Series Review: Jihad Field Reports
For some time now I have been tinkering with the idea of reviewing the new products of the BattleTech line. These new supplements, mostly PDF-only, delve into an array of unexplored facets of the BattleTech universe – areas or eras – that have otherwise been underdeveloped until now. So in light of these new additions I’d like to tackle one of Catalyst Game Labs’ latest offerings: the Jihad Field Reports series.
The introduction of the first BattleTech Field Manual, Field Manual: Draconis Combine, in 1996, ushered in a new era for the BattleTech universe by combining material presented in the original House Book series and expanded the text to include all of the new fictional material generated through the Clan Invasion and up to the FedCom Civil War. A bridge product, the original Field Manual series provided a clear and concise picture of the major factions of the BattleTech universe through this period while also detailing their military organization, doctrine, training, fleet and regiments.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the series was the fact that by and large the Field Manuals were single faction sourcebooks. Meaning, each product only covered a specific faction, or group. While single faction products are an efficient means of conveying a large amount of material focused on a single faction, BattleTech developers have noted this type of product sees limited sales. Interestingly enough, in what would become the standard format for future Field Manuals, the final pre-Word of Blake Jihad Field Manual released – aptly named Field Manual: Updates – was a multi-faction sourcebook.
With Field Manual: Updates the series saw its first major shift from the single faction focus of the original Field Manual series – which was a hyper-local view of a single faction – into an overview-type product that showcased a complete collection of factions in a more generic scope. Whereas the original Field Manuals provided entries for every regimental unit in a faction’s military, Field Manual: Updates offered a brigade-level account of regimental groups. This change in scope allowed Updates to cover and update the entire BattleTech universe just prior to the start of the Word of Blake Jihad story line.
Without providing too much extraneous detail, developing the Word of Blake Jihad saw a considerable number of massive universe changes taking place. With the sweeping fictional events rocking the BattleTech universe, and a range of new products to coincide, it was only natural that a number of “wrap up” supplements were needed to summarize this pivotal moment in BattleTech lore. In this regard, Catalyst Game Labs didn’t disappoint and released Field Manual: 3085 (Reviewed here: http://www.ourbattletech.com/2012/prodcuct-review-field-manual-3085), providing a great bookend to the Jihad.
It’s important to note however, that once again Field Manual: 3085 – correctly labeled as a setting sourcebook – was an overview product that provided only cursory detail for the universe’s existing factions. However, the developers also felt that the Jihad’s transformation of the Inner Sphere required more than a simple synopsis so that fan could better appreciate the era.
This new hyper-local niche was filled with the new Field Reports series. The new series would once again return a BattleTech supplement to the single faction layout, but in a much reduced scope. In essence, the new series is essentially an original-style Field Manual broken into its constituent parts, with less game rules and historical background. These, along with many other low-priced, good quality PDF-only items bestowed a fitting cap to end the Word of Blake Jihad.
The Field Reports are written from the perspective of the Republic of the Sphere, presented by David Lear to Devlin Stone in mid-to-late 3079. Each Field Report opens with a short letter from Dr. Lear outlining the threats and opportunities presented by each faction, or group of factions. This letter is followed by a small How To Use This Book section, which contains all the usual editorial information.
The current Jihad Era series is now complete, with the following titles:
Field Report: AFFS by Joel Bancroft-Connors;
Field Report: CCAF by Jason Schmetzer;
Field Report: Clans by Luke Robertson;
Field Report: DCMS by Ben H. Rome;
Field Report: FWLM by Nicholas Marsala;
Field Report: LAAF by Ken Horner; and
Field Report: Periphery by Geoff Swift.
Each report also has strategic assistance from Øystein Tvedten, who is responsible for tracking the many units and battles in the BattleTech universe, and provides mapping assistance to the writers.
The Field Reports are small offerings compared to typical full-print BattleTech sourcebooks. Being PDF-only products, the Field Reports range is size from nineteen to thirty-one pages in length, with the whole series averaging roughly twenty-four pages overall. If combined into a single Field Manual, the Field Reports would equal 177 pages in length. This is actually quite low for such a work, with Field Manual: Updates and Field Manual: 3085 hovering around 250 pages a piece. This brevity allows a faction-focused fan to read the report in a single session without having to wade through any other faction information.
For those BattleTech fans who want to own the entire series, the cost per report is only $4.95 USD. However, the series total equals $34.65 USD – which is more than some of the other full Field Manuals being offered, or an out-of-print scanned Field Manual from the original series (costing roughly $10.00-$11.00 USD). Despite the difference in price, the Field Reports are – apart from some line art – full color. This is something no print release Field Manual could ever hope to have, which makes up for their small size and higher overall total cost.
The art credits for the Field Report series goes to:
Cover Design and Layout: Ray Arrastia
Evolved Faction Logos Design: Jason Vargas
Maps: Øystein Tvedten
The art for the Field Reports is relatively simple, with each limited to a faction specific cover, the faction’s military logos, and a few recycled line drawings scattered throughout the text. These are typically coupled with recycled color plates that help break up text sections as required. While some fans might view the recycling of BattleTech art negatively it does help keep costs down, which is important for PDF-only products like these.
In my opinion, one of the best pieces of art included in each Field Report was the map. Field Report maps were a big draw for these little works, as they provided the full extent of each state and the locations of all forces within their individual borders visually – not just in the deployment table. However, as mentioned in many of my other reviews the use of super bright primary colors in the maps is a little jarring (I will note that the primary map found Field Manual: SLDF avoided this, but I have not reviewed that product yet). Since color usage is based on personal preference it won’t detract from my review, but is noted. Regardless, the Field Report maps are of high quality and an excellent resource for players.
Another real benefit of having these little PDF-only products, in addition to their full color layout, is the unit logo artwork. The black and white full scale Field Manuals are not able to provide the same faction feel as the Field Reports due to this. The improved aesthetics of the Field Reports is one of their stronger selling points.
Layout and Editing
The layout for the Field Reports is simple and straightforward, with each following the same format for conformity. Different color schemes are used to differentiate each Field Report faction, allowing for a faction flavor that is often lost in the artwork of black and white print products.
Each Field Report is broken into two major sections: the introduction/background area and the force listings. The usual deployment tables and rules sections are not contained in the Field Reports, as they are focused on the militaries’ post-jihad strength and little else. Again, saving on page length and cost.
The introduction/background begins with an overview of the current state of the military being addressed. Typically the goals and the state of the navy are usually addressed in this section as well. Prepare yourself though, as these introduction/background sections are nearly a universal grim read. It makes me wonder what the Field Reports detailing the First and Second Succession Wars would look like?
A summary of the nation’s logistical capabilities follows the introduction, which also takes a brief look at the faction’s existing training academies and command centers. This section is in turn followed by a brief summary of the surviving military industries. The industries section is also brief, as this subject is covered in more detail by the accompanying Objectives PDF-only series.
The remainder of each report is then devoted to an overview of each major brigade of the faction, summarizing its performance and losses over the course of the Jihad, as well as its current overall strength, loyalty and outlook.
Each surviving regiment is also detailed very briefly, with the usual stats (size, experience, loyalty, upgrade level and force strength). Individual faction fans should brace themselves during for this part of the report, as your favorite regiment has likely suffered greatly, along with many of its fellows.
The map of the realm at end the report neatly recaps the weakness most factions now face, as their remaining forces are now scattered across huge swathes of space with vast gaps along their borders.
Below is brief review of the Field Reports currently in-print:
Field Report: AFFS
Fans of the Federated Suns will be shaking their fists in anger at the state of the AFFS. With breakaway regions and many lost worlds, the once mighty Suns has fallen far since the end of the FedCom Civil War and Jihad. However, there is hope for the sword and the sunburst as the highly flexible AFFS adapts to new realities. An interesting restructure, one that combines the RCT philosophy with a reduction in war material, could provide the edge the Federated Suns needs to compete in a post-Jihad Inner Sphere.
Field Report: CCAF
Although the Confederation opted to fight the Jihad alone – if you don’t count the MAF assistance during the Jihad – it fared remarkably well for such a small nation. However, the CCAF Field Report highlighted the fact that the days of unchecked expansion are now a thing of the past, as the Republic of the Sphere and Federated Suns take the Confederation in hand. Still, with the fractured Free Worlds League right next-door, opportunities still exist for the once downtrodden Capellan state.
Field Report: Clans
Though the Jihad and the Wars of Reaving greatly altered the face of Kerensky’s Clans, this Field Report shows that while most clans are individually weak, as a whole they are still a formidable foe. However, with so much having changed for the Clans since the initial invasion of the Inner Sphere in 3050, this report does a good job illustrating the Inner Sphere’s first glimpse of the Clans after their great cultural war – changes that will take fifty years to finally shake out. As such, this Field Report covers only the Inner Sphere Clans.
Field Report: DCMS
The Combine, more than any other nation, bar the hapless Free Worlds League, took the Word of Blake Jihad in the teeth, and Field Report: DCMS shows that evidence in spades. However, not all is lost as the Combine often finds its greatest strength in adversity. House Kurita is pursuing new methods for recovery and the conversion to the old status quo may be the best thing to happen to the Combine in decades.
Field Report: FWLM
Calling this a Field Report for the FWLM is a bit of a misnomer, it should more accurately be named Field Report: Former FWLM. The Jihad was unkind to the Free Worlds League when it pulled it apart, but upon careful examination the now independent provinces are quite strong individually, with necessity making them so. With the future reunification of the League a known quantity, this strength will equate to a powerful union in the future.
Field Report: LAAF
The LAAF took a pounding in the FedCom Civil War and the Jihad, but has a surprising number of formations still operational. Lyran industry, always a powerful force, is doing what it does best. With no end in sight, and recovery likely to require some time, the Lyrans will be in their element for a while. Although the LAAF is re-Lyranizing after the end of the Federated Commonwealth Alliance, it now has the experience and doctrine to make it a powerful and dangerous foe.
Field Report: Periphery
Covering both the known near and deep Periphery powers, Field Report: Periphery shows the heavy hand of the Jihad was not kind to the outer reaches of humanity. Though some states, like the Magistracy of Canopus and the Outworlds Alliance seemed to prosper to a certain extent, others – notably the Taurian Concordat and Circinian worlds – suffered terribly. This dichotomy is a reflection of the larger events taking place in the Inner Sphere. However, each faction is rebuilding and recovering, with some in very interesting ways.
For less than $5.00 USD a player can read about the grim days of recovery for their favorite BattleTech faction – learning which of their beloved units survived – or start the inevitable process of finding a new unit to place their loyalty and affection. For those fans who just like the fluff, the Field Reports are a great way to fill the gap between Field Manual: Updates and Field Manual: 3085. Pure tabletop gamers will not get as much from the Field Reports as they lack new designs and rules. However, the series does supply a few options for scenario design. Role Players will also gain a fair amount of information; the Field Reports provide a clear picture of each state’s military capabilities and offer a solid base for many possible adventures.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with a Field Report – even if your preferred faction was just shellacked by the Toaster-loving Word of Blake. In fact, outside of missing a Field Report detailing the Republic of the Sphere I would recommend these PDF-only supplements individually – or the whole set – as they present excellent background material for the BattleTech universe in the early years of the post-Jihad era.