This is part 2 of a 2-part series on Battletech. You can check out Part I here.
Having crept up the left flank and holding to cover I was finally closing in on my target. I fired my jump jets and lifted off the canyon floor. As I cleared the edge of the cliff I got my first visual of the valley and the battle unfolding to my right. The communication channels had come alive in the last few minutes, so I knew generally what to expect. Paratrooper was in the center, backing up and furiously exchanging fire with a Crusader to his front. To my front another Crusader sat stoically on a hill and added to the punishment of my lance mate. And on the far side of him I could just make out movement in the tree line that was the point of origin for several missiles, some of which were streaking toward his Trebuchet and others whose contrails went out of view as they tracked on Frosty’s Catapult, the only member of the team I couldn’t see. It would have been a grim sight if not for the final member of the Lance, our commander Sketchy. Her Atlas was just entering the valley and delivering some missile packages on our enemies, a preview of the hell she was capable of unleashing.
A few seconds later my mech settled into the next canyon with a crunch and I waited as the heat indicator dropped. I listened as Sketchy attempted to cover Paratrooper’s withdrawal, her voice calm, but with an underlying tension that told me the situation was getting dire. Finally cool I fired my jets and launched into the air. When I got the next snapshot of the battle my stomach clenched. Para’s Trebuchet was dragging one leg and spewing black smoke into the air. The Crusader he was squaring off with was charging forward, tasting the kill. For my part I took a pot shot at the Crusader that was over watching to my twelve o’clock, but it did no good, it just ignored me and continued to contribute to the fire the enemy lance was converging on Paratrooper. I heard a panicked shout from the comm channel before watching powerlessly as ammunition stores cooked off and the Trebuchet detonated, blowing metal fragments onto Sketchy’s hull as a gout of flamed licked high into the air. His location indicator just disappeared from my HUD.
When I landed this time it was at the base of the rocky hill on which my mirror was perched and I maintained a visual on most of the valley, once again willing my engines would cool faster. I saw as, inexplicably, Para’s killer continued its charge only now redirecting it at the Atlas. In fact, a majority of the enemy fire was targeting the Atlas now. Sketchy seemed unconcerned, our lance channel remaining eerily quiet, as her hulking machine of war turned into the charge. As the two mechwarriors converged the enemy fire became desperate, missile contrails coming from three directions. Then one of those rare battlefield moments occurred, something that sends a chill down your spine because you know it’s a harbinger of death and destruction. Everything went quiet. Not a quiet of peace and tranquility, but a cold silence pregnant with impending violence.
Then the Atlas fired.
The sheer brutality of an alpha strike at close range is an impressive sight when delivered by any mech. When it’s done by an Atlas it takes the experience to a unique and awe inspiring level. One that is rarely a prolonged encounter for the target. This attack was no exception. It was hard to tell which detonations were from Sketchy’s munitions and which were from the Crusader itself, the whole thing just seemed to disintegrate like a child’s sandcastle caught in a Tsunami. The most disturbing part was how casually the deed was done and that the Atlas continued its inexorable march forward without pause.
I was glad she was on my side.
At this point I figured the enemy lance would be shaken and scrambling to adjust their deployment, so I took my chance. Juicing the jets again, pushing them to the limit. I rocketed into the sky and immediately saw that the Crusader was already moving away, down the hill. The worst part was it was also disengaging from its attack on Sketchy and finding a new target. Me. I was letting loose some colorful language aimed at encouraging my Assassin to clear my attacker while pivoting 180 degrees. Sweat was beading up on my skin as I switched to piloting by sensor, the view out my canopy now being a sweeping panorama of the canyon network I had just navigated. I winced as I watched the distance to target indicator counting down to an uncomfortably low number as our mechs passed within a few yards of each other. But we missed and, back on terra firma, I found myself exactly where I needed to be – behind my enemy. Unfortunately it was not square behind and I saw the Crusader’s torso twisting left to bring its weapons on that arm to bear. As I came under fire tracers skipped off my armor plating and the incandescent beam of laser fire slammed home, a reminder of just how outgunned I was in that moment. Knowing that my life expectancy was dangerously close to being measured in seconds I unleashed everything I could into the back of my opponent.
At first I thought I had only scraped some paint, then I saw the mech freeze. That’s when I noticed a scorch mark between two armor plates that was emitting more smoke than the impact of a single missile should have produced. A few seconds later, as I frantically prepped to make a hot jump in hopes of escape, an explosion ruptured the side of the enemy mech. It was quickly followed by several more, each one coming quicker and with greater intensity. Then the Crusader exploded, its hull spreading across the top of the hill and clattering across the canopy of my cockpit. It was probably the greatest kill shot of my mechwarrior career. But it was one that I would sooner have not taken because of what I heard right before the first explosion when the enemy pilot activated the open channel and began calling for aid. It was a voice I hadn’t heard in years, one from my youth.
It was my sister’s.
Part two of our Battletech battle picked up where we left off. EXACTLY where we left off thanks to the nature of the game board, the mech locations having been noted and the paperwork preserved. As the above fan-fiction outlined we dove right into the combat. Paratrooper and Gigabyte were duking it out and it wasn’t long before Gigabyte killed Paratrooper and then was quickly dispatched by Sketchy. That left us at 3 on 3. A few turns later is when I delivered the lucky shot that took out Crafty (yes, she really is my sister, I wasn’t being melodramatic). With my sibling on the sidelines I then decided to PTFO and scooted off the far side of the table to earn us some VP’s.
At this point Pookie and Preacher were in a bit of a quandary – discretion or destruction? They chose the latter and, though they were able to rattle the Atlas’ canopy a little, they weren’t able to do enough damage and were quickly rendered combat effective by the massive mech and the added pressure of Stinky Cheese’s Cat’pult pouring on the missiles. The game was called when time ran out and was declared a victory for Aynsley’s Angels!
Winning aside, this scenario was extremely enjoyable and once again proved how Battletech is a game system. It’s no surprise that it has truly stood the test of time. The rules have little abstraction and are scalable to player experience and desire for complexity. This is done most obviously by either using the basic rules found in the “Battletech Introductory Box Set” (see below) or the complete rules found in “Battletech: Total Warfare”. The selection of game board can also be used to scale the game difficulty. For example, using a map with little terrain and few elevation changes will make the game simpler and naturally omits many of the rules.
Probably the most defining aspect of the game is the record keeping. Each unit requires a fairly significant investment in time to track damage, heat, speed, etc…. This can be a bit overwhelming at first, but is worth the effort to learn as it provides a gaming experience with depth not often found in a board game (see “Pro Tip” below). That being said, it is generally a good idea to start off by controlling only one model until comfortable with the rules. With practice it will not be long before you have a full lance under your control.
Finally, going beyond the rules Battletech has one of the most established universes in the gaming community. They have built a rich history that spans centuries and encompasses not just the board game and its expansions, but books, video games and a plethora of official and fan-made online content. This background makes it one of the most immersive gaming experiences you can find on the tabletop.
For each mech it is helpful to use several different colored dice corresponding to the speeds at which the mech is capable of moving (e.g. white=stationary, yellow=walk, red=run and blue=jump). After a mech moves and the number of hexes moved is determined place the appropriate colored die next to the mech showing the To Hit modifier the opposing player will need to add when targeting the mech (use “6” to represent zero if necessary). Doing this will speed up the shooting phase considerably as anyone targeting the mech can see the target move distance modifier and the controlling player can use the color of the dice to determine the modifier of the attacks they make based on their movement speed.
An Assassin ASN-21 walks 5 hexes in the movement phase. The controlling player places a white die next to the model with the 2 showing since the mech moved 5-6 hexes. During the shooting phase an opposing player targets the Assassin and knows that they have to add 2 to the difficulty of the shot. The controlling player sees a white die and knows that they white, so must add +1
The Introductory Box Set
The introductory box set for Battletech is one of the best on the market and offers a complete game experience. It is, technically, a standalone product and doesn’t require any further investment, but, what’s the fun in that?