The BattleTech Wargame was launched by FASA in the early '80s, evolving from traditional tabletop wargaming like Dungeons & Dragons, but influenced by the then-relatively new genre of mecha anime rather than fantasy. At the most basic level, a BattleTech game featured two teams of four BattleMechs, each with their own unique arsenal of weaponry, defenses, and movement capabilities, which would proceed to beat each other into the ground across a terrain map. As the background fiction developed, scenarios were written to provide specific settings and rules to "recreate" the fictional battles of the 31st century, and expansions to the rules included conventional units, space combat, and large-scale warfare, bringing the game right back to its roots.
Two features make BattleTech's gameplay stand out from most other wargames. The first is that in each phase of a turn, players alternate movement or attack declarations with the winner of that turn's initiative always going last. Because damage is resolved after all attacks go off (nobody "shoots first"), and details of movement like facing and attack angles are key elements of gameplay, going first is almost always a disadvantage, since it requires acting with lesser knowledge of your opponent's moves than they have of yours. The second is that the game is based heavily around Subsystem Damage rather than Critical Existence Failure. Basic units don't simply have an "alive" and "dead" state, with perhaps a weakened state in between — rather, they have multiple sections, each with two sets of Hit Points and internal components that can be damaged once the outer armor is stripped away, impairing a 'Mech's fighting ability in a number of ways. A 'Mech can be effectively "destroyed" by several means other than sheer damage accumulation,note and a common optional rule forces 'Mechs to begin retreating after reaching certain internal or system damage thresholds, rather than fight to the death. This level of detail is why even a basic four-on-four skirmish can take hours to play out.
A large emphasis on the game is on customization. The game has literally hundreds of mech chassis, many with dozens of variants a piece, but players are encouraged to customize their units. A player might swap out his large engine for a smaller engine to exchange speed for more armor, or change a heavy autocannon to a particle cannon to increase range and reduce ammunition strain at the cost of overall firepower. There's also the choice of weapons, which are basically between ballistic (bullets and missiles) or energy weapons like lasers, with the pros and cons of each type affecting your playstyle — ballistics produce little heat, but you need to set aside room for ammo, as well as the fact you can run out of it; energy weapons use your power supply for "ammo" and are effectively infinite, but create large amounts of heat which your mech has to get rid of by waiting, or shortening that time with heat sinks or environmental assistance such as water (too much heat will make your mech shutdown, or even possibly explode). The basic game, with "Introductory level" tech rules, has a fairly small amount of selection in regards to equipment, but "Tournament," "Advanced," and "Experimental" tech greatly expand the equipment selection.
Unlike other wargames such as Warhammer 40,000, which require official minatures, BattleTech has very loose rules on what can be used to represent units; an index card on a stand with a stick-figure 'Mech could be used to represent your AS7-D Atlas, or you could buy official pewter or lead miniatures. The only real rules are that the representation should be both unique and consistent, and that it should have a clear way to determine which way it's facing.examples The game's quick-start rulebooks can be downloaded for free off of the official BattleTech website, even, including basic rules and the ability to print out a map and paper stand-ups of four 'Mechs, two variants each of a tank, hovercraft, BattleArmor and infantry platoons to wage a quick, easy-to-understand skirmish.
A fan-made, computer version of BattleTech, called MegaMek, allows the user to play the tabletop hex-based note game on the computer for free. Online play is available, as are AI controlled players.
Intermittent warfare between these states became chronic from 2398 until the 2550s. Early in this Age of War, the Terran Hegemony created Battlemechs, giant mechanical bipedal titans that would soon became the dominating force on the battlefields of the Inner Sphere.
During the mid-26th century, the Terran Hegemony formed the Star League, uniting all of the Inner Sphere in a single alliance, and humanity entered a Golden Age for two centuries. Then an Evil Chancellor killed the ruler and took power for himself. The Star League Defense Force (SLDF) turned on the usurper and defeated him, only for the other national leaders of the Star League to start fighting each other over the right to succeed to the throne. Disgusted and hoping to limit the coming war's devastation, General Aleksandr Kerensky of the SLDF took most of his army with humanity's best weaponry into unknown space, leaving the nobles to fight out their differences in devastating wars.
For three centuries, the five self-proclaimed Successor States note fought for dominance, while the Earth-based semi-religious organization known as ComStar, formed by the remains of Star League's Department of Communications, publicly remained neutral while secretly furthering their own agenda (having a monopoly on the only means of interstellar communications helped). During these three centuries of total war, humankind lost a considerable amount of knowledge, now called Lostech, in some ways blowing itself back into the Industrial Age. Only a discovery of the Star League Field Library Memory Core in 3028 arrested this slide.note
The intensity of the conflict and the resulting technological regression had also caused a stalemate between the Successor States. This was only broken in the 3020s when Houses Steiner and Davion merged to form the Federated Commonwealth, which proceeded to nearly destroy House Liao in the Fourth Succession War, as well as seize a lot of territory from House Kurita. The newly formed House Steiner-Davion seemed poised to eventually conquer the Inner Sphere but in the year 3050 a new enemy appeared.
After three centuries of exile, the descendants of the SLDF, now calling themselves "The Clans", launched a blitzkrieg invasion of the Inner Sphere. Inspired by the doctrines of Aleksandr Kerensky's son Nicholas and armed with advanced Battlemechs, weapons, and Battle Armor, their intent was to end the still-ongoing Succession Wars and reform the Star League by force. The two most prominent Clans of this invasion were Warden Clan Wolf, the direct successors of the Kerensky bloodline who felt that the Crusader Clans were using Kerensky's writings as an excuse to take over Inner Sphere and thus took part in the war to minimize damage, and the Crusader Clan Jade Falcon, who saw the Inner Sphere as their rightful domain torn apart by fake usurpers. The invasion was eventually halted by using the Clans' own rules against them; Clan leaders were challenged to combat, and upon losing, were forbidden from attacking the Inner Sphere for 15 years, but not before the Clans carved a huge chunk of territory out of the nearest Successor States,note and for the next several decades both the Inner Sphere and the Clans were busy dealing with the consequences.
Within the Clans, the Crusaders led by Clan Jade Falcon were pointing at Clan Wolf as a scapegoat, accusing their Khan, Ulric Kerensky, of a deliberate sabotage of the war effort, and were calling to break the 15 years truce and immediately restart the invasion. In return, Ulric initiated a Clan-scale Trial of Refusal in order to thwart Crusader ambitions, starting the Refusal War between the Wolves and the Falcons. The Wolves lost the war with Ulric killed by treachery, but not before crippling the Falcon's might, effectively rendering all their invasion plans moot.
Meanwhile in the Inner Sphere, the Clan threat convinced the previously stubborn leaders of the five Successor States to work together, and eventually create the Second Star League in 3058. In order to show the Clans that they meant business, they launched a large-scale military operation against the most aggressive and brutal of the Crusader clans, Clan Smoke Jaguar, retaking former Combine worlds and destroying the Clan entirely. Then the new SLDF headed for Strana Mechty, the birthplace of the Clans, and took part, and won, in the Great Refusal that would both practically and officially end the unified large-scale Clan Invasion.
After this the Federated Commonwealth fractured and triggered a civil war that would ravage its two member Successor States from 3062 to 3067. The conflict would also spill into the rest of the Inner Sphere and trigger more wars as the FedCom gains of the Fourth Succession War were gradually undone. When the fires finally died down the leaders of the Inner Sphere noticed that the Second Star League had effectively been powerless while its members mauled each other and the alliance was disbanded as a result in October 3067. The idea of the Star League was effectively discarded as an impractical ideal by everyone. Everyone, except one group.
Furious at the disbanding of the Second Star League, the Word of Blake, a powerful and very Church Militant splinter faction of ComStar, started a Jihad against the Inner Sphere. Deploying the heavily modified cyborg fanatics armed with the new Star League-derived technology, using WMDs and orbital bombardments outlawed by the Ares Conventions, creating chaos and confusion to fracture the already-unstable states even further, the Blakists were posed to recreate the Star League in their own image. After enduring several years of intense fighting, the factions of Inner Sphere, including the Clans, formed an alliance to defeat the Word of Blake, in the end nuking them to oblivion.
While the Inner Sphere was busy dealing with the Word of Blake, the Clans had their own problems. The Homeworld-based Clans back in the Kerensky Cluster and Pentagon Worlds were engaged in political infighting fueled by the failure of invasion, resource shortages and accusations that the Clans that had extensive contact with Inner Sphere were being "tainted by Inner Sphere's barbaric ways and were strayed from the true path of the Clans", which then after several proverbial sparks escalated into all-out wars and the rebellion of several Scientist Caste members of a secret cabal known as The Society. These conflicts, later known as The Wars of Reaving, ended with the complete annihilation or absorption of several Clans, many bloodname gene vaults destroyed or beyond salvage and the purging of many Clans' Scientist Castes. In the end, the Homeworld Clans and the Inner Sphere Clans abjured each other and cut off all communications.
From the ashes of Jihad, a man named Devlin Stone, one of the key figures in defeating the Word of Blake, revived the Terran Hegemony in the form of Republic of the Sphere. Stone's intent was to end the constant wars by creating a nation that threw out the old status quo by being a powerful buffer state in the middle of Inner Sphere, not unlike the Terran Hegemony during the Star League era. With the general exhaustion in the wake of Jihad that left no one who was able or interested in starting another large scale conflict (except the Capellans, but they were quickly humiliated), he succeeded.
Five decades of relative peace passed from 3081 to 3132 with a few minor wars, and then the political situation in the Republic and the relations with its neighbors reached breaking point after Stone's retirement. It was evident to all that one wrong event in the wrong time could shake the house of cards down. That event came on August 7 3132 in the form of the simultaneous shutdown (via a widespread computer virus plus a few military strikes) of the majority of hyperpulse generators in the Inner Sphere. Every faction was suddenly rendered nearly blind and deaf, without information, and swiftly rushed to either take advantage of the crisis or defend against its results. And while the older factions stayed relatively unified, the unconsolidated hotbed of different cultures that was the Republic splintered into many micro-factions. Most of these eventually either joined or were conquered by the Great Houses and the Clans, who came upon the weakened Republic like hungry vultures. Besieged from all sides, the desperate Republic activated the Fortress Republic system that prevented anyone from jumping into their core systems, often with fatal results, and abandoned the worlds outside the Wall to the conquerors. With all easy pickings taken and with dreams of empire, many Great Houses or Clans soon turned upon their neighbors, and this period saw the final destruction of ComStar when it was absorbed into Clan Sea Fox.
By the year 3150, the Inner Sphere was beginning to emerge from its so-called "Dark Age", but it emerged undoubtedly changed. As the Great Houses teetered between glory and collapse, the Clans who had settled in the Inner Sphere ascended, growing into powerful alliances and empires all their own. At the head of this change stands Alaric Ward, Khan of Clan Wolf and admirer of the legendary Aleksander Kerensky, who sets his sights on the Republic of the Sphere. With the aid of Clan Wolf's old rivals in Clan Jade Falcon, Alaric fulfilled the promise of the Clan Invasion from a century earlier, and reclaimed Terra. After one final duel with Malvina Hazen, Khan of Jade Falcon, Alaric was named ilKhan of the ilClan and First Lord of Star League, realizing his most cherished dream. Now all he has to do is keep it...
Expanded Universe:In many cases of the Expanded Universe, anything that does not directly contradict canon is considered canonical. The exceptions are noted as such.
- BattleTech - A cartoon focused on the exploits of Adam Steiner during the Clan invasion of 3050 as he leads a group to try to take back his home planet from the Clans. It only lasted one season, and occupies a unique niche in terms of canonicity: the animated series is considered in-universe propaganda, to make Adam Steiner look good. So the cartoon is essentially the cartoon being shown to kids in the Inner Sphere.
- BattleTech (2018) - A tactical turn-based combat game for PC, kickstarted by Harebrained Schemes (and thus often called "Harebrained Schemes' BattleTech", "HBS BattleTech" or a variant thereof to differentiate it from the TT game), with Jordan Weisman himself as one of the creative directors. It was released on April 24th, 2018.
- BattleTech Expanded Universe - The Expanded Universe contains the hundreds of novels, the animated series titled BattleTech - one of the few Western mech shows. This has existed almost as long as BattleTech has (the first novel was printed in 1986), and even in the franchise's quieter years never completely stopped being printed.
- MechAssault - A third-person mech action series for the original Xbox. While set in the BattleTech universe, it is a much more simple, fast paced action game compared to the Mechwarrior games. The games were released in 2002 and 2004. For various reasons, this is one of the few Expanded Universe materials that is considered completely non-canonical.
- MechCommander - A pair of real-time strategy games, where the player commands a lance of mechs against enemy mechs, fortifications, and tanks. The two games were released in 1998 and 2001, respectively.
- MechWarrior - A first-person, real-time mech combat simulator series for Windows PCs. MechWarrior is one of the most storied video game franchises of The '90s, and was a massive Gateway Series into the wider BattleTech universe for an entire generation of game players. The series had a number of releases between 1989 and 2002 before being sidelined by Microsoft, which at the time owned FASA Studio, seemingly ending the franchise at MechWarrior 4. Over the years, after an aborted attempt to revive the franchise in 2009, Piranha Games Interactive launched the free-to-play MechWarrior Online in 2012, and MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries in 2019.
There was also a Collectible Card Game. Produced in the mid 1990s by Wizards of the Coast, creators of Magic: The Gathering. Gameplay was similar to Magic as well. It was relatively successful, but has faded.
The game (and its various parent companies) have had a rather interesting set of legal troubles over the franchise's long life, see the Screwed By The Lawyers page for details.