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).
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.
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.
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.
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!…
So here it is, my Gen Con 2014 blog post.
…it was meh…
Until next time!
Gen Con was a blast! So much of a blast that I’ve been going to bed super early the last few nights and sleeping 8-9 hours solid.
I wasn’t as bad as some though. I met two guys that had power gamed Warmachine for 22 hours, took a 2-3 hour nap, and then went back into the convention. Talk about gamer dedication! Not sure I could pull that one off.
My first day at the convention was kind of a wash as far as getting to see the booths and play games goes. I DID get to play the Battletech Firestorm game pods. That was a blast!! I had (3x) 2-hour blocks for play testing Ship Strike starting right at 10AM…which was when the Exhibit Hall finally opened. Play testing went great! I met some cool people and got some very constructive feedback on the game.
Then from 8PM-10:20PM I pitched Ship Strike to 22 or so major publishers. What little buying I did do that day was spent mostly at the Catalyst Game Labs booth. That night I crashed hard.
Day 2 my brother (who accompanied me) and I slept in a bit and rolled into the convention late-ish. By late I mean 9:45AM. Our hotel was a good 30min away from the convention, and morning traffic was horrendous (more on Indianapolis traffic later…). But the day was way more productive as far as gaming went. Got in a demo game of Hawk Wargames’ “Dropzone Commander” and picked up the 2-player box set plus the UCM and Scourge command units.
I won the demo game against my brother. Real fast paced, and quick die roll resolutions. For all we had we got a game done in about 20min. It would have been less but our demo guy was doing his job and answering questions as people came up. Our demo guy (I’m really sorry, I don’t remember his name) was very knowledgeable about the game and made it a really enjoyable experience.
I love Dropzone Commander so far. Awesome plastic minis that have great detail. And everything is engineered to fit together. A Scourge dropship can carry 3 tanks or 2 APCs, and the miniatures are designed to do just that. Gameplay is fun too, and I look forward to playing with the command units and cards.
Our next stop was The D6 Generation podcast “Play By Mob”. We had a great hour n a half or so with Craig Gallant, Russ and Nicole Wakelan, and Raef Granger. I can’t wait to listen to the whole podcast when it finally goes live, and I’m excited to go again next year.
Lunch from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse was pretty good. The fiancé and her daughter stopped in and we all sat on the floor of the convention center and hung out for a bit.
Then it was back into the Exhibit Hall for more games. Got in a game of Robotech RPG Tactics, and spotted the Privateer Press Man-O-War.
From there my brother and I split and I went and hit up the Battletech ‘Mech Grinder for ‘Mechy goodness.
I started with a 3025 Panther…it was tragic. But had a blast!
That night we were tired but still up for some gaming. My brother and I knocked out a quick game of “Encounters! Bravest Warriors” from Catalyst Game Labs. THAT is a fun game. 10-15 min will get 2 players through quickly. The game is a blast and really easy to pick up and learn. I was Catbug! My brother played Jelly Kid and won with 32pts.
We finished putting together our new Dropzone Commander stuff to end our second day.
Day 3 was another fun day. While the Wizkids booth was rediculous, I checked out Dream Pod 9 and got in a demo game of the new Heavy Gear Blitz beta rules…I lost. But had fun. 🙂
I bought the beta rulebook and two G.P. Squads.
I headed over to the Corvus Belli booth to see if I could get in a game of Infinity. No demo game, but they had a gal doing some awesome Pan Oceana cosplay.
Didn’t buy the starter box “Operation: Ice Storm” because I already pre-ordered mine on the Corvus Belli website.
Looked around a little more, bought the “Encounters! Bravest Warriors” blue deck box, played some more Battletech ‘Mech Grinder, tried out Shadowrun 5th edition (sorry I’m not a pencil-and-paper rpg player), and then called it a day. I was wiped out and ready for bed.
All in all a great three days. Driving there was a little redonculous. 9 hours from where I live to Indy.
What will I change next year?
First, get a hotel near the convention. That 30-40min drive was stupid, not to mention people in Indianapolis have no idea what proper driving is. I don’t think anyone there had heard of a blinker…that and when I got tired I had to go sit somewhere. It would have been nice to just walk back to the hotel and be able to grab a nap in the middle of the day.
Second, I will not playtest in the First Exposure Playtest Hall. It was a great experience and I met some really cool people. But it was draining and I missed out on a lot of gaming. Thinkin I’ll save my pennies and play test here in my home city for the price of 1-2 Little Ceaser’s Hot n Ready pizzas.
To anyone who hasn’t been I would definitely recommend going to Gen Con. Games from casual board games to miniature wargames are available and the people, cosplay, food, and beer is awesome!
So Gen Con is just around the corner and like most people I am stoked. Weather.com shows that the weather will be mostly sunny with temps in the upper 70s/lower 80s the whole time the convention is going on. It’s going to be an awesome four days of gaming, First Exposure Playtest Hall, and Designer & Publisher Speed Dating.
What I’m Excited To See
There’s going to be a ton to see at Gen Con, and I’m sure more than there is to see in just 4 days. Note that this is my very first Gen Con. But consulting the Gen Con Exhibit Hall map and checking on other events that are available, I’ve already got a lot I want to see:
– Catalyst Game Labs: I will be haunting them. 🙂 No this is not creepy. (This is creepy.) But I cannot wait to meet their team and see all the cool stuff they have coming out. Shadowrun: Crossfire looks fun and I’d love to see/play a demo game. And of course Battletech. Duh. When in doubt, Battletech.
– Iron Wind Metals: Co-located with Catalyst Game Labs. They will probably be taking the second half of my monies.
– Corvus Belli: I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Infinity Operation: Icestorm. But I’d love to see the other goodues they have.
– Privateer Press: ’nuff said. But rather than looking forward to just the stuff they have at the convention, I’m also heading over to The Ram for the tapping ceremony of the Everblight Ale!
– Table Forged: These guys are cool, and have a great game called Iron And Ale where you drink beer and beat the crap out of your friends. Oh there are cards to do fantasy stuff, too. 😛 But they threw down an arm wrestling challenge, and I answered it!
– Hawk Wargames: Dropzone Commander looks like an amazing game and I cannot wait to play it. I’ll be stopping by to see what they have, and maybe try my hand at a game or two.
– Mantic: Love the games these guys are putting out. Huge Deadzone fan, and already pledged for their Dwarf King’s Quest Kickstarter.
– Fantasy Flight Games: These guys are game making machines. Love their Star Wars game and may pick up a pack or two.
– Gale Force Nine: Everything I’ve heard about Firefly the Game is great! And being an ardent browncoat I wanna try my hand at it.
– Welovefine.com: Because I need a Catbug T-shirt.
– The D6 Generation: Recently started listening to their podcast and I am a huge fan already. Who knew there were people who talked about all the cool stuff I love? Gonna try to squeeze into their recording Friday with the other mob of people trying to get in. But would just like to meet ’em in general.
– The Cardboard Republic: Another great site and podcast that I instantly got addicted to, and would like to meet their team if I get a chance.
These are just a few of the companies I’m looking forward to seeing. The list is long and I have only a rough plan on how I will navigate…perhaps even astrogate this convention.
May have to break out those Delta-V calculations…
First Exposure Playtest Hall
If you haven’t already heard/read, my game Ship Strike will be debuted in the First Exposure Playtest Hall, located in ICC 107-110. If you’re there stop by and get a game in!
Schedule is as follows:
Thursday, Aug. 14: 10AM-12PM, 1PM-3PM, 5PM-7PM
Friday, Aug. 15: 3PM-5PM
I will be running two games at once, so four people can get in per time slot.
Work on Ship Strike has come along great. I’ve gotten some awesome feedback from playtests from friends, family, and the gaming group I belong to.
Probably one of the smartest thing I did was laminate the stat cards. It’s a lot of mind numbing work, but the endstate of what this is, and what it could become, drives me onward!
And So It Begins…
The final countdown to Gen Con has begun! I look forward to meeting a lot of fellow gamers and have a blast!