Thursday 29 September 2022

Epic & Battletech

This week I picked up the starter box for Classic Battletech, mainly because I had the sudden urge to paint some lumbering mechs. 

Now I've painted them and about an hour before I posted this I bought 8 more Mechs because I'm hooked. 

Rough and ready table-quality style as always. It's the only style I can do!

But before I talk about Battletech I'm afraid I have to talk about Games Workshop. 

Buckle up, it's another one of those posts where I reminisce about my childhood discovery of tabletop games.

I came into Games Workshop games at an interesting time in their history. Like the last days of the Wild West. 

The focus was clearly on Warhammer 40k and Fantasy Battles, but in the catalogues I'd see adverts for relics from the past. Man o'War, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl. Weird stuff that would tease me from catalogue pages, but remain trapped in the past. 

But this Epic game was still being talked about a little in White Dwarf. 

No wait, was it two games? There were two boxed sets you could buy. One presumably about Titans, one about Space Marines. 

Now I'll confess that as a 10-year old with my head in the clouds, I didn't fully understand the concept of these games being a different scale. At first I wondered if these tanks were just as big as 40k tanks but... photographed from far away.

No, I don't know what I was thinking either, but it would have made for a very heavy box. 

At 6mm scale it covered everything from squads of tiny soldiers up to the famously huge Titans, with a heap of interesting stuff in between. This was before my prized Eldar really had many vehicle miniatures at 40k scale, so it was neat to see a full fleet of grav-tanks and war machines in their style. Dumb stuff like the squat land train and ork battlewagons with claws and death rollers obviously appealed to me. 

Because I was still making my first forays into 28mm I think I put Epic aside in my head. I certainly didn't feel confident enough at painting to tackle those tiny little troopers. Maybe something to come back to in a few years. 

But soon it would be gone. 

Over the next few years GW's rules would get tidied up a lot and the settings given a more straight-faced delivery. 28mm scale would also claim dominance. Of course there was the heavily promoted, streamlined last-hurrah, Epic 40,000 but that seemed to appear and vanish before I could even give it any attention.

Sometimes I'd think about it, though, or dip into the surviving Epic community online.  

Now, it's a running joke among wargamers that as you get older you move to increasingly tiny scales, but after my recent dips into 10mm scale fantasy I've finally taken the plunge into 6mm, but not through Epic. 

I was always aware of Battletech, but it never caught my eye. I knew the Mechwarrior PC games and I knew it was an old, complicated wargame. I became interested when I heard there was a new(ish) rules-lite version of their game called Alpha Strike which let you field a handful of mechs with some infantry and vehicles on the side. Perhaps I could finally scratch that Epic itch. 

But the new Alpha Strike starter set seems to be delayed, so I grit my teeth and bought the Classic Battletech Starter, expecting to hate this lumbering dinosaur of a system from the 80s, but at least get a nice set of Mechs from it.

Imagine my surprise when I actually sort of fell in love with it.

Caveat! I've only tested this out myself to get a handle on the rules, so this might all change when I have to subject another person to this monstrosity. 

The setting really hasn't grabbed me yet. I've tried, and I respect its groundedness, but I just haven't found any part of it that sparks my imagination yet. The mechs are cool, of course, but again they feel firmly rooted in the reality of this setting. These aren't the wild hyper-specific designs of Into the Breach and Lancer. It's much more like reading about WW2 tanks. Variations within a relatively narrow band of designs. When I grab a random mech it's very likely to be a humanoid with a big gun or two and some missiles or lasers scattered over its other bodyparts. Maybe it jumps.   

Again, this isn't a bad thing. It gives the universe a very specific feel, as if it could be real history. I suspect the big appeal of the setting is in some of the personal stories and political intrigue, which I haven't really tapped into yet.

So if I don't really care about the setting and I think the Mech designs are mostly just okay then what did grab a hold of me? 

You know I like simple rules, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy crunch, and most of the crunch in this game feels like good crunch.

Yeah there are clunky bits where two rolls could have been condensed to one, and there's a lot of memory demanded of players from turn to turn, but let's put that aside.

I love the process of adding up all the little numbers that make up the Target Number for your attack. 

I love the detail of chipping away at each little bit of the mech. I love that SRM and LRMs have special missile cluster rules that are slightly different to each other. 

I love the little dice you put next to your mech to show how fast it's moving and how it's moving, both of which affect attacks.

I haven't tried them out in too much detail yet but I think I even love the whole Heat system.  

If all this were happening in a 40k game with dozens of miniatures on each side? I'd hate it through and through. If I had to play this against a fully competitive opponent, arguing over every little rule that I'm misremembering, I think it would be unbearable. But the idea of approaching it as a more narrative game, maybe one or two mechs per player, is sticking in my brain for sure. 

After doing a little more research I've picked up the Beginner Box, which has a slightly trimmed version of the rules, and hope to give it a try as soon as I can before braving the full rules of the main box.

Not the Standard Rules found in the Total Warfare tome of course. That's a little scary for me just yet, even if I really want to bring some infantry and vehicles to the table. Mechs become a lot more interesting when you have them towering over some more mundane units for scale. 

And, of course, all this has driven me to tinker with my own little mech system. Something with more detail that Alpha Strike's ultra-lean units but more fast-moving than Classic Battletech.

Perhaps I'll share that another time. 


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  1. May I interest you in Battletech-lite hack Armor Grid : Mech Attack ?

    1. I did take a quick look at that! Might give it another read.

  2. Ah, I hadn't realized Alpha Strike will get its own starter set. Neat!

    Although, you could start playing it with just the free rules download from Catalyst and the Alpha Strike mech cards from the core box you just got.

    1. Yeah it's fantastic how much free stuff they've put out. More than enough to get started in classic or Alpha Strike.

  3. By pure coincedence I have just discovered BattleTech and just wrote a two page PBTA rpg about mercenaries in mechs. You track Heat, ammo, Hull Points and Credits. Combine two traits Fury, Prudence, Haste, Mass or Cunning, check the table to get your mech, each has a Special Move. I'm gonna playtest it this weekend.

  4. You are not alone in searching for something between alpha strike and core battletech. There is a Battletech RPG called "Battletech: Destiny" which sorta presents such a level. A group of battletech gamers has been pouring a lot of time into turning this into a full fledged set of tabletop rules, with some great results. Check out Death From Above Wargamming. They have an older version of their rules up at: and lots of battle report videos showcasing the system.

    1. I've been enjoying the DFA stuff! Using their house rules as a basis for playing CBT without the hexes. Destiny is also on my list to check out, it looks interesting for sure.

  5. First, oh man, your intro to wargames really brought back some memories, especially the bit about being intrigued by bits of the past in the catalogs that I didn't realize were either on their way out or already gone. I had some older friends that were into Epic, and it was my first miniature game as well, and my first minis were a box of Eldar Grav tanks. For what it's worth, Epic 40k had a pretty cool rule system that put a lot of emphasis on suppressing fire and maneuver, but I never got to play it either.

    Another fun mech game with light-medium amounts of crunch is Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack. If you're not familiar, Vincent Baker made a pretty simple little lego mech game called Mechaton, then Joshua Newman revised it and did a kickstarter and got some hotshot lego builders to design some pretty cool mechs to go with the setting that comes with the game.

    Pros: you can build your mechs and scenery out of legos! The rules are under a CC license, so you can get them for free. It only uses D6s and is pretty fast to play. There are some interesting tradeoffs between "systems" (weapons, defense, electronic warfare, targeting, movement, and such). It has a pretty neat initiative system and an uncertain number of turns, which makes seizing objectives tense.

    Cons: Your mechs are made of legos instead of beautiful miniatures! I don't think it has rules for infantry or non-mech vehicles, but it would likely be easy to modify. It is certainly far less crunchy than battletech. The setting that came with the came leaves me kind of cold and doesn't have that much detail.

    All that being said, I imagine you could play it with real miniatures just fine, and the scale is purposefully flexible. Unfortunately, the official site seems to be down right now, but here's an archived version:

  6. Yeah I've never really been grabbed by MFZ, but perhaps I'm due giving it another look.