During my teenage years I was a considerable fan of the Battletech universe. To this day, I still have several books including technical readouts and novels by Michael A. Stackpole, William H. Keith Jr and Robert Thurston, as well as a small collection of the tabletop miniatures. If I dig, I might even find several hard copies of the MechWarrior game series.
So when I heard the news about Harebrained Schemes putting together a new KickStarter for a fresh Battletech title, I wanted to take some time to dissect the news. Truth be, this seems to be a situation where KickStarter is the absolute safest approach to gauging consumer interest. More on this in a moment.
For newcomers, Battletech is a war game that puts players on the 31st century battlefield, filled with walking tanks known as Battlemechs. The background goes that a star-settled humanity was united by the Star League, and held together by five Great Houses in the territory around Terra known as the “Inner Sphere.” When the ruling Star Lord (not Peter Quill) and his family were assassinated, the Star League army slew his usurper and disappeared into the unexplored Periphery territories. Left with their private armies, the five Great Houses each declared themselves the new Star Lord and sought to claim the Inner Sphere as their own.
This began a series of conflicts known as the Succession Wars. Several centuries later, the first couple of wars have knocked humanity down a peg or two and have truly desensitized our species to the violence.
Liberal use of nuclear weapons and heavy targeting of science and production centers has sent our technology backwards. As a result, several technology preserved agreements even as the battles and raids continue.
Eventually the Star League army returns, reformed as the Clans. A more technologically advanced and warrior-derived society, they move to seize control of the Inner Sphere. This results in a massive, fragile alliance between the Houses, the effects of which change the political landscape forever.
In the games, players join a side and engage in a variety of machines such as assassinations, protecting or invading territory, scouting or escaping. Depending on the nature of the title, players can pilot the machines themselves simulator style, command lances or companies and/or order them about much like a real time strategy game with very limited resources. The titles with the “mercenaries” suffix also feature a great deal of economic management, giving incentive to avoid damage and minimize ammunition expenditures to keep the C-bill revenues in the black.
Originally created and owned by FASA Corporation, Battletech has faced hardships from its very conception. The earliest fourteen designs were heavily based off of several anime series, and the legal rights came under challenge from Harmony Gold. These now “unseen” designs are gone, but in their place are hundreds of new, original mech designs.
The problems didn’t end there though. FASA Corporation closed its doors in 2001, and the rights to various projects shuffled about for sometime. The franchise was acquired by WizKids, and then by Topps only three years later. The video games have gone through several publishers, including MicroProse and Microsoft. Recently two new games were released, the free-to-play MechWarrior Online from Piranha Games and MechWarrior Tactics whose publisher has filed for bankruptcy.
For better or worse, Battletech separates itself from many similar board top properties with its detailed history, that has been expanded upon for more than two decades. This on-going history can be an impressive barrier-to-entry for potential new fans. While Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 thrive in a universe of ignorance, doubt, deniability and massiveness, no historic event happens in Battletech that isn’t somehow recorded and important.
Clans and factions too have been and will be destroyed, such as the enigmatic Clan Wolverine who may have become the Minnesota Tribe, and Clan Smoke Jaguar who was the victim of the massive The Twilight of the Clans book series. Major political figures have been born, raised and die, though the reasons range from battles and assassinations to old fashioned age and cancer.
My faith in the series has long died away since my favorite authors have moved on and the ever changing hands weakened the brand. But if there’s anyone out there who can get it right, it’s going to be series creator Jordon Weisman. After his company’s incredible work with the Shadowrun franchise, his name alone justifies tossing a few dollars into the hat.
Look for the Battletech Kickstarter this fall.