Product Review – TRO: 3085

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Official Business…

In December 3076, Devlin Stone marshaled the nations of the Inner Sphere and began the two-year final push to Terra was the bloodiest fighting seen in centuries. In the end, Terra had been freed with the Word of Blake scattered to the darkest corners of the universe. Stepping into that vacuum, Stone forged a new “Terran Hegemony” in The Republic of the Sphere. With the end of the Jihad, the survivors are rebuilding their shattered armies, introducing new machines to replace those whose factories ceased to exist in the fires of the Jihad.

BattleTech Technical Readout: 3085 gives a detailed look at the machines introduced during the waning days of the Jihad and into the founding days of Devlin Stone’s Republic of the Sphere. This book includes the latest ‘Mechs, battle armor, aerospace and vehicles as well as new late-Jihad support vehicles. In addition, this sourcebook heralds the long-awaited update of Technical Readout: Project Phoenix, featuring brand-new art and additional variants. Conventional infantry make their Technical Readout debut with fifty-six individual infantry formations from classic foot infantry to xeno-planetary soldiers. And finally, after more than twenty years of silence, Land-Air BattleMechs explode back into a Technical Readout with a look at the original four LAMs and their Star League history.

BattleTech's first taste of the Dark Age

The Low Down…

Arguably one of the better Technical Readouts published in the last ten years, TRO 3085 is the newest product published by Catalyst Game Labs and one of the most hotly debated and controversial books to hit the digital shelves.

Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of the TRO proper – a little background on the TRO 3085 and BattleTech controversy.

The controversy surrounding TRO 3085 has as much to do with the book’s content as it does with the BattleTech game line as a whole. Namely, the forthcoming Dark Age time and game line. See, way back in 2002 when FASA closed its doors, BattleTech founder and absentee father, Jordan Weisman was running this little company called WizKids. Now Jordan was a sneaky little bugger and he retained intellectual property rights to the BattleTech line and franchise. (I’m paraphrasing the background, but you get the picture.)

Well Mr. Weisman decides since FASA is marching off into the long night that he’ll create a future BattleTech timeline and game system to pick up where the older “Classic” version left off – specifically right before the (first game controversy) Word of Blake’s “Jihad.”Now the new game line would be placed in a familiar universe setting, but would be played an entirely different way. Gone was the Table Top BattleTech game of old. It was replaced with what is now affectionately known as “Clicky Tech” – effectively self contained playing pieces with rotating bottoms that contain important information, like damage, etc. When players rotate the piece bottoms, they “click” from one slot to the next.

While the Dark Age game was sure to enrage die hard BattleTech players, (the new game was specifically geared to a younger, simpler audience) the gross changes to the existing universe’s fictional setting was almost overwhelming. Some of BattleTech’s most iconic characters and factions from the last twenty years was swept aside by Wizkids. To make matters worse, the Dark Age’s timeline began five decades AFTER the original product line was supposed to have ended. “Historical” events in the Dark Age were little more than filler and barely covered the gap. For Classic BattleTech fans who watched FASA fold, the Dark Age universe looked like a major slap in the face.

Thankfully, however, the Classic BattleTech franchise was salvaged by Catalyst before disappearing into the dusty annals of sci-fi lore.

The new arrangement was the best “Classic” (now just regular) BattleTech fans could hope for: a resumption of the original fiction line with new products. While the Dark Age timeline was unavoidable – the old timeline would eventually catch up to the one set down in Dark Age game – fans would still have the benefit of reading and playing the fiction as it unfolded.

Plus and perhaps most importantly, the new Dark Age game would forgo “Clicky Tech” in favor of the original table top version.

So there you have it folks, a quick recap – the old BattleTech fiction will transition into the Dark Age through the Jihad, but be written and played in a style reminiscent of the original BattleTech game.

The Word of Blake Jihad

For BattleTech fans who cringe at the mere mention of the Word of Blake’s Jihad, they have good reason. The Jihad is CGL’s vessel for sweeping the existing BattleTech fictional universe away and replacing it with the Dark Age.

Fictionally, this basically entails killing and destroying just about everything and everyone, and I mean EVERYTHING. Judicious use of WMDs (especially nukes) wipes out a lot of the Inner Sphere’s manufacturing capabilities earned from the previous decades, while introducing a host of new equipment and designs.

On the plus side, the Jihad brings a plethora of new goodies to the gaming table, but at the expense of BattleTech’s carefully crafted and developed fictional universe from the past decade. If the line developers were looking to shake the lethargy out of BattleTech, the Jihad was certainly one way of doing it.

Along with the Hot Spots-series of books (which cover the fictional changes to the BattleTech universe) a new line of Technical Readouts have been published to provide reference for the new technologies and battlefield designs fighting on the frontlines of the Jihad. Whereas the XTRO series is drawn predominately from Jihad sources, TRO 3085 is the first real “bridge” product creating the final transition from the old BattleTech universe to the new Dark Age universe and as such, has been closely scrutinized by fans and developers alike.

As a fan of the original BattleTech for over fifteen years TRO 3085 was a major product. The success or failure of this Readout in the fan community would likely be a major determining factor in the continued success of the BattleTech franchise as it transitions into the Dark Age.

That said, here is what I found.

The Review

First off TRO 3085 is huge! It’s arguably the largest TRO ever published. Weighing in at a whopping 64 MB (on disk) and 300 pages long, the TRO is no slim fish. Beyond that, 3085 is also notable for showcasing for the first time entries covering specific Conventional Infantry types and the highly debated LAMs (Land-Air-‘Mechs) of the older game editions.

Personally, I think Joel Bancroft-Connors and crew did a bang up job on this book. Not only is it a great Technical Readout in its own right, but the design descriptions provide just enough information to make this book a viable transition product. While I didn’t enjoy all of the art work, (some of the pieces were somewhat monochromatic or silly – like the Clan Kuma and Parash – which looked like over sized Battle Armor) the TRO did showcase some new art and artists from the fan community. Artists like David White, which are household names in some fan circles, made his TRO debut with 3085.

Although there has been some grumbling about the designs themselves, most notably in weapons layout and type, I believe the new TRO will bring a renewed sense of balance to the game. True, it’s fun to wield some of the more powerful BattleMechs that have been canonized over the last decade or so, but those games tend to end rather quickly and without much sport. The newer designs found in TRO 3085, while flawed, should bring the game of BattleTech back to its Third Succession War roots and reinvigorate its more tactical aspects. While some of the game’s newer players may find an extra round or two of game play boring, most of BattleTech’s die hard fans won’t. That is assuming of course, they’re open minded enough to give the new TRO 3085 designs a try.

Another aspect of the book I thought was successfully executed was the re-imagining of the old Dark Age “Clicky Tech” designs into true BattleTech units. While a simple change in stats may have sufficed there’s no way a stat change would be good enough for the fan community, who despised the simplicity of the originals and were already iffy about the forthcoming Dark Age fiction line. While Catalyst painstakingly revamped the models, the new BattleTech “flavored” Dark Age designs were far from perfect, but fit nicely with the old table top game rules. Even Bancroft-Connors mentioned in his development blog that it is easier to build a perfect BattleMech than it is a flawed, yet still fun to play, machine. I couldn’t agree more and believe designs like the new Prefect and Dark Crow will become game staples.

TRO 3085 also highlighted another new “trend” in BattleTech: the eradication and removal of WarShips from the fictional universe. TRO 3085 highlights a number of new “Pocket WarShip” DropShip designs either manufactured during the Jihad or immediately after. Many of these new Droppers sport some of the new Sub-Capital weapons invented by Catalyst to help fill the gap created with the removal of most BattleTech’s fictional WarShips from game play.

Finally, the Conventional Infantry section offered BattleTech fans a first hand look at the plethora of conventional infantry types that populate the fictional universe. Although the text descriptions for some of these iconic types were sorely lacking due to size and word constraints imposed by publishing and cost, for the most part I thought the primer was surprisingly informative. Accompanied by stellar artwork and the infantry section turned out to be lovely icing on an otherwise delicious cake. I especially enjoyed the Word of Blake and Hell’s Horses entries, respectively. (Tau Zombies are tough SOBs!)

While the complaints have already started to roll into the company’s forum, for the most part fans are responding well to the new book, with most of the complaints revolving around typical new product gripes; punctuation, grammar, etc. Only a few have outright condemned the new TRO and those that have done so, have focused almost exclusively around the less powerful or optimized BattleMech designs.

My Final Word: Irregardless if you like the Dark Age or not, if you’re a fan of BattleTech then you should buy this product.

2 comments to “Product Review – TRO: 3085”

  1. Couple of things regarding the dark age.

    First officially the Word of Blake Jihad was in the early planning phase as far back as the early nineties, not something invented by wizkids to sweep aside and restart the franchise.

    Secondly, I do not think it is fair to say that old school fans universally hate or loathe the dark age. I have been a fan since 1990, and when Dark Age came out I was thrilled the franchise would continue in some fashion. the click tech group I played with in college were all old battletech fans that thought much the same.

    not to say the dark age timeline did not have it’s problems, nor that I would not have had some “I would rather” moments. a game set in the 1st or 2nd succession wars for example would have been a great opportunity, and with hindsight being what it is, an Age of War Era game would have been a perfect fit for the combined arms environment Dark Age lent itself to.

    Such is life though, the franchise is moving forward, new heroes will be made. in the meantime though this TRO is a must have.

  2. Good points JP. At the time this was written, I was under the impression that the Dark Age as it now exists wasn’t akin to the original incarnation.

    Thanks!

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