Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Game Review: The Mecha Hack

Cover for The Mecha Hack
©2018 Absolute Tabletop
Art by Brandish Gilhelm
: Matt Click
Publisher: Absolute Tabletop
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG
Engine: The Black Hack

I love the Black Hack it is a smart, fast, flexible adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons that is designed for light, fast, simplified play. It works best with short campaigns that don't take themselves too seriousness.  After reviewing the engine and doing a little solo play, I ran a ten-session campaign of the Wasted Hack, and truly enjoyed it for its fast, frenzied, and silly form of entertainment this engine engenders.

If you want details on the engine, I recommend you read the rules here, or my review and summary of them here.

About 2 or 3 months ago I developed a real itch to play a battlemech-based game. I used to play BattleTech in junior high school, but, my friends found it too slow paced for their liking, and it was hard to sell them on a extended campaign of it. Let alone MechWarrior / Alpha Strike.

While looking at current options, my first impulse was to try Lancer RPG. Unfortunately, the flavor and setting text of Lancer is so politically charged in the way I find repulsive that I couldn't get into the game.  Then I remembered The Mecha Hack.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm, ©2018 Absolute Tabletop

This one got on my radar a couple of years ago when Hankerin Fetinale mentioned that he being hired to just purely do the artwork for someone else's role-playing game on his YouTube channel, which I thought was a great turn of events for him. I love his artwork (which is often credited under the name Brandish Gilhelm,) because of its high energy comic bookish style. Well this technique is definitely improved over the last year or two, akron's work remains simple in its technique mostly black and white are using a three color palette at most, and unpretentious. It's the antithesis of everything that mainstream corporate role-playing game art is. And that makes it glorious and gets hope to less talented artists like myself who want to create games with their own Art.

The Mecha Hack uses the Black Hack very intelligently. It offers its own stats more appropriate to a battlemech as the central focus of the character. Instead of a class you pick a frame, and you randomly roll the stats for Presence, System, Mobility, and Power which supports the genre far more than using the traditional six attributes woukd. Rather than a race, you pick an archetype for your pilot from Commander, Engineer Ace or Quipster.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm,
©2018 Absolute Tabletop
Your pilot type modifies your stats slightly, and your frame determines your hit dice, damage dice and a reactor die that serves as the power depletion die for any special abilities your pilot or chassis has.

Because your reactor depletion die is tested every time you push your mech by repeating the same action in a single round, use a special power, do something that might overload your system, or take critical damage, it serves as a timer and resource than is almost more valuable than hit points. If it is depleted to zero, your character goes into an overheated state that resembles extreme fatigue in the regular Black Hack.

On top of pilot, and chassis abilities,  other power can be chosen from a fairly large list of modules that that can be selected atb1st, 3rd, 6th, & 9th levels.

Most everything else remains very true to the Black Hack system with some slight re-skinning. I particularly appreciated that they had a last ditch move ability called "reroute power."

What I Loved

Genre Emulation

Art by Brandish Gilhelm,
©2018 Absolute Tabletop
There was clearly a lot of love put into this game for the Mecha genre, be it war games, anime, or movies. We see all kinds of tips of the hat to memorable battlemechs and bad guys everywhere. From core-eating Kaiju abominations straight out of Pacific Rim, to low-level enemies that are modeled on Zeltran/Zentredi battle pods of Macross (the source material for season 1-2 of Robotech), to squads of battle armored anti-mech super-soldiers based on the Elementals from Battletech, to the chest rays and of Evangelion, the chsin sword of Robot Wars, and the trash built personal defense mechs of Love, Death, and Robots. The selection of enemies, modules, and character powers is a love letter to the genre, it makes it possible to emulate almost any battlemech-heavy media. We even have siege mode and spider mines from Starcraft.

They have rules for becoming the crew of a super mech if you wanted to play a Voltron-like setting.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm, ©2018 Absolute Tabletop

Random Tables

The GM section of The Mecha Hack is pretty light. However, one thing it has that is really worth your time is the random mission generation tables, which offer a cool in media res start, variable mission objectives, interesting complications, and a variety of opposition. If you're not sure where to start with an adventure, you can have a solid one put together in about 3 or 4 minutes on these tables. The table also gives you a planning strict that would be effective for planning missions deliberately. 

The Art

I came into the Mecha Hack with high expectations of seeing high energy black and white comic bookish art from Brandish Gilhelm, and I was not disappointed. The artwork is absolutely stunning high energy material that makes you believe that your own art can eventually get to be something you would be proud to put in a TTRPG manual.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm, ©2018 Absolute Tabletop


Battletech and it's derivatives tend to be sluggish and complicated. Palladium's RIFTS and Robotech were only marginally better. I can't speak for Lancer, as I want a game, not propaganda.  But with a Black Hack driven system, I know I am going to have very fast, frenzied play. And that is something I feel Battlemech games need and never quite get.

Growth Points

Mech Build Balance

The different chassis options make no attempts at balance. The Striker offers d8s for hit dice, damage, and reactor, while having an ability that allows critical failures to be retooled and a power that lets you cool other tech's reactors, while the brawler gets two d8s, but a d6 in reactor, better critical, and a charge attack. The powers offered just don't seem to make up for the difference in the dice. The scout only gets d6s across all tree categories in exchange for a temporary cloak and sneak attacks, which are useful enough to seem reasonable. But the first with a d10 and two d6s seems wonky, given its powers rely on its reactor die. I don't find the powers offered quite make sense as trade-offs compared to the dice you are giving up for them.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm, ©2018 Absolute Tabletop


Some mention is given to playing pilots outside of their battlemechs, but it is, at best, cursory, and mostly requires the Pcs to use the same stats as their battlemechs, which doesn't make that much sense. I might have spent 8 pages creating an additional out-of-mech rules where your pilot type serves as a character class and stat template, with abilities than are only useful outside the 'mech. Given the volume of OGL Black Hack material out there, this would not be difficult.

Art by Brandish Gilhelm,
©2018 Absolute Tabletop
You might even rule that experience levels are really only useful for Mecha combat, as that is what They are experienced in them, while leaving the pilot forever a level 1 or 1-3 character when not jacked in.

As is, even what little mention there is of "pilot scale" play is grievously underdeveloped, with distances not even represented on the distance table. Nor meaningful rules for unarmored humans vs. Battlemech conflict. (Which might be as easy as human-scale weapons deal 1/10th damage, round down, and most rolls to defend against a mech's attacks are an Disadvantage).

After all Rick Hunter and Scott Bernard were loved characters for what happened between the battles, not during them.


This is a fun, fast, loving take on a gente that has long been underserved by out hobby. It is the game that properties like Robotech and Neon Genesis: Evangelion deserve, but rarely get. I can't wait until my boys have gotten old enough to enjoy the source material and then share this with them. It is a coin toss whether my next Monday Night game will be Mecha Hack or Viking Death Squad at this point...

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