In our latest review of BattleTech products, we here at OurBattleTech look over what is probably the last of the long format Jihad era sourcebooks – Total Chaos.
Total Chaos, the next major work of Origins Award winning author Ben Rome, as the products overall director, is a grand summation of the Jihad storyline, designed to provide players with the opportunity to fight their forces across the entire span of the conflict. Such a work has never been attempted in quite as broad a scope before, despite various scenario books of the past, including the two volume 4th Succession War packs.
Additional authorship is credited to Joel Bancroft-Connors, Philip A. Lee, Matt Murray, Christopher Purnell, Craig Reed, Joel Steverson, Geoff Swift, Andreas Zuber, Steven Lockley, Steven Savile and Keith Hann. Altogether, a large and well credited group of BattleTech authors.
Total Chaos is not just a set of adventures for ‘Mech Jockeys to use when stomping heads, it has far more depth and detail than that, providing mercenary unit briefs, planetary campaign notes, a little more on Interstellar Expeditions and some rules and rule aids that make the whole much more than a sum of its parts.
The most useful aspect of Total Chaos is that it allows a playing group to tailor a campaign to suit themselves, whether that be a couple of quick battles, a planetary campaign or a romp across the Jihad. This flexibility comes from the excellent Chaos Campaign Rules (reviewed here : http://www.scrapyardarmory.com/2011/11/26/chaos-reaving/).
Using the Chaos Campaign rules, you can do any of the following in order to fight which elements of the Jihad you wish:
- Play one generalized track;
- Play a one off specific track;
- Play a planetary mini-campaign, each of which uses both generalized and specific tracks;
- Fight a year of the Jihad on several worlds using their mini-campaigns; or
- Fight out the Jihad over each year using:
- Just Total Chaos; or
- Total Chaos and the Chaos Campaign tracks from the previous Jihad sourcebooks and the various Jihad Turning Point PDFs.
As you can see, the system, when anchored by a work such as this, allows playing groups to have massive flexibility, whilst still fighting in the canon environment. An excellent example of such a campaign fought during the Jihad can be viewed on the Hexare Grenadier page here: (http://www.ourbattletech.com/hexare/ ).
To give a little perspective, if a gaming group met twice a week, playing each of the 33 planetary campaigns in order and covering a single track each time they met, Total Chaos would keep them in play for 125 weeks. So, if you started today, you would not finish the campaign until the 28th of November 2014. Add in tracks from other Jihad books and we will catch up some time in 2015. I can’t think of a BattleTech book before Total Chaos with that much guaranteed table time.
This immense wealth of play time from one simple book, utilizing a core of general tracks and the planet specific tracks, allows for gaming groups to gain a great measure from this work, with little effort expended on their end.
One note, there have been a few cries of wolf on the BattleTech forums over the reuse of older material. In the words of Mr. Rome himself “It’s actually 37% reprinted content, and 63% new. (I know. I had to calculate it for Herb and Randall.)”
It is interesting to note that this is not even close to the first BattleTech book that has old material recycled. Technical Readouts often reuse text and many of the new Historicals, Era Reports and House Books do the same, with no one crying foul there.
Total Chaos follows the standard layout of the Jihad BattleTech products in their layout of the Chaos Tracks. The book, due to its nature, is a little tough to read end to end, but that is not really its purpose, as playing groups will likely read the front chapters, then jump to the tracks they are utilizing.
Total Chaos comes in at just over 241 pages, with its format making it seem much larger (if you go cover to cover) and much smaller (if you cherry pick). As a faction neutral book, despite the size, Total Chaos will be useful to any BattleTech gamer.
The cover art for Total Chaos, by Alex Iglesias is, in my humble opinion, the best seen in years, following the style of the recent offerings for the upcoming MechWarrior Online computer game. The art for MWO has been an excellent re-imaging of some of the classic BattleMechs of the universe, with the same feel given to Total Chaos an excellent move.
Total Chaos did not attempt any new ways of depicting the BattleTech Universe, sticking to the tried and true methods of previous sourcebooks, especially the lead created by The Wars of Reaving. Black and white art, courtesy of Alex Iglesias, Peter Johnston, Chris Lewis, Aaron Miller, Matt Plog, Rob Ruffolo, Florian Stitz and Alex Williamson adds detail.
Large panels separate out the years from one another and the new mercenary units have been treated to not only their insignia, but also bio-pics of their commanders, something rarely done for personas so low on the interstellar pecking order.
Layout and Editing
The Layout of Total Chaos broke no new ground, with the book following the style of the Chaos Campaign tracks from the Jihad books and other chapters following their own type standards. As with most BT sourcebooks, sidebars are used for additional detail, with those in Total Chaos used to provide information on each planetary campaign.
The rules and role playing section at the end again follow standard format, but are some of the briefest seen in such a book. Not being a big table top player, this did not bother me in the least, however, I have no doubt there will be some diehards out there calling for blood, but as they live in their parents’ basements, no one will hear them scream.
Having not gone over this product in complete detail, I cannot vouch for the number of typos, but the errata thread on the BattleTech Boards is not overflowing (yes I know that is review cheating), so in general it appears to have been a pretty good first offering.
When talking about the story for a book like Total Chaos, it is not so much a plot book, as it is a smorgasbord of potential battles, however, I’ll do my level best to provide a general overview.
Following the standard fiction an introduction to the book, the first chapter deals with the Chaos Campaign rules, ensuring that a gaming group knows what it is doing before getting into the chaos itself. Straight forward and not too long, this chapter is an elegant testimony to the efficiency of the Chaos Campaign system.
Enter Stage right is the next section, providing the mercenary force overviews of the three new mercenary commands that are the focus of Total Chaos. Gannon’s Cannons, Cumberland’s Missiliers and Grandin’s Crusaders. These three small units – much smaller than most mercenary unit’s given a background – allow a new player group to take the reigns of a ready made mercenary outfit and get straight into the Jihad.
One point of note that makes Total Chaos stand out is Gannon’s Cannons, created in honor of one of the BattleTech playtester’s sons, who had a very hard fight with childhood disease, but is thankfully on the road to recovery. The inclusion of a unit made in Gannon’s image adds a touching detail to the book.
The Chapter titled Missions, provides the detail for the generic tracks, which are used to bulk out each planetary campaign. These tracks are also very useful in creating quick stand alone games, or for using in creating the basis for a generic campaign, or for designing more specific tracks around.
Each of the following chapters, bar the last, deals with a year of the Jihad, from 3067 to 3081, covering both well known and lesser known conflicts from each of those years. The mix of big battles, with smaller and faster playing lesser campaigns, allows for real choice for a playing group when deciding which heads to kick and where. The planets provided in the book for campaigning on, each of which has a detailed description of the canon campaign fought there are: Outreach, New Avalon, Tharkad, Luthien, Skye, Dieron, Atreus, Algot, Pleione, Galedon/An Ting, Terra Firma, Zosma, Quentin, Kittery, Solaris VII, Donegal, Galatea, Benjamin, Sheratan, Gibson, Sian, Irian, New Hessen, Yorii, Halloran V, Marcus, Chara, Terra (Arrival, European, Asian, Southern, North American, Pacific and African Theatres), New Earth, New Home, Nanking and Luyten 68-28.
From the list above, you can clearly see that the scope for campaigning is varied enough to provide a gaming group with more options than they will likely know what to do with. When added to the tracks from the other jihad books, the game just goes on and on. More so, each world and theatre is given great treatment in examining its campaign, through both the side bar and the planetary specific mission tracks. These tracks also provide a little bit more on the three mercenary units included, fleshing them out that little bit more.
The final chapter deals with the campaign tracking sheet and how to use it, something very much needed when running campaigns of such length and breadth, However, the sheet and its use are, like the rest of the Chaos Campaign system, simple and easy to use. Also included are Random Assignment Tables for Mercenary/Militia, Word of Blake and Shadow Division forces and notes on how to use them.
As a last little bit of icing, record sheets for the AWS-10KM Cameron Awesome and the AS7-DH Delvin Atlas BattleMechs are included for your playing pleasure.
Overall Total Chaos provides the cap to the Jihad for players that Jihad: Final Reckoning provided the fluff junkies. Total Chaos is a table top players dream, with more battle material than has ever been laid down in one place before, and that when added to other Jihad tracks, provide for several years of gaming time for even the most active of groups.
For the price and long time playability of the product, Total Chaos has to be one of the best, if not the best, value for money BattleTech offerings for a long time. Though Total Chaos will see little use in my hands, being a committed fluff man of limited table top capacity, the general BattleTech community, of which I am a likely minority, will be using this volume long after the other Jihad books become little more than reference works as the universe ticks on.
Anyone who likes gaming in the Jihad timeline would be very well served by picking Total Chaos up, as they are missing out on too much good gaming to decide otherwise. Overall, this is easily the best table top aid since the core rulebooks came out.