Future Possibilities for Tabletop BattleTech

The game Golem Arcana being played out

Pondering tactical possibilities.

I am lucky to count myself part of an active and ongoing BattleTech gaming group. While we have a great time stomping about in our ‘Mechs, trying to complete campaign objectives, by necessity we are stuck playing only a single battle per meeting. Each battle, ranging from lance on lance all the way up to company vs company sized battles can take a daunting amount of time, with our average lance + support units vs star/multi lanced size opponents taking anywhere from four or more hours to complete. Many times we simply run out of time, and make judgment calls as to the results of the battles.

This has lead me to wonder, is there a better way? Being a technology junkie, I’ve often thought as to how to leverage technology to remove the tedium of classic BattleTech game play.

A few days ago I ran into this article nominally posted by “Gabe” from the popular web locality Penny Arcade. Almost immediately after reading I grasped the potential of this technology to be used in BattleTech to do number crunching, helping to resolve line of sight issues, etc, all as mentioned in the article. One of the most tedious of battlefield chores that we have to do is to keep track of missile shots, artillery plotting, and things such as keeping track of fires, smoke drift and mines have flat out been banned by our GM just due to the amount of additional paperwork and tracking it takes to keep track of it all. I rather suspect many GMs are the same way, for good cause.

"Quick, drop that FASCAM now, now, now! Fire for effect!"

“Quick, drop that FASCAM now, now, now! Fire for effect!”

In addition I thought of how NFC technology (For example, as implemented in Nintendo’s Amiibo figures and software) could further automate record keeping by keeping track of individual ‘Mechs in ongoing campaigns. Besides significantly cutting down on the recording keeping time that GMs have to do, having access to the current status of a ‘Mech at a glance in digital form is a great capability, possibly being able to track and post this information online to help keep players organized and help them keep track of status of their favorite units between battles.

In order for our hobby to grow, we need to be aware that with the current status of tabletop BattleTech being the way it is we need to encourage new players. Things that make that process easier can really help to grow our ranks with new MechWarriors.

With the release of this game, I hope that the development team for BattleTech think about how to take BattleTech to the next logical level. Hope springs eternal!

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19 thoughts on “Future Possibilities for Tabletop BattleTech

  1. Jeffrey Webb

    Our Battletech group has been going in one form or another since the mid-90s. I’ve been playing since 86. Speeding up play has been a topic we’ve discussed for some time. If any of us knew Java well enough, one suggestion has been to alter MegaMek’s code to allow for the input of die rolls rather than using the RNG for things like to-hit and hit location. We could speed up book keeping a LOT that way, plus it would adjudicate LOS and hit direction issues without argument.

    I can see taking that concept and marrying it to the miniature systems you’re describing. I just hope someone is listening…

    1. Timbal Post author

      That would be quite helpful, especially if you could repurpose the code to run on Android or iOS. Having MM on a tablet and using it at your game could be tremendously helpful and speed things up.

      And I hope people are listening too. =D

    2. Warma

      How about this: http://www.faemiyah.fi/utils/btdamageresolver/
      (probably still pretty buggy, this is a work in progress)

      Anyway, I started a big stompy robot campaign and, and while there was talk about alternate game systems such as Iron Giants, I like the multi-dimensional balance of BT and the mech tinkering aspect immensely. Getting my playgroup to invest a lot of time to become fluid with the BT battle system itself was not reasonable, and the heaviness of the system was a big drawback for some of them. This application accelerates combat resolution about three-fold in our use, so people can focus more on the game itself.

  2. Doc Sav

    This has been a topic of deep thought for me as well. I haven’t tried to play tabletop for many years now. Everyone that I introduced to it enjoyed the concept, but seemed to be a little bored with how long things take to resolve, especially when the game is being led by someone who is by no means a veteran at the rules (me!).

    However, the universe has so much depth and history, and focuses so much on the human element despite the combat being between big robots, that I can’t resist the idea of running a campaign with my RPG group. My dilemma is, I don’t want to throw them right into core BT and sour them on it because we aren’t finishing games in a pleasing way, and I don’t want the girls in the group to be bored (don’t mean to sound sexist there, these particular girls have just made it clear that they favor the RP and story aspects of gaming over the technical / record keeping type stuff.)

    I think technology like what is in the article would go a long way toward helping with the pacing type stuff, for those who have a problem with it. I would also love to see a big, flexible e-ink map system as well, and I don’t think that is too far flung a wish these days.

    For the meantime, here is the balance I am going to try to strike to get my group into battletech: I still really want the miniatures, so the group can have a physical attachment to things they customized and chose. What I plan to do is run Alpha Strike for the more mundane combat, and switch to core rules for bigger fights or in situations where the players want additional combat “focus”. This is the ambitious parts. I hope to design and print the maps we play on using MegaMek tools, and mirror the physical actions of combat in MM to assist in speeding everything up. I may mirror the display on the TV so everyone can have a lower paper experience.

  3. LRichardson

    Speed of play is indeed always something of a bummer of an issue. Setting the notion of technological aides aside as just agreeing that it is a good idea, I’ll mention something that worked really well for speeding up the game for me in the past.

    Convert the game to a D20 based approach rather than 2d6. The problem with using 2d6 is that you can’t roll for largeish numbers of events simultaneously. Thing is BT is a game of having multiple weapon systems on a single unit and resolving weapons combat is probably THE biggest time suck. Imagine a full salvo of 5 medium lasers, 2 large lasers, an ultra autocannon and 2 SRM6’s. You cant simply take 18d6 and dump them on the table, you have to generally roll each weapon once at a time. Converting to a d20 system however, if you have a lot of dice in varying groups of colours you can just dump them all at once. So, in the example above I would pick up 5 red d20’s for the Med Lasers, 2 orange d20’s for the large lasers, a black D20 for the AC ultra and two blue d20 ‘s for the SRMs. After finding the to-hits all at once I dump these dice on the table. Any weapon that “misses” has the die removed. Dice representing multi hit weapons are re-rolled to see how many hit (ultra AC’s and SRMS here). Dice are added for each of these for each group to be allocated. Now the big batch of remaining/added dice is rolled again for locations. As the damage is marked off the die is removed. If the damage is internal (ie, roll for critical) or has some other event to check this is re rolled individually, recorded and removed. As dice are removed they are placed in a “fired” box for later recording of heat and ammo and such. In this way the number of dice acts as a recording chit for all sorts of things, hits, shots, etc.

    All that needs to be done is convert all the charts and tables over to a new number base.

    Thats all…

    ; )

  4. TSmith

    I have been playing BT off and on for the better part of 15 years now, since my friend introduced me to it back in high school. We developed a wonderful dice rolling system that was originally used for SFB (Star Fleet Battles). Take a fishing lure box (like this one http://www.planomolding.com/product.php?BCCID=138&PID=733) and section off the box into multiple (20 or so) sections. Add 2d6 to each section. Just assign the order of the sections to the order of weapons fire, damage location resolution, or whatever you need.

  5. james phillips

    Well. Been playing since 1991 when I was in the navy. Their are not that meany players where I live. But when I was in the navy we played div. Strength battles and that is 1 to 4 div. At a time. And it was a head ach but we also in some sercumstances could leave the set up where it was and come back and finish even if it took days to do it and yes I wish we had something like this becouse the size games I play half the time you are doing paperwork and half playing the game. I have a lot of it on my computer but it takes time to put it all in at the size of battles we play when we actualy have the time. Commader all deep space forces. Allic auther phillips commanding. When I come u will all know.

  6. Joe foss

    Megamek Dev have been working on this an have a program called mekhq. This takes megameks end report exports it too program. This takes care of damage and ammo tracking along with salvage an pilot leveling.

    Myself an my kids have a mekwars server setup as they are old enough mega mek prevents the argument of does it or does it not count ad cover.

    1. Timbal Post author

      Yep, I run it myself for my personal merc unit. In conjunction with a lot of the suggestions in the article, it might work out well.

  7. LRichardson

    On the MegaMek end of things, I have long wished there was a “mode” within MegaMek that simply tracked mechsheets and did the rolling / calculation. Ie, a wizard type box would come up and ask you what mech is firing at what, at what range, and give a checkbox of modifiers to click off. It would not be aware of the map, and may or may not depending on options selected bother to even keep track of damage / heat / ammo w/e, Some of the fun of playing a tabletop game as opposed to a videogame is the drama of marking off damage and/or waiting for the die rolls. Just a tool to help with aspects of record keeping that could be selected a la carte would be nice. All the mechanism to do it is there in MM, it’s just a matter of paring it down and creating the interface.

  8. Rob C.

    I think the best way to get people to play, is to play with someone you know at local gaming shop (that’s friendly to you ). Just playing the game itself, properly on a Warhammer 40K table, i think helps draw attention of younger would be players. Setting up games on their own may not be for the best, being persistent in playing helps a lot. If there enough attention, your asking and buying stuff from the FLG (if they can get anything in.) you could help spark some game play. Paper maps are rare, though last’s year maps sets were nice, they aren’t as portable or frankly flashy enough for newer players. 3D maybe better selling point if you want lure them in.

  9. YingJanshi

    This looks pretty cool. After checking out the game, I’d like to try it out. But I can’t. Don’t have a supportable device. Up till now I haven’t had a need for a tablet. So I guess I’ll just have to miss out on this one.

    As for BattleTech…maybe. But to be honest, I just don’t see it ever happening. For one thing, not only do you have to get Catalyst on board AND Microsoft, but also Iron Wind. Unless you get a different manufacturer. And I don’t see that happening any time soon. Plus BT has hundreds of different units (not counting each variant, just the base units). Each one of those would have to have the chip and transmitter (or whatever is used) built in as well. And the easiest way to do that would be to have them made in plastic. And while the new plastics are great, I’m enjoying getting into the hobby of putting minis together and painting them.

    And then back to the issue of supported devices. There are going to be more and more tablets being released, how are they going to keep up?

    End then while this particular game looks promising and who knows maybe others will follow. I just can’t see a possible way that BattleTech could go down this road.

  10. Blackwell

    The chips could be put into plastic hex bases with a micro USB connection to plug into tablets then the stats for your mech could be filled in using a mechsheet like program on your tablet.

  11. Mike

    OR, you could advance to the 21st century, and simply play MWO (MechWarriorOnline). After all, back in the late 80’s to early 90’s, we all dreamed of playing a computerized version of the game, right? After MW3 came out, we stopped playing tabletop completely. All of our group has moved into computer games now, with only two of us still playing anything BT related (Both of them play MWO).
    With all the rules additions to original BT, it became as bloated and time consuming as SFB and Car Wars.
    If you’re a die hard tabletop-er or just love painting miniatures, nothing I say will change your mind, I’m just pointing out that there is a more modern option.
    Less arguments and no rules lawyering either…

    1. Warma

      The reason for playing tabletop and role-playing games in general is elsewhere. Just being able to completely craft your scenario and let your imagination fly is the thing here. I play tabletop and MWO and MWO is good as a computer game, but RPGs are an entirely different social activity.

    2. YingJanshi

      Wow…talk about condescending…

      Warma really pretty much answered your post, I just have a couple more points I’d like to say. When I play BT or other tabletop games, it’s to get away from the computer. This product is really just a neutral ground between the two. And also, while MWO may be fun (it’s been awhile since I attempted to play) it’s a completely different experience than tabletop. For one thing, MWO is an unfinished game, and while I acknowledge that it is free-to-play, I’d rather not play what basically amounts to an open beta forever.

      But more importantly, when I play tabletop, I do so for the camaraderie. To sit around the table and play but also just enjoy the company of my friends. Neither MegaMek, nor MWO can supply that. Even using voice chat (which MWO doesn’t have) isn’t the same. The very way you act is completely different between sitting at a table with your friends and sitting at a computer between you. Even the nicest guy tends to more likely be a jerk online than when off. That’s just how internet insulates us. And I for one would rather not be insulated like that from my friends.

      Like I said, MWO is fine and everyone that enjoys it, cool, I’m glad it provides something they enjoy. But just realize that not everyone that isn’t into it is a computer-illiterate caveman. Some of us just cherish actual human interaction.

  12. The Shredder

    I do believe Dark Age was an attempt to speed up the game and bring in younger players. Mention in any group, and you get a chorus of groans. The hero clix-like gameplay didn’t seem to appeal to anybody.

    I remember playing Risk for hours on end. Monopoly. Etc. Now, you bring up these games, and folks respond “Yeah, I play on my iphone ALL the time.”

    Which is sad.

    The trick, I think, is to approach is as easy-going as possible. Sure, there are a LOT of rules to draw from in BTech, but at the end of the day, nearly all of them are optional. I do remember that original compendium mentioning CityTech and AeroTech being optional rules to add. just using the boxed set gives plenty to do. Alpha Strike seams to be a nice alternative to use with the hyper-active crowd. Overall, though…

    Plop a big bowl of chips on the table, some dip. Plenty of drinks. Those nights everyone wants to do something “serious” roll out that huge scenario you’ve been crafting. If it devolves into something more loose and casual, let it. Above all else, liven up the gameplay with chatter. “Ouch, I think I hit my head from the force of that blast!” that kind of thing.

    The RPG is excellent for a more casual encounter, too. Generally each player keeps track of the various special rules that apply to them, at least the way I GM. I rely on the players having done the reading, and unless it sounds fishy, I just go with it. Though ‘Mech battles are lacking, if the group is feeling socially chatty, it is usually the better way to go.

    My biggest issue is all the math. I dislike math. I’m plenty good at it, I just don’t get excited by numbers. Which, inevitably, leaves out most of the neat things like hidden units, fire and smoke, DFA… Things I like to have be a part of the experience, but I have regulated to more of a story-telling approach with them. Rolling dice to discover the path of fire just seems funny. If pressed, I try to determine beforehand wind conditions and such, and just decide on the fly where it is burning.

    So basically, it all comes down to the record-keeping. With most of my Battletech friends no longer locally based, record-keeping becomes the chore that falls on myself. Before, during, and after battles. I suppose if I had encouraged more of them to get their own minis, rather than showing off the ones I’ve painted, maybe less of that would have fallen on me. In any case, session are so far between that we usually end up with a reset. For someone that likes to plan campaigns… I also get attached to characters, and want a logical reason for them to appear as a part of a different campaign, especially when it hasn’t been resolved what happened to them in the last one.

    Now, if MegaMek got some big-money support, streamlined, and got more beginner-friendly, I’d be looking at running it on my Windows Surface Pro, and keeping track of everything that way. Set-up would be painful (But less so than it is now) yet the pay-off… How about a standardized record sheet, and the ability to input all the vitals from a picture or scanning? That would shave off a lot of time, and allow me to keep and print off paper records in a more useful way. My binder of record sheets from half-finished battles is depressingly full. I take a photo of an interrupted game, to mark position. And then we start a new one… :(]

    Now, to licensing. Catalyst would not need Topps or MS to release a digital record-keeper. Or even a fully-digital version of the game. Mechwarrior is what MS has licensing for, not Battletech. Partly why the RPG changed from being called Mechwarrior. Digital hex-bases – glue your own mini! – is not something TOPPS could sue over. In fact, it would be useful for folks that are having trouble finding a particular mini to be able to still use that ‘Mech in game. (Alas, poor CGR-1A1) Folks could still get the classic minis, glue them on, and be just fine. Topps would ultimately make a good deal of money from it.. If the player base grew as a result? Even better.

    Ultimately, everything would be better off if one of the companies got the capital together to buy out all the rights, but that won’t happen. Microsoft could give Battletech the 343 treatment, but they really don’t seem interested. People call it a niche game, but its really because of the BAD licensing decisions. Battletech is every bit as rich, or richer, as Halo or Star Wars. Thanks to whoever decided to license bit of it out, though, and we don’t have access to the things that help keep those franchises alive in people’s minds. No cools toys, no TV shows/or cartoons, no movies, T-Shirts, comics, PRINT novels… You finally get a couple companies that manage to get some games off the ground, and one of them goes bankrupt and the other keeps getting grief from not having a “Complete” game. Doesn’t help that they were backed by IGP, who had no problem throwing the developers under the bus on a regular basis.

    I guess I’ve gone way off topic, so I will end it here
    ~~The Shredder

    Imagine for just one second if Battletech could branch out more, without people having to worry about lawsuits and such. How about an RPG video game on the scale of Mass Effect? AeroTech played on an updated Freelancer engine? A shooter where you played as a member of an anti-mech platoon? The possibilities are just so endless, and to experience them we are regulated to a whole lot of paperwork.

    1. YingJanshi

      Just a quick reply, Microsoft owns the rights to ALL BattleTech related as far as software is concerned. Which is why we haven’t gotten an official replacement for Heavy Metal Pro. And why we’ll never see any sort of official video game version (ala MegaMek). They own the rights to everything software.


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