Battletech Starterbook: Sword and Dragon

Well, thanks to the wonders of the MilSims sale and the kindness of friends (thanks, Sarah!), I’m now in possession of the new Classic Battletech Introductory Boxed set, and it’s companion book “Classic Battletech Starterbook: Sword and Dragon”.

This starterbook is really, really nice. It’s a 112 page, full colour softcover that details two companies of mechwarriors: “The Fox’s Teeth”, a 12-member House Davion company, and “Sorenson’s Sabre’s”, a 12-member House Kurita command.

The first part of the book – about 48 pages – details the fictional background of both companies, along with one-page profiles of each of their members and ‘mechs. (One page details the person and his or her mech; the mech doesn’t get a full page to itself!) Each of these profiles has a really nice illustration of the character as well, very competently executed. This is a long way from some of the dreadful line-art of earlier editions of Battletech.

It’s worth noting that these histories cover a large span of the Battletech timeline, from about 2788 AD through to 3071 AD. However, the product is aimed primarily at allowing you to play games in 3049 AD, and only the mechwarriors who were present at that point in each company’s history are profiled. In other words, this product is meant to allow you to play scenarios based around those two companies in 3049 AD, but gives you a lot of information that allows you to place them in the wider Battletech world.

The next part of the book – some 9 pages – gives optional rules for use with the game. These include prototype equipment and weapons, as well as quirks for individual mechwarriors and mechs.

After that, comes the real delight of the book: the campaign rules (22 pages). These are really glorious.

You could do this with either two players or teams – I’ll describe them as if you had just two players: each player chooses a side – either Davion or Kurita, and takes control of that company. Then, the players alternate controlling their company with controlling the opposition for the other player. So, you might begin by playing Sorenson’s Sabres on a recon mission, opposed by some random militia force, which your friend would control. Then your friend would get to play the Fox’s Teeth as they went on an assault mission, whilst you played their opposition.

To provide structure to this campaign play, each player has a “Warchest”. You get more funds for your Warchest by successfully completing goals of the missions you undertake, and you need to spend funds to repair mechs, replace ammo, buy new mechs, or install prototype weapons. Failing to complete the goals of a mission is bad… you might need to sell off ‘mechs to repair those you have left!

It also costs Warchest funds to undertake the next mission. So, a “Recon” mission might cost 50 points, but the “Defend” mission costs 400 points.

After completing a mission, and repairing/resupplying your mechs, you then have a choice of new missions to undertake. There are 10 generic missions that you can take as many times as you want, and then 7 “touchstone” missions, which are unique missions that can only be undertaken once each. 3 are for the Sabres only, 3 are for the Foxes only, and there’s one mission that closes out the entire campaign, as the Sabres and the Foxes finally meet in battle.

You can’t just do the missions in any order. There’s a limited list of missions you can do after performing any mission. So, at the beginning of the campaign the Foxes can only choose from Recon, Supply Run or Assault. After completing a Supply Run, you could then go onto a Recon, Assault, Defend, Fighting Withdrawal, or a Pursuit mission. Sometimes you get bonuses for doing missions in a particular order – it’s easier to do a Supply Run immediately after doing a Recon In Force, for instance.

Each mission give objectives, optional complications (that increase the value of the mission to your warchest, although they make it harder), and also give a varying set-up: different maps, and random opponents. So, you may do a Recon mission twice, but it won’t be the same way both times!

This gives the campaign a great deal of replayability, especially as your force composition will likely also change over time.

The one flaw here is it really doesn’t describe how the end-campaign comes up properly. Obviously, when one side choose the final Touchstone: Dust-Up scenario that’ll be it for them… but does the other side have to do that immediately? Do they get one more scenario first? Or do they keep on going until they too choose the final scenario? I guess that’s something you have to decide for yourself.

The book ends with ‘Mech record sheets – 32 of them! (Unfortunately, they’re mostly not available for download as pdfs – you have to photocopy them). There are 24 mechs, plus 8 duplicate mechs. Why are there 8 duplicates? Because they’re give with both the original “prototype” version of technology they use, and then with the full version of the technology. These last ‘Mechs are only usable if you have the full Total Warfare rules, but that’s ok.

So that’s a basic rundown of what you get in Sword and Dragon.

Digging around on the boards indicate that not all is perfect with the rules. There’s evidence of late editing that wasn’t quite comprehensive enough, and it disrupts the campaign. There’s no way to take the Recon-in-force mission, there’s references to non-existent Scout and Holding Action missions; you can sell a Hornet mech for more than you buy it for (hey, free money!) and there’s other things that aren’t clear or are missing or wrong.

Given that there aren’t all that many pages of rules – and a lot of the book’s usefulness as a game supplement is tied up in the campaign rules – this is disappointing. The ideas are great, as is most of the execution. It’s just a pity the final steps weren’t taken to make this a superior product.

Still, I think it’s still a good book, and one I’m really happy to have bought. I expect I’ll have a lot of fun with it, and it’s a nice way of getting (back) into Battletech. BT was always a game I saw my friends playing when I was at Uni, but I never played much myself. This looks even more attractive than the game I saw back then, so I’m really excited to see how it goes.

Anyone interested in a game?

One comment

  1. srhall79

    That sounds pretty cool, but I’m afraid you’re outside of my gaming range. It makes me think way back in the day, Dragon had a miniatures feature, Through the Looking Glass. A couple of issues were devoted to a mercenaries game the writer ran, where everyone had so many mechs and they drew missions. I’ve wanted to do something like that, just never had the time and players to do it.

    If you’re getting into Battletech, here’s a site to check out:
    Lots of Battletech info, including stats on pretty much every mech there is, including the Unseen mechs (those that disappeared when FASA lost the lawsuit with Harmony Gold/Robotech). You’ll have to fill in a blank mech sheet, but very handy if you want any of the old school mechs like the Warhammer or Marauder.


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