Careful What You Wish
Article by Neko_Bijin
Battletech fans asked for the moon, and they got it. Since 2006 we’ve gotten bigger and bigger rulebooks to allow more and more complex games. Remember the 1985 BattleTech? A 48-page rulebook that included ‘Mech designs and setting dossiers? Cardboard figures in plastic stands? $15? Our little game has grown up wild. The rules for play and design now weigh in at 1500 pages and $180. These are high-quality books, well-organized and indexed, with plenty of illustrations and background stories (i.e., “fluff”), but time spent looking up rules is time that can’t be spent maneuvering giant robots and blasting opponents to smithereens. Maybe we’ve asked for the wrong thing. More isn’t always better.
First and Last
Enter Alpha Strike, a new system for miniatures play in the BattleTech universe. The new book weights in at a tiny 176 pages and for $40 promises to simplify play while retaining the “feel” of BattleTech. Do they pull it off? Mostly! In the new system, “Mech Damage” isn’t tracked on a template sheet but on a row of pips. Rather than a 30-point heat scale, we have 3 steps of overburn until automatic shutdown. Damage is handled through a single roll of the dice per figure, rather than once per weapon. And most radical of all, movement of the figures on the play surface isn’t kept track of because it doesn’t matter to play. A ruler is placed on the table and the figures are moved. Facing changes are free! Astounding! The new system benefits from two decades of experience in bringing science-fiction gaming to your table top. It’s a complete package for battlefield mayhem, including aerospace support, artillery bombardment, battlesuit infantry and conventional vehicles. All (or nearly all) of the terrain options available in Tactical Operations are here as well. All (or nearly all) of the new equipment in the Tech Manual appear as optional rules. For players like me who fear 3D terrain, rules for conversion to hexes are included.
As Simple as Possible, But not Simpler
To the BattleTech player, the problem with every other game is that “it’s not BattleTech.” But BattleTech itself has evolved very little over the eons, like the crocodile. Meanwhile the dinosaurs of the gaming world have either died off or grown wings. The elusive holy grail of gaming is a game that looks and feels like BattleTech but plays fast enough to finish in a few hours. Reports from the gaming community suggest that company-sized mixed forces can battle to conclusion in an afternoon using Alpha Strike, rather than the full day required under BattleTech rules.
To my way of thinking, Alpha Strike better recreates the original feeling of BattleTech than the current set of BattleTech rules, which have grown unmanageable in size and scope. I used to manage large games with the BattleTech Compendium (1990), a complete set of rules less than 200 pages in length. Somehow it seemed enough at the time.
Disclaimer: Neko_Bijin is an unpaid shill whose opinions should not be trusted.