Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Battletech

Battletech probably has the most tortured history of any tabletop game in the last forty years. I won’t go into it all here, partly because I don’t even know it all, but since the game launched in 1985 it has suffered multiple ownership changes and lawsuits, a division of its ownership with regards to the tabletop versus video game, the ‘disappearance’ of several mechs from the game resulting in the strange group known as ‘the unseen’, etc. Today the game is owned by Topps (famous for its sports cards) but licenses to Catalyst Game Labs.

At the same time, in order to stay fresh, every major company development resulted in a major shake-up in the game’s ‘history’. The game now has 6 (seriously 6!) distinct eras in the history of its universe. Some people find this a real headache; others like the vast history the game covers. I’m kind of in this second camp, but I’m a very casual fan.

I was there at the beginning, or near enough. I was about 9 or 10 when the game first came out. Although I never played the game a lot, its artwork, and its fiction, filled with big stompy robots blasting one another to pieces, fired my imagination. I bought a few mechs, I played a few games, I kept track of its developments.

As the years passed though, I encountered two major problems in my enjoyment of the game. First, the rules just kept growing at a rate I couldn’t keep up with, until there were hundreds (thousands?) of mechs and vehicles, and scores of different weapons systems. More importantly, after the ‘unseen’ mechs disappeared, I really hated most of the new mech designs. These new mechs just seemed awkward and silly to me. More like comedy robots that giant death machines. So, for the most part, I drifted away. I still read the occasional fiction book, but that was about it.

Then, a couple of years ago, I noticed that the look of the mechs (at least in the artwork) had changed again. They had been re-imagined. They looked tougher, meaner, more ‘military’. (At least in an throwback kind of way). Soon thereafter, I heard that Catalyst Game Labs, in their efforts to keep the game relevant in today’s gaming market, were releasing a new box set with 8 re-imagined mechs. These new mechs looked fantastic! The new set was scheduled to be launched at GenCon, which I just happened to be attending…

So, my first stop, on the first day of GenCon was at the Catalyst Game Labs booth, where I bought the new box set, the new source book (Shattered Fortress) and a new book of fiction. I didn’t get my first look at the minis until that night, but when I did, I was thrilled. These are the kind of mechs I had always imagined. They were fantastic. In some ways they are more like board game pieces (than classic metal miniatures), being a kind of slightly bend plastic, but they have incredible detail and hold paint well.

Catalyst sold out of the new box set sometime on day two of GenCon, I believe. I have recently seen that the general launch has been delayed until sometime later this year. From what I have seen, this is the main knock against Catalyst - getting their product can be extremely difficult. Hopefully it will be out soon.

Although GenCon is now a ways in the past, I’ve only just started to paint my new mechs. Here is my first one, the smallest one in the box, the ‘Locust’. It’s a great example of the new style of mech. Lots of hard edges. In truth, I have no great talent when it comes to painting machines. Most of my practice has been on 'living' things. Still, I’m happy enough with how it has turned out.

Will I play the game? I don’t know. I might give it a try. I still like aspects of it, although some of the mechanics seem a bit dated to me. If nothing else, perhaps it will kick me into doing more work on the Mech War / Frostgrave variant I included in Spellcaster: Issue 2.

10 comments:

  1. That is a pretty sweet looking Locust! I got into it in the early 90s, later than you, but still before the "unseen" Mechs did their disappearing act, and I definitely agree that their replacements weren't up to the same level. Glad to hear that they're turning things around in that department.

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  2. I loved the frostgrave/Mech War mashup. I'd love to see more of that - different mechs and mechanics for a campaign.

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  3. Find an opponent and play the game! Sticking to to 'core' 3025 rules is great fun, and you can happily ignore most of the 'advanced' rules that come along with the growing timeline if you wish, it's still really enjoyable and campaign games are incredibly addictive (and quite a pain to run, but worth it!). I've been playing on and off from when it first came out, though lack of local opponents has paused that for a long time, so I'm hoping the new box sets spark more interest.

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  4. "more work on the Mech War / Frostgrave variant"

    Yes!

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  5. The sandbox they've created since '84 is awesome. The Reaving is by far one of their best source books. Unfortunately their rules are the same tired dice nightmares that they were back in '84. Nothing says fun like some dude running around the board for hours crit hunting with SRM6's.

    Jonathan

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  6. I love Battletech. Reading the novels back in the 90's and was thrilled. Playing it sometimes but will give alpha strike a chance soon.
    I love Frostgrave, too. It's a amazing game! Cheers.

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    1. Many thanks, Tommy. I like Alpha Strike, although, in my opinion its a little too simplified.

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