I played a quick game of BattleTech this past weekend using the mechs I recently designed. It was the first time I’d played the game since being a teenager, so I’ve got a much different perspective now than I had then.
The thing I liked best about the game was that the rules were very unobtrusive. After going over the basics, we hardly had to reference them. This is much different than Car Wars with the way play ground to a halt every time a collision occurred and we had to hash over the T-bone rules, etc. Another thing I’ve been fighting with Car Warsis the need for a referee– it just doesn’t work that well for competitive two player games. BattleTech is a lot closer to Ogre in its playability: the record sheets are all public and there are very few rules that players will tend to quibble over. The design system is clunky… and the hex map system limits your movement options tremendously… but I can see why BattleTech has had a much stronger following than Car Wars now. It’s so much better suited to one-on-one play and its very accessible.
The thing that frustrates me most about the game is those all-important initiative rolls. In a duel, the one who wins will go to a hex where he gets an edge with his weaponry. In a large laser vs. PPC game, the laser mech will head for range 5 and the PPC mech will head for range 6, for example. The mech that loses initiative will often hide, retreat, or stay still in order to minimize the advantage of the other. With the elimination of the Torso Twisting reaction phase that occurred with FASA’s “Master Rules” revisions, its much easier for a speedy mech to get behind a slow one. The net result of all this is that combats are strangely muted hit-and-run dances that play out nothing at all like they would in a phased system.
The revised Marauder I designed has an edge in Firepower, Speed, and Range against my revised Rifleman. The Rifleman’s advantage in regards to Armor, Heat, and Sturdiness were nowhere near sufficient to stand up to it. After this game, I no longer see a heat problem as being such a bad thing– at least in a duel where its relatively easy to break off an attack temporarily. The problem with the XL engines having three crits in each torso dooming your mech to destruction when any torso section is destroyed is also not such a bad deal. The Marauder never even broke a sweat on that point in spite of his inherent flimsiness. One interesting tactic my opponent used was to burn up the ammo for his AC-10 Ultra with abandon. By the time it was gone, he’d surely be in danger of a stray critical setting off an ammo explosion, so there was no need to worry about conserving it.
Probably the most irritating thing in the game was that Level 1 water provided no real benefit. You get the problems of partial cover without the full benefit… and if you have inner sphere double heat sinks, you can’t fit them in your legs to pick up the extra cooling benefit. Argh! That’s a very strange decision on the part of the designers, but at least it can be fixed with scenario specific rules: maybe a cool wind blowing across the lake to get a flat bonus. I think it would be neat if your mech was automatically cooled a certain amount for each water hex it moved through.
Anyways, it was a fun game over all. My Rifleman died after succumbing to a lucky second head shot. (Well… even if my head didn’t get blown off, I was in deep trouble. The shot just before that blew an arm off. If I had put just one more point of armor there, it would have remained, so I’ll think a little more carefully about armor placement in the future….) I think I hit with 7 large lasers over all… compared to 10 10-point hits that I took from the Marauder. That doesn’t bode well for a rematch. Back to the drawing board….