Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BattleMech Manual Book Review

Hey Game Fans, we’re back with a look at a new idea for a game that’s near and dear to our hearts. The wonderful folks at Catalyst Game Labs (producers of a host of interesting and exciting games including Shadowrun, Valiant Universe Roleplaying, and Battletech to name a few) have taken an extremely hard look at Battletech and put together a new book for that game.  Let’s take a closer look at the ideation and the implementation of the BattleMech Manual, and see what treasures we can find in its pages.  


The opening few pages of the book ( up to about page 9 or so) break down all of the typical components you can expect to interact with in a Battletech game.  Further, the terms are broken down and explained in a very friendly manner for new players.  The authors wrote this book with a clear goal of stripping out rules that are extremely situational and only come up in a blue moon, and they have written an extremely clear introduction to basic game terms and playing pieces.  New players should pay very close attention to any brightly colored sidebar (like the blue one that lists terrain type) while reading through the rules.

This introduction is awesome for a new player because it will walk you through every part of a Battlemech Record Sheet, and all of the things that can trip up a new player.  Further, any terminology or jargon that doesn’t make sense is found right here within the first section of the book, which means i don’t have to go hopping through two or three different chapters in different books to identify terms or situations.  

Playing the Game

Battletech is not the easiest game in the world to get into, and it’s rules complexity is one of the key barriers to entry for new players.  This section of the book covers in 3 pages the complete turn cycle and the way to start and finish a game.  I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to explain the turn sequence in that span of pages, but they did.  Each phase of the turn is covered in greater detail in the following sections of the book, and let’s cover those briefly.  

Remember that the BattleMech Manual is written with a focus on BattleMechs and how they interact with the game environment, so other units and the differences in their rules are not covered in this book.  For that, you will need to reference either Total Warfare, or one of the other books in the series.

Movement Phase

The Movement Phase covers every aspect of moving your giant robots around the playing field.  From the basics of interacting with terrain, how Movement Points work, and a host of other movement related rules and ideas, this section has you covered.  It also features optional rules for hidden units, picking things up, and some other situational things.

Combat Phase

Because this is a war game at its heart, it’s a fair expectation that the rules for breaking other people’s toys would be both robust and complex.  The BattleMech Manual lives up to this expectation, with explanations for Line of Sight, rolling dice, and putting holes in other robots.  There are a lot of options for putting the hurt on your opponent, and this section adequately covers most of the odd situations that come up in a normal game.  This section has my new favorite acronym in a game manual for 2017 (so far) GATOR.  GATOR is the method of determining the Target Number you need to roll on 2D6 to hit an opponent, and it’s one of the easiest things in the world to remember.  


Not a phase of its own, but Damage is a critical concept that will come up time and time again in Battletech.  It’s got a step by step Question and Answer method of determining damage resolution and a really easy to read flowchart.  Between both, you should be able to handle even the most complicated damage resolution situations you can run into.  It also features a wonderful explanation of how critical hits work, and what they’re going to do to your units.


Heat is an interesting concept that cause a lot of trouble for battleMechs.  The short explanation is that every unit generates waste heat by walking around, jumping over things, and shooting guns at other units.  Avoid fires, lava, and other things that are hot, and you can do a job of managing heat more effectively.  Excess heat can cause your battleMechs to shut down, their ammo to cook off, and a host of other problems.  Heat’s an essential part of the Battletech game, and it’s covered very well in the manual.  

Other Actions

There are a few other critical things that can happen during game play (Piloting Skill Rolls are a prime example) but don’t have a specific phase of their own.  This section covers the specifics of how those actions work and the situations that cause them to happen.  If you’ve been reading this book in sequence, then all of the rules you’ve been covering build off of each other, and this section fills in the special cases.  

The Battlefield

There is an amazing array of potential battlefields and planetary conditions that can affect a game of Battletech, and this section covers everything but Urban Combat (which follows in the section after it).  If you’re interested in unusual battlefields, odd weather, and a host of other crazy things (like heavy snowfall or storms), this section covers everything you could want for bizarre weather or terrain.

Urban Combat

This section covers all of the special case rules that apply to city fighting and what happens when you slam a 70 ton battlemech into a 2 story building.  Cities are an essential part of the Battletech combat experience, and this section features all of the rules you’re going to need to put your units into the thick of an urban sprawl to take the planet.

Special Case Rules

The Special Case Rules covers virtually every other situation you can encounter playing Battletech in 95% of the games you’re going to play.  From Forced Withdrawal to Orbital Insertions, the rules are here to support what unusual changes you might want to incorporate into your game.  The key things that i absolutely love about this section are the Battlefield Support Rules and the Design Quirks.  

Battlefield Support Rules incorporate Aerospace Fighter Support, Artillery, and MineFields as purchasable upgrades that a player can pick before the game starts.  These have been a part of the game since its earliest days, but this is one of the first times i have seen an easy way to integrate these rules into a “standard” game of Battletech.  Battletech is a game of complexities and interactions, but the BSR ease back on the complexities and make the game easier to play while adding in additional elements.  Absolutely neat way of integrating things.
Design Quirks have also been talked about forever, and the advanced rules from the Strategic Operations book brought them into the game.  What the BattleMech Manual has done is it simplifies and includes them into the rules, and tells you which Quirks apply to which Battlemechs.  Technical Readouts and other sourcebooks have talked about certain battlemechs having different capabilities and situations as design features, but i am very happy to finally have a master list of the Quirks for each unit.  

Weapons & Equipment

This section covers a comprehensive list of the weapons and equipment you’ll encounter playing Battletech.  It features the specific rules for equipment by type, and changes to the way they interact with the normal rules, and special situations that crop up with unusual gear.  Equipment for both the Inner Sphere and the Clans are included, along with the big charts of ranges, heat, and damage values. It’s got a great big assortment of gear, but doesn’t include the construction rules (which i’m hoping come as a second short form rulebook sometime next year if this works out).  

Common Misconceptions

The book closes out with a brief rundown of some of the most common rules mistakes/readings that have crop up in Battletech from time to time.  It does a fine job of clearing up all of those misconceptions and misunderstandings in an extremely friendly way.  I might have titled this section “No, You’re Doing it Wrong,” but the explanations are easy to grab hold of and clear up a lot of individual interpretations in the rules.  

OMG Charts and Sheets

It’s a Battletech book, and it wouldn’t feel right without the charts and references for all of the rules featured other places in the book.  It also includes a new mission tracking sheet that incorporates all of the rules featured in this book.  These are excellent references and i hope that Catalyst puts together a chart pack for this book as they have with other books in their product line.  


From start to finish this book has a single driving directive.  Make Battletech available to as many people as you can by simplifying and clarifying rules that focus on the marquee units in the game, Battlemechs.  Everything in this book is built around this concept and works to support and push that agenda aggressively.  It works on a fundamental level, and it covers a lot of ground in not a lot of space.  A 150 pages for a rule book requires a level of concise writing and severe editing to make sure that every word on the page counts for a topic as complex as Battletech.  I like the book a lot, and i know that by the time it reaches full production grade, it will have any typos and issues corrected and it will be as correct as it can be.  

I am a little sad they omitted the Special Pilot Abilities rules because they are one of the things that definitely brings me back to reading the stories about Battletech and the Mechwarriors that can perform impossible feats on the battlefield.  If that is my only complaint about the book at this time, then i think they have succeeded admirably at their intended goals.  

I’m hoping this book comes in around $40, because it would pair with the Battletech Starter set for an even $100.  That seems like a lot, but is comparable to other starter sets for miniature games.  If it comes in under that price, that’s just extra good.  

Those are my thoughts on this new BattleMech Manual, and i hope they give you a good feel for what you can expect from this product.  Bear in mind i am working off of their beta release, so things might change between now and the final release, so don’t scream at me if things have moved around.  Game On, Game Fans.  

No comments:

Post a Comment