Choosing the ’Mechs for BattleTech Clan Invasion
As of the writing of this article, there are 3,393 ’Mech record sheet variants for BattleTech. And of that, there are 624 unique ’Mech chassis. It’s intimidating and awe-inspiring to think how much this universe has been fleshed out in the last 35 years since the first 14 designs appeared in the original BattleTech box set. And trying to determine what should be redesigned and placed in the Beginner Box and A Game of Armored Combat, and then in the Clan Invasion box? Yeah, crazy-daunting.
Now, all of that being said, there are some very good metrics we can use to reduce those numbers all the way down to what we needed.
First, what Era are we setting the product in? BattleTech history covers more than a thousand years. Those are then divided into various Eras based upon over-arching plotlines and the technologies introduced for players to use during a given in-universe time period. For example, if you’re playing in the Inner Sphere during the Succession Wars Era, then you cannot use a Timber Wolf. You can only use that during the Clan Invasion Era and beyond, whereas a Warhammer can be used at almost any time, because it was produced during all such Eras: Star League, Succession Wars, Clan Invasion, and so on. We chose the Clan Invasion as it’s simply one of the most beloved Eras.
Second, what are the fan-favorite designs? Almost everyone has a guilty pleasure ’Mech -something only they seem to like. Fortunately, there’s usually a strong consensus on fan-favorite designs. If you were to tell a hundred BattleTech players to pick their favorite fifty Clan Invasion Era designs, at least half of each list would consist of the same 25 ’Mechs.
Third, how good is the design? Meaning not just how it looks - though obviously that’s important and can be a big reason for why a design becomes a fan-favorite - but when the miniatures hit the mapsheets and dice are rolling, which ’Mechs get the job done? Not just the in-your-face bruisers, but you have a variety of roles that need to find well-fitting designs: striker, fire-support, command, and so on. Now like the art, the quality of the design in game play absolutely plays into fan-favorites. But not always. Which is why you look at it separately from the metrics above.
Finally - and in this instance one of the most powerful metrics - which are the Unseen (those designs which were not used for several decades; see our Redesigning Classics article in the November GTM issue for more on this subject).
Taking all of that into consideration - along with how long some of these took to redesign—the ’Mechs in the Beginner Box (Wolverine and Griffin) and in A Game of Armored Combat (BattleMaster, Awesome, Thunderbolt, Catapult, Wolverine, Shadow Hawk, Commando, and Locust) all came together very smoothly.
After all of that initial work was done, then it started to get more problematic. We’ve created a vast spreadsheet that includes every applicable design by Era, and then columns for check marks from the team. We have a rough idea of how many designs need to be created for a given project. And then we go through and provide each of our own checkmarks in those massive lists to meet our initial estimations for a project. And we do that without talking to each other; when considering the aforementioned criteria, more than half the list is usually spot on with all of us.
Once that’s all filled in, then the meetings start and sometimes requires days as we try to come to a consensus and have all of our checkmarks match: making our arguments, trying to see the others’ perspective, and so on. It’s a wonderful tension we’ve created where all of us have to agree on a list, which means it’s incredibly tight at that point.
Now at this stage, we still take it a step further. Loren Coleman, the company owner, is presented the list and provides some input, as appropriate. The other element are the artists. After all, they’re fans as well and they have designs they absolutely want to see and others that they want to avoid like the plague. So, we take their comments and concerns into consideration as we finalize lists.
And after all that work, we still have to build the designs into appropriate ForcePacks. They need to be solid, playable combinations of miniatures that all fit within the Force Building rules of Campaign Operations so players can break them out and be at the table playing as quickly and smoothly as possible.
One of the greatest pleasures in my job is working with passionate, creative, talented people to produce games that are much more than the sum of the parts. And this entire experience of relaunching BattleTech back toward the height of its popularity from twenty-five-years ago is a highlight of my career. Even when that work is incredibly hard and stressful, as it was to tackle the monumental task of trying to pair-down over half a thousand designs to arrive at the core of the Clan Invasion list of ’Mechs, and then actually get the work done of having them transition from that list to miniatures on gaming tables.
If you’re interested in more details, check out bg.battletech.com.
Randall N. Bills has led the development and publication of hundreds of novels, sourcebooks, rulebooks, box sets, game aides and more. He’s currently the Managing Developer for Catalyst Game Labs, overseeing the strategic development of the perennial BattleTech and Shadowrun properties, while managing the rollout of Catalyst Game Labs’ new line of tabletop games, including core development of Dragonfire.