Does BattleTech Have A Pokémon Problem?


So there’s a question out there that I’m sure has been bandied around the upper echelons of Catalyst Game Labs more than once: does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem?

It’s an honest question, and one I’m probably going to have to explain before I dive into the weeds. BattleTech is obviously not competing with Pokémon in any way–I can’t imagine there’s much overlap between Pokémon and BattleTech fans (although feel free to prove me wrong). I refer to the “Pokémon problem” to point out how BattleTech and Pokémon are two game universes with a very similar issue and one that gets to the core of what each franchise is even about.

Late last year, Pokémon fans were in an uproar when they found out that the latest video game installment wouldn’t feature the full list of nearly 900 Pokémon. Instead, Nintendo decided to pare back the list to 400 individual monsters, citing issues with maintaining game balance when there’s close to 900 separate Pokémon to keep track of.

Simply put, there are just too many Pokémon for a franchise to keep adding more and more with every new game. Eventually, you’d have a game with thousands or even tens of thousands of Pokémon, making it impossible for anyone–even the game’s designers–to properly keep track of them.

While there’s certainly an argument to be made on the player’s side that having thousands of options would keep every game fresh thanks to the abundant variety of Pokémon to choose from, the logistical challenges of an ever-expanding roster are undeniable. A game just can’t keep getting bigger and bigger forever without something, somewhere, breaking.

Urbanmech Evolution

The number of Pokémon weighing down the franchise had become a problem. The solution was to cull some, relegating them to past games where they would stay until future games decided to bring them out of retirement for another romp.

Now let’s talk about BattleTech. There are currently just over 650 ‘Mechs, according to my quick addition on Sarna’s BattleMech portal, although that number might be a bit low as I’m basically eyeballing each tonnage category. When you add in Aerospace fighters, DropShip classes, types of Battle Armor, tanks, VTOLs, WarShips, and everything else that makes up BattleTech, you get a number so high I’m not even going to bother to try and calculating it because I don’t get paid by the hour.

But we’re going to keep our discussion limited to ‘Mechs. So, just like Pokémon had too many Pokémon, does BattleTech have too many BattleMechs?

Too Many ‘Mechs. Maybe.

I’m going to say right off the bat that I don’t have the answer to this question. I think it’ll be a different answer for different people, but it’s definitely something worth considering as BattleTech continues into the future.

One of the problems that has always existed in BattleTech is the desire for new content, and for the tabletop game, that means new maps, new stories, and new TROs filled with new ‘Mechs. If a TRO came out and it didn’t have a new ‘Mech or a new variant, it just wouldn’t be a TRO, and crucially, it probably wouldn’t sell. So from Catalyst’s perspective, you can probably never have too many ‘Mechs since you can never sell too many TROs.

MWO banner

Or can you? Just like with Pokémon, each new ‘Mech has to be tracked. Luckily, we have Sarna here to continue expanding the BattleMech portal, so keeping track of all these new machines isn’t a problem. Likewise, tracking for the sake of balance isn’t a problem in BattleTech because the game isn’t designed to be balanced, it’s designed to simulate warfare, and warfare is rarely fair.

Now, if all those 650+ ‘Mechs were to ever arrive in a video game, it would be a different story. The rules of a tabletop game keep things from getting out of hand, but the multitude of factors that go into creating a ‘Mech in a game like MechWarrior must be balanced for the sake of multiplayer. If one ‘Mech can simply have more weapons, armor, and speed than any other, everyone would just use that ‘Mech.

Here, the tabletop rules again largely save MechWarrior the trouble of balance, but that doesn’t mean everything is fair. Just look at MechWarrior Online to see the trouble that an ever-expanding roster of ‘Mechs can cause in a multiplayer game. In MWO’s case, there are definite tiers that have emerged as certain ‘Mechs prove to be superior to others due to quirks, movement profiles, and just overall shape and size.

Even MechWarrior Online doesn’t have 650+ ‘Mechs in it though. In fact, most MechWarrior games throughout history have handled the Pokémon problem by limiting the era in which the game takes place. MechWarrior games that take place before the 3050s, such as MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries and MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, have largely overlapping rosters where certain ‘Mechs reappear again and again (I’m looking at you, Centurion). Whenever the Clans appear, ‘Mechs like the Timber Wolf, Summoner, and Mad Dog are never forgotten by the developers.

These fan favorites tend to ensure that even as the tabletop game keeps adding ‘Mechs by the truckload, BattleTech video games tend to stick with the machines that MechWarrior fans most recognize. It’s as much about good marketing as it is about good game design.

But even still, BattleTech keeps getting new ‘Mechs from fiction, TROs, and video games (such as the Bull Shark and Corsair). I know that when I read a BattleTech book I always have Sarna open on my browser to quickly lookup a name I don’t recognize. That’s not really a problem, per se, as I always love refreshing my memory or even learning about a ‘Mech I’d never heard of until that point. I can’t help but wonder, though, if that’s the same for everyone.

So, can there be too many ‘Mechs? Does BattleTech have a Pokémon problem? And if so, what’s the solution? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: And if you find any more Pokémon X BattleTech memes, send ’em my way!

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

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About Sean

Hooked on BattleTech at an early age, Sean honestly can't remember whether it was the cartoon, the serial novels or the short-lived TCG that did him in. Whatever it was, his passion for giant shooty robots never died, so now he writes about the latest and greatest in 'Mech related news.

28 thoughts on “Does BattleTech Have A Pokémon Problem?

  1. James Bixby

    I remember discussions with Herb Beas where initial plans for post ilClan Time Jump included a mass Drawing down of Battlemech chassis to 100 or less, and a quarter of them would be new chassis.

    Of course we have had two interim and one new line developers since then. So who knows. But an ilClan Storyline where in a post second Reunification Wars timeline saw the extinction, elimination, or mothballing of whole chassis types that are “past expiration date” would be nice.

    Being a little more firm about mechs that appear in certain eras but not others on the MUL would be helpful too. Make the pair of Spartans in Snords Irregulars literally the last in the inner sphere for example, but plentiful enough in the Star League and early succession wars period

  2. Highlighter

    The only consideration for me regarding if there are “too many ‘Mechs” is the question of “realism” (cough cough). What I mean is, does it make sense for there to be 650+ unique chassis for a whole bunch of militaries? Sure, over the course of 1000 years, maybe, but there are probably close to 100 active ‘Mech designs in any given time period. That seems like a logistical nightmare. It would make much more sense for a Great House to focus on maybe ten designs. It’s not like you see the US military running around with fifteen different MBTs. There’s just the Abrams. That’s it.

    That said, I love all the different ‘Mechs and I think it’s great fun to read about all of them.

    1. Darren A

      This is kind of my thought. Why/how would militaries invest in having 100s of different mech designs? Think of the logistics for parts alone. You would realistically want to field maybe 3 or 4 mechs of a given chassis for each weight class. Maybe a few variants for each, but still. Say 20 different mechs per faction, and 20% of those are seen across multiple factions. That would get a manageable level of units for play and lore, and still be able to give people new stuff for each era.

  3. Edward Bonthron

    As we tend to play home made/designed mechs/equipment in our group this is really not a point. All cannon and anything we can dream up is good to go. The more targets, the merrier. Everything just has to be clearly laid out in the pre game brief.

  4. Eric

    One of the goals of an editorial is to have a headline that grabs your attention but is not ridiculous. This headline is a perfect example. Well done Sean. Well done.

  5. löchleindeluxe

    Well, I guess by and large, BT has the pokemon problem, but in more ways than one:

    – Tech. In the mid-90s, knowing the weapons range table by heart was a distinct possibility, because nobody uses AC/2s and there’s only 5 other range bands which all split evenly over S/M/L. Now, there’s more laser variants than that. At the same time, much effort is put into a vague balance, i.e. no real technological progress outside the IS/Clan split. It has been argued many times before: why bother keeping the old-style IS PPC, for example, competitive? (Related: 2d6 resolution and armor points in the dozens range limits tiny tweaks a bit. But nobody would want to manage “oh, but this Martell laser has a quarter-inch more range but half a point less damage” on paper, and when done with computers, it’s called RogueTech.)

    – Rules. I defy anybody to step up and say they’ve earnestly used the rules for sinking large naval vessels. Or the gigantic five-page flow chart for AI caspar drones (if I remember correctly).

    On the other hand, if you don’t pokemon and add new stuff (and hey, I like new pew-pew as much as the next stompy-robot geek), you forty-kay and make everybody rebuy all their rulebooks every seven years. As it is, I would feel largely comfortable handing somebody my 3rd? 4th? ed rulebook from the 90s to learn the basics and playing introtech, sorry, level 1, sorry, succession wars-era games with them. (After telling them partial cover doesn’t work that way anymore.)

  6. Silent Hunter

    Short answer: Yes

    Long answer: Yeah… There’s little or no real guide to how they handle this. They COULD restrict Mechs to House/Clan but then it comes down to supply/demand in the hobby shops. We were told that Clans have MUCH better/more reliable tech but without your Centurion cutting out mid battle because someone forgot to change a fuse, that particular bit of lore is just filler.

    Both Catalyst and PGI are in a tight situation where they promised much but without sales they can’t fulfill those promises so they got stuck in a release Mechs/make money loop without devoting resources to unraveling the tangled mess. Plus as fans we’re kind of our own worst enemies as we chase ‘the meta’ looking for the best Mechs etc.

    I’ve been playing some form of Battletech or Mechwarrior for close to 30 years and I’ve seen the same patterns throughout the Hobby Industry. Player experience starts to take a back seat when money gets involved. More and more resources get directed towards the ‘more profitable’ side of things where previously developers used to have the time to sit and mull over ideas.

    I’m not going to start laying blame anywhere. Over time, people change/move on and maybe come back so you start to rely on the ones SPENDING MONEY to decide the future. It’s called business and is still one of the main reasons for crushing creativity.

    I’m rambling so I’ll try and sum up.

    Yes, there’s a problem with there being too much choice, but that’s the decision that HAD to be made otherwise the entirety of the Battletech lore would be now owned by Harmony Gold and sitting gathering dust in a safe somewhere. We’d LOVE there to be a more organised and regimented system in place but for now we need to support the games we love because when they’re gone, they leave a hole in our hearts that is only filled when our imaginations sit in those cockpits.

    We can hope and dream that someday Catalyst and PGI get their act together to put the game lore somewhere in the rules, but for now, it’s a tangled mess, but it’s OUR tangled mess.

    Peace out.

  7. Andreas Fanelli

    I feel the need to write a response to this as a huge fan of both series. There is a strong misconception in this article I need to address right off the bat.

    Pokemon did not limit the number of pokemon in this game because of the logistical challenge. They limited them for balance reasons. Keep in mind they did state that they didn’t include the pokemon for the reason you stated, but 3d models for all 900 pokemon were found within the newest games files, along with other evidence to suggest the same.

    In Battletech when you want to choose something you choose it from a list or acquire it somehow during a campaign. It doesn’t involve grinding or anything else to get equipment, you and your buddies just pick what you want essentially. In pokemon you need to put a lot of time and effort to even get certain pokemon. Then you go to use them and they may be useless in a competitive setting.

    In Battletech you have BV and it gives you a general idea how “useful” a mech may be in battle. You know going in what each mech is capable of with standardized weapons and equipment. In pokemon strength is a more abstract thing, that many players don’t understand their first time through. It is easy to get attached to your starter pokemon, only to find out they are useless once you start competing.

    Game Freak (Pokemon Devs) wanted to insure that players have a more postitive experience by limting options and creating a new balance in the game. They have been trying to do this for the past 3 generations, trying to get many different kinds of Pokemon

    For many mechwarrior games the roster tends to be limted the way you woudl expect in most video games. You don’t see call of duty having every gun from a given country. They tend to select a few special choices and weave them together in a list of 20-30 weapons. I imagine its the same mindset that devs put into MW. Even if you don’t get your favorite chassis, you still are piloting a mech and the whole experience is enjoyable regardless.

    In the end I don’t think we have the same problem. We have already talked about eras and how they allow us to limit lists. You can even further pare down and only make faction specific lists. We do not run into same problem that pokemon has run into.

  8. Orin

    No. New TRO with new art and new cool designs and stories are endlessly fascinating. What’s remarkable is that over all those designs is that BattleTech has managed to make the vast majority of them separate and unique from what went beyond. It’s not a matter of 20 or so concepts being republished with minor tweaks and new art. A joy is how incomphrensibly sprawling it all is (something that should be the case with a franchise that depicts hundreds of years over thousands of planets).

  9. Jeremy M Ward

    Nope, Battletech doesn’t have a Pokemon problem.

    1. Each design in Battletech is the response, bad, good, or indifferent to a specific military need. Pokemon don’t devolve or lose access to their powers due to a massive interstellar war that destroys manufacturing centers, research labs, and so on as all of the sides in a conflict struggle for advantage. Battlemechs do.

    2. Battletech takes place across 700 plus years of conflict, allowing for designs to appear from any era. There are still many different times to be explored, such as the Political Century for the Clans, the invasion of the Periphery by the SLDF, and more. Those will create more designs, which may or may not have survived into a specific era

    3. Many players pick specific times to play in, so not all of those units get used. That’s not an issue, it’s simply player preference.

    4. Variety is what makes a fictional setting thrive.

    In conclusion, there isn’t a need to worry. If a video game appears, fans will mod it to add in additional chassis from whatever source they wish. As for Mechwarrior Online, that game has issues far beyond chassis, since it has very limited play styles, goals, and the faction play has not crystallized like PGI promised.

    1. Sandrorect

      For a lore perspective you are right.

      But for a competitive play, when you reach certain limit, more units means that other units may have no use because the new units are better that the previus ones.

      One thing, as you say, is only use mech of one ages to limit the options. But if you do that, is because ara a lot of options.

  10. Sandrorect

    This no a Pokemon problem, this is a problem that all wargames have if they survive for a long time.

    The space marine of warhammer 40K, with the last book have 96 diferent units in the army and most of these units have 3 or 4 other units that fill the same rol in the army (artillery, main battle tank, scouts, etc)

    The same happens to Battletech. We have multiple units to fullfil the same rol, and because of that, some units will be forgotten.

    But as a company Cataclys need make more mechs to make more money, so we wil have more mech in the future.

  11. Wick

    Mechwarrior: Dark Age proves its Pokemon-ish. It was entirely based on the ‘gotta collect them all’ aspect.

    But as far as Classic Battletech board game, pre-3055 is sort of Pokemon-ish. TRO:2750 was kind of an outlier by showing us what was lost, and TRO:3050 introduced some new designs, but most (minus the Clan mechs) were upgrades of 3025 or 2750 designs – similar to Pokemon games that would keep some of previous game roster as common encounters while introducing new Pokemon in each new game (particularly the three starting types). But the wheels come off starting with TRO:3055: Battletech is actually worse than Pokemon here, with each new TRO completely full of brand new designs. Maybe it sold books but it soured game balance and turned off a lot of players who could no longer keep up. Above comments regarding late Succession Wars and knowing rules from memory made earlier Battletech less convoluted, easier for new players to pick up and play along. 3055 and later started requiring even veteran players to stop what they’re doing, look up the unit and figure out exactly what they were up against. Anything that “pauses the fun” is not a good idea for a board game.

    If ilClan reduces it back down to 100 chassis its probably best for the game, but it’ll have the same effect as the recent Pokemon decision, irritating players who have suddenly lost their favorite chassis in the new timeframe. (Although this is not an uncommon thing in Battletech so it shouldn’t meet too much ooposition.) I seriously doubt we’ll see any draw down though, as new mechs make money, and partners like Ironwind need new designs to offer new product. Financially speaking it doesn’t do them any good to force any designs into extinction, except the few those that cause serious game problems (LAMs, certain experimental tech, etc.)

    Also, the numbers quoted are rather misleading. Effectively there’s about 950 variants of Pokemon, but most are organized into 2-4 evolution levels, some with male and female versions, so closer to 300 “species”. There may be some 650 mech chassis, but comparable number in Battletech is nearer 3600 mechs counting all variants and defined omni configs (and nearly 7000 types of units in total.) Again, Battletech has a worse problem here. Pokemon experts can probably still describe the strengths and weaknesses of each of those 950 Pokemon from memory – you’d be hard pressed to find a Battletech expert who can summarize each and every variant of the 3600 mechs described in same fashion.

    1. Mark H

      The last TRO I bought was 3055. The change in art style was horribly jarring, and it seemed like just a dump of different mechs and fighters simply for the sake of making more mechs and fighters.

  12. Nemo

    All ‘mechs are essentially the same. They are NOT like pokemon.

    If anything there’s too many equipment options in the Dark Age.

    But too many mechs?
    Nos scientifically possible.

    In fact, at the bottom of it, there is just ONE mech: A slot and tonnage system from 20 to 100 weight machines. This is the ONLY mech. The different models are just flavor, excepting the quirks (which are outside the tonnage and slot system), there’s *nothing* exceptional about them.

    1. Wick

      But couldn’t same argument be applied to Pokemon? They are basically an HP pool, type (or two), and a selection of attacks (i.e. “weapons”). By these measures, there is but only one Pokemon as well and the ones we see are just flavors.

      1. JM

        The difference is that you can’t gut a Charizard to turn it into a Gyarados. In Battletech you can. In the RPG, you might have to depending upon how the campaign goes.

  13. Eric Salzman

    On a tangent – Handbook House Kurita actually includes, in the bestiary section, a description of a small rodent that can generate a bioelectric charge. Yakuza play a game with it, releasing a swarm and then trying to “catch ’em all.”

  14. dragoonxx

    May i introduce the author to the Roguetech mod for battletech (who most of their point is as TT/CBT as possible…and does have many, many, many mechs/vehicles- to the tune of ~2500 mech/variants and ~1000 vehicles) but does it have a pokemon problem…not really, not unless you WANT to try to catch em all

  15. JM

    The Battletech roster plays out differently depending on how you’re playing the game. You do get a bit of a Pokemon problem when it comes to the videogames (and especially if you keep track of hardpoints) as you do need to balance mech choices against one another to some degree. What PGI has done with MWO is pretty good. I like the basic idea of hip-firing mechs generally running cooler or firing a bit faster, and if they really suck just add more armour. My Vindi 1X is far from horrible and when used at the right moment I’ve been the tip of the spear on the little guy.

    If you play Mechwarrior (RPG) then the huge amount of mech choices are more about options for enemies and world-building. The Pokemon problem goes away and the TROs are more like bestiary compendiums, a la DnD, instead of a pokedex. Chances are your players will be thrown around enough that they’ll have to rebuild and customize their mechs, meaning what they start with may be sufficiently different from the factory specs and ends up being a new unique “monster.” This plays into the customizability of the BT system, as in general there are exponentially more builds possible than what’s canon.

    By Tabletop rules, different mechs give different options on how to build out your lance/company and becomes a list of options similar to what you’d get with other army games like 40k. The mech choices are generally what you’re limited to, and if played straight you should be limited by BV and nation availability. More options give more possible combinations, and even crappy mechs can be worth bringing along thanks to being cheap BV. Again, this is now less of a Pokemon problem (even if it seems like it should be) and is more one of default choices.

    The difference between Pokemon and Battetech is where the balance occurs. Pokemon is balanced to the monster; with each monster having its own stats, quirks, and move list. Battletech balances by the tech. As long as the tech options are somewhat fairly balanced then you can have a world where the Awesome is easier to justify than the Timberwolf.

  16. Sapphirus

    While we’re in the subject between Battletech and Pokemon (this maybe off-topic in terms of too many Pokemon or too many Mechs) –
    As a huge fan of both Battletech and Pokemon, there are certain Pokemon that have visual designs that are the same as certain Mech names, such as the Rhyhorn family line (Rhydon and Rhyperior included) are literally stone rhinos, Talonflame’s a fire falcon, and Volcarona’s a fire moth. This can’t be a coincidence.

  17. Marc Daoust

    From what I understand of the Battletech universe, mechs can (and often do) go extinct. Either because their production facilities are destroyed, their parts become harder to acquire or outright become lostech, or they simply fall behind technology wise.

    Sure, you could field a Mackie in the Dark Ages era, but would you really want to? Good luck finding parts for it in 3145. Generally speaking, taking a museum piece into battle doesn’t always work out.

    I don’t see it as a Pokemon problem, but more of a classic car problem. You can keep a car running for as long as they make parts for it, but unlike a car, your mech also has to contend with battle damage, destruction of its production lines, parts becoming lostech, and possibly outright destruction.

  18. James Beard

    “Too many mechs”.
    From a game point of view (ie people getting all the figures): Yes.
    From a universe point of view: Not really.
    From a mech junkie’s point of view: HERESY I SAY!

  19. Yuli

    The HBS Battletech mod Roguetech does feature an absurd number of mechs, IIRC it’s around 2700 variants.

  20. wtf did I just read

    No, because that isn’t a problem. That’s a feature. The main thing that attracts me to BattleTech and other games such as Pokémon and Magic: the Gathering is the amount of units/pokémon/cards available. I don’t even play intro tech because that’s too simplistic for my taste.

    This whole article is nonsense!

  21. James McMullen

    I have been teaching Middle-School aged kids how to play Battletech in an afterschool games club, and we will never, ever, ever play outside of 3025. The rules are complicated enough for an eleven year-old to grasp without adding a dozen new weapon ranges, damage potential, countermeasures, and all that rot.
    My goal of getting kids to put down their phones and play something in real life works great within the limitations of 3025 play. And my Battletech has to compete head to head with 40K for table space and resources.

    Did I say limitations? I meant strengths. The core of the game is giant, stompy robots, and adding new weapons that do more damage coupled with armour that is more effective just means more time spent colouring in little dots, with no appreciable benefit to exciting gameplay. Our group has more fun with the excitement of lights and mediums running around the map than they do with plodding assault mechs. The two dozen ‘mechs from the ol Beginner’s Box provides plenty of scope for players to explore a whole range of opportunities without being overwhelming.

    We even have one lance of Grade 7 girls (!) who play every week. 7th grade girls! Battletech would have a hard time competing for their attention if it weren’t accessible enough. I am happy enough if older players want to advance the timeline on their own recognizance later on, but for introducing the game? The calendar of the clan invasion stops before midnight.

  22. GiantStompyDeathMachine

    The Pokemon problem goes away (without having to address if it’s really a problem in the first place) if you treat Battletech like a classic wargame, with a focus around scenarios where the order of battle is assigned. (Note: To write good scenarios takes effort, requiring good game design aspects as well as sufficient world knowledge to select the right elements of time and location.) Some mechs are just better than others, but the important thing isn’t whether you have your favorite mech, but how well you play to the strengths of the mech you do have.

    For example, in Panzer Leader, a German Mk V (Panther) is objectively a better tank than than a German Mk IV. Every number is better. But, you don’t get to choose to have a Mk V, the scenario dictates whether you have IV’s, V’s, or something else, and in what numbers. Winning is determined by which player uses their units best. There is no balance by weight, balance by cost or balance by artificial balancing mechanic to game the system with. And, if the scenario isn’t balanced, play it twice and flip sides, and see who does best on each side.

    Additionally, scenarios build a greater appreciation for the game world, as it brings out more mechs (rather than sticking to the more meta choices) and relates them to a time and place. Victory can mean more than just wrecking your opponent, thus requiring more outside the box thinking. In Star Fleet Battles, victory in the scenario Flight of the Archaeopteryx is determined by the simple survival and escape of Gorn units. It’s not a fair fight; it doesn’t have to be.

    Sorry this is late.


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