Battletech: Mech Overview: Thunderbolt

Howdy, and welcome to another Mech Overview. This time we are talking about the Thunderbolt, which is a personal favorite of mine. The Thunderbolt (also sometimes called the Thud, mostly by me) is what is generally called a Trooper mech. Troopers are mechs that are generically decent in most situations, and are defined by being unspecialized and well rounded. This makes them fantastic for new players, and also some of my favorite mechs to use. The Thunderbolt is also fairly unique in that, while it has 33 variants, the majority of them really don’t deviate from that central “Trooper” philosophy. Most mechs will have a specialized slant, or very transformative variants, but the Thunderbolt really doesn’t have that. Which fits it perfectly.

The Thud is a big ugly slab of metal, and it plays for the most part like a big ugly slab of metal. Fancy tricks and advanced maneuvers are not in the playbook of most variants, they are just ugly, tough little bastards who excel at filling out a list and being a rugged, cheap, effective frontline for your force. I love them to pieces, and I need to get more copies of AGOAC so I can get a few more for my various forces.

Lyran Commonwealth Thunderbolt. Credit: SRM
Lyran Commonwealth Thunderbolt. Credit: SRM


The Thunderbolt is a 65 ton heavy mech. This is a pretty good weight class, though a somewhat less common one compared to 70 and 75 ton heavies. A few things are shared between the vast majority of Thunderbolts. One, they all tend to have very thick armor for their weight, rivalling most 75 tonners and some 80 and 85 tonners. Two, they tend to carry a mix of energy weapons and missiles, with few ballistics. Three, they all tend to be cheaper than you would think for their armor and guns. This is due to the Thunderbolt being fairly slow at a 4/6/0 movement profile at base, with some carrying jump jets to make it a 4/6/4. There are a few variants that break this trend, but not many. I want to preface all of this talk about variants by saying that this, on the whole, is a great chassis for new players, and I am really glad that it is in the starter box.



Coming in at 1335 BV, the 5S is in the running for the best base variant of a Succession Wars mech, alongside the Awesome and Orion. It carries an LRM-15, a large laser, 3 medium lasers, an SRM-2, and 2 machine guns. The SRM-2 and machine guns are nice, but mostly unimportant. What matters, and would become the core of the Thunderbolt’s identity, is the LRM and Lasers. This combination is quite good, with the Lasers becoming usable right as the LRM falls off. This means that you bracket fire quite well, and despite Sarna saying otherwise for some reason, it manages it’s heat pretty well with 15 heat sinks. It also carries 13 tons of standard armor, which is a monstrous amount for a mech this light, and means that it can shrug off damage that would kill or maim most other Heavy mechs. Overall this is a mech that will rarely disappoint you, and it is really good as a first heavy mech, as it is durable enough to deal with some clumsy play. Overall the platonic ideal of a B-. It is cheap, effective, and will basically always be able to find something to do, without being particularly spectacular or exciting.


Coming in at a discounted 1237 BV, this is identical to the 5S, save for having primitive components, only moving 3/5, and having 5 fewer heat sinks. Deeply not worth it’s price and should be discounted a bit more. D.


Already breaking my statement of most Thuds being generic troopers, the 5D is similarly discounted at 1231 BV, but turns the mech from a durable trooper into a durable ambush-machine. It carries an AC-20 and a LRM-10. That is it. I would recommend saving yourself 200 BV and getting a Hunchback instead. D+


Coming in at 1546 BV, the 5L is interesting. It carries an ER large laser, 2 small pulse lasers, 3 medium lasers, an LRM-15 with Artemis IV, and a Streak SRM-2. In addition, it has 26 heat sinking capacity, due to double heat sinks. This is a pretty solid upgrade over the basic 5S, though I personally am not a huge fan of IS ER large lasers, this mech doesn’t suffer from the normal heat issues. I give this a B, slightly better than the 5S, even if I would rather have a 5S due to it’s lower BV cost.


Coming in at 1305 BV, the 5LS is another strange mech. Not in a good way. It is mostly the same as the 5L, with a few huge changes. First of all, the LRM-15 has lost its Artemis, and the SRM-2 has been downgraded from Streak to Standard. The massive issue, however, is that this mech no longer has Double Heat Sinks. It went from managing it’s heat incredibly well, to managing it’s heat reasonably badly. It isn’t the worst heat management I have ever seen, and it can still mostly bracket fire, but you are still going to have to not fire the ER Large Laser every turn. I give it a C+ and a shiny “Not as shitty as I thought you would be” sticker.


Coming in at 1618 BV, the 5Sb, also called the Royal Thunderbolt (Royal referring to the elite Royal regiments in the Star League, who got the best, most high tech shit), is a scary little mech. It is very nearly identical to the 5L, but carries an ER PPC instead of an ER large laser. It has slightly more heat sinks and doesn’t struggle from any heat issues, and is just genuinely a damn good IS heavy mech. There is not a lot to say, its a mech that is just as happy hanging back and sniping as it is charging forwards as the lynchpin in an assault/close combat. This is a great upgrade from the 5L, and I give it a B+. Solid and reliable, most forces are perfectly happy with one.

Battletech Thunderbolt. Credit: 40khamslam.


This mech is identical to the Sb, but has a regular PPC instead of an ER one. This is a substantial downgrade, and it only gets a slight discount to 1561 BV. Not worth it, take an Sb instead, D+ if you consider that you could just take an Sb, B on it’s own merits.


This is a funky mech and I am a huge fan of it. It comes in at 1392 BV (assuming I did my math right, I was able to find a record sheet for this one, but no BV cost is listed on Master Unit List at the time of writing.) It carries an Ultra AC5, a large pulse laser, and 4 medium lasers. Oh, and the ubiquitous and mostly vestigial SRM-2. It also has a basically perfect heat curve. While firing the pulse laser and all 4 medium lasers at a dead run, it is completely heat neutral. You can add the SRM-2 and/or UAC5 if you like to build a very small and manageable amount of heat. This mech does have more of a short range bent than most of the other Thuds, but I would still rate it fairly highly. Probably a B-, perfectly solid.


Hell yeah. This mech comes in at 1414 BV, and drops the SRM and machine guns from the 5S, the most useless weapons it carried, and downgrades its LRM to an LRM-10. In exchange, you go to a 4/6/4 movement profile, and a couple more heat sinks. This is a damn good trade, and it allows this Thunderbolt to be much more aggressive due to it’s better maneuverability. It does suffer slightly at long range, but I generally see it as a net positive. B-, but slightly higher than the 5S.


Once again, hell yeah. The 5SS comes in at 1337 BV, and is in my opinion an upgrade to the 5S while costing basically the same amount. It trades the large laser out for a PPC, the LRM-15 for an SRM-6, the SRM-2 for a flamer, and it drops the machine guns entirely. It can sink 21 heat, which is in all honestly much more than it needs in most cases, and makes this mech difficult to overheat and very beginner friendly. The PPC is in my opinion a better long range weapon than the LRM-15, and the SRM-6 is a pretty great addition, allowing it to carry Inferno ammo for hunting protomechs and battle armor. This mech is, in my opinion, a better Battlemaster BLR-1G, as it has effectively the same firepower (missing one forwards facing medium laser and two backwards ones), similar durability (slightly less internal structure and 1.5 tons less armor), and is much cheaper, costing 1337 compared to the BLR-1G’s 1519. Genuinely an incredible mech for new players. I give it a B+, slightly lower than the 5Sb but much cheaper.


Skipping a number, the 7M is nearly identical to the 5L, lacking the Artemis on the LRM-15 and being a bit cheaper, trading the small pulses for machine guns. My opinion on it is the same as the 5L, but not having Artemis is a bit sad, but it might be good if you are on a BV crunch, as it is only 1495 BV.


The 7S is nearly identical to the 7M. It has a heavy duty Gyro, which is cool and will save a mech occasionally (I actually lose a lot of mechs to Gyro death, so this might be better than I think, I just need to test it more), and it upgrades the medium lasers to ER ones, and replaces the machine guns with small X-Pulse lasers, which is a nice upgrade. It costs 1582, but it is a decent upgrade to the 7M. B.


The 7SE feels like an evolution on the 5SS. It carries a Gauss Rifle in place of the PPC, drops the SRM and flamer to carry 4 medium pulse lasers, and upgrades to a 4/6/4 movement profile. It also carries ECM, so it makes a good counter piece to C3 or Artemis.  Jumping Thunderbolts are good, and this one carries some nasty weapons. At 1809 this mech is paying the headchopper tax pretty hard, but it is still decent at that rate. I give it a B.


The 9M is an odd duck. It costs 1648, which is a lot for a Thunderbolt. It carries a light gauss rifle (don’t get too excited if you are new, it’s only 8 damage, not 16), 3 ER medium lasers, and an LRM-15. This is clearly designed to be a long ranged mech, and it has the same 4/6/4 movement as the 7SE. It also loses a tiny bit of armor compared to the Thunderbolt standard. In my opinion, this is a pretty underwhelming and mediocre mech. Light gauss rifles are not worth the BV, and this is, in general, too expensive. I would pay the extra 150 BV and go up to a 7SE personally, and get an actual headchopper.


The first radical departure from the norm in a while, the 9Nr comes in at 1635, though in practice it will usually cost more due to it’s C3 suite. It has thinner armor than the Thunderbolt standard, and it carries half the advanced rules section of Alternative Eras in equipment. It has a Bloodhound Active Probe, which I originally thought makes it completely remove stealth armor bonuses and all varieties of stealth from anything within 8 hexes of it. In actuality, the Bloodhound does absolutely nothing unless you are using the hidden unit rules. This combos really well with the C3 Slave that it carries, making it an effective spotter for a C3 lance. Aiding it in being an effective spotter, it has had it’s speed increased to a 5/8/0 movement profile. It does this with an XL engine, so it is a fair deal more fragile than normal for Thunderbolts. It also carries a ECM suite, so it can fuck with enemy sensors. It also carries 2 B Pods, which let it do a lot of damage to any battle armor that try to swarm it. In terms of actual anti-mech weapons, it has a  Large Variable Speed Pulse Laser that does more damage and is more accurate the closer the enemy is, a Light PPC that can poke things, three ER medium lasers, and a Streak SRM-6. This is a pretty good mix of weapons, but I have no idea how to feel about this thing. It is good, for sure, but I have no idea exactly how good. If you are running it in a C3 lance against one of the many things it counters with it’s funky equipment, it is probably an A-, and it will feel pretty oppressive. But like, normally in less high tech games, it is probably a C+ish? VSPs are nice, but you are paying a lot for that funky equipment in terms of both BV and durability.

Lyran Guards Thunderbolt. Credit: Jack Hunter

By the way, can you guys tell that we all love the Thunderbolt, considering how many painted images of it are in our library?


Coming in at 1864 BV, the 9NAIS is another break from the Thunderbolt norm. It is the same speed and the same lack of durability of the 9Nr, but rather than carrying half the rulebook, it just has a really cool gun. It carries a Rotary Autocannon 5, which can hit for 30 damage on a good roll, 3 ER medium lasers, and a Streak SRM-6. The RAC-5 and ER lasers are all mated to a Targeting Computer, which gives them a very nice -1 to hit bonus. This is a pretty good mech, likely a B, somewhat expensive but capable of horrible things.


This is a more expensive 5SS with an Anti-Missile System, more backup weapons, an ER PPC instead of a standard one, and Double Heat Sinks. Its pretty good. B.


This is another SE. It costs 1439, carries a large pulse laser, 3 medium lasers, and an LRM-10. It moves 4/6/4 and is pretty good for the price. It is a bit too short ranged for me, and it has a cartoonishly high amount of heat sinks on a mech that really could use a PPC or something. B-.


This is an oddball mech. It costs 1589, can move 6/9/0 at the cost of having an XL engine, and has an odd mix of weapons. It carries 2 Light PPCs, an LRM-10, and 3 ER medium lasers. This is a pretty good mech, and makes a great replacement for a Grand Dragon in a force, filling the same role but being much tougher. Probably a B, I quite like this mech. Thud durability at Stinger speed is a damn good combination, much better than buying both a Thunderbolt and a scout mech.

Wolf’s Dragoons Thunderbolt. Credit: Jack Hunter


More or less the reason this article was made, the 9W comes in at a pretty steep 1985 BV, the same price as a Clan medium mech. It is super worth it though. It can move 4/6/4, and it has the thick armor that is iconic to the Thunderbolt. It carries a Clan Grade large pulse laser, 3 Clan medium pulse lasers, a Clan LRM-10 with Artemis, and enough Clan double heat sinks to jump and fire all of it’s weapons every turn without worrying about heat at all. This is a brutal mech, and it can really bully the hell out of a lot of mechs with that armor and weapon loadout. It is a pretty cheap mech considering it’s weapons, due to it being somewhat slow. Still an easy recommend, probably a B+.


This mech decided it wanted every PPC. It costs 1727 BV, and carries a light PPC, a Snub Nosed PPC, and a heavy PPC. It also has an ER medium laser and an MML-5. It moves 4/6/4, and has a light engine, which makes it slightly more vulnerable, though not by as much as an XL. This is a super weird mech, and a pretty expensive one. I’ll give it a B-. It seems solid enough, but that is still an oddball mix of weapons. Good weapons, but still odd.


This is a pretty decent one. It costs 1766, and carries an ER large laser, an ER PPC, a LRM-15, and 3 ER medium lasers. It moves 4/6/4, and has a light engine. It is a bit under-sinked, building 29 heat while running and firing the large laser and PPC, and only sinking 28, but not by a huge amount. It is somewhat expensive, but you are basically just getting an extra main gun on your Thunderbolt for when you want it, which is pretty nice. I’d give it a B-.


Why are there 33 Thunderbolts. I love the Thud, but this is getting out of hand. The 10SE comes in at 2008 BV, moves 4/6/4, can sprint 8 hexes with a MASC system, and carries an ER PPC, LRM-10, 3 ER medium lasers, an ECM suite, and a targeting computer. The TComp is expensive, but the -1 to hit is really nice. This is a pretty expensive Thunderbolt though, and I would rather have a 9W at this price. B-.


This costs 1570 BV, and is almost identical to the 9S. It does upgrade to ER medium lasers, and has a heavy duty gyro for a little bit of extra defense, but the extra cost basically balances this out. Same rating as the 9S.


This one costs 1754, has a light engine and improved jump jets for a 4/6/6 movement profile, and seems pretty good. It carries a Snub Nosed PPC, 3 ER medium lasers, an MML-7, an ECM, a TComp for that sweet sweet -1 accuracy bonus, and slightly thinner armor. The IJJs are really nice here, and jumping 6 lets it build a respectable +3 hit modifier. Overall a pretty good Thunderbolt, I give it a B.


This is a really neat mech. It comes in at 1975 BV, very steep. It also lowers the speed to 3/5/0, but it has some neat tricks. First of all, it carries a plasma rifle, 2 Thunderbolt 5s (the weapon system, they are basically LRMs that do all of their damage in one missile instead of using the cluster chart), an LRM-15, 2 medium lasers, and 3 small variable speed pulse lasers. This seems sorta underwhelming, but the main selling point of the 12R is it’s armor. It carries Reflective armor, which halves the damage from any incoming energy weapon. It does also double the damage taken from melee and physical attacks, including falling, so it would be a good idea to invest in more piloting skill than normal. Considering that basically all of the game’s tier one weapons are energy weapons, that most mechs have several energy weapons, and that energy weapon only mechs are very, very popular in most local metas, this little 65 ton bastard frequently has more effective armor rating than an Atlas. I am not joking there, an AS7-D Atlas has 47 CT armor, and the TDR-12R has 30. Doubling that for the half damage, and that is basically 60 points of armor against most of the game’s best weapons. This means that, depending on your local meta, this mech is either a slowly meandering target, or an unstoppable juggernaut. A- in an energy weapon dominated local meta, C+/B- (depending on the exact situation) in a normal, well rounded meta, and D+ in a ballistic/missile centered local meta.


The TDR-17S is the definition of a Zombie-Mech (Fan term for a mech that can keep fighting through damage that would have killed any other mech). It costs 1803 BV, and has a Compact Engine and a Heavy Duty Gyro. This makes it very, very unlikely that this mech dies to engine/gyro crits, meaning it will frequently continue to fight until it loses literally all of it’s armor and structure. It carries an ER PPC, 4 Medium Pulse Lasers, an ECM, and Triple Strength Myomer, which boosts it from a 4/6/4 movement to a 5/8/4 movement, if you can manage to always have the exact right amount of heat. It also deals double damage with punches while the TSM is active, so you can headchop mechs with punches, which is hilarious and means that even after it has lost all weapons the 17S is still a threat. It is a bit too expensive for me, and TSM is funky and hard to use for new players, but it is undeniably a fun mech. Probably a B-, like most Thunderbolts, but with a warning that this one is harder to use.


Skipping a lot of numbers with this one. Not sure where 18-59 went, maybe we will find out later. The 60-RLA comes in at 1975 BV, and has a large amount of traits that are confusing at first, but all come together. It has an XL engine and a 5/8/5 movement profile, which is pretty good on a heavy mech. It carries what looks at first to be a bizarre mix of weapons, 2 snub nosed PPCs, 2 medium pulse lasers, 3 ER medium lasers (I feel like I have typed “3 Er medium lasers” too many times this article), 2 small lasers, and one small pulse laser. It also doesn’t carry a single weapon in it’s arms, everything is in the torso. This is for one simple reason. The 60-RLA has Triple Strength Myomer. It can use it’s huge array of weapons to micromanage it’s heat value to pretty consistently stay at the perfect amount of heat for TSM, and it has no arm weapons so that it can fish for those head-deleting punches twice per turn. It moves at 6/9/5 when it has TSM active, which means that most other heavy mechs can’t get away from it, and is possibly one of the best punch-bots in the entire game. I give this mech a B for actual usability, but a A+++ for fun factor, because jumping around and chasing people while beating them to death with 14 damage punches is incredibly fun, and you have not lived until you have tried it. It is a difficult mech to learn, but it is super worth it.

Wolf’s Dragoons Thunderbolt. Credit: Jack Hunter


Sneakily possibly the best Thunderbolt here, the TDR (C), or Charlie from now on, is basically the Battletech equivalent of a rat rod. It comes in at 1671, and is, in all ways except for it’s weapons, the same as a TDR-5S. However, those weapons are incredible. It carries Clan grade lasers, with IS grade structure, armor, and single heat sinks. It has a Clan large pulse laser, a Clan ER large laser, a Clan ER medium laser, and 2 Clan ER small lasers. The real secret sauce is that it has 24 single heat sinks, and while running and firing both the LPL and the ERLL, it builds exactly 24 heat. You are basically getting a clan laser boat at a screaming discount, and, due to it not having any ammo or an XL engine, it can take a truly horrific amount of punishment before it finally falls over. I give this mech an easy A on cost efficiency alone, it will match or exceed the practical damage output of basically any given Inner Sphere mech, out to a very long range. It does want to stay at long range, but unlike most snipers, it is completely and totally fine with wading in to finish things off, due to the Thunderbolt chassis’ lovely thick armor.

TDR (C) 2

There is a sequel. The Charlie 2 comes in at 2170, well within proper Clan mech prices, and has received a beefy clan mech overhaul. It still has the same internal structure and engine, but it now carries a Clan ER PPC, 4 Clan ER medium lasers, 2 Clan ER small lasers, 2 Clan small pulse lasers, a Clan Streak SRM-6, a Clan Anti-Missile System, and enough Clan double heat sinks to sink basically all of it. On the one hand, this sequel provides dizzying firepower and the same beefy defenses, but on the other, it is much, much more expensive, and commits one of the cardinal sins of Battlemech design by adding explosive ammo to a mech that was really happy not having it. Overall I find this sequel flashy, expensive, and ultimately less fulfilling than its simpler predecessor. Still a fucking B+ though, it can really pour out a lot of damage.

TDR-5S-T Tallman

The Tallman is some 3025 min-maxer’s dream, and is possibly one of the best close combat mechs in that era. It costs 1447 BV, and has standard Thunderbolt defense and movement, but carries a single large laser and 8 medium lasers, 4 in each side torso. This is a whole lot of pew pew coming out of one mech, and it has 23 heat sinks. This means it can fire all of it’s medium lasers at a run and only build 3 heat. This is pretty good, and for the low cost it makes a pretty nasty defensive/ambush unit. Most things are not ready to take 40 damage, and if you can force the enemy to approach it with a scenario or terrain, it can do some good work. I rate this a B+ on defense/in ambush, and a C otherwise. It does have some range issues. Also, this is basically what everyone ends up making in the computer games eventually, if given the option. Don’t lie, we all have made a mech that is mostly medium laser and heat sink.

TDR-10M Ilyena

The Ilyena is built to be the C3 master for a C3 lance. It costs 1616 BV, and is mostly the same as a 10M, just swapping the snub nosed PPC for a light PPC and a C3 master computer. It is pretty good leading a C3 lance, and good C3 master computer mechs are really hard to find in this game. I give it a C- outside of a C3 lance, but it is honestly an A- in one, it is one of the more rugged C3 master computer mechs, and its mostly long ranged weapons really like the bonuses from the C3 system.

TDR-10M Tsakalotos (also called the Salazar)

The Salazar, also known as Mr T, comes in at 1856 BV. It is an odd mech, being the only Thud to carry Stealth Armor. It also has a weird movement profile, that being 4/6/3. For weapons, it has a snub nosed PPC, a plasma rifle, a medium variable speed pulse laser, a light PPC, a small variable speed pulse laser pointed backwards for some reason (a terrible affliction most Thunderbolts avoid), an MML-5, a Flamer, and an ECM to power the Stealth Armor. Stealth Armor is very powerful, though I am generally more of a fan of it on faster mechs, where it can help them stack some really abusive to-hit penalties. It only sinks 24 heat, which seems like it would mostly be enough, but Stealth Armor builds 10 heat while active, so this mech has some pretty extreme heat issues. It is not fast enough to do the jousting passes that most stealth mechs really enjoy doing, and it doesn’t have the long ranged weapons to make it into a stealth sniper type mech. I give it a confused C. It is not terrible, but it is hard to use and somewhat hamstrung by serious heat issues.

Donegal Guard Lance. Credit: Rockfish
Donegal Guard Lance. Credit: Rockfish


So, 4500 words later, what have we learned? Well, first of all, with very few exceptions basically every single Thunderbolt is good. B- is the average score, and in my opinion there are really only a few to avoid. My overall favorite is the (C), but the (C) 2, the Rb, and the 9W all make a good show of it, and the 60-RLA is stupidly fun. As long as you are not taking the 1C, the Salazar, or the 5D, you are probably going to have a great time with the Thunderbolt. It is honestly astonishing that a 3025 mech can be so consistently good, but unlike the Warhammer, Archer, or Rifleman, there are very few problems with the Thunderbolt. It’s core identity is being a durable little do-everything mech, while it’s comrades in 3025 were usually much, much more specific. Even the variants that trade off armor still have decent armor, and no Thud is really describable as fragile. Within the design space of “Be durable and flexible”, there is very little you can fuck up.

I am of the opinion that there is a Thunderbolt for basically any list you could be building, both in terms of fluff and in terms of rules. If you need a fast mech to command a scout lance, grab one of the 6/9 ones. If you need a solid lineholder, basically any of them work. If you need a breakthrough/assault unit, grab the 12R or 17S. The great thing is though, there is never really a “wrong” Thud for the job. Any given Thud can slot in to a force to do whatever the hell you need it to. The Thunderbolt is a genuine triumph of mech design both in and out of universe, and while it might be boring and have some samey variants (go count how many times I wrote “3 medium lasers”/”3 ER medium lasers”/”3 medium pulse lasers”), it will literally never let you down. Few other mechs, and definitely none we have looked at so far, have the level of consistency that the Thunderbolt has.

Also, it is an ugly, barrel chested, asymmetrical goober that represents everything I love about Battletech’s aesthetic. It just looks powerful, and also like it would have an engine that sounds like a dying lawnmower. I love the Thunderbolt, and I hope that this 5000 word Thud fest has helped you come to love it too.