Howdy, welcome back to more Battletech. We have covered the starter boxes, currently available units, books, and other products, as well as a brief primer on the factions and timeline. This week we will talk about actually playing your first few games of the big cool robot game, and what a “Standard” game of Battletech even is.
To start out with, if you are new to the game and considering getting into it, I highly recommend picking up the Beginner Box and A Game of Armored Combat, in that order. The Beginner Box is a perfect launching off point, as it is built around 1v1 games, as it comes with 2 mechs. The current one, containing a Vindicator and a Griffin, is also the only place to get either of those mechs, so even if you already have AGOAC, its well worth grabbing. AGOAC is the natural next step after the Beginner Box, as it keeps the rules fairly simple while giving you the mechs to scale up your games. AGOAC is one of the best new player boxes ever made for any wargame and we have been recommending it for a reason.
This next bit is very important, and if you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this. Start out with 1v1 games. I know it is tempting to jump right in to the whole experience of moving around a team of mechs, but Battletech is more difficult to learn than a lot of wargames, and a lot of new players try to jump in at the biggest game size and get very overwhelmed by trying to keep track of it all. Take it slow and expand up games at a speed you feel comfortable with. All of this basic information now being out of the way, lets go over the details.
WHAT YOU NEED TO PLAY A GAME OF BATTLETECH
To play a game, the bare essentials are 2 six sided dice, the rulebook (Either the AGOAC rulebook, the Battlemech Manual, or Total Warfare (pick up BMM before Total Warfare unless you badly want to use vehicles/infantry)), a hex map sheet, record sheets you can mark/edit, either digital or physical, a table large enough to hold the map sheet/ map sheets you are using, and some sort of token to represent the mechs being used. Everything listed above (except the table, no matter how much I want Catalyst to sell a tiny tactical table) is contained within AGOAC. Rather than marking directly on the record sheets included with the game, download the free PDF from the battletech web site and print them off. They’re available with a couple variants for every mech currently released in plastic.
I’d highly recommend having an additional few sets of dice, preferably in red/black/white. Part of your to-hit calculations involve knowing whether your mech walked, ran, or jumped, and knowing how many hexes your target moved. While you can keep this all in your head or make notes on the record sheets, page 13 of the Battlemech Manual describes using a set of dice to track it. As you get more into the game picking up some custom movement dice from Etsy is well worth it, as they make knowing the modifiers effortless.
I’d suggest also picking up some dry erase markers and page protectors, which will make tracking heat much easier as well as letting you re-use the same sheet for your next game. The map sheets that come with the game are very good, and CGL sells packs containing more maps for you to play on if you get bored of the ones contained in the starter boxes. The plastic models are nice, but not strictly required, as anything that has a defined front can be used to represent a mech. The game is mostly a board game, and all mechs are treated as being of equal size for line of sight, in addition to all ranges and movement being measured from the hex, not the model. AGOAC comes with punch out cardboard tokens/stands that can be used to represent mechs before you buy models for them. As long as it doesn’t cause arguments and you can tell where the front is, anything can be used. The fact that the models come pre-assembled is another advantage over some wargames, as there is no glue or tools you need to buy to play the game. I do recommend painting your mechs at some point, as the new plastic models paint really well and are incredibly easy to paint compared to 40k or any other tabletop wargame, being mostly one texture and very chunky.
Once you have convinced another person that the big robot game is a good use of time, setting this game up and taking it down is an absolute breeze compared to something like 40k. As the game is played on a flat map sheet with hills, buildings, and the like printed on it, rather than a full 3d board, all you need to do to get started is find a table large enough (I have found that a 5×3 table gives enough space for the map sheets and all of the record sheets for 2 players to play a fairly large game, but larger tables, or multiple small tables, will work.) and then lay out your map sheet in the center and record sheets on the sides, with the Rulebook on hand. I like to set the model for each mech on top of its record sheet before I deploy it, but that is not in fact required. I also like to have the quick reference sheet, the cardboard sheet with a bunch of modifiers on it that comes in AGOAC on hand, as there is a lot of useful information on that sheet and it is a lot faster than digging through the rulebook. If you lose or damage it, you can always print another from the Battletech website. You don’t need to source 3D terrain, a huge table, or anything like that. Its best to be able to sit/stand opposite your opponent, but there is no hidden information (in the base rules), so its not a huge deal if the space makes that difficult. One of the huge reasons I have been playing so much Battletech lately is that it is incredibly compact and easy to set up. I can have a full sized game that can last a whole evening in a small box in my car.
Once you have sat down, spread out your map sheet, and selected your mechs, you could just start playing, following the rules in the book about setting up your models, and just try to kill each other. In fact, I highly recommend you do this while you are learning the game. Don’t worry about points or objectives, just sit down with the Vindicator and Griffin that come in the beginner box, or the Wolverine and Shadow Hawk from AGOAC if you skipped the beginner box, and have a few 1v1s while you get the game’s systems down. Just go out and kill a few mechs, it’s for your own good.
For your first few games you should start out with the mini mech sheets included in either starter box. These half page sheets are mostly dry-erasable (they don’t clean up quite as well as a page protector or laminated page, but will do for now) and are rules-lite. They skip the full internal structure and critical hit locations parts of the full sheets, so you can get used to the basics of moving and shooting before adding complexity.
Once you have gotten the core system down though, this game is best played with a scenario, which is a set of add on rules and objectives that you use in addition to the basic combat to see who wins the game.The AGOAC box has 3 scenarios, and they are all pretty decent and well worth a play. In addition, you can ignore the game size section down below for them, because they dictate what mechs to use for each side of the scenario. I’d play through them in order, starting with Scenario 1 and moving through to 3, as each scenario is more complicated than the last, giving a pretty good progression in terms of complexity, and doing a good job of showing off some of the fun things you can do with the game. I’m particularly fond of Scenario 2, Trial by Fire, as it pits a single damaged Assault mech against 3 rookies who are just trying to keep it from escaping.
There isn’t a super great source of scenarios after that that I am aware of, as they tend to be randomly spread throughout a huge amount of published products stretching back decades. Due to the game never having had a big jump between editions, any old scenario you find is probably still mostly playable in the modern game. There are good fan scenarios posted online in various fan communities, and any scenario is better than no scenario. One that I have played a few times is setting up a marker representing a mobile HQ vehicle in the center of the board, and a player who is within 5 hexes of it and is closer to it than their enemy at the end of the movement phase can move it as if it were a 3/5 mech (slow, about the speed of most assault mechs) right before the shooting phase, with the winner being the person who moved the Mobile HQ off of their table edge. Any sort of narrative scenario is a great choice though, as it will make your game much more fun.
Something that Battletech never makes clear is what size a “Standard” game should be. The first few games you play should just be the scenarios in AGOAC, and a few 1v1s between mechs of the same weight. Once you want to start playing games that are not dictated by the starting scenarios and the mechs in the box, the best way to balance games is using Battle Value, or BV. BV is a rough equivalent to Points in 40k, being a resource that measures how “Good” a given mech is compared to another. Different mechs cost different amounts of points, but even 2 of the same base mech could cost different amounts because of their variants. Variants are alternate equipment sets for the same mech, which usually either change the role of a mech or upgrade their capabilities, and cost a different amount of BV than the base mech. A puny Wasp is 384 BV, but a mighty Daishi is 2,712, meaning that, in theory, the Daishi is worth 7 ish Wasps. This isn’t the only measure you should do though, as the number of mechs is also very important. The side with more mechs tends to have an advantage, and games are much more fair when you can’t spam tiny mechs or funnel all of your points into a single supermech. You shouldn’t force players to have the exact same amount of mechs, as that reduces variance and can force players to cut mechs that they really want to use. A range is a pretty good idea, though you should rarely let one side have the other 2 to 1 or more at the start of the game, as that means one side will be starting activating 2 mechs at a time rather than 1.
In addition, larger games are better played on more than one map sheet. AGOAC covers this a bit, but to play with more than one sheet, you just line up the edges of all the sheets you are using so the partial hexes at the edges become full hexes. Games played on two map sheets are pretty common, and Catalyst sells some neoprene maps that have had the paper mapsheets printed on them. They’re not needed, but are a fantastic luxury purchase when they’re in stock. A single mapsheet is about 18×22 inches, with a pair (or neoprene mat) being 36×22.
I will be comparing a few BV levels to what I consider to be the closest equivalent to them in Warhammer 40k, as this is primarily a 40k site and most people will be coming from that game. For a small game, 2500 BV and 2 mechs per side, on 1 map sheet, is about equal to 500 points, being a game you can play in an hour or two, and much like 500 point games in 40k, a bit prone to rock paper scissors and not having enough options to deal with everything your opponent might have. For a more meaty game, 5000 BV and 3-4 mechs per side, on 2 map sheets, is about even to 1000 points in 40k, being a pretty solid size and one of the better sizes to play while learning. Games at this level will take a few hours but can get pretty fast if you know your mechs well and are used to the rules.
10000 BV and 5-8 mechs on 2-4 map sheets (Either size works depending on how much time you want to spend at long range, I usually play on 2.) is the rough equivalent to a 2000 point 40k game, being a long game with a lot of options and moving parts every turn. It is important to know that games at this size get easier and faster to play as they go along, as at this level mechs can seriously hurt each other and you tend to remove mechs faster than at lower levels, as they are taking more shots and doing more damage. The BV for any mech you want to play with can be found on the Master Unit List, which also has a list builder that does the math for you.
Battletech is a much easier game to set up and break down than something like 40k, and the starter box is so comprehensive and intuitive that it makes your first few games a lot easier and a lot faster than most, and it requires no tools or resources that come from outside of the box. It’s difficult to find things to write about how to play your first game, because the game already does a pretty good job of making that easy to figure out on your own. Definitely start with some 1v1, objectiveless deathmatches though, as learning how to move your mech around and shoot at things is hard enough with 1 mech, jumping in with 4 the way the first AGOAC scenario wants you too is a little bit too much.