Celebrating my birthday in the BattleTech universe

For my birthday last month, I wanted to play something special with my game-designer offspring, Blake. I wanted us to play something old school. I had OGRE and Car Wars in my collection and thought of one of those. Sadly, when my wife and I moved across country two years ago, I gave away or sold most of my massive game collection, acquired over an adult lifetime of playing and collecting miniature, board, card, and roleplaying games.

Among the games I'd gotten rid of was all of my BattleTech stuff. I even had the original FASA version. Looking over my current now-modest game shelves, I did find the BattleTech Beginner Box that Catalyst Game Labs had sent me for coverage on Boing Boing.

I decided taking this box for a spin might be a fun birthday indulgence. I would paint the 'Mechs and make some terrain to dress up the included hex grid map. The very reasonably-priced Beginner Box ($25) comes with two hard plastic 'Mechs, a two-sided hex map, a Quick Start Guide, two d6 dice, standees for additional 'Mechs and additional terrain features, and a set of optional MechWarrior pilot cards. It also includes a 24-page short story/novella and a 4-page guide to the Inner Sphere and BattleTech timeline.

My painted Griffin GRF-1S and Vindicator VND-1R 'Mechs ready for action. Photo: Gareth Branwyn

I spent the week leading up to our birthday game night reading the novella and timeline, watching YouTube videos on playing, painting, and BT lore, painting the 'Mechs, and making Light and Heavy cover hexes. The whole immersion process was extremely fun, especially the painting and modeling.

Having played the original FASA version in the late 80s/early 90s, I remember the game as being ridiculously crunchy. Knowing that the Beginner Box had far more streamlined rules and missing aspects of the full game mechanics, I was curious to see how that would play out on the battlefield.

I got a huge bag of different-sized models trees on Amazon for $18 and a pack of 20 hex bases for under $6. Making these was extremly fun. Photo: Gareth Branwyn

BattleTech is a game of massive, many-tonned, multi-storied BattleMechs beating the cooling fluid out of each other on an irradiated landscape. Players take turns firing their complement of weapons — lasers, missiles, particle cannons, and the like. In the original game (and the full core game sold today), you not only have fire and movement rules, there are also rules for heat management. One of the layers of tactical consideration in the game is heat management. As you move and engage your 'Mech, it generates heat, and at a certain point, that heat begins to impact systems on the vehicle which start to impact what you can and cannot do. The full game also includes two levels of penetration, an outer armor hull and an inner structure. After the outer armor is breached, hits begin to affect the critical internal systems of the 'Mech. The pilot can also take damage.

The beginner rules remove all of the heat management, inner structure diagram, and pilot health. My fear going into the game was that this was basically going to take away the nuance and details of the game that made it what it was. But in playing, I can say that the beginner's game is fun and a perfect gateway into the BattleTech universe.

Catalyst has managed to create an easy-to-play game that captures the spirit and (enough of the) action of full BattleTech to be fun and exciting while removing the intimidation and crunch factor of the core game. For such an affordable price, they also baked enough BattleTech goodness into the box to create a kind of immersion experience. It worked for me, anyway. I am already looking at additional 'Mech "Force Packs" and play mats on Amazon.

The final showdown on the edge of a heavy wood. I have hit Blake's Griffin several times with my devastating particle cannon (PPC) and their 'Mech is now critically wounded. Another lucky PPC hit and the Griffin goes down in a massive cloud of sparks, fire, and moaning metal. Photo: Gareth Branwyn

Previously in BattleTech.