How to play BattleTech Part 1

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help new players in “How to Play Battletech”. By How to Play, I don’t mean the rules of the game, but rather how to set up the gameplay, the factions used, the units allowed, the size of forces, game balance and eventually looking at scenarios and campaigns.

“Always pay your bills within 30 standard days… to avoid…. surcharges…”

Game Play vs Lore

As a game of over 30 years of real-life history, and 800 years of in-game history, BattleTech is unique in its flavour as an almost “Historical” Sci-fi game.

The first issue that many players face when sitting down to play a game is, what faction am I playing? The answer to that is both it doesn’t matter, but also it’s really important. Confused? Although BattleTech has a huge number of factions that change throughout its in-game history/lore (sometimes we just call it fluff) you don’t need to pick factions to just play a game. At first just simply pick up some BattleMechs and play. As time goes on you can begin to identify with a favourite faction and period of time in the game history, but unlike in many tabletop games, the “Faction” you choose doesn’t fundamentally change the game. Factions don’t have special abilities or different core rules. There are useful tools for telling you what units are likely to be fielded by a faction but I’ll cover that later… for now, would you like to play a game?

This image is subliminal messaging to get you to play Clan Jade Falcon

Game 1 – Your First Game – The duel!

Materials Required: BattleTech Beginners Box OR BattleTech: A Game of Armour Combat Box OR Total Warefare/BattleMech Manual and Inner Sphere Force Packs.

Rules Level: Beginners OR Introductory

Suggested Era: Late Succession War – Lostech OR Late Succession Wars – Renaissance (3021-3049)

Time Required: 30-45 minutes

Number of BattleMechs: 1 per player

Suggested BattleMechs: Wolverine WVR-6R vs Shadow Hawk SHD-2H OR Wolverine WVR-6R vs Griffin GRF-1N (Both with Piloting Skill 5 and Gunnery Skill 4)

Yes, this Auto Cannon swivels into an upright position allowing me to shoot seaguls.

Number of Map Sheets: 1

It’s your first game of BattleTech. What do you do? Start simple and select one BattleMech each (remember you don’t need the correct miniature, you can use the cardboard stand-in or just proxy). Play on the Grasslands 1 map sheet (from the Beginners Box) which mostly has plain terrain and a few light and heavy wood hexes. The Grasslands 2 map from BTAGOAC is a bit more complex to play as it has hills, water and road terrain, but the Grasslands 3 map is a bit simpler with just hills and forests.

If I align my antenna just right I can pick up Tex Talks BattleTech

The best combination I find for a “learn to play” game is the Wolverine WRV-6R vs the Shadow Hawk SHD-2H. They are both 55-ton BattleMechs and are very well balanced. They both have Auto Cannon 5’s and Medium Lasers and similar armour, whereas the Wolverine has an SRM6, while the Shadow Hawk has an SRM2 for up close and an LRM 5 for distance, but the Shadow Hawk has only 3 Jump Jets) so it can only Jump 3 hexes) while the Wolverine has 5.

You could also decide to play the Beginners Box BattleMechs – using the Griffin GRF-1N vs the Wolverine WVR-6R. This can be a little tricky for the Griffin player as it is more of a longer range BattleMech with its PPC and LRM10 compared to the Wolverine’s more close-in weapons package.

Choose which player starts at each end of the map (north or south) and deploy your BattleMech by walking onto the battlefield at the start of turn 1.

FAQ: How do BattleMechs get deployed on the table?

This is a super common question and one not answered in the books! It is quite simply up to you to decide, but here are some simple options:

Walk on: Each player is assigned a home edge (usually the short map edges at the “north” and “south” of the map. At the start of the game, in turn 1, the player that lost initiative chooses a hex along that map edge to enter. It has to be a hex with a number (some half hexes are numbered and these are “in play”, some half hexes are not numbered and these are “out of play”). Your BattleMech can enter the battlefield either by walking, running or jumping, you pay the MP (movement point) cost of entering that first hex.

Deployment zones: You and your opponent define a valid “Deployment zone” for the game. This is commonly 3 hexes into the board. You start deployed up to 3 hexes away from one edge and your opponent deploys on the other side of the map. Usually, the deployment zones are on from the short edges on the North and South sides of the map. At the start of the game, each player rolls for Initiative for deployment. The loser deploys one of their ‘Mechs first followed by the winner, until all units are deployed, the initiative is rolled again for Turn 1.
This is a handy box with some useful tips!

The aim of the game is to destroy your opponent’s BattleMech (Reduce the Central Torso or Head to 0 internal structure, score 3 Engine Critical Hits, or score a critical hit to the Head: Cockpit!). In most games, a critical hit to an ammo bit will also destroy the BattleMech due to the amount of damage caused!

After you’ve tried playing 1v1 with the Wolverine vs Shadow Hawk/Griffin, try out other BattleMechs e.g. Locust vs Commando, Catapult vs Thunderbolt, or BattleMaster vs Awesome. As you play more you’ll get a feel the role of each BattleMech (e.g. Brawler, Skirmisher, Sniper, Fire Support – note these terms have no gameplay rules relevance in the Beginners or Introductory Rules but are used by some Advanced Rules). For game balance, try to keep to the same tonnage or within 5 tons of each other – although if you feel like a challenge, try to take on the 80 ton Awesome in a Shadow Hawk or even a 20 ton Locust!

Video: Battletech Tutorial
FAQ: Where can I find Record Sheets?

One of the most common questions is where can I find copies of Record Sheets for BattleMechs.

BattleTech Beginners Box – Includes sheets only for the Beginners rules set
BattleTech A Game of Armored Combat – Includes a paper booklet of the 8 Introductory Rule Set BattleMech miniatures in the Box including variant for each.
BattleTech Clan Invasion – Includes a book of sheets for the Standard Ruleset for the Clan BattleMechs in the Box as well as Elemental Battle Armor as well as the Clan Invasion Era variants of Inner Sphere BattleMechs.

On the BattleTech Website http://bg.battletech.com you can find the following packs of sheets to download:

BattleTech Blank Record Sheets
BattleTech A Game of Armored Combat Record Sheets and Counters
BattleTech Wave 1 Force Pack Record Sheets
BattleTech Wave 2 Force Pack Record Sheets
BattleTech Wolf’s Dragoons Force Pack Record Sheets

You can also find information about Introductory Rules BattleMechs in:
Technical Read Out: Succession Wars
Record Sheets: Succession Wars

In the old days before the InterWeb players used the Blank Record Sheets to make their own!

You can also obtain sheets via the MegaMek downloadable Java program (http://www.megamek.org)

Video Link: MegaMek Tutorial

Rules Levels

There are five levels of rules in BattleTech: Beginners, Introductory, Standard, Advanced and Experimental. In this article, we’ll just consider the Beginners and Introductory Rule Set.

Beginners (Quick Start) Rules

Rulebooks: BattleTech Beginners Box

This is a very cut down, simplified ruleset design for players who are very new to gaming and is ideal for younger players under 12. It uses special simplified record sheets which can be found the Beginners Box and also removes/ignores some of the Introductory rules including:

Internal Structure Damage, Heat, Critical Hits, Minimum Range, Physical Attacks, Pilot Skill Checks, Firing Arcs.

It’s a quick and easy way to play, but is mostly only seen in beginner’s games. Most players either start with or move quickly on to the Introductory Rule Set.

Introductory Rules

Rule Book: BattleTech A Game of Armour Combat Box

This ruleset uses the same gameplay rules as the Standard Ruleset (in BMM and TW) but doesn’t include more complex equipment. This ruleset is also often played in the Late Succession Wars – Lostech and Late Succession Wars – Renaissance Eras (see below), although Introductory Technology BattleMechs can be used in any era and often are by C-bill strapped mercenaries!

BattleMechs are considered to be part of the Introductory Rules if they have the following equipment. [Note that some of the BattleMechs in the Technical Readout Succession Wars include Technologies that are not in the Introductory Rules].

Introductory Rules Equipment
Auto-cannons (AC/2/5/10/20) [DB, Direct Ballistic]
Machine Guns [DB, Direct Ballistic]
Small/Medium/Large Lasers (SL/ML/LL) [E, Energy]
Particle Projection Cannon (PPC) [E, Energy]
Flamers [E, Energy]
Short-Range Missiles (SRM2/4/6) [M, Missile, C, Cluster]
Long-Range Missiles (LRM5/10/15/20) [M, Missile, C, Cluster]
Hatchet [Physical]
Standard Armor/Standard Internal Structure/Standard Engines
War crimes shopping list
New shiny BattleTech Boxes….mmmmm… must buy these.

Eras

Eras are different time periods in BattleTech in game history. Although we won’t look into era’s in much detail in this article here, the most common eras used in Beginners and Introductory games are below.

Although most BattleMechs in these eras use Introductory Rules there are some BattleMechs from the Star League that use Standard Rules for weapons and equipment. Also during the War of 3039, some new prototypes of weapons appear.

This is a random image to send the conspiracy theorist crazy… they are still out there.

Late Succession Wars – LosTech (2900-3020)

By this time, the Second Succession War and the beginnings of the Third have reduced most of the advanced technology of the Star League to the status of ’lostech”. The Third war begins with a Draconis Combine attack on the Lyran Commonwealth but soon descends into two hundred years of low-level and constant warfare as the Great Houses suffer the consequences of their folly.

(This is also the period in which many of the best BattleTech books from the 1980’s are based such as the Warrior Trilogy and The Grey Death Legion Trilogy)

No, really! We just found all these pristine Star League era Mechs at Discount Dans.
FAQ: What is LosTech?

LosTech is slang for Lost Technology from the Star League Era (pre 2780). After 300 years of war during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Succession Wars after the fall of the Star League, most of the high technology equipment, weapons and even BattleMech designs used in that time have become impossible to replace or repair, this tends to happen when you nuke your neighbours factories.

As an optional rule you might decide to take a limited number of LosTech units in the Introductory RulesSet (rules for these items can be found in the BMM, TW or the Clan Invasion Box).

LosTech includes – Double Heat sinks, Ferro-Fiberous Armour, EndoSteel Internal Structure, XL Engines, Ultra Auto-cannon UAC/5, LB Auto-cannon LB-5-X, Medium Pulse Lasers (MPL), Extended Range Large Lasers (ERLL), Extended Range Particle Projection Cannon (ER PCC), Gauss Rifles (GR), Short range Missile 2 Streak (SRM2 Streak).

Late Succession Wars – Renaissance (3021-3049)

In the early 31st century the Grey Death Legion discovers the Helm memory core and kickstarts the rediscovery of many lost technologies. In secret Hanse Davion and Katrina Steiner sign the FedCom Accords, a secret pact to join the Federated Suns and Lyran Commonwealth. Using his marriage to Melissa Steiner as cover, Hanse Davion begins the Fourth Succession War by launching a massive invasion against his enemies. The war ends with Davion capturing half of the Capellan Confederation and securing a vital link to the Commonwealth, but fails to defeat the Draconis Combine.

The Wedding Planner.
FAQ: What is the Master Unit List?
The Master Unit List (or MUL) is a resource run by Catalyst Games Labs that keeps a list of all officially recognised units in BattleTech and in what era and faction they are used.

For players starting out here are two links for BattleMechs (and their variants) using Introductory Technology in these eras:

Late Succession Wars – LosTech (2900-3020)
Late Succession Wars – Renaissance (3021-3049)
The Master Unit List has no association with the Word of Blake and their very nice peaceful leader the Master

Balancing Forces and Skills

When using Beginners and Introductory rule sets, it is simplest to balance forces by having the same number of units on each side and with the same total tonnage of units.

It is also recommended that you keep to the default skills of Piloting Skill 5 and Gunnery Skill 4.

Game 2 – The Tag Team!


Materials Required: BattleTech Beginners Box OR BattleTech: A Game of Armour Combat Box OR Total Warefare/BattleMech Manual and Inner Sphere Force Packs.

Rules Level: Beginners OR Introductory

Suggested Era: Late Succession War – Lostech OR Late Succession Wars – Renaissance (3021-3049)

Time Required: 45-90 minutes

Number of BattleMechs: 2 per player

Suggested BattleMechs: Wolverine WVR-6R/Catapult CPLT-C1 vs Shadow Hawk SHD-2H/Thunderbolt TDR-5S

Number of Map Sheets: 1

In a two vs two game, you will find that Initiave, while still important, has less of an impact on gameplay. You will also be able to make use of BattleMechs that have different roles, that will make you consider the ideal range to be at.

The Catapult CPLT-C1 is a Missile Boat, a BattleMech designed for primarily long-range. Its ideal role on the battlefield is to find a good vantage point, often on a hilltop and in some woods (Its Jump Jets are ideal for getting into this position quickly), and rain missiles on the enemy using its twin LRM-15’s. Once the missiles are expended, the Catapult can still be a powerful BattleMech at close range with its 4 Medium Lasers, but at close ranges, its LRM’s become very inaccurate [Rule: Minimum Range]. It lack of hands and lower arm actuators makes physical combat difficult, but it still has a powerful kick.

The Thunderbolt TDR-5 is a Brawler. Although it has an LRM15 this just gives the ‘Mech something to do until it gets in closer to use its arm-mounted Large Laser. At closer ranges the Thunderbolt can unleash its full 3 Medium Lasers, SRM2 and twin machine guns to full effect, as well as powerful kick and punch attacks, although at close range its LRM’s are inaccurate [Rule: Minimum Range].

InnerShere Rule Number 1 – You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your backstabbing family!

Unlike the Wolverine and Shadow Hawk which can’t really overheat unless they take an Engine critical hit, both the Catapult and Thunderbolt require thought as to heat management. If they fire all their weapons continuously they soon overheat, which adds new complexity to the game.

Having a game with LRM systems and two BattleMechs also gives the opportunity to explore the Indirect Fire rules (pg 22 BTAGOAC) allowing LRM equipped ‘Mechs to target enemy units outside of Line of Sight (LoS) using a spotted unit.

After your first two vs two game you can explore other combinations of BattleMechs. Ideally, it is best to balance these by tonnage trying to keep the two sides within 5 tons of each other.


Game 3 – Lance vs Lance!

Materials Required: BattleTech Beginners Box OR BattleTech: A Game of Armour Combat Box OR Total Warefare/BattleMech Manual and Inner Sphere Force Packs.

Rules Level: Beginners OR Introductory

Suggested Era: Late Succession War – Lostech OR Late Succession Wars – Renaissance (3021-3049)

Time Required: 90-150 minutes

Number of BattleMechs: 4 per player

Suggested BattleMechs:

Team A (225 Tons)Team B (225 Tons)
Commando COM-2D [25] (Scout)Locust LCT-1E [20] (Scout)
Wolverine WVR-6R [55] (Skirmisher)Shadow Hawk SHD-2H [55] (Skirmisher)
Thunderbolt TDR-5S [65] (Brawler)Catapult CPLT-C1 [65] (Missile Boat)
Awesome AWS-8Q [80] (Sniper)Battle Master BLG-1G [85] (Brawler)
No! I said we needed a Blue Team and a Red Team…. what do you mean the quartermaster only had desert paint?

Number of Map Sheets: 2 (or 1 BattleMat)

One of the most common ways to play Battletech is the 4 v 4 game and in the Inner Sphere, 4 BattleMechs is known as a Lance.

The two teams shown above are using the BattleMechs from BTAGOAC. They have a good balance of units between long-range (Snipers and Missile Boats), medium-range (Skirmishers) and short-range (Brawlers).

Everything is Awesome….and friends.

When setting up the map for this game place two map sheets together with the long edges touching to make a 32 x 17 map (or alternatively use one of Catalysts BattleMats). If you place two map sheets together it is a good idea to use some of the pop-out card terrain hexes from BTAGOAC to add to the “seam” between the two maps where there is no scenery, otherwise, there is a very quick and easy route to make progress north and south along the seams.

When playing the 4 v 4 game, Initiative becomes less powerful again (although still important). Tactical decisions such as positioning your forces to allow focused fire onto one enemy target, or flanking your enemy to get shots into their rear armour become very powerful.

OK, who ordered the Desert Camo scheme on a lush green forest planet?

After trying the above-suggested teams make up your own lances. Select a tonnage you want to use (it is good to keep forces within 5-10 tons of each other) and choose your own BattleMechs from the Introductory BattleMechs in the BTAGOAC box or in the downloadable sheets for the Force Packs.

FAQ: What is Forced Withdrawal?

Forced Withdrawal is an optional rule when playing that is in the BMM pg. 81 or TW pg. 258. It is a good way to make games go quicker as it introduces the idea of BattleMechs having to retreat from the battlefield when they receive Crippling Damage.

FORCED WITHDRAWAL (Simplified for BattleMechs Only)
Most military forces will not fight to the last man. Instead, once they have taken appreciable amounts of damage, they will begin to retreat. The forced withdrawal rules help simulate this situation and add variety for enjoyable replay, heighten the human element and bind players to the warriors represented by the playing pieces in a game.

Under forced withdrawal, crippled units must retreat from the battlefield when damage has rendered them useless or they are in imminent danger of being destroyed (see Crippling Damage, below). A unit making a forced withdrawal must move toward its home map edge as designated by a scenario. However, a unit need not spend Running MP, it can also move backward if the controlling player wishes.

Withdrawing units may still attack an enemy unit that closes within range of a weapon or physical attack. The following guidelines cover the many circumstances that may occur. Within these guidelines, the gamemaster’s decision is final. If no gamemaster is present and players cannot come to a consensus, simply roll 1D6 to determine a resolution and get back to play. All players should agree to the use of the forced withdrawal rules in a given scenario before play begins.

CRIPPLING DAMAGE
Any unit that suffers crippling damage must withdraw from the map board. Crippling damage is defined as follows:
A ’Mech is considered crippled when a side torso location is destroyed; the ’Mech takes two engine critical hits; one gyro and one engine critical hit; or loses the use of its sensors. Internal structure damage in either three or more limbs or two or more torso locations (the torso internal structure damage does not count towards crippling damage if that location still has front armor), or four or more pilot hits, also
render a ’Mech crippled, as does the loss of all the ’Mech’s weapons to damage or ammunition depletion. If all of a ’Mech’s weapons are destroyed and it can no longer move, the ’Mech is considered destroyed.
All of a unit’s weapons are considered destroyed if it loses all weapons with a range greater than five hexes and if it can no longer cause more than 5 points of combined weapons damage. If the unit did not start with the ability to do 5 or more damage, or the ability to do damage at a range greater than five hexes, the unit is never considered to have all its weapons destroyed.
No private, it’s not appropriate to make clucking noises when the enemy Mechs are in Forced Withdrawal…

LANCE SIZES

When playing Lance vs Lance games you might want to try a variety of lance type and sizes. The below table gives you some ideas of what total force tonnages you could use for Lance level games and a suggestion as to limitations for the maximum number of each class of BattleMech (Light, Medium, Heavy and Assault).

Lance type
(Tonnage per Mech)
Average Tonnage
(Range)
LightMediumHeavyAssault
Light (20-35)110-120 (80-160)4210
Medium (40-55)190-200 (170-220)2421
Heavy (60-75)270-280 (230-300)1242
Assault (80-100)250-360 (310-400)0124
Steiner Scout Lance (400) 4 x Atlas AS7-D (100)

Examples

Light Scout Lance (120) Locust LCT-1E (20), Commando CMD-2D (25), Locust LCT-1V (20), Shadow Hawk SHD-2H (55)

Light Urban Lance (120) Commando CMD-2D (25), UrbanMech UM-R60 (30), UrbanMech UM-R63 (30), Panther PNT-9R (35).

Medium Skirmish Lance (200) Commando CMD-2D (25), Wolverine WVR-6R (55), Shadow Hawk SHD-2H (55), Catapult CPLT-1 (65).

Medium Fire Support Lance (200) Javelin JVN-10A (30), Trebuchet TBT-5N (50), Dervish DV-6M (55), Catapult CPTL-C1 (65).

Heavy Brawler Lance (280) Wolverine WVR-6M (55), Catapult CPLT-K1 (65), ThunderBolt TBR-5SE (65), BattleMaster BLM-1G (85).

Heavy Fire Lance (280) Catapult CPTL-K1 (65) Warhammer WHR-6R (70), Grasshopper GRH-5 (70), Marauder MAD-3R (75).

Assault Fire Spport Lance (355) Awesome AWS-8Q (80), Longbow LGB-7G (85), Highlander HGN-733 (90), Marauder II MAD-4A (100).

Assault Brawler Lance (360) Orion ON1-K (75), Stalker STK-3F (85), King Crab KGC-0000 (100), Altas AS7-D (100).

FAQ: What are Variants?

After many centuries of production, there exists many different versions of each BattleMech. When first commissioned as a design BattleMechs are assigned a short 3 or 4 letter code such as LCT for Locust and CPLT for Catapult. After this is a code signifying the main line variants of that BattleMech. This code often includes letters which have some significance to which Successor State/House the BattleMech is produced by (although this isn’t a completely universal system).

Common Codes
R – Regular or Star League, these variants are the most common e.g WVR-6R
M – House Marik, Free Worlds League
S – House Steiner, Lyran Commonwealth
D – House Davion Federated Suns
K – House Kurita, Draconis Combine
L – House Liao, Capellan Confederation
X/P – Prototype
Rb or b – Star League Royal variant, the very best units of the Star League fielded the most advanced technologies. E.g. Highlander HGN-732b

Where Next?

Once you are comfortable playing Lance vs Lance, you can even try larger games with two lances each (4-5 hours gameplay 2-4 Map Sheets) or a full company (6-8 hours gameplay – 4-6 Map Sheets).

While using BattleMechs that are all from the Introductory Ruleset balancing by Tonnage and keeping the same number of units on each side is an effective and simple way to keep games fair and fun.

The next article in this series will look more at the Standard Rules set and balancing forces for a good gameplay experience using the Battle Value System. We will also look more closely at factions and the Master Unit List.

Wait a minute – what are all those very nice looking Green BattleMechs and when can I play with those… (oh… in the next article)
No… it’s not an emerald turkey…
The Sub UrbanMech is considered the best unit to play in BattleTech!

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