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One of the most storied franchises in gaming is rumbling toward a massive comeback. Over the years, fans have had many ways to fall for these battles between giant stompy robots. It may have been the original FASA miniatures game. It may have been the awesome Activision first-person computer games. It may have been the immersive Virtual World simulators. It may have been the Microsoft XBox games. It may have been the Wizkids Clix games. This month, Battletech returns to computer screens all across the galaxy thanks to HareBrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive. Their massive Kickstarter looks to deliver a game that mixes tactical robot battles with the economic challenges of managing a mercenary company. Let’s take a look at the history of the setting and how it evolved through over 30 years of play.
The Battletech setting looks something like A Game of Thrones in space with giant tank-like robots in lieu of knights. Humanity’s expansion into space under the massive Star League has ground to a halt as the grand body falls apart under its own weight. Five houses—Steiner, Liao, Marik, Kurita, and Davion—battle each other for supremacy in the Succession Wars. They use their own battlemechs, passed down from noble parent to child, to wage war, but also hire mercenaries to supplement their forces. These mercenaries are often disenfranchised nobility or scavengers who have rebuilt armor from damaged battlemechs left on the field. The loyalty that fans have to their houses rivals that of sports fans to their teams or Harry Potter fans to their Hogwarts allegiance.
One of the setting elements that made Battletech unique was that the timeline changed. At the time, most tabletop game setting were static because the action happened at home. FASA supported Battletech with a line of novels that deepened the story. The backstories of the nobles who ran each of the houses gave Battletech a space opera feel like Star Wars and Dune. This was a setting where technology was on the decline and any of the battles were about holding planets that could build and repair the massive battlemechs. Adding more lore to the setting hooked more players because it felt like fans were a part of the overall story rather than watching heroes from afar.
The first major shakeup to the setting came with the return of the Clans. One of the Star League’s most famous generals, Aleksander Kerensky, fled the fall of the Star League with some of the League’s best mechwarriors and mechs. His son reorganized the refugees into a warrior caste society of Clans, and they invaded the Inner Sphere comprised of the Successor State territory. The Clans brought two new pieces to the Battletech universe; they were born and bred to be mechwarriors through genetic engineering and medical procedures and miniaturized support mechs called elementals that could overwhelm a larger mech out on the field.
The members of the Star League that didn’t get drawn into a house, a mercenary corps or flee with the Clans gravitated toward ComStar. It began as an organization devoted to preserving the vast technological knowledge of the Star League, but eventually evolved into a psuedo-religious sect that held our Earth (now known as Terra) to preserve the Star League’s ideals. Unfortunately, the invasion of the Clans also shook up ComStar’s devotion to neutrality and defense, as a splinter faction called the Word of Blake took the fight to the Houses of the Inner Sphere. The Word of Blake turned on ComStar and claimed Terra as its own.
Many Battletech campaigns centered around mercenary companies selling their services to the highest bidder. While these tactical skirmishes are the backbone of the tabletop game, a boxed set turned mechwarriors into futuristic gladiators. Solaris VII, the game world, featured a setting that offered one-on-one mech duels, faster tabletop rules and information for the Mechwarrior RPG for fans who wanted to find fortune and fame as a duelist rather than a tactician.
The upcoming Battletech computer game is set in 3025 during the Succession Wars. Elements like the Clans and Comstar may not appear in the game, but they seem to be ripe for DLC, expansions or even a sequel game based on the success of the first one. There’s a very rich setting here for future games developed for the computer and ongoing Battletech tabletop releases for multiple eras of the in-game setting. No matter which version you might prefer, it’s a great time to hop in the cockpit, fire up the PPCs and wade into battle!
Do you love Battletech? Tell us about it in the comments! And be sure to join us on April 28th on Twitch for our International Tabletop Day stream hosted by Ivan van Norman, and help us support charity:water to raise money for a project to get water to a community of people who currently lack access to clean water.
Want more cool gaming history?
- The History of Dungeons & Dragons told in 3 parts!
- How This FLGS Grew To Be The Largest Hobby Gaming Store In The World
- The History of RPGs: The Story of the First Sci-Fi RPG – Metamorphosis Alpha
Image Credits: HareBrained Schemes, FASA
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly all the way down to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. He can be hired as a professional Dungeon Master for in-person or remote games. His Twitter is here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.