If you’re anything like me, you can’t get enough of military mecha fighting sci-fi battles on distant worlds. Luckily for all of us, Heavy Gear offers a rich pseudohistorical backdrop for mech-on-mech warfare and a deep suite of tactical rules. This now classic game has plenty to please both wargamers and giant robot fans.
Since its development in the mid-90s, Heavy Gear has gone through several iterations (although its history is nowhere near as complicated as Battletech’s). Currently, publisher Dream Pod 9 has the game split into a purely tactical wargame version, known as Heavy Gear Blitz!, and an RPG element published under the name Silhouette (aka SilCORE). The Heavy Gear RPG is in its 3rd edition, although the popularity of the 2nd edition means that most releases with RPG elements refer to the 2nd edition with some stats included for 3rd edition players. Meanwhile, a 4th edition is “in the planning stages.” If it seems confusing, don’t worry. Heavily armed giant robots, man. That’s all you need to know.
The comparisons to Battletech are inevitable with any game tackling this subject matter. Heavy Gear’s mechs are smaller than most Battletech mechs, maxing out at around 18 feet tall (with a few exceptions). Most of them are powered by advanced combustion engines that provide electric and hydraulic power, a concept I love — just imagine the chugging rumble of a high-displacement engine powering a walking war machine. The Heavy Gear storyline plays out almost entirely on a single planet, an Earth colony 4,000 years in the future known as Terra Nova. Various city-states and other factions vie for control of natural resources and territory, and occasionally fight against forces from original Earth looking to retake their colony.
The Blitz! rules feel like an old-school wargame, with lots of tactical options that can be added as the players’ skill level increases. Where Battletech battles often turned into Saturday matinee giant robot fights (which I find absolutely no fault with!), Heavy Gear battles feel more like true military battles where the mechs are a vital tactical element, but not the only tactical element (which I am equally unable to find fault with!).
The latest revision of the Blitz! rules, known as Heavy Gear Blitz! Locked and Loaded, was released in 2008. It’s a lavish production packed with full-color art. While it doesn’t contain any RPG rules for using individual characters, it has tons of historical background on Terra Nova and the many factions to be found there. The core of the rules takes up about 30 pages of the book, with some advanced and optional rules added to that.
Once you’ve read the rules, you’ll find a section of scenarios to give you more interesting play options. One of the problems with tabletop miniatures games has always been that the default play mode is a straight up death match. That can be fun a few times, but real militaries don’t fight like that. If you’re looking for a more realistic and interesting style of battle, you need scenarios with alternate win conditions, like defending the power plant or securing a bridge. It can be very difficult to come up with balanced scenarios on your own, however. Having a bunch of them all laid out in the core rulebook like this is a major boon. Other Heavy Gear releases feature additional scenarios, so you’ll never run out.
More than 100 pages of Heavy Gear Blitz! are devoted to the military factions of Terra Nova. I love the added depth that all the pseudohistorical information provides. Learning which company manufactured a unit, how field units generally modify it, what major battles it played a part in and other bits of detail make these fictional military conflicts so much richer. Heavy Gear does not disappoint (did I mention there’s over 100 pages of the stuff?). Unit by unit, faction by faction, it outlines who uses what and how, with plenty of images showing unit insignia, well-known pilots, and of course awesome tanks and mechs. There’s no shortage of photographs of beautifully painted miniatures. There’s even a thorough painting and figure modification guide (Dream Pod 9 also produces a full line of Heavy Gear miniatures) and an ultra-detailed breakdown of unit colors, so you can paint your Nova Redriders the proper shade of “scab red.”
You can get a foothold on the world of Terra Nova by grabbing a Heavy Gear Blitz! Locked and Loaded rulebook from DriveThruRPG and ordering some minis from Dream Pod 9.