One of the games on my bookshelf is BattleTech. It’s a strategy game where players control opposing forces of mechs, battle armor, tanks, helicopters, and other units. It was originally developed by FASA, but the game has changed ownership several times and the books are now published by Catalyst Game Labs.
How I Started Playing
Some time in middle school, I got a the boxed set as a gift. I think it was the 3rd edition box, but I’m not completely sure. Over the next few years, I picked up a handful of the Technical Readout books which contain statistics for new mechs, tanks, hovercraft, etc. On Boy Scout camp trips, BattleTech was one of a handful of games that I’d play with fellow scouts during the evenings. In the eight years since high school graduation, I really haven’t played much but I recently picked up the new edition of the rules and I’m hoping to play a few games sometime soon.
BattleTech is primarily set in the 31st century after humans have colonized a large section of the galaxy known as the Inner Sphere. The political situation of the Inner Sphere is quite complicated, which ensures that in any given era of its history there are several hot spots where battles are happening which is perfect for a war game. Despite the vast array of worlds included in the Inner Sphere, BattleTech does not feature any aliens instead offering only different cultures of humans.
As source books are released, the setting timeline advances which means that there are always new story possibilities to explore and new technology available to your forces. The current books are set during a conflict known as the Jihad where a quasi-religious group known as the Word of Blake goes to war against every other major power in the Inner Sphere while simultaneously working to get its enemies to fight one another. Catalyst also publishes the occasional scenario book set in BattleTech’s rich past, generally covering famous wars and battles.
BattleTech is more detailed than other war games that I have played. The amount of bookkeeping involved in game play makes it somewhat slow moving with new players (or old players that have been away a while), but with experience players, games can move at a pretty good pace. The detail level is also rewarding because it allows for a wide range of tactical situations and a gritty feeling during game play as your mechs lose limbs and struggle to stay in the fight. By default, the game uses map sheets with hexagonal grids, but for players who prefer miniatures there are conversion rules to allow playing on 3D terrain instead.
Another great aspect of BattleTech is that it is part of a continuum of several games that allow “zooming” between them and cover every scale from single pilots outside of their mechs to large-scale conflicts. In addition to the standard BattleTech game, the other offerings are a A Time of War (role-playing game), BattleForce (large-scale combat), AeroTech (aerospace fighters), and BattleSpace (warships). The new edition of the rulebooks from Catalyst do a much better job of showcasing this since all of the rules are in the same series of books rather than marketed as separate games.
How to Get Started
Unfortunately, there isn’t an in-print boxed set right now, but a new version is supposed to be “coming soon.” While that would be the ideal starting point for a new player, there are free quick start rules available online. If you decide that the game is worth more investment, the best purchases would be Total Warfare and Technical Readout: 3039 which will provide all of the core rules as well as a wide selection of units to use.
Classic BattleTech: Catalyst Game Lab’s official BattleTech site, classicbattletech.com offers news and forums. The site also contains a bunch of free downloads, including quick start rules (found here).
BattleTech Wiki: This unofficial wiki offers a ton of information on BattleTech’s setting.