly logical manner, with ballistic and missile weapons affecting stability and with each mech having a stability threshold. Once the threshold has been passed by weapon damage, the mech becomes unstable and the next stability hit causes the mech to fall. Whereupon the pilot takes an injury, but no additional damage is done to the mech's armor or structure, a departure from the tabletop version. This can be abused, especially if a player has some missleboats, such as a Stalker and Catapult, that between them send off 70 missiles a turn for 12 turns.

The mission system is adequate, but not fully dynamic, yet. Players can check for missions via the ComStar/MercNet, but I've never had more than four missions listed at once, with one of them being the storyline mission. They do have defensive and offensive missions, often with secondary missions that can provide MC bonuses upon completion. The missions change when moving to a new planet, and sometimes there are no missions available from a given location.

Environmental conditions are present, and players will see these listed as they click on a given mission, but also sub-types including water and geo-thermal vents. These all affect heat dissipation as a percentage of heat sink efficiency, where the heat sinks give a set amount of heat reduction (-3 per turn). Getting too hot causes a 'mech to shutdown, but in its next turn it can restart, losing all accumulated heat in doing so.

Pilots gain XP for completing missions, not by what they accomplish within the mission itself. So, if you have a pilot that is of low skill, send him/her off in a Spider or Firestarter, keeping them safe, while the rest of your lance finishes the mission. They all get the same amount of XP at the end. Note, after the first few missions being a 'mech down can make completion a bit difficult. The pilot XP is used to rank up four different traits, with each trait having a primary and secondary ability, which is either passive or active. A pilot can only have two primary and one secondary ability selected and the secondary must be in the same trait as one of the two selected primary abilities.

At the top, the initiative system in action. Activations 5 and 4 have come and gone, now it is the 3rd activation of the round/turn. The two grey chevrons indicate the player has two 'mechs to activate, the one red chevron means the enemy has a single 'mech or vehicle or turret to activate.

'Mechs are moved one at a time, moving then firing, in initiative order (5 to 1). A pilot ability does allow a 'mech to move after firing, provided it has not already fired that turn. This can be very handy when conducting a fighting withdrawal, what some may call "kiting." 

The way the missions appear to be set up is that one either destroys buildings and/or an opposing lance, and then an enemy  reinforcement lance arrives, taking on the player's now damaged lance. However, the way it works is that the reinforcement lance can show up even before the player encounters the primary enemy lance, so one can be facing eight 'mechs or a combination of 'mechs and vehicles at the same time, seemingly a bug. This can go badly, if the randomly determined enemy mechs are all heavy and/or assault. I've faced two Highlanders and two Zeus who were reinforced by a King Crab a pair of Orions and a Stalker.

A saving grace is that if the player desires, they can reload the mission and hope for a more promising random selection of enemy units. I admit that I have done this, rationalizing that the reinforcement bug is not intended and thus unfairly punishes the player in what would otherwise be a balanced game. I have read that the developers will be adding an Ironman mode, which I look forward to playing, once the bug is sorted.

One of my major complains is that the flamers only have enough ammo for 6 uses each, with no means to increase the amount of fuel/ammo for them. Thus, the tactic of overheating enemy 'mechs and then using called shots to "leg" them can only be of very limited duration. This is a huge departure from the tabletop version. Also, flamers and small lasers count as "special weapons" and can only be installed on a 'mech that has special weapon slots.

A major change is in how initiative is determined. Individual 'mechs have an initiative rating, with most 'mechs of a given size class having the same rating, where assault 'mechs are initiative 1 and light 'mechs initiative 4. There are five initiative ratings and this is because there are ways in which a pilot can improve the initiative of his 'mech due to certain actions or skills. Also, the more agile 'mechs can "reserve" their actions, taking action later on in the turn, potentially forcing the opponent to act with his 'mechs first and allowing a reaction.

Another departure is that 'mech pilots have a morale rating, both individually and as a group. The group morale is partially determined by the funding level set at the beginning of each pay cycle (every 30 days), but is largely determined by a base rate plus an increase which comes from improving the company dropship's recreational facilities. Morale is also gained within a mission, some from special cockpits that a player finds and installs and from killing opponents. This morale is then spent on either called shots or a defensive action which decreasing incoming frontal fire by 50% and clears any instability. I've used this many times, often by sending out a 'mech as a forlorn hope, to take all the enemy fire, while allowing my other 'mechs to concentrate fire on a heavy hitting opponent.

Called shot screen. Notice the weapons on lower right, which can be toggled off. Enemy rear center armor has already been damaged and is selected for the shot. White is undamaged.

Headshots do come into play and I have killed three enemy 'mechs with a single gauss rifle hit to the head. Those are nice, but very infrequent, as they should be. I've done it twice with my first shot of the mission, a nice moment of relief when a heavy 'mech goes down immediately.

The graphics and music within the game are above par and greatly enhance the experience. The voice over work can be a little annoying, but fits within the theme.

I'd like to see more work on the negotiation part of the game. One does not gain any skill at all, it is just a simple slider. So, no RPG aspects at all in an otherwise crucial part of the game. Of course, I'd love to see 3039 and 3050 technology and 'mech designs, which may come later if the game sells well enough, according to the developers.

I'd also love to field 12 'mechs at once, but I doubt that would happen in this game, maybe in a Battletech 2, but the developers have stated they want the experience to center on a single lance in action.

One thing which would be very exciting is the inclusion of player owned ground vehicles and infantry, or even just enemy infantry units at all. This would open up the game so much more in terms of mission design. And this leads me into my last desire, a fully dynamic mission designer, where players could create single missions and linked-missions or even mini-campaigns, and then share these with the rest of the players.

All in all, I do recommend the game to Battletech fans.


  1. Thanks for the review. As someone who has long be interested in Battletech, but never played, this may be ideal. Too bad that infantry is not a part of the game (yet), as it would be fun to compare them to the mechs (and stomp them).

    1. If you are looking to play Battletech, specifically, they are supposed to be releasing two different starter boxes, in Q3 of this year. A $19.99 (US) basic box with 2 miniatures, and another advanced starter box which will have 8 miniatures and a number of paper cutout miniatures (I think both boxes will have these). The second box will retail around $50 (US). Then, the Alpha Strike book will be coming out, also. Alpha Strike is a fast play version of the game, meant to allow players to use larger numbers of miniatures and finish within a few hours. The basic game has a lot more detail and will take longer for the same number of miniatures in play.

      In the computer game, you get to stomp all over the ground vehicles, which can be cathartic at times, in difficult missions. There are enough differences between the computer and tabletop games that they are really different games, within a genre. A player familiar with the tabletop version will see one thing, a novice to the tabletop will, having played the computer version, find an almost alien experience in the amount of complexity and details involved. Not that these are bad things, just that they are quite different and, if unprepared, people can be overwhelmed.

      IF you are looking for a sci-fi game, that has 'mechs or walkers or something similar, then Two Hour Wargames has several offerings that can suit this want, complete with solo, coop, and head-to-head rules. Otherwise, Horizon Wars is another easy, less complex, fast-play game that lacks the details, but still puts out a decent gaming experience.

    2. Thanks! I have been watching the battletech starters for years now, and with even better versions coming out this year, I should finally pull the trigger (although a Alpha Strike boxed starter would probably be even more my speed).

    3. I need to make a correction, the advanced box will retail for $59.99 (US). While I do not know if it will have a version of the Alpha Strike rules inside, the product info sheet for it does include 8 Alpha Strike cards for the 'mech miniatures that come with the box.