MegaMek is unofficial but the most accurate video game adaptation of BattleTech war game. Those who aren’t familiar with BattleTech, it is a tactical scale war game about giant stompy robots played on hex maps. Giant stompy robots are called BattleMech, or ‘Mech for short. Game isn’t limited to ‘Mechs alone, but alongside of them can fight a variety of vehicles and infantry. Variety of aircraft and spacecraft are also part of the game.
BattleTech became official on year 1985. Over the years, BattleTech has amassed vast number of games, rule books, source books, scenario books, novels, comics, cartoon series, video games, imitators, derivatives, and more. On the fiction side, BattleTech is about epic interstellar warfare between vast empires and smaller factions over thousands of planets. As one player phrases it: “BattleTech is fucking LOREHAMMER!” Simply said, you can read BattleTech as much as you want even if you never play any of the games. But there is no strict requirement to know anything about the universe to play MegaMek. Just start the game, select maps, select units, and play the game!
Not quite that simple. MegaMek doesn’t exactly qualify for intuitive nor user friendly. Main menu alone has 8 items to click on. Initial game set up screen itself has a dozen buttons, and each opens a pop-up window with more buttons, or long lists of checkboxes, or other items. These are used to select hex maps (or create a random map) used for the game and select a number of units to play on those maps. Game can be played between multiple people and/or AI players. To set up a single player game, select maps, a number of units, AI player, and give a number of units to AI. This isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds, and there are a number of ways to accomplish it. For example units can be chosen one by one from a vast selection, or a number of units can be loaded from a file (need to create the file first), or have a random selection of the units with plenty of options. Next order of business is to adjust units’ skill levels and ammunition loadouts (or leave them to defaults).
All that just to set up the game. And to actually play the game, you need to know BattleTech rules. By default MegaMek is configured to the rules as presented in Total Warfare core rule book. Under Game Options… button is long lists of checkboxes for optional game rules from Tactical Operations and other rule books, along with some unofficial rules. Game play itself is mostly as detailed in the rule books: players take turns to move their units on hex maps followed by weapon attack declarations followed by physical attack declarations. Between each phase appears a report of events: turn order as decided by random number generator, units’ piloting/driving skill checks with results, weapon attacks made and the damage made, and a number of other details. Game will end when only one player (or team of players) has units left on the map, or when one player declares victory and other players acknowledge it.
Visually game play is in par with hex war games from 1990’s, such as Steel Panthers. Unit icons are large and detailed enough, so visually distinguishing different tanks and their armaments isn’t a guesswork. Fine workmanship with nothing more than black lines and dots, which can be adorned with colourful camouflage patterns. In addition each unit always has an ID tag and “health” bars. Maps are visually good enough and nothing more. Elevation differences are colour coded with higher terrain appearing on darker shade. Maps can have an isometric effect, which can be toggled on/off from the menu. Game can be played even on 3D where (some) units appear as miniature models. Pointless gimmick which I tried once and ignored thereafter. Audio is minimalistic with only various *ding* sounds to draw player’s attention.
At end of the scenario, game creates a number of text files. Files include information about the damage units have taken. This information can be used to calculate the cost of repairs and needed replacement parts. Game alone don’t do that. Units themselves are simple text files. By knowing the construction rules (rule book Tech Manual), it is possible to alter existing units simply by deleting words/numbers and typing new ones. Perhaps easier way to accomplish this is to download and use program MegaMekLab. MekHQ is a program to play and manage MegaMek campaigns. I couldn’t make a head out of tails with it, so good luck with it.
Altogether MegaMek is the best way to play BattleTech war game on the computer and over Internet. Official BATTLETECH game from Harebrained Schemes may look more appealing with more straightforward game play, but it makes several cuts and limitations. MegaMek don’t cut nor limit much anything. Thus it can be used to play anything from underwater to outer space and anywhere between. Only limits are imagination and computer hardware.
Written by Matti