RogerBW's Blog

What's Wrong with BattleTech? 22 January 2014

I've written a set of rules that replace BattleTech. Why would I do such a foolhardy thing? Here I'm planning to write a bit about what's wrong with BattleTech. In the next part, I'll describe how I tried to fix it.

One of BattleTech's core problems is the speed of play. The detail is great, but it leaves you spending ages over each turn, and this problem increases the more forces you have on the board: it's fair enough to have an O(N) effect, but it feels more like O(N²). (If each of us has four units, I have to think about your four units each time I'm choosing which of mine to use.)

Combine with that the order of turns, which feels terribly old-fashioned and clunky to me: we each take turns to move, then we each take turns to fire.

While I admire the simplicity of the base game, I think it suffers by being too slender a reed to carry the weight of all the additions that have been made since. There's nowhere to wedge in morale, or leadership qualities. 'Mech combat should feel like something special: the power of armoured vehicles, combined with the immediacy and adrenalin of infantry actions.

The next problem is that I feel sometimes like a dice-rolling engine. It was playing MegaMek that really brought it home to me: once you've chosen weapons and targets, you have no further input until the record sheets are filled in and it's time to fire the next unit. But there's all that complexity and die-rolling! Multiple weapons with multiple to-hit numbers have to roll to hit, then there's the cluster hit table, hit locations, ticking off armour, rolling for possible criticals, rolling for critical locations... yeah, the detail is nice, but when it's all random what does that detail really serve?

I'm not enamoured of the attritional approach to damage, where you're gradually scraping off armour until you expose something vital. Real tank combat is rather more like OGRE, in that the target ends up in one of three states: unaffected, temporarily disrupted, or a burning wreck.

So what's good about BattleTech? What do I want to keep, rather than going and playing Heavy Gear?

First, it's the unit designs. I have a lot of nostalgia for those original, improperly-licenced, 'Mechs, like the Shadow Hawk and the Rifleman. Second, it's the setting, the complexity of the Succession Wars, with no clear good guys in a gradually decaying society. I've ranted elsewhere about the way I felt that was betrayed by the coming of the Clans.

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