My suggestions on how to improve your gaming experience.
This article will present to you all of the things I do (and some I don't), so you can make an informed decision on what to use or not, possibly inspiring you to create your own solution. If you use most or all of these ideas for your gaming day, it should make it a stress-free day, outside of facing down your opponents’ assault lance that you didn't expect.
"Calculus" Made Easy
I joke to new players that you need "a Doctorate in Differential Calculus" to figure out the to-hit numbers. Then someone came up with this. The full article is here. I want to stress, this is a learning tool, not a crutch. Let new players use it, then start letting them figure it out on their own after 5-6 games.
While the Kickstarter battlemats are out right now, I decided to get the Stratagem 6' x 4' Open Field Grass Terrain Neoprene Tabletop Battlemat. This is a basic clear-field battlemat. I've played on it several times and it does well. My only complaint is the cardboard tube holding everything straight didn't hold up, so I took a hunk of 1" PVC pipe to keep the mat and case upright. As you can see, it's designed for Battletech bases. With the Wave 1 release of the CGL Kickstarter, they also have fantastic mats that you can buy on their website in various styles.
Record keeping/Shooting Aids
The absolute minimum you need to play Battletech is a marker or chip representing a unit, a sheet to record damage to it, a writing instrument to record the damage on said sheet, and a pair of 6 sided dice. Everything else beyond that enhances your experience.
We have already talked about miniatures, especially when they are painted. My son's unpainted miniatures were referred to by a friend and opponent as "Clan Chrome Pigeon" because they are unpainted and seemed to die very quickly in the last battle. A 3D miniature beats a cardstock cut out (check out the 1st edition BT box set) or a poker chip.
If you play a lot, and if you play big battles, you will go through record sheets like there is no tomorrow. If you have a set unit, a good idea is to use document protectors and wet-erase markers. You can laminate your sheets, but that can become very expensive and if you change models, you have to laminate new sheets. With document protectors you just swap sheets. Wet-erase markers won't smudge on the record sheets like a dry-erase marker will. And all it takes is a damp paper towel and a touch of elbow grease to clean a sheet off.
The section of the rules that gets the most slack as far as playing. The rules say "all units firing must declare its target and weapons shooting before anybody starts rolling dice." But most everyone I know lets that rule slide by the wayside. They pick a unit, declare who they are firing at, and roll the dice for that unit. Now, if you have say three units all meant to be concentrating their fire on one unit, and the first unit headcaps the target, the other two units shots should be wasted. The slack comes in when we allow these two other units to switch targets because they were firing after the first one killed the target unit.
So here are "Heat Management and Fire Declaration Chits." Print these out on your 3D printer (in different colors), then paint the letters and below is what you get. You won't use the secondary stick a lot, but it's nice to have when you do want to split fire. At the start of the fire phase, you place your Primary (and/or Secondary) targeting sticks in front of whomever you wish that unit to fire at. When all of the sticks are laid down, you grab all of the sticks in front of a unit and pick one at random to have that unit fire at that target. Rinse, wash and repeat until everyone has fired. If there are three or four shooters on one target, and the first one destroys the target, the unfired units mark off their ammo and calculate their heat for the weapons they were going to fire and you move on to the next target unit.
BUT WAIT! There's More! The identification clip (since the chits are numbered) also double as a heat scale marker. You slide it up and down and the hole in the tongue is your heat reading.
In the below example, the Centurion has both of his sticks out, targeting the Locust as the primary target and the Bushwacker as his secondary.
In the Battletech rules, the player who wins initiative gets to move first or second. The rules say, "If at any time the unmoved units of one player/team are double the unmoved units of the opposing player/team, two units must be moved." This leads to counting, mathing and several other boring adulting things that slows down game play. The gaming group I belong to uses this simple method: playing cards.
If there are two players/teams, you use the red and black cards. A card does not have to correspond to a particular unit, all you are doing is using the suit color to determine which team has the movement initiative. You put one card in the stack for each active unit for each team (Battle Armor riding on a Mech do not rate a card until the turn after they detach) and shuffle the stack at the start of every turn. If you have three or four teams, then you use the suits. As units are destroyed/leave the game, you take a card for that team out of the stack.
We like this for a couple of simple reasons: 1) it speeds up game play, 2) it frustrates everyone's timing and tactics. If the shuffle goes "bad" (i.e. not the way you want) the bulk of your units might move very early in the turn, or very late.
Rolling the hard six
Now I ask you, up until now, what have you done to remember how fast and far have you moved your units? It's no big deal if you're running two Mechs each, but if you are running a company sized battle, you can easily forget what each Mech did over the course of the turn.
The solution? Go to MrLaserShop on Etsy and get these dice.They go in and out of production, so check back regularly. White = walked, Black = run and Red = jumped. If gives the firing penalty of the unit for both shooting and being shot. No more looking at the movement chart every 8 seconds during the shooting phase!
If you didn't move at all, you don't get a die at all, but rather a coin or glass bead to represent that unit having activated.
Dice, dice, dice
There are two methods you can use when doing the actual rolling of the dice in the to-hit and location rolls. First is the "Box of Death." This is a clear multi-compartment container, usually used for storing fishing lures and supplies, or even beading or crafting supplies. You can pick them up from Wal-Mart very inexpensively. Here is a picture of my "BoD."
You put two dice in each location and if you need to make a large number of rolls, you shake the whole box and drop it on the table. You declare which pair is rolling for what before you shake it. For example, if you have a 3x5 box, you can roll three LRM's all at the same time. The first column is the to-hit, the next column is the cluster size and the last three rolls are the locations. There is a downside to this. It is as noisy as a 747 taking off. If you are the only one using a "BoD," you will annoy the other players very quickly.
A compromise is to have 4-5 different colored pairs of dice, and roll all of those at once on the table, not in a "BoD." You match the pairs together after the rolls and go from there. If you are firing three Medium Lasers, two Large Lasers and a Gauss Rifle, you would roll three pairs, then two pair, than the last pair for the Gauss Rifle.
A laser pointer is always a great investment. I got lucky finding this one that projects a flat line. If all you have is the dot kind, just put the pointer on the head of the shooting unit and see if you can paint the prospective target. Point it at the intervening terrain to see what the shot will go through.
I have now imparted to you all of the tools, tricks and implements I have learned to speed up and simplify gameplay. Go forth and be victorious!