Monday, May 20, 2013

Battletech: Sword and Dragon - Overview (1)

It's a fairly hokey cover graphic
I've picked up the Sword and Dragon starterbook. It's a great little product that is largely geared towards those who have the introductory battletech box (which I just picked up and will review shortly). It details 2 house companies (Sorensen's Sabres - house Kurita, and Fox's Teeth - house Davion) and uses the Chaos campaign style (free pdf!) campaign system.

The system runs by giving you warchest points that you use to repair mechs, buy new pilots and gear (including mechs), ammo, etc. It is also required to 'invest' in missions....this represent the costs of jump ship travel, logistic tail etc. Example is a recon mission that costs 50WP to play. The objectives can yield up to 100WP. A defend mission costs 400WP to play and can yield 500. In addition there are variable (optional) conditions you can play under to generate bonus long as you achieve at least one objective. These can include downpours or heavy winds that reduce shooting ability, to surprise by the enemy that hurts your initiative rolls.
Special lead figs for the campaign (optional)

After battle you need to make choices about how to repair your mechs.....which I suspect is the major drain on your WP. This is a bit of a simplified campaign system compared to the chaos pdf, as it omits the higher tech, pilot improvement, factors that adjust the WP won based on your force composition, etc. Great things as I'm just beginning.

The set up for each mission has one player running one of the house companies (their company really, as they will always be managing it) while the other player runs the opposing forces. These are randomly generated each mission with rolls. The rolls tell you the number and type of mech, as well as who is piloting the entire force (house, mercenary, militia). There are then tables used to generate the mechs indicated. Luckily the tables largely refer to mechs that come with the introductory box.

There's a variety of ways you could run this, depending on the number of players you have. Minimum is 2 and it would appear the ideal situation is alternating each player getting to play a protagonist force (The Sabre's or Fox's Teeth).  Another option that I toyed with was just running one of the protagonist forces and the other player running the opposing forces for the entire campaign. My BT partner in crime, Bryan, has a lot more experience with the game than me.....although this is from many years earlier so he's a bit rusty. He's pretty keen on both of us getting to play a protagonist force. Having just played a few nights ago I have to say it's a VERY different experience playing a force where you are worried about your damage/ammo/pilots than a more usual situation where you are happy to throw your assets at the problem in a risky way.

Additional players can be accommodated by assigning one player to all the opposing forces, splitting up the protagonist forces in some way (in half, by lance, assigning one character and alternating battle played, etc). 

My one noted complaint (so far) is with the variable/optional objective bonuses. They seem fairly random, and open to abuse. For certain missions the options would give an obvious bonus to the attacker, yet they increase his warchest payout. An example of this would be in the recon mission, where the attacker wants to get in, scan the enemy, and get out with minimal damage. Adding the option of heavy rains that makes all shooting rolls difficulty 1 greater is obviously an advantage for the attacker......yet it would give the attacker a bonus of 25 WP. Weird. Similar weirdness are options that cause the defenders mechs to show up later as reinforcements, yet again the attacker benefits. On the other hand you get options like 'Surprised' where the protagonist force gets a -4 to all initiative rolls for 10 turns. Definitely a penalty that should generate some bonus points. I think with some thought you could probably use these appropriately by changing the sign on the value (i.e. make it a negative number for those that benefit the attacker).

Having got two battles under our belts I have to say I'm fairly keen on this format and interested to see how long it goes. I can definitely imagine coming up with extra details to enhance the game experience such as coming up with planet names you are operating on, and environmental conditions that affect the battle. This would give a constructive framework for the options presented for each mission which otherwise seem strange and open to abuse. Likely you would finish a few missions on a given planet before relocating to the next area. Everything in this paragraph would be highly optional, a nice thing when it does represent extra work.

EDIT: While hunting for some pics to glam up the post I found this one of some nice looking Davion mechs. I checked the website and it's the blog that inspired me to check out the starter book (and largely to start playing more Battletech). Terminus Omega is run by Lead legion, whom appears pretty active in the corner of the blogosphere I visit. I also had the fortune playing in a short run WFRP game online.

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