BattleTech and Do-It-Yourself Gaming

Friday , 7, October 2016 3 Comments

If it was just up to me, I’d only play the best of the best games out there. Yeah, I’d go to a convention and try before I buy, I’d watch box opening videos on YouTube and track down a half dozen reviews. I’d play the game solitaire in order to master the game before I taught it. I’d make careful notes on the gameplay on the off chance that a few months roll around before I get another play in. More than once I’ve read a rulebook cover to cover searching for a rule that I may have inadvertently misread. And then there’s the careful analysis of multiple editions of a game– the search for where things went off the rails and the ultimate conglomerate of rules changes that will best answer the design issues involved.

It might sound crazy, but really… that’s what hobby gaming is like. I’ll tell you though, set my thirteen-year-old son down with me and all of that stuff goes out the window. If it’s just him and me, the complexity level naturally drops a few notches as you’d expect. But we won’t be changing games every month or two, either. No, we’ll play a hundred games of Illuminati even though it’s technically broken for two players. Or twenty games straight of Wizard Kings steadily developing our own scenario that plays exactly how we want. It’s a completely different type of gaming!

Now he wants to play an exploding robots game. This created a surprising number of aggravations for me, though. One, the introductory BattleTech box set is out of print. Two, the Total Warfare rules lack any design rules. (Argh!) And robot figures to play with…? Forget it! RoboTech RPG Tactics cost a fortune and would take forever for me to assemble poorly. Other mecha lines are so distinctive, they just wouldn’t feel right to me. There are Star Wars X-Wing and Star Wars Armada ships are every variety are on the tables and stocked on the shelves. But the sort of fighting robot figures I’d really want have vanished!

I admit, I was flummoxed for a bit. Not being able to play the exact game I want to play isn’t something that I’ve had to deal with in a long time. When I found my battered BattleTech manual from the mid-eighties, I still didn’t have any “official” maps or figures. My son wanted to play anyway, so a cannibalized the copy of Ogre: Designer’s Edition I’ve been lugging around for maps and overlays. Then I sent my son off to make some mech figures out of his Lego. He had a dozen figured worked up for me in an evening.

The results when all of this finally came together…? A complete mess! The maps from G.E.V. and Shockwave are packed with trees making it all but impossible to use LRM’s effectively. Except for the water hexes, there are no elevation changes on the maps, either. Then there’s the fact that while my son will gladly design up-gunned monster mechs mechs with me for hours on end and then actually insist on playing the danged things! Except for that one game where my son blew me out by executing two perfect Death From Above maneuvers in succession, what tends to happen is our mechs just move to a mutually agreeable range and then settle in to taking turns shooting at each other until one side crumples.

You’re talking a complete train-wreck of a game here. Game designers struggle to make it through the last 20% of the design process with many of them faltering during the last one percent. This? This is not even half a game. Funny thing, though: my son does not care. This is the game he wants to play and that’s that!

What to do to fix most of the problems is pretty clear, though. Based on what I’m seeing, I’d say that 30 to 50 ton mechs would be the sweet spot for the designs. I recommend making mechs that are focused on doing just one thing well, too. Don’t make well-rounded mechs! Make short-range only units and long-range specialists. They should have heat problems, too. And it’s better that they have two many weapons than maxed out armor factors. You don’t want this game to boil down to a straight up slugging match. You want as much encouragement for maneuver as you can coax out of this old beast of a game!

And as to the problem with the maps not having any elevation changes…? Well, turns out that stock dice and overlays from Ogre are all you need to address that.

But yeah, having a game only 90% done is a nightmare for the dedicated game developer. But if you’re playing the exact sort of game that a 13-year-old wants, you can play something half-baked all year long and have a blast anyway. This is why “do-it-yourself” gaming is the hobby’s best kept secret. It’s also why a great many connoisseurs of fine gaming mostly don’t care what the gaming industry ends up doing with itself.

  • Jon M says:

    You’re a madman. Next thing you’re going to tell me that I don’t have to wait for major publishers to provide the sorts of stories I’d like to read. You’re going to tell me that some people root around in the internet’s cellar of small independent houses or just write their own, aren’t you? You’ve got a one-track mind, Jeffro, you just run different trains on that track. Sometimes its games, sometimes its books, that’s all that changes.

  • Dan H. says:

    Back in the day we would mix and match stuff all the time using cobbled together systems patched with house rules to smooth everything into a playable whole.
    Using legos to make mechs though, never thought of that one, brilliant! My 7 year old grandson is a nut for Legos, now I have the means to coax him to the Dark Side, Mwahhahahaha!!

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