In the Mech Hotseat (2020+)

In the Mech Hotseat (2020+)

Brainstorm (PDF)
Subsystems (PDF)

I grew up playing Battletech, I think I got the 4th edition starter set from FASA when I was 11 or 12 years old. I loved the paper maps, and the minis were so clunky and low detail but so loveable. I painted so many mechs just oozing personality. I tried campaigns, tons of custom designs, old tech, new tech, really everything.

But the more I played, and the more I branched into other games and designs of my own, I started to find a few faults with the ol’ classic. Maybe I should have recognized them when me and my friends tried a 4 person Lance vs Lance game (so 8 Mechs per side on teams) and after playing the entire day (ah to be in junior high again) we hadn’t really done anything interesting or exciting. I guess I could boil my main issue down to the game is kind of dull in a 1vs1, especially with Assault, but is way too fiddly with record sheets and lots of (boring/tedious) information in a 4vs4.

Back in 2018 the same group from junior high (yeah I’m lucky to have a gaming crew like that) and I tried a rework of the game. We had played Mech Attack! and liked the damage template system. So we tried kludging that all together with the idea of the game being played 4 Mechs vs 4 Mechs as a baseline, and scaled in complexity and record sheet detail accordingly. But after some effort the rework the problem is: If you scale the game to a 4vs4 out of the box then the game pretty much ends up being a generic skirmish game but with Mechs instead of soldiers. And after making Dinosaur Cowboys I feel like a skirmish game is retreading the same ground for me.

Recently I was re-invigorated to look at the rework again. I ended up with similar results. So then I tried going the opposite way of scaling the game for 1vs1 BUT making that interesting, engaging, and kind of cool. I think I’m making great progress on this approach. The goal is to really feel like a pilot with heat/power management, rerouting damaged subsystems, performing targeting, etc. There are still paper maps and basic movement, but you’re doing cool stuff outside of that. To achieve all this I’m trying to make a dice allocation/placement game to represent power/heat management, along the lines of Dicey Dungeons or One Deck Dungeon.

I’ve wanted to do a dice allocation game for a while now. Back in Aug 2018 I did a pretty clone-y and derivative version of Dicey Dungeons but as a duel between spaceships. If you’re interested you can read the Star Duel brainstorm (PDF). And before that I had the idea for power management/allocation with giant turtle-like walker robots called Crilidia that I drew a bunch of in MS Paint when I was like 9 years old.

Anyway what this amounts to is so far the BTech rework is looking good. You roll your “Heat Dice” (normally 5-8 D6s) then spend them on Subsystems to do stuff. Like re-roll a dice, split a dice, increase/decrease a dice, etc. And then you can allocate the modified/changed dice to different Weapons (like Medium Lasers, PPCs, LRMs, standard BTech stuff) and Active Subsystems (like MASC, Triple-Strength Myomer, etc.). You move your Mech (assuming you allocated to Walk/Run speed or Jump Jets), then you resolve all the weapon fire. Damage is tracked by filling in Armor circles, with some having a chance to apply a Short Circuit that makes a Subsystem harder or more expensive to use.

Here’s some example Mechs, a light Javelin, a medium Shadowcat, and a heavy Warhammer. You can see the Subsystem idea and so on:

Since custom designs are baked into the rules (pretty key for the BTech feel) the biggest hurdle will be balancing and tweaks. Otherwise the core rules are coming together nicely.

Some highlights:
– Tournament Mode: Bring 3 Mech sheets. Start with a 1vs1, and if you lose change the map and choose a new Mech, while the winner keeps theirs (so you can try to counter what they have). Keep going in a best-of-5 style until one player has no Mechs left. Since I hope the game will take ~1 hour to play, this is feasible in a single night, and could even be played side by side with two 1vs1s, since the paper maps are pretty small
– Initiative is downplayed and more predictable now, as once it’s established at the start of the game you just alternate back and forth (like a traditional turn structure). Which means you can plan to get shot in the back instead of it being a 50/50 toss up whether you’ll move last or not.
– No to-hit rolls. Once a weapon has been setup with dice allocation, you just roll for location…except for
– Evade! Term taken from the most recent PC version of Battletech, but the idea is a smaller/lighter Mech has a chance to dodge damage from a larger Mech (like a cliche saving throw).
– Satellite Uplink/Beacon: If the 1vs1 is at a stalemate where no one wants to move, you might just get a satellite uplink beacon dropped on the map, which you can grab to interfere with the enemy and give you a chance to charge at them.
– Design System: Basically point-buy with Tonnage, you can buy Hardpoint slots, drop in some weapons, increase your Armor and tweak where it is, etc.