The starter boxes for Battletech offer an incredible amount of value for new players to the game, containing entire forces for the game, the mats you need to play on, and comprehensive rulebooks for the basic rules of the game. However, inevitably you will feel the call of the hundreds of other mechs that don’t come in the starter box or of more advanced rules, such as tanks or mech tasers. When that hunger for more comes, Battletech is somewhat unclear telling you what your options are, and there is not a lot of information online about it. Lets go through the books first and what you would want them for, and the force packs second. This article will only cover Inner Sphere and Comstar force packs, as there is significant overlap between the two in terms of mechs. Clans will be their own article.
Battletech can seem intimidating to new players due to the sheer amount of rulebooks the game has. If you take nothing else away from this article, know that 90% of these are completely optional, and the only rulebook you need to play the game is a copy of Total Warfare or the Alpha Strike Commander’s Edition, depending on which system you like better. All of the other books are optional add-ons to the core rules that are contained in those two books, though the Techmanual comes close to being required. Start out with a copy of either book and save yourself the mental load of trying to learn all the optional rules up front, it’s much better to pace yourself and add the optional rules that you want to use one at a time once you are fully comfortable with the core rules. Let’s still go through the whole list though, and I’ll let you know what circumstances you would want these extra rules in.
This is the core rulebook for Classic Battletech, the game with the hexes. It’s the only book you ever need to play the game, and contains the standard, tournament legal rules. All of the other books are add-ons to this one, with the exception of the books written specifically for Alpha Strike.
An alternate purchase to Total Warfare, the Battlemech manual is a quick reference rulebook containing only the rules for mechs from Total Warfare. If you only want to play with mechs and no vehicles, infantry, or other units this is shorter and slightly better organized, but it doesn’t contain the full scope of Total Warfare.
Alpha Strike Commander’s Edition
This is the core rulebook for Alpha Strike. Due to Alpha Strike being a simpler game to explain, this book is more comprehensive than Total Warfare and contains very nearly all of the released rules for Alpha Strike that used to be split between a pair of books.
This book contains all of the rules to construct your own mechs for Battletech. It’s a good book to have on hand, as customizing existing mechs and constructing brand new ones can be a massive amount of fun. It also contains the rules for standard legal mech equipment, so is good to keep on hand if you have any mechs with funky weapons or special equipment. Generally the first thing you should pick up after Total Warfare.
Formerly one book and now a pair of them, these books cover the majority of the optional rules. Advanced Rules covers, well, advanced rules, and Advanced Units and Equipment covers all of the weird experimental and complex technology that this game has. The books are best thought of as a single book in two parts, as neither half works without it’s partner. These are the books you buy when you want to add more complexity to your game, or you want to find rules for strapping a Taser and a Nuke onto your mech.
Interstellar Operations: Alternate Eras
This book covers playing in eras that the standard Total Warfare ruleset struggles with. If you are looking to play before the invention of the ‘Mech, or in the Dark Age/Jihad periods, this is an important book to pick up.
Strategic Operations: Advanced Aerospace Rules
This book covers Aerospace fighters, dropships, and space in general. I am personally not a fan of Aerospace Fighters and space combat in general in this game, but there are plenty of people who do like them, and it’s a large and important part of the setting, so this book is here if you need it.
This book rules. It contains rules for mercenary style campaigns, with balancing incomes, expenses, maintenance costs, salaries, and all of the accounting you could ever want. While this all appeals to a very specific kind of person (Me), the actual reason this book is awesome is that it contains the rules for Special Pilot Abilities, Special Command Abilities, Factions, and Formations. These are a huge part of Alpha Strike, and this is where you can get the same rules for use in Battletech. I highly recommend these rules, as they massively expand the list building side of the game, and add a huge amount of fun with you being able to customize your force and give them a set of fun, flavorful abilities that can really shake up the game. This book is the only one I use regularly aside from the core books, and comes with a high recommendation.
Interstellar Operations: Battleforce
This book is another spinoff game, similar to Alpha Strike, but is one that I am personally not familiar with. From what I have heard it is a game based on moving around titanic amounts of ‘Mechs, with a scale similar to the old Epic game system for 40k. I’d recommend doing your own research on whether this spin off game is for you.
CGL has blessed us with a large range of available plastic models, and you may be overwhelmed by the choices available to you at your ‘Mech procurement store of choice. Lets go over each force pack that they currently sell, and why you would want the mechs it contains. CGL has done a pretty great job of making sure that each force pack contains at least one quality ‘Mech, with most having more than that. Very few ‘Mechs are truly bad in Battletech, due to the BV system being a mathematical formula applied in the exact same way to every mech, rather than being pre-set by the writers on a per mech basis. From a pure points to dollars perspective though, a few of these boxes offer far more points in game than others. While it is less important to get the most value out of each purchase in this game than in 40k, I’ll still point out if a box is a particularly good or bad deal.
Inner Sphere Command Lance
This pack contains an Archer, a Marauder, a Valkyrie, and a Stinger. This pack is a fantastic deal, the Archer, Marauder, and Valkyrie are all staple units and are very effective in their given roles. The Marauder has great long range firepower, though that comes mostly from it’s PPCs and not it’s AC-5, so the variants that trade the AC-5 for another weapon are all better than the stock 3R. The Archer is one of the better Inner Sphere missile platforms, having as many missiles as possible and being alright at defending itself against light mechs, though heat rapidly becomes an issue with this mech. The Valkyrie is a supremely annoying little mech that can skirmish with other mechs and use it’s mobility to maintain long range. The Stinger is a mech I am very fond of personally, but is mostly just a generic scout mech. It pairs really nicely with the Archer and Valkyrie in this specific box though, as it can spot for indirect fire from those two mechs, and indirect fire is very powerful. Overall a fantastic box that gives you a cohesive lance that all have similar strengths at long range, and contains it’s own support for that long range plan.
Inner Sphere Battle Lance
This pack contains a Warhammer, a Rifleman, a Phoenix Hawk, and a Wasp. This pack is a mixed one for me, because while it contains several iconic mechs, I personally don’t think that any of them are particularly good compared to other options. The Warhammer is an iconic heavy mech, but suffers from having too much gun and not enough of anything else. If the Warhammer suffers from that, then the Rifleman is bedridden. The Rifleman has far, far more guns than it has any business having, and has paper thin armor, no heat sinks, and bad longevity as a result. It’s charming and a classic of the game, but in terms of raw gameplay utility it is far from the best. The Phoenix Hawk is fast, lightly armored, and carries a lot of gun. The heat can quickly get out of hand, a bit of a theme for this box, and it overall requires a bit of finesse to use. The Wasp is nearly the same as the above Stinger and fills the exact same role, with the two being best used to annoy missile boats and spot for indirect fire. I’m conflicted because on the one hand this box represents everything I love about Battletech, with junky, mediocre mechs overheating and shutting down trying to kill each other, but it is not an easy box to recommend to new players who are less attached to the specific mechs contained within, which are some of the most iconic in the game.
Inner Sphere Direct Fire Lance
This pack contains an Atlas, a Marauder II, an Orion, and a Crusader. This box is a phenomenal deal, containing 2 assault mechs and 2 heavies. On top of that, all of the mechs in this box are very good. Hilariously, despite being called the Direct Fire lance, 3 of the 4 mechs here are capable of indirect fire, and are pretty good at it. The Atlas is a complete juggernaut, and has a titanic amount of armor and durability, along with weapons that can engage at any range, though it prefers to get up close. The Marauder II takes everything that was good about the Marauder, makes it bigger, and gives it Jump Jets. It’s one of the best IS assault mechs in the game. The Orion is a lighter version of the Atlas in almost every way, having a large amount of armor and a wide variety of weapons. The Crusader is a missile platform, with decent long range power and a pretty significant close range punch as well, suffering mostly from cripplingly high heat load. Overall a very solid box, and one of the best deals on a dollars to tonnage/dollars to points sense.
Inner Sphere Heavy Lance
Strangely less heavy than the last box, this box contains a Banshee, a Hatchetman, a Centurion, and the (Allmighty) Grasshopper. As you might be able to pick up on, I think this is a very good box. This box is interesting though, in that I think it is better in Alpha Strike than it is in Battletech. Two of these mechs, the Grasshopper and the Banshee, are vastly better in Alpha Strike. This is not to say that they are bad in Battletech, just to say that they benefit hugely from the rules changes in Alpha Strike. The Grasshopper is a very powerful mech, boasting good mobility and good short range firepower, with a decent amount of mid range punch on top. Alpha Strike extends it’s range a considerable amount, making it much scarier. The Banshee is a tale of two mechs, the S series and the rest. The S series mechs are all solid, conventional assault mechs with heavy armor and heavy guns, and are great on the table, while the rest of the variants have the same armor, more speed, and less guns than most medium or light mechs. The non-S Banshees are bad assault mechs, but are saved by the BV system, coming in at a low price for their durability. Both have valid roles and are good in a variety of forces. The non-S series mechs really benefit from Alpha Strike’s mechanics favoring speed, the rounding on damage in Alpha Strike lets them hit deceptively hard at long range, and they come dirt cheap for the amount of durability they have. The Hatchetman is a mech that should be better than it is, and is held back mostly by Hatchets not being fantastic in Battletech, especially for such a light, slow mech. The Centurion is a very solid medium mech, with good close and long range tools, though it’s armor is a bit light for it’s weight, though some variants correct this flaw. Overall this is a good box, with a lot of strong mechs. It also provides a good amount of points for your money, and would be a good core or starter for a force.
Inner Sphere Striker Lance
This box contains a Panther, a Jenner, a Blackjack, and a Wolfhound. This box is much lighter in terms of tonnage and points compared to the rest we have seen, but the mechs here are very good for their points cost. The Panther is a light mech that fights like a Medium, carrying quite a bit of gun for such a cheap mech, decent armor, and jump jets, though it’s slow speed holds it back. The Jenner is really fast and carries a terrifying amount of close range weapons, and it is consistently able to get into a good position to use those weapons. It’s armor is very thin and it costs a lot more than most light mechs, but there are heavy and assault mechs with less gun than this thing. The Blackjack is a very solid mech, capable of plinking away with low damage guns at long range before closing in and using it’s medium lasers to finish mechs off at short range, though not excelling in either role the way more specialized mechs do. It’s a good mech to fill a slot in a lance of more specialized mechs, as it is happy at any range. The Wolfhound is another light mech that fights like a much heavier mech. It has good armor, good speed, and great weapons. It runs hot, but is a very solid light mech. Overall this box is full of good mechs, but as they are light and cheap in game, it might not be the best if you are just trying to fill out a list for the smallest amount of money possible.
Inner Sphere Fire Lance
This box contains a Longbow, a Stalker, a Trebuchet, and a Zeus. This box is one of the best deals overall, containing 3 assault mechs and a medium. The Longbow is a pure indirect fire platform. It is almost incapable of defending itself up close, and it is quite slow, but it can throw out more missiles than an Archer, and without any heat issues due to it’s abundant heat sinks. The Stalker is a generalist assault mech, with good armor and a terrifying amount of weapons at any range. It does ramp up significantly in damage as it gets closer, but at midrange and even long range it is still perfectly capable. You genuinely can’t go wrong with adding a Stalker to a force, as it will always be able to find a role. The Trebuchet is a fantastic medium, being able to lay down as many LRMs at range as a Crusader, while being significantly faster and cheaper. It is capable of defending itself at close range, but it would rather hang back and fling missiles into the enemy, which it’s good speed makes fairly easy for it. It is lacking armor however. The Zeus is a bit of an odd duck, suffering from a critical case of being an assault mech with an AC-5 (One of the worst weapon systems in the game for the amount of tonnage you have to spend on it), and being a bit faster than it’s role really needs. It is best used when treated as a particularly big heavy mech, rather than as an assault mech. It’s armor is thick enough and it is pretty fast, so once you recover from how it is spending 8 tons to do the same damage as a 1 ton medium laser, it is perfectly usable. Overall a pretty good box, with some standout mechs and a huge amount of tonnage for your money, letting you fill out a force faster.
Inner Sphere Heavy Battle Lance
Confusingly combining the names of two previous boxes, this box contains an Axman, a Bushwhacker, a Nightstar, and a Cataphract. This is a dubious box to recommend. The Axman is a massively terrifying mech in the right conditions, though it is overall mediocre due to a few other factors. It carries a wide array of powerful close range guns, and decent mobility for it’s weight, but has an XL engine that makes it much easier to destroy and mediocre armor. As I mentioned above, Hatchets are not a fantastic weapon in Battletech, and the Axman has such good guns that it is usually not worth going in for the Axe Whack, as it has to sacrifice shooting 3 of it’s guns if it wants to swing it’s Axe. It is also utterly incapable of defending itself outside of short range, and can be kited out by a lot of lighter, longer ranged mechs. The Bushwhacker is a mediocre medium, being fast and well armed for it’s weight. It has somewhat thin armor though, and also has an XL engine, making it easy to destroy. The Nightstar is capable of doing a truly horrific amount of damage from a long range, and has a large amount of armor, though once again suffers from an XL engine, making it far, far easier to kill than it’s armor and tonnage would imply. The Cataphract, aside from being very strange looking, is an unremarkable heavy mech. While it doesn’t have an XL engine for once in this box, it’s armor is pretty thin for it’s weight, especially on the side torsos, which are paper thin. It’s guns are pretty decent, it can sink the heat from them alright, and it bracket fires pretty well. Unlike the Warhammer, it is difficult to pin this problem on too much gun, it’s more just confusingly designed. I adore this box for being full of mechs of questionable utility, which I love, but it is not easy to recommend. Every mech here is more fragile than they should be, and suffer from being somewhat mediocre overall. Not great if you are just starting out with the game.
Inner Sphere Urban Lance
Upsettingly not containing an Urbanmech, this box contains a Victor, a Raven, an Enforcer, and a Hunchback. This is a box with some mechs I love, but is also somewhat difficult to recommend to new players. The Victor is fast for an assault mech, has jump jets, and has excellent close range firepower, but has thin armor, no ability to defend itself at long range, and a general lack of endurance. I still love it though, as in a perfect situation it can do quite a lot of damage. The Raven is expensive and fragile, but fairly fast, packing enough guns, and having basically every single piece of support equipment in the game on it. If you are interested in a support mech, look no further, as this is likely the best support mech in the game, being able to buff LRM mechs and mess with enemy support equipment. I can’t recommend it to new players though, as it is somewhat complex to use and very underwhelming if you don’t take advantage of all of it’s support gear. The Enforcer is a pretty solid medium mech, mostly comparable to the Centurion. It does OK damage at mid range and closer, and is a great mech to slot in to a force when you are not sure what it needs. The Hunchback is a classic Battletech mech, carrying one of the game’s biggest guns and doing a terrifying amount of damage at point blank range, but suffering from limited mobility, abysmally poor range, and thin armor. It can be very effective if used correctly, but is not an easy mech to get good use out of for new players. Overall this box has some of my favorite mechs, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who is a new player. The mechs are either underwhelming, difficult to use, or both.
Inner Sphere Support Lance
This box contains the best mech, the Dragon. It also contains a Cyclops, a Thug, and a Spider. The Dragon is possibly my favorite mech in the game, when used as a Grand Dragon. The base Dragon is somewhat mediocre, but the Grand Dragon does a decent amount of damage at long range, has a very effective armor spread, and is very fast for it’s weight. The main difference is that the Dragon has much worse long range damage than the Grand Dragon, as the Dragon has an AC-5 compared to the Grand Dragon’s PPC. The Cyclops is a pretty generic assault mech, with a small amount of long range capability but being mostly a short range mech overall. It’s armor is pretty thin for it’s size, and it is too fast for it’s weight. The Thug is a very solid mech, being essentially an upgraded Warhammer. It does good damage at long range, and can defend itself well up close. It also does not need to fear heat or ammo explosions due to the advanced technology used in it’s construction. The Spider is a small annoying light mech in the same category as the Wasp or Stinger, though it is heavier than those and much faster and more mobile. One of the best spotters in the game. Overall this box is fairly good, aside from the dud that is the Cyclops.
ComStar Battle Level II
This is the first Level II pack we are looking at, so it is important to go over a couple of things. Despite being labelled as ComStar, most of the mechs here can be used in an Inner Sphere or Clan force aswell. These also come with 6 mechs, rather than 4, and are priced higher to reflect that. This box contains a Crab, a Crockett, a Flashman, a Guillotine, a Lancelot, and a Mongoose. The Crab is a very tanky medium mech, with decent armor, no explosive components, and no XL engine. This means that it takes a huge amount of firepower to actually kill a Crab, as it must be killed by losing it’s CT or head. The Crockett is a solid assault mech, with a huge amount of guns and enough heat sinking capability to make use of most of them every turn. The Flashman is a personal favorite of mine, carrying a huge array of energy weapons and being very fast for it’s weight. It does suffer from having an XL engine though, so it is very brittle compared to a lot of other heavy mechs. The Guillotine is a good heavy mech, having good mobility for it’s size and a good mix of close range weapons, along with enough heat sinks to fire and jump without risking too much heat. It is weaker at long range, but not completely helpless the way a lot of other close range mechs are. The Lancelot is a very strange heavy mech, being as fast as a 20 ton Stinger while weighing 3 times as much and being far better armed. It makes extensive use of advanced tech, including an XL engine that is not helped by it’s thin armor for it’s weight. It is a fast and flexible heavy mech that can skirmish and poke at mid-range very competently, but does not want to get stuck in a prolonged fight in the open. Fortunately, it’s speed makes controlling the range of engagement easy. The Mongoose is an incredible light mech. It is blindingly fast, well armed for it’s size, insanely fast, well armored for it’s size, and did I mention that it is very very fast? The Mongoose is a great spotter for indirect fire, can quickly squirm away from any fight it doesnt want to be in, is difficult to hit due to it’s sheer speed, and has enough armor and guns to chase after missile boats and snipers. One of the best light mechs in the game. Overall this is a very good value, every mech in here is good, if fragile, and the selection is nice and well rounded.
ComStar Command Level II
This box contains a Black Knight, an Exterminator, a Highlander, a King Crab, a Mercury, and a Sentinel. This box is a great deal, and contains a few fan favorite mechs in the Black Knight, Highlander, and King Crab. The Black Knight is a mech that suffers badly from being under sinked, having good armor and excellent weapons, but being prone to overheating due to bafflingly using Single Heat sinks instead of doubles. If you want to run one, run the variants with Double Heat sinks, the stock version usually preforms worse than it should. The Exterminator is an odd mech, being incredibly fast for it’s weight and having a good mix of weapons, while suffering from an XL engine and explosive components. The big draw of this mech, which is the advanced stealth system that one of the variants carries, is not in the tournament legal rules. If you are using the optional rules, this is one of the very few mechs in the game that can straight up turn invisible, so it absolutely rocks if you are willing to bust out Tactical Operations and complicate your game a bit. The Highlander is a personal favorite of mine, a jump capable assault mech with excellent long range damage and the mobility to control engagements with other assault mechs. The Death From Above maneuver in game has the in universe nickname of the “Highlander Burial” for a reason, as jumping on top of lighter mechs and crushing them to death with your titanic metal thighs is a perfectly valid tactic for this mech. The King Crab is one of the most terrifying assault mechs in the entire game, a leviathan of armor and guns, and perfectly capable of one shotting most lights and a good chunk of medium mechs. Carrying a horrifying pair of AC-20s, it can utterly annihilate any mech that dares to get close to it. It’s long range weapons are merely adequate, but adequate is better than a lot of close range mechs have. The Mercury is a Mongoose squared, being one of the absolute fastest mechs in the game once it’s MASC system is engaged. That system essentially allows it to sprint at the risk of damaging it’s own legs. It’s armor is thin and it’s guns are small, but when you want to scream “Witness Me!” and fling yourself forwards at incredible speeds, there are few mechs that match the Mercury. The Sentinel is a middle of the pack medium mech, carrying an alright long range weapon and being quite fast for it’s weight, if thin on the armor. It is capable of controlling engagement ranges fairly well with how fast it is, and can annoy a lot of heavier mechs by getting behind them, but in direct combat it will usually let you down. Overall this is another very solid box, with a combination of slow moving heavy hitters and fast skirmishers. This is probably one of the better rounded force packs if this was the only one you were going to buy, with no true dud mechs, with the worse being merely mediocre.
Dear god there are so many force packs in this game. Most of the IS force packs are pretty good, with a couple of duds in the Urban Lance, Heavy Battle Lance, and Battle Lance, but even those are worth picking up to expand your options later, as the mechs contained in them have variants that correct a good deal of their problems. Both ComStar packs are absurd deals, with high tech mechs and high point values. You honestly can’t go wrong picking up any of the force packs, even the dubious ones, as the BV system does an alright job of adjusting for quality. The use of the terms “good” and “bad” throughout this have mostly referred to how difficult the mechs are for new players, so you shouldn’t worry too much if the mech you really like the look of is “bad”. The Banshee is a terrible mistake of a mech and yet a lot of my forces contain one, as it’s low quality is reflected by a lowered price compared to other assault mechs. Tune in next time for the forces of the Mongol Empire cosplaying honor cult known as the Clans.