Rules of Engagement; Battletech Campaign

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled. Coming from a background of Warhammer, but more recently playing X-Wing Miniatures and Armada as my primary games, and filling my extra gaming time with various board games, all of my gaming over the past few years has had sharply defined objectives and scoring. And you would think, with a the core Total Warfare rulebook spanning over 300 pages, Battletech would be no different; rules would be very clearly defined and easy to follow (so long as you could find them).

Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case this weekend, and I have to admit that it frustrated me a great deal. Victory and defeat in an individual game of Battletech and played at a casual level is easy enough to define. But at our FLGS, we’ve expanded the game into a persistent campaign – winning and or losing a game affects the overall campaign map, and losing a pilot in battle has permanent effects.

Clan Invasion progress. Systems marked with yellow dots are currently contested, green are Jade Falcon territory, red have been claimed by Clan Wolf.

When I arrived at our planned meet-up for the week, a couple players were already gearing up for a game. As per the rules defined by our game-masters, players should either agree on a scenario in advance, or roll for a scenario defined in Total Warfare, and if you don’t like the scenario rolled, “tough luck, you rolled because you couldn’t agree”. So to see the players say “oh, I don’t like the Chase scenario, reroll that” hurt. The scenario was replaced with Extraction, under which an attacking force is attempting to retrieve and escape with a hidden object. We use units’ Battle Value to balance our forces for the campaign, so instead of the victory condition being “did the attacker escape with the item?”, the following formula is used for scoring:

[(BV of attacking units killed * 2) – BV of defending units killed] for the defender
[BV of defending units killed – BV of attacking units killed + (BV total of defender if extraction is successful)]

The importance of this formula is that it is completely possible for the object to be stolen, yet the defenders win the game. Assume the game is played at a BV of 5,000, and the attacker escapes with the hidden objective, carried by a 1,000 BV unit. All other attackers are destroyed, no defenders are lost. In that scenario, the defender wins soundly by a score of 8,000 to 1,000. [(4,000 x 2 – 0) vs (0 -4,000 + 5,000)].

Fortunately, scoring didn’t come into play during the game I watched, as lucky rolls and a very dedicated Hunchback put its’ AC/20 to good use and wiped out the Clan Fire Mandrill attackers, making a total victory for the defender.

So moving on, the Clan player from that match then stepped in as an Inner Sphere opponent for my Wolves as they began to attack a new system, The Rock. Scenario roll… “Chase”. Apparently, we still don’t like this one, I bite my tongue and we reroll. Scenario roll two… “Extraction”, just as before. I made sure to explain the scoring rules thoroughly, not wanting there to be any issue where we both felt that we won the mission.

The battlefield. Clan Wolf defends the eastern area, Inner Sphere forces enter from the west. I’m happy with this – the enemy has to cross the lake twice, slowing down for good shots both times.
The forces posing for a pre-battle photo- A Timber Wolf B & D vs a speedy scout lance comprised of a pair of Ravens and Jenners, plus a beefier Black Knight providing fire support.

I won initiative on the first turn (and for much of the game). Knowing my best chance to hit the speedy light mechs would be as they slowed to cross the water, I quickly moved into firing positions with both of my mechs. With a commanding view of the battlefield from atop the small mountain (level 3 terrain), my Timber Wolf D was prepared to rain down PPC fire on the approaching raiders, while the B rushed up to greet them up close as they made their crossings.

Making use of superior clan weapon ranges, but my dice were obviously of some flawed Inner Sphere design.

Sadly, the long range meant I still needed very high rolls to hit, and I couldn’t land any damage early on, but the positional game worked to my advantage. The Black Knight had trouble crossing the lake, having to do so over the course of several turns. A Jenner was the first of the enemy mechs to break through the lines and cross the southern ridge, but it was chased down from behind by the Timber Wolf B and destroyed. Simultaneously, the northern Timber Wolf closed in for a better shot, blowing a leg off of the Raven in the woods.

A good turn for the Wolves. It would prove to be the last one.

With any luck, I could finish off the remaining scout mechs before the Black Knight could fully engage, and turn this battle on its’ head, using my speed and maneuverability to outmaneuver the remaining enemy, who would have a very hard time escaping with the extraction target. But unfortunately, lady luck had other plans.

The downed Raven took advantage of the mercy my pilots showed him, and continued to fire. Meanwhile, the remaining Jenner reached the hidden objective with a full blast from his jump jets, taking the opportunity to light up the rear armor of the Timber Wolf B. Combining that with the first successful incoming fire from the Black Knight, the omnimech was knocked from its’ feet (failing a to score 5+ on a 2d6 piloting roll).

As luck would have it, the Timber Wolf would slip and fall again as it attempted to stand, taking the full force of the impact on its’ head, damaging but not destroying the armor surrounding its’ cockpit. This left the mech unable to move very far that turn after it did manage to stand, and his ally was forced to rush in to provide cover, exposing himself to some nasty shots in turn from the remaining healthy Raven.

The rear armor flew off of the Timber Wolves faster than LRM ammo from a Catapult.

This is where things took an even nastier turn. My opponent, being a part of this campaign, but primarily as Clan, cared nothing for his Black Knight’s pilot, and proceeded to max out his heat for multiple turns in a row, laying down round after round of punishing fire. Failing to hit the light mechs that were looking for an opening to flee, I changed tactics and took an opportunity to try and outflank the larger mech, but I lost track of which of my units was which, and ran behind him with a damaged gryo, causing myself to fall again. The Jenner took this opportunity to make his break and get a few extra cheap shots on the downed Timber Wolf while he was at it.

6 mechs on the field, 2 mechs standing. Piloting rolls were not our friends.

And then the figurative straw that broke the camel’s back… the Jenner raced ahead, breaking for the home table edge “to end the scenario”. From Total Warfare, page 261, Extraction Scenario.

Victory Conditions
If the attacker can move a unit carrying the extraction target
off his home map edge, he wins the scenario. Otherwise, the
defender wins.
Battle Value: If using the BV system, determine victory as
follows. The defender scores points normally. However, the
attacker scores only the point value for each opposing ’Mech
he destroys (instead of twice their point value, as normal). The
attacker loses points normally for each of his ’Mechs that the
defender destroys. If the attacking player manages to move
the extraction target off his home map edge, he scores points
equal to the total points used to buy forces for the defender’s
side in the scenario.

Now, my understanding of the scenario had been that the game would continue for the remaining units, until all of one side had retreated or been destroyed, giving me an opportunity to finish off the remaining mechs that would likely not be able to escape, and thus squeak out a win. However, my opponent’s interpretation that at the end of the turn that the Jenner escaped, the rest of his units would magically disappear, and our campaign coordinator agreed. So I was forced to make a last ditch effort to stop the Jenner in order to have a chance to win the scenario.

The closest Timber Wolf stood, damaged Gyro and all, and ran after the Jenner, falling again at the end of his movement. The more distant of my mechs stood relatively still for a better shot, exposing himself to more enemy fire.

The “hail mary” maneuver paid off to an extent, and the fleeing Jenner was cut down from behind. And with an extra volley from the B’s rear mounted SRMs, the Black Knight was knocked down once again. But in return, all enemy units other than the Jenner unleashed their full arsenals at my units. The sheer volume of hits brought with it multiple hits to the head on my units, killing both of my most veteran pilots, and putting an end to the match.

Our positions before the final round of firing.

So in my last two matches, I’ve lost my three most experienced pilots, and I now face a major uphill battle to continue the campaign, as my replacement pilots are dictated by the campaign rules to be skill level 4/5 (Inner Sphere standard) instead of 3/4 (Clan standard), while neophyte Inner Sphere players start with 3/4 stats for unkilled pilots to “make things fair”. Leveling up pilots to reach the 3/4 stats will require surviving 12 games each, no small feat.

Clan Wolf will continue, but not before a few rules clarifications. After all, knowing the rules of engagement is usually a key component to winning…

– The Tabletop General.