Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Bit of Personal Commentary

Disclaimer: All of the points below made are mine, and mine alone. They don't represent anyone but me and I am writing this in response to a very good, if a bit testy point made on the CBT forums.

Hello all,

By now, you have read this missive on the Classic Battletech forums. And I wanted to respond here because I feel I have the freedom to do so in a more free-wheeling atmosphere, and frankly, some of what I may have to say is some very hard truths from my own perspective as a Battletech player of 32 years (God has it been that long?).

My first response to this missive is a short answer. "Yes, Classic Battletech is in trouble." There are also sorts of issues going on with the game. Some I am at liberty to talk about, some I am not. I will discuss the issues I can talk about, the ones I cannot, I won't, so don't ask.

But Jason, why is our beloved game in trouble? Well, there's a lot of reasons, some of which the OP in this post lays out in a fairly devastating manner. We don't have an entry level means for new fans to enter the world of Classic Battletech. Or, we do, but the Powers That Be (hereafter referred to as the PTB) will not give it the support it deserves IMHO. (Hint: It's the subject of this blog).

The game has become impenetrable, with the Total Warfare books consisting of 5 very heavy tomes, mostly full of rules most of us will never use. Worse, the editing of some of them is atrocious (and as a Tech Writer, I ought to know, books this size should be indexed. I have yet to see a CBT rulebook that has EVER had an index except for the old House Books in my memory, the rule books should have an index, at the minimum). The rules are becoming a series of tacked on additions with endless special cases and new rules. Advanced Squad Leader is more seamless these days. We're nearing, if not already at Star Fleet Battles levels of "rules for the sake of rules".

Second, the release schedule is becoming a lot of "wishful thinking". I am hearing a lot of promised products, but other than a lot of straight to PDF travelogues and unit profiles, what I am seeing is a whole lot of nothing. Now, as a small press publisher of my own stuff, I know it's hard putting together anything for market, and it takes time. But CGL is a lot bigger than me, and the Shadowrun stuff, for the most part, is coming out like an assembly line, what aren't you telling us, PTB? Is Battletech becoming what the industry calls a "loss leader"?

Next, the Jihad did a number on the game. Sorry, but it did. While sacred cows do make the best burger meat, it's not a good idea to screw too hard with people's nostalgia. Ask Hollywood, the endless remake cycle is making them less and less money every time because when they re-imagine something, they have seemed to do a good job of screwing it up. The Jihad and endless retcons have done similar to CBT. People are playing more and more in 3067 and earlier because they didn't like the shaft their faction got. Yes, Herb did say he was screwing everyone, but that just made everyone mad. Simply put, Davion fans have become the new Capellans. I am not saying factions don't deserve their own time in the sun, they do. But sometimes, the extent of the hatred the writers have had for some factions has been a bit..unappealing. (and I won't even mention how screwed over Clan fans have felt).

Battletech is a large, multi-faceted universe at war. Somewhere, in the Classic Battletech universe, someone is shooting at someone else. That by it's very nature, is a bit grim. But the focus has been and should always be, our big stompy 'Mechs. Now the Beta of the Battletech Manual is a bit hopeful, but it's an intermediate level book meant for lance on lance fights. And at the rate we are going? When is it going to see the light of day in a final version? I think I will have to be pleasantly surprised when I see it in a store.

In short, CBT is in trouble, but there are fixes. It's going to take some time, effort, and willingness to make some changes, and perhaps some retcons to the retcons, as much as that might cause some new angst.  But I don't personally see a another way out. But hey, this is only my opinion. I'd love to hear yours.

Please keep it civil, however.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Another of My Companies for Alpha Strike, Campbell's Company, Black's Battalion - 7th Crucis Lancers

Campbell’s Company, Black’s Battalion, 7th Crucis Lancers, ca. Civil War era.

Rivas’s Striker Lance
Leftenant Krystal Rivas, Skill 3, HSN-7D Hellspawn (Speed Demon SPA)
Staff Sergeant Guillermo Clark, Skill 1, CN9-D5 Centurion (Speed Demon SPA)
Sergeant Charlie Williams, Skill 3, ENF-5D Enforcer
Sergeant Jitika Rossi, Skill 4, VLK-QD Valkyrie (Speed Demon SPA)

Richard’s Assault Lance (Demoralize or Multi-Tasker SPA)
Leftenant Vilhemina Richard, Skill 1, NSR-9J Nightstar
Staff Sergeant Haley Bell, Skill 1, FLC-8R Falconer
Sergeant Braden Szabo, Skill 3, RFL-5D Rifleman
Sergeant Keeshawn Hogan, Skill 3, RFL-6D Rifleman

Campbell’s Command Lance
Captain Broderick Campbell, Skill 1, PPR-5S Salamander (Tactical Genius SPA)
Master Sergeant Anika Yilmaz, Skill 1, TLR-01B Templar
Sergeant Stephan Bell, Skill 1, SGT-8R Sagittaire (Marksman SPA)
Sergeant Moses Kennedy, Skill 1, PTR-4D Penetrator (Antagonizer SPA)

Total PV for the Company is 642 Points, A set of Alpha Strike cards for the company can be found here.

Bios of Company Mechwarriors

Leftenant Krystal Rivas: Every Company Commander in the Inner Sphere has at least one cross to bear. And, for Captain Cambell? Leftenant Rivas is his cross. She is a graduate of NAMA, class of ’61, and won’t let anyone forget it. The idle speculation around the battalion is that she graduated near the bottom of her class. Simply put, Rivas is incompetent as a leader, but a passible ‘Mechwarrior. There is a betting pool in some of the other companies in Black’s Battalion on when she finally leads her lance into an ambush, much to the chagrin of the rest of her lancemates. The worst part is, as bad of a leader as she is, she actually is cocky enough to think she is doing a good job and that she is the best ‘Mechwarrior in the Company. Neither, is of course, true. She is insufferable when she gets a ‘Mech kill, and the rest of her lance has been fortunate in that SSG Clark is a far better leader, and has proven to be competent enough to get the lance out of whatever trouble Leftenant Rivas gets them into. Her only virtues, thus far, is her utter loyalty to Victor’s cause and her calm nature under fire, even if she is making all the wrong decisions.

Noone can figure out where the attitude comes from, as her background is that of humble origins, her parents were tailors who owned their own small shop on Conroe. Krystal had barely qualified for a scholarship to NAMA, except for her excellent kinesthetic reactions. Captain Campbell is stuck for now, none of the other battalions want Leftenant Rivas, so all he can do is hope and pray she doesn’t get the whole lance killed before SSG Clark can take over.

Staff Sergeant Guillermo Clark: Staff Sergeant Clark has a real problem on his hands, his lance leader’s toxic leadership is threatening to tear apart the lance. He’s already defused several “plots” to “frag” Leftenant Rivas, and he is aware they’re stuck with her. He is hoping the Loyalists will solve the problem and kill her, but she seems to have the devil’s own luck in getting out of the situations she puts the lance in. SSG Clark is dreading when that luck runs out. It’s keeping him up at night, and contributing to a nasty case of insomnia.

For all the problems he has, SSG Clark is one of the best NCOs in the Battalion, and he realizes he is there to step in when Leftenant Rivas finally screws up so badly, she has to be relieved. At least, that’s what Captain Campbell has told him. Clark himself is from middle class origins, he grew up the son of middle class government bureaucrats on Exeter and from all accounts, was a studious and mild-mannered child, so it was a surprise when he applied for, and got into the Albion Military Academy in 3033, graduating with the class of ’37 in time for the ’39 War with the 2nd Crucis Lancers. He then spent his career with the Crucis Lancers, moving from one regiment to another. His wilder off-duty nature came out at the academy, and away from the company, he is a playboy and dedicated bachelor, but he is careful not to let that side of his life sully his military career. In a fight, he is a solid leader and even tempered. He is the rock that the lance always gathers around in a tough spot. It is this nature, plus his ability to always find fun when off duty on any planet that makes him a popular member of the company.

Sergeant Charlie Williams: Sergeant Williams is a ticking time bomb. Simply put, Charlie has become addicted to pain medication. He became addicted when a doctor overprescribed codeine to treat a recent sports injury. To make matters worse, Williams has only recently graduated to Oxycodone. It hasn’t affected his performance, either on the battlefield, or in his other duties, yet, but it is a matter of time before it does. He goes to great lengths to hide his addiction, because to him, being a ‘Mechwarrior is all he has, and all he ever wants to be.

Charlie came from an average middle-class upbringing on Zilang, his parents were moderately successful farmers and he was the youngest of four siblings. When Charlie graduated from Warrior’s Hall in 3052, he half expected an assignment with the Syrtis Fusiliers, but was instead assigned to the 7th Crucis, which was a happy surprise for Charlie, as he had never invested that much in the “hate the Capellans” mantra that pervaded Warrior’s Hall. He has been with the 7th ever since, and has served well, being a competent ‘Mechwarrior that has the potential to go far. He is an even-tempered fellow in a fight and a solid professional, but the slowly burgeoning addiction threatens all this.

Sergeant Jikita Rossi:  Sergeant Rossi is fresh from the Coventry Military Academy, Class of ’60. But she earned her slot as a ‘Mechwarrior for her conduct under fire as part of the Timbiqui Militia as an infantryman during a Marik raid in 3059. She won the Alliance Star, and a slot at Coventry when she came to the attention of Duke Bradford. The Duke, noting she was an orphan whom had grown up in an orphan’s home that was part of a network of such homes established by the Duke’s late wife. Her scores at the academy were stellar, and she graduated 2nd out of 357 that year. She turned down OCS, stating she preferred to be a humble mechwarrior, and instead asked for posting to the 7th Crucis Lancers, which struck many as an odd choice, but she has found a home with the 7th, and the Lance. She is a solid, even tempered ‘Mechwarrior, and though a bit na├»ve off-duty, often being shocked at the behavior of Staff Sergeant Clark, she is popular with just about everyone. She has even managed to make time for a family of her own, getting married in February 3062 to a fellow ‘Mechwarrior in the battalion. The marriage is a happy one, and has produced a baby girl, though securing child care on short notice can be troublesome, but she and her wife are doting parents.

Leftenant Vilhemina Richard:  Leftenant Richard is everything Leftenant Rivas is not. A graduate of the Sakahara Academy, Class of ’56, she is a careful, studious officer dedicated to improving herself as both a ‘Mechwarrior and an officer. She appreciates the trust Captain Capmbell has placed in her by putting her in charge of the Assault Lance and is determined to not let him down. This can occasionally make her a bit personally reckless under fire, (though she is a deadly shot, and that ability has gotten her out of more trouble than not) even if she is careful with the lives of the rest of her lance. It has gotten her lectured by Captain Campbell on “What is a dead Leftenant worth?”, but overall, she has proven to be a solid, competent leader of the Assault Lance.

Personally, Leftenant Richard is a bookworm, constantly studying the Clan enemy, and if she isn’t doing that, then she is studying the Lyran Stock market. She is a far-sighted woman, and realizes she cannot be a ‘Mechwarrior forever, so she might as well make some money for her retirement, and has made some very judicious and smart stock trades that have already made her a rich woman. So much so, she is often asked for financial advice by other members of the Battalion. It’s another reason she hates the “proto communist Clans”.

Staff Sergeant Haley Bell:  Staff Sergeant Bell is a competent, solid NCO who pairs well with his more reckless Lance Leader (and often finds himself trying to rein her in). He is a coarse, cigar chomping fellow whose nature hides a deep intellect, and an ability to spot an opportunity, both battlefield, or financial, and with careful assistance from Leftenant Richard, he too has become a very rich man. He and the Leftenant often joke they should open a brokerage house once their ‘Mechwarrior days are over. He likes to make money, the honest way, and it’s this ability that makes him love the Federated Commonwealth.

Staff Sergeant Bell hails from Liao in the Sarna March, and attended the Sarna Martial Academy, class of 45, last in a long line of Capellan ‘Mechwarriors steeped in the Lorix Order. That he was willing to become a FedCom ‘Mechwarrior has made no difference to his family, as it matters more someone is carrying on the Bell warrior line, than whom that line serves. Since the Capellan Confederation has retaken Liao, and most of his family, he worries he might one day have to kill a member of his family, he hopes not, but it is a worry in the back of his mind.

Sergeant Braden Szabo:  Sergeant Szabo is a competent ‘Mechwarrior in the field, level headed in a fight, and responds to orders quickly. In garrison? No so much. He falls for every sad story and get rich scheme imaginable, often to the consternation of Leftenant Richard and Staff Sergeant Bell. It’s gotten him the unflattering nickname of “Szabo the Sucker”. Szabo is a graduate of Bryceland Academy, class of ’58 and has been an otherwise competent warrior, who came up through the ranks after some rather conspicuous gallantry (that got him the Silver Sunburst) during a pirate raid as a tank crewman on Marlette. He then was assigned to the 7th Crucis on graduation at his request.

Szabo fights for his family back on Marlette. His father is a retired police officer, and his mother a school teacher who have been happily married 30 years, Szabo sends home a vid of every ‘Mech kill he gets so they can know what he does. (He edits them for the less than pleasant bits). Were he less gullible, Staff Sergeant Bell would consider him for an SNCO slot for another company, as it is, he doesn’t dare because he’s afraid of what his own men would do to him.

Sergeant Keeshawn Hogan: Sergeant Hogan is a quiet, meek fellow for a ‘Mechwarrior. Hidden under that quiet exterior is a burning, almost fanatical loyalty to Victor Steiner-Davion. He graduated in the middle of his class from Albion last year and he is a native of New Avalon. His parents were long serving veterans with the Davion Guards. They died with the 1st Davion Guards when they mutinied against Katherine’s rule. Hogan has a burning desire to avenge their deaths, as well as the round up and disappearance of his sister, who was also on New Avalon as a grade school teacher. He is a competent warrior, even if he never says much, even tempered in a fight, and a good man to have beside you.

Captain Broderick Campbell:  Captain Campbell is the product of the “fighting nobility” one often sees in the Federated Suns. He is the heir to the Dukedom of Markesan, or at least was before his parents were arrested due to their loyalty to Victor. It was enough that he is Victor’s man, through and through. He is a very skilled officer, and very good tactician, with his contagious optimism leading the company out of one tight spot or another when the situation required it. He is also calm and unflappable in a fight, often chiding his subordinates for screaming on the radio. He is a graduate of NAMA, class of ’45, and graduated with honors, soon attending OCS where he again, graduated with honors. He is fiercely proud that even with his noble birth, nobody in the AFFC ever gave him a damn thing. He earned it.

Captain Campbell is the rock, along with Master Sergeant Yilmaz, that the company depends on, and were Captain Campbell to die, it isn’t clear what would happen to the company.

Master Sergeant Anika Yilmaz: Master Sergeant Yilmaz has seen and done it all since 3039. She is a graduate of the War College of Goshen, class of ’37 and first saw action in the War of ’39 with the 33rd Avalon Hussars and survived the unit’s destruction at the hands of the Steel Vipers on Orkney in 3051. After a hospital stay, she was reassigned to the 7th Crucis Lancers, where she has remained. The experience has made her a bit reckless facing the Clans, especially the Steel Vipers, on some level, wishing to avenge the lost souls of her fellow warriors. Outside the cockpit, she is a woman of culture, and probably the only ‘Mechwarrior who has taken the time to take up a very expensive hobby, wine collecting. It’s this hobby that has made her eager to find the proverbial “pot of gold” salvage, so she can retire and be a bon vivant full time.

As a cultured person, she doesn’t resort to that old standby of SNCOs, profanity. That doesn’t mean she cannot professionally dress down anyone around, she can, and do so in rich English that would make any English professor at an Inner Sphere university weep with joy at the rich and proper use of English.

On the battlefield, she and Captain Campbell make a deadly team, often their plans and actions complement each other, without needing to say so much as a word to the other. It’s the intense training schedules both leaders insist upon that in this case, pays off in spades.

Sergeant Stephan Bell:  Sergeant Bell (no relation to Staff Sergeant Bell) is a rather odd bird, even by Company standards. His fickle nature is legendary, as he will often spend hours agonizing over the most trivial of non-military decisions, much to the consternation of all around him. That, coupled with his fanatical devotion to his New Avalon Catholic faith, make him an acquired taste. He isn’t pushy about his faith, but he is willing to talk when asked, much to the chagrin of the listener, but for the most part, he is private about his faith. But secretly, he is convinced the Clans are the agents of the antichrist, even if the Pope on New Avalon hasn’t said as much. He doesn’t think much of Katherine either, seeing her as someone who has “forsaken God”. Sergeant Bell is from Imbrai III, his parents are both university professors at the local college. He is reckless on the battlefield, seemingly ignoring incoming fire, which often miraculously doesn’t touch him (this is more to the fact that most pirates have bad aim and lousy training than anything else). It’s something that concerns Captain Campbell, as he worries the recklessness will only get worse the more the pirates miss.

Bell is a graduate of the Sakahara Academy, Class of ’50 and missed the Clan invasion, as he was doing duty with the 5th Crucis Lancers, but was soon reassigned to the 7th (His Company CO found him odd, and just wanted him out of there). In short, he is an odd, but solid ‘Mechwarrior, who is a deadly shot and a solid member of the Command Lance.

Sergeant Moses Kennedy: Sergeant Kennedy is, on paper, an above average ‘Mechwarrior from a minor Davion ‘Mechwarrior family. Yet somehow, he is still a disappointment and a blacksheep of the family. Perhaps it was a hedonist nature that came out during his days at the Robinson Battle Academy. Perhaps it was his actions since, multiple paternity suits, the fights in casinos and the plain personal mayhem he has left in his wake, he has been disowned long ago by his family, it doesn’t matter to Moses really, he made a pile of money in the Rochester Luxury Lotto and is using it as a nest egg for when his enlistment runs out in 3 years. You see, Moses never wanted to be in the military, Moses wanted to be a musician. The truth is, Moses is quite a good guitarist, and if given an opportunity, could probably make it big. But the fact is, his lifestyle would probably get him in a lot of trouble.

Kennedy is pretty lazy in garrison, but a tiger in a fight, often with the rest of the Command Lance having to wade in to get him out of whatever trouble he got himself into, whether it be off or on the battlefield. In short, he keeps the Company interesting, but it’s an “interesting” many in the company would rather do without.  

An aerial done shot of elements of Campbell's Company, ca. early 3065

Three quarters of the Command Lance, ca. 3065

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The first of my companies for Alpha Strike

As promised, I wanted to post this because I had promised I would. Hey, it was a fun company to build, and it has been a hoot to run as well. It turns out to be a well-balanced Battlemech Company, and I am considering adding Infantry and Vehicle assets to it as well to turn it into a Battalion Task Force, but what vehicles, that is an interesting question, perhaps you the reader might be of help?

Note: This was developed from an earlier article on my old blog, I changed a few things to bring it into line with the company as it exists now. I also want to give a shout out to Too Fat Lardies, their Platoon Forward supplement was very useful in generating the personalities of the 'Mechwarriors listed here.

IP and Picture are from Too Fat Lardies

Kilo Company, 3/1st Robinson Rangers RCT, ca. 3056

   Shelton's Sweep Lance
         Leftenant Mackenzie Shelton, Skill 2, Phoenix Hawk PXH-3D (Blood Stalker SPA)
         Staff Sergeant Galit Foster, Skill 3, Dart DRT-4S (Blood Stalker SPA)
         Sergeant Danica Kemeny, Skill 3, Battle Hawk B-H-K305 (Blood Stalker SPA)
         Sergeant Riku Ready, Skill 3, Commando COM-5S

    Ebner's Battle Lance (Lucky SPA for Lance, 6 point)
         Leftenant Thorben Ebner, Skill 3, Osprey OSP-15
         Staff Sergeant Tomi Filpek, Skill 3, Phoenix Hawk PXH-3S
         Sergeant Kaja Fairburn, Skill 4, Dervish DV-7D
         Sergeant Dominik Lis, Skill 4, Vindicator VND-1SIC

     Peak's Fire Lance (2 'Mechs may be designated as having Sniper SPA per turn)
         Hauptmann Jezebel Peak, Skill 3, Zeus ZEU-9S
         Leftenant Drysten Roche, Skill 3, Marauder MAD-5D
         Sergeant Major Alice Gibbs, Skill 4, Catapult CPLT-K2
         Staff Sergeant Fishel Baardsson, Skill 4, Quickdraw QKD-5M

The company, with skill costs, totaled out at 400 points according to the MUL. Alpha Strike Cards for the company can be found here.

Bios of Company Mechwarriors

Shelton’s Sweep Lance
Leftenant Mackenzie Shelton: Leftenant Shelton hails from Emporia, near Robinson in the Draconis March. Shelton grew up in a working class home, his mother and father both farmers, and knew little of the wars that racked the Successor States except for the occasional Combine deep raid. Shelton signed up with the AFFS as an infantryman in 3046, and served on the Clan front with the 5th Davion Guards, and was one of the few survivors of the debacle on La Grave, having a scarred face from an inferno round to prove it, along with a Fedcom Medal of Honor for leading the 12 men of his platoon through Jade Falcon lines to safety. He was a 21 year old PFC at the time. Shelton was selected for Battlemech training and attended a crash course at the Pandora College of Military Sciences until 3053, when he was selected for OCS after having graduated in the top 10% of his class. He was commissioned as a Leftenant in 3054 and was assigned to the 1st Robinson Rangers soon after to replace the previous lance commander who had died in a Steel Viper raid.

Shelton is a cautious fellow, he has seen the Clans up close and personal, and he knows their power. He won’t spend any lives or equipment he doesn’t have to, and he fights smart. He keeps up on the latest information on ‘Mech technology, as he is obsessed with closing the technological gap with the Clans, seeing that as the primary reason for their superiority on the battlefield. He is an average leader in the field, realizing he has a lot to learn from SSG Foster.

Staff Sergeant Galit Foster: SSG Foster has been with the 1st Robinson for most of her military career, and has seen lance commanders come and go. Her family held a minor patent of nobility on Robinson itself, though she was the second child, and thus, unlikely to inherit. She is a graduate of the Robinson Battle Academy, Class of ’29 and saw some action during the tail end of the 4th Succession War and again saw combat during the War of '39. SSG Foster has a bit of a temper and doesn’t hesitate to demonstrate it when she is displeased. She does realize she is getting older and would like to move up to an open NCO position at battalion or regimental headquarters, but realizes the competition is tough for those slots. (She doesn't know it, but Hauptmann Peak is ready to award her a field commission if the lance loses another Leftentant, she has done so well in the role of lance leader in the past). She is the lance’s “rock” in combat and is a very competent combat leader, having demonstrated it most recently during the last Steel Viper raid where the last lance commander was killed.

Sergeant Danica Kemeny: SGT Kemeny is a very optimistic person, who believes she is part of a great effort to stop the ravening advance of the “rapacious clan menace” or whatever the current line of FedCom propaganda is these days. Kemeny hails from Kentares IV, growing up in a middle class family, he mother a schoolteacher, and her father a hovercar salesman. It surprised her family when she joined the Conroe Training Battalion as a chance to “do her part”. (Her father blamed the constant lessons about the Kentares Massacre in school). She was assigned to the Clovis DMM for several years, seeing action against several Combine raids until 3053, when she asked for a transfer to the 1st Robinson on their eve of departure for the Clan front. It is a decision she has never regretted. For all of her optimism, she is a placid, even tempered mechwarrior in combat and has proven to be a very talented light ‘mech pilot.

Sergeant Riku Ready: SGT Ready hails from Gibbs and as a Steiner ‘mechwarrior, he cannot believe he was “unfortunate” enough to be stuck with these “Davion plebeians”. The only good thing about all this is that he gets to kill those “proto-communists from the Periphery” (ie: The Clans). He is in total agreement about the “Clan menace” needing to be stopped, but he is a bit cautious when it comes to him personally doing the stopping. Born to middle class parents, he left the import/export business to sign up with the LCAF in 3050 when the call went out to stop the Clans. By the time Ready was ready to go to war two years later, the invasion had ended, and there was a dilemma on what to do with him. Riku spent another two years cooling his heels with the 15th Lyran Regulars, chasing pirates who were fleeing the Jade Falcons. But things changed in 3053 as a number of Davion units needed replacements due to recent casualties, he was selected (some think it was because of the fact Ready kept pestering his last company commander for a transfer to a unit on the Clan front) and arrived at the 1st Ranger’s cantonment on Kooken’s Pleasure Pit on January 2nd, 3054.

He is not a popular person in the company, but he is skilled, if he would just stop dedicating kills to Katrina and Melissa Steiner like he was on Solaris, that might go a long way to helping him fit into the company.

Ebner’s Battle Lance
Leftenant Thorben Ebner: Leftenant Ebner is a recent product of the Pandora College of Military Science, class of 3050, and then was selected for OCS. Ebner has lost friends to the Clan invasion, and his signing up was a source of consternation to his middle class parents, who ran a successful tax attorney firm on Borghese.  To them, other people signed up, not him. But Leftenant Ebner had dreams of glory, nobility, and all that came with in his eyes. He has begun to see the truth behind the shiny medals now that he is in the real world, but he still has not lost that sense that somehow, he is the best thing that has happened to the 1st Robinson Rangers.  Happily for all concerned, he is actually a very good officer, so there is something to back up the boastful nature and he is careful with the lives of his men and women while in combat (though not always his own life). Who knows, perhaps one day, he might be Marshal Ebner? His lance knows that on some level, the boasts are covering up a raft of insecurities about his professional abilities, so they tolerate it for now.

It doesn’t help his attitude that Ebner’s wealthy parents paid top dollar to have a rare Star League Osprey refitted and assigned to him as his ‘Mech. The trouble is, the damn thing draws all kinds of fire from enraged clanners, and tends to be a source of not so minor irritation to the rest of the lance.

Staff Sergeant Tomi Filipek: Staff Sergeant Filipek comes from a long line of police officers on David. She was not interested in continuing the family tradition of walking a beat in the planetary capitol and wanted to see the stars. Her cheery disposition, along with a few favors, got her a slot with the Kilbourne Training Battalion, and she graduated with distinction in 3039, just in time for Hanse Davion’s abortive invasion of the Combine, where Tomi first saw action with the 17th Avalon Hussars on An Ting, and won the Silver Sunburst for her actions there, but she lost a lot of friends by the time it was all over, and requested a transfer to the 1st Robinson, which was granted as soon as the cease-fire went into effect. She served with the 1st and was seen as a cheery, steady and competent presence in Kilo Company. It was for this reason, that she was made SSG of the Battle Lance in 3050. She is a very skilled combat leader, and if Leftenant Ebner got himself killed in a bit of glory-seeking (which, thankfully for all concerned, hasn’t happened yet), SSG Filpek could fight the lance very easily.

Sergeant Kaja Fairborn: Sergeant Fairborn is from a middle class family on New Valencia, with her mother as a technical writer for a small tech firm, and her father is a firefighter. A graduate of the Conroe Training Battalion, she graduated in the middle of her class, her class ranking would be higher if she wasn’t such a discipline problem in barracks. Kaja is at heart, a hedonist, and that nature has gotten her into a measure of trouble during her time with the 1st Robinson, and has ensured that she will probably never get promoted. Lately, the seeming unstoppable nature of the Clans has convinced her that the end of the Inner Sphere is at hand, and the time to “eat, drink, and be merry” is at hand. She thinks she personally hasn’t got a chance, but intends to fight as long as she can to make sure the Clans don’t reach Davion space, but wonders if that will make much of a difference. Her mindset is similar to many a German soldier in 1945, feeling trapped between duty and the reality of the situation. But, the fact is, the Federated Commonwealth is far from beaten, but Fairborn cannot be convinced otherwise.

Sergeant Dominik Lis: Sergeant Lis has, to say the least, a very odd background. He was found on the doorstep as a baby on an orphanage on Conroe, with a note attached to his bassinet stating that his mother was the last of a minor Capellan ‘mechwarrior family that had been killed during the war with Canopus. He grew up an orphan, not realizing that there was a minor trust being held for him when he reached 16, not the least of which was a Vindicator battlemech.

When Dominik aged out of the orphanage, he took his ‘Mech, and his trust, and hired an instructor to teach him what he needed to know to compete for a slot at the Robinson Battle Academy. His persistence, and his story paid off, but it is a decision that haunted Lis. He was hazed very badly at the Academy, including an incident that left a web of scars on his right arm, and Lis a very shy, withdrawn man.

Lis is quietly very grateful to the Federated Commonwealth, and is willing to fight to the death for her, but he is cautious with his ‘Mech, believing that were he to become dispossessed, he would not get another one due to his parentage.

Peak’s Fire Lance
Hauptmann Jezebel Peak: Captain Peak is a study in contrast in ranks. She was born to a working class family of general laborers on Conroe. She enlisted in the AFFC in 3046 and became part of a Manticore crew assigned to the 33rd Avalon Hussars.  She was picked out as a natural leader, and her pragmatic nature made her a smart, level headed NCO when she was selected for a tank commander position with the 33rd Avalon Hussars.  Her baptism of fire was against the Wolves on Suk II and she was the only survivor of her tank, let alone her platoon. She was badly wounded, spending the rest of the Clan Invasion in a hospital bed. It is something that torments her to this day and she lives for the chance to revenge the spirits of her men and women on the Clans. She is convinced that if she was more aggressive, more willing to close with the Clans, that her men and women would be alive today. Once she returned to active duty, she was selected for ‘Mech training and OCS, graduating first in her class in both. Her pragmatic nature made her a solid officer, but she became reckless when presented with Clan opponents. But, due to a dearth of qualified officers, she was assigned as a lance commander to the 1st Robinson. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to command Kilo Company after the previous commander was killed in a hovercar accident.

Most of Captain Peak’s tactical solutions revolve around organizing an attack as soon as possible, but that approach can border on the reckless, and it is beginning to with Hauptmann Peak. She is on the whole, a competent leader, but the guilt she is trying to expunge, as well as the vengeance she seeks, may get her and more of her men and women killed.

Master Sergeant Fishel Baardsson: MSG Baardsson comes from an odd background of his own. His was a prominent Rasalhague military family that had served the Draconis Combine for centuries. They were also Jewish, and secretly members of the SPA. When they were finally found out in 3020, the ISF showed no mercy, and a Davion merchant who owed Fishel’s father a favor got the young man to a cousin on Coventry, who got Fishel to some distant relatives on Robinson. In 3027, grateful to the Federated Suns for taking him in, and having been part of a military family in two realms (the Davion end of the family was a minor military family of some renown), he managed to get a slot at the Sakhara Academy, where he graduated towards the top of his class.

Fishel was then posted to a series of March Militia units, before being assigned to the 1st Robinson in 3042, where he has remained ever since, being made Master Sergeant (and Kilo Company SNCO) in 3050, on the eve of the Clan Invasion. Fishel is also a devout Jew, and observes as much as he can, even when in the field. He sees the Clans as little more than misguided fools who have yet to discover God, but unlike Vorster with the Fox’s Teeth, doesn’t feel that he needs to make them aware of that, and thinks religion is about self-discovery. MSG Baardsson is a man of refined tastes, and often takes in whatever cultural events he can attend, duty and religious demands notwithstanding. 

He is one of the few married men in the Company, having met his wife 15 years ago while on Mallory’s World. She is back there with his two children, on his insistence. He is a competent leader as well, and is a believer in bold, violent action, but unlike the Hauptmann, knows when it is time to call it a day.

Sergeant Drystan Roche: Sergeant Roche is a native of Wyatt, and how he wound up with a Davion line unit is to him, one of the vagaries of life in the Inner Sphere. Born into a family that made its money in a wildly successful cosmetics line, Roche was planning on taking over the family business. When the AFFC came knocking with draft papers in 3050, it knocked Roche’s whole world asunder. Happily, Roche had been trained on the family ‘Mech, and had been able to pay for the mech to be upgraded to the MAD-3S standard, as well as the best private training..when Roche reported six months later, the AFFC happily posted him to the Pandora CMS to polish his skills, and then he was reassigned to the 1st Robinson in 3055 as a replacement for a casualty.

Roche is a liberal minded person, and thinks little of all kinds of lifestyle choices, even if he personally, isn’t inclined to try them. He thinks the Clans could use a little exposure to life in the Inner Sphere, and that would set them straight on a lot of issues, so far, few have been willing to listen. He is even headed in combat, and has been helping run the family business from his duty posting, sending a flurry of ideas monthly via HPG.

Sergeant Alice Gibbs: Sergeant Gibbs is an old hand who is happy being a mechwarrior and nothing else. She likes only being responsible for herself and her aggressive nature suits her very well, even though her nature in combat is far more even handed. Her main problem is her hedonistic nature, which has gotten her in as much trouble as Sergeant Fairburn, they are often seen drinking and carousing together, even if Gibbs cannot always stand Fairburn’s gloomy nature when she is really drunk. Gibbs is level headed in combat, having a knack for being where she is needed. Gibbs has been shunted from unit to unit in her 25 year career with both the AFFS and AFFC, her homeworld of Layover being a memory, as she has not returned since she joined the Kilbourne Training Battalion in 3035. She says little about her family, except to say that they “got in the way of her fun”.

Her ‘Mech, a captured Kurita Catapult (K2 model) is the oldest ‘Mech in the unit, and no one has made any offers to upgrade Gibbs ride, figuring the Clans will either kill her off, or she will finally retire.

Some Photos

Kilo Company, 3/1st Robinson Rangers on Exercise, ca.  9 August, 3056, seen here are elements of the Sweep and Fire Lances

Kilo Company, 3/1st Robinson Rangers on Exercise, ca.  9 August, 3056, seen here are elements of the Battle, Sweep and Fire Lances

Kilo Company, 3/1st Robinson Rangers on Exercise, ca.  9 August, 3056, seen here are elements of the Battle and Sweep Lances.

Custom Alpha Strike Mechs, Part 3

This is the last of my article series on custom designs for Alpha Strike. It's been fun doing this, and sharing them with you, my readers.

Some of these are again, refits that occurred to me that make a bit of sense and in one case, I actually made a miniatures conversion for it (and boy, was it a lot of work). One was an also ran in a CBT.com forum contest, that actually I think is a solid 'Mech design.

So, without further ado, let's get started.

HBK-6S Hunchback

Come on, who doesn't have their Hunchback HGR refit? Well, this one is mine. The medium range, of course, isn't bad. the others well, don't try to fight this thing at long range IMO. Speed is meh, armor is decent, but nothing to write home about. Basically, this gets an HGR into the fight and keeps it there for a bit.

HBK-7M Hunchback

Ok, this was an idea I am surprised nobody came up with. A serious (not fanciful) attempt to increase the engagement range of the Hunchback. (Gauss Rifles are nice, but nah, not my idea of a serious idea for the Hunchback, congrats, you just created the world's slowest Hollander). So, I removed the AC/20, and replaced it with an Ultra AC/10. More range, and yeah, both shells MIGHT hit? Is it a perfect solution? No. but it beats having the jerk with a PPC (most Capellan designs) dance out of range of your guns while he picks you apart. Now you have a surprise for him. A lance of these things would be real fun to see, damage is respectable, but not awesome at Medium and Long range, which is what it's intended to do. Armor is again, meh. So is speed. You use the 'Mech inside it's role, and you'll do alright. 

HCT-8S Hatchetman

An all-energy Hatchetman with TSM, and it's faster to boot. Yeah, I am also surprised nobody came up with this sooner either.  It's initial damage curve is low, but the Overheat makes it brutal. The speed is nice, and with a 10"j move, there is not a lot of places you cannot get on the table. Armor is decent, but structure is weak (my darn XL engine fetish again). In short, this 'Mech is a striker, it gets into trouble, hits fast, and then runs like hell before the weight of fire comes down. It also does well as a Skirmisher, probing the enemy line to find out where it is.

LND-1R Landschenkt

The Landsheckt is an affordable 'Mech for mercenaries, but with new tech. Entries were capped in the proposal for the contest at 7.5 million C-Bills, and I think I came in around 5.5 or so. It was reasonably fast, based on a Thunderbolt Chassis, but strengthened, and had a Gauss Rifle, a brace of lasers and machine guns (hey, counter-insurgency contracts come and go, right?) and had decent armor.

It came in as an honorable mention, and I was happy with that. I still think it's a viable design for merc outfits, or some of the more wealthy militias out there. Speed is meh, but the damage curve is pretty decent. It does a skirmish role well, and can stand in the line pretty well too. It's armor is good, and will take punishment for a while, and if it gets close, it's going to hurt with both the weapons, and the hatchet. In short, this thing is a fairly decent design for the intended role.

NSR-9D Nightstar

This is my idea of an emergency variant for the Victor forces and other customers for the Nightstar during the Civil War era. A shortage of Gauss Rifles could lead to an emergency variant mounting RAC/5s instead. I can see this thing being real popular after, though it has some flaws, namely, ammo limits, but RACs have always done well by me. At least, they have in CBT.

The 'Mech loses some of that granularity in Alpha Strike, but it is still a beast, especially if it Overheats. Close and Medium range firepower is just plain scary, it moves well, for an Assault, especially when it jumps. It may not have the twin Gauss to hold enemies at bay, but pair this with some plain vanilla Nightstars, or some other Assaults with LRMs or Gauss, and this thing is going to put some hurt out there.  Armor is quite a bit, so you can stay in close for a while, but once it's penetrated, it's time to go, as the structure is a bit thin.

I did a miniature conversion for this thing, but inexplicably, I did not take any pictures of either one I worked on? Good thing I still have one, eh?

Friday, April 7, 2017

More Custom Designs for Alpha Strike, Part 2

So, here we are again with some more custom designs, I really used to churn them out in my youth, and one we're going to see here is an oldie, but a goodie. It's killed a lot of Clan 'Mechs since my Junior High days when I first unleashed this monster.

The rest are more refits, ideas that popped up here and there, and a 'Mech I designed during a really dark night. Who says looking into the abyss can't have it's inspiration?

So, without further ado?

DCR-7/8/9/10D Destructor

I designed the Destructor to respond to some of the issues I was having in CBT at the time (Junior High). I was tired of folks in light mechs getting behind my heavier stuff with impunity, and when I read the rules about arm flips..I got inspired. Very inspired. I also had, at the time, been reading a lot about WW-I Battleship and Battlecruiser design, and it has influenced my ideas on 'Mech design to this day, where I tend to group my weapons into range brackets, one bracket for long range, one for medium, and one for short, with Alphas only for emergencies. 

I must say, it worked pretty well, the Destructor, in an early field test, killed a Dasher that tried to get behind it on the left side..right where the Gauss Rifle flipped around and caught it in the face. 15 points to a Dasher's leg is enough to pretty much put it out of action.

It also went nuts and melted a Mad Cat's center torso with it's bevy of Medium Pulse Lasers. Yeah, it was a monster, but a hot running one. You really had to watch the heat with the Destructor, but it delivered on the mayhem quotient, if you understood how to use her. 

In Alpha Strike, she is a well armored beast, though not much structure (I had a thing for XL engines in Junior High/High School). Her range numbers are to be honest, a bit surprising to me, but the overheat of 3 doesn't. If it wants to go wild, it sure can, but it will pay for it.

I have upgraded the design over the years, the 8D was an attempt to increase some speed and lethality at close range. It worked, to a point, and the overheat goes down to 2. It's still a beast of a design, in my opinion. The increased speed is a plus, but like most assault mechs, it should stay close to it's lancemates.

The main change I made with the 9D was replacing the Gauss Rifle with an Ultra AC/20 and the SRM-6 with an SRM-4 Streak. It made the 'Mech an absolute beast at close range, but hurt the long range potential. Thus, the 9D is like a lot of Assault 'Mechs, it needs to be close to do most of the hurt it's capable of. The Overheat of 4 is very high, probably the highest I have ever seen it on an Alpha Strike card. Yeah, the 9D could be frightening at close range. But with it's movement, it has to get there.

The 10D was a hybrid of the 8 and 9D, but the Gauss Rifle was replaced by a RAC/5 and a Targeting Computer. All the lasers became standard versions, and yeah, the numbers were not at all changed from the 9D. 

All in all, properly used, the Destructor is a beast of a 'Mech. But that hinges on the concept of "properly used". Improperly used, the 'Mech will easily shut down and become a paperweight. Judicious use of the overheat rule, however, will make a lot of threats go away.


This 'Mech was designed to answer the question of "what the heck do the Clans use for training 'Mechs?" So, I designed this. As it turns out, it's a solid 40 ton design with one of each basic type of weapons system in CBT: Projectile, Short and Long Range Missile, and Energy. It's not the most mobile 45 tonner in the world, but it can jump, and the weapons systems are all tried and true. In fact, some of the lesser clans probably issue the mech to some of their Solahma clusters.

So how does she translate into Alpha Strike? As you can see, pretty respectably, decent armor, and structure, good turn of speed, and decent damage at all rangebands. It's TMM is a bit low for it's type, but hey, it's a training 'Mech, right?


The Totenvogel (Death Bird) has been one of those designs that came unbidden during a night I'd kinda rather forget. Sometimes, it's not always the light that inspires us. And this thing, well, it's the Aramis answer to the Stuka.  She was designed to deal primarily with non-Mech forces in an urban environment. You can imagine what uses Aramis put her to. I guess I should not have been surprised, but the Totenvogel seemed to have a bit of a following on the internet at one point, and it was fun to write the fluff, from a dark point of view, but we're not here for any of that.

We're here to see how this thing translates into Alpha Strike.

The TG-1V model translates pretty much as it should, it's a 55 ton 'Mech optimized for urban combat, good turn of speed, and it jumps. Armor is meh, but what do you expect? She can put out decent, but not great firepower at close range, and even can do some damage at long range.

The TG-2V model was a field modification done by Aramis 'Mechwarriors who felt they needed more anti-Mech firepower from the design. It increased the medium range firepower a bit, but other than that, it's really not that much different from the 1A.

Well, that is it for today, see you next time!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Some Custom Designs for Alpha Strike, Part 1

As we all know, name a CBT player who doesn't have a custom design, or 20 sitting around in a folder, or a hard drive somewhere. Maybe about half of them have actually been played with, but hey, what the heck, right, it's fun just to develop the things!

One thing about Alpha Strike is that it granulates the Record Sheets into small cards, and yes, some of the more nuanced features of our designs tend to get lost, but let's face it, it's a great way to get a veritable horde of your designs onto the table!

So yeah, I love the CBT Conversion rules in the Alpha Strike Compendium and love to make use of them. I will admit that my point numbers may be off, but they don't seem off when I compare them to other units in their weight class.

All in all, it's more fun 'Mechs to play with and fold, spindle, and mutilate.

So, without further ado:

ARC-3K Archer

The ARC-3K Archer was designed as basically a SLEP for older Combine Archers in militia units, it's got a pair of MRM-30s and some lasers for backup. I didn't think of this thing as much more of a spew a few missiles, then wade in and beat the snot out of whatever got hurt badly enough by said missile spam.

In Alpha Strike, the MRMs cost it a long-range capability, but with 4 damage at close and medium range, it's a contender in it's weight class. It's got an Overheat of 2 if it needs it, which means potentially, in close, it could be really nasty, though with a Speed of only 8, it's going to have quite the time getting there. Armor and Structure are, meh, but what do you expect? And it has some rear protection, so it won't be totally helpless if outflanked, but best it stays close to it's lancemates with it's speed and TMM.

BNC-3E Banshee Pirate

Ok, this thing was in response to a contest on Scrapyard Armory, design the meanest Banshee refit you can for a bandit king who had been a Merc on the Clan Front..or at least that's how I remember the RFP. Well, ok, so I managed to put a hatchet, a pair of LRM-10s and a Large Laser, along with some medium pulses in the thing...and downgraded the engine, while adding some jump jets, and the armor is pretty scary. And yeah, I did win that contest...

So how did I do? With a 2 damage at Long Range, and 5 at Medium and Close? Yikes. It's got CASE, so the ammo explosions aren't a factor. Not to mention the Hatchet means a longer melee range. It's move, even with the jump, is still only 6, but hey, you can at least get over a ton of obstacles.  And the armor..what is not to like about the armor, right? Considering this was in the hands of a 2 pilot in the scenario pack? Yeah, bad news.

CRB-29/30 Crab

This version of the venerable Crab was in my mind, the Combine's early response to the Clan Ryoken. The original Crab was in many cases, undergunned, and too slow to deal with the favored medium OmniMech of the Smoke Jaguars. So, while the Crab is in many ways, a tight design, it's not one that doesn't have SOME room for improvement.

I made the engine XL, and then replaced the Large Lasers with ER PPCs. I then added a few heat sinks and made the 'Mech a 6/9. It's probably more vulnerable than a stock Crab, but it can move as fast as a Ryoken, and it may not have her firepower, but it's able to choose the time and place of the engagement at least.

So, for Alpha Strike,  my thoughts bore out, her firepower is 3 in close and at medium range, with a 2 at long, respectable for her weight class, but it probably won't bring down a Ryoken. She can move respectably at 12, but there are faster in her weight class. She is an energy boat, so no ammo worries, and she doesn't have overheat, which has good and bad points. But, she does have some possibilities, just so long as you realize the armor is meh, and the structure is flimsy. Don't get her into any trouble you cannot get out of just as fast.

The 30K was a slight improvement, I added TSM, which improved the speed, and somehow found room for jump jets. That kind of mobility could potentially cause even some Clan Light 'Mech designs some real trouble, and the 30K has real potential as a Striker, as well as a Skirmisher.  But, she loses a little of her firepower to make room for all this. There are better armed Light 'Mech designs in my opinion.

EPR-22/23 Epee

The Epee was in the vein of the Draconis 'March's creation of the Sentry and the Watchman. Both designs were meant to be a SLEP (Service Life Extention Program) for captured Combine Panthers in DMM and planetary militia units. Robinson Battleworks took some 200 captured Panthers in hand, replaced the engine with an XL, replaced the PPC with an ER Large Laser, and improved the armor coverage.

So, how did it all play out? Well, she is faster than the average Panther. Probably equal in the armor and firepower department,  but the speed will matter in an engagement with any model of Panther. She still has the SRMs, and all in all, she is a decent Panther upgrade. She even has some sting at long range and decent firepower up close. The armor and structure is a bit fragile, but for a light mech, it's not too bad.

The 23 is meant as an upgrade for frontline units in the Draconis March that have captured Panthers, like the Robinson Rangers, and the New Ivaarsen Chasseurs. The 23 has a little less firepower, but an all energy loadout, and with ECM, can do her share to disrupt those Combine C3 networks. 

Introduction, and why this blog?

Picture taken from Boardgame Geek, IP is Catalyst Game Productions
A lot of Battletech (hereafter referred to as CBT) blogs out there seem to cater, rightly or wrongly, to the classic Battletech game. And there is nothing wrong with that. I personally rather play Alpha Strike for a variety of reasons:

  • I don't have the time to play that I used to, and I am sick and tired of leaving CBT games unresolved.
  • I like skirmish games (which is what CBT is supposed to be), but I also like the sweep of Alpha Strike's  larger scale operational (company to battalion level) potential. One of my interests in military history is "how do armies see how to fight a war", there are quite a few differences throughout history, and it's constantly evolving.
  • Integrating combined arms is actually easier than CBT, and you see the effects far more readily in Alpha Strike, than you do in CBT, in my opinion.
Image taken from Classic Battletech Page, IP is Catalyst Games
Another good reason is the Alpha Strike Compendium, you can add new units from CBT, including customs, you can make new companies, you can do it all, without the weighty tomes of the Total Warfare series.

So for all of those reasons, I can handle being called a "Battletech heretic". 

But yeah, Alpha Strike also has a lot going for it because the new faction books that are out detail a part of battletech history that actually didn't get much information from the Inner Sphere side, and that is a detailed look at the various Inner Sphere militaries on the eve of the Clan invasion. We knew the OOBs (Orders of Battle) and locations, but we didn't know much about the units at the time, especially the units that died under the guns of the Clans.

Two such books are out now, Combat Manual: Mercenaries, and Combat Manual: Kurita, with more slated to come.

Image taken from Catalyst Tumbler Page, IP is Catalyst Games
Image taken from DrivetrhuRPG, IP is Catalyst Games
The truth is, I can do a lot more with Alpha Strike than I ever could with CBT, and I haven’t even used most of the special rules for pilots and units and all that. Will I? Depends on if it slows down the game appreciably. If so, then no way in hell. I like my precious speed, and I will be ruthless in maintaining it.

I am also happy to see the lance packs that are out now, they are a really cheap and easy way to build one’s Battletech army up right quick. And, they are a hoot to paint up. I have a ton of lead figures anyhow, but what the heck right?

And considering I already painted up a number of companies for CBT already (They’re Civil War era, but how hard is it to paint up some substitutes and slot them in for an “earlier time”?), it benefits my style of painting quite well. And, the best part is? It’s got me painting more companies. I finished a Robinson Ranger company ca. 3054 a few months ago, and it’s already faced a Clan Wolf Light Supernova, most of the company died, but they gave a very good account of themselves.

In short, this blog will be a mix of AARs, game pics, custom CBT designs converted to Alpha Strike, units posted (with pictures), and discussion of various aspects of the game.

Now one could argue, “Why not do this on the forums?” I have my reasons. No, I haven’t been banned, but sometimes, I want to discuss things like military doctrines from a real-world perspective and how they relate to Alpha Strike. (Yes, I know the 3rd rule of CBT, the real world doesn’t apply). Hey, I wrote a numbering scheme article for CBT once that used several real-world schemes that inspired folks, so why the hell not write some other stuff? There is a lot of inspiration in the real world, why the hell not use it?

So in short? Buckle up, I intent to make this an interesting ride and well worth your time.