Examining the space opera/star empires subgenre (Part Five)
By Mark Wegierski
The BattleTech Future History:
The Succession Wars: The BattleTech Grand Strategic Game
Main Designer: L. Ross Babcock III
(Chicago, IL: FASA Corporation, 1987)
1 24-page rulebook
Although the mechanics of this (preferably) multiplayer game are fairly simple, much of the appeal of the game is provided by its extremely colorful components, as well as by the fact that it is (as far as I know) the only grand-strategic rendering of the BattleTech universe. The map is said to represent an area about a 1,000 light-years across, and each turn is said to represent about three months. Pages 3-4 provide one of the earlier iterations of the BattleTech future-history.
Two main scenarios are provided: the Third Succession War, beginning in 3026 A.D.; and the First Succession War, which begins in 2786 A.D. There are (of course) different leaders in the two scenarios, as well as some differences in combat forces, and in some of the rules.
The five main powers in both scenarios are the same: House Davion (The Federated Suns); House Liao (The Capellan Confederacy); House Marik (The Free Worlds League); House Steiner (The Lyran Commonwealth); and House Kurita (The Draconis Combine). Like many sf projections, this is a somewhat Eurocentric future, with considerable Oriental input (if the leader counters and 'Mech regiment names can be taken as a guide).
Although not represented by an actual player, ComStar, the posited mystical "secret society" which controls interstellar "radio" communications (through its "hyperpulse generator stations"), can in some circumstances serve as an "equalizer" or a "spoiler". ComStar is an interesting addition to the BattleTech universe, and it is not difficult to see that a power that controls the flow of information between the stars, might eventually become the dominant power.
There are six main types of playing pieces. There are the leaders who can enhance combat and resource collection (and are subject to bribery/blackmail by other players, except for the House Leaders). The leaders are well-illustrated, with definite character visible in their portraiture. There are the Jump Ships, which ferry leaders and troops to battle. There are the 'Mech regiments, who do most of the fighting, and whose crests and regimental names have been very imaginatively rendered on the counters. 'Mech regiments are divided into the core, House regiments, and (of course) mercenary regiments, that may desert and/or switch sides (probably at the most inopportune time!). There are generic regular troops. There are also markers for manufacturing-centers, which are critical in building up one's armies and Jump Ships. Finally, there are markers for indicating control of regions, in the five colors particular to the Houses.
On the main map, the territory of each House is subdivided into about twenty regions. (House Liao is markedly smaller in the Third Succession War scenario.) The delineation of the Houses, it must be said, is rather abstract, and there is no attempt to coordinate it to any existing astronomical data. Given the "sci-fi" genre which BattleTech represents, that's not a problem. The names of the regions seem mostly Scottish, Russian, or Oriental-derived. However, some Tolkienian-sounding names (a tendency also seen in some of the 'Mech regiment names) may be a little jarring.
Another important part of the map is the Technology Track. Among the players' objectives is to increase their technological level, which allows for various enhanced combat, movement, and build abilities.
Also on the map is the box from which Event Cards are drawn, and a Discard Pile for them.
There are a broad variety of possible Events, from mercenary desertion, to rises in Tech Level, to increased chances of turning enemy leaders, to combat bonuses or penalties.
Although there is the need for some revenue-collection and calculation tasks, it is kept within reasonable limits, as a typical turn revenue would be about 20 points, and they can be consumed very quickly.
All-in-all, this is a highly colorful game, offering much of the flavor of the military sf genre of which BattleTech is a part. One could perhaps hope for add-on kits representing further installments of the future-history, notably, "the Invasion of the Clans", and ComStar's eventual bid for hegemony. The Succession Wars also seems like a game that might eventually appear in an electronic version. However, one notices a marked tendency towards tactical renderings in FASA's elaboration of the BattleTech universe, especially in terms of combat between single 'Mechs. The latter can more readily be translated into "super-arcade" games of either the personal computer, game console, or "virtual-reality"-cubicle type, which, it must be admitted, is probably what most gamers are looking for today.
Mark Wegierski is Canadian writer and historical researcher.