RogerBW's Blog

Introducing Tin Soldier 01 February 2014

Tin Soldier is my answer to the problems I see in BattleTech.

Why didn't I just write house rules? Well, I started to, but the game is such a blunt instrument that it's hard to have subtle effects. I think that part of the problem with BattleTech is that it's top-heavy: all the things that have been laid on top of the original, fairly simple, game have to be made compatible with that original game, and it's not possible ever to remove a rule. I'm pretty impressed with Total Warfare, the latest incarnation of the rules, but overall I think the game needs more than cosmetic surgery.

So my first design goal with Tin Soldier was to throw away everything I didn't actually need to keep: specifically, what I wanted was the BattleTech unit designs. It's gone through several evolutions, but that core is still there.

The next goal was to cut down on things that could be done better by a computer. I'm not a fan of having computers at the gaming table; I use them all the time in the rest of my life, and I like the occasional change of pace. So damage resolution had to change. It would have been nice if attritional combat went too, but I ended up keeping it simply because it was more fun.

Tin Soldier radically streamlines the damage resolution step; there's still no human input, but now you're rolling (several dice at once against the same target number) to hit, perhaps rolling for armour penetration for each weapon that hit, getting a critical hit count, and resolving those criticals. It's still not as fast as I'd like, but it's a lot faster while retaining flavour. (I didn't want just to knock off armour points until someone ran out, or use a simple OK, damaged, destroyed damage resolution.)

Record sheets are generated pre-game by my software. You could do it by hand, but I really wouldn't recommend it. The software runs off the XML data files used by Solaris Skunk Werks, which is a pretty decent 'Mech designer but more importantly for my purposes has pretty much all the designs in a machine-readable format. It does all the conversions to Tin Soldier stats, and produces a record sheet that's ready to play.

For example, it works out the average armour protection you'll encounter (based on the BattleTech hit location table), and makes that the single armour stat. It works out the likelihood of hitting each critical location (based on its size and location), and generates a custom critical hit chart (which effectively includes hit location). To resolve a critical, you just make a single d1000 roll.

The other major change from BattleTech is a complete revamping of the initiative system. This is something I pinched from Ashley Pollard: each element on the board has a card, and there are two jokers as well. When you turn up a card, that unit activates (and moves, fires, or does whatever else it's going to do). When you turn up the second joker, the turn ends, and anyone who hasn't activated yet is out of luck.

And then because I've been playing Chain of Command lately I put in a way for commanders to get their subordinates to do extra actions.

Overall, while I'd hoped to pitch it at company-scale battles (12 on 12 units), it's still happier at the 4-vs-4 level. But I'm really quite surprised at how happy I am with this system.

It's still a work in progress, but I don't expect any more huge changes. Right now it supports original BattleTech (the "introductory rules level" in current terminology); there's some mention of advanced technology, but I'm bringing that in gradually. That's likely to be the subject of the next few updates.

If giant stompy robots interest you, give it a try. It's free (CC-BY-SA). There's been a bit of chat about it on, or you can comment here.

See also:
What's Wrong with BattleTech?

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