Battletech: Hot Take: Battlefield Support Beta Rules

Catalyst just launched their prelaunch page for the upcoming Mercenaries kickstarter, which is scheduled to start at Adepticon on March 23rd. As part of this prelaunch, everyone who pledges to support the kickstarter gets access to the beta version of a set of new Battlefield Support rules that will be published with the kickstarter. Designed to work with the Battlemech Manual, these rules provide a simplified way to include vehicles and infantry in games compared to using their full rules from Total Warfare.

Demolisher Asset Card – Catalyst Game Labs

Each non-mech unit, which the rules call Assets, has a card similar to an Alpha Strike card. It has a variety of stats on it and it seems as though the ones that come in the kickstarter will be dry-erasable, which is very nice. Each non-mech has been crunched down beyond belief, with no health or armor and a single flat damage value. Each Asset does a set, single amount of damage, possibly in multiple groupings, and has a single range profile, rather than having separate weapons. This is a pretty elegant way to solve the “I need to make 40 hit location rolls for my SRM carrier” problem that can happen with the conventional vehicle rules. They also have a flat MP and TMM, similar to an Alpha Strike mech, so they are always the same difficulty to hit regardless of their movement. The most interesting part of the cards, and of these rules in general, is the way they take damage.

As I said above, the cards have no armor or health. Instead, they have what I would like to describe as a shield. Essentially, they have an amount of damage that they can take which refreshes each turn. If you do more damage than that “shield”, you have to make a 2d6 roll at the end of the turn to see if you successfully killed it. If you failed to kill it, the difficulty of the 2d6 roll next turn goes down. For example, in the Demolisher above you need to do 8+ damage in a turn to trigger the damage check, which succeeds (destroys the vehicle) on an 8+ the first time. The next time 8+ damage is done to the Demolisher, the check will succeed on a 7+. This check is also modified by the amount of damage you do in that turn – for every 10 points of damage done to the vehicle, increase the number rolled by +1. If you do 20 damage to a Demolisher that hadn’t previously been damaged, you’d need to roll a 6+ to destroy it.

This is a really clever system and will really speed up tank swarms, especially as these rules have cured the issue that plagues vehicles, which is getting tagged for 2 damage and being immobilized the whole game, wasting time with their activation but not being able to accomplish anything. Now an Asset is either at full power or dead, with no need to track the steps in between. This is mostly a good system, and does a better job than the old rules of representing the Battlemech as the king of the battlefield, as under standard Total Warfare rules vehicles generally have a bit of a lead on mechs when it comes to combat due to their much, much lower BV cost letting you get many more guns for the same price.

All of these assets have 2 costs, one in a currency called BSP (Battlefield Support Points) which can be assigned evenly to both players at the start of the game. BSP previously appeared in the Battlemech Manual, but has been overhauled here and applied to more things. The other price is in good old fashioned BV, and the BV prices all feel about right. They are consistently cheap for the amount of damage they can do, but as they can die instantly from fairly small amounts of damage, I feel as though the balance here is alright for the most part. I’ll need to get some test games in to really get a feel for the balance, but nothing here sticks out to me as particularly over or under powered. Gun Emplacements seem really fun and could be insanely potent for certain missions, but they are the closest thing to a balance issue that I found on a quick lookthrough.

This system works really well for conventional infantry, which in lore are vulnerable to being massacred by mechs that catch them in the open, but in game have had a tendency to live absolutely fucking forever if you forgot to bring designated infantry killing guns. It also works really well for tanks, as the “alive or dead” nature of the rules fits with a tank either taking a penetrating hit and dying, or bouncing the hit and continuing to move. In a weird way it is somewhat similar to armor saves in other games, which fits the way tanks are portrayed in the fluff very well. Helicopters also use the rules fairly well, with the all or nothing nature once again making sense for them. I am much less fond of these rules when it comes to Battle Armor though, because those already were not particularly complex or difficult and have a lot of really interesting traits that I feel these rules lose. That said, there is no rule that says you can’t just choose to use the normal Battle Armor rules if you do not like them, so this may be a bit of a moot point.

Battletech Vehicles and Mechs. Credit: Catalyst Game Labs

Also in this is a set of rules for purchasing artillery strikes, rather than having to buy the artillery vehicle itself and interact with its clunky, weird rules. These previously appeared in the BMM, but have been overhauled here and seem more useable and impactful. I am unsure as to the value in spending a limited resource like BSP or BV on a single shot ability, rather than on something like a tank that could do damage over multiple turns. That being said, the Long Tom does a decent amount of damage in a huge AOE and could really punish your opponent for grouping their units up, so that is the one that IMO has the highest likelihood of being taken. Minefields are also very interesting, even if just as a paranoia element added on top of the game, as you do not reveal them to your opponent until they step on them, which is very fun and gives scout units with Active Probes something to do.

Overall I really like these rules and am incredibly excited to give them a try. For tanks and infantry they work incredibly well and I am thrilled that I will be able to run a true combined arms force without the guilt of how overpowered infantry are. There are still a lot of powerful options in these rules, in particular the SRM carrier in these rules does 8 groupings of 10 damage on a hit. These are all hot takes though, and there is always the chance that I read something incorrectly or misunderstood something, but my current opinion is very good.

As these are beta rules, they’re likely to get tweaked between now and when the Mercenaries kickstarter starts shipping. Included in the download for these rules are instructions for how to submit feedback to CGL about both their feel and their balance. You can grab the full download, including some adorable printable tokens, by signing up for the kickstarter prelaunch on the Backerkit page.