Well, the long-awaited Battletech Introductory Box Set finally came out this spring, and almost immediately sold out. Fortunately some retailers still have copies at reasonable street prices, and I was able to get one with my birthday money ($40 plus shipping from CoolStuffInc.com). I unboxed it yesterday.
If you’re an old BT grognard, the first thing you notice is that the new box is huge. It’s the same size as most luxe boardgames these days (e.g., Star Trek Catan, WH40k Relic, Munchkin Quest, to pick three examples at random from the stack of games across the room). The photo above shows it next to my old Citytech 2nd edition box from 1994–twenty years ago!
The Citytech 2E box was the nicest “old” Battletech product I ever owned. For reference before we go on, it came with a softcover rulebook, two cardboard maps printed with full-color terrain on one side and blank hexes on the other, 16 one-piece plastic ‘Mechs (2 each of 8 models), heavy cardboard counters for buildings, vehicles, infantry, and fire, and a stapled book of record sheets for the ‘Mechs, vehicles, and infantry.
The very first thing you find when you open the new box is a small catalog of Catalyst Game Labs products. But the first big thing you see, and the thing that catches your attention, is the Quick Start Rulebook. Man, I wish the old BT box sets had included something like this. Our first time out, it took my brothers and me about a week to figure out what a “base to-hit” number was.
Next up, three more full-color booklets:
- “How the Core Rulebooks Work”, which is a short guide to the rest of Catalyst’s BT product line. This isn’t just another advertisement in drag, this is actually useful, because it tells you what each product does so you can choose how you want to play Battletech.
- “The Inner Sphere at a Glance”, an intro to the history of the Battletech universe and the major factions.
- “Battletech Painting and Tactics Guide”, which does what it says on the tin. Nothing like this was available when I was a kid. I mean, there were guides to various units, but you had to get them one at a time, and there was simply no accessible literature on how to build and paint minis.
I’m in favor of all of this stuff.
Next, the full rulebook, and a poster-sized map of the Inner Sphere. The rulebook is titled, “Introductory Rulebook”, but it’s not the quick-start rules, it’s the actual full Battletech rules. I say “full” meaning that it’s everything you need to play the game as it comes in the box. There are other rulebooks available that delve into deeper waters–sometimes literally, since underwater and aerospace combat are covered–but this is the main reference for playing the game, equivalent to the rulebooks that came with the old box sets.
Below the rulebook and map, there is a stapled book of records sheets, which covers all of the ‘Mechs that come in the box (26 different models), a fair few vehicles and infantry units (although the box does not include any counters for vehicles or infantry), and–naturally–blank record sheets if you want to make up your own ‘Mechs (like I did here). There are also two full-sheet reference cards with all of the tables you need to play the game. Citytech 2E had the same tables on sheets of paper, but the new reference cards are less visually cluttered and easier to keep track of.
Have I mentioned that every book or booklet I’ve described so far are printed in full color on nice, heavy, glossy paper? And illustrated with full-color photos of miniatures that were built and painted by experts. For comparison, here are equivalent pages from the new Introductory Rulebook (bottom) and the old Citytech 2E rulebook (top). Nice. Also in this photo you can see the new book of record sheets off on the left, and the old Citytech record sheets at the top. Not much has changed there, although both London and I like the new sheets better. As with the reference cards, they are a little less visually cluttered than the versions from 20 years ago.
Under all the literature, two maps and two boxes.
The new maps are heavy, linen cardstock like most gameboards are made from. Here I’ve propped up one of the new maps on the right, and one of the old Citytech 2E maps on the left. The old Battletech and Citytech maps were printed on thin cardboard, pretty close to the stuff that cereal boxes are made of. They’ve gotten the job done for two decades, but playing on the new maps is just luxurious. Also, the two maps in the new box are not the same–both sides of both maps are printed with different terrain, for four different terrain combinations and, depending on how you line them up, about a zillion possible map layouts, right out of the box. Very, very nice.
And inside the boxes: dice and minis! The long box on the right holds the 24 one-piece plastic minis, representing 24 different Inner Sphere mechs. They’re the same units from the 2007 box set–see the full list here if you’re curious. The flat box at the top holds the dice, and the two higher-quality minis, an Inner Sphere Battlemaster and a Clan Mad Cat/Timberwolf, which you get to assemble yourself.
The minis are pretty good. I’ve only had them out for one day, and I haven’t tried painting any yet, but the plastic seems pretty strong, none of them are warped, and I haven’t noticed any casting atrocities like flash, plugged missile launchers, etc. I like ’em better than the minis from the old Citytech 2E box, for what that’s worth. London is crazy about them, and can’t wait to start painting. But we can’t paint yet, because the dining room table is occupied by our current battle. More about that next time!
I feel like I am living in some kind of golden age of gaming. Over both of the past two weekends London and I have played Relic, the 40K boardgame based on Talisman. My brothers pitched in to get it for me for my birthday (it was a game-heavy birthday–the best kind). It’s a big heavy box full of cool stuff, and it retails for $35-40 right now, down from a list price of $60. The Battletech Intro Box Set is the same story. Compared to the Citytech 2E box set, the value is ridiculous–more than half again as many minis, nicer minis, MUCH nicer maps, loads of full-color books…and the thing is, the advances aren’t just cosmetic. The quick-start rules would really help someone who was trying to learn the game for the first time. The improved graphic design on the record sheets and reference tables actually makes them easier to use. And you account for inflation, the new box set costs about the same as the Citytech 2E box, so all this nicer stuff basically comes at the same price.
So, in sum, I’m pretty darned happy.
There is one dark cloud on the horizon: now that Catalyst is out of the new box set, the retailers will start running out soon as well, and the price will start creeping back up (remember that it was hovering around $130 for the last box set at the this time last year). So if you want this, snap one up while they’re still around. Here’s the Amazon link.
I can’t–can not–understand how every new printing of the BT box set consistently sells out in the space of a few weeks, but Catalyst can’t keep it reliably in print. That just seems to be how the Battletech world works now. That’s a shame, because it means that fewer kids are going to try out Battletech from having bumped into it on the shelves of their local bookstore or game store. And I don’t think that’s an outmoded form of game discovery and distribution–somebody is buying all of those copies of Zombicide from my local Barnes & Noble. I wish they were buying Battletech there, because that would mean that the game was finding its next generation, and that Catalyst might still be around in ten or twenty years to make me happy all over again. Also, get off my damn lawn.
Next time: an actual play report.