Welcome back to another exciting edition of Battletech. So far i've reviewed the introductory box, and that's a wonderful place to start learning the rules and setting for battletech, but where does one go from here?
There are 8 current core books for the setting with at least one more coming in the near future. Let's talk about them, after all, that's why we're here.
This is the primary rulebook that most players will need to continue learning battletech. It contains movement and combat rules for all of the traditional units you'll find in the game, (Warships are not counted as traditional in this environment due to their limited interactivity with the ground game and their in universe scarcity). It contains advanced weapon systems and options for playing randomly generated scenarios.
One of the key elements that has always drawn me back to battletech is the ability to construct your own units. Each chapter of this book contains the construction rules for a different combat unit and at least three different step by step examples of those rules in action. Battletech shares its technology tree fairly well, as the same weapons and equipment are designed for use on a wide array of vehicles, so you can see the same "medium laser" applied across combat vehicles, aerospace fighters, and battlemechs. The in universe model of medium laser may vary, but the game statistics are the same.
I like to think of this book as the advanced rules for battletech, and that's a fairly apt descriptor. This book adds in rules for advanced movement options, buildings, terrain, and weather features to your game. Did you ever wonder how you fight out a battle on an airless moon while a volcano is erupting? This is your book. It also contains a large assortment of advanced equipment that you can use to further customize and create your own units.
Strategic Operations is the first book that really takes a look at campaign style play. You can play a series of linked games that use the same units and can replay historic scenarios and devise new ones. This provides the rules for repair and customization, as well as integrating warships into the game's system. Did you want to calculate the time it would take for your forces to arrive on world after jumping in at a pirate point? This book handles that level of detail. It also contains the Battleforce rule set which allows for playing games with larger groupings of units at a manageable speed.
Interstellar Operations (Not out yet, but there was a beta that was available)
This is the last scale of play for battletech and contains the rules systems to be able to control an entire interstellar empire (any of the five successor states, the periphery powers, or the clans) and lead them to war against other empires. The thing that i am curious to see about this game is its scaling. Battletech has always intended for these rules to scale up or down, and that with a little bit of work you could scale your battleforce level game down to individual 'mech on 'mech combat using total warfare. This book is also expected to contain advanced equipment and units from the all of the battle tech eras.
Those comprise the core battletech game, but wait, there's more.
A Time of War:
This is the battletech role-playing game, (yes, they make a role-playing game). It contains all of the rules needed to create your own character to interact with the battletech universe in just about any way you can imagine. Character creation has two different approaches, and i have run several reasonably successful campaigns using the character module system. The book has a lot of options, and contains options for converting back and forth between the RPG system and the board game system (There's a lot of overlap between them).
A Time of War Companion:
Much like Tactical Operations is the advanced supplement for Total Warfare, the companion volume for A Time of War adds a host of options for advanced level game play. It also incorporates a bunch of interesting plants and animals for the RPG to encounter along with a system for quickly making NPCs.
Alpha Strike is a quick playing miniature war game set in the battletech universe. it uses Battletech miniatures and more traditional war game elements (terrain, measurement equipment) to weave together a quick playing game that uses company level engagements as the suggested starting point. A company vs. company engagement that utilizes the total warfare rules is likely an all day affair and will eat a lot of table space. Alpha Strike play uses a simplified record sheet for each unit and rapidly speeds up the game by simplifying actions.
Alpha Strike Companion:
This book contains supplemental rules for the game that explain a lot of the advanced technology that can be utilized in the game and provides the basis of force construction rules. The part that i truly like about the construction rules is that they give mechanical benefits for grouping appropriate units together, especially in setting approved sizes. The basic unit grouping is a lance, and the system has benefits for the player who builds his force out of lances and further augments them with special rules. The book also contains quirks and other 'mech specific traits and special pilot abilities.
These 9 books represent the core rules for the games that are available for the battletech universe, and for the most part, the three branches can work independently of each other to a point. You can run an A Time of War game that doesn't focus on 'mechs, and the game does not punish you for it. It does have all the rules should you decide to go the other way and make it a 'mech campaign. The Alpha Strike rules don't require any knowledge of the total warfare rules to play, but i think the knowledge that there are other options available for a change of pace is very handy.