Battletech 25th Anniversary introductory box set review

By Grant
In Reviews
Apr 21st, 2011
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Review
by Karl Johnson

A small handful of tabletop games have been played and supported over a period of time spanning four decades (‘80s,’ 90s, ‘00s, and ‘10s), with the Battletech franchise being arguably one of the more popular of these games. Catalyst Game Labs has chosen to release a special Battletech introductory boxed set to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the game’s release. The set retails for $49.99 (USD).

Tabletop Gaming News has previously reviewed an earlier incarnation of the Battletech introductory box set.

What’s in the Box?

Contents

Contents

Looking at the box itself, it’s a fair amount larger than the currently available introductory boxed set, with high-quality laminated paper used for the box artwork overlays. It’s also very sturdy and large enough to hold all of the game components comfortably, even if one subsequently decides to paint the miniatures provided with the set (more on those later).

The box contents are an impressive array of written materials, along with 26 miniatures, a pair of dice, and two 18” x 22” double-sided game maps. The several books included with this introductory boxed set are provided to get players into actually playing the game quickly and provide guidance and materials for those who wish to delve further into the wealth of Battletech gaming sourcebooks that are available in addition to those found in this set.

The Miniatures

Twenty-six different plastic miniatures are included with the set, twenty-four of which have been available with the ‘standard’ Battletech Introductory Box Set since its release. These 24 ‘mechs are made of a softer plastic than a standard plastic model kit, but not so soft as to be considered the “bendy” plastic used for many collectible miniatures on the market. Each is suitable for use in games “as is”, or can be painted by players to make for more visually interesting games, using either one’s own imagination or the provided “Painting and Tactics Guide” for inspiration in choosing paint schemes for one’s own model collection.

While the detail is good on most of the 24 not-bendy-plastic miniatures, some (not all) suffer from small to very prominent flash and mould lines. Most of these can be cleaned up using a hobby knife, but the mould mismatching on some of the ‘mechs will create some additional work for players who are picky about such things.

Thor

Thor

While the miniatures themselves are one of the main attractions of this set, I have to wonder at why, when going to all the trouble and expense to create molds for plastic models, Catalyst did not place the name of each ‘mech somewhere on the underside of each model’s base. As this is an introductory set, one would think that something like having the names on each model would be of great value to a new player who doesn’t know the difference between a Cicada and an Atlas at a casual glance. Two additional miniatures, the Thor and Loki, are included in this starter box, made of the same type of plastic one would expect to find in a commercially available model kit. The Thor ‘mech comes fully assembled and mounted on a small hexagonal base; the Loki is a multi-part model kit that should be easy to assemble in 10-15 minutes by even inexperienced modelers. There are no instructions for assembling the Loki, but visual reference for how it should be assembled can be found by referencing the line-art drawing of the ‘mech on its ‘Mech Record Sheet in the provided record sheet book.

The Mapboards

The other items that distinguish the 25th Anniversary starter box from the current starter set are the two back-printed game mapboards. These maps have a high-quality matte finish to them and are hard-mounted on thick cardboard. Each map is cut for ease of folding and storage, with the cuts being precise and the map panels laying flat against my gaming table on first opening; I saw no sign of warping or other deformity that can occur to map panels during the printing and assembly process. When placed side by side, there is a small (less than 1/8”) offset in the printing of the hex grids from one map to the next, but this is a very minor issue and shouldn’t affect how the game plays nor detract from the visual appeal of the maps themselves.

The Books

Six books are included with this set, five of which are full-color and printed on glossy paper. The sixth book, the ‘Mech Record Sheets booklet, is printed in black and white on plain paper. All of these books are centre-bound and range from competently to handsomely illustrated with line art, original artwork, game play illustrations, and photos of games in progress.

The Quick-Start Rules (12 pages)are designed for new players to grapple with the enemy shortly after opening the box for the first time, teaching new ‘mech drivers the basics of Battletech’s movement and combat rules. This booklet is shorter and contains less material than the free download version of the Battletech Quick-start rules; the download version contains more scenarios, a few pages of fiction, printable maps and unit stand-ups, and the Quick-start vehicle and infantry rules that are found in the back of this box set’s Introductory rules.

The Introductory Rulebook (80 pages) expands on what players learned from the Quick-Start Rules, adding different methods of attacking the enemy, movement options, and introduce the core concept of managing the amount of heat generated by a ‘mech while performing normal actions during combat. There is also a set of quick-start rules for using “normal” vehicles (such as tanks and personnel carriers) and infantry at the end of the rulebook. These types of combatants are not covered in depth with the introductory box set, being detailed in a separately available rulebook for those inclined to include such element types in their games.

A book of ‘Mech Record Sheets provides game stats and damage records for each of the 24 “basic” ‘mechs, along with 12 Quick-start game ‘mech, vehicle, and infantry records, two variants each of the Thor and Loki, and the Quick-start game charts.

Inner Sphere at a Glance (56 pages) gives players the background story behind the development and deployment of battlemechs, along with the Battletech universe’s political history and factions. This book also includes more detailed information (technical specifications and development/deployment histories) for each of the ‘mechs included in this set.

The Painting and Tactics Guide (16 pages) shows how to clean and paint the ‘mech models, along with some basic tactical advice for using the ‘mechs on the battlefield. Specific paint schemes for the different political factions in the Battletech universe are described, and there is a section that gives some tips for using specific ‘mechs both when driving them and when facing them during a game.

How the Core Rulebooks Work (8 pages) gives new players who wish to take their Battletech games beyond what is offered in this Starter Box an excellent guide to the utility (and best order of acquisition) of each of the additional products in the Battletech range.

The set also includes a pair of identical game reference charts printed on very thick and a fold-out color poster. The game charts, while printed in a very small pointed font that is difficult for these aging eyes to see at less than arm’s length, contain references for all game modifiers and combat procedures players will commonly use during their games.

The fold-out poster maps the areas of space controlled by each of the main political and military factions in the Battletech universe, with major and/or influential star systems being named on the map. This is a handy reference for players that may wish to devise their own methods of campaign play, or for those who want to delve more deeply into the histories of the combatants.

Playing the Quick-Start Game

More contents

More contents

As I haven’t played a Battletech game in nearly 20 years, I was looking at the entirety of the Battletech universe and game system through somewhat new eyes. As such, I decided to read through the Quick-Start rules and play the single introductory scenario provided at the end of that book to see how the game would play from a new player’s perspective. After reading the rules (which are a very quick read, written in a style that is more conversational than legalistic), I set out the map and two ‘mechs to play the introductory scenario.

The game played very smoothly; I ran into no difficulties in applying the rules to the playing of the game, and there were no situations that occurred during the game that brought up additional questions that were not answered by briefly consulting the rulebook. The entire “beginner” experience took roughly 40 minutes from removing the components from the box to the conclusion of my first game. Gamers new to the Battletech game system could expect a similar experience, both in the rapidity of starting on their first game, and in the ease in which the game will be played.

Thoughts on the Quick-Start Game vs. the Full Battletech Game

Even though the game played using the Quick-start rules was a brief but enjoyable experience, it doesn’t really convey the depth of play that the full Battletech game offers to players. Many of the rules that have made Battletech an enduringly popular and unique game, such as managing heat buildup due to design inadequacies, along with physical attacks (which are exactly what they sound like – giant robots smashing their mechanical fists, legs, and specialized hand-to-hand weaponry into their opponents’ robotic heads, torsos, arms, and legs) are simply omitted for the sake of getting new players throwing some dice as quickly as possible.

While this “instant gratification” approach is a useful tool to hook new players into wanting a more in-depth playing experience, I can’t help but think that Catalyst could have included some basic form of heat management or physical attacks with the Quick-start rules that could convey some of the importance of these full-game features. Indeed, the fate of many a ‘mech on these imaginary battlefields has been sealed due to its overheating at a critical moment during a battle (much to the chagrin of its owning player).

The Quick-start game also lacks the variety available to players using the complete introductory rules in the box set. There are but four ‘mech record sheets provided for use in the single Quick-start scenario. While the Quick-start book does state that playing the same scenario multiple times is a valid option, I can’t see many players running through this scenario more than once or twice before deciding to continue learning the complete game. Players wanting to gain more experience with the “basic” version of Battletech before moving on to the “full” rules would be well advised to download the free Quick-Start rules from the Catalyst website and play through the additional scenarios (and learn the accompanying rules) enclosed therein.

When graduating to the full game rules in the Introductory Rulebook, players are presented with a total of three additional scenarios. Each of these scenarios can be gamed with the forces outlined for use in a particular scenario, but players can also substitute different ‘mechs to give these battles a bit of re-playability. Even though these three scenarios give players the option to field any of the plastic ‘mechs included with the set, they don’t offer much in the way of variety in game objectives; two of the three award victory to the side that first destroys or cripples all of the enemy ‘mechs. The other scenario provides one player the option of winning by exiting his lone assault ‘mech (the largest, heaviest class of unit in the Battletech universe) off the playing surface – or by destroying or crippling all of the enemy ‘mechs. Given the rich future history presented in Battletech (never mind the 25 years of development, game play, and available materials from which to draw), one cannot help but think that a little more variety in the included scenarios would have been a better way to showcase this classic game for new players.

Conclusion

While the Battletech 25th Anniversary Introductory Box Set doesn’t have much beyond the plastic ‘mechs (and possibly the mounted mapboards) to offer the veteran ‘mech jockeys out there, the set offers a great value and high-quality components to the prospective new player. If you’ve been curious about but are not yet familiar with the Battletech game system, this box set contains a large array of materials in which a new player can immerse themselves in terms of both back-story and game-play, and provides an excellent value in terms of durable and attractive physical components and amount of gaming time for money spent on the product.

Pros:

  • Very easy to quickly begin playing your first game.
  • Durable, high quality components.
  • Decent amount of variety in available unit types to command.
  • Good value for the asking price.

Cons:

  • Difficult for new players to easily identify unit types.
  • Quick-start rules entirely omit factors that become critical to game play using the full game rules.
  • Lack of variety in the provided scenarios necessitates purchasing additional products for obtaining more interesting gaming situations.