January 11, 2023
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Battletech Take 2: Alpha Strike
Some years back I wrote this article about my attempt to get back into Battletech. It ended with the conclusion that at the time, the game was ponderous and in the face of more dynamic games out there, it was a hard sell to get me, and the boys back into playing it. But that was then and this is now, 2023. Battletech’s reached new heights, so much so that people are saying they actually can’t get hold of new releases due to being sold out and I’ve (not through the resurgence mind you) have rediscovered my love of big, stompy, shooty mechs.
The boxed set bought as a Christmas present in ’20 was finally broke out for a game mid ’22, (don’t ask me why it took so long) when I realised that the Battletech ‘Alpha Strike’ rules I’d downloaded prior, though being designed for a wargaming style of tabletop play, doing away with the hex map, can actually be used with the map using some basic modifiers. More importantly though, Alpha Strike was designed for simpler, faster game play revolving around lance sized teams (read five or so units a side), which seemed a far more attractive proposition than the one-on-one slug fest of the classic game. And after the first game I can honestly say we’ve not looked back – Alpha Strike has become a go to game to fill in an hour or less.
So what’s changed? How’d Battletech go from ‘ponderous’ to ‘a go to’ in one fell swoop?
The Alpha Strike boxed set of goodness
The boxed set I bought was classic Battletech all the way through. Record sheets, tick boxes and all the rest. Other than the minis and a map, it was hard to envisage getting excited about it (its rulebook is simpler than my original FASA book). But as all Battletech minis come with Alpha Strike unit cards, getting a game running with the downloaded rules was pretty simple – there’s really not a lot to get your head around for a basic game. And that’s what changed the whole dynamic. Alpha Strike takes the core concept of classic Battletech and whittles it back to its essence and in doing so, keeps the fun of stompy, shooty mechs but speeds everything up five fold so that you can actually play a simple game in under an hour. The simplification holds on to the core tactics of Battletech but makes fielding multiple units not only a breeze but fun, changing game play from a stop start affair into one that flows from one round into the next fairly seamlessly. Everyone got hooked pretty quickly and when, in late ’22, a new Alpha Strike box set was released I was all over it. Base rules, a quick start card and more minis, how could I have said no? Supplemented with the Alpha Strike ‘Commander’s Edition’ rule book (in PDF, because the guys at Catalyst are smart), we can up the game with additional details such as artillery, pilot abilities, etc. as we feel fit and Alpha Strike suddenly is the game I’ve been looking for.
As a package, Alpha Strike is a very complete game but its true strength lies in that it’s hugely enjoyable at a very simple level, much in the same way that X-Wing V1 can be played. And keeping it simple is definitely where it’s at.
Like Warhammer, Battletech’s 40 years of existence has built a lore that is as complex and developed as it is deep, with ongoing fiction, a wealth of source books and even a magazine. That there is a legion of players playing today shows not only that the game has matured, especially under the guidance of Catalyst Game Labs, but that players today enjoy something chunky to get their heads around; indeed, by the standards of some of the games out there these days, classic Battletech is pretty mid level in terms of complexity. For me though, Alpha Strike is quite possibly what Battletech should always have been – simple, paired back and fast moving but having been there, I recognise that Battletech was a game of its time so its evolution into what is now three different levels of game play, depending on the level of detail and scale you want to dive into is pure genius. Players who love the whole idea of Battletech but look for different things in game play can now all play the same universe, drawing down from a common line of development.
Perhaps though the single biggest praise that can be said of Alpha Strike? Boy#2 came out and said that he thinks the physical game is more interesting, and more fun, than Harebraind’s very faithful and most excellent 3D rendition of Battletech. And that really says something, because the PC game really is most excellent.
But Alpha Strike has also introduced a new hobby beyond playing. Painting the mins (which has yet to happen) is a huge attraction all round, but we are also doing away with the printed maps and have embarked on making our own terrain, starting with trees and soon moving on to scratch built buildings. For me this is going back to hobbies I left behind long ago, so coming back to them is, in a strange way, like returning home. For Boy#2 it’s a whole new world and he’s quite excited about it, there’s definitely an element of satisfaction derived from making things that he then gets to use in one of his favourite games. At any level, a game that extrapolates out into other avenues is a sure fire way to continue build on the lore and imagination that powers it and in that respect, Battletech is a complete winner beyond the game itself.