I'll admit it, I am a big fan of mecha. When I discovered the BattleTech board games I was thrilled. But as good as BattleTech is as a pure wargame it's lethal as far as characters go. Why bother naming your pilots? They're not likely to survive the engagement. War is hell and all that. BattleTech is also more of the walking-tanks variety of mecha genre. In looking for more character-driven giant robot gaming, a la Macross and Gundam, I found Mekton.
The Interlock system, the heart of Mekton, is a Stat + Skill + Dice roll versus a fixed target number (or another Stat+Skill+Dice roll). I am more than a little fond of it.While the core rules are based around an average of 5 in ten stats and a Skill range of 1 to 10, there's no reason not to make your own changes. This allows a more wargame-feeling setting to give each unit a single Stat+Skill value to simplify things.
Another thumbs-up to the Interlock/Mekton engine is that there's no difference in the core dice mechanic when dealing with people, big robots or giant starships. There are scalar differences, sure (people take Hits of damage, mecha take Kills, etc), but they all attempt and accomplish their actions in the same fundamental way. The key thing to remember is: it's the pilot that does things - the mecha merely modified and amplifies the character's actions. This makes it possible for an experienced pilot in a run-down agricultural mecha to tangle with lesser minions in military-grade mecha and come out on top. A very anime feel!
Most of the fun of Mekton is building your mecha to thrash about with. This is nearly a game in and of its self, called the Mekton Technical System. The core Mekton Zeta rulebook has the basics down, but an entire second book, Mekton Zeta Plus, is dedicated to expanding the MTS with tons more choices, optional mechanics, and subtle but powerful rules about scaling designs up and down the spectrum.
Ultimately, the Mekton Technical System is a gearhead grognards dream; you can build anything using it, provided that you're willing to abstract somewhat. The MTS rarely uses real-world measurements, only relative ones; you can define for a given campaign what the unit conversions are as you like. All that matters between two designs are the relative differences. (In comparison, GURPS Vehicles is based on real-world engineering and numbers; you know exactly how big your mecha is and how much those fuzzy dice added to the weight of your design.)
This same awesome level of number-crunchiness is also MTS's main problem. I find it better to let the Hero and the major Villain's mecha to be fully detailed using MTS construction rules. The optional Mekton: The Movie rules allow for streamlined mecha design and destruction which is great for grunts and minor supporting cast.
Sadly, while I have designed many, many mecha and crafted several settings, I have yet to actually get a game of Mekton played. The other gamers I play with on a regular basis just aren't into the giant mecha genre. Someday... Someday...
So what do we gleefully take from Mekton?
- A strong core mechanic that scales well between personal, mechanized and larger-scale action is a very desirable thing.
- Relative-value design systems are more flexible than real-world value systems.
- On The Other Hand: a system with too many stats and numbers to crunch will bog down in those numbers when you least need it to.
- Creating such systems from scratch, however, is a difficult endeavor; remember that Mekton had ten years of playtesting, development and tweaking from the original "White Box" edition to MZ. The MTS is robust and well balanced because of extensive playtesting, feedback and tweaking.