Wolves on the Hunt

“The Wolves of Kerensky have claimed this world for their own. What tame dogs defend it?”

I make no claim to having mastered the other games that I play, but it’s high time that I diversify my gaming and explore a new ruleset. Well, new to me at least. Classic Battletech is as old as I am, having first been published in 1984. I never got enough of the MechWarrior series as a kid, a first-person shooter set in the Battletech universe. The struggles between Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf sucked me in for hours and hours. I led multiple mercenary groups to fame, glory, and riches. MechWarrior: Dark Age might be the best and worst game that WizKids ever published, I opened booster pack after booster pack chasing rare mechs.

Mechwarrior 2 – Not much could stand up to the firepower of a Nova. One good alpha strike and that Summoner would be toast.
WizKids simultaneously tried too hard and not hard enough with MechWarrior: Dark Ages.

The one flavor of Battletech I’ve never really been a part of though is the core Classic Battletech miniatures game. I’ve owned an older variant of the Classic Battletech Starter Set for several years now, and had played a few intro games, but never against anyone that understood the game any more than I did, and certainly not at a competitive level.

For those unfamiliar with the game, each player controls a small army made up of giant robots, occasionally also containing tanks, aircraft, and infantry. Rarely, forces will contain just the support units with no robots at all (but where’s the fun in that?). In Classic Battletech, these armies wage war on a map covered in hexagonal grid; each hex having a designated terrain type which can affect movement (penalties for changing elevation), line of sight (can’t see through hills or certain amounts of forests), or even allow its’ occupants to fire more weaponry than normal (mechs shed waste heat faster when in water).

An example map sheet from the Battletech starter set

Weapons, ammunition, equipment, and armor are all located in certain sections of the mechs, and each attack performed against a mech can hit one or more sections of the target. Each location tracks damage separately, eventually being destroyed entirely, causing the mech to lose all associated equipment. Damage spreads differently depending on the target and source’s orientations, allowing a mech to protect vital systems by turning away, or protect its’ legs by taking cover behind low hills for instance.

The game is simple enough to play, even though there’s tons of books and charts. Everything works off of constant numbers, or using six sided dice for randomization. Each action has a cost and an effect – Standing still generates no heat, but does not affect your shooting. Walking generates one point of heat, allows you to move a certain number of hexes, and adds a small modifier to the to-hit numbers when shooting or being shot at.

A Spider (right) relies on its’ speed to protect it from enemy attacks. Running 8 hexes to long range of the enemy would apply a +7 modifier to attacks, meaning that a stationary “average” (gunnery skill 4) pilot would need an 11 or 12 to hit on a 2d6 roll instead of a measly 4+!

When it comes time to shoot, all weapons generate X heat to fire, work at Y range, and deal Z damage with a hit. A mech sheds N heat per turn, with increasing detrimental effects for allowing heat to build up. Attacks require a roll of 2d6 for each weapon to hit, needing to meet or exceed the pilot’s base gunnery skill to hit, modified by range, cover, the attacker’s movement speed, and the target’s movement distance (an important distinction between speed and distance, to be covered more later). So two heavy assault mechs standing face to face can land lots of hits on one another, but a pair of light recon mechs sprinting around between forests might hit nothing but trees. When an attack does hit, another 2d6 roll is consulted to see where the attack hits, and damage is marked off of that location on the target’s sheet.

An example record sheet for a Dragon heavy mech.
An example record sheet for a Dragon heavy mech, worth 1125 BV points. The top-left box details the weapons on the mech. Each circle on the diagrams on the right side represent armor and internal structure. The bottom-left denotes which critical systems are where, if a lucky shot passes through armor. The bottom-right lists what happens if the mech begins to overheat.

Just as with most other miniatures games, a point value system is in place to ensure that opposing sides bring forces to the battle that are roughly an equal match for one another. Battletech refers to the cost of a unit as its’ Battle Value, calculated based on its’ armor, weaponry, speed, and a few other relevant factors. Individual mechs can have a Battle Value as low as 150 for the lightest of recon mechs, or nearing 4000 for walking fortresses.

So all of this means nothing to me if I’m not actually playing the game. But recently, a group of players have resurfaced at my home gaming store, and like finding a cache of Lostech, a flurry of activity, excitement, and exploding giant robots of death was sure to follow. A demo game or two brought in a lot of new players as well, and we’ve got a decent sized group now. Within just a couple weeks the more experienced players began to organize a campaign based around the Clan invasions of the Inner Sphere circa 3050. Visions of conquest and glory danced through my head, and I threw my hat in the ring, despite knowing very little about the higher strategy of the game, and knowing good and well that there are some basic rules that I don’t know yet either.

It is sure to be a learning experience, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to represent Clan Wolf. Since I don’t own any Clan appropriate mechs (I don’t own the newest Starter Set which includes a Timber Wolf), I’ve requisitioned the following units to start the campaign:

2x Timber Wolf (Mad Cat)
1x Summoner (Thor)
2x Kit Fox (Uller)
2x Ice Ferret (Fenris)

Battles fought in the campaign will have a default Battle Value of 5,000 points per side, which I can fill in several different ways with these forces. The Timber Wolf and Summoner mechs are all roughly 2,200-2,700 BV each, depending on the configuration used, so for brawls requiring heavy hitters I can pick a combination of two out of the three, including a convenient option of two identical Timber Wolf C variants which each cost exactly 2,500. The other four mechs have configurations varying from 1,000 to 1,500 points per model, allowing me to send out all four of them together as a reconnaissance unit, or pick any two of them to pair up with one of the heavier mechs instead.

I’m excited to get my hands on these mechs and put them to use, and I’ve been fighting the urge to use proxies just to get a few games under my belt. I’m less excited about painting them, as that’s always been one of the less enjoyable parts of miniature gaming for me. But I’ve decided (roughly) on a paint scheme, as I really like the Wolf Spiders black with red accents (anyone who knows me might only be surprised that it’s not red with black accents, which I might end up doing anyway). Here’s a quick sample of the scheme:

A Nova / Black Hawk in Wolf Spiders colors. Copied from http://camospecs.com/Miniature.asp?ID=6213

Battletech could be a great adventure for me, or a disastrous failure. For all I know, I could turn out to be the worst commander in the history of Clan Wolf. But I welcome you to join me on my quest to reclaim the Inner Sphere, and good or bad, there will be stories to tell.

– The Tabletop General