There’s something visceral and exciting about giant robot RPGs. I love mecha, huge guns, and the military simulation RPG style that comes with them. My first introduction to mecha was Goldorak on french TV out of Quebec (also known as UFO Robot Grendizer to the heathen Americans who read this blog).
Once I got into RPGs a few years later, however, my next exposure to the giant fighting mecha was in the soap-opera-with-mecha of Robotech through it’s three series starting with the Macross Saga and on to the Southern Cross and the Invid Invasion.
My first exposure to Mecha in RPGs was R.Talsorian’s Mekton RPG, which I remember being advertised in late 1983 in Dragon Magazine. My friend Mike purchased a copy in early 1984 and we tried mashing it together into something like Goldorak and gave up on it until we finally saw Robotech on TV in 1985.
That’s when we suddenly NEEDED to play a Mecha RPG.
To this day I pull out giant robot RPGs about once every two years for a short 4 to 8 game run with whatever group I have that’s willing. Sometimes I run it, sometimes Mike does. Together we’ve played just about every one of the older Mecha games on the market from Mechwarrior through the three incarnations of Mekton, Robotech, Heavy Gear, and into the variety of modern d20 variants from Mechamorphosis, GoO’s d20 Mecha ruleset, and Mecha Crusade from Polyhedron and we are now poking around with Bliss Stage, an indie Mecha RPG.
And here are my top picks for Games of Mecha Destruction.
5. Heavy Gear
I keep going through this list and wanting to rate Heavy Gear higher up the list than the last spot, because it is head and shoulders above the games that didn’t make the list. Heavy Gear changed the scale of Mecha gaming with emphasis on what would be listed as power suits or power armour in most games I had played to that point. Suddenly land-based bipedal mechs were agile and cool, ducking, running and shooting, not plodding and blasting (although they could do that too). Heavy Gear of course also gets bonus points for being Canadian, yet I still can’t push it up above the fifth slot… And there’s no way you could really stat up Goldorak in this game.
4. Mecha Crusade
I loved the era of Dungeon / Polyhedron with their awesome d20 minigames. Mecha Crusade is a mecha expansion for d20 Modern / d20 Future and very much one that I recommend to anyone checking out the mecha gaming scene who has a background in D&D3 or d20 games. There are also a lot of free and cheap expansions for d20 mecha out there if you look on RPGnow, designed to work with this rules set. That’s what makes it squeak past the Guardians of Order offering in the same environment, although GoO did have that excellent compendium of mecha for various settings to help redeem it. And I can build Goldorak with this material, although I might need to house rule a few items.
Often mocked because it uses Palladium’s standard system, this is the one game I’ve played where the Rifts system works pretty well. And more importantly, it’s stuffed full of Robotech mecha from the three (four? five, six now?) Robotech saga TV shows / movies / things. There is nothing cooler mecha-wise than the super veritech and the support of the classic destroids. The game starts to lose steam and collapse under it’s system by the time you get to the Invid Invasion material (with mini-mecha that are more potent than the full sized mecha of the Macross saga), but overall this game has the material I want when I play. It would rank higher, however, if it had some rules or even guidelines for designing mecha instead of relying on the TV show ones (so if I want Goldorak in this game, I’d have to write him up from scratch).
One of the new contenders on the scene, and boy is this game pretty. Heck, it’s nominated for a bunch of ENnie awards this year for art and production. It deserves them. And after the horror of the alst mecha RPG that Mongoose published, this one is awesome – cthuloid minions battling against us with giant robots, insanity and strange eldritch magic? Yes please. It’s call of cthulhu, but the badguys are hitting us in the open, and both sides are using giant robots. The setting is nice, the writing evocative, and the rules… are pretty damn good (a sight better than Robotech). If you haven’t picked this up yet and are interested in horror RPGs, giant robot RPGs, or cthulhu, you obviously failed a SAN check somewhere along the way.
1. Mekton Zeta
This remains my default go-to game for mecha gaming unless we want to play Robotech. Mekton Zeta (the third edition of the game from R. Talsorian Games) is hands down the best “generic” mecha RPG on the market. It also introduced me to the Interlock system which went on to power CyberPunk – so it works. This is the easiest RPG to stat up just about any mecha idea you have or have seen on TV. It’s the game I statted up Goldorak in and ran a thirty-session Goldorak campaign with. It’s got nice and fairly crunchy mech design while remaining light and easy to play rules-wise. With multiple editions under it’s belt without any drastic rules changes it has grown to be the game to beat in the giant robot genre.
And our house-rules honourable mention goes to
This long out of print wargame from 1993 has very simple and effective mecha combat rules that really feel like the combats from Robotech and Gundam. It’s smooth and quick and can be pretty brutal. After every other mecha campaign we play, Mike and I end up agreeing that the game would have run even better if we had just used the MECHA! rules for the mecha combats and any other RPG system for the interpersonal aspects of the game and anything happening outside of a mech. Starting last week, Mike and I began converting all the mecha from the Robotech Saga over to MECHA! so we can do exactly that next time we want to start a new campaign.