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Subject: The Little Giant Robot who could... rss

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Wulf Corbett
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Occasionally I play miniatures wargames. Not toy soldiers on flat maps, but the full deal, with terrain, buildings, trees, etc. I also enjoy a bit of Last Night on Earth and the like every so often, but those kind of games would play just as well with pawns or counters. A proper miniatures game is partly, if not mostly, about the look of the thing. The 3-dimensional battlefield, actual Line Of Sight decisions, identifying units just because... that’s what they look like! There’s a real joy in looking at a miniatures game in progress, it’s the closest to a bird’s eye view of a battlefield you can get on a tabletop.

Unfortunately most such games tend to the complex, or the abstract. Very few are in the middle. At least, the ones I like. I’m always on the lookout for a set of relatively easy, relatively low bookkeeping miniatures game with enough realism & verisimilitude to satisfy my simulation needs without stretching beyond my gaming needs. Oh, and while I’m quite happy to paint up my own minis... not too many of them, please...

One of my favourite minis games that perhaps gets a bit too involved is Heavy Gear: Blitz! It’s a ‘Giant’ Robot game, piloted walking tanks striding across the battlefield blasting each other to bits. Unlike Battletech, the behemoth that bestrides the Giant Robot genre, these are only little... Giant Robots... maybe 15’ tall and a few tons in weight. I like the minis & the rich, evolving setting, but the game’s a bit too involved for casual occasional play.

And so, I found MechaWar (admit it, you’ve been wondering where it got to, right?) MechaWar is about as cheap as a game gets without being free – a £1.00 download from Precinct Omega games It claims to be a fast play, simple generic system which has sufficient detail to satisfy the Giant Robot gamer’s needs at a fraction of the usual cost, and playable with any minis you care to use. It is a miniatures game, so no hexgrid or any other board, it's tabletop with 3d terrain.

OK, for £1, I took a chance. And I am so glad I did...

Now, at this point I will add a note that I’ll be considering the two currently available additional downloads as part of the game. They’re not in the actual game package, but they’re free, and available to all. One adds a Mission Generator system, and the other Advanced Rules – actually a collection of new options for your Mecha – weapon modifiers, command options, etc. There are some in the basic book, these add more.


OK, so what do you get? A 21 page PDF (if, like me, you print booklets, there are a few pages you don’t need printed, and you can add on those downloads) with a nice Battletech like cover, plus some decent interior illustrations, both decorative drawings & photos of minis annotated to demonstrate the rules. Font size is pretty big, you don’t get much text in this book, but that’s fine for me as I print my rulebooks on A5 booklets... Rules are presented in logical & well-written style, and illustrations very clear (they printed a bit dark on my printer, but that may just be me).

And on to the rules... These are generic rules, not tied to any setting or even scale, Mecha are defined primarily by size rating – simply a Mass (MA) number, typically from 1 to 3. Balance is usually achieved in a game by giving each player the same MA to build from. Each Mecha has a number of points to distribute, derived from MA – 8 plus 3 per MA. With that, you can buy Movement Points, Armour, Defensive Systems and, of course, Firepower. In this game, exactly what you fire isn’t specified, bullets, missiles, energy weapons, plasma streams, water cannon, it’s whatever your world uses. By not filling in the blanks, the game leaves out what is commonly one of the most complex bits of the system, the setting tech & associated chrome – but, of course, loses a lot of the detail and flavour, and ends up with just one single number. There are also a selection of options that can be bought, again, more are added in the download, and these really make the Mecha feel right... I found, just with the supplied modifiers, I could easily recreate believable Heavy Gears, with long range weapons, indirect fire, command control options, etc. There’s a fairly active and responsive forum where they’ve discussed Battletech, and the publishers are open to ideas (like for the Advanced Rules download). Rules on movement are simple – therefore easy, but lacking subtleties. Rules on combat are fairly simple, but require D12, and possibly quite a few of them (you need to keep the rolled dice visible after rolling), and also require a bit of fiddling around. You roll a number of dice and arrange them into groups of sufficiently high value to exceed the range plus armour (plus cover if applicable) of the target. If the group includes a rolled 12, it’s a crit, firer decides what gets hit, otherwise the target decides. Damage directly reduces one of the stats, Movement, FirePower or Armour. Run out of Armour and you’re reduced to scrap. The rules suggest you group the dice, then apply defensive systems (roll dice, remove attacker dice that match), then regroup the attacking dice, but I can’t figure out why you should bother until the defences reduce the dice...


There’s a neat Action/Reaction system (which, I have to admit, I didn’t quite understand at first...), with only 5 possible actions (Move, Fire, Fire & Move, Charge or Repair), and 4 reactions (Move, Fire, Move & Fire or Countercharge). There’s no melee as such – Mecha just charge at one another, and if they’re really lucky one might limp away. Collisions (as they call them) are much more deadly than in many games in the genre...

With some additional details on Shaken results, Line of Sight, etc. that’s it. It really is simple.

In play, it’s fast & easily learned. Note that fast play does not necessarily mean short games – bigger Mecha with more Armour than FirePower, played defensively at a distance from one another with plenty of cover will still take a long long time to battle to a conclusion... But that’s a matter of Mecha & battlefield design, plus play style, not a game factor. Smaller Mecha at close range will blow one another away fairly rapidly... Cover becomes vital, and a very enjoyable game of cat & mouse (well, Ferret & Asp in Heavy Gear terms...) was had around the buildings in one of my games. Which minis you use is, of course, up to you.


Small (MA 1) Mecha are pretty basic, but can still be built with a bit of individuality, mediums & large can be quite quirky and there’s a lot of design decision to be made even with the small numbers and few options available (less than 2 dozen). The system is so simple & adaptable it would be simple to work out additional options to better suit a specific setting, but you don’t have very high numbers to adjust, and any changes could have big consequences! There are rules for tanks, but just one sort, no artillery, infantry, etc. There may be more later, but the game is designed for pure Mecha on Mecha action.

In short, it’s well worth £1.00, so long as you want a smooth working, quick play, Giant Robot combat game with minimal chrome, minimal setting detail, and generic weapon systems, etc. It lacks detail, but it has enough to allow me, and maybe you, to fill in the blanks, and play in the setting of our choosing.
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Samuel Hinz
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Thanks for this. Sounds cool the chances of me actually getting this played is about 0 but I still thank i'm gonna grab it. I really wanna play Full thrust too.
 
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Robey Jenkins
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Thanks a lot for reviewing MechaWar. I hope those who do download it - even just for the read, although I'd much rather see you play it! - have a good time with the game.

You might like to know that volume 3 of the HorizonWars Trilogy (of which MechaWar is volume 1) is currently in open beta here:

http://precinctomega.co.uk/precinct-omega-downloads
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Wulf Corbett
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Shotts
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Excellent, I've been looking forward to this.
 
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