A few weeks ago, Sylverthorne and I had the chance to play the current edition of BattleTech. For those of you not familiar, BattleTech is a wargame played on a hex grid; it is a reasonably ‘hard’ science-fiction game simulating combat between BattleMechs and their various support units. We played using only the rules in Total Warfare, which represents the basic rules of the game, using a pregenerated ‘Mech star each.
After setup of the playing field, BattleTech is played in phases: Initiative, Movement, Attack, Heat and End Turn. Initiative consists of rolling for who may move second; the game deems it an advantage to know where your opponent is moving and what he is attacking. Once initiative is determined, players take turns moving their units, with the intent being to split moving up so that everyone takes the same number of turns. Attack declarations follow the same pattern; attacks are rolled at this time, but do not take effect. During the Heat phase, heat buildup is calculated and required rolls for that made; all of those take effect during the End phase. This means that a destroyed unit still gets to fire its weapons the turn it is destroyed, unlike, say, Pathfinder, where a character or monster becoming disabled during the round takes effect immediately.
Heat is the primary driver of action economics in BattleTech. Each action, from moving to firing weapons to utilizing special equipment builds up heat. A unit can only dissipate so much heat each turn; depending on unit type, that either restricts how many actions it can take, or imposes penalties as heat builds up, forcing the player to take less actions later on to remove heat.
Writing about the BattleTech setting could (and has) filled books; in brief, the world of BattleTech is our galaxy in the 31st and 32nd century. Discovery of viable nuclear fusion and FTL travel permitted humanity to colonize a bubble roughly 1500 light years in diameter, the Inner Sphere; advances in weapon technology have led to the creation of so-called BattleMechs, large, bipedal or quadrupedal heavy war machines. A bloody coup d’etat approximately 400 years in the past from game present led to continued warfare in the Inner Sphere and subsequent loss of much of the technology developed. A large portion of the military of that era opted to depart, rather than participate in the fighting, and has since established their own worlds and culture outside of the Inner Sphere. They returned about 80 years before game ‘present’ and launched a drive towards recapturing Earth. I am not well-versed in in-world events after that, as I am primarily interested in the interactions between the Clans and the Inner Sphere, rather than the (often contrived) infighting in the writing since.
We found the system clunky and time-consuming, sacrificing playability for perceived realism; at the same time, the world setting is, in our opinion, one of the more interesting ones out there, at least up to and including the Clan Invasion. Aside from the ‘Mech scale game, there are rules for individual-scale adventures, planetary conquest and even empire building, but we have not had a chance to get any deeper into those. My overall impression is that BattleTech is an interesting world setting and definitely worth looking at as a reality to game in, but the rule system is too clunky for extended play. Many scenarios assume Trinary or even Cluster level forces, and I cannot imagine managing a game with up to 100 units per side with these rules.