The world of BattleTech is about more than just big, stompy robots. It’s an epic tale that’s been told across the more than 30 years since the game was originally published. It begins with humanity’s colonization of the stars and spans hundreds of years of horrific, almost feudal war.
It is also incredibly complicated, thanks in part to the seemingly endless string of game developers and authors that have poked and prodded at it since its birth in 1984. But through it all there is a common thread — a singular timeline that every MechWarrior and BattleTech game shares.
2018 is set to be a high water mark for the historic franchise. With two new BattleTech video games and two new boxed sets of the tabletop game on the way, all with bona fide connections to the franchise’s original creators, there has never been a better time to be a fan of BattleTech.
Polygon talked to the loremasters at Piranha games — Matt Newman, Alex Iglesias and Mark Nicholson — part of the team behind the upcoming first-person action game Mechwarrior 5: Mercenaries, to learn more about the key events in the BattleTech timeline. Special thanks also to Catalyst Game Labs and the community at Sarna.net, who have been keeping track of the BattleTech lore online for a long, long time.
Whether you’re new to the franchise or a returning vet, consider this your crash course on the BattleTech universe.
2014 — The end of the Soviet Union: In 2011, the collapse of the Soviet Union sparks a civil war. Western forces, under the banner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), intervene. As the conflict widens, nuclear armageddon is narrowly avoided when a space-based defensive system is used to intercept Russian missiles headed toward the West. Shortly thereafter, the shooting war draws to a close with a Western Alliance victory in 2014.
2016 — The formation of Alliance Space Command: With the Cold War won, humanity returns to space exploration in earnest. The first step is to establish a small settlement on the moon.
2017 — The first manned mission to Mars is launched
2020 — Fusion power is invented: Engineers from Harvard, MIT and General Motors together create the first full-scale fusion reactor, gifting humanity a nearly unlimited source of clean power.
2027 — Permanent colonies are established on Mars and the Moon
2050 — Probes return to the Sol system with evidence of nearby, Earth-like worlds
September 3, 2107 — The first faster-than-light mission: The Western Alliance (now referred to as the Terran Alliance) launches Pathfinder, the first faster-than-light (FTL) spacecraft. Its maiden voyage takes it to the Tau Ceti star system, 12 light-years away.
2116 — New Earth founded: The first extra-solar colony is founded on the fourth planet in the Tau Ceti star system and named New Earth. By 2235, some 600 additional colonies are founded around our Sol system. Travel and communications are made possible by a fleet of FTL-capable craft called JumpShips.
2242 — The Demarcation Declaration: The bubble of colonized space around Earth spreads even further. As it becomes harder and harder to govern its colonies, the Terran Alliance trims back its boundaries. The Demarcation Declaration sets the edge of Terran space at a bubble with a radius of 30 light-years. All worlds outside that bubble are granted independence. Demarcation leads to the rise of the six Great Houses: House Davion, House Cameron, House Kurita, House Liao, House Marik and House Steiner.
2315 — Terran Hegemony founded: In 2314, economic strain and political corruption within the Terran Alliance leads to civil war on Earth, now known simply as Terra. The alliance admiral James McKenna, after years spent building up a fleet of massive WarShips, returns to Terra with a vengeance. A series of orbital strikes stuns factions on the ground, and McKenna uses the pause in the fighting to issue a planet-wide broadcast. He appeals directly to the people of Terra for support in dissolving its government and abolishing political parties. In time, rogue politicians are hunted down and destroyed. The Terran Hegemony rises to fill the vacuum, and McKenna is elected its first director-general.
2412 — The Age of War and the Ares Convention: Outside of the Terran Hegemony, conflicts rage between the Great Houses. They give new meaning to the phrase “total war.” One particular battle, on the planet Tintavel, was particularly brutal. Weapons of mass destruction were employed, leading to the death of some 300,000 people. Eventually, the entire planet had to be abandoned. After the atrocities on Tintavel, all the major powers came together to sign the Ares Convention. It established the new rules of war, which banned the use of nuclear and biological weapons and discouraged orbital bombardment. It also enshrined armed conflict as the dominant way of resolving human conflict for all time.
2439 — First BattleMech created: Under the direction of Dr. Gregory Atlas at the University of Zimbabwe, “Operation Musclebound” works to create the first BattleMech in secret for the Terran Hegemony. Called the Mackie, the bipedal war machine is made possible by the invention of myomers, artificial muscles with a tremendous strength-to-weight ratio. In 2443, a formation of Terran Mackie, called a lance, destroys an entire company of enemy heavy tanks. The ‘Mech overtakes traditional armor to become the preeminent weapon of war.
2455 — BattleMech plans are stolen by House Steiner: A commando raid on a Terran facility on Hesperus 2 leads to the theft of the first BattleMech’s plans. They soon spread to the other great houses and fan the flames in the Age of War.
2571 — Foundation of the Star League: The Age of War draws to a close with the formation of the Star League, a self-policing interstellar council made up of the Terran Hegemony and all of the Great Houses, now collectively known as the Inner Sphere, as well as various states further out, known as the Periphery. Imagine a kind of interstellar United Nations, but with a stronger and more active military dedicated to mutual protection. The Star League would be remembered as the high point of human civilization.
2577-2597 — Reunification War: With the Inner Sphere thriving under the Star League, a series of wars are waged to bring the Periphery under control. The final conflict, fought against the Taurian Concordant, ends in 2596.
2630 — First hyperpulse message sent: One of the outcomes of the research that leads to the first FTL drive is the ability to send electronic messages at faster-than-light speeds. Called a hyperpulse, the technology is perfected in 2629. The first message from a hyperpulse generator, or HPG, is sent on New Year’s Day 2630. These are the telegrams of the BattleTech universe, and allow far-flung settlements to communicate without the use of JumpShips, but at great expense.
2695 — BattleMech fighting becomes a sport: Solaris 7, long a hub for BattleMech production, gives birth to the sport of ‘Mech fighting. The first exhibition battle, between a Phoenix Hawk and a Sentinel, takes place here in 2695. Soon these titanic duels are broadcast all across the Inner Sphere.
2766-2780 — The Amaris Civil War: After the untimely death of the fifth first lord of the Star League, Richard Cameron assumes the title in 2751 at the age of seven. He is assassinated in 2766 by Stefan Amaris, President of the Rim Worlds Republic, who would go on to kill every surviving member of the Cameron family and assume the title of first lord. Over the next 13 years, the Star League Defense Force (SLDF), led by general Alexander Kerensky, would fight its way from the Periphery back to Terra, ultimately killing Amaris and ending the coup. Kerensky’s campaign would cost the lives of nearly three quarters of the entire SLDF.
2784 — Operation Exodus: Unable and unwilling to put together the shattered pieces of the Star League after the Amaris Civil War, general Kerensky and his closest advisors hatch a daring plan. With war between the Great Houses on the horizon, they decide to take the best and brightest soldiers in the Star League and send themselves into self-imposed exile. The migration, planned in secret, would include nearly 80 percent of the surviving SLDF and their families — some six million people — as well as most of its arms and equipment. That force would head beyond the Periphery and out into deep space. They would not return to the Inner Sphere for more than 260 years.
2785 — ComStar letter of credit (C-Bill) created: In the vacuum that follows the collapse of the Star League, a communications company rises to power. Called ComStar, the organization evolves from the Star League’s Ministry of Communications. It maintains all of the Inner Sphere’s HPGs, and as such controls virtually all of humanity’s channels of communication. With so much wealth concentrated in one place, ComStar becomes the defacto banker and creditor to the Inner Sphere. Its currency, called the C-Bill, is based on the cost to transmit a message of a specific length a finite distance across the galaxy. ComStar grows to become a cult-like, nearly monastic order that regularly prays to their machines. It also maintains a sizeable military force, which includes Star League-era ‘Mechs and a fleet of space-based WarShips.
2786-2821 — First Succession War: As Kerensky had predicted, wars for control of the Inner Sphere begin soon after the SLDF leaves Terra. The major factions include the five remaining Great Houses and their nations — House Kurita's Draconis Combine, House Davion's Federated Suns, House Liao's Capellan Confederation, House Marik's Free Worlds League and House Steiner's Lyran Commonwealth. With the technological and economic heart of the inner sphere ripped out, the First Succession War serves to stall and ultimately stop the progress of mankind. The worst fighting takes place around Kentares 4, pitting House Kurita against House Davion. Atrocities include orbital bombardment, nuclear exchanges and the destruction of JumpShips.
2830-2864 — Second Succession War: Shortly after the first war ends, a second flares up. Over 34 years, humanity squanders its now irreplaceable stores of Star League-era technology.
2838-2843 — Operation Holy Shroud: As the Great Houses slowly recover from the losses of the First and Second Succession Wars, ComStar notices that they are slowly recovering and reinventing some Star League-era techniques and technologies. To maintain their control over the Inner Sphere, ComStar hatches a secret plan to target and eliminate technical experts across the galaxy. More than 300 high-profile targets include communications workers, laboratories and scientists in a wide range of fields. It consolidates knowledge and power within ComStar, but sets humanity back by generations.
2866-3025 — Third Succession War: With the Great Houses largely depleted, in both manpower and the high-tech materials needed to prosecute a large-scale galactic war, there is a return to the tenets of the Ares Convention. Humanity now lives in a largely feudal system, with power and titles handed down within lines of succession. Multi-generational wars that consist of repeated border skirmishes and large raids are the norm. It is during this time period that the original BattleTech tabletop game, first published in 1984, was set. It is also the time period for both MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries and BattleTech from Harebrained Schemes, two games due out in 2018.
April 11, 3005 — The appearance of Wolf’s Dragoons in the Inner Sphere: After more than 200 years away, a detachment from the Clans — the descendants of the Star League’s Operation Exodus — returns to the Inner Sphere under the guise of a mercenary company called Wolf’s Dragoons. They land first in House Davion’s Federated Suns territory on the fourth planet in the Delos system. They have equipped themselves with what they believe to be a modest complement of ‘Mechs, but the inhabitants of Delos are almost immediately stunned by their level of technology. The Dragoons play it off as a chance find of Star League equipment, but both their manner and their tactics betray them. They were first employed by House Davion.
April 1st, 3028 — Helm memory core discovered: A hidden stockpile of Star League-era weapons and technology is located on the planet Helm by the occupying Gray Death Legion. It includes a memory core, an ancient treasure trove of information. The core is copied, and smuggled off world against the wishes of ComStar. Within five years all of the Great Houses have their own copy. Humanity slowly begins to pull itself out of a second Dark Age.
August 20, 3028 — The Davion/Steiner Wedding: Hanse Davion marries Melissa Steiner at Hilton Head, Terra, the galactic headquarters of ComStar. As a wedding present, Steiner gives his new bride the entirety of the House Liao’s Capellan Federation, a region of space that he did not own at the time. The invasion was launched the day before, and only revealed during the wedding reception, kicking off the Fourth Succession War. Halfway through their wedding cake, guests began to notice that each of the plates bore the image of the key planets in Capellan space that were under attack. The Davion/Steiner wedding was dramatized live for attendees of Gen Con 21 in 1988 as an HPG broadcast. In-fiction battles took place between attendees on tabletops right there on the convention floor.
3028-3030 Fourth Succession War: The unification of House Davion and House Steiner naturally requires a common set of borders. House Liao is caught in the middle and suffers the most damage in the conflict. To organize sufficient forces for the effort, Davion contracts with Wolf’s Dragoons to shore up its border with House Karita’s Draconis Combine. By the end of the war, the Dragoons are reduced to one fifth their number. The resulting shift in power also gives additional power to ComStar, as their forces consolidate their hold on House Davion worlds in Federated Suns space.
March 13, 3034 — Free Rasalhague Republic declares independence: As a result of the Fourth Succession War, an area of House Steiner's Lyran Commonwealth space takes the opportunity to declare independence. Aided militarily by Katrina Steiner and diplomatically by ComStar and the Draconis Republic, it remains neutral space for a time.
3049 — The Clan invasion begins: When the SLDF left the Inner Sphere in 2784, it soon became embroiled in its own civil war. The son of admiral Alexander Kerensky, Nicholas Kerensky, initiated a Second Exodus, taking a yet smaller force of loyal soldiers to a planet known as Strana Mechty. There he developed a society that would become known as the Clans, a ritualistic military society. With intelligence provided by Wolf’s Dragoons, the Clans plan for an execute an invasion of the Inner Sphere in the misguided belief that they were reclaiming Eden. The first victim is the Free Rasalhague Republic, which is effectively overrun in the opening assault.