For many years I avoided the whole “mech” setting of sci-fi wargames. I guess I thought they were too cartoonish for my tastes. Now that my spawn are reaching the age of gaming, I have reconsidered. Helping also to change my mind is the rise of higher quality plastic miniatures, as demonstrated by Heroscape and Star Wars Minatures. BATTLETECH first appeared in 1985 (initially under the name BATTLEDROIDS – that is – until one George Lucas exercised his claimed legal rights). I did not buy the game because it was a miniatures series and my meager funds could not afford it in addition to Star Fleet Battles and Harpoon. But this is 2011, and Catalyst Games has issued a 25th Anniversary Edition which I purchased for my birthday.
In the Box
WOW! The large, deep box is glossy paper with vibrant colors and evocative art. It positively reeks of value.
Out of the Wrapper
Inside the box you find 24 plastic miniatures plus two bonus miniatures. Two rulebooks are included; the Quick-Start Rules and the Introductory Rulebook. Also included is a Painting and Tactics Guide, a universe sourcebook. and an eight-page “Core Rulebook Primer” which describes the BATTLETECH gaming line. These five books range from eight to 80 pages and are all in full glossy color. A fold-out, colorful map of the BATTLETECH universe in also in the box. In black & white you have a Mech Record Sheet booklet and a heavy card stock play-aid. Heavy folding maps (not often seen these days) rounds out the set with a pair of dice. Once again, the heavy use of glossy paper and sheer volume of product screams MONEY and certainly makes you feel like you are getting your moneys worth.
The Miniatures – A Bit Flashy
Overall I would rate the miniatures quality as GOOD. Just about all of them have some flash that needs to be trimmed away. I did find a few where the sprue was cut in bad locations; if I really was a perfectionist I would have to get some putty for filler. There also were some weird parts, like the Grasshopper on a thin flat base whereas ALL the others are on bases with beveled edges. Seeing that this is an intro set, I also wish the mechs were identified in some way. As it was, I had to use the pictures in the sourcebook (which don’t have the same proportions) compared to the Painting and Tactics Guide (small photos) and the Mech Record Sheets (the most useful) to identify each model. The models themselves have fairly good detail, though in some cases there are casting errors (like the Catapult where the missile dimples are missing on the left arm mount).
Ruling on the Rulebooks
Both the Quick-Start and baseline Introductory Rulebook are well written and very good for introducing new players (like myself) to the game. There are a few quirks like where the rulebook recommends two different color dice yet my set includes a pair of white dice. The first scenario could also use some work. Scenario 1 calls for two sides with the same mechs. This is impossible using the mechs provided in the introductory set! Instead one must look to the variant force selection. I feel this oversight should not have happened in an introductory set. In later scenarios the use of infantry and tanks is called for, yet none are provided. Instead players are directed to a website to print and cutout counters. Would it have been so hard to include a medium-weight cardstock sheet with this already done for you? I feel Catalyst missed the mark here; an introductory set should be completely playable out-of-the box.
There is also a certain amount of repetition between the various rulebooks. The eight-page Core Primer is mostly repeated in the Introductory Rulebook and just how many times does one have to read that Camospecs is the site to visit for painting? Although all the items generally compliment one another, together one gets the feeling that a certain degree of “throw it all in the box” was involved.
The multiple rulebooks also use different terminology which can be confusing to beginners. For instance, the Introductory Rulebook classifies mech into light, medium, and heavy categories based on tonnage. The sourcebook lists the mechs in ascending order of tonnage but with no division or mention of light/medium/heavy categories. Then the Painting and Tactics Guide classifies mechs into seven broad categories based on mission and introduces unit organizational terms. So your AS7-D Atlas mech is a heavy mech (Introductory Rulebook), indeed the heaviest mech in the game (sourcebook) and a Juggernaut in a Command or Assault or Fire Lance (Painting and Tactics Guide). All this can EVENTUALLY be figured out but in an introductory set it is a confusing start that needlessly introduces a level of detail that is not helpful.
The BATTLETECH Introductory Box Set is not perfect, but it is still an excellent INTRODUCTION to the BATTLETECH universe of gaming. If you are a veteran BATTLETECH player you will not need this set. But if you are a newbie to the BATTLETECH universe this is your (relatively) inexpensive way to get started.
Of course, what Catalyst doesn’t directly tell you in this set is that there is an even less expensive way to get started. If one visits the Classic BattleTech website you can download the Quick Start Rules, the Classic BattleTech Universe sourcebook, Introductory Mech Record Sheets (with full color cutout stands), and the BattleTech Primer. You don’t get the miniatures, some of the extra record sheets, the maps and the full Introductory Rulebook, not to mention the free products printed out out in high-quality glossy color. In the end one has to ask themselves if these “extras” are enough for the price. My answer at least is a slightly-qualified YES.