Alpha Strike’s BattleTech Aces Got Me To Love Tabletop Again

Being part of the Mercenaries Kickstarter, I recently got to try out some of the playtest materials for BattleTech Aces, a single-player or cooperative version of Alpha Strike. It was also, coincidentally, my first time playing Alpha Strike, and let me say, I’m a big fan. But I’m especially a fan of the Aces playtest for what it means for tabletop BattleTech.

Despite some rumors to the contrary, I have actually played tabletop BattleTech before. More than once, in fact! I found it to be a fun enough experience and certainly helpful for discovering the origins of BattleTech’s many rules, but it was also… slow. Especially by modern tabletop standards. Rolling dice for each individual weapon (sometimes multiple dice, as is the case with missiles) just slows combat to a crawl, and tracking damage likewise proves time-consuming (even though it’s a far more accurate representation of battle damage).

Alpha Strike fixes all that. For those who haven’t played it, Alpha Strike simplifies combat to just a single dice roll. You move, you shoot, and then repeat. ‘Mech stats are simplified to a single card rather than an entire sheet of paper (or two), with armor and structure tracking that’s actually oddly reminiscent of the old BattleTech CCG. Best of all, you can get the Alpha Strike card for every single ‘Mech (including its variants) over on the Master Unit List website absolutely free.

BattleTech Aces Meet And Greet Modified Crab Wraith Stinger Spider

They’ll be in black and white and they won’t look as nice as the real cards you can buy, but you can play Alpha Strike right now for zero money. All you need is a token to denote what ‘Mechs you wanna field and the stat cards on the Master Unit List site.

Alpha Strike also provides an easy onboarding game for Warhammer converts. The “standard” version of Alpha Strike forgoes BattleTech’s classic hex maps and instead has you measure distances for moving and shooting. It’s a bit slower, but it provides a familiar system for Warhammer folks.

Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of using hexes as they simplify measuring distances. Alpha Strike does contain rules to play on hex maps, so old-school BattleTech fans can still use all their beloved paper maps. You have the option of playing with more elaborate custom maps, or you can just play on your kitchen table using whatever household items you can imagine as mountains, forests, or other geological features.

BattleTech Aces Meet And Greet Nova Pouncer

You’re probably all thinking, “That’s great Sean, really didn’t need the recap for a game system that’s been around for a decade.” And to that, I’ll say hey now! We’ve got a lot of folks coming over to us from Warhammer 40K that might want to know where to get started, and I can heartily recommend Alpha Strike as the best place to get their newfound giant robot feet wet.

BattleTech Aces, however, will change the format of the game. Rather than two (or more) players facing off in simulated miniature combat, now you can play against the game itself either by yourself or with friends. Alpha Strike goes from competitive to cooperative, and that’s a paradigm shift I’m here for.

BattleTech Aces: From Competitive To Co-op

To get access to BattleTech Aces, you’ll need to have signed on to the Mercenaries Kickstarter at any pledge level. What’s available right now is still in beta, so there are some ‘Mech types that are missing and some AI-recommended actions might not always make the most sense. However, what we have is a good idea of what to expect in a final product.

BattleTech Aces Card Anatomy

Courtesy of CGL

BattleTech Aces is basically a deck of cards that you can assign to the enemy ‘Mechs in order for them to take actions not made by any player. It’s you against the board, as tabletop fans might say. Each of Alpha Strike‘s ‘Mech types is assigned a deck of cards and each turn that ‘Mech draws a card that will determine what actions it takes.

On the back of a card is a number that will determine what priority that ‘Mech has over its AI-controlled teammates. The lower the number, the earlier in the turn order that ‘Mech will move. Where that ‘Mech goes and what it does is then determined by what’s written on the front of the card.

On the front is basically a list of priorities for that ‘Mech. Top of the list is the thing it should definitely do above all else, like “move into woods/cover from most enemies” or “move to most enemies within line-of-sight.” Those priorities will depend on the card and the type of unit assigned to that deck. There are usually four to five instructions for movement, with that unit attempting to achieve as many as possible.

BattleTech Aces Pouncer

When it comes time to start shooting, there’s a list of instructions in the Combat Phase section at the bottom of the card. These instructions will determine where that unit aims its guns and pulls the trigger. Typically, those instructions will be to aim at whatever ‘Mech it can most easily destroy or is the easiest to hit (slow ‘Mechs out in the open, for example), but I can easily see a set of Clan-focused cards that require the unit to follow the rules of zellbrigen until the cowardly Spheroids start focusing fire.

After the instructions on each card have told every AI-controlled unit where to move and where to shoot, the old card is discarded and a new card is drawn at the beginning of the next turn. If the game goes long enough to run out of cards, then you just shuffle them up to draw from a fresh deck.

It takes a few turns to get into the flow of things, but once you get used to the symbols on the cards, you can generally have the enemy team’s turn sorted out in short order. This makes games go even faster because one of the sides doesn’t have to think about what to do; their turns are already decided by the cards.

When I played BattleTech Aces, I used the Meet & Greet scenario where the player-controlled side of green Inner Sphere forces (with some minor alterations to account for the ‘Mechs we had on hand, including a Crab, a Wraith, a Spider, and a Stinger) took on a pair of deck-controlled veteran Clan ‘MechWarriors (driving a Nova C and a Pouncer Prime). Even though the Clanners had a cardboard brain, they still put up a hell of a fight, leaving just the Wraith alive by the end.

BattleTech Aces Nova C

What struck me most is how effective these instructions were for providing a challenging opponent. You could even increase the challenge yourself by simply giving the bad guys a greater point value.

The other thing that I really liked about BattleTech Aces was just the fact it was a cooperative game. You can play with as many folks as you have ‘Mechs on the friendly side. It’s truly a shared experience, and you can have just as many nail-biting dice rolls without any of the hurt feelings (you can tell I’m maybe a big fan of co-op games).

And–I can’t stress this enough–having one side’s decisions already made makes the game go even faster than before. Depending on the number of units you field, you could potentially have several BattleTech Aces games done in a single afternoon. That’s a big swing from old-school tabletop BattleTech where games could take an entire weekend or even longer.

I totally recommend BattleTech Aces to anyone who’s got access to the digital rewards from the Mercenaries Kickstarter. And if you don’t, there’s still time to be a late backer.

BattleTech Aces Modified Meet And Greet Battle Scenario

As a note of warning, don’t expect the final product to just be those PDF files. Catalyst has stated that the final product might be several smaller releases or a “larger, more comprehensive product,” depending on the feedback it received from the playtest in May. Product development takes time and all that, but I can totally see a boxed product similar to Alpha Strike itself with its nicely-printed cards.

Catalyst has also told us to be patient for a version of Aces that might work with standard Total Warfare BattleTech. When standard BattleTech gets granular enough for you to target individual components, creating a single deck of cards to drive those ‘Mechs is a herculean task.

That’s fine though. I’m a much bigger fan of Alpha Strike anyway. Here’s hoping the Mercenaries Kickstarter arrives soon so I’ll be able to field my merc company against an AI-controlled team of Clanners once again.

And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.

stay syrupy

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13 thoughts on “Alpha Strike’s BattleTech Aces Got Me To Love Tabletop Again

    1. Michael

      It hasn’t been released yet, so probably not. It’s an add-on for Alpha Strike which does have a page.

  1. Flashfreeze

    I rather like the Aces concept. And in the true spirit of homebrewing, I could easily see players coming up with their own “house cards” to represent their own playstyles or quirky behaviors. That’d be a fun way to see what people come up with.

    1. Potter Dee

      Faction cards would be super cool and would really help new recruits better understand the flavor and style of combat for each faction.

  2. Cat

    My play group has been playing Alpha Strike on hex for years because it is a faster, more dynamic game and allows for bigger battles. We have a weekly game where we routinely have 4-12 players and it is amazing fun. Awesome to to hear you found Aces to be a pleasureable experience as it seems like a good entry level experience for new players and a way to scratch the Battletech itch when RL prevents a playgroup from getting together.

  3. gwaedin

    Actually, you can make your own custom-made AS cards look really nice: on the MUL, you can specify an image link and it will be showed in the custom card that you can download and print out. We favour MWO colour images for that, and then we also print standees with the corresponding image. It looks very good.
    I’m an old time CBT fan but since now I play with my son (10 yrs old) we use AS rules because they are simpler. We use a set PV ratio to ensure balanced games, so that it will take all my skill to win and we both have fun. We try to have a PV ratio that according to previous game statistics should give a draw as an expected result.
    We play on hex maps, since I have some 20-30 maps from CBT and I also agree that distances are far easier to get this way, being definitely an hex and not a 3D type (I also used to play Advanced Squad Leader).
    We are enjoying it A LOT. We played more than 50 games over the past four years, with my son absolutely thrilled about picking his ‘Mechs and also designing his own (thanks Mordel for that). I also published some of our scenarios and minicampaigns on the BG forums.
    Yet, I have to say I’m really intrigued by Aces. The possibility of playing co-op with my son would be awesome. I’m thinking about backing as a Paper Pusher just to get access to the beta, which I would buy immediately if it was available on CGL store. Playing together would allow me to teach my son tactics as we play, and not after the scenario (“you shouldn’t have been so aggressive with your Omnimechs, son…”).


    I’ve played quite a bit of Aces since they made it available for backing the Kickstarter.

    Something that I provided as feedback that makes the deck a bit more competitive is to base the AI-controlled priority on MV instead of the card priority number, and instead using the numbers on the cards as a tie-breaker.

  5. Leevizer

    “Rolling dice for each individual weapon (sometimes multiple dice, as is the case with missiles) just slows combat to a crawl, and tracking damage likewise proves time-consuming (even though it’s a far more accurate representation of battle damage).

    Alpha Strike fixes all that.”

    But that is not something that needs to be fixed, is the thing. Why does every game need to be quick and simple, usually to the point of becoming so simple that it becomes dull?

    I’m coming from 40k and I want to stay away from Alpha Strike, since to me it just screams of being 40k but Giant Robots. Hell, rolling individual missile salvoes striking locations, hoping to get to that already-damaged spot is exciting.

    1. R0AHN

      I’ve been playing since the 90’s and yeah, there’s hilarity and excitement that Alpha Strike doesn’t replicate. There’s a trade-off between granularity and speed. For just a couple of lances, you can get through a classic BT game in a couple hours but you’re limited to only those few units. You can still do larger engagements but there’s an associated ballooning of the time investment.

      I like Alpha Strike as an option because it opens up a much, *much* larger scale than the classic rules really allow for. If I’m fielding a mixed arms company with infantry, VTOL, vehicle detachments alongside multiple lances then I can’t really do that well with classic rules. If I’m going to be duking it out with a group Solaris-style for an afternoon of quick fun or running a classic scenario, it’s not going to be with the AS ruleset.

      Welcome to the community! If you have any questions on the game or just want to chat, definitely join the Sarna discord server.

      1. gwaedin

        Wow… a lance vs. lance game in a couple of hours is WAY faster than whan we used to do with my buddy when playing CBT. For us, it took twice as long as that; since we never played often, I can imagine trimming it down to 3 hours but 2 is probably not our pace.
        Anyway, I wanted to add just a small bit: during the last CBT games and subsequently in all of the AS ones played with my son, we embraced the Individual initiative rule. That is the single thing having a huge (positive) effect in our games:
        1. by speeding them up considerably, the more so as the scale of the battle is larger (because deciding which unit to move has then so many options, and we were taking a lot of time to weigh the alternatives);
        2. by avoiding distortions which in our case where taking away fun from the game.

        As for point 2, our typical pattern was that you almost always started moving your fastest and less armed unit in a defensive fashion, saving your big guns for the last part of the turn when you can hope to get a decent shot at something. You quite never saw a light ‘Mech outflanking an assault one, simply because even if you lost initiative, there was at most one ‘Mech moving after your big one. I rejected this when I realized this was impacting even our unit selection, since it was clear that a balanced unit with 4 ‘Mechs of roughly equal power was at a distinct disadvantage when facing a lance with two “dummy” units and two real big, powerful machines.
        Now everything runs smoother, you can never know if a given unit next turn will be first or last, and any force combination has its fair chance in the field.

  6. Ilan

    Just want to shout out the amazing Josh Derksen and Lynnvander studios for what he’s done for this (and for X-Wing before it via Heroes of the Aturi Cluster, and with other games like Star Trek Alliance, and soon SnapShips). If you haven’t had a chance to play against one of Josh’s fantastic single-player systems before, I think Aces will be a great intro.


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