Friday, 19 December 2014

Battletech: Alpha Strike Rules Review

"Alpha Strike" stems from the realisation that the way to make money is to sell lots of miniatures.  When a complete traditional Battletech "force" can be made up  a lance of four $10 minis, I can't see truckloads of minis being sold. 

Alpha Strike simplifies Battletech in order to cram more models on the tabletop. It even has its own new scale (cue groaning from Battletech fans who have already undergone several scale changes) which is half the size of the traditional mechs.  Since it is half the price ($5ea vs $10ea) but only uses 1/8th the volume of the metal, that's good business sense right there.  The same pewter is worth 400% more. 

However - and this is a big plus - mecha are roughly 1:285 scale which mean they should fit perfectly with any 6mm sci fi you might already have - like those from GZG/Brigade etc.  This is a major, major selling point for me as infantry and auxiliary vehicles are not available yet anyway.  It deviates from the usual Battletech hex grid and jumps firmly aboard the tabletop gaming wagon.

EDIT: Comparison pics suggest they look more like 1:700. They are half the height of regular minis, so maybe the regular size is 1:285? (I got rid of my BT minis but they were older ones so my scales might be out of whack?) 

The jump to 1:285 allows compatibility with the generic 6mm ranges which gives you great flexibility in making combined-arms forces. Minis are online only at Iron Wind Metals.

The super detailed mecha profiles from traditional Battletech (I think the latest iteration is called "Total War") are replaced by a fairly simple unit card.

Move (in inches)
Skill (this is pilot skill and shows the "to hit number")
Damage (the damage in each range bracket - short, medium and long - depends on the weapons fit)
Overheat (this is how much extra damage a mech can do, in exchange for heat)
Armour (armour hitpoints total - there are no individual hit locations)
Structure (internal hitpoints - again, there are no individual hit locations)
Heat Scale (this only has 4 levels - 1,2,3, and Shutdown)
Special Abilities

Gameplay & Rules
Activation is done alternately, like traditional BT.  Mecha can move or jump.  Movement has typical modifiers for smooth or difficult terrain. Attacks and movement can be made underwater, in snow and ice, hazardous acid pools and industrial zones, jungle, magma, and mud.  There are advanced rules to leap, sprint, climb and evade attacks.   There are advanced environmental rules for wind (even tornadoes), earthquakes, gravity, darkness, and atmospheres ranked from very thick to vacuum. 

They can fire at any enemies within their arc.  They check range and roll to hit.  Ranges are short (0-6") medium (6-24") and long (24-42").  The "to hit" number is the pilots' skill - so if the firer's Skill level is 4 he needs a 4 or better on 2d6.  However there is likely to be modifiers for target speed, cover etc.  Purists will be pleased you can still perform charge and death-from-above (jumping) attacks. 

If damage from an attack goes into structure, a critical hit is rolled for.  Criticals are much simpler than original BT as they are for the entire mech rather than individual components such as arms, legs or torso. Hits to the rear add +1 damage.

Players can choose to "overheat" their mech before they attack, exchanging extra damage for heat.  Each extra damage adds one heat.  Heat levels remain the same - heat can only be reduced by not firing or standing in water. Units which use so much heat they "shutdown" cannot do anything for a full turn, after which their heat resets to 0.

Units can have "special abilities" such as CASE (can ignore ammo critical hits) or melee weapons (adds +1 damage to melee attacks), anti-missile systems (-1 to damage from attacks including missiles), HEAT (weapon applies heat to target as well as damage).

Aerospace rules are abstracted and movement occurs in four "zones" in a separate aerospace map. Aerospace craft can interact with ground targets, strafing and bombing them with a range of attack types. However there are also "concrete" rules to allow aerospace units to land and liftoff on the tabletop during missions. Troops can also be dropped from high or low altitudes.

There are rules for on and off-board artillery, as well as a range of artillery, bombs and autocannon rounds such as flak and tracer shells, NARC and TAG pods. There are also capital-class weapons that can be used at airborne and orbital targets.  ECM can be used to create a "bubble" to defeat enemy probes and command networks. Mines can be used to ambush enemy troops.

Battlefield intelligence allows hidden deployment, intitative bonuses and pre-plotted artillery.  There are building rules allowing them to be sued as cover - or reduced to rubble.  I particularly like the use of "blip" counters - units can be represented by blips until they are in line-of-sight and visual range.  There are extra rules for fire and smoke - weapon attacks can start fires which damage and heat up mechs, and smoke interferes with weapon fire. You can even field mega-size units like dropships on the battlefield.

As you can see, the rules are very comprehensive - they cover around ~100 pages.

Battletech mech design has always been very "hit-and-miss." For every good mech, there are some who look just plain uninspired.  Meet "Slenderman."
Campaign System
Players are either attacker or defender and their is a flowchart campaign, with who wins determining the next mission.  Each mission (there are 6) shows the % of your total force you can use and amount relative to opponent.  Players have a "Warchest"which acts like XP or influence in other games - you use it to measure victories and buy new toys.  Re-arm, repair and (yay) salvage are all included.

Fluff & Unit Cards
A considerable amount of page space is devoted to fluff (as expected with Battletech); with plenty of unit profiles and quick reference pages and charts making up the remainder of the rules.

An attempt to speed up and simplify BT to allow large forces on the table, for me, the best thing that came out of this was the 1:285 scale change which means it is compatible with many other sci fi lines.  On the other hand, the mech range is rather limited (about ~30 compared to the 100s from the usual catalogue) and to be honest, most mech designs from BT are rather crap, to be frank.

The rules themselves get rid off much of the book keeping that bogs down Battletech, but also remove all of its charm.  I want to blow off arms or legs in a mech game, dammit!  Weapons types are so abstract as to be meaningless. Battletech Alpha does achieve its goal - to allow us to use more models on the table - but could have been so much more.  It's still got too much record keeping to be a good mass battle game, and it has lost the classic Battletech gameplay depth.  If only they had more adventurous designers - who were willing to tear up the old mechanics.   At the very least, it would have been much more sensible to convert from a existing mass battle ruleset rather than trying to turn skirmish rules (meant for 4 mechs a side) into a strategic-level wargame.   However Battletech is a game all about tradition, with a very loyal, established fanbase, so I can see why they went the route they did.

Recommended:  Not really.  It is very comprehensive, and I admit it does its job - allows you to push more mechs around the table.  It speeds  things up, but loses its soul. More boldness in games design could have made this idea work, with more gameplay depth and a true "Battletech" feel.  As it is, it removes much record keeping, but also all the worthwhile features that would make me want to play it.


  1. What a pity. I got CityTech when it first came out, loved the game and all the wonderful fluff, but as a game system it never really worked for me like, say, DSII did

    1. Exactly. They needed to chuck out the 1980s game mechanics and replace it with something more streamlined and suited to the scale of battle. I keep eyeing off a Fistful of Tows (modern kinda brigade-level rules) for playing a mech game as I was very impressed with how streamlined and sensible they were when I tested it, and it has vehicle creation rules that could be adapted to mechs. No lasers sadly! But if a sci fi version came out (I think they did a beta version ages ago called Railgun 2100 or 2300 or something) with vehicle creation rules, I'd be all over it.

  2. I imagine it's one of two things:

    Either they figure the fan base won't stand for a replaced rule set and that they couldn't draw more people in than they'd lose
    They are settled in that this is how Battletech must work and hence, it cannot be changed.

    Of course, a combination is possible :)

    1. Because it MUST BE SO.

      Its rumored Andy Chambers left the 40K team around 4th ed as he had creative differences i..e he wanted it to be interactive, involving the player when it wasn't his turn (overwatch/reactions?) but 40K wasn't to be messed with so he got the boot.

      Despite the fact 40K had been changed beyond from a skirmish/RPH lite to a mass battle ruleset to sell figures, it somehow made no sense to touch the mechanics....

  3. Strangely enough, your honest review makes me want to play this game… I've fond memories of the old Battletech game, but I don't think I would want something with that much bookkeeping again. Well, I certainly won't succumb to this sudden bout of nostalgia, but thanks for the review!

    1. Nostalgia is a good word. Classic Battletech seems to have a tremendous amount of goodwill, and the players who like it, LIKE it.

      I think it naturally happens if you are around long enough, and don't actively try to screw over your customers. (aka Games Workshop)

  4. Hmm not sure the new scale had anything to do with Alpha Strike - pretty sure 'Battleforce' was it's own thing prior to it coming out. Also I think they are more like 3mm rather than 6mm. I have a bunch myself which I accidentally bough thinking they were 6mm, still nice models though. I'm no expert though so please feel free to correct me!

    1. You're right I think; I edited the post. My last BT models were the old type from 80s - the new metals are maybe 1:285 (6mm) and the Battleforce ones are 3mm?

    2. Yeah I'd say so. But honestly looking at some online pics such as this one
      the scale difference really doesn't look that far off anyway. I will likely use mine with 6mm terrain and infantry anyway, the cockpits look like they could fit a 6mm infantry anyway!

  5. Back in the day, you know when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, when BattleForce first came out I did a conversion to the rules so they would represent single mechs, rather than lances, and ran a few games with Company sized forces. It was OK, we had fun, but it lost the feel of BattleTech, which is all about mano-a-mano giant mecha stompy action. The trick would be to capture the original zeitgeist, but with modern sensibilities about game rules record keeping. Good luck with that BTW. ;-)

    1. Agreed. It just doesn't represent the battletech 'feel' enough.

      I think you need to retain the separate arms/legs being blown off, just in as streamlined a way as possible, i.e. roll a d6 each hit, 1=left arm, 2=right arm, 3,4= torso/head; 5,6 = legs. The first hit strips the armour, the second destroys the part. (Unless it is a massive hit on a very small mech which might blow it off directly). You would remove all the record keeping and tickboxes in favour of a "roll to penetrate" which makes more sense than "scrubbing"off every ounce of armour before being able to do meaningful damage.

      Simple heat management (the second key battletech feature) is a bit trickier to think of offhand, but reducing it to say 6 levels of heat (that can be shown on a dice) might be a start.

  6. Just a heads up, Alpha Strike uses the same minis as the board game. The tiny minis your talking about was for a Regimental sized game called Battleforce.

    1. Really? I presumed Alpha Strike was a reboot from Battleforce?

      I only played it once, but I recall Battleforce had the same short/med/long "damage bands" i.e. 5/4/3 damage, adding on damage = to overheat value. I think there was a generic critical hit table too...

      How does Alpha Strike differ?

  7. About the scale... As BT always was hex based and the precursor of Alpha Strike was too neither scale is fully 1/300. I print mechs from MechWarrior Online and I calculated the size of an Atlas with the most accurate size the game has (wich was 14m high). IN 6mm was about 43mm and the IWM is 50mm high and the Alpha Strike is a bit smaller so yeah, neither is totally correct. That's the problem of an abstact hex based game but the minis can be used anyway.