A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The (Stuff)-Tech/Macross/Related Stuff Collection Megapost Part 4: Mechwarrior Dark Age

The late 90s were a bad time for Battletech.  FASA died, much of it related to the situation with Harmony Gold.

But.. there was hope.  Jordan Weisman, one of the original creators of Battletech had a new company, Wizkids.  They started producing the first prepainted collectible miniatures game known as Mage Knight Rebellion.  Like most games he had a hand in, it was heavily flawed.  (And it died when a major revision came out that basically made the old figures both underpowered AND illegal in tournament play, something that seems to be the life blood of any collectibles game.  Most people just up and quit.  A hasty patch to bring the old miniatures back into legal play came out but it was too little, too late.)

But it introduced the clicky base system.  This involved almost all the stats of your model being printed right on it's base with a dial you could turn as it took damage, and colors being used to give units universal abilities, the latter of which would become a near de facto rules mechanic in so many games, collectible or not.

Heroclix would be the only game from Wizkids to survive in any fashion, continuing even when the company would be sold to Topps who ended up closing the entire operation down and mostly keeping it as an IP house to license to other companies.  (Currently "Collector Toy" manufacturer NECA is doing the Wizkids properties.  Though the Battletech rights are really messed up, being divided between Topps and Microsoft.  It's hard to keep track of who owns WHAT.)

They announced a Battletech game, to be called Mechwarrior: Dark Age.

Battletech fans were excited but apprehensive.  Would it be a collectible game like Mage Knight?  Would it just be a revision of Battletech?  Would it use the terrible clicky base system?

The former and latter were correct.  The middle was not.

It was doomed from the start.  While a CCG Battletech game had a small level of popularity in the 90s (Magic and the kid show CCGs really seem to be the only games to survive and thrive then and now, though Fantasy Flight Games' LGC format style appears to do ok.) what Battletech players wanted was.. MORE BATTLETECH.  Not a clicky base blind buy collectibles game.

Add in that your average miniatures painter (the online ones anyhow) seem to be elitists and scoff at any prepaint no matter how nice (or that some of us don't have the time, skill, desire, or even in some cases PHYSICAL ABILITY to paint) and being able to just pop out the models from the box and play and we see more problems.

Now the clicky game barely feels like whatever IP it is used with.  Its too "generic".  When I played Heroclix it really felt so abstract that it could have been ANYTHING on the base.  I never felt like Batman was fighting Doctor Doom.  While Mechwarrior Dark Age used proper measuring tape and even had a special heat dial on the base it.. it didn't much feel like Battletech.

I think it was the best of the click base games Wizkids made (with Horrorclix a close second, though it adds in a "Drama Card" type mechanic to add in more of a proper horror feel) but it had issues and also fell prey to much of what killed Mage Knight.  They did a heavy revision that while it didn't totally wipe out the older models, in many ways it did make them less useful.  I admit they sort of had to revise things as the meta game favored everything OTHER than Battlemechs, with degenerate tactics not only winning the day, but driving off the playerbase that did exist.

(Snooty Battletech players mocking the game and the players didn't help either.)

Yet MWDA had yet ANOTHER hurdle to overcome.  A CANON TIME JUMP IN THE STORYLINE.
See at the time the Battletech timeline had moved mostly slowly to the mid to late 3060s.  MWDA shot forward to the 3130s.  Nearly every character from the old timeline was now dead (or soon would be), and there was a technological regression that never really made sense.  (In fact tech got overpowered, making it all sort of pointless.)

See they started an event that is just now finishing up in the normal Battletech game, The Word of Blake Jihad.   While this was something started in storyline beats during the FASA days, the fans couldn't understand how a break off faction from Comstar (basically a mixture of a telecom and the Catholic Church) could cause such a massive war as to send the Inner Sphere back to the point armies were taking industrial class Mechs and using their forestry chainsaws or backhoes as weapons.  A quarter of the Inner Sphere by the end of this Jihad that was mostly glossed over turned into a new faction.

This did not sit well with a fanbase already in many cases irritated by the Clan Invasion which did a similar time jump deal (but only around 20 years and they you know.. kept the same game system!) and totally changed how the story would proceed.

(If some of the reports I hear are true the Jihad and the results of it in the MWDA timeline is REALLY REALLY STUPID.)

But..  let's get on to what I have from MWDA instead of me just writing paragraphs trying not to be a complaining fanboy.

This was the starter set I bought even after getting the normal cheaper one.  I believe I got it at Toys R Us on a fun day myself and some friends basically goofed off all day and drove around the region buying stuff and having a good time.  It had exclusive minis in it?  How could I not?

 This picture here shows the original rule book and the information card showing those color blocks I mentioned above.  The colored dials are from the later expansion units and are infamous for basically killing the game, making artillery units the main game winner.  the ring is a click dial mover for the smaller pieces.  Bad enough in a measuring tape minis game having to pick up your model to turn the base, but the design made these ring turners almost essential!  The bad handwriting paper was my list of what I had whenever I wrote it and is long out of date.  The little plastic pilot card is from the revised edition of the game I mentioned.  The little file card was something used to give the game more fluff and backstory.  See certain mechs were piloted by named characters.  These little file cards had pilot info and mech info in them.  The colored dice at the bottom are the 2 of 1 color, 1 of another faction dice they released back in the day.  I was able to buy the Nova Cat and House Davion loyalist sets, and over the years I found those other two d6s.

Now the main part.  THE MINIS.  To make life easier for me and you the reader, I am gonna show you some mech models, going left to right.  To the best of my knowledge these are all versions of mechs that also exist in normal Battletech.  Go to Sarna net and PgDwn once and you will see links to all the mechs.  You can compare and contrast the Battletech design art to MWDA's for these.  Also note I used my photo editing (such as it is.  I so miss iPhoto on my Macs..) and its "autocorrect" feature which brightens things up.  Some of these models aren't quite so eyepopping in color vibrancy in real life.

 Black Hawk, Black Knight, Centurion, Firestarter

 Cougar, Griffin (Phoenix Refit), Hatchetman, Locust (Phoenix Refit)

 Mad Cat, Mad Cat 2, Marauder II (Phoenix Refit), Mongoose

 Osiris, Rifleman, Spider, Zeus, Vulture 
(Ooops put the last 2 in the wrong order.  V before Z.  Curse my alphabetical failure during photography!)

 And since I had almost forgotten the Catapult we will use it as a close up view of the detail and paint work.  I say they look really nice.  Not perfect but in general better than I could do.  And Wizkids' paint allowed one to easily paint right on top and customize if one wished.

(You can't do this with Wizards of the Coasts' collectible minis.  Paint slides right off of them.)

Yes purists may be mad many mechs have changed looks for whatever reason.  But the Mechwarrior computer games have modifications to the designs, and the two upcoming Free to Play online games both are revamping the looks of them as well, in most cases looking MUCH better than the original 80's designs.

(My Mecharrior Online Catapult.  A1 chassis with nothing but glorious missile bays.)

 And the rest of the mech minis I have from MWDA.  Sadly I don't have any of the Age of Destruction or later miniatures which included 3 legged designs, super heavies that go beyond 100 tons, and even some ridiculous Solaris mechs in silly colors, some of which may be piloted by zombie Mechwarriors.  I AM NOT JOKING THIS IS ACTUALLY A THING THEY RELEASED.

 Because I am lazy this is where all my tanks, helos, and infantry minis are.  Plus more stuff from Scrye (we will get to that.) as well.  I need another of these card boxes to comfortably fit all of it.

This here is a good 95% of my Clan Nova Cat loyalist mini collection.  Like most of my photos you can click to see them bigger.  I basically tried to collect one faction and I like the Nova Cats because they are kind of hippies.  And these models make grey and white WORK as a paint scheme.  Plus unlike most of Warhammer 40K's Space Marine chapters, their colors have some uses for terrain specific camo.

 Around this time they also released some Mechwarrior branded merchandise.  This here is a die cast model kit of the Mad Cat.  They call it the Mad Cat II but its the original classic Mad Cat design.

I am still not sure why I haven't assembled this.  I was planning on repainting it in some color scheme but for the life of me I cannot remember what.  I also never saw these for sale outside of the Internet.

 The back of the box gives us some basic stats of the mech proving its the original Mad Cat, a bit of fluff about the Dark Age setting, and pictures of the 4 mechs released in their pre built versions.  I always sort of intended to get the pre build Mad Cat at the various stores that carried them (including Gamestop IIRC) but they never went down in price.  They merely disappeared.  I would not have minded the Jupiter and Forestry Mod mech for cheap but the Legionnaire?  That is one ugly mech!

 The box has a nice little flap you can flip up and see some of the pieces including the pilot.  I am not sure why the flap shows the normal Battletech Atlas but.. there you go.

 They also released around 25 novels.  I seemed to have stopped with only a handful of them.  I did buy the hardback art book Technology of Destruction though.  And I still have a now out of business Scrye magazine with lots of MWDA in it.

 The art book is pretty nice and wasn't too expensive (unlike the current Battletech art book) though it is really just covering the MWDA era.  Plenty of nice CGI renders of the mechs too.  It even has a fold out map in the middle of that new faction that got control of the center of the Inner Sphere in it.  Which is terrifying to fold out.

 This is a nice picture showing what a big battle could look like.  The big Dropship in the top left corner?  It was actually a thing you could get.  I forget exactly what kind of hoops you had to jump and how ridiculously expensive it was, but you could have a to scale Dropship.  I still sort of want one, but I seriously doubt they are easy to find, or I could get it for under 50 bucks with shipping.

(However a LOT of the Wizkids big items like this can be gotten for a fraction of original price.  Horrorclix' Great Cthulhu, the Halo Scarab, the Mage Knight Castle..)

 And an example of the MWDA content from Scrye.  See it was a magazine that came out in the 90s mostly to capitalize on the Magic boom.  It was a gaming magazine and price guide but it only covered collectible games for the most part.  In some ways it was similar to the Wizard group family of magazines except it wasn't written with childish bathroom humor (even though that was the entire reason for reading Toyfare), and it didn't have the biases the Wizard publications all had in them.  (Their gaming magazine was called Inquest. )  Also my experiences were that people actually took Scrye's price guide as a general bible for collectible games.  Wizard Groups not so much.  

But like many enthusiast magazines the Internet killed them.  (And ebay made a laughing stock out of the Toyfare guide any how.  These days you want to know how much something is worth?  Just get an average of what something sells for there.  Or the average on Amazon.com.  Though the latter has some amazingly inflated prices that nobody seems to actually PAY..)

On the left side is an example of Scrye's price guide, while the ripped out pages (from another issue.  I never really kept Scrye issues.  I just ripped out the pages for the games I played.) on the right are a list of figure stats which would be handy for knowing what to buy and trade for.

While I have been a bit hard on MWDA here I honestly do kind of like the game.  The models are really nice and there are even free rules on the Battletech website (I have the original hardcopy of them) to use them in place of the normal scaled minis.

The problem is the fanbase outright revolted against the game or even using the models.  It didn't matter that BECAUSE of Wizkids and this game that the normal Battletech game was licensed out to Fanpro and then Catalyst.  To the kind of spergy fanboys that seem to flock to Battletech and take it all entirely too seriously this game was an abomination on all levels with no redeeming factors.

And that killed whatever chance it had beyond the Topps sale and closure of Wizkids.

Collectible games need active player communities and an influx of new product.  Battletech fans and Jordan Weisman's usual mistakes with games and game companies ensured this was not going to happen for any length of time.

(Next time, back to Battletech the original!  I have more stuff!  Plus that lovely MERCHANDISING.)

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