Tag Archives: battletech

There’s a rule for that: the customer is always right (when it comes to things crashing and exploding)

It’s always fun to try and identify game rules that came into existence not because they were part of the designers’ vision, but because players insisted on them.

When you’re a game designer faced with player demands for a rule you don’t particularly want to include in the game, you have a few choices. You can simply ignore the requests. Alternately, you could include a passive-aggressive note in the rulebook:

No need to get snippy about it!

That’s from the Star Fleet Battles Master Rulebook, and it makes me smile every time I read it. In defense of the players crying out to the heavens for such a rule, ships ramming into each other does sometimes happen in Star Trek, most memorably in Star Trek: Nemesis; and besides, who wouldn’t want a chance to melodramatically shout “RAMMING SPEED!!!” during the ever-suspenseful SPEED DETERMINATION PHASE of a Star Fleet Battles match?

Nevertheless I can sympathize with the designers’ annoyance here: if it were possible to ram other ships in Star Fleet Battles, every single battle would end with the losing player attempting to ram the other player out of spite, and players would start fielding ships not for their tactical value, but to use as kamikazes. That might be fun for a match or two, but would quickly get old, and doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing the Federation would do.

But there’s another way designers can react to unreasonable player requests: just roll with it. From Tactical Operations, a book of optional advanced rules for Battletech:

Bless you, Battletech rule designers.

In a regular Battletech game, landing hits on a ‘Mech’s nuclear-powered engine can quickly disable the ‘Mech, but won’t result in the Hollywood-style atomic explosion that players have long pined for. But this is the best way to do it: make it an optional rule.

(In this case, the Battletech designers must accept some blame for this rule, because ‘Mech fusion engines exploding is a thing that has happened from time to time in Battletech novels. And the intro videos to the third and fifth installments of the Mechwarrior videogames feature ‘Mechs detonating in big nuclear fireballs when their engines take critical damage. There’s just something about ‘Mech reactors going critical that we can’t get enough of!)

I am sure that most complex games that aim for quasi-realism run into this sort of thing a lot: the tension between sticking to the purity of your vision for the game, and giving players what they want. Know of any other good examples?

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The walls of this 10×10 chamber are adorned with…

When my wife and I finally made the choice to became real Americans (i.e. go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to buy a house), one of my requirements was that said house have some sort of subterranean chamber which I could convert into a basement game room. One year later, my game lair is finally ready.

Of course, no game room is complete without cheesy posters adorning the walls. No longer being 13, I can’t get away with supermodel pinups or Megadeth posters. But this is a perfect excuse to dig out those vintage game posters I’ve been hauling with me around the country for the last two decades. After a few trips to Hobby Lobby to pick up some cheap poster frames, here’s what’s hanging on the walls of my game room. (I apologize for the flash glare in some of these… if my game room had adequate lighting, it would not be authentic.)

First up is a pair of (unfortunately fairly weathered) Battletech Mech schematics, bought way back in the early days of FASA:


The 85-ton BLG-1G Battlemaster. Awww yeah.


The infamous Warhammer, complete with two PPCs and a cheesecake illustration of Natasha 'Black Widow' Kerensky in the bottom right (for scale purposes, of course).

On the opposite wall, d├ęcoupaged to an oh-so-classy piece of wood, is the map that came with one of my favorite Infocom games, Beyond Zork:

Quendor map

I love this map, although I could do without the dozen compass roses pasted across it.

And now back to Battletech. The only Commodore 64 game I played as much as Wasteland was Battletech: The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. It was my introduction to Battletech, and ever since, the poster that came with it remains the iconic Battletech image in my mind:

Crescent Hawk

A tiny Locust mech faces off against... what is that, a Marauder? That's not very fair, but it looks awesome.

Moving along, we have (surprise) another Infocom poster, this one of one of their least-known games: Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth. It was a quirky RPG/text-adventure hybrid (and only available on the Mac, strangely); but I really enjoyed it back in high school.


Am I the only person who played and enjoyed this game?

No game collection in the late 80s/early 90s was complete without at least one SSI Gold Box AD&D game. Here was mine:

Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn, one of many SSI Gold Box classics.

The next item is a change of pace: a poster that came with one of my favorite NES games, Dragon Warrior. This game was surpassed not long after its release by Final Fantasy I, but was a great deal of fun. And it has one of the most annoying/awesome catchy soundtracks of any NES-era game.

Dragon Warrior

One of the first great JRPGs on the NES.

And last but not least, I devoted most of an entire wall to one of the most iconic locations in D&D: Undermountain, the megadungeon. I framed three of the four maps that came in the 2e Undermountain boxed set:

Undermountain maps

There are a LOT of places to die in Undermountain.

So that’s what’s hanging on the walls of my basement game lair. I like to think of it as inspirational artwork. And believe it or not, there’s a stack of maps and posters that I’ll have to put back in storage because there wasn’t room to frame them too….

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On the challenge of giving your interstellar empire a cool name

Have you ever thought about what a challenge it is to come up with an original, yet cool-sounding, name for your type of interstellar empire?

It’s a challenge keenly felt by the major factions in most science fiction game settings, judging by the wide variety of near-synonyms for the word “empire” that crop up in their names. As we all know, every good interstellar empire’s name needs to follow the format [faction name] [government type]. And we also know that there can be no more than one instance of any particular type of interstellar government in existence at the same time. Look at the effort game designers go through to avoid duplicating faction names in, say, the Traveller universe:

Traveller factions (current Mongoose edition)

  • Vodani Consulate
  • Vargyr Extents
  • Aslan Hierate (is that even a word?)
  • Solomani Sphere
  • Hive Federation
  • Third Imperium

Imagine the embarrassment of being unable to think of a cool, unique name for your interstellar empire! The factions of the Battletech universe feel your pain:

Battletech factions (in 3025 or thereabouts)

  • Free Worlds League
  • Federated Suns (Hey, “Suns” isn’t a government type! Sneaky.)
  • Draconis Combine
  • Lyran Commonwealth
  • Capellan Confederation
  • Marian Hegemony
  • Outworlds Alliance
  • Taurian Concordat

The powers of the (sadly defunct) Star*Drive universe had to really break out the thesaurus to name themselves:

Star*Drive factions

  • Borealis Republic
  • Rigonmur Star Consortium
  • Nariac Domain
  • Orion League
  • Orlamu Theocracy
  • StarMech Collective
  • Thuldan Empire
  • Hatire Community

And we’ll close with Hero Games’ Terran Empire setting, which is unique in featuring more than one “Empire”:

Terran Empire factions

  • Terran, Varanyi, and a few other Empires
  • Conjoined Civilizations Republic
  • Thorgon Hegemony
  • Velarian Confederation
  • Mon’dabi Federation

The point is not that these aren’t interesting or well-imagined settings (I happen to appreciate them all). It’s just amusing to watch the settings’ creators jump through vocabulary hoops to come up with unique names for the different factions.

Pity the poor latecomer to the galactic superpower scene, who must make do with being a “Community” or “League,” rather than a much cooler-sounding “Hegemony” or “Theocracy”!

(And real-life country naming conventions are a bit bizarre, too—for instance, the more politically repressive and un-democratic your country is, the more likely you are to have “republic,” “democracy,” or other wildly inappropriate words in your country’s official name.)

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