BattleTech offers a huge number of options to customize your play experience, but it’s player base hasn’t really coalesced around a common set of options to use. Every local group of players seems to have their own sets of rules and era preferences that they use in their games. That customization is a strength of the game, but it can also be confusing if you’re a new player and trying to figure out how to get started on building up a force of your own or getting advice on how to play.
Standard game formats offer a way to simplify all those options into a smaller number of choices. Each game format establishes a common set of expectations between players so that it is easier to talk about different ways to play the game. Warhammer 40,000 and Magic the Gathering both make use of formats. For Warhammer, each seasonal mission pack is a set of formats for the different game sizes. For Magic, formats cover which selections of cards can be used but also vary the game in other ways with formats like Commander.
The idea of formats for BattleTech has come up a few times in conversations I’ve had recently. I don’t think there is ever going to be a single format that will be what every player wants, but I think BattleTech could benefit from having a set of widely used game formats that offer a range of different play experiences. As a result, I’ve been doing some research to see what’s already out there and thinking about other format possibilities.
For BattleTech, a format needs to provide three things. A format has rules for force building. It answers which units can be used by a player and what constraints are on their list. A format specifies which set of rules are in play during a game. Total Warfare serves as a baseline for BattleTech, but there are a lot of official optional rules and house rules out there, and in order for a format to work, it needs to get players on the same page about exactly which rules get used for it. Lastly, a format should offer scenarios. At the most basic, this might just be a standup fight, but preferably each format would offer at least a few different scenarios so that players can have some variety within the format.
BattleTech Championship Circuit
The Championship Circuit is a new tournament format that is premiering at the Atlantic City Open. Player forces are limited to 6,500 BV and only the ’Mech and Elemental record sheets contained in the free Force Packs pdfs (Wave One, Wave Two, and Wolf’s Dragoons). MechWarriors are upgraded for no BV cost to 3/4 and one can be upgraded to be more elite at a BV cost. That free pilot upgrade means that forces are actually equal to 8,580 BV if playing without the upgrade. For rules, the format sticks pretty close to standard Total Warfare rules. For speed reasons, it combines target declaration and attack resolution. Then it makes use of the Forced Withdrawal and Battlefield Support rules. The packet then contains six scenarios that look like they offer a good mix of objectives other than just destroying the opposing force: First Contact, Asset Containment, Take and Hold, Base Assault, and Send Them Packing.
Alpha Strike 350
As the name says, Alpha Strike 350 is a format for Alpha Strike rather than Total Warfare, but it is a good example of a format that seems to be gaining traction. It was created by the folks at WolfNet Radio for use as a standard Alpha Strike tournament format. For force building, it has an interesting system where a player brings a 350 point force and then picks a 200 point subset of it to use for each game. Similar to the Championship Circuit format, it sticks fairly close to the Alpha Strike rules with only a small number of the official options in use. The format includes five different scenarios that are meant to be randomly picked: Capture the Flag, Stand Up Fight, Domination, King of the Hill, and Rampage.
Brooklyn BattleTech 10k
Written for the Brooklyn BattleTech Meetup group, this format is a good example of one that isn’t geared toward tournament play. They’ve settled on 10,000 BV, but the format is fairly restrictive with forces needing to be 3-6 units. Their group brings in a few more optional rules than the Championship Circuit set but still sticks pretty close to standard Total Warfare rules. Their packet features six different scenarios: Standup Fight, Assassination, Breakthrough & Pursuit, Map Control, Recon Raid, and Extraction Raid.
Death from Above House Rules
The folks at Death from Above Wargaming share the set of house rules and scenarios that they like to use. Their rule packet is a bigger departure from the standard rules. They include more house rules and focus on playing without hexes. They also have a scenario pack that can be used for either BattleTech or Alpha Strike and features a dozen scenarios: Area Denial, Battle Lines, Conquest, Escort, Intercept, Linebreaker, Pitched Battle, Recon, Seek & Destroy, Seize Ground, Supply Chain, and Take & Hold. Personally, I think their options fall short of a true format since they don’t have standardized force construction rules, but that would be fairly easy to add on top of what they already offer.
This format shared by Stuart March at the ComStar blog is focused on playing mercenary forces. It includes a lot of options to play with different tech levels and optional rules, and it has six included scenarios that seem to offer a lot of variety. It takes some ideas from the BTCC format including free skill upgrades and sharing the same 6,500 BV limit for its higher tech options.
There are a few older event formats that have been used at gaming conventions and for in-store events they run that are available as downloads from Sarna. These are fairly specific tournament types that include Classic BattleTech Open, Gunslinger Tournament, Trial of Bloodright, Grand Melee, and Solaris Melee Challenge. In some of these, players are subject to different force building rules each round of the event and in others players only use a single ’Mech. While these sound fun for special events, I think they fall short of a format that could be widely used.
Do you have a standard game setup that your play group uses? Are you aware of other formats that I’ve missed? Would you want to see more formats shared by fans?
For me personally, I don’t think any of these quite hit the spot for my more narrative playstyle, but I’m interested in trying out some games with the Championship Circuit and Alpha Strike 350. I’ve also had some ideas bouncing around my head for some casual play formats that I might publish here at some point.
Update 2022-9-17: I’ve added BattleTech Mercenaries as another format.