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Battletech – An Introductory Guide


So, you want to get into BattleTech? The game of mech-on-mech combat but do not know where to begin? Well, that makes sense. It is a big beast of a game and it can seem very impenetrable if you have not had some kind of exposure to it so far. But where exactly to begin and assuming we are talking purely about the tabletop game rather than the RPG, videogames or fiction? That would depend entirely on how much time you are willing to invest. There are two products targeted towards new players. There is the beginner box which as its name suggests is targeted at entirely new players. Then there is the BattleTech: A game of armoured Combat. There is also the core rulebook BattleTech: Total Warfare and the Tech Manual. I will cover these each individually. But to start with a bit of background information about the game.

BattleTech emerged in the 80’s and is often viewed as the Western version of gundam. Pilots known as MechWarriors control giant(approx. 30 feet tall) mecha which are named BattleMechs. It also spans over several centuries of in-game lore that stretches over numerous time periods in the universe. Usually focused on the Inner Sphere and how it develops and regresses through political turmoil, clan invasion and all-out war between the scheming factions(Think Game of Thrones if they had giant mecha/spaceships instead of knights and dragons). The usual starting point for the lore and game setting is the Succession Wars. This is early on in the chronology and focuses on a post golden-age where the inner-sphere is a hotpot of conflict between the main factions of the time. This is a good place to begin as you can ignore the clans/omnimechs and focuses purely on Battlemech lance v lance combat.(A lance being a 4 man mech team).

The Beginner Box

The beginner box has two iterations. An updated one and the original. These have slightly different contents as at some point the two included mechs was updated to a Griffin and a Vindicator (which was originally a Wolverine). The main identifier for the updated version is the box art featuring the Vindicator on a grass field while the old one featured the griffin on a snowscape. The main appeal of the beginner box is that it is a stripped-down version of the rules that gives an overall impression of how BattleTech plays while also being a very low-cost product. It is more like a demo of BattleTech so if you are on the fence about the actual mechanics then this is the safest bet. It is also worth buying even if you do not use the actual beginner content as the Vindicator and Griffin are both solid mechs and the maps are useful in standard games. If you enjoy the beginner box then the next step is the Game of Armoured Combat boxed game.

The Game Of Armoured Combat

This is the standard sort of starter set you get for most miniature games. You get 8 battlemechs which can be formed into two lances for a balanced player vs player game. It also has a streamlined rulebook that presents the full rules in a nice digestible format. This is on top of more maps and supporting materials that you need to play. It is ideal for people who know that BattleTech is for them or players returning after a long hiatus. The maps, mechs and materials are useful even if you are already familiar with the game. The included mechs are a solid selection and enough to mix and match for a lot of versatility and this can then be expanded by buying additional lance packs. This however is where things can get a bit muddy as in order to use more mechs you will need to buy the technical readouts which are available in pdf form from the Catalyst Games site or as physical copies. There are also a lot of directions that you can choose to expand in. The main choice is whether to go for the Total Warfare Rulebook or for the Clan Invasion Expansion.

Clan Invasion

Clan invasion advances the time periods you can play in. At a certain point after the succession wars, the clans (Outer Sphere genetically engineered warriors) invade. This shakes up the power dynamic but the main impact is that omnimechs appear and you can now build a star(clan version of a lance) using these new mechs. The boxes set includes the rules for omnimechs as well as a good selection to choose from. The confusing part though is that it looks like a standalone starter set which it is not. It needs the core game to use. It is also not a mandatory set. The total warfare rulebook also covers the rules for clan invasion so the main appeal of the boxed set is to gain a set of omnimechs and the other included resources.

Total Warfare

Total Warfare is the big main rulebook. It covers all the rules for BattleTech but it is very important to note that this is not a good way to learn the game. The rulebook is an in-depth breakdown and reference and as such it is not easy to understand unless you have the core rules down already. It is a good document once you have broken the door down and want to understand the intricacies of the game and get the extra rules for non mecha units but it is probably worth holding off until you have a few games under your belt. Another good note about the Total Warfare book is that it includes a large amount of lore that can help you situate yourself with the various factions and events of the game world. Additionally there are the expanded rules for non Battlemech units such as conventional infantry, dropships, submarines and more!

Tech Manual

The Tech Manual is almost another game entirely. It is a very chunky and dense book on how to create mechs and mech variations. This in itself is a whole new beast and there are entire communities devoted to building new variations. It also has references and stats for hundreds and hundreds of weapons and equipment. It adds a whole new dimension that can be very rewarding as you scratch build your own suits but also can be entirely bypassed without blame as it is a daunting prospect and after flipping through a few pages it reveals the true depth of the game. It is entirely reasonable to leave this book until you are heavily invested in the game.

BattleTech: Alpha Strike

Alpha strike is an alternative version of the game. It is more akin to the rules included in the beginner box. It keeps the same essence of the game but makes it a lot more streamlined and arcade. Making it more of a modern boardgame that the in-depth strategy game. It is available in two forms. A core rulebook and a starter set. There are also alpha strike cards included with most modern BattleTech miniatures(Anything nonmetal) so they can be used for both versions of the game. The game itself is lighter yet still has a satisfying level of mechanics to it. If core BattleTech seems too heavy and impenetrable then it might be the best alternative to go for.

So, now that you are primed with the various starter products, I can unveil my recommended buy order. First up, is the beginner box. Followed by the Game of Armoured Combat. Then once you have played a few games it is time for Total War. Beyond this is the Clan Invasion and the Tech Manual but if after playing the Game of Armoured combat and finding it too chunky then the Alpha Strike is the recommended option. Beyond this there are a wealth of expansions, tech readouts, campaign supplements and lances so you can really just cherry pick at this point if there is something that particularly appeals.