Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

BattleTech: Decision at Thunder Rift

For many years I have read the many classic BattleTech scenario books with a mixture of wonder and awe. Given that we could blow an afternoon with just a handful of mechs on the board, I just had to know: what kind of person played this stuff…?!

Well, having done one of these now, I can tell you: nobody played them.

“Decision at Thunder Rift” is a conflict so big, it got a whole novel devoted to it. But the scenario itself is a hot mess:

  • The defenders get three 20 ton mechs, which are supposed to have made a valiant stand on a ridge, using carefully aimed fire to pick off their attackers as they marched uphill. The reality on the game board is… they’re turkeys that spend all of their time getting as far away from the turkey shoot as possible. Not very dramatic!
  • The defenders also get a small army of hovercraft. The rules give you the option to use either quick and easy simplified rules or else design your own version of them with the CityTech rules. If you use the former, then the defense will simply die as the hovercraft will all be wiped out in a couple of turns due to the fact that it only takes a single hit to disable them and a second one to kill them. If you use actual CityTech rules, the units will not only be able to take a lot more hits, but they will also be wherever they need to be in order to have the perfect shot– CityTech hovercraft are going to be two or even three times as fast!
  • And just one note on the original BattleTech box sets. The vehicle counters in CityTech are not numbered or otherwise uniquely identified in any way. If you try to play this scenario with the original equipment available at the time, you have a bookkeeping nightmare on your hands.
  • There are mentions made of potentially using infantry rules with this one, but no details on just what to do with them.

We spent an eternity playing this one. The hovercraft wiped out a couple of attacking mechs early on. Then the attackers figured out that if they simply made a beeline for the “turkeys”, nothing much would happen. (This is due to the to-hit penalties for jumping combined with the extreme resilience of medium mechs– it can take forever to drop one!)

There was one dramatic moment, though. The attacking Locust got to the top of a hill and fired its medium laser at a fleeing Stinger. It rolled a 12 on the all-but-impossible to-hit roll, then rolled a 12 again for hit-location, then rolled a 10 for the check-for-criticals roll. This resulted in a life support and a cockpit critical. A target dropped in a single shot!

So yeah, the turns just cranked by taking a long time to resolve for generally not a whole lot to happen in return. It was exhausting. The way it turned out, I had to be able to drop all three of the light mechs by turn 13 in order to win. (There was basically a die roll that determines whether this scenario is trivial or impossible, but you don’t know what it will be until turn ten.) The CityTech hovercraft meant the attacker had to be lucky to pull this off, but the dice just weren’t there. The fleeing 20 ton mechs were just too hard to hit… and the hits that did land weren’t concentrated in the same hit locations well enough to get the job done.

We did make one critical mistake: the attackers were supposed to get reinforcements on turn 10 and we completely forgot about them. However, if the defense played at all sanely, they should not have made a significant impact on the outcome at all. The light mechs would have had to take a few more shots at slightly better odds due to needing to steer clear of the south map edge, but otherwise nothing would have changed.

We ended up debating some other issues when trying to determine if one side or the other should simply concede. Stuff like… what constitutes an actual kill in BattleTech? (Is two gyro criticals enough?) Also, can the attacker leave the map in order to deny the defense kills? (If so… then they have no chance at all to win, particularly if the dumbed down hovercraft rules are used.)

Anyway, there is a lot of stuff here. There is a very creative use of terrain and units to make a really colorful situation come alive, using everything that existed in the BattleTech game during the mid-eighties. But there’s just one problem with it: it’s objectively the worst wargame scenario I have ever played.


One response to “BattleTech: Decision at Thunder Rift

  1. simontmn August 2, 2018 at 6:21 am

    This reminds me of the 5 hours we spent playing a Battletech game one Sunday with 5-6 mechs a side… in which time precisely one light mech dropped.
    Coincidentally, today my Battlemech box goes to the charity shop alongside Castles & Crusades!

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