Battletech. The name brings to mind knights in shining BattleMechs, lords of war striding the battlefield in their engines of destruction. The BattleMech is tied inseparably from Battletech, the game which, likely, popularized the concept of what is generally called “Western Mecha” nowadays. The impact that Battletech had with it’s depiction of mechs as machines of war with model designations, a procurement history full of corruption and graft, and weird bugs and specific problems with each model cannot be overstated. This depiction of mechs went a long way towards grounding them in reality and making them feel like they could, in a world apart from our own, exist.
But honestly fuck all of that. I know why we are all really here. Screw those bougie bastards in their big robots. The rest of Goonhammer might be a mouthpiece for the Battlemech piloting, land owning aristocracy this week, but here in Battletech we speak for the common man, and the common man drives a Tank.
A case for the humble tank
Tanks and other combat vehicles, such as missile carriers, tank destroyers, technicals, and IFVs seem like a bit of an odd inclusion in Battletech, and their rules frequently puzzle players coming from the video games. The video games, by and large, treat tanks as being so far below mechs that they are barely a concern. Expendable mooks designed to be stepped on or one shot by basically any mech. This is distinctly not the case in the tabletop. Tanks are efficient, do a hell of a lot of damage, and have a few really good options. That said, there are several huge, glaring issues with tanks, which keep them from ever really being as dominant as mechs.
The first major issue with Tanks and other conventional vehicles is the constant risk of having their tracks/wheels/hover units/rotors shot off. Vehicles have different arcs and different to hit charts than mechs, and a good half of the results on their hit chart are either through armor criticals or motive hits. Motive refers to the motive system of the tank, IE the thing that makes it move. Once you take a hit to the motive system, you have to roll on a crit chart for it, with a roughly 50% chance of taking some sort of movement/skill penalty from it. If you get hit in the side or back, it is even more likely, and the side arcs on a tank are pretty gigantic. This, in practice, means that tanks spend a lot more time than mechs getting bullied and jammed in a hex somewhere, either unable to move or so slow that they might as well be.
In addition, due to only having 5 hit locations, 4 if you don’t have a turret, they tend to focus damage on a few locations. Mechs gain a lot of their durability from spreading damage around, and can often end fights with the entire chassis being mauled down to nothing by spreading damage. Tanks, due to having less hit locations, tend to take pretty heinous damage to single areas at a much higher rate than mechs do. That said, they do tend to focus more armor into each hit location, meaning that it will take more damage to actually penetrate the tank, but in practice they die a lot faster than that would imply. In addition, due to their crit chart, they take critical damage at a vastly faster rate than a mech does, and rather than just losing components, tanks can get stunned, lose crewmen, gain crew injuries, or lose their stabilizers or ability to rotate their turrets. This generally means that tanks can end up stun locked by crits, or end up so degraded that they are worthless at a much faster rate than most mechs. In addition, they can’t change elevation by more than one a turn, and (for the most part) can’t take jump jets. Wheeled and Hover vehicles also have restrictions on what terrain they are allowed to enter.
So why take these things, if they get stuck, stunlocked, can’t maneuver normally, and die at incredible speeds? Why bother with the weapon of the common man, the planetary militias best and only friend?
They are CHEAP. Really, really cheap.
For example, lets compare two very comparable units. The Hunchback 4G is a 50 ton mech that acts basically as a walking AC-20. It has an AC-20, two Medium Lasers, and a Small Laser, for an alpha strike of 33 damage within 3 hexes, and 30 (theoretically) out to 9. It has 160 total points of armor. It moves 4/6, and is best used in ambush or for defensive missions, where things are forced to move into it. It costs 1041 BV.
The Hetzer (my beloved) is a 40 ton tank that basically acts as a driving AC-20. It only carries an AC-20, for an alpha of 20 damage. It carries 96 points of total armor. it moves 4/6, and is best used for ambushes or defensive missions, where things are forced to move into it. It, however, only costs 565 BV. This means that you can very nearly fit 2 of these things in the cost of a single Hunchback, which gives you more armor, more damage, significantly more ammo, and rather than a 20 point grouping and 2 5 point groupings, you get two 20 point damage groupings, which is significantly more likely to cripple a mech.
This is the key to understanding the tanker mindset in Battletech. Tanks do heinous damage for how cheap they are. You also tend to end up with more armor, but due to the above mentioned durability issues, you, in practice, are usually a hair more brittle, though for certain tracked tanks like the Patton you will have enough armor that you will usually be disabled way, way before you die, and being a cheap turret is not the worst thing in the world if you managed to get into a good position. Tanks are glass cannons, and any mech that doesn’t respect the damage that you can do will die a horrible and inglorious death. This applies much, much more in low BV games, with Tanks being the absolute kings of any BV value under 10000. Most low BV/low tech mechs either can’t gnaw through that much armor in a timely fashion, or are too slow to really escape them. Once you hit around 10000 and can start taking the sort of clan invasion/post invasion heavies and assaults that actually carry both enough speed and enough gun, tanks fall off a bit due to their construction rules forbidding most weight saving tech. They remain very cheap and effective, but they no longer can just shove around most mechs they run into.
Recommended tanks for putting those mech piloting knights in their place
There are a few tanks, specifically, that are incredibly good and fun to use, and I recommend starting with them due to them being easy to learn. These are the Hetzer, Patton, Scorpion, Missile Carriers, Schrek PPC Carrier, and Demolisher.
The Hetzer, as discussed above, is a really cheap little dork with an AC-20. I recommend this one as a bodyguard for fire support units, as those long range units should be drawing most of the fire, and you can load a Hetzer with precision ammo and hold it in reserve to delete any light mech that tries to get on top of your fire support.
The Patton is basically the equivalent to something like a Wolverine or Enforcer. It is a solid frontline trooper unit at a low price, carrying an AC-10, LRM-5, Small Laser, Flamer, and a horrifying 14.5 tons of armor, or 243 points, all for 943 BV. This is one of those tanks that is very likely to lose its tracks before it loses its armor, but its weapons are long enough range and carry enough ammo that it can remain useful after being immobilized. This acts as a good source of cheap armor in a list that might otherwise be a bit light or fragile.
The Scorpion is cannon fodder, but it is also really good cannon fodder. It carries thin armor, only 64 points, and a mighty weapon set of a single AC-5 and a single Machine Gun. It also only moves 4/6, which all in all makes it sound like a miserable, terrible unit. But it is only 306 BV. Any leftover BV you have after building a force can become 1-4 Scorpions, and, even though they are likely to die the moment something with any actual firepower looks at them, if you can get your opponent to waste the turn of a 1000+ BV Battlemech to kill a 300 BV Scorpion, you can probably get ahead somewhere else where that mech could have fired instead. These are a ton of fun, and act as a good addition to a force, though I would never recommend building a force around them. It also has a variant that trades the weapons for a LRM-10 and a LRM-5, going up to 425 BV but now being capable of indirect fire, which means that it’s low durability is much less important.
Missile carriers come in two major forms, the LRM carrier and the SRM carrier. The LRM carrier carries basically no armor, is very slow, and carries nothing without a minimum range. However, it has 3 LRM-20s for 833 BV. Using semi-guided LRMs and a spotter with Narc or TAG, these can be absolutely brutal fire support units, laying down a huge amount of pain from a long distance, as they can usually just stand still behind a hill somewhere and act as artillery, hitting much more often than you would think. They do need protection against things jumping onto them, and for this I recommend a Hetzer, or an SRM carrier.
The SRM carrier is a bit of a meme unit, because it shares the ludicrously thin armor and slow speed of the LRM carrier, but carries 10 fucking SRM-6s. This gives it a 120 point alpha if all missiles hit, with expect damage being somewhere around 80. It is only 816 BV, but it is nearly unusable in most circumstances due to the fact that no one is going to let a 3/5 movement tank with no armor and that much damage anywhere near them, which is why it is best used to bodyguard LRM carriers and smack the living hell out of anything that tries to close in on them. I generally don’t recommend these, but the one single game where you get within 3 hexes of something and absolutely rip it with SRMs will probably be worth the 5 games where it got shot to death.
The Schrek PPC carrier is basically an LRM carrier with slightly more armor and three PPCs. It carries enough heat sinks to sink them completely, and only costs 935, which is around the same price as a Panther, which only has one PPC and a similar amount of armor. It needs good positioning, but can pretty easily maul a mech to death if it is allowed to get a good position in a treeline. You really need something to draw fire away from it, which is where the next tank, the intended partner to this one in universe, comes in.
The Demolisher is a tank that is designed to murder assault mechs up close. It carries 2 AC-20s and a reasonable amount of armor, not great but not terrible either. It moves 3/5, and is an excellent partner for a Schrek or LRM carrier, as it is going to draw fire from the majority of the table the moment it exposes itself, allowing your fire support to get in position or start getting good hits in. Two AC-20s is something that your opponent cannot let get close to them, or they are going to start losing mechs. For 981 BV this is a really good unit, and is one of the classic Battletech tanks for a reason.
An important thing to note about all of these tanks is that, just like mechs, they have variants that massively improve them. The Demolisher in particular has a variant that mounts a pair of Gauss Rifles, turning it from a close range fire magnet into a fire support demon that can chop heads off from the other side of the table. If you are limited in slots for tanks, or have agreed to a unit limit, these advanced tech tanks do even more damage than the normal ones, though they will generally be even more fragile and prone to throwing tracks.
Satan himself coming to eat your back armor
So I have to talk about the Savannah Master don’t I? The Savannah Master is a demon, and is what has led to unit limits and restrictions on tanks in a lot of local groups, and I cannot in good faith recommend anyone actually take more than one to a game. It is a tiny, 5 ton hover tank that dies the moment anyone sneezes on it and only carries a single medium laser. However, it is only 215 BV, and it moves 20 god damn hexes at full speed. This lets it build an incredibly high TMM, and it can easily get behind any mech it feels like to slowly, agonizingly chip away at things with the tiny little laser shiv it is armed with. The low price, combined with it being nearly impossible to hit and always getting back shots, makes it the bane of my existence and a one tank argument for banning them entirely from friendly games. Swarms of these are basically unbeatable if you are not limiting them in some fashion. Even just a couple of them are so insanely annoying to deal with on certain maps that they can drag all the fun out of a game. I generally recommend not using them if you want to still have people to play Battletech with.
Battletech is a combined arms game, and you are genuinely missing out on a lot if you don’t include tanks in your games. I wouldn’t recommend pure tank forces, as there are better games to just play tanks in, but tanks, infantry, and mechs working together become much more powerful, well rounded, and in my opinion, fun than just sticking to one type of unit. It puts mechs in their context as kings of the battlefield, due to their durability, mobility, and flexibility being much higher, but tanks can do a pretty convincing job of reminding those kings what Agincourt felt like from time to time.
Fuck Aerospace rules though. I wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole. Stick to tanks. Tank good.