Alpha Strike Game Report and Review
At last week's club night, Jon, Tyler and I tried Alpha Strike for the first time. Alpha Strike is the new game set in the Battletech universe, using simplified mechanics and terrain (rather than a hex map) to enable larger battles that play faster than the traditional Classic Battletech rules. Rather than using the usual 6mm Battletech miniatures, we used prepainted 10mm scale miniatures from the Mechwarrior: Dark Age clix game. It's the same fictional universe, but a different game that has since gone defunct (meaning lots of cheap, prepainted minis can be acquired for pennies on the dollar!).
Of course, we rebased the Mechwarrior clix onto traditional wargaming bases. The club bought a huge quantity of these some time ago as an inexpensive entre into mass-scale sci-fi gaming, and they have been used for many different rulesets since.
As it was our first outing with Alpha Strike, we limited ourselves to an 80-point lance (a group of four mechs) per player. Though most Battletech units are available in multiple configurations, we chose the configurations that had the fewest special rules.
We also made a couple of minor house rules. Regarding the rows of trees you can see in the pictures, we replaced the the 6-inch rule for forest cover, instead deciding that if you're adjacent to the trees, you can see through them and be seen (with modifiers, of course). If you're not adjacent, you can neither see nor be seen. We also determined that shooting at someone on the other side of the overpass makes them "obscured." We also decreed that all structures two floors or higher could hide a mech from view.
The card buildings on the layout are free online PDFs, either from Heavy Gear or Battletech, scaled up for Mechwarrior and based on pieces of vinyl floor tile. The roads are painted roofing shingles. The overpasses are from an architectural model board that I purchased at the Games Plus gaming auction. You can see what happened to the rest of the board here.
For our first battle we simply ran a kill-em-all game using the "Standard" level of the rules. My apologies that my Nova Cats (white/grey/gold), Tyler's Nova Cats (white/grey) and Jon's Rasalhague (white/grey/light blue) all have similar color schemes.
Jon proved to be the most adept player, quickly taking me out and nearly defeating Tyler. In the end he and Tyler both lost their last mech in the last turn, so there were no units left on the board! I didn't record a full battle report, but here are some of the battle's highlights, in the order in which they took place.
Jon's Rasalhague enter the field.
The beginning of the end for my Nova Cat Dasher II as it is flanked by a Spirit Cat Marauder II and subsequently takes heavy fire.
Rasalhague Forces cautiously advance through the buildings, making excellent use of cover.
This conservative approach would prove to be a very wise decision, as Tyler and I attacked each other while advancing in his direction.
In this pic, a Nova Cat Warhammer IIc takes aim at a Rasalhague forces across the way.
By this time the Nova and Spirit cats had bloodied each other to the point that they agreed to temporarily ally against the Rasalhague forces.
Here Rasalhague forces in cover take aim at an advancing Nova Cat Thor.
The Thor is knocked out before reaching the Rasalhague positions.
Spirit Cat Marauder II rains death down from the viaduct.
A Nova Cat Warhamer IIc (ignore the blue Spirit Cat marking, I was proxying...) engages the Karhu.
And dies a turn later, putting the Nova Cats out of the game!
The Rasalhague Karhu proved a dangerous foe as it promptly flanked the Spirit Cat Blackhawk on the viaduct.
A couple of turns later, the only two remaining mechs were a Spirit Cat Cougar and Rasalhague Maurader IIc.
They simultaneously destroyed each other in a blaze of fire at point blank range.
Observations on Alpha Strike
I really like this game. The rules seem sensible, the play is fast, and I'm really enjoying playing in the Battletech universe that I have enjoyed for so long without gaming in (I never played Mechwarrior and don't like the Classic Battletech rules). It's a small thing, but I like that Alpha Strike gives you (free via the online Master Unit List) a premade card for virtually every Battletech/Mechwarrior unit and/or variation, each with its own card.
Though the rules are not technically new -- an earlier version called "QuickStrike" is included in the massive tome "Tactical Operations" -- this is the first time these rules have been available in a standalone book. The result is a game that is fairly easy to learn (we skipped the "Introductory" rules and went right to "Standard" level), but with enough crunch to make a satisfying game.
I'm looking forward to incorporating new units like VTOLs, armored vehicles and infantry, and even at some point trying the "Advanced" rules for things like ECM and special munitions.
We probably spent a bit less than two hours on this game, and now that we know how the rules go, I could easily see a two-player game using two or three times as many units on the field and still resolving the battle in the same time span.
As far as complexity, the overall game is similar in complexity to Mech Attack. The units themselves are simpler, but Alpha Strike adds more rules mechanics and special rules. It's more complex than Panzer 8 Sci-Fi, our club's favorite ultra-fast-playing sci-fi mass battle game, but it could probably handle almost as many units on the table, though it would take longer to resolve. The fairly long movement and firing ranges mean that it probably plays best on big tables. Our 4-foot by 3.5-foot space was fine for small battles, but for large engagements, the extra space on a 4 by 6 or 4 by 8 foot table would be ideal.
No discussion of the game would be complete without a brief mention of the book itself. Alpha Strike is beautifully laid, something we have come to expect from Battletech publications. It's full color with lots of pics, diagrams and even some fluff and background. The rules are separated into Introductory, Standard and Advance rules. Also included is a "Abstract Aerospace" game that can be played alongside the game to involve aerospace units and their effect on each other and the battlefield. The game also features a campaign system and some sample unit lists representing some of the major factions in the Battletech universe.
Lastly (and it didn't affect our game) the points system needs some work. The points values for each mech are simply 1/100th the points values that the mechs had in Classic Battletech. Though the Alpha Strike stats are based -- via an algorithm -- on BattleTech values, the resulting points values don't always reflect the Alpha Strike stats. This is not a huge problem for us, but Alpha Strike really needs a points system based on Alpha Strike stats, not Battletech Stats.
I highly recommend this game to anyone who wants a fast-playing sci-fi miniatures ruleset for 6mm or 10mm scales. It's clearly aimed at Battletech players, but the rules and massive list of pre-made units mean that players can proxy any miniatures without much hassle. It's not a "hard" sci-fi game, nor does it feature an abundance of complexity, but Alpha Strike has enough crunch to make a satisfying game. Also, since one book is all you need to play, and there are thousands of unit cards freely available via the online Master Unit List, this might be one of the great gaming bargains of 2013.
-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member