It is a great time to get into BattleTech. The game is enjoying a renaissance with updated miniatures, regular product releases, new novels, and the setting moving into a new era.
BattleTech is a tabletop game centered on 12 meter tall war machines known as ’Mechs. Piloted by talented MechWarriors, these giant walking tanks dominate the battlefield of the far future. They are powered by fusion reactors and armed with lasers, missile launchers, autocannons, and particle cannons. Sometimes they even have giant axes or swords. While ’Mechs are the game’s main focus, it also supports other types of units like infantry, tanks, helicopters, and aerospace fighters.
The game was first published by FASA in the early 80s, but it has changed hands a few times over the decades since then. The current publisher is Catalyst Game Labs. Despite the passage of time and changing of hands, the actual rules for BattleTech have remained fairly stable. That stability is one of the great things about the game because it means that your investment in learning the game and buying products isn’t likely to get disrupted by the release of a new version that makes drastic changes or invalidates old supplements.
The main way that the game has been updated over the years is by exploring its setting. BattleTech was originally set in roughly the year 3025. Centuries before then, humanity had invented jump drives and expanded outward from Terra to colonize a broad area of space known as the Inner Sphere. After some turmoils, the many worlds were united under the banner of the Star League, but that golden age ended in 2766 when the First Lord was assassinated and the five Great Houses fought three devastating wars as each tried to claim the throne. By 3025, humanity had slid backwards and many wonders from the Star League were lost.
From that starting point, BattleTech’s setting has now moved forward in time 125 years. Star League technology started to be recovered, a Fourth Succession War was fought, the long-lost descendants of the Star League Defense Force returned to invade the Inner Sphere, techno-religious zealots unleashed a decade of mass destruction, the faster than light communications network was destroyed, and more. The great thing about BattleTech though is that even though the setting moves forward, the game continues to support playing in any era. In fact, supplements have even explored earlier times like the Age of War before the rise of the Star League, the Star League itself, and the devastation of the First and Second Succession Wars.
How to Play
There are already a lot of great resources for learning how to play BattleTech, so I’m not going to write much about how to actually play here. Instead, here are some of the existing resources that I think are good starting points:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Classic Battletech
- BattleTech Quick-Start Rules
- How to Play BattleTech in 30 Minutes
- BattleTech: How to Play Series
What to Buy?
The minimal set of items to play BattleTech is really just a rulebook, a couple of six-sided dice, a hex map sheet, record sheets, and some tokens to mark unit positions on the map.
The Beginner Box is designed as a first purchase. It comes with a simplified set of rules (the Quick-Start Rules linked above), map sheets, dice, simplified record sheets, two miniatures, and cardboard standees for additional ’Mechs. It is designed to teach you the basics of how to play, but has the downside that the rules are simplified. It is also currently hard to find due to the pandemic and resulting shipping crisis, but hopefully the supply issues will be better by the end of this year.
A Game of Armored Combat is the next step up from the Beginner Box. It is designed as a standalone product and includes everything that you need to play even if you don’t already have the Beginner Box. Its rulebook is the standard BattleTech rules rather than a simplified version. It also includes 8 miniatures which is enough to get you and an opponent playing 4-vs-4 games. Like the Beginner Box, it is currently hard to find due to the current global shipping problems.
If you can find either one of those boxes, then they are the starting points that I’d recommend. If you can’t, then you can still get what you need to start playing other ways. Standalone rulebooks are available for sale as either physical books or pdfs. The core rulebook is Total Warfare which covers the rules for ’Mechs, infantry, combat vehicles, aerospace fighers, and more. An alternative rulebook option is the BattleMech Manual. It only includes the rules for ’Mechs, but that allows it to be more streamlined and include some more recent tech and optional rules that aren’t in Total Warfare. Hex maps are also available including both paper sets and neoprene battlemats. For record sheets and tokens, you can download printable versions for the ’Mechs included in A Game of Armored Combat directly here. While buying the pieces separately isn’t as nice as a box set, it is enough for you to start playing and none of it is a wasted purchase if you pick up a box set later once they’re back in stock.
If you want to know more about products that you could pick up after those first steps, then this post contains a good summary of the different products available: How do I get into BattleTech?
- Official BattleTech Site The game’s official site with news, forums, and downloads
- Catalyst Game Labs Store CGL’s web store for physical and pdf products
- Master Unit List A reference site containing information about every canon unit
- Camo Specs Online A guide to canon unit color schemes
- Unit Color Compendium An alternative guide to unit color schemes
- Sarna BattleTech Wiki A wiki that includes an expansive amount of information about BattleTech
- Fortress Miniatures & Games A web store that carries a lot of BattleTech products
- Aries Games & Miniatures Another web store that focuses on BattleTech
- Iron Wind Metals Manufacturer for metal BattleTech miniatures
- DriveThruRPG A web store for gaming pdfs