Battletech Beginner Box Review — Armored combat, but on your kitchen table

A photo of the battle tech beginners box on a table

The year was 1996. I don’t know where I bought my copy of Mechwarrior 2, but I remember how I felt looking at the box. Flames, a Timber Wolf mech, and the iconic Battletech logo…I felt like I was about to step into a new world of gaming. I have fond memories of playing the first simulator in the Battletech franchise, the sting of defeat when I didn’t plan my moves with deep strategy, and the feeling of victory when a shootout with a rival mech ended with them blowing up.

When I was given the Battletech Beginner Box from Catalyst Game Labs for review, I started to experience some of those old feels. Would the same level of excitement exist with a pile of miniatures on a hexagonal board? Would I learn more about the world of Battletech? Would I be able to wrap my head around wargaming rules, something that I’m normally terrified of?

The answer to that is yes and no, so let’s dig into the review.

An image of the materials included in the Battletech Beginners Box

The box includes everything you need to play a basic game of Battletech

The packaging is what you’d expect. A large box with beautiful art on the front, and when you open the box, you’re greeted with two miniatures, a punchboard of terrain and additional ‘Mechs, a two sided hexagonal map, mechwarrior cards, a few data sheets for your ‘Mechs, Quick-Start rules, and some supplemental material to get you into the lore.

While this is plentiful and great for learning the game and getting started, I have a few concerns with the quality. The data sheets, which are meant for tracking damage and weapon loadouts for your ‘Mech, are supposed to be easily marked up with dry erase markers, but the lamination on the pages isn’t strong enough to repel ink, so you’ll definitely stain the cards. The design of the cards also feels a little sparse when you need a space to track weapons usage. Feels like a missed opportunity.

Some of the materials included in the Battletech Beginners Box

Some of the materials are designed to give you a sense of the Battletech universe

Also, with movement, attacks, and initiative, Battletech can become a dice-complicated game, and they only give you two standard black and white dice…once again, a missed opportunity, which could have become multiple pairs of dice, branded dice, different colors, etc. If they intended on the players to just use the dice included, it’s not easy or fun to share dice.

On the positive side, I can happily say that the quick start rules are really easy to read and understand. The book includes helpful illustrations that do a better job of explaining the concepts than the written text does, which is great for a visual learner like me. I didn’t need to find a video on Youtube to explain the rules to me, which is a huge plus.

Two battletech models, fully painted

Painting them can be a challenge if your primer is chunky, but it adds so much more to the gameplay

The mini’s are fairly decent, however, they are produced a bit differently than other minis. The casting is a softer plastic, which means less mold lines, but less details. I found myself having to freehand some details that could have been molded onto the model itself. The ‘Mechs do look fairly distinct, which is a plus. They provide a lot of opportunity for customization, and I will dive deeper into painting them in a future article.

Now, let’s dive into gameplay!

A game of battletech being played on a table

Gameplay can be deeply tactical with the additional units and coverage the game provides

With the quick start rules in hand, it’s very easy to get into your first game which is the Desert layout, and it only consists of the two miniatures they supplied you. As it was our first time playing, we recognized that we needed to refer to the rules and tables often. This is once again an opportunity to supply extra materials for players, perhaps reference sheets would be a wonderful addition.

Combat is intuitive and easy to understand, thanks to the G.A.T.O.R. system, which helps players understand the target numbers they need to roll against, counting all modifiers, including a player’s gunnery skill, attacker’s movement, terrain, target’s movement, and range. Players figure out these numbers and roll to hit. If they hit, they then roll for where the damage ends up, which adds a very fun chance system. Will you hit an arm carrying a weapon? A head? The center torso? It’s up to the dice to decide.

We really enjoyed this part of the game, because it was kind of random and didn’t feel too heavy to remember. Gameplay took around an hour for us to play because of rules learning/explanation, along with some cat interruptions.

Naturally, I lost, and we played again, this time including the optional Mechwarrior Cards and additional ‘Mechs to the battlefield. Mechwarrior Cards add special pilot abilities. The book also includes some alternate victory conditions, and some additional rules, but leaves just enough not explained, so that you are encouraged to continue the investment into the “A Game of Armed Combat” Box, which adds more rules, more mapsheets, and customization options.

The Battletech Beginner Box is a good introduction to the series and world of Battletech. If you are interested, I think it’s a cheap investment ($24.99 on the Catalyst website), and it gives you enough depth for a bunch of games.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Randy is a designer, nerd, and mini painter. He's been painting since 2015, and has learned a lot in his time! Come with him as he continues to push his craft forward, always down to try new techniques, tools, and paints!




Review Guidelines

The Battletech Beginner Box is a great introduction to the series, and despite the missed opportunities, it’s still worth the time if you’re curious about this wargame.

Randy Gregory II

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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