Back to the Table With a New ‘BattleTech’

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
The ‘BattleTech’ tradition. Photo by A. Leach

I’ve been piloting a ‘mech since my oldest son, lovingly known as Derp, was in diapers. Since he’s about to take his driving test, he’s been out of diapers for several years now, and since he grew up with these minis he loves them too.

For a long time, our family and friends have played with old technical manuals and game mechanics that weren’t always super clear. While we love the game, we felt an update was in order.

Enter Catalyst Labs. It is no small feat to take a well-loved game with a vocal and loyal following, and resurrect it in such a way that not only is it accepted and enjoyed by its veterans but also easily adopted by new players. Luckily for us, they have provided multiple ways to begin your playing experience, including two new box sets.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
The first of the boxes, just before opening. Photo by A. Leach

Why Should I Play BattleTech?

When you strip away everything else, BattleTech is a tabletop mini wargame. You could lump it in with a host of other games, but what drew me to BattleTech is the flexibility of the game. Nearly every aspect of it is take-it-or-leave-it. Do you want to have a MechWarrior character who pilots your ‘mechs? Sweet! Here’s a character sheet. Only want to grab a mini and run around kicking the teeth in of other ‘mechs? Awesome! Here’s a handy card for you. Want to spend hours customizing your ‘mech’s loadout for your personal style of play? Groovy! Here’s some technical readouts. Some gamers have played the tabletop game for years with a standard build or a standard character, and that’s great too.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
Setting up the first ‘Beginner Box’ game with the ‘BattleMat’. Photo by A. Leach

Want to immerse yourself in the BattleTech universe by reading every ounce of fluff and lore? Here’s a huge stack of novels for you to read. Like painting ‘mechs? Neat, none of these minis come with paint on them. Hate painting ‘mechs? That’s cool too, the detail on the plastic by itself is just fine for many. Want to take your tabletop gaming to the digital world? Cool, Harebrained Schemes put together a fantastic video game. Have you played the digital games in any of their many incarnations, but want to try playing with the minis? We’ve got you covered. All are welcome here.

Why Does BattleTech Have Two Box Sets?

Strictly speaking, I think BattleTech is best played with the BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat box set. Most veteran players would likely agree; however, not everyone is a veteran player. I really appreciate Catalyst Games’ recognition of the need for something a little easier to grasp, and that’s where the BattleTech: Beginner Box comes in particularly handy. We played a game with the Beginner Box, and I noted that without some of the more complex concepts like internal structure, heat, and critical hits the game not only went a little faster but was also easier to understand. Bringing those concepts in later is excellent strategy for new players.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
The ‘Battletech: Beginner Box’ set. Photo by A. Leach

The Beginner Box isn’t just for newbies, though. Opening this box was an experience filled with nostalgia and elicited cheers from the seasoned players clustered around me. For anyone who first played BattleTech with the cardboard standees, you’re in luck. This set is a gem of excellent artwork and playability. We took the time, as years before, to seal those exposed cardboard edges with super glue out of a decades old habit, and those several minutes were filled with reminiscing. We shared stories of our favorite MechWarriors, and my eyes glazed over a few times as they discussed lore I’ve never quite gotten to. I bemoaned the fact that I don’t have the fantastic Clan tech that I need to “properly” field my Phoenix Hawk while eyes all around me rolled in unison.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
She may not be the prettiest ‘mech I’ve ever painted, but she’s my favorite to run. Photo by A. Leach

At a mere twenty dollars, the Beginner Box is well suited to help any player get started or get back into the game. Eventually though, someone who enjoys BattleTech and wants to continue playing will want the BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat box and the technical readouts from various eras.

BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat is a more fully immersive gaming experience from the outset. The rulebook is more comprehensive (though still not as complete as the Total Warfare book) and the Reference Sheets are amazing, mounted on cardboard stock and incredibly useful.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
The ‘Battletech: A Game of Armored Combat’ box set. Photo by A. Leach

The box sets are remarkably similar, but differ in quantity, diversity, and complexity. A comparison:

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
A comparison of the two boxes. Credit: A. Leach

Do I Need More Than the Box Set?

You can play BattleTech with nothing more than a box set, but part of the joy of BattleTech is how much you can choose to do. Catalyst Games has developed or reintroduced several different resources to make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Whether you’re new to BattleTech or have a bin of old school ‘mechs in your attic, here is the order of items recommended for your adventure:

  1. BattleTech: Beginner Box 
  2. BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat
  3. Total Warfare 
  4. Chaos Campaign
  5. Chaos Campaign: Succession Wars (NOT YET RELEASED)
  6. Technical Readout: Succession Wars 
  7. Record Sheets: Succession Wars 
  8. Map Set: Grasslands or BattleMat (Author’s preference would be two BattleMats)
  9. BattleMech Manual 

If you’re completely new to the game, you can learn more at Catalyst’s New To BattleTech page.

What Is the Point of the Stuff Beyond the BattleTech Box Sets?

BattleTech has many aspects, and the box sets can only incorporate so much. A modular approach makes the most sense for players as well as the designers, because then people can play how they want with the parts of the game they feel suits them the most.

Total Warfare is the true rule book for playing BattleTech. While the box sets include some quick start rules, Total Warfare includes all the more complex rules, from heat generation and dissipation to critical hits, falling, jumping, sliding, Death From Above jumps, and much more. We recommend starting with the quick rules in the box sets for anyone new to the game, but veterans will appreciate the Total Warfare rules overhaul. Total Warfare does touch on almost every aspect of the game. The BattleMech Manual introduces advanced technologies, especially Clan related, and a host of rules options well beyond the box sets, but is strictly for BattleMech information.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
‘BattleTech: Total Warfare’ anniversary cover. Credit: Catalyst Games

BattleTech is super flexible as a gaming system, but sometimes it’s nice to have a campaign to follow. The Chaos Campaign is a free PDF available to walk players through such a campaign. It showcases BattleTech‘s flexibility and allows for a multitude of free resources to help you design the kind of campaign you and your fellow Mechwarriors want to play.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
‘BattleTech Chaos Campaign’ cover. Credit: Catalyst Games

Catalyst makes downloadable information readily available which is helpful for players. Catalyst recognized the need for free printable information and reference cards, and came through for the fans. There’s even a free primer for How the Core Rulebooks Work!

Not all BattleMechs are created equal, and not all MechWarriors want their ‘mech to have stock equipment. The Technical Readout: Succession Wars is a fantastic resource for ‘mech information and gives a ‘mech mechanic the information they need before adjusting a loadout. We were pleasantly surprised to see that it has a similar style to the old TROs we still have lying around, albeit with some updated information.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
‘BattleTech: Succession Wars’ technical readout. Credit: Catalyst Games

In order to have a battle that works within in the confines of BattleTech rules, one must play on a hex map. Any old hex map would probably do, but BattleTech maps have extra information on them that is particularly useful. We recently tested the newest release, the BattleMat. Currently exclusive to Catalyst’s online store, these BattleMats are the perfect size for running the Beginner Box set cardboard standees against each other without too much crowding or too much space between opposing sides. Our plan is to get one more BattleMat so that we can quickly roll out a sturdy, less-slippery battle surface. The price is great compared to other neoprene hex maps as well, and being dual sided makes this an even greater deal.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
MCJ counts hex distance from one ‘mech to the other. Photo by A. Leach

What Is the GATOR Firing Concept?

BattleTech continues to use the two six-sided dice (2d6) system it has since its inception. In an effort to enhance that system, Catalyst labs released a new acronym for to-hit calculations with the latest sets, and I like it because despite playing for over 15 years, I have never had an easy time understanding how to determine the rolls I need. Every single shooting phase, I’ve had to look up every single aspect to consider, and even then often failed to remember everything I needed to add or subtract. With the GATOR acronym, I found myself quickly being able to come up with the dice rolls I needed to hit.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
The first rounds about to be fired with the record sheet showing helpful information. Photo by A. Leach

G: Gunnery skill. Base pilots start out at 4. It’s possible to improve your pilot, and therefore lower your gunnery skill number, making the target number for your hit easier to roll.
A: Attacker movement. If you walked, ran, or jumped, this will affect how easy it is for you to hit your target.
T: Target movement. You need a higher roll the more hexes your target has moved.
O: Other modifiers, such as terrain and heat, affect your accuracy as well.
R: Range modifiers. If you’re in short range, you won’t need to modify, but medium and long range for each weapon comes with a modifier to your attack roll.

The GATOR acronym helps me so much, I can’t imagine playing without it anymore. A mnemonic like this would have been nice a decade ago!

Is BattleTech History and Lore Important?

BattleTech lore is only as important as you desire. Catalyst made basic Inner Sphere history super accessible with primers included in both box sets. If the mere mention of the Inner Sphere piques your curiosity, then I imagine the lore is a part of your experience. You can find lots of historical data floating around the internet at sites like Sarna.net, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Battletech has been around for a long time.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
Lore can be as simple as a map with history or as complex as a series of novels. Photo by A. Leach

Veteran Mechwarriors can appreciate that the lore they know and love still exists as they remember it. In fact, Catalyst has many of the out of print novels on a re-release schedule in addition to creating new lore to supplement it. The careful treatment of beloved art, fiction, history, and playstyles is one reason I think Catalyst has done right by Battletech.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
Despite being over 25 years old, BattleTech is still as relevant and fun today. Credit: Catalyst Games

Is BattleTech Worth the Investment?

BattleTech is my absolute favorite tabletop miniature game and has been for years. When Catalyst labs gave me the opportunity to see what they’ve done with the game, I jumped at it and am so glad I did.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
Last man standing! It was a hard battle, but a fun one, even with cardboard standees. Photo by A. Leach

If you’ve played in the past but put down your ‘mechs for other things, this is the perfect time to dust them off and get back in the fight, Mechwarrior! If you still have your hex maps, they’re the same size and in fact I’m pretty sure we already had one of the maps that came in the boxes.

BattleTech Review Box Set Tabletop Mini Miniature Gamers
Old ‘mechs and old maps are still just as fun to play with the revised rules. Photo by A. Leach

Need more convincing? Visit the Catalyst Games BattleTech website and take a look through the various pages. It’s easy to navigate and makes it super clear that no matter how you want to play BattleTech, you’re going to have support and resources.

In the long run, BattleTech is worth the investment to me. It’s far less expensive than a full army game like Warhammer 40K with an equally deep well of excellent lore to draw from, and its flexibility for different play styles makes it a favorite among all of our gamer friends. If you are even a little bit interested in miniature tabletop gaming, I think you’ll like it too.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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