Why you should play Battletech

Why You Should Play BattleTech by Harlan McGlinchey

Part the first:

BattleTech! What a name. BattleTech is a bit of an oddity in gaming. While not being quite the household name that Games Workshop's Warhammer games are it is nonetheless a very well known franchise. It even got an animated show! And it wasn't entirely awful! Not many tabletop wargames can claim that. It seems to be a game that exists on many gamers peripheral vision. I have often heard it said of BattleTech that while one might be glad of its continued existence in gaming, one is probably not prepared to invest the effort to actually play it. I find this view rather compelling.

 

There are plenty of games I’m not interested in playing and would care little if they were to disappear but to enjoy the existence of something without actively taking part in it seems to suggest to me there is more going on here. This view would appear to say that by merely existing BattleTech enriches the landscape of gaming, as only giant robots from an 80’s vision of the far future can. Perhaps it is a reassuring presence on the gaming shop shelf, giving the hobby, in the same way early editions of Dungeons and Dragons can, a sense of time and of heritage; the bewildering array of rule and source books, the odd slightly wonky ‘Mech peering at you from the dusty yellowed confines of a neglected blister pack “He looks a decent sort, that wonky robot.” you think to yourself “One just doesn't have the time to get to know him.” However, as with a fascinating auld yin propping up a bar with wit and improbable stories, perhaps you should make time.

 

This very view of BattleTech is, of course, exactly why you should invest in BattleTech. You have to wonder just why this curious game has lasted as long as it has, clutching at the fringes of mainstream gaming (and it really has been precarious at times). It rather helps that BattleTech is about giant robots engaging in regular Pacific Rim smack-downs. I think all gamers can agree it is very hard for a giant robot to be a bad thing but there has to be more to it; BattleMechs haven’t always been the only robots smashing up the block but none can claim to have been doing it for as long.

 

For games to last the test of time I believe they need something beyond good, or even aggressive, marketing. They need soul. They need heart. BattleTech's, like all good games, comes from the stories you create with it. Think of your gaming stories. The anecdotes we tell to convey just how amazing a certain game was and how fantastic this hobby is. There are stories we tell years after the event because they still entertain us, stories we use to connect with old friends and imbue new ones with enthusiasm for our favourite games. Stories are a hugely important part of life, the hobby at large and, of course, these stories are just as important in wargames.

 

Think of your wargaming stories. How many of those stories are "Remember when that grunt survived longer than he should have." or “Remember when my space troopers shot that monster and I rolled all those 6’s.”? There’s nothing wrong with these, such moments of daft improbability create interesting tactical choices and ratchet up the tension in a game but in all my years of wargaming (since I was 6) they tend to all sound pretty similar. Sure, BattleTech has those moments too but it also has moments where you shoot the head off a ‘Mech, tear its arm off then beat its friends with the oily end. It has moments where out of sheer desperation you drive a tank off a cliff to crush the ‘Mech stood below. Moments when after your ‘Mech has been pummelled and fallen to the ground, the enemy moves in for the kill and you fire your jump jets at it, like some sort of robot death fart, melting its legs and leading to a robot cripple death match as you both flail around on the ground next to each other. Moments when your opponents cries of joy at hitting your ‘Mech’s ammunition bin turn to wails of anguish as they realise their ‘Mech gets caught in the blast. Perhaps importantly all these things are driven by player choice. The dice provide some unpredictability but you chose to beat a robot to death with its own limb or to wrestle a tank turret. Even when you fail it still builds on the story and there are pretty much always consequences; player choice and game mechanics meshing to paint a picture of ridiculous feudalistic robot warfare.

 

It’s a funny game. One of the funniest I've ever played. Every game seems to turn up some sort of noteworthy event and every game makes me laugh. I laugh when I’m winning. I laugh when I’m losing. At the same time it manages to be a very atmospheric game. The ‘Mechs feel like lumbering armoured behemoths, they feel like they could lay waste to a city. Campaign play increases the scope of your narrative and has you managing your pilots, watching MechWarrior Jimmy work his way up the ranks and the techs cobbling repairs together for his ‘Mech. Gamers have been making stories with BattleTech for more than twenty five years and I plan to tell many more of my own. Perhaps you should too, it’s easier than you probably think it is and I’ll be explaining just how easy and looking into the mechanics of the game for the next part.

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