This week in product reviews, I examine Technical Readout: 3145 The Clans, the seventh in Catalyst Game Lab’s faction TROs covering the late Dark Age era.
I’d like to open with another personal statement on my philosophy regarding ‘Mechs : I like tripped out units. There it is. I like BattleMech designs that take advantage of every critical spot and half-ton of weight. To me, the ideal ‘Mech incorporates the best of the newest technologies with the proven equipment of yesteryear. At the same time, I roll my eyes at “proof of” or “test bed” machines that throw new technologies onto a chassis without much thought on how to make them work together efficiently. That’s why I always had mixed feeling regarding the Manei Domini’s Celestial OmniMechs – sure they were cool looking and used all the latest tech – but many of the configurations had no defined role, and many of the base chassis themselves seemed to have been designed more to showcase the new engines, armors and internal structures of the era than to produce the most efficient killing machine. CASE should be mandatory on almost everything that doesn’t have an Inner Sphere extra-light engine in its side torso, and sometimes even then. Double-Heat Sinks are a must. If it doesn’t use Endo-Steel, it should instead use Endo-Composite or whatever. Light Engines are popular with I.S. ‘Mechs. Anti-standard infantry weapons are viewed with disdain, as is the old Anti-Missile System that ran out of ammo after only a wave or two. At least one weapon should be energy based, just in case the combat runs long. Gauss Rifles require a minimum of two tons of ammunition. And so on. Above all else: Show me a ‘Mech that does something – or a combination of somethings – that other ‘Mechs can’t match.
I am not saying my opinion is superior to anyone else’s. In fact, I know many of those reading this will have logged more hours either on the board of play or on MegaMek than I have. It’s just my opinion I’m sharing. If that interests you, please read on.
Saying this TRO represents the Clan’s contributions to the current era is a misnomer. In truth, all of the Technical Readouts in this series included various examples of Clan tech, and the first of the set, Technical Readout: 3145 Mercenaries, provided arguably the two finest (or at least most iconic) examples of Dark Age clan technology in the Mad Cat IV and the Vulture IV. Clan technology (and units) has apparently become fairly common among all the (surviving) Dark Age factions, which seem to almost make this book redundant. Almost, but not quite. The Clans who invaded the Inner Sphere in 3050 may be transformed beyond nearly all recognition, but they are still around. (Some of them, anyway… pity the Nova Cats.)
So – on to the units. Four new battle armors are presented to us, leading off with the Constable, a light, anti-riot type suit. It is totally understandable why the Clans would want a suit like this, and with so many modular variants, at least it would be interesting, perhaps, in a MechWarrior / BattleTech RPG type of game. The Buraq, shaped like a horse (Clan Hell’s Horses get a totem suit?), is the real novelty, with a ground MP rating of seven, the highest I can remember seeing in a battle armor unit. Unfortunately, the weapons are mediocre while the armor is slightly below-average. The Wraith, a Ghost Bear design, is most similar to the classic Elemental, but lacks real anti-‘Mech weaponry, relying on battle claws and anti-infantry equipment. The Black Wolf, used both by the Wolves and the Exiles, is a heavy unit with an impressive weapons mount. I usually have mixed feelings about slower units, but at least it has a claw to ride ‘Mechs.
In the vehicle section, the Nacon is a fast, wheeled machine with an ATM-6 launcher. If you can look past the prejudices against wheeled vehicles, it’s not bad. The Anat APC continues the post-Jihad theme of using amphibious equipment and a fuel cell. It’s fast, but nothing special. The Skadi VTOL is a fine gunship in the tradition of such units as the Yellow Jacket. Extremely fast with an Ultra-10 autocannon, it can swoop in, fire off some quality shots, and scat off. It doesn’t have much armor, but it doesn’t really need it. The Skanda is a light tank armed with a pair of Ultra-2 autocannons. It is one of the fastest tanks you’ll see, and with its light weaponry, it needs to be. The Hadur is everything we’ve ever needed for an Arrow IV platform: It’s a fast hover with enough ammunition to stay in the field all day. Most artillery assets are always at risk of being trapped by more mobile forces with superior conventional firepower. Not the Hadur, which has the speed to get away every time it is threatened. The Aesir is a wheeled anti-aircraft vehicle, in the tradition of the Autocannon-2 carrier. (With four LB 2-X guns in the place of the original weapons.) Someone needs to tell me if the Armored Motive System is worth it; it seems it might be, given it seems every time I play with a vehicle it’s inevitably crippled by a lucky hit. The Gurzil is an 80-ton long range machine that combines one of the most advanced weapon systems – the Streak LRMs – with one of the most primitive – the Mech Mortar. With only two exceptions, all the vehicle units offered here use Clan extra-light engines, leading one to wonder how the Clans still have those kinds of resources to toss around to units that even in the Dark Age are considered “second class”.
So we need to speak about these new QuadVees. When the ProtoMechs debuted so many years ago, I wondered ‘Do we really need a new unit type? Is it really necessary? Are players ever going to setup their BV-balance troops only to say “Wait a minute, this can’t work. We don’t have any ProtoMechs…”?’ It seemed unlikely. So many years later, what do we find? The developers have gone ahead and created BattleMech Transformers. Yeah, yeah, I know, we already had those with LAMs. But still. The three QuadVees – a Hell’s Horses creation – “transform” from a tracked vehicles to quad-legged ‘Mechs. The 35-ton Arion, the 55-ton Cyllaros and the 75-ton Harpagos don’t offer anything particularly radical in terms of their weaponry, and are somewhat limited by the need for track equipment added on to the chassis. The offerings are uninspiring, which will probably impact their popularity. Will we still talk about QuadVees five years from now? Too soon to say.
On to the light ‘Mechs : The Wulfen is a 30-ton Clan Wolf omni, with a double-extra-light engine, an extra-light gyro, endo steel and finally stealth armor. As a result, it has very impressive speed, excellent defensive capabilities for a light ‘mech, but a modest 10 tons and 17 critical spaces for weaponry. Given its profile, that should be sufficient. Most of the configurations seem to prefer indirect-fire weapons, but altogether it’s probably the most advanced fast-snipers we’ve ever seen. The Eyrie, a Jade Falcon ‘Mech previously released as a MechWarrior: Dark Age miniature, uses partial wings to increase its jumping capability. I’m not too keen on that equipment, and on the whole, the Eyrie is a much better “totem ‘Mech” than it is killing machine with maximized potential. Its weaponry and movement profile are both average, but if you really want a ‘Mech that looks like a Falcon, it’s for you.
The Gravedigger, a medium Ghost Bear ‘Mech with Inner Sphere and Clan variations, is slow for its size but carries an impressive mix of long-range weapons and electronics. For some reason, the Streak LRM launcher carries only eight rounds. Go back and re-read the second paragraph of this article if you don’t understand my objection. The Gyrfalcon is another Jade Falcon totem ‘Mech designed to look pretty. The weaponry – paired ER Large Lasers with LB 2-X auto-cannons – and mobility are interesting, and it uses reflective armor to make up for carrying average protection. I’m actually interested enough to give this one a try.
The Vulture Mk III chassis is an almost identical to the original OmniMech, just with more armor at the cost of pod space. The variants show some promise, with each having a distinct roll from mass long-range fire support to urban fighting. The Loki Mk II attempts to improve on the original’s deficiencies, sacrificing speed for armor and pod-space. The maximum efficiency doctrine would seem to indicate you’d be better off with a larger ‘Mech like a Masakari/Warhawk, and we miss the advanced electronics that were so popular in the original. The Thor II is much like the Vulture Mk III in that it attempts to simply improve upon the predecessor without radically changing its role. The jump jets are no longer fixed (though oddly they are used by several configurations), but the weaponry is consistent with the original Omni’s philosophy. It’s encouraging that the developers are building off the classic legacies, rather simply redefine every ‘Mech they choose to upgrade. The 75-ton Warwolf is offered to us as an alternative to the classic Timber Wolf/Mad Cat. The weight and movement profile are identical, and many of the configuration hearken back to that venerable machine. Unlike the vast majority of OmniMechs, this machine retains a hand at the end of its left arm. The other major difference is the use of Reactive armor. Many of the configurations also employ a Laser Anti-Missle system; an impressive piece of equipment that seems underused elsewhere. Overall, I find it a worthy successor, perhaps even more so than the Mad Cat Mk IV.
The Shrike, the last of the trio of Jade Falcon “totem” ‘Mechs that once graced the boards of Clix-based games, is vaguely reminiscent of the Executioner/Gladiator in terms of its impressive mobility for a 95-ton monster. While this naturally does cost it a little in terms of its weapons weight, the two extended-range large lasers, two Ultra AC/5s, LRM-10 launcher and targeting computer are solid enough. The Kodiak II is a strange upgrade of the original. Gone is the massive short-range autocannon, replaced by a very impressive array or long-range missles and an extended-range PPC. How does it do this? With a double-extra-light engine, of course. Yeah, it makes it a little vulnerable, but it’s a ‘Mech that operates at long range with just enough speed to escape. It can work.
This is all building up, of course, to the Tomahawk II. 100 tons of OmniMech Clan technology, built on an Endo-Composite chassis. With an even 56 tons of pod space and ample critical, they have finally gone and done it: They’ve finally improved upon the Dire Wolf/Daishi. It is quite conceivable that this is the most powerful BattleMech ever built, not counting the “supersized” ‘Mechs over the 100 ton mark the developers have become fond of releasing. The configurations offered waste no time in using the most advanced weapons the Clans can field in this era, with examples of large HAGs, Streak LRM launchers and ER Large Pulse Lasers, along with the usual cluster of Clan energy weapons. In other words, modern versions of what we used to get from the Daishi. I have to admit, I drooled a little.
No AeroSpace assets offered in this book; not so much as an assault shuttle. The Jade Falcons preserved a significant portion of their WarShip fleet going into the 3145 era with six, one of the few factions to do so. Even the Ghost Bears lost most of their ships in the Jihad and the years that followed, and are now down to two. The Wolves field five, while the Hell’s Horses are at three. The Ravens, on the other hand, have an incredibly 16 WarShips in operation, and in another era might have dominated space with their advantage. But this is the era of the Pocket Warship, or so they keep telling us. And if you want those, look to the other books. So there are no new toys here, regardless.
Still, top to bottom, this Technical Readout probably offers more solid-to-excellent units than the other books in the series. Yes, it may have missed on the QuadVees, but the other units are enticing. Whereas in some of the TROs, the references and homages to traditional ‘Mech designs seems almost like a crutch, here the effect is the opposite: I want to play with the new Thor, the new Loki and the I’m-replacing-the-most-famous-‘Mech-ever Warwolf. And really, if they aren’t offering us ‘Mechs and other units we want to play with, what’s the point?