Geekery – My Love-Hate Relationship With Battletech

Battletech. It has been a pastime of mine since I was 13 years old. I remember many a night with my friends where we would start playing at 5PM Friday night and finally finish a game at 4AM the next morning. We didn’t care that we were tired. Battletech was fun, and a challenge. I would read Battletech novels during class – they were a lot more interesting and thought provoking than what I was being taught.

It’s been over a decade and a half since I started playing, and Battletech has gone through a lot of changes. Many have been good.

Recently, though, I feel Battletech has hit some bumps in the road. There are still amazing products coming out, but how they are structured and distributed has created consternation.

Herein is my Love/Hate relationship with Battletech, as well as my recommendations from a customer/supply chain standpoint.

What I Love
What don’t I love about Battletech!?

Oh Battletech, let me count the ways I love thee!

The concept of BattleMechs, and how they operate is one of the coolest parts of Battletech. Who doesn’t like giant robots striding across the battlefield? I know I do. But these aren’t Gundams or some crazy anime robots.

BattleMechs, and the rest of the technology in the Battletech universe, are generally based in actual theory. Things like myomer musculature and compact fusion engines are things that are being worked on today, in our era. Private interests and militaries around the world are working on robots for battle and suits to enhance our soldiers’ abilities. Much of Battletrch feels as if it is in the realm of possibility. The ‘Mechs themselves generally aren’t insane, modern art designs. ‘Mechs like the Atlas, Timberwolf, and Warhammer are utilitarian, and the writers of the universe ensure that the laws of physics dictate what these machines realistically can and cannot do.

The myriad ‘Mechs, battle armor, vehicles, troops, DropShips, JumpShips, etc., each with their own unique description, load outs, and backgrounds makes Battletech even more interesting. I have spent long hours reading TROs and Field Manuals because of such details.

And then there’s the depth and scope of the universe and storyline itself. Of course, much is based on the history of medieval Europe post-Western Roman Empire. But Battletech was made its own, and has evolved far from there. There is suspense, intigue, honor, love stories, heroism, and events that span entire planets or entire regions of the galaxy.

The warfare itself is at an epic level and covers everything from jumping into a solar system, to the fight to planets, the drop in, and all aspects of combat on the ground. Through all its iterations, the company managing Battletech has generally grouped together a clutch of great authors to flesh out and bring the universe of Battletech to life.

And kill our favorite characters. Like that House Lord or ‘Mech Jock for the past 20+ years of universe timeline?

Now they’re dead.

It was gruesome, and wholly unexpected.

Battletech was doing this long before George R. R. Martin ever put pen to paper to write A Game of Thrones.

And the factions! There are literally dozens. More if you count the very open endedness in which Battletech has created with Mercenary units, pirate bands, uncharted colonies, gangs, families, corporations, and the countless other interests in the galaxy. If you don’t like the canon factions, you can always make your own.

All of this translates to great gameplay. Something I have always loved about Battletech is that there are no set faction lists like in Warhammer or Warmachine. Want a 3025 Atlas to go to war alongside a 3085 Clan Lobo? Done! Want Purifier Battle Armor (Word of Blake) with a Saggitaire (House Davion)? Great! You can mix and match forces as much as you want. Sure, there are tables that show what factions have what equipment in certain eras if you want to play that way. But you’re free to take whichever units you like.

The quasi-realism is also translated to the tabletop. You have to track ammo, heat, you have to roll if your pilot gets hit or the gyroscope that stabilizes your ‘Mech is damaged. It can take a long time, but thats part of the fun!

What I Hate
But Battletech isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

I’m not talking about the spat with Harmony Gold all those years ago. Water under the bridge, and Battletech has survived better than Harmony Gold did. Even the whole WizKids thing was a hiccup (we called the click-tech game “Narc Age”).

I am talking about decisions made about Battletech that have decreased interest overall.

Most of these decisions are production/supply chain decisions.

A while back the venerable black Battletech rule book was updated. I still have that old black rule book, and its worn, well used pages served me well.

The new rulebook covered everything, from standard Battletech to what was once called Aerotech.

What it lacked was BattleMech and vehicle construction rules, and no Aerofighter/DropShip/JumpShip construction rules. It had details on equipment, but not on damage or special rules. For that, one had to buy the next book: Tech Manual. Therein were all of the construction rules. Then there’s Tactical Operations, where the advanced rules and more equipment can be found.

But not all of it.

To get more info on more rules, equipment, and weapons you had to buy Strategic Operations. Strategic Operations did have the higher level gaming rules, but burried within were the miniature rules – once part of the normal rulebook like unit construction and weapons details.

Buying all three books will run you $200, plus tax. $60 if you get all three PDFs.

The old rulebook? $20 if I remember right. Maybe $30?

And if you want to play a decent game of Battletech you better at least have the main rulebook and Tactical Operations. Wanna play in the latest era, and slap on Strategic Operations for sure.

The same occurs in the newer version of Battletech called Alpha Strike. You need both the main Alpha Strike rulebook and the Compendium in order to reference every ability that a ‘Mech may have.

Which brings me to Alpha Strike.

Now I’m sure the people at Catalyst Game Labs did their due diligence, conducted surveys and studies, and saw where the tabletop miniatures market was going and said, “We need to do something different.” That’s business. And a company like Catalyst would not still be in business if they weren’t making good decisons.

Alpha Strike essentially turns Battletech into a miniatures game like Warhammer 40k or Warmachine. There are basic armor and damage values, and each ‘Mech/vehicle/etc. has abilities that affect its actions and damage.

Yes I have played Alpha Strike. It is A LOT faster than normal Battletech, and it is kinda fun. But for someone who cut their teeth on Classic Battletech it’s missing something. And it feels like all you need is the better shooty ‘Mech to win, rather than managing weapons, ranges, damages, heat, armor locations, and the units themselves to maneuver tactically.

While a quicker game that is more in line with the direction many miniature wargames are going now, Alpha Strike feels empty to me.

Maybe I’m not with the times…

My next point of contention: miniatures. Not the minis themselves. I love the minis. But how they are distributed.

Currently I am completely unable to walk into a gaming store in the Greater Omaha Metropolitan Area and purchase Battletech miniatures, and many places even books. I thought this was odd when I first went looking this last year. When I was younger I could count half a dozen stores within reasonable driving distance that carried Battletech minis in droves. What happened?

Speaking with store owners brought out the answer. They would ask Iron Wind Metals, the producer of Battletech minis, for a list of standard miniatures they could stock their shelves with. IWM would provide said list, and the stores would order. But, when the stores went to refill their stock the very next month, they would be informed by IWM that some of those minis were no longer in production, and IWM would provide the stores with a new list of standard, in-production items. Apparently this happened to numerous stores in and around Omaha enough, month after month, that stores here stopped carrying their products. This happened at different stores, with different owners, in different parts of the Greater Omaha Metropolitan Area.

Now, IWM may have changed this and tightened up their shot group since then. Maybe there was a miscommunication somewhere along the line.

Unfortunately none of these stores want to do business with them, or have anything to do with Battletech anymore. Their past experiences have left a bad taste in their mouths, and they refuse to carry Battletech products, or at least Battletech miniatures.

It’s not Catalyst Game Labs on this one. Shadowrun: Crossfire and Encounters! Bravest Warriors are still on shelves.

Battletech: not so much.

And if it’s happening in Omaha, it’s happening in other cities in the US. Which means less exposure for Battletech, which means fewer people hear about it, which means fewer new players, and old players leave the game, which means Battletech begins to be a drain on Catalyst’s revenue…

And as much as diversity of units makes the Battletech universe cool, it is also a detriment to some extent. With so many new ‘Mechs, vehicles, Aerofighters, battle armor, and the like being introduced in such a short timespan, IWM hasn’t been able to keep up production. Not to mention over saturation in the universe itself.

I got it, that IS part of what makes Battletech cool. It is! It’s even part of why I love it!

But look at our militaries today. The venerable Abrams has been in service for 30+ years, with plans for at least another decade. Same with the Bradley. Now, major internal upgrades have occured, but the machines are essentially the same. Diversifyng variants may be a better option than having new ‘Mechs every 2-3 years (real time).

My Recommendations
Now I’m not just going to whine about what’s wrong. I’ve been taught that if I identify a problem, to provide a solution.

First: Rules.

Put everything you need to play a decent game into one book. That includes weapon stats and rules, and unit construction.

Honestly going the old Battletech-rulebook/Aerotech-rulebook route would have been a bit more effective.

Regardless, don’t spread it out over $200 worth of books.

Second: Minis.

Catalyst and IWM should sit down and hammer out 50 ‘Mechs, 30 vehicles, and 30 Aerofighters and make them standard (if they haven’t already, probably those with highest sales). Always in production. Stores will 110% always be able to at least get these standard items. Then they can market everything else as extra. That’s just good supply chain management.

And then they need to win back stores like how an ex-meth-head that’s been clean for eight years tries to win back his family.

Third: Lower diversity.

Hate to say it (I really do), but new stuff shouldn’t burst out every 2-3 years real time, or every 10-20 years universe time. I know it’s just scifi, and it’s just a game, but the acquisitons corps of the Great Houses have to be pulling their hair out over the billions of parts they have to order. I love Battletech for its near-realism, and this is an element that should be introduced.

Forth: Focus on events.

You know what I haven’t seen in forever?

Organized campaign play. Somehow Privateer Press and other companies are somehow able to decentralize campaign play effectively. Catalyst can do the same. From the Succession Wars, to the Jihad, and up into the Dark Ages. There are so many eras in which campaigns can be run.

Given, there are great books for that already. But to have the campaigns connected and tracked would be awesome! Advertise it like Wizards of the Coast advertises new Magic: The Gathering editions.

In Conclusion
I’m sure someone at Catalyst will read this and go, “WTF mate?”

Or they may sigh heavily and say, “Yes, we know…”

Or perhaps they are saying, “Oh, if you only knew what was in store…”

I don’t know. I’m not in their offices everyday making the decisions they do, or seeing the numbers they pull and have to report.

I could even be wrong about a lot of the things I don’t like. Maybe Omaha is an anomoly, and other cities have shops selling Battletech minis like hot cakes. Maybe you, dear reader, are sitting at your computer asking what the hell I’m talking about as you and your friends get ready for a 12 hour bout of Battletech (in which case I hate you because I’m jealous and want to play, too).

My concerns are based on what I see from my level, and talking to others.

Am I going to stop buying or playing Battletech? No! My love for it outweighs the things I hate.

And who knows. Maybe there is something right around the corner that will bring Battletech back to the limelight.

Until next time!…

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Spotted Online – 1987 FASA Catalog Featuring BattleTech

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