Stop me if you’ve heard this one. In the far future, civil war threatens to tear all of humanity apart. So, humanity unleashed its most powerful children: AI. The Machine Intelligence swiftly took control of all the wormhole generators in the galaxy, used for travel and communication, and… told everybody to cut that war nonsense out. They can settle things by jousting tournaments with giant mechas if they really must. Welcome to Mecha Strike Arena, the InterStellar Sports Network’s most popular broadcast.
Developed and published by Terry Masson over at his company Dare Games Oz, and boasting a variety of named, backstory-rich characters with an equally eclectic range of
war disagreement machines, Mecha Strike Arena is a tabletop miniatures game about resolving disagreements by shoulder-checking the other person’s robot off of a ruined skyscraper into a crater full of lava and spraying them with laser-fire until they see the veracity of your argument (by exploding). You know, the Socratic Method.
Terry’s background as a tournament player shines through in the precision of the rules; they are wholly unambiguous and set out in a format that both makes sense and makes them easy to find. The game determines a winner not necessarily by who is most correct (ie, is the least exploded), but by the scoring of points. Points are scored not only by impressing your argument (giant sword, missile launcher, etc) onto your opponent, but also by things such as holding capture points or attacking an enemy with your character’s signature move. Striking a pose and yelling the name of your signature move is optional, but I highly encourage it. There’s even a character who gets extra points for attacking someone who’s in a control zone at the time. Yes, that does mean your easy run to capture the point is
maybe definitely a trap.
In addition to every character coming with a rich backstory and a totally unique combination of scoring situations and moves, the mechas are just as varied. Each mecha has a frame card, which is its basic shape and determines how large it is (and what shape it is) and how it moves. They can then be loaded with different weapon cards (what it says on the tin), sensor cards (for finding and targeting your opponents), aegis cards (defenses), core cards (what power reactor you’re sticking in), and some mechas can mount system cards (optional extras like special ammo or an anti-missile system). You can even use a base (auxiliary) card to bring some friendly tanks with you. Between the customisable mechas and the diverse cast of characters, the system supports a whole range of play styles right out of the box.
I wasn’t kidding about the skyscraper/lava scenario either; climbing buildings, ramming and inertia, and hazardous terrain are all along for the ride.
I spoke with Terry at the launch of Mecha Strike Arena about some of his production decisions. Historically, getting (and making) games in Australia is something of an uphill battle. It’s common to outsource production overseas to save on costs. Terry has deliberately kept all aspects of the game in Australia; designing, development, printing, and moulding are all done locally. It keeps the money in the local economy, and builds networks for other developers to access. Terry hopes this will help more people like him get their games off the ground. It certainly is easier when you can meet your entire team face-to-face in the one room, and many of us know the delight of waiting for a package to ship from China for four months.
There’s something to be said for Terry taking increased costs on the chin in order to stimulate the local creative scene.
Dare Games Oz have a Patreon with video tutorials on Mecha Strike Arena gameplay. They also have a website from where you can download the Mecha Strike Arena rules.
Marat believes that if you don’t bring a giant robot to a philosophical debate then you aren’t really trying.