What I missed out at the time though was the 1980s and 1990s Battletech mech craze as I never did get into it. I was a big FASA fan of their Star Trek game, but not Battletech for some reason. Still, I was curious in a small way at the time but not enough to try it out.
The only time the mech thing intrigued me was the 1992 magazine cover for GDW's Challenge magazine. For some reason, it still resonates, maybe because I am a history buff and I love alternate Earth sci fi.
The next brush with mechs I had was when I rented the low-budget 1990s movie Robot Jox and saw in the movie theatres the more recent Pacific Rim, but that's about it.
Still, when my friend Jeff menthioned the recent game Heavy Steam by Greenbrier games, and the steam allocation mechanic, it triggered the same thing as the Challenge cover. I was intrigued and bought it.
I sat down today first with my friend Jeff and then Jim for about 8-9 hours of Mech (or as they call them in the game, Titans) combat.
The game combat has a curious blend of abstract concepts but detailed resource allocation mechanics. .
For example, you move within 1 to 6 bands or sectors toward the enemy,
and place terrain cards to simulate the different terrain you find within each sector, which seems kind of abstract.
On the other hand, there is great detail on the steam allocation in this game. You have to manage your steam pressure to do just about everything in your mech, from powering your feet to your weapons at just the right time. The steam has to move as there is no sci-fi technobabble about the warp core. Steam pressure is steam pressure.
In fact, I would say this resource allocation was the best part of the game. Jeff, Jim and I all enjoyed this aspect, as we scrambled to keep the steam moving, minimizing damage and keep our damn boiler from exploding.
When I was playing, I had images of the "black gang" as stokers were called, shoveling coal in the belly of the engine room, to keep Her Majesty's Titans going. Even during WW1 when most ships were fueled by coal, stokers and trimmers (people who kept the coal pile level to keep the ship from listing), had the worst and crappiest job around, in their hot dark hell shoveling tons a day to keep the ship going.
And so, I imagined the same in my giant mech cavorting around in the battlefield. I didn't read the fluff that came with the game and don't know by what sorcery the mechs are powered, but in my mind, it was the black gang shoveling coal.
But I digress.
Anyways, like I said, the steam management is taken seriously in this game. In fact, probably for the first time I've ever seen someone take the steam in steampunk so seriously in a game or setting. It isn't handled with hand-waving passes like the "ether" or "Martian liftwood."
And it's all managed on beautiful card stock that has a schematic of your mech.
You got to push white cubes to the right place and time, build up shields (blue cubes) and avoid black cubes (damage) and red cubes (overheating), while still carrying out a fight. All the while keeping an eye on your boiler pressure.. too much and you'll get damage.
When I both played with Jeff and then Jim, we just did the small light mechs and not the big heavy mechs, just to learn the mechanics. The minis themselves were not bad to look at.
The artwork on the cards was pleasing and very in-theme with all the classic steampunk hallmarks, complete with that British upper class feel, Prussian pickelhaubes and monocles, and of course, British red (they wore that stuff in the field back then, not just in their mess dress).
The game designers know the genre enough not to get too serious, as some of the names of the weapons and events indicate.
World domination, or a spot of tea, eh wot?
The rule book could have been a bit better. Jeff and I strugged the first couple of hours with it, flipping back and forth a lot, but eventually we got the hang of it when Jim showed up.
Jeff and I had a game and a half before he left, and it was okay only, mainly due to the learning curve. I think Jeff liked the game as well, as he was texting me afterward about rules clarifications so obviously it was still on his mind.
Jim and I had a great time now that my learning curve was over and truly, we were slugging it out with everything we got at the end, throwing in infantry, artillery and mobile guns..
We had to go back and back into the game pile to get the black damage cubes as we were damaging each other like crazy at the end. Like two boxers slugging it out in the center of the ring, we fought at night in the same sector, nobody retreating...
I hit Jim's main head, the command center several times and just need another shot or two to cripple him...
Jim was trying to do the same to my torso, and at the end was throwing everything he had, dangerously overheating his boiler..
|Jim's boiler was on overload to the extreme at the end..|
I took damage after damage in the center, with no power to my legs. I couldn't move, even if I wanted to in the end..
Anyways, Jim pushed his luck and eventually beat me to the punch... While I was Apollo Creed going for the head knockout, Jim was Rocky Balboa going for the body blows and won.
This was my first truly manage-a-Mech game and it was a great afternoon. Very enjoyable and exciting to the end. And we were just playing the small mechs with the default weapons after all. The large heavy mechs we had not yet tried.
Was this what all that Battletech craze was about?
Anyways, the steam management and the balanced game play did it for me. I suspect Jeff, Jim and I will definately have another round.