Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Interstellar Operations Book Review

Hey Battletech Fans, we’re back with our next book review.  We’re doing these in reverse order, so today we’re going to be covering Interstellar Operations (IO).   IO is full of interesting, optional rules and ways to play the game. It covers alternate historical eras of Battletech, strange technologies that are from those eras, and a couple of new and interesting ways to play Battletech.  Bear in mind that most of the technologies are covered in other sourcebooks, so if you’d been a faithful collector of the Battletech source material, you have probably seen this information before.  Having it all collected in one place is a wonderful index to finding the exact piece of tech you’re looking for and a discussion for the era surrounding it.  The second half of the book covers some advanced game ideas and a couple of gaming subsystems that can affect the way you play Battletech.  Without further ado, let’s dive right in.  


The introduction of this book covers a couple of important considerations for players who want to take these rules for a test drive.  These are the advanced rules, and in most games of Battletech, they probably aren’t going  to come up unless you are specifically using them.  Battletech is a game that you should probably be playing with other people, so keep in mind you may have to figure out where rules intersect in an unexpected way.  You’ve been given your heads up, so be social and friendly while you are exploring this particularly advanced rules set.  

The other consideration is the difference between the fiction and the rules.  Battletech is a fictional universe (spoiler alert).  Fiction and art do a fine job of bringing the universe to life, and in the same way that an action movie tells an exciting story that looks like a way the real world could happen, the fiction for Battletech does the same thing.  The rules are always going to trump what happens in the fiction and art surrounding the game.  There are a lot of things we wish hadn’t happened in the fiction that were translated into the game (Engines going super-nuclear and the use of jump jets as a melee weapon are two examples).  

The first real chapter of the book is a breakdown of the historic eras of Battletech.  In each era, a brief discussion of the major events and powers of the era is included, as are technological innovations and major uses of military technology.  The sub-eras are also included for larger groupings of time, and can showcase major differences.  For example, the Star League era is very different during the Age of War sub-era than it is at its end during the Fall of the Star League sub-era.  

This is a thick chapter that you probably shouldn’t try to read from start to finish.  I suggest you look for the era you’re interest in, jot down the notes you need, and move on.  This book isn’t going anywhere, so you can use to reference whatever odd historical or technical point you need.  This book will serve you as a historical reference for the current printed range of Battletech’s history, and for that we definitely think it’s a must include.

My personal favorite thing in this section is the Universal Technology Advancement table.  I call it the Peacemaker, because it is a master table of when every single of neat technology was introduced in universe, for both the Inner Sphere and the Clans.  It will settle arguments for days.  
The next chapter of this book (and it’s a big one) covers the alternate equipment that’s available by era.  Personally, i like the inclusion of all this technology into one easily referenced tome.  It’s a one stop shopping experience for all the weird, customized one off tech trees that showed up at various times.  Included are new and returning combat unit designs (including quadmechs, LAMs, and Superheavies), new systems like radical heat sinks and robots, and a host of other options.  For the fans who look at Battletech as a historical game, this allows them to field period appropriate refits and options for units across the whole history of the game (so far).

This section contains all of the game rules for both play and construction, so you can customize your units or build entirely new engines of destruction.  This is going to sound a bit like a broken record, but i am very happy that i can grab one book off of my shelf to look up the odd tech rather than having to dig through five different sourcebooks hoping that i grabbed the right one.  For the tinkerer and the experimenter, this is a welcome addition to the rules provided in the Techmanual.  As we stated with the chapter on historical eras, this really isn’t a chapter to consume all at once, so grab an era you’re interested in and see what technology comes out to play.  

The first two chapters of this book weigh in at an impressive 200 pages.  Make no mistake that these are the most comprehensive compilation of historical eras and equipment we’ve seen in the Battletech universe.  Other books will cover specific information in greater detail, but for quick snapshots of what’s going and what tech is around, you can’t beat Interstellar Operations.  

The back half of the book contains three different rules sets.  It has Strategic Battleforce, the Abstract Combat System, and Inner Sphere at War.  Each of these is a different way to play in  the Battletech universe, with increasing scales to meet player design.  If you ever played a lance vs. lance conflict in Battletech and wondered, what would a game with battalion vs. battalion look like, this is a section of this book that you will find priceless.

Strategic Battleforce can be thought of as a counterpoint to the Alpha Strike game that Catalyst has also produced.  They share similar terms and sense of scale, and you can comfortably play company vs. company or battalion vs. battalion scale games without any problems.  You will need to convert your units to the appropriate scale in order to make use of these rules, but there is an entire chapter on conversions in this book.  The Strategic scale makes large scale battles manageable for players that don’t have weekends and dining halls to set up games in.  

Battletech as a spectrum of gaming, has always tried to give players options to move between scales easily.  This book has most of the rules that you need to make that happen.  Converting between Strategic Battleforce, Battletech, and Alpha Strike are all viable options within the framework this book gives you to work with.  Tinker with the conversion systems, and see what interesting unit combinations you can come up with.  

The Abstract combat system takes what could be an inordinately complicated series of interactions between combat units from a variety of different arms spread across star systems and distills into a single game turn of actions.  For the players who are looking at Battletech as a macro-level combat exercise between successor houses and clans, this is an excellent way to provide an abstract solution to this scale.  Playing Battletech at the Total Warfare level with this scale would take multiple games (possibly dozens) spread across multiple weeks of time.  

As a time saving tool, the Abstract Combat System is without equal, and you can have a lot of fun playing out the historical wars at this level.  Instead of worrying about the individual battles of the shootout on Misery, you can play the entire campaign in an afternoon.  If that is an idea that interests you, then this rules set is for you.

The last major game system in this book is the Inner Sphere at War, and it’s weighty.  This game gives players the ability to take command of entire successor states or clans and vie for control of the Inner Sphere.  This isn’t a scale of companies or battalions.  This isn’t even the scale of Regimental Combat Teams or Brigades.  This is total command of the entire military might of a Great House and putting it to the test against one of its neighbors.  

Beyond the military struggle, this is also a game of economy and logistics. Taking the fight to your enemies across the whole of human occupied space is going to require a thinking cap, and i hope you brought yours for this one.  

The book closes out with the record sheets needed to make use of the more complex rules systems and charts for the new technology.  I do love seeing a table that has a heading like “Standard Nuclear Weaponry”.  For the fan who’s looking to take Battletech to its most extreme potentials, this book is an essential guide to the history and the technology of the battletech universe.  I think it definitely meets the operational definition of an essential book for this game.

Interstellar Operations retails for $59.99 and can be found at the following places on the internet, though we do hope you can find a copy at your local game shop.

Interstellar Operations is available from the following eBook/PDF vendors:
Unable to find the book at your local game store? Order direct:

That’s all for this book review game fans, so we’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our review of Strategic Operations.  

Game On, Game Fans

If you haven't all ready voted in our poll to see what Era of Battletech we cover next, feel free to vote up here on the right side. 

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