Sunday, 18 December 2016

Affordable Mechs and Mech Game Essentials

I'm tossing up whether to go 15mm or 6mm for my homebrew tanks rules.  With a very tight hobby budget, 15mm look better, but 600% more expensive.  6mm...  nnngh, they look so dinky...  they're so cheap, but would I actually use them?

As I mull this over, I dug around in my 6mm sci fi, and to be honest there's nothing that makes me like that scale. Perhaps because my 6mm is mostly Brigade, not exactly known for their compelling sculpts (their idea of a sci fi tank is a cardboard box with a turret on top).

Anyway, while rabbiting around I found a bunch of Iron Winds battle armour.  They are about the size of  a 15mm infantrymen and would make good "big" mechs in 6mm scale. Jury is still out - I mean, would you play a skirmish game with individually based 15mm? I decided to paint them up and see.  Voila!

Yesterday's painting efforts... I realise why I have almost no backlog in 16mm/6mm scales - it's so freaking easy and quick.

Word of Blake demon series battle armours. I kept the paint scheme consistent in case I want to make it an "army" later.

Some 6mm tanks, infantry and buildings for scale.

The buildings are Brigade and were both cheap and (I think) effective for sci fi.

"The smaller it is, the brighter you paint it"

Anyway, as I'm painting, I'm now thinking about mech rules. I was unimpressed by Alpha Strike - in attempting to simplify the gluggy Battletech rules, they removed things like heat sinks and limb damage - things that make Battletech "Battletech" - whilst keeping a lot of unnecessary mechanics from the old game.  What makes a mech game a "mech" game?  I've already discussed this a bit in the google group, but I'll lay out some key points here:

When is a mech, a mech?
I'll divide them into three sizes
1. The fckhuge = Several stories high, range into hundreds of tons (Gundam, Battletech, Titans)
2. Could transform into a jet = about the size/weight of a modern AFV (Macross, Heavy Gear). Think an Apache gunship on legs.
3. Battle/Power Armour/Exo-suit = a humanoid-size suit that is "worn" (Appleseed, 40K Terminator, BT Elemental)

For the sake of this article I'm confining myself to the first two types.

 The far back/right minis are PAL suits - the smallest BT battle armour.

There Has to be a Sense of scale
Combined arms - tiny infantry scurrying around, normally impressive MBTs to be "stood over."
Tiny houses at waist (or ankle!) height.  The modern PC game MW:O makes the mistake of making buildings so tall the mech does not seem big in comparison. When mechs only fight mechs, it's hard to realise how big they are.

I think it's important to differentiate mechs from human infantry. Many indie mech games are just reskinned 40K.  What makes it a game "mech?"

Heat Management/Energy Management/Travel Modes
This not universal, and is very "Battletech" - but why not a nod to the elephant in the room?  If it can be done simply it does provide a nice differentiation point making mechs more "vehicle" and less "infantry."  I might also include Heavy Gear movement modes (also seen in VOTOMS) where wheels can be used as well to "skate" The mech might even transform - if you have suitable models for both forms.

Electronic Warfare
Some sort of sensor mechanic - to jam incoming missiles, "spot" for indirect fire, or detect mechs out of line-of-sight.  Stealth coatings and chameleon thermal+optic camouflage. Agile scout mechs with sensors who perform recon.

Detachable Limbs
It's always cool when a limb gets blown off.  Or you rip off another mech's arm and beat him around the head with it.   Again, this makes the game more "mech-like" (though there are some cave trolls in fantasy who would debate this...)

Upgrades, Heroes & Levelling
Nearly all mech genres have featured highly customizable mechs - from the special "hero" mechs of Gundam and Macross to the "build points" of Battletech.  Most mech franchises also feature "ace" pilots capable of mowing down hordes of regular grunts, so I think the game should allow pilots to progress from "raw-teenager-who-is-the-Chosen-one" to combat veteran. In other words, a campaign system and a unit builder. 

Due to the scale of the vehicles, infantry and buildings, the power armour have become "big" mechs.

How simple?
Although Battletech has a fervent fan-base and has certainly stood the test of time, I feel the record keeping and gluggy rules are not for everyone.  On the other end of the scale, most simple indie mech games are simply reskinned 40K or are pretty much indistinguishable from most WW2-on infantry games.  I guess it depends on the scale - how many mechs are you trying to get on the table?  However at what point does it cease to become a mech game and simply become an infantry game?


  1. Nice "in-the-head" reflexions for game design. Always nice to read it.
    If I may, here is some ideas I'm trying to implement in my home-brew space game (which, by the way was mostly made possible by keeping reading your reflexion on game design) If think they can help for a mech based game which suffer from some similar problem in available rules :
    -Damage tracking : instead of the bazillions hull point to destroy a mech/spec ship, amount of success in penetrating armor determine level of damage. Number on rolled dice may already determine hit location. Adeptus Titanicus was really brillant for their damage chart. A few tokens next to the model OR the stat card (depending the scale a the game) is all you need.
    -Electronic warfare : Strike Legion has a system of EW value : at the start of the turn, each player split is EW value (for each model) between offensive and defensive EW which modify the roll. In a mech game, a mech can give EW point to scouting (sensor, target locking), offensive (ECCM) or defensive role (ECM)
    -Heroes : two ways to do that :
    -Shadowrun RPG : each mech roll one to 3 dice (depending of their skill) which determine order of play. But, once every one has moved, pilot with initiavie value >10 can play once more (maybe just shooting?) and substract 10 to their value. Exemple : 3 pilots have 23, 11 and 8 initiative values. Number 23 play, then 11 then 8. Next, 23 (now 13) and 11 (now 1) play again. Then 23 (now 1) shoot a last time. Your regular 8-value grunt has move and shoot once, while your bloody-handed ace has move once and shoot 3 times in the same timelapse.
    -Alternatively, use something like X-wing with determined pilot skill. In mech universe, aces mostly run from cover to ceover while shooting and killing. In game, a model may shoot at any point of his movement, then hide, thus preventing retaliation from a grunt.

    Sorry for the wall of text. I hope you will find it interesting.

    1. I'm already experimenting with homebrew rules. I'm trying to do the minimal recording whilst still incorporating it:

      HEAT = add up heat used this turn, roll d10. If d10 roll is = or under heat total, mech gets "OVERHEAT" token. This goes away any time a mech forfeits a turn/uses no heat. A second failed roll while still overheated means the mech SHUTS DOWN. Yes, it means using messy tokens but with sensible management very few mechs will have the token.

      With Damage, a hit results in a d6 roll. This d6 is placed between beside the mech and denotes the location+effect. A second hit (of any sort) destroys the mech. Again, it is a tad messy, but not every mech has a dice, and never more than one.

  2. In the old times Adeptus Mechanicus was a sensible alternative to Battletech (and had a number of the described features)

    1. A set of rules I've never tried... I always liked the Specialist Games stuff so I'll try hunt a PDF....

  3. A few Tanks suppliers who won't break the bank at each scale.

    1/300th (approx 6mm) - Heroics and Ros 40p each in the UK
    10mm - Pendraken £3.00 each in the UK.
    15mm - Peter Pig £6 or £7 in the UK.

    Sorry I don't know about Aus based suppliers, or indeed postage rated from pommie-land to down-under.

    1. Thanks!

      I'd narrowed it down to H&R as some of the others in 6mm(GHQ etc) are comparable in price to 15mm!

      The cheapest 1/144 I could find are Zevzda and Plastic Soldier Company ($6AUD ~4 pounds)

  4. A few months back I had a similar dilemma regarding mech games; Battletech too clunky, Alpha Strike being just kinda crud, most other stuff just missing that essential bit of blasting named weapon types and specific damage that makes Battletech still somehow enjoyable (though these days I play pretty much exclusively through Megamek to avoid all the book keeping though losing the joy of miniatures in action). I ended up working on a re-engineering of Gruntz back into being mech-game.

    The points system was fairly easy to work out, coming up with a basic conversion of Battletech's weapons and scaling them was mostly just some spreadsheet work with the big problem being scaling to retain those close-range firefights but without using Battletech's hex-grid based tiny ranges that are far too fine for differentiation with miniatures on a 'normal' terrain board. Grouping certain weapons into batteries with a combined effectiveness that scaled up (like having 3 Medium lasers as a single attack not 3 separate attacks) largely solved the problem of weapon-bloat because damn does Battletech love giving mechs ALL the guns.

    I of course had to break all the rules of Gruntz unit construction in order to fully arm and equip the mechs, but it didn't need a huge amount of additional special traits added in order to give things suitable quirks of design. The basic rules in the game already made for a decently crunchy yet fast battle with about 8-12 Mechs/tanks a side. All tracking of stuff was on the unit card which I think I managed to fit about 4-6 of per sheet of A4. One token that was considered for adding to it was something to indicate direction of torso twist, combined with more fire arcs so that positioning mattered more. Not sure if that would have been going too far or not.

    Never quite managed to sort out heat though, for testing I just stuck with mechs that would either not overheat or clearly would only be firing certain weapons in combination depending on the ranges because they would massively overheat if they alpha'd. I suspect a couple extra critical damaged statuses were needed. But I think it worked. Stopped working on it due to lack of local interest killing any possibility in getting more playtesting done though.

    Either way, Gruntz I think would be a good base to engineer something out of, given it started as a mech game, and played as one (modified a bit) it fills a needed niche of something less complex than Battletech, but more to chew on in terms of grit and detail than say, Horizon Wars.

    1. ...I always thought Gruntz was a ripoff of Warmachine....

      I actually started out with something VERY similar to what you describe, but have moved away from the 2D6 system. I'll post something up on the google group soon.

  5. Other makes of 6mm: GZG, Brigade (you may like the newer slammers-esque stuff more), PFC CINC, ironwind, GW (Epic), GHQ, and then the huge number of Epic knockoff companies. So it really just depends on what you want, and in what sort of numbers.

    Do not forget that 10mm is very popular for Scifi these days. Might be worth looking into Dropzone and Heavy Gear, which are both in plastic.

  6. I have Horozon Wars but I have not gotten around to trying it out yet.

  7. Good thoughts.

    I am writing my own mech rules at the moment. Its mostly a kitbash of rules I like and the desire to keep it as simple as possible.
    You can view the very rough rules here:

    Though my inspiration is more eastern. Amoured Core, Knights of Sidonia and Patlabor.

    Currently it's a game with very fast large Infantry. It does not feel mech enough. Electronic warfare is something that would suit it well I think. As well as letting them soak up more damage.
    I have only 3 type of units and not having tanks is indeed robbing me of scale. Need to think about it much more.

    1. My list isn't a "you must have these" so much as "some idea on how can we make it a game about giant robots, not a reskinned WW2 game."

      Being sci fi, there's nothing to say you can't make them simply giant infantry and call it a day.. ...but I think it's a missed opportunity to make something unique.

      My thoughts: if I could play a game of say WW2 or modern infantry skirmish using mech rules - what need does the mech rules fulfill? I might as well use existing WW2 rules.

      I feel mech rules tend to veer between "super complicated" and "reskinned 40K using mech models" - I'd like to see something that sit in between and attempts to create its own "feel."

      Heavy Gear is a bit different but the old rules are rather inaccessible.