Battletech – A debate (part two)

The newest Battletech videogame, from Harebrained Schemes is now officially released, so it seemed like a good time to return to Battletech. In my previous post  I mentioned that there were two significant debates I see crop up about Battletech and that they were both somewhat intertwined. The first was about why Battletech never achieved the same kind of popularity as Warhammer and some other major minis games.

The second is an idea I’ve seen floated a few times that maybe, just maybe, Battletech should do a hard reboot and start from scratch. This is a controversial idea to say the least. To my mind, it is related to the idea that BT is not a mainstream success and is opposed by the very vocal group of players who have invested 25+ years into this game and know it like the back of their hand. One of the things that makes Battletech more than just a skirmish minis game is the lavish amount of lore and background that exists around the universe.

Despite that – and the fact that I’m one of those people who has been playing for 25+ years, and loves the lore with all my heart – I actually think a hard reboot would be a massive boon to the game. Stick with me here.

So – one of the greatest strengths of Battletech is that with a minimal investment, I can put mechs on the board that can effectively play across eras and across the history of Battletech. Some purists may be unhappy, but at my table, as long as it’s a Guillotine, you can use any record sheet you want with that model (as appropriate to the era being played, of course). Nothing about the advancing timeline of Battletech from the Star League to the Dark Age stops players from playing any era they want. 3025 is still just as viable as 3067, and so on.

This is, ironically, also a weakness – from a marketing standpoint. Go to a con, start talking about ‘mechs and see how long it takes for the conversation to derail into endless discussion of variants, tech, etc. What’s worse, try to use the Campaign Operations rules to figure out how to run your mercenary company when you go looking for dropship availability and costs. Start a conversation about BV and BV2. I’ll confess – I took a couple years off from the game during that change and I still don’t truly understand it.

Battletech is a glorious game and I think more people should be playing it. But it is not friendly to a new player joining right now. And two new “introductory” box sets ain’t the way to solve that. I mean, don’t get me wrong; the sets are a good thing… But they should be part of a broader effort aimed at making the game new player friendly rather than just re-hashing rules and putting out some new minis. Battletech needs a new approach – as I mentioned in my previous post – across all aspects of the business model.

One area where even an old diehard like me is still frustrated though – and a reboot would assist – is in the insane compartmentalization of information. Go look at the Master Unit List. Now tell me how much a Union Dropship costs. NA is not helpful when I’m trying to figure out how much fuel it consumes using the Campaign Ops rules. It’s a fairly recent innovation to have information readily available on the “Intro Date” and “Extinction Date” of different units – something I’d scrounge the books trying to figure out any time I was planning a campaign.

Buy a TRO for the game which contains the specifications you need to run the mech. Now ask yourself… Why isn’t cost listed alongside stuff like who the Armor Manufacturer is? Players and GMs who want to set up ongoing games need to have steeped themselves in the lore of the game (or not care at all – which is it’s own problem) to devise scenarios that make sense.

All of this means that the release of new boxed sets in the future should be considered a chance to just start over. While I know it wouldn’t be popular with everyone; here is a chance to just clean up and do a nice, soft reboot that helps everyone get on the same page.

What would that look like? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Catalyst would release a sourcebook akin to the old 20 Year Update supplement but it would be more of a “The Grand History of the Inner Sphere (and Beyond)” type of book that allowed a pick-your-poison approach to the game. It would be largely narrative and would introduce the eras of the game with an eye toward unifying them into one story that any player can understand without having subscribed to Battleforce or having played the Clix game or read 80 novels. It would include a well-researched and inclusive timeline of major events (and some minor) that allowed a new player to begin to instantly feel at home in this new universe. Sure, it would become “outdated” but in this golden age of PDF gaming books, there is literally no reason that every time there is a major shift in the timeline that Catalyst couldn’t put out a 5/10 dollar PDF that updates your core timeline book. I mean, let’s face it… the results of the Battle of Tukayyid aren’t going to change.
  2. A new line of TRO’s and Record Sheets would be released that actually learns from the last 30 years of gaming and bellyaching by the fanbase crying for more information. The goal would be to unify and standardize important game bits like Cost, BV, Availability, and (where possible) Faction Identification.
  3. My most controversial suggestion – unify the art direction. I actually cringed while reading the  TRO Succession Wars because the various art styles clashed so brutally. If I were not a long-term die hard who understood how this came about, I’d assume that this was some amateurish product that didn’t have an art budget and just used stuff they found from various artists. It’s an eyesore. And look, I know that some people don’t like the blockier look of the new art and some people think the old art is ugly and blah, blah, blah… I don’t care. I just want to put all that behind us in the BT community and have one unified vision – shepherded by Catalyst – that allows us to move into a new day for the game which might actually draw in some new players.

I have other suggestions, but this is long enough. Look Catalyst – if you are reading this (and I know you aren’t reading this) – but you’ve had the license long enough now. You’ve done a great job with the mess you were handed – I genuinely mean that – but there is so much more it will take to achieve the kind of broad support other games have. And that just hasn’t been something BT has ever taken seriously. For my money, I think it’s time.

Feel free to argue, throw things, etc. Just be polite. And thanks for reading.

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