Review #7 Heavy Gear

What do you mean you want a review of No Thank You Evil…

Nope, gonna play it a bit more with my captive audience before I do that. It is stacking up to be a good review though.

While everyone waits for that, lets talk instead about one of my all time favorite mech games. Now then I know I may have lost a few people with that statement. And so long you are gonna miss out on some fun.

So Heavy Gear is both an RPG and a tactical miniatures game all in one. Some will try and compare that to Robotech by Palladium (nope, nothing tactical there unless you want to count the new boxed game that does not tie into the RPG they created), Mekton by R Talsorian  (again not tactical but a really fun vehicle building system), or BattleTech (ok this one is the reverse it is a tactical game that they added MechWarrior to so that you could add an RPG game element to long campaigns, technically two different games). But there is a reason for me that Heavy Gear stands on its own among all those challengers. but we will get to that in a minute or three.

Heavy Gear is published by Dream Pod 9 (and I still cannot figure out if Ianus Games became Dream Pod 9 or vice versa but one of them became or absorbed the other), and first came out in 1994. For anyone interested in anime they would immediately note a likeness between some of the earliest Gears (the main mechs in the game) and the 1983 anime Armored Trooper Votoms. There have been multiple editions of the game published (including Heavy Gear Blitz, the latest edition which unfortunately to me takes out all of the RPG material and goes straight into the tactical). Also a video pair of video games (1997 and 1999) and an animated series (2001). Now then Dream Pod 9 has several other RPG’s that they have created with the same game engine (Jovian Chronicles – another mech setting with space mechs instead of being planet side; Gear Krieg – WW II mech setting; Tribe 8 – post apocalyptic horror that has no mechs; Core Command – Sci Fi space opera setting), and some might ask, ‘With all these to choose from why go with Heavy Gear if you are going to talk about the game engine?’ I will get to that, just gimme a bit.

Like BattleTech, Heavy Gear has created ongoing  story in their products. This is great for someone who plays long term because you can go back into old products and play through the history and major events in an established timeline. Or you can change them and make the world completely your own. Now then if you are a twisted person you could actually take some of the DP9 products and put together a reaaaaaly epic story line going from Gear Krieg, to Jovian Chronicles, to Heavy Gear, to Core Command. I say reaaaaaaly epic because if you want to play through all those era you would be looking at about ten thousand years of time, or maybe even longer if you consider all the material in Core Command. And for all of them they have the same core game engine. Oh and the truly sadistic game masters out there may try and squeeze Tribe 8 into that long line to if you want to have an abandoned Earth after the Gear Krieg or Jovian Chronicles time.

Ok now that I have dropped a little history and some info out there on the topic lets get into the review. For my review I will be focusing on Heavy Gear second edition. In my opinion it had the best product support (which may just be because of the area I live in) with the most availability of both the books and the minis. So that’s the one I have the most experience with.

Fluff – 3 Even with all the product support and history in the materials I still cannot go too high in the fluff score. The art is great, but sporadic. The tech drawings for the Gears are pretty slim on material unless you invest in the tech manual. And frankly I never actually read a single story in the core rule book that made me go ‘I want to know more about this!’ Now then I am not saying it is poorly written or poorly presented. I am saying none of it lit a fire under me. It was the concepts that got me going. Now then I would have scored this a two, BUT, as part of the fluff score I have to consider the minis. I have not done any research on this part of the company but who ever they got to design the minis, dammmmmmmmn. Back in the mid 90’s even though I was a bigger fan of BattleTech I wanted the Heavy Gear minis. great sculpting and very little flash. I can’t boost it more than one for the minis though. They are awesome, but not that awesome 😉

Crunch – 5 Ok here is where the love comes from. The SilCore (or Silhouette) system that they created for these games is just awesome. It is point based and scaleable. It is not really designed to play to a level of truly superhuman without breaking the game. But that’s just fine with me. It was not made to be a system that covers everything. The engine is more about being human, and doing everything you can with it. And it does it well. Other games will try to get out of their strong suits and they end up paying for it with massive power creep and strong divisions of fans. These rules wont do that. Now for the really tricky part. While other games like Robotech or Mekton make the character skills a part of the giant robot combat there is no real tactical element to the fighting. While this can work well if you have a lot of players that enjoy imagining the fights, I tend to have people who want to map it out and see what is going on, regardless of the scale. So with the SilCore system you have the fun of needing to have character piloting the Gears because without the pilots skills the Gears cant fight. Then you have the weapons scaled up and everything integrates. If you are playing a combination game of BattleTech and Mechwarrior you end up having your characters being pretty much irrelevant as soon as they get into the robot fighting machine. And due to the scale of the Gears, your gear gets disabled and you can still get out find a spot to hide and try to get in close and push a grenade into the hip of an enemy gear to bring it down. Just remember that one shot from that thing and you are a fine mist grenade boy. The game engine is smooth and fairly easy to learn. I would recommend to anyone that they pick up the RPG before they try the mini combat.

Mod – 3 Ok so someone is going to say ‘If the engine is that great why cant you mod it?’ So remember what I said about the rule system not being able to be everything and that is ok? That’s it right there. Within its scope Heavy Gear can be modded a lot. You can make tons of character types, you can build a near infinite number of Gears, but you really can’t toss a superman in there. You also really can’t cast spells. If you are willing to add elements of Tribe 8 into the mix you can do some of that, but you cannot go full spectrum changing things. That’s why this is a three. You could make a case for anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 for me but I wanted to just keep it rounded. It mods really well for what it is designed to do.

Fun – 2 Yeah it hurts me to give a game that I enjoy a fun score that low. Now don’t get me wrong, Heavy Gear is a fun game in a dark universe that has a lot of things going for it. However you really need to have the right group of players to get the most out of this one. Of the three groups I have played Heavy Gear with, one, and only one of them really embraced the rules and the setting. I know the golden rule is that if something doesn’t work for you or your group don’t use it, but in this case I think the setting would be hard pressed to work well without rules like this that limit you to really being human. So its not really the game itself, but finding the right players that limits my fun score on this one.

Overall Score – 13/20 Great rules and great minis, limited to doing very well what it set out to do, and that you need to find the right players or it really just wont work for you.

Ok so thems the breaks, I have to get back to the house and the love of my life.

Gimme the dice, I need to find out how long I will be away from the blog this time…

Keep em rollin 🙂

  1. #1 by dantherpgman on March 16, 2016 - 6:41 am

    I never got into the whole mech thing; in fact I’ve never even heard of Heavy Gear. But that’s cool, it’s still interesting to read about various games, designs, engines, etc.

    I know I am definitely a tactical gamer, so I would appreciate the mapping and tactical aspects of the game system. Plus it makes sense to make the human pilots actually matter, as opposed to the mechs doing all the heavy lifting. But like I said, I’m not big on mechs anyway 😉


    • #2 by authortao on March 26, 2016 - 11:24 pm

      There are a few other games that try to take the RPG elements and the tactical boardgaming to a higher level than most RPG’s reach. However most of them are fusions of more than one game engine. I am doing some investigating of Crimson Skies (the old FASA version not the Xbox games) and looking a little deeper into Malifaux and Infinity (both started out as tactical only games like BattleTech but have added RPG games that supposedly run on the same primary engine as their tactical system.


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