Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Review of Battledroids

Back before Battletech was Battletech, it was called Battledroids: The Game of Armored Combat. The name-change was do to the threat of legal action by George "No Sense of Irony" Lucas over the use of "Droid" as an abbreviation to "android." As such, Battlemechs ('Mechs) were called Battledroids ('Droids), and Mechwarriors were called Droidswarriors. The rule-set lists the following Battledroids: Stinger, Wasp, Shadow Hawk, Phoenix Hawk, Griffin, Archer, Crusader, Warhammer, Rifleman and Marauder. (The Locust, Wolverine, Thunderbolt and BattleMaster were not used in this set.) This review will compare Battledroids to its successor, second edition Battletech — hence forth called Battletech.

In Battledroids, a single hex represented 33 meters (100 feet), instead of 30, as seen in all other Battletech rule-sets. The Record Sheets used in Battledroids note all the same basic information seen in Battletech Record Sheets, but the Armor and Internal Structure Diagrams shows a fat, squat 'Droid that looks like a Dreadnought combat walker form Warhammer 40,000, with all the little circle used to track damage replaced by boxes that forms a set of grids.

Like in the Battletech rule booklet, Battledroids divide its rules into four play levels: Basic; Advanced; Expert; and Optional.

Basic Battledroids
Where the basic rules in Battletech, called Battlemech Training, used a dedicated laser-boat — the CHM-3 Chameleon Training Scout — to teach new players about heat build-up and heat conservation, Basic Battledroids completely omits heat rules. The basic rules also do not include Piloting skill rolls, anything related to falling, dropping or standing up, and the combat system are far different form the normal Battletech rules. The line-of-sight role are the same, but to-hit is different and damage is completely different.

Basic Battledroids have the following stats:

Move; Jump; Armor; Contact; Short; Medium; and Long.

Instead of using different weapons with different ranges and attack power, all 'Droids have variable Damage Values within the following ranges: Contact (1 hex); Short (2-3); Medium (4-10); and Long (11-21). For example, Stingers and Wasps, with their short-range firepower, have Damage Values scores in contact-, short- and medium-ranges, but nothing at long-range. The Griffin on the other hand has good medium- and long range firepower with its particle cannon and long-range missiles, but its short-range value is the lowest, with contact-range only good do to its ability to punch. A 'Droid's base to-hit is 4 for Contact range, and 6 for all other ranges.

Now here is where things get really different: A 'Droid's Armor Value is rated form 5 to 11, where Stingers and Wasps have 5, and Archers with 11 (the highest Armor Value noted in this rule-set). Being hit at the left/right flanks lowers a 'Droid's Armor Value by 1, while being hit at the rear lowers it by 2. Once the players determine the attacker's Damage Value and the defender's Armor Value, the attacker compares the scores to the Armor Penetration Table to figure out the number needed for a Penetration Roll. If the player succeeds, the attacking player rolls on the Damage Effects Table. The effects of the table are similar to a simplified version of the Vehicle Critical Tables seen in Citytech and onward, with results like "Battledroid destroyed", "Weapons destroyed" or "Battledroid cannot move or fire for X-turn(s)."

It is a neat introduction system that allows for quick combat resolution. Unfortunately, the rules need a bit of work to make it feel more complete. Also, it lacks the strategy that comes with exclusion of heat and ammo rules.

Personally, I would have Medium-range as 4-9 and Long-range at 10-18, and Extreme-Range (to account for LRMs) an 19-21, with base to-hit being at: Contact at 6; Short at 4; Medium at 6, and Long and Extreme at 8. This is all new and novel to me, and I feel compelled to make something better of it.

Advanced Battledroids
Here you learn to use Armor and Internal Structure Diagrams, Heat Scales, hit locations (but Critical Hit Charts are not used), and basic physical attacks (punching and kicking only). As the rules for critical hits are not listed, body parts must be fully destroyed — all armor and structural boxes marked-off — to ether cripple (for arms, legs, side torso) or destroy (for head or center torso) the 'Droid. The Sequence of Play is like Advanced Gunnery (form 2nd ed BT), but the Attack Phase divides into a Weapons Fire Phase and a Physical Attack Phase.

Expert Battledroids
The Expect rules expand on the Advanced rules with the inclusion of rules for falling, dropping and standing up, critical hits, injuries to Droidswarriors, aimed shots and expanded physical attacks (pushing and charging, plus the Domino Effect).

The Advanced and Expert rules do not bring anything new to the table, if you all ready played Battletech before. Moving on...

Optional Rules
These are the rules to expand upon the Advanced/Expert rules. Like with Battletech, it includes rules for clearing woods, starting fires, clubs, variable Droidswarrior skills, and Battledroid design. One rule included that was lacking in Battletech, until their inclusion in Citytech, where rules for conventional forces: infantry, jeeps and tanks.

The infantry rules are kinda neat. For one thing, an infantry unit is made-up of 9-men squads, instead of the 28-men platoons established in Citytech. You would not find infantry armed only with riles, as this a "game of armor combat." Instead they are armed around a man-portable support weapon, like a machine gun or missiles launcher. Unlike the current rules where one soldier dies per point of damage, in this edition, one point of damage can kills the entire squad, with the surplus damage transferring to any other squad in the hex! (Up to 10 squads can full a hex.) Their only real defense is that infantry are small and can quickly find cover, impose a +2 penalty to a 'Droid's to-hit. Also, you still have to count ammunition, which is pointless, given how quickly they die.

There is no Vehicle Design system for making unique vehicles; they are all prefab units. Compared to their Citytech counterparts, they are completely weak! Even a light, poorly-armed 'Droid can take a group of conventional forces without much effort. It may not sound fair, but this is a war where 'Droids are the "kings of the battlefield." Plus, the Citytech Vehicle Design system made it possible to field tanks that can hold their own, if not make short work of Battledroids.

All tanks get 4 MPs for movement, or 3 if they fire any weapons, while Jeeps have 6 MP (5 when shooting), and infantry only have 1 MP. They cannot enter heavy woods, lakes, burning areas or elevation changes greater that one level, while infantry ignore all terrain casts, and cannot enter lakes or burning areas. When a tank takes a hit, it can take damage in three location: the Armor, Tracks or Turret. Tanks have 20 points of armor up front, 10 at the sides, 8 at the rear and 5 for the turret (I suspect that this was a typo, where it should have been a 15). If any section of armor is deduce to zero, the tank is destroyed — if the rear armor was destroyed, then a fire starts on a 9+. If the tracks were hit, the tank is immobile. Jeeps only have 5, and do not require a special hit location roll. Like with infantry, any attack that destroys a jeep outright can transfer surplus damage to any other jeep in the same hex. And just like infantry, Jeeps are harder to hit, but with a +1 penalty to-hit. Normally only one 'Droid unit can occupy a hex. But with conventional forces, ether two vehicles or one vehicle and a 'droid can occupy a single hex, and up to ten squads can pile on a single hex without any consideration of 'droids or vehicles.

There are three tanks in the game:
  • SCR-8N Scorpion — no turret, three SRM-6 with 15 shots per launcher installed in the front
  • HNT-3R Hunter — no turret, one LRM-20 with 18 shots installed in the front
  • VDE-3T Vedette — turret-mounted Autocanon/5 with 40 shots and machine gun with 200 shots
The jeeps and infantry can be armed with one of the following weapons:
  • Machine gun with 10 shots for jeeps; 25 for infantry
  • 2-pack short-range missile launcher with 5 shots for jeeps; 12 for infantry
Here are some houserules for Infantry:
If multiple vehicles and infantry occupy a single hex and are attacked by a power weapon, the order of damage is as follows: Jeeps > APCs > Infantry (Jeeps are vulnerable, but APCs provide cover).

APC: This is like a Jeep, but with 10 points of armor, and they can also carry a squad of troops.

Towed-artillery: An artillery piece is immobile, unless moved by a jeep, APC or tank; it takes one turn to setup. They attack like an Autocannon but requires a turn to reload, and cannot attack anything within six hexes. As they are crewed by exposed men, they take damage like an infantry unit.

With Battledroid design, there are a number of things that were ruled-out by Battletech. Firstly, the rules allow for 5-ton 'Droids. I did the calculations, and found that whet you are left with is something that is slow for its size (up to 5 MP on a 25 Omni Engine) and completely unarmed and unprotected (.5-ton for internal structure; .5-ton for the engine; 3-tons for cockpit; 1-ton for gyroscope). Unless you houserule a smaller cockpit option, all you are left is a useless micro-droid with a large baby-head. The second, is that jump jets weight .5 tons, regardless of 'droid's tonnage, and there are no limits on the number you can place on a 'droid. In fact, the Griffin, which has a walk MP of 5, has 6 jump jets. This lack of limits could allow for heavy 'Droids with only 1 MP to jump great distances, beyond what a maximum-sized engine for their size would allow for normal walking/running movement. And lastly, ALL heat sinks — including the ten free heat sinks that comes with the engine — takes-up space. This is good if you have ammo, as they would soak-up hits, but bad if you are piling-on a lot of weapons and extra heat sinks. Although, now it makes more sense why the Critical Hit Table includes 12 slots for the arms and torso sections. (Personally, I can make do with less.)

If are are interested in 5-ton Micromechs in your games (don't think of them as "Inner Sphere Protomechs", but as "What if FASA ripped off the designs form Armored Troopers VOTOMS"), the internal structure boxes are as following: CT - 3; LRT - 2; Arms - 1; Legs - 1. Maximum armor is 27 points, or up to 1.5 tons of armor.

Here are some houserules for cockpits:
  • Mico-cockpit (5-15) - 1-ton; 1 internal structure box; up to 3-points of armor; no backup sensor; no life-support; no ejection seat; +2 to pilot injury rolls; 3 free critical slots
  • Small-cockpit (5-25) - 2-ton; 2 internal structure box; up to 6-points of armor; no backup sensor; no ejection seat; +1 to pilot injury rolls; 1 free critical slots
  • Normal-cockpit (20-100) - 3-ton; 3 internal structure box; up to 9-points of armor; 1 passenger; 1 free critical slots
  • Command-cockpit (80-100) - 4-ton; 3 internal structure box; up to 9-points of armor; +2 intuitive for commanders; no free critical slots (used as extra cockpit slot)
  • Armored-cockpit (60-100) - 5-ton; 4 internal structure box; up to 12-points of armor; 1 passenger; -1 to pilot injury rolls; no free critical slots (used as backup sensors)
In the middle of the booklet, with the sheets, there are ten stat-block for the Battledroids. Many of 'Droids have armor placements that differ form what are seen in Battletech, and a few of the stats are full of errors. The Wasp and Stinger are 1-ton overweight (going to armor) and 5 more points of armor then what the extra ton allows. The Crusader is .5 tons underweight, with 8 less points to armor. The Rifleman mounts an over-sized engine (VOX 260 instead of the 240 Pitban; 60 tons x 4 MP = 240 Engine Rating), thus loosing 2 tons — when fixed, it mounts two medium lasers.

And finally, we have the fluff...

A Dark Age: The Succession Wars
Now, you could have read much of this on, but whet it does not state is what was in the Battledroids fluff, that was left out in Battletech. Where the setting text was (literally) marginalized in the sidebars throughout the Battletech rulebook, the setting text in Battledroids took-up their own pages in the back. If you read Battletech, its all the same (save for a lot of "droid" being thrown around): Weapons of the Succession Wars; The Warlords; Soldiers of the Succession Wars; Mercenary Companies; Battledroids Regimental Organization; The Bandit Kings; and Battledroid Warfare. The last part was left out in Battletech.

That is a shame, as to me, Battledroid Warfare was something that feels missing form the second edition Battletech rulebook, as it gives a clear step-by-step Campaign Timetable of a planetary assault, noted in "D-Day" (Drop-Day) with "D-X Days" and "D+X Days"; gives clear motive to such an undertaking: (water, minerals, manufacturing centers, spare parts depots, or the occasional treasure hunt for Star League-era lostech); and notes the lengths pirates and Bandit Kings takes to steal clean water from planets. Much of this gives greater context to the military operations of the 31st millennia.

At the end of the page, it notes an example scenario called Skirmish on Mesa 7. Basically, a Davion scouting party, found Wolf Dragoons presence on the recently discovered planet of Mesa 7, and the Davions are trying to discover what they are hiding, while the Wolf Dragoons want to keep their presence on the planet a secret. It is such a small inclusion that four to six such scenarios could have been squeezed in a single page.

All and all, it was a neat read that gave a lot of historical context in the game's development. The game is buggy with errors here and there, but that is what you get for a first edition. I have been so enamored with the Succession Wars since I first discovered the 2nd edition rulebook, some 15 years ago. The lost rules are worth trying out.