BattleTech, Carcassonne, Finca and a Surprise!

September 19, 2011

A week ago Saturday started out as expected. My wife and I got the kids ready for the day and then we headed over to a friends house – our couples book club was meeting that day. After a nice morning chatting, I headed over to Russ’ house to start a new RPG Campaign set in the BattleTech universe. The session was the first time playing for all of us. With the MechWarrior soundtrack playing in the background we went out on a training simulation to get our feet wet. We had fun but had to wrap things up at about 4:15 as people had stuff to get to.

I got in my car and texted my wife I was on my way home. She called me back and asked if I’d stop at the store to pick up something we needed for dinner. No problem. When I finally I got home I walked in the door to our lower level and started up the stairs.

That’s when it happened.

“SURPRISE!” and at about the same time I saw faces that I didn’t expect to see in my house. Lots of faces.

I was floored. And speechless. My wife was thrilled. She had flawlessly pulled off what I told her many months before something she couldn’t do: throw me a surprise party. I was sure I would pick up the clues and figured it would never happen – I would find someway to spoil the surprise. Not only did it happen it blew me away.

I finally made it up the stairs and said hello to everyone – all 40+ people! Then I looked at my cake:

The meeples placed illegally were quickly eaten.

Cake-assonne! Even the Meeples are edible.

Wow. Even better than last year’s cake and that one was great.

All I could do is ask: How…? Where…? When…? I got the answers and all the little clues I had ignored previously started to make sense. Then we dug into the food and drinks and had a blast. Later in the evening I kept thinking about the past couple of weeks. It was like watching a good movie that has a surprise twist at the end. As soon as the movie is over you want to hit play again and see all the clues you missed.

A few days later I finally recovered my wits. Just in time to celebrate my birthday on the actual day. I received some fantastic gifts – one of which of course was a board game. This time: Finca. We played that night and had a blast. I’ve since played it 5 more times and am really enjoying it.

Now all I can wonder is: will I ever be able to top that surprise party…?


A BattleMech Shakedown

August 25, 2011
MechWarrior 2 Cover

This image was burned into my mind as a youth.

It was the first computer game I ever bought with my own money: MechWarrior 2. The game of giant battling robots and clan honor captured my imagination. While the FASA catalog included in the box hinted at a much larger world to explore, I had no local gaming store to sell me products or tell me where to start. And, perhaps most importantly, I had no more money to indulge in such a game.

Fast forward to last Friday night and all that changes. In a fit of nostalgia, fueled by free rules, John and I sat down to have our first ever ‘mech on ‘mech slug fest. The previously mentioned free rules are the Classic BattleTech Quick-Start Rules; a 31 page–including cover, two fictional stories, and play aids–rule book. The rules presented are a subset of the full BattleTech rules, not surprising considering this is a quick-start.  However, what is interesting is that book presents one set of rules and then has you play a scenario using those rules. In this case, you first learn the basics of movement, attacks, and line of sight and then slug it out with two BattleMechs. Next, combat vehicles are introduced and you field a ‘mech and a tank in the next scenario. Finally, infantry is introduced and the scenario sees each player bringing a ‘mech, a tank, a conventional infantry unit, and a battle armor infantry squad to bear. It successfully taught the game in increments and something I wouldn’t mind seeing more games do.

While the game provided a nice diversion and a great opportunity to get together and game, at the end, we were both left with that “having eaten a twinkie” feeling. Something light, fluffy, but with no nutritional value. Or in board gaming terms, something that keeps you occupied, but doesn’t require hard decisions nor do you spend time analyzing what led to your win or loss. As a wargame, the twinkie feeling is probably the last thing you want your players, and especially potential players, left with.

I blame this on the subset of rules the authors decided to showcase. BattleMech combat was so simplified that it became just move and attack. The things that set BattleTech apart, like heat management and critical system placement and damage were removed from the rules. The one cockpit shot of  the game was wasted. It wasn’t enough to destroy the ‘mech, and chances are another roll of snakes-eyes wasn’t about to happen. It would have been far better to see rules that focused solely on ‘mech combat and introduced the previously mentioned heat and systems rules in later sections and scenarios rather than vehicles and infantry. Let’s face it, you can get tanks and soldiers in a number of war games, big stomping robots armed to the teeth, less so.

But this decision is probably a result of how the Classic BattleTech rules are presented to the player. It seems the quick-start rules are supposed to teach you the basic system. Then the introductory box set build on those basics to teach you the tactics and decisions you need to make. Which  in turn to leads you to the 300+ page Total War rulebook that explains all the rules and possibilities in detail.

BattleTech Boxed Set

Where, oh where, art thou?

However, this model is flawed. The introductory box sets sell out in no time. They become more like collector’s items for those already into the game, than gateways to the game. Even my awesome gaming store that just about has everything, The Source, didn’t have a box set. And on eBay, there is only one listing with a buy-it-now price $25 more than MSRP. This means, going from the quick-start, right to Total War. If the end product is a steak dinner, don’t start me with a twinkie. Give me a twinkie, if the end is a cake.

As it is, the quick-start fails both as a recruitment tool and as a teaching tool. It doesn’t separate itself from any other hex based wargames, by showcasing something unique or interesting and it is so far removed from the full rules in Total War that there no need to bother with them in advance.

It would be interesting to hear from a veteran BattleTech player how they see the quick-start rules and if they find it a useful tool in teaching people to play the game. But for me, I was let wondering if this is a game I’d enjoy with the added complexity or if it isn’t worth my money. As it is, if a fit a nostalgia take me again, I’ll probably spend my time seeing if I can track down Ghost Bear’s Legacy. I never did get a chance to play MechWarrior 2’s expansion.


Giant Fighty Robots!

August 19, 2011

Russ and I are playing with the BattleTech quickstart rules tonight. Giant Fighty Robots, activate!

Lazers! Die, evil Russbot, die!