Wargame Spotlight: Battletech

"Battletech" is a game where giant robots slug it out on a futuristic  battlefield among infantry, tanks, helicopters, fighters, and everything in between. If that alone doesn't sound interesting, I don't know how to help you.  "Battletec"h was launched in 1984 and has since become a very popular tabletop  game and all-encompassing mecha franchise. Although "Battletech" took a small  hiatus due to image copyright violations, it came back in full force in the  late 2000s.

The game:

The game plays similarly to most other tabletop games. Players roll for  initiative each turn, then movement and combat takes place and damage is doled  out. It's important to note that the winner for initiative actually goes second  – the theory behind this rule is that reacting to your opponents movements is  more potent than acting first.

"Battletech" can be played on a hexagonal map system or on open terrain,  but regardless, movement and actions play a more critical role than other  tabletop games. While other wargames give units a maximum move distance, usually  without penalties, players need to think very carefully about how their mechs  move. Each movement and action generates a certain amount of heat depending on  what was performed, and overheating has drastic consequences. More strenuous  types of movement like jumping come with higher heat costs and the same goes  for firing different types of weapons. Although it might sound frustrating to limit  movement and firing, it creates tactical depth.

Damage is delegated on specific locations to a unit's body. Each unit  has a different accompanying chart which adds another tactical layer to the  game over the typical health/hull point limit. Although some weapons can't  usually damage higher armor values, Battletech uses a floating critical system  which allows some of the smallest of arms to put a dent in larger targets. It  may be frustrating to take a hit from something that normally wouldn't damage  your giant mech, but this only happens on rare occasions and gives weaker units  a slight chance to stand against the big guns.

The story:

"Battletech" takes place in the 31st century where humanity  emerges from a golden age of unity with guns blazing. Technology lost during  that time of peace is being rediscovered which gave rise to the dominance of  mechs on the battlefield. There are numerous factions at play spread out among  the stars. Although the "Battletech" universe uses many sci-fi tropes like  nanotechnology, aliens are nonexistent except for a few minor encounters in  some of the books.

Essentially, an inner governing force called the Star League ruled over  most of humanity but experienced enough inner turmoil to throw things out of  order. After some infighting and reestablishing, a group of radicals that had  fled known space returned to wage war. The Star League won out, but humanity  once again collapsed in on itself and every single house, faction, and  government fought each other and themselves.

Where to find it:

Given its popularity and longevity, "Battletech" tends to be more  prevalent in tabletop stores than other wargames. There's no guarantee that  your local brick and mortar houses any of their products, however, and so your  best bet is to scour online retailers for their minis. If you don't feel  confident enough to spend money on the rulebook just to see if you want to play  the game, check out the quickstart rules in this free  online PDF.

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