August 25, 2002

Played the new Battletech collectible

Played the new Battletech collectible miniatures game yesterday. Each of us had a mish-mash of units from one starter and one booster. They moved the time period so they don't have to deal with the old backstory, which is fine with me. They did preserve most of the old game mechanics at least in name, although with the complexity the old boardgame, this made for lots of extraneous icons, modifiers, and rules. I did pull off a kickass Death From Above attack, though, which is more than I can say for my time with the boardgame.

We played 300-point armies, which allowed each of us to field one Mech, one heavy tank, a light vehicle/GEV or two, and four or five infantry units. I was confused about action tokens and formations rules at the beginning, which I probably used to my advantage (i.e. I cheated). I didn't like the one-person-does-all-his-action turns. The board game mechanism of rolling for initiative, then alternating actions makes for a more balanced turn structure, IMHO. Mike got a little impatient and pushed his troops forward, taking unnecessary heat damage in the process. Sent a couple of chump dudes into the middle and the scout vehicles forward, but kept the tank and mech back. One infantry unit got squished by a barrage from Mike's infantry formation and mech, but that clustered them in range of my tank's long-range guns. The tank's multi-target capability softened them up, then my Centurion mech jumped in with the Death From Above, which did enough damage to his mech to turn it into salvage scrap. The scout vehicle got behind Mike's tank, which forced it to turn around, and gave my tank time to move up. Another big blast from the artillery disabled his tank, and that was pretty the game.

Strategic insight based on one short game:

  • Long range artillery kicks ass, especially with the multi-targeting and indirect fire abilities, which allow the tanks to do serious damage to a formation.
  • Send the fast vehicles forward and get them into the enemy's rear arcs. Hit and run to distract the enemy while you move the main force up, hopefully when your vehicles retreat the big guns will be there to cover them.
  • Life as an infantryman sucks. Send them forward in formation to lure the enemy in, then try to lock down their vehicles in close combat while your heavy guns bomb away. Mike did a better job at this than I did.
  • Mechs seem to work best as a highly mobile reserve force. They get chewed up too quickly if they're in the vanguard.

It looks like WizKids is the next WotC with the collectible miniatures concept. Miniatures gaming has been a stable niche in the hobby for a long time, thanks(?) to Games Workshop and friends. WotC introduced collectibility with Magic, but with cards, which are easier to produce, and even then they had to go to Carta Mundi in Belgium to get it done. Remember the good old days of the Great Magic Shortage? Miniatures would seem to be ideal for a similar treatment. After all, mini gamers are used to shelling out to keep up with the latest and greatest. However, the packs of dull grey lead figures scared off the gaming mainstream (oxymoron?) who were afraid of the work involved with painting.

So we have to figure out a way to make attractive, pre-decorated miniatures. Molded color plastic is out, since that's associated with cheap mass-market junk. There were always pre-painted figures for sale, but they were treated as artisanal art, and priced accordingly. The answer, of course, is cheap labor in China. Contract manufacturing allowed hand-painted pieces at mass-produced prices. $20 for a starter of about 10 figures. Work that backwards through the value chain, and the number gets awful small by the time you get down to the factory worker. Probably young single women from the countryside. They're good at detail work. The game mechanics are solid, the rotating bases is a great idea, but it's the globalized manufacturing that makes the idea happen. In light of that, WizKid's plea against discounting seem a little hypocritical.

Posted by mikewang on 04:33 PM