Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mech No Mistake

So, a combination of nerdy nostalgia combined with a chance encounter at the game store means that I am wandering back into the world of Battletech for the first time in, gosh, it must be over a decade.

Battletech was my first military sci-fi war game, predating Warhammer 40,000 for me by several years. Players assume command of various walking tanks called battlemechs and maneuver them around a hexagon gridded map while raining hot death on one's opponents.

Before I went off to college, my mates and I played an awful lot of this game, and why not? An elegant set of balanced mechanics, a fascinating (if terribly derivative) gaming universe, a robust construction system that let you modify existing 'mechs or create your own, and, most importantly, giant robots.

The game has changed a lot since it was introduced 25 years ago, mostly by necessity. You see, most of the 'mech designs, including those used on the box and book covers, were lifted pretty much wholesale from Japanimation series like Robotech, which very few people in North America had heard of at the time. It was heartbreaking to see some of our favorite vehicles, like the beloved Warhammer, Phoenix Hawk and Marauder replaced by much blockier and less elegant iterations once this came to light. And all this after having to change from their first name choice of Battledroids due to some understandable opposition from George Lucas!

Eventually, the game makers took the bold step of evolving the in-game universe, and introduced renegade factions from outside the established borders of the Inner Sphere equipped with much higher levels of technology. While this galvanized the interest of the hardcore crowd, more casual gamers like myself lamented the loss of the elegance and streamlined play and simply drifted away.

I could bore you with many a war story from the Fourth Succession War ("...and then I go prone"), but suffice to say, coming across the 25th anniversary introductory box set took me right back to those early days of balancing tonnage, setting up hex maps, and coordinating the movements of fast and fragile scout 'mechs with ponderous 100 ton assault monsters. Best of all, it is pretty easy to play with anywhere from 2-10 people, making it a great fit for G&G VII in May.

The box set comes with extremely sturdy mapboards, a comprehensive assortment of rulebooks, and two dozen plastic battlemech models. The loss of the original anime elegance notwithstanding, some of these really do put the 'ech' into 'mech, if you catch my drift. It's hard to complain when I can still recall playing with cardboard counters folded into standy bases instead of the lead miniatures we would use later on, but these figures really are about one step up on green army men, and I am not too confident in their ability to take paint. That said, I certainly have no intention of playing them as unpainted grey plastic, so we will just have to see how it goes.

I was a little disappointed to discover one 'mech had broken off at the waist, and that the Zeus had his left leg broken off in two sections, but worst of all was finding that the 80 ton Awesome came out of the box with his furshlugginer arms glued on backwards! Even these gaijin mecha look better when they are facing the right direction. Still, it's a couple dozen more 'mechs than I had yesterday, and I didn't have to spend $200+ getting them.

So, yes, with a little trepidation, I am looking forward to revisiting the 31st millennium for a little while; I am sure it will provide a nice break from the 41st that I am so much more familiar with.

No comments:

Post a Comment