#WargameWednesday – Reconsidering The Fires of Midway

battle-of-midway-h
Courtesy history.com

After sitting on my shelf for over a year, this past weekend I played a game of The Fires of Midway: The Carrier Battles of 1942 (Clash of Arms, 2010). Billed as the War is Hell Series Card Game 2, TFoM is not your usual carrier duel game. TFoM delivers a card game evocative of carrier duels in the early years of the Pacific War but the level of abstraction makes it only a fair simulation of actual carrier battles.

After selecting a scenario, both sides “search” a grid of cards to find the enemy fleet. Along the way, the maneuver map is populated with weather conditions and the starting hand of Combat Cards is built. As the Design Note states:

The Search Phase represents the efforts of dozens of planes, ships, and individuals attempting to locate the enemy in the vastness of the Pacific. The U.S. Navy edge in pre-battle intelligence is accounted for by always allowing the Americans to search first.

Depending on the search results, one side gets the advantage of placing their fleets and a VP bonus. The Search Phase plays quickly and evokes a cat-and-mouse feeling of trying to desperately find your opponent’s fleets in the vast broad oceans.

Play then progresses to what I find the strangely named Strategy Phase. Strange because what the players do is not as much strategy as it is operational orders. In the Strategy Phase, a number of Action Cards equal to the number of carriers are randomly dealt between the players. Each Action Card has a precedence number which determines the order in which the turn will happen. The advantaged player, called the Confident Player, has the ability to “steal” – or trade – an Action Card before strikes are revealed. This simple initiative determination mechanic captures the mad scramble of aircraft as strikes are launched again in a seemingly  realistic manner.

Following initiative determination, carriers are moved on the map. The map is very small, consisting of 18 irregularly-shaped areas. As noted in the Design Note:

The Maneuver Map is an abstraction of the relative positions of carriers in a large expanse of ocean, and not meant to be an exact replica of any one naval battlefield. Each Map Area represents hundreds of square miles of potential hiding places.

Some may find this level of abstraction a bit jarring, but in a game where so much is being abstracted the maneuver map ends up being one of the most “grognard” parts of the game.

Play now proceeds to the Carrier Turn. In the Carrier Turn, each carrier has one phase of action in their order of initiative.

In the Sortie Phase, carriers can launch strikes. The Action Card dictates how many squadrons can be in the strike package. Depending on the range, a number of Search or Destroy (SoD) Cards are drawn and fuel used is determined. The amount of fuel used is compared to the Fuel Rating of each aircraft; if too much fuel is used the planes arrive is a “smoking” condition. The Design Note comments,

Even if you know approximately where an enemy carrier is, finding a moving target is another matter. Strike Groups had a habit of getting lost and burning precious fuel in futile searches for enemy carriers even if the flattops had been sighted shortly before takeoff.

I wish the designer had chosen a word other than “smoking ” to describe fuel-starved aircraft. The word, and the accompanying card art, look more like battle damage and not a plane running out of gas.

Once the strikes arrive at the carrier, a Spotting Roll is conducted to determine if CAP will be ready or if the strikes go straight in to the carriers.

In the Engagement Phase, spotted strikes resolve combat against the CAP. In a CAP battle, fighters take on escorting fighters or bombers. This is where the player’s hand of cards starts counting. Players have the choice of adding a Cockpit Card to their battling aircraft for an enhanced combat effect or to cancel out an opponents Combat Card. Combat is resolved in a very simple, straight-forward manner that is the same for air combat or bomber strikes; both sides roll a variable number of d6 die and compare the results. Whichever side has the single-highest die roll wins. In the CAP battle, the winning aircraft  then rolls a number of d6 equal to the number of Bullet Icons and the results are compared to the Damage Track across the bottom of the target airplanes card. Destroyed aircraft are sent to “The Watery Grave.”

The Engagement Phase also shows how the abstractions in TFoM start creating ahistorical results. Escorting fighters automatically shield the bombers from the CAP. Not until later scenarios where more than one plane can be on CAP is their a chance for the CAP to get past the fighters and to the bombers.

The Bomber Phase follows engagements. In the Bomber Phase, striking aircraft, be it dive-bombers or torpedo planes, attack the carriers. As each bomber starts their Attack Run, Combat Cards are again selected. Striking bombers can chose a Bomber Card whereas the carrier gets to use a Carrier Card. As with Engagements, the Combat Card may offer an advantage to the player. The Bomber Dice Test pits the bombers against the anti-aircraft guns of the carrier. If the carrier wins, damage is assessed against the bomber. If the bomber wins, the carrier is struck.

The Resolution Phase immediately follows. CAP is landed or turned over to their smoking side, and the return strike determines if they make it back to the carrier. Play then proceeds to the Admiral’s Phase. Each Admiral can take one of three actions; Reload their hand of Combat Cards, Recover CAP and replace if desired, or Restore which spends Repair Points for damage control.

Once each carrier has had their action, the End Phase is conducted. Here progressive damage is assessed against carriers see if they sink. Depending on the damage, VP is awarded. Additionally, VP is gained depending on how many squadrons of aircraft are in The Watery Grave. A decision to continue the battle or retreat and end the game is then made. If the game continues the next turn begins with a new Strategy Phase.

TFoM does a decent job of reflecting the widely varied capabilities of combat aircraft of the day. As the Design Note points out:

When it comes to hitting power the Japanese have the advantage with excellent long-range aircraft. The Americans were hindered by “flying coffins” such as the Devastator and the mistaken notion among admirals of the time that the early American torpedoes were good weapons, they were not.

Where I find the abstraction of TFoM most distracting is in the Carrier Turn. Nowhere are the mass strikes of the Japanese carriers allowed. In TFoM a carrier duel is reduced to a sequential I-go, U-go of each carrier individually resolving their strike.

pic675839_md
Courtesy BGG

The Fires of Midway: The Carrier Battles of 1942 is an easy and relatively fast-playing game. It adequately replicates the broad brushes of the subject matter. Play this game for fun and understand that what you learn about the history of carrier duels in 1942 will not be too in-depth. For myself, I will be playing with the younger RockyMountainNavy and using it to (gently) explore the very basics carrier combat in World War II.

#Orbital2100 RPG – Hard Sci-Fi RPG for The Expanse?

Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting Using the Cepheus Game Engine by Paul Elliott at Zozer Games is the “second edition” of Orbital but now based on the Open Game Content Cepheus Engine System Reference Document vice the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules. Coming in at 239-pages, Orbital 2100 provides a more hard sci-fi setting within our Solar System around the year 2100. According to the publisher’s blurb:

Orbital is a science fiction setting for Traveller with a fairly realistic (TL 9) feel that is set within our own solar system. The Earth is locked in a Cold War with the people of Luna. Both face off, 400,000 km apart, threatening mutual annihilation whilst they compete to colonise the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Older colonies such as Mars and Mercury are independent and caught up in this struggle for solar system supremacy. Spacecraft use nuclear thermal rockets and create gravity by spinning pods or centrifuges, this is spaceflight as envisaged today!

What I think Mr. Elliott really means to say, to avoid legal troubles, is that Orbital is a science fiction setting for the Cepheus Engine. Orbital 2100 attempts to update the original material that used the Mongoose Traveller first edition rules. No longer a legal option, to avoid intruding on Mongoose Traveller’s second edition Closed Gaming Content and Product Identity, Orbital 2100 is based on the Cepheus Engine.

With Cepheus Engine providing the game rules, Orbital 2100 focuses on the setting. The first three chapters; The Situation, The Cold War, and Organisations provide a great deal of background and sets the stage for player adventure.

Character Creation follows the Cepheus Engine which allows this small section to focus on the differences in chargen from Cepheus. For instance, a new definition of Social Standing is introduced as well as new Background Skills. At this point, players “select a campaign” of which there are five. Depending on the campaign selected, different careers are recommended. There are no new career paths presented in Orbital 2100; rather, equivalent careers are mapped to Cepheus Engine careers. Other changes include a slightly modified Skills Cascade list, unique Military & Spacer Ranks, and modified Mustering Out process. The later is an interesting wrinkle to long-time Traveller RPG players because Orbital 2100 does not use the “traditional” end chargen and start adventuring. Instead:

In a typical game, characters must muster out before the game begins. In Orbital, it is more likely that characters will still be in employment within their chosen career. Player’s may finish character generation at any desired point and have their characters join the game, although an aging crisis or some events may also indicate a character has left the character generation process and begun the game. Orbital 2100, p. 35

Being set in 2100, the governing tech is generally TL 9 (with TL 11 in computing and electronics). There is no anti-gravity or jump drive. Trips are limited to inside the solar system using Nuclear Thermal Rockets and spin habitats. The next chapter, Spacecraft Design, introduces three classes of spacecraft that follow these setting restrictions. Deep Space Vehicles (DSV) are analogous to “starships”(100 tons or larger)  in Cepheus whereas Orbital Vehicles are this settings “small craft” (under 100 tons). The added vehicle class is Launch Vehicles (100 tons or less using regular chemical rockets. (Orbital 2100, p. 37). Although Cepheus Engine provides rules for building up to 5000 tons, the Orbital 2100 limit is 2000 tons (p. 60). Orbital 2100 does introduce an alternative drive, the TL 10 Fusion Drive (or Nuclear Pulse Fusion Drive – NPF p. 61). This vastly more efficient drive can make ships more akin to those seen in the TV series The Expanse.

Operating Spacecraft generally follows the Cepheus Engine rules with the greatest exception being travel time within the Solar System. Without getting too scientific, Orbital 2100 uses an orbital racetrack for travel between the inner planets and easy tables to assist in computation of travel times (p. 71). Fuel is also treated much differently, being defined in terms of “Burns” (p. 73) Bottom Line – The Expanse “Flip and Burn” is rare in Orbital 2100. Maintenance is also treated differently, as well as trade revenue. Setting-specific Encounter tables and updated Space Combat rules also are found here (remember – Trajectory is King! – p. 77).

The next chapter, Hardware, properly focuses first on Space Suits. Rovers, Orbital 2100’s version of vehicles, area also here but no rules for their design/construction are presented (nor are they found in Cepheus Engine). Computers are also redefined, and a section of Orbital and Launch Vehicles given. These Launch Vehicles go beyond chemical rockets by adding items like a Mass Driver Catapult or other alternate launch systems. Background and stats for common DSVs are also presented, as well as modular space stations.

Orbital Society is more setting background looking at Law Enforcement, Art, Colonies and the like, background on life aboard a DSV, various Treaties and Regulations and the Earth Orbit Network. There are many adventure seeds buried within these pages!

Working in Space is the Orbital 2100 version of the Environments & Hazards section of Cepheus Engine. The most interesting part to me was “Ways to Die in Space.” There are also rules for Astroid Mining found here as well as a basic outline of how to set up an outpost.

Worlds breaks from the Cepheus Engine design system and instead presents the planets and moons of the Solar System in UWP format. The real gems are found in  the extensive flavor text. Again, lots of great adventure seeds are found here.

Running Orbital is in effect the Referee’s section. I found this section a bit weak. It starts out with four different campaign types, seemingly ignoring the fifth one found in the character generation “select a campaign” at the beginning of the book. This chapter also introduces Secret Agendas and Status, character concepts that I strongly believe should be included in the character generation chapter and not buried here (p. 218-221). The section ends with a look at Aliens (again, nice adventure seeds).

Resources is the Orbital 2100 version of Appendix N; the inspirations for the setting. Good movie or reading list material here, although I can’t believe Paul didn’t mention  Atomic Rockets or the Encyclopedia Astronautica!

Overall, this is a good setting. I have always liked playing in a grittier, harder sci-fi setting like Orbital. I really appreciate the changes Mr. Elliott makes from the Cepheus Engine basic rules. If I have a criticism, it is that I wish Zozer Games had taken the opportunity to relook at the layout of the book and move some items around (especially Secret Agendas and Status) to make these distinguishing character features more prominent and not bury them near the end of the product.

If one is looking for a 2d6-based science fiction setting that can be adapted for The Expanse, Orbital 2100 is a very close fit. To avoid legal entanglements Mr. Elliott is obviously very careful with references to The Expanse with only three mentions in the entire book (one of which is The Expanse entry in Resources). The Expanse has its own spacecraft technology and combat vision, best shown in the episode “CQB”, but a moderately resourceful referee can probably make the adjustments necessary to capture an Expanse-like narrative. At the very least the Orbital 2100 spacecraft design sequence can make DSV’s with NPF in a tail-sitter configuration, and Mag Boots are found on p. 86!

Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine Game. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press, Author Jason “Flynn” Kemp.

Cepheus Engine: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Gaming System. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”

 

RPG Thursday – Traveller Aliens

Aliens have always had a weird place in My Traveller Universe (MTU). In Classic Traveller, most aliens are based on classic sic-fi tropes or stolen whole-cloth from other works. I listened to a recent episode of The Hydian Way (for FFG’s Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion RPG) where the topic was the cantina. They pointed out that in Star Wars (Episode 4 if you must) the cantina is really the only scene with aliens. The rest of the movie is very human-centric. Given I was playing Traveller at the same time as Star Wars, I think that subconsciously affected MTU. Surprisingly, this does not affect my boys who grew up with Ewoks and Jawas and Hutts and other Star Wars aliens who they see populating their Star Wars Universe as much as humans do.

As I have aged, I have come to see the dramatic value of aliens in MTU, and have occasionally tried to work them into my campaigns. With that thought in mind, I recently purchased Flynn’s Guide to Alien Creation for Mongoose Traveller. This short (34 page) pdf started with Universal World Profile and then uses directed 2d6 tables. In many ways, its not far off from the animal encounter builder in Classic Traveller. The result is a race that, though fairly well described, still have enough “unknown” that a referee can modify or embellish for a campaign.

Now, since the tables are random, the results one get may be a bit too random for some. In that case I can see using the table as a “directed builder” to capture all (or the most important) qualities to describe a new race.

Flynn’s Guide to Alien Creation is a good investment. The examples in the book can get a bit too repetitive (every step adds the one new quality while restating ALL the previous ones. As simple as it seems, this book is an invaluable addition to my Traveller library and will be getting much use preparing for the table.

 Image courtesy RPGGeek

Castle Combat – First Play

Courtesy KidsRealm (www.kidsrealm.com)

Got the boys to play Castle Combat this weekend as part of TableTop Day. A few weeks back I was in the local Game Parlor in Chantilly VA and found this locally manufactured game. Castle Combat is a variation of the simple card game War that uses a fantasy theme to add special powers.

Game Parlor had a nice in-case display but I have to admit a bit of some doubt when I picked up the business-size envelope with the game inside. I needn’t have worried; the components are basic but good. The cards in particular are especially nicely illustrated and help with the theme of the game.

This game is great for middle- and upper-elementary school age kids since the players must be able to read the special abilities on the cards. Math is simple addition/subtraction. Play is relatively fast; the boys played two games back-to-back while trading sides each game.

I bought the game to support the local economy (both the FLGS and the local school teacher manufacturer). The boys like the game enough we will be investing in expansion packs soon!

RPG Thursday – Traveller Vehicle Handbook Review

A squadron of Imperial Marine Trepida grav tanks on patrol (by A. Boulton at http://www.traveller3d.com)

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT – QUALIFIED FAILURE

The new Supplement 5-6: The Vehicle Handbook from Mongoose Publishing (MGP 3868, published 2012) has three major sections. In order they are New Vehicle Rules, the Vehicle Design System, and Vehicle Examples. My review will address each in a slightly different order.

The Vehicle Design System is more streamlined than the older Supplement 5 Civilian Vehicles (MGP 3821/2009) and Supplement 6 Military Vehicles (MGP 3822/2009) which generally makes it faster and more useful. As noted in the Introduction, the authors bought into the “design for effect” school and dropped much of the “gearhead” details. I like this – as a GM one needs to be able to quickly design vehicles to support the story. Unfortunately, the text is often hard to follow and the design process can be difficult to understand. Somebody needs to introduce Mongoose to bullet lists! The (sadly) traditional Mongoose editing/proofreading/format errors are here which means it is that much more challenging to make sense out of rules.  Even given all that I rate this section 4 out of 5.

The Vehicle Examples are a mess. Most examples have errors. Cargo and armor and weapons ranges and stacked modifiers for price are often done incorrectly. So much so that I cannot trust any example. I will admit I haven’t checked every entry, but I have looked at 20 and found only one correct.

I was happy to see Hammer’s Slammers vehicles in this book. I was hoping that Mongoose would finally live up to the back cover of Hammer’s Slammers (MGP 3817/2009) where they stated “With all vehicles created using the Traveller Vehicle Creation System, this book is guaranteed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller book, allowing you to mix and match supplements as you desire!” Alas, Mongoose has failed yet again to live up to that “guarantee” since it is still impossible to recreate the Hammer’s Slammers vehicle designs since many weapons are missing or details are poorly translated/updated between products. I am not sure the designer of the Hammer’s Slammers vehicles actually understands the source material since many design decisions are at odds with the source literature (like no Fusion powerplants and Explosive Reactive Armour vice Explosive Belt). Indeed, it looks like many vehicles don’t add the cost of the weapons, a bit understandable since none of the weapons are described in any Traveller product beyond Hammer’s Slammers which didn’t give cost.

I also tried to recreate the Sword Worlds vehicles but that too proved impossible since several weapons are not to be found in the new Vehicle Handbook, the Sword Worlds guide (MGP 3865/2011), the Central Supply Catalogue (CSC, MGP 3819/2009), and even Mercenary (MGP 3801/2008).

Given all the errors in the vehicle examples and the inability to recreate iconic vehicles, I rate the Vehicle Example section 1 out of 5.

Lastly, there are the New Vehicle Rules. The most significant new rules in my mind are vehicle movement, extended ranges for vehicle weapons, and interactions between Tech Levels. The vehicle movement rules are simplistic yet not very clear with some rules found in the construction section rather than with the new rules. Weapon ranges are messed up with many at odds with CSC or other previous publications. In contrast, the new Tech Level interactions rules are nice but there are many skill check or hit modifiers spread out through the book they are never brought  together in an easy to understand way.

Mongoose had previously published an expanded set of vehicle combat rules in Hammer’s Slammers, but it appears the new Vehicle Handbook was written without referencing that work at all. Indeed, the vehicle movement rules and expanded ranges are at odds with Hammer’s Slammers (comparing ranges in CSC and the new Vehicle Handbook is also difficult to follow – and mostly wrong as noted above). Mongoose missed the chance to bring in useful items from Hammer’s Slammers like Crew Roles, new Actions, as well as Special Considerations like Air Defense, Booster AI to explain the usefulness of computers, and Expanded Damage Rules. The net result is a further weakening of the “Hammer’s Slammers guarantee” and (IMHO) a missed chance to make vehicle combat better. It seems quite clear that Mongoose has abandoned the Hammer’s Slammers product so why bother to put the vehicle examples in?

I fully believe Mongoose could have incorporated expanded vehicle combat rules in this product. Within the Vehicle Design section there is much repetition and it is possible more space could have been used for new rules. This book also screams for an index which is not to be found.

I rate the new rules 2 out of 5. Too many missed opportunities!

At the end of the day I am torn on what to recommend my fellow Traveller players and GMs. The Design System is useful, but the actual vehicle designs are riddled with errors and the new rules are a mixed bag. Don’t buy the hardcover! At $40 it is not worth it. Wait for the softcover? Maybe. Buy the .pdf? Probably your best bet but be ready to do a lot of (re)work on your own.

Oh, I know that if the Mongoose forums see this I will get crucified by the Mongoose Traveller Fanboys for being too nit-picky. After all, I bought the product, eh? Actually, I took advantage of the forum offer where buying the new book gets two free books to replace the older vehicle supplements. Well, shame on me for being greedy. It doesn’t change the fact that Mongoose has quality control issues. Burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t help fix the Mongoose’s problems.

 

I am (cautiously) looking forward to Prime Directive: Traveller but have to admit that after this disaster with the new Vehicle Handbook I am not optimistic.

Miniatures Monday – Star Trek Heroclix Tactics

Star Trek Heroclix Tactics - Kobayashi Maru Map (Figures.com)

I really want to like this game. After all, it has Star Trek and miniature ships! Just imagine, the Enterprise dueling with a Klingon D-7! But the sad reality is that if you are looking for a dueling starship game, look elsewhere.

Out of the Box

The components of the game are fairly nice. The Starter Kit comes with four pre-painted miniatures; two Federation and two Klingon with “character cards.” Also included are two double-sided poster-size maps in nice full color. The kit also includes the Heroclix 2011 Core Rulebook, one laminated Powers & Abilities card, and two dice.

The miniatures themselves are decently painted. If you are used to the Star Fleet Battles/Federation Commander Starline 2400 series color schemes you will be a bit thrown off here since these paint schemes follow more along the movie/newer series painting guides. These are also smaller than the new Starline 2500 series supporting A Call to Arms Star Fleet. Be careful when selecting your kit off the shelf; of the four kits I selected from two had obviously deformed figures due to shifting during shipping.

The maps are really beautiful and evocative of space combat. There are four maps; Kobayashi Maru which has mines and a ship in the middle, Wolf 359 with derelict spaceship and debris, The Mutara Nebula with a nice piece of cnter terrain, and Deep Space Nine featuring the station. All four maps are done in nice colors and go well with the theme of the game.

The Rules – or Super Hero Space Brawling 101

Heroclix Tactics draws directly from the Heroclix line of duels featuring superhero characters. So does Heroclix Tactics. WizKids elected to use the Core Rules for Heroclix but instead of superheros one uses starships. The result is starship brawls in space.

Heroclix approaches combat by thinking each ship is a character rather than a weapons system. In addition to the basic combat values found on the clix base (Speed, Attack, Defense, Range, and Damage) each ship also has a “character card” with special abilities. For example, the Enterprise-A in the Starter Set has seven special abilities. My problem here is that the translation from superheros brawling in the streets of Gotham or Metropolis does not in my mind translate to ships fighting in space. To further complicate the matter, in order to use the special power you have to understand the translation. For instance, Enterprise-A has the special power/ability called “Deflector Shields (Toughness).” In order to use this power, you have to look up Toughness on the Powers & Abilities Card. This same Toughness ability is known as “Deflectors 100%, Captain” on the USS Rhode Island card but is not the same as “Deflectors to Full (Invulnerability)” on the IKS Bortas card.

Confused? If you are already a Heroclix player you are probably not; indeed in all likelihood such a person has already mastered the game. For those of us drawn by the theme the chance for disappointment is very high.

Is There Any Worth Here?

If you are looking for a starship battle game go elsewhere. Even the rules for set up reflect the brawling nature (pick a map, pick a team, fight). I will keep the basic game around because I can play it with the kids. I maybe even will enjoy it as I push the ships nicely painted ships around beautiful maps. Maybe enjoy it, but more for playing a game with the kids than playing a game of space battles.

Introducing the BATTLETECH Introductory Box Set

Courtesy BGG

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 Verdict

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.

The Alternative

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.