Originally posted at: https://lastredoubt.substack.com/p/battletech-alpha-strike

A long time ago I stood in a shop in a northern Virginia mall, and saw two cool-looking games in boxes. Both had awesome looking robots on the cover. Both looked to be basically the same game by the same company. And they were. As it turned out, Battletech, which I bought, was the updated edition of Battledroids, the other box.

Battletech, and it’s expansions, especially Citytech that brought in vehicles and infantry, took up a lot of my gaming time. It was in the running for most solo time in high school simply in tuning mech designs (up against Car Wars and Traveller for cars and ships) and realistically got the most actual play time with friends.

My own obsession with the game aside, it spawned a TV series (that in game lore canon is treated as propaganda broadcasts), books, multiple editions, some incredibly fun multiplayer pods, as well as tactical and simulation-style computer games.

There are also several outstanding video channels, my favorite being the “Tex Talks Battletech” series by the Black Pants Legion on youtube, where you can find hours of material on different aspects of the lore’s history and mech designs. One of my favorites is the one on the Warhammer, that delves into the issues of cutting edge tech superiority, and “good enough.”

One thing to note is that it’s walking battleship combat. Mechs are heavily armored, and on all but the lightest mechs it usually takes a number of hits before something critical is lost, where a tank hit with a main gun is lucky to survive more than one or two hits, and in anime-style mecha or airplane combat, almost any hit starts causing some sort of problem - there’s just not a lot of empty space with non-critical equipment.

It’s a crunchy game, where exact placement of weapons, ammo, and heat sinks matters, and you’re tracking everything from per-location armor and structural integrity to ammo to heat levels and stability. This makes the largest practical battles, and by practical I mean taking no more than a few hours, involve no more than 4-8 units per side.

One of the offshoots though was a simpler, abstracted system called Alpha Strike that was intended to be played with miniatures on a tabletop with terrain, but coul dbe played on a hexmap in a pinch. A Battletech mech could be converted into the simpler stat block, with damage averaged by range (and ammo-based weapons further abstracted by averaging those down to reflect not taking every possible shot to conserve ammo), and special ability tags based on standard equipment loadout, such as allowing for indirect fire, and so forth. Most common canonical designs are available in an online index.

The prime advantage of Alpha strike being that a lance-on-lance battle could be taken care of much faster, and more to the point, much larger scale battles could be fought in a reasonable time frame.

So one of our projects here will be to play through a scenario or two, to illustrate how the rules handle things, with some commentary on verisimilitude, effect, and so on, leaving aside the fact that as cool as they are, IRL, big stompy robots are big stompy and somewhat fragile targets.

Next step…. setting up the map and choosing our units.