This is how my brothers and I learned to play BattleTech back in 1987: with cardboard standups on a thin, single-sided cardboard map. And you know what? It rocked. Almost as soon as we’d learned how to play, we started using the mech creation guidelines in the basic rulebook to make up our own mechs. We didn’t have any actual miniatures and at ages 12 (me) and 10 (Todd) we lacked the skills or experience to build our own, but we could fold pieces of white cardboard in half and add drawings of our homebrew mechs. So the low-tech stuff in the box actively encouraged us to hack the game, even at our tender ages.
That said, it’s just cooler to play the game with miniatures. Todd and I picked up the PlasTech set of 8 mechs in the late 80s. I still have four of them, the Locust, Trebuchet, Catapult, and Atlas. But the lion’s share of my current minis are the 16 plastic ones from the CityTech 2nd Edition box set that I got in the mid-90s. In the photo above, my PlasTech Trebuchet and Catapult getting their butts kicked by London’s CityTech 2E Daishi and Javelin (from London’s first game).
Modern box sets come with 24 one-piece plastic minis, plus a couple of premium build-yourself minis that are basically little model kits. Shown above are the two dozen basic mechs and two premium mechs (a Thor and a Loki) from the 25th Anniversary intro box set (not mine).
Opinions on the 24 basic minis are divided. People who are really into the miniature wargaming scene complain about detail level and some wonkiness in the sculpts, and seem generally unimpressed. People who grew up with cardboard standies think it’s rad that you get 26 minis in the box. I can understand both viewpoints. Minis are cooler than cardboard, for sure, but as long as they’re going to the trouble of making the minis, they could at least make nice ones. Especially given that BattleTech is a gateway game for wargamers, and wargamers who like to build and paint nice minis are a huge segment of our hobby.
Unfortunately the 25th Anniversary box set is out of print and copies come dearly if at all–like $130+ for a game that retailed at about half that. Happily, Catalyst Game Labs is releasing a new version this fall, with updated cover art (shown above) and, more importantly, new sculpts for all the included mechs. They’re also changing the two premium models to, in their words, “more iconic ‘Mechs”: the Battlemaster and Mad Cat.
I don’t know if the new new minis will satisfy the hardcore wargamers or not. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be happy as long as they look like mechs and stand on their own. For my primitive purposes–just getting on with the game–anything beyond that is gravy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with cardboard. One nice thing about cardboard is that you can make your own by drawing, as I did as a kid, or by printing stuff out on cardstock. And therefore you can test-drive BattleTech for free, using the Quick-Start rules, with printable maps and minis, on this page. You can get a shedload more free stuff, including the record sheets for the Intro Box Set mechs, the Quick-Strike/BattleForce rules for mass combat, and intro RPG rules and scenarios, on the BattleTech downloads page. So if you haven’t gotten your 31st-century war on, what’s stopping you?