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Subject: CBT Intro Box--A Review for Three Audiences rss

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Jim Patterson
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Classic BattleTech Introductory Box Set (2007)
Produced by Catalyst Game Labs
MSRP US$39.95

Overview
Classic BattleTech is the current incarnation of the BattleTech game that's been around for decades. The Introductory Box Set is the latest (and truly greatest) edition of the BattleTech box set line. Although not referred to as such, the CBT Introductory Box Set is the fifth edition of the basic box set for the (C)BT game and covers much of the same ground as previous versions.

Whatever its edition, BattleTech has been and remains a game of combat primarily between BattleMechs, or 'Mechs--essentially, giant fighty robots. While vehicles, IndustrialMechs, ProtoMechs, battle armor, infantry, and aerospace units can and often are added to the mix, 'Mech-vs.-'Mech combat remains the staple of the game. CBT (and BT before it) can be played on hex maps with counters or minis, or on 3D terrain with minis. CBT games are often fought at the lance (4-'Mech) or company (12-'Mech) level (with Clan organization being somewhat different from Inner Sphere), but the game supports smaller and (with some difficulty, I'd imagine) larger engagements, as well as mixed-force combat. A 'Mech-vs.-'Mech fight using quick-start rules on open terrain and a small mapsheet can be resolved in under an hour; company-on-company combat with full rules and complicated terrain on multiple mapsheets could take hours running into days. While counters (or any sort of distinguishable marker) can be used, many people perfer to play using pewter or plastic miniatures.

About this review
This review of the CBT Introductory Box Set is designed for three audiences: (a) the CBT rookie, for whom the set is specifically intended; (b) the current CBT player, who presumably has access to other rulebooks and equipment; and (c) the returning/lapsed (C)BT player considering a return to the fold but who may not have much in the way of up-to-date materials. My effort here is to help people in each audience decide whether the new box set contains worthwhile additions to their collection. My main focus will be on audiences (a) and (c), as I'll presume that most active veteran players have access to more information about the box from such places as www.classicbattletech.com.

This review will also be more in the way of a component review than a blow-by-blow review of gameplay, although I will go into some detail on that when discussion the main rulebook, making some comparisons to other rules sets.

Following an overview will be three lettered sections corresponding to the three audiences mentioned above:

(a)New players
(b)Veterans
(c)Returning players.

In these sections, I'll try to be more specific about the value of particular elements for particular groups; when it will save time, I'll combine groups.

Main components

Introductory Rules
The main rulebook is an 80-page bound book with full-color covers and interior. The paper stock is thin and slick, as is pretty much all the paper in this box except for the record sheets and the compiled tables; while the pages are rather thin, the cover is moderately sturdy and the binding good, so the book should hold together. There's no index, but a detailed table of contents makes referencing rules section fairly easy during play.

(a)New players should actually start elsewhere, with the quick-start rules (described below) even if they're genetically averse to "beginner" rules. The quick-start games are pretty quick and cover a lot of the basics found in the Introductory Rules. After getting a few quick-start games under their belt, the Introductory Rules should be pretty manageable--they're not Euro simple but I'd say they're moderately complex by wargame standards and a good reduction of the full CBT ruleset (which, as it stands, is well over 300 pages of tournament-type rules). Really, everything the beginning player is going to want is here, and it's not overly stripped down, just focused on 'Mech combat (as opposed to that for other units) and "basic" BattleTech technology (as opposed to the advanced weapons found in other publications). Players will also find quick-start rules for vehicles and infantry and, perhaps most interestingly, the construction rules for basic-technology 'Mechs. (Full construction rules for the main game are now found in a separate $40 hardcover, Classic Battletech: Tech Manual, so having this set here is a nice bonus.)

(b)Veterans won't find anything new here, but they may find the rules useful as a teaching tool for new players. These are basically what used to be called Level 1 rules for 'Mechs, with pre-Clan technology. (It should be noted that the box is not "set" in 3025; the universe book--see below--is largely timeline current.) Positively, the rules here aren't a simplified, newbie-altered ruleset but just a condensed one, so nothing a new player learns will be invalidated when and if they move to the full ruleset.

(c)Returning players will find that the production values of the new rules are very high, much better than, say, the second-edition box set I started with. Helpfully, not a lot has changed; BT has remained a fairly stable game over its long history, with a focus on refinement rather than wholesale revision, so most of the rules and concepts in the Introductory Rules will be familiar, at least in outline, to lapsed players.

Inner Sphere at a Glance
The other main book is a 48-page, bound, full-color volume covering BattleTech universe history up to 3067 (the same point reached in Battletech: Total Warfare) and providing basic "technical readout" style information for the 24 'Mechs included in the set.

(a)New players will probably find the telescopic history of the BT universe to be overwhelming if intriguing. It's a briskly paced and sketchy narrative, and just keeping the welter of names, places, and dates straight (is there a test later?) is tricky. A strict timeline might actually have been better than a running narrative, at least for reference purposes, but after twenty-some years, no twenty-or-so-page summary of events in the universe is going to be adequate. Don't sweat it; players don't ever need to play "in universe" or in factions; there are plenty of resources online and in print to give you additional background; and classicbattletech.com and its denizens offer a lot more help. All in all, it's a very rich game world, and this gives a decent taste of it. The technical data on the '24 'Mechs adds some nice flavor as well, though it isn't needed, either, strictly speaking.

(b)Veterans probably know all of this information, or know other places to find it, whether in Technical Readouts or other texts.

(c)Returning players will find the universe a little "advanced" in time since their last play, most likely. The CBT universe has undergone some changes since the early years of the Clan invasion, and this book gives some information about that, including hints about the Word of Blake (to become a key player in the Jihad-based setting after 3067) and a description of the FedCom civil war.

Other components

Miniatures

First, the flashiest bits. The intro box comes with 24 gray plastic miniatures that represent a pretty broad range of 'Mechs available in the early thirty-first century onward. None requires assembly, although there have been some reports of missing or broken 'Mechs (for such problems, see http://catalystgamelabs.com/classicbattletech/minis-replacem...). The minis come with their own (smaller than normal) bases. In short, they can be used immediately with the game. However, they reportedly--I haven't tried yet myself--take primer and paint quite well (better than earlier attempts at plastic 'Mechs), and players such as Nick Pluto (plutonick) have uploaded some nice photos of their work (see above).

(a)New players will find they've got a solid core of 'Mechs that the rest of the box set is built around. The group of 24 represents a solid cross-section of 'Mech types, allowing for high replayability and varied play. If you like light-and-fast 'Mechs or slow bruisers, you've got some choices. Of course, CGL wants you to buy some nice pewter minis to add to the set (that's one reason why an introductory supplement such as Classic Battletech Starterbook: Sword and Dragon uses 'Mechs other than the ones included in the box), but new players could go a long time without ever really feeling a need for more. Twenty-four is enough to pull off a full company-vs.-company battle, in fact.

(b)Vets can always use more 'Mechs, right? Included are a standard range of (basically) 3025-era 'Mechs: Spider, Assassin, Cicada, Clint, Commando, Jenner, Hermes II, Quickdraw, Grasshopper, Enforcer, Dragon, Whitworth, Trebuchet, Dervish, Catapult, Panther, Vindicator, JagerMech, Zeus, Awesome, Banshee, Hunchback, Cyclops, and Atlas. The sculpts are generally pretty good, and reports I've read suggest that these will paint up about as well as metal.

(c)Returning players who (like me) had just one of the old box sets with counters will find a good replacement in these 'Mechs. Many if not all of these models should be familiar to lapsed players, as they've been around since early in the game, even if the sculpts are sometimes different.

Quick-Start Rules
Elsewhere, I favorably reviewed the quick-start rules available for download from the classicbattletech.com. Although the QSR here look much shorter, they're actually the same set, just divided up differently (with vehicle and infantry rules included in the main rulebook, and with no maps or 'Mech counters included).

(a)New players should definitely begin here. You will be playing CBT in well under an hour with these and having a good time in a 'Mech-on-'Mech fight. Should you wish to add in a limited set of vehicle and/or infantry rules, you can find them in the main rulebook (toward the back).

(b)Veterans will really have no use for the QSR unless they're planning on teaching new players (highly recommended!). This is a very stripped-down set of rules, excluding such things as physical attacks, critical hits, and internal structure for 'Mechs, as well as heat.

(c)Returning players may want to reintroduce themselves or newbie friends using these, but they may quickly find the rules too limited if they have much prior experience with BattleTech.

Record sheets
A booklet of thirty-two prefilled record sheets is included to match the 'Mechs as well as the vehicles and infantry from the quick-start rules.

(a)New players will benefit greatly from using these sheets over trying to fill in blank sheets for each 'Mech (or other unit). This reduces the complexity right off the bat--instead of filling in circles, you can head right into combat. Plus, it's easy to compare 'Mechs.

(b)Veterans should have no real need for these, as record sheet PDFs and PC software fill that need nicely.

(c)If returning players are only familiar with filling in the blank records each time they wanted to use a different unit, these prefilled sheets will be a godsend.

Painting and Tactics Guide
An odd pairing, the painting and tactics guide covers, well, painting and tactics, as in painting the 'Mechs and actually succeeding in combat. The full-color guide is printed on the same slick, thin paper (no cover) used for most of the set. There are some painting basics, a guide to painting in (Inner Sphere and Periphery) faction colors, and illustrations of each 'Mech (although the pictures are of metal 'Mechs) accompanying descriptions of various types of 'Mechs by function (e.g., skirmishers).

(a)New players may well find the painting tips helpful. The guide describes tools to use, gives a step-by-step illustration of painting one particular 'Mech (using a procedure that can be adapted for other 'Mechs). However, the guide quickly delves into what I would consider semi-advanced (or at least late-beginner) painting techniques such as washes, metallic touches, weathering, and the like. Those truly new to minis painting may feel overwhelmed, although the guide does suggest stopping at any point along the way at which painters are satisfied with the results. The tactics are inevitably broad (e.g., go on offense on initiative, go defensive when you lose it), but it's good to actually listen to some basic advice systematically presented.

(b) and (c)Veterans and returning players may benefit from a brush-up on tactics, but presumably have either already become painters or have decided not to by now. Still, the guide does modify the advice given in, say, Battletech: Total Warfare to cover the painting of plastic (as opposed to pewter) 'Mechs, so even vets may find that valuable.

Cardstock tables
Two copies of the tables found in the main box-set rulebook, printed on heavy cardstock, are included, one for each player in a two-player game.

(a), (b), and (c)These compiled tables are fabulous and sturdy, even if they don't include all of the tables veterans might want for their "full" games. The tables are easy to read and use and should hold up to repeated use and some abuse. A very nice component.

Mapsheets
Two 22"x27" double-sided, color mapsheets, folded in quarters and printed on slick paper, are included. The sheets are identical. One side has largely open terrain with some water (the basic "BattleTech" map) and the other has light woods. Both have the terrain type clearly marked on each non-open terrain hex.

(a)New players need maps, right? Well, these ... are maps. They look nice, but, sadly, are on extremely thin, slick, and heavily creased paper that's unlikely ever to fold out and lay flat properly. My advice: if you like the game at all, get better maps, such as Classic Battletech Map Compilation 1. (The map compliations should still be fairly easy to find online through eBay and other sources; I'm guessing CGL will reprint these sooner rather than later, but they're technically "out of print" at the moment. The maps in the compilations aren't cardstock but they are on sturdier paper.)

(b) and (c)Veteran and returning players should have better maps than the ones here and would probably have little patience for those in the box set.

Poster map
A poster-sized map of the Inner Sphere, circa 3067, is included. It's in full color and on the same thin, slick paper as the play maps.

(a)This is more fluff than practical; it's designed to make you curious about the various factions (which aren't crucial to play) and the metastory. Unfortunately, the map suffers from the same problems as the play maps, perhaps (as was the case in my box) even more so, as at least some of the posters were mislaid in the boxes and creased even more than necessary.

(b) and (c)A nice map of the game year that Total Warfare and the box set are built around, but the production values could've been higher. Caveat emptor.

Dice
Two six-sided dice are included. They're (to me) unusually pipped (I believe they're called "Chinese" dice) and are functional and that's about it.

Conclusion
If you've borne with me this far, you'll probably guess that I consider the Introductory Box Set to be a good value for the money. It's the key place to begin for new players, but it also has some value for veterans, and returning players may find themselves getting sucked back in. The key strengths are the good-quality Introductory rulebook and the nice plastic 'Mechs. With individual pewter 'Mechs listing for anywhere from $9 to $13, having a set of 24, even if they're plastic, is a great thing. This box is also a very good bridge into other CBT products, particularly Classic Battletech Starterbook: Sword and Dragon, which gives more background information, two company-level histories, and a neat, flexible scenario system.

The weaknesses are less important. The play maps are inexcusably bad and should be replaced in any subsequent printing of the set, as they won't stay flat and cause 'Mechs to tip over when placed at the corners. The paper quality overall, apart from record sheets and table references, is modest, although the two bound books are pretty sturdy. Ultimately, veterans will find this set less useful than new or returning players, but that's as it should be, as, after all, this box wasn't designed with them in mind.

In short, now is a good time to get (back) into CBT. The community's bustling, new products are coming out regularly again now, the production values for materials are extremely high, free online play is possible, and continuity with the past is respected while new elements are added (the storyline now going to 3072, for instance). The Introductory Box Set is a near-perfect entry into that world.
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Mike Malley
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Nice review. Did you find it locally? Mine didn't have it last time i was there.
 
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Jim Patterson
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caffeinehead wrote:
Nice review. Did you find it locally? Mine didn't have it last time i was there.


Actually, yes, but you can buy it online from BattleCorps (http://battlecorps.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=...), and various sellers have it new on eBay, too.

 
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Nick Pluto
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Very nice review, good work.
 
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B Davis
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Thank you for a well done review.

I am, like you, returning to Battletech after a long time away. I have played Mechwarrior over the past 4 years, but the itch to calculate heat and armor & equipment losses are calling.

I recently ordered 2 sets of the Intro box set just to get the minis. They are indeed well made, even if plastic. Also, they do prime and paint well.
 
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Toby Wittwer
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Nice review. The box set really offers great value for money. 24 individual miniatures, and once painted they look really nice. I can highly recommend this box to anyone who's interested in starting with Battletech.
 
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Erik Nicely
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Damn good review. I'm in the "lapsed player" category and all those mechs included cheaply in the box would be a great place to start up again.
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Dan Hindman
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I fall into the category of 'long time player' (since 1986), and I must agree that your review is fantastically comprehensive. Of course, now that I have complimented you, I will present some of my own impressions of this box set.

1) A general comment regarding all of the latest issue items from Catalyst Game Labs: they smell. I don't know if it's the ink or the paper, but something in their products reeks. As someone who has headaches triggered by strong odors, this was something that was an immediate problem for me.

2) What is up with the glossy paper?? You can't get the maps to lay flat, you can't jot down notes or highlight things of interest in the rulebooks, and if you breathe on it wrong, it tears. This is what I paid $40 for?

3) The huge batch of minis are nice, but not why I play the game.

4) The quick start rules are a neat thought, but not real useful for us old timers.

5) The IS maps and history books are just window dressing to me.

In short, I was rendered powerless by glossy pictures and a hefty box. My main regret is that now that I've opened it, I can't return it to get my money back. I've also been equivalently disappointed with the Techmanual and Total Warfare. Those, however, can go back to the store. For the way I play, it's back to either the Battletech Compendium, or the Classic Battletech Master Rules. And my little 2D cardboard 'mechs from the original box set. See you on the battlefield!
 
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Jim Patterson
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My understanding is that CGL is replacing the maps on subsequent reprintings, as they recognized they were a problem (which, indeed, they are--easily the worst element in the box).

Both the TechManual and at least the FanPro printing of Total Warfare were done in Thailand.

Apart from the potential smell, which I personally didn't notice, I find not much to complain about with TW and nothing at all to complain about with TM.
 
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Dan Hindman
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It's good to hear that they are addressing the mapsheet problem. The whole smell issue could be an oversensitivity on my part, or it could be a characteristic of a particular printing run. I have no real complaint with the game content itself, just the inordinant amount of fluff and the (IMHO) less than top shelf quality of the materials. For the money, I wound up disappointed. I will continue to keep an eye on new editions and other such expansions as they come out, but I think for now I'll just move back an edition of two and play (quite happily) at that level.
 
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Agung
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I have play battletech total warfare since 3 years ago only using custom maps, custom stand up counters, & free record sheet from the sites (luckily, battletech rules allowing counters in play instead of the actual minis, it's nearly impossible to get the minis in my country those days).

Recently, i got my box and very happy with the minis, none are missing, but i notice that some plastic mechs looks a little weird, like hunchback have the leg so thin, and 100tons atlas have thin center torso, are the pewter mech looks as same as the plastic mech?

news from catalyst, they preparing the 25th anniversary intro box set with better map sheets, hope hit production soon
 
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