201103092009.jpgI’ve been playing Battletech nearly as long as I’ve been playing games – so when Catalyst Game Labs asked if we wanted to take a look at their newest box set weeks before it’s launch…well, let’s just say that wild horses would be required to stop me from saying yes! You might ask why the world needs another Battletech box set – there have been several over the years and the contents tend to be fairly predictable: a quick start guide, some more advanced rules, a poster of the galaxy, a few maps, some dice and a fair number of plastic miniatures.

I’m not going to lie – the 25th Anniversary Box Set has all of that. What makes it exceptional is that it has so much more. When you hold the box in your hands, the first thing that you notice is how much bigger the box is (check out our Unboxing Video to get a better feel for the size difference). Previous boxes have been in bookshelf format, but this giant is about 16″x16″ and a solid 4″ thick. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a solid box. Opening the box you quickly realize just how much “stuff” is packed in there – it’s full of books and miniatures.

The books are an interesting assortment, including:

  • 201103092006.jpgQuick Start Rules: The Quick Start Rules (QSR) are pretty much what the title says. A light, simplified set of rules for the game. These rules are surprisingly representative of the full game, providing the most common rules players will use in movement, line of sight and combat. Interestingly, the QSR has no rules for heat (a key constraint in Battletech that forces players to manage the heat generated by their weapons with the heat their mechs are able to dissipate every turn). These are a great alternative for younger players, but most gamers will want to skip over these.
  • Introductory Rulebook: The 80-page Introductory Rulebook (IR) is a familiar sight for older Battletech players – essentially it’s the basic rules for mech combat from the current official rulebook, Total Warfare. To be clear, there are numerous smaller rules missing (running on pavement, more advanced weaponry), but I think it’s fair to say that these are the rules that 99% of Battletech games rely on. A huge surprise for many will be the inclusion of mech construction rules (now relegated to their own hardcover, the TechManual) and quick start rules for including infantry and vehicles in your games.
  • Inner Sphere at a Glance: Inner Sphere at a Glance (ISG) is the type of book that makes people fall in love with the Battletech universe. This 56 page booklet starts out with some original fiction, covers the history of the Battletech universe (briefly) and then details each of the major houses of the Inner Sphere (the main actors in the Battletech universe) and “other” powers such as the Periphery States and the Clans. I’m a touch disappointed that the clans are given so little attention in the book. Given their importance to the history and gameplay of the game, four paragraphs seems a little light. The book then covers much of the technology that makes the Battletech universe work and some Technical Readout-style commentary about the mechs features as miniatures.
  • How the Core Rulebooks Work: This is eight pages of sheer genius. Seriously. Every miniatures game on the market today should have this pamphlet available for their game. Essentially, this is eight pages that explains what all of the different rulebooks are, which ones you need and why you might want the others. It also covers the “scale of play” available in the game – everything from running a game from the point of insertion into the solar system to the smallest mech on mech battle. This is my new “go to” piece of literature whenever anyone asks about Battletech (note to retailers – you really ought to push Catalyst to offer this to you for $1 or $2 – that investment would make moving Battletech products significantly easier).201103092011.jpg
  • Painting and Tactics Guide: A painting guide is pretty standard fare for most games with miniatures. After all, who wants boring plastic-colored miniatures? The section is pretty standard fare with solid advice on technique and walks through the painting, basing and flocking of a Whitworth battlemech. The tactics section is a different beast altogether though. I’m not aware of a tactics guide ever being included in a Battletech boxed set (and it’s certainly a rarity in other games). All of the basic aspects of game play are covered, with advice on what to be wary of and when to use certain techniques over others (when should I punch and when should I kick?). It also gives a MMO-style classification of mechs with examples of each type. I say this is a MMO-style description because it focuses on the mech’s role in combat (scout, missle boat, juggernaut) rather than it’s weight class. This is a great addition to the box set and is sure to be popular with new players.

Believe it or not, that’s just the books that are included in the box – there’s a ton of other stuff including the pre-requisite pad of Battlemech record sheets (these differ in quality with some 3-D grayscale images and others with the traditional sketches from the Technical Readout series), a nice, thick cardboard page with the main tables from the game, a larger poster map (for those coming from the unboxing video, it’s a map of the 3067 time period) and the maps. The maps are worth talking about for a second. Traditionally, Battletech has come with a series of paper maps (longtime wargamers know exactly what I’m talking about here). These maps were serviceable, though a bit of a pain (nothing that some plexiglass couldn’t solve). The new maps are outstanding – full cardboard, boardgame quality maps. The artwork for the maps is also upgraded, with appropriate use of 3-D in places and some very nice shading. I personally prefer to play on Heroscape terrain, but these maps are so nice, I might change my practice.

Iron Wind Metals has done, right?).201103092019.jpgWhich leaves us with the miniatures. The box advertises 24 miniatures + 2 “premium” miniatures. The 24 include the standard mechs that you would expect to see in a box set: Atlas, Jenner, Awesome, Spider – they’re all here (with corresponding record sheets of course). The basic miniatures are a step up from the miniatures in early box sets, with a firmer plastic that should hold primer a bit better. The poses are pretty static for the most part and there are a few miniatures where the flash is bad in places and a few of the miniatures suffer from a lack of detail, but they’re very serviceable and should look great painted. The two premium mechs are a real treat: two of the most iconic omnimechs in the game – the Loki and Thor. These are fully disassembled and made out of high quality plastic. These are some great miniatures that should really whet people’s appetite for the miniatures side of the hobby (you have seen some of the work that

So is the new box set worth it? At $50 (the last box set was $40) some buyers may find the new box set a hard sell. I would argue that 26 miniatures, full cardboard maps and the new booklets not only make this a great purchase for new gamers, but even seasoned Battletech aficionados are not going to want to miss what I would characterize as Catalyst’s love letter to Battletech players everywhere. The Battletech 25th Anniversary Box Set will retail for $50 and will be available in retail stores on March 30th.

Need more than this review? Seriously? Alright – here’s your first chance to view the full contents of the box set in our video review!