Monday, April 3, 2017

Formation Building for Alpha Strike

All right Game Fans, we’re back with another article on one of our favorite games, Alpha Strike.  If you’ve kept up with the list to date, you can see that we’ve been cranking out the articles on this topic and it’s because we genuinely enjoy the game.  Today we’re going to take a look at building your first army group, (Alpha Strike calls these formations).  We’re going to be referencing the combat manuals to do this, so if you haven’t picked up Combat Manual: Mercenaries, or Combat Manual Kurita, you’re going to be at a bit of a disadvantage.  So, go get one of those while the rest of us get started.  

Battletech is a game that loves processes that involve steps and force building is not different.  Let’s take a look at the steps involved in putting a force together.  For those of you following along with your worksheets and text, we’re on page 74 of Combat Manual: Kurita.  Let’s start at the top of the process (we’ll be including a glossary of terms before we start the process).  

Key Terms


The smallest discrete element a player controls on the battlefield.  These are typically recorded on a unit card, and represent a battlemech, a tank, an aerospace fighter, infantry, or a few other more diverse options.  


An organizational grouping of units.  In the Inner Sphere, these are called lances, which are composed of four units.  Larger formations called companies (composed of 3 lances), Battalions, (composed of 3 companies), and Regiments (composed of 3 battalions) organize and group units into functional and administrative commands.  


The combined formations used by a single player in a game of Alpha Strike.  Players can theoretically construct much larger forces (such as an entire regiment of battlemechs) and use portions of them depending on the game (using a specific company for a mission, for example).  

Combat Command:  

An administrative designation that represents a specific military unit.  These share training methods, organizational doctrines, and Special Command Abilities.  Further, each Combat Command has an Experience rating, and can have other special rules that might apply.  Example The Nightstalkers


A smaller component of a larger combat command.  They share the abilities, rules and experience rating of the larger force they are a member of.  Example:  The Second Nightstalkers


Battletech (and Alpha Strike, by extension) is broken up into discrete time periods where technology is in a state of flux.  Eras are one of the key determining factors for playing a historical scenario, and determining what units are available in the universe at the time.  Examples: The Clan Invasion, The FedCom Civil War


A distinct organization representing either a nation-state, major power, or some other power bloc that has access to military technology.  Each Combat Manual details at least one of these factions (the Combat Manual Kurita features both the Free Rasalhague Republic and the Draconis Combine).

Availability List:  

Each Faction has a pool of units that are either typical of that Faction, or are extremely common within its borders, (in some cases both).  The Availability List determines what units a faction has ready access to.  These are further broken down by era, as technological fluctuations can make some units available while restricting others.  Units that are not on the Availability List can be acquired with Faction Points (FP), detailed below.

Faction Points:

Faction Points enable access to units that are not normally available to a given faction.  These abstractly represent battle salvage, political capital, hidden resources, and a variety of other options that would enable a force to pick up a unit not normally found on their availability list.  

Get all of that?  Good, if you need to refer back it, it will be right up here at the top of the article.

Process 1:  Getting Started with a Formation

Battletech loves it’s procedural trees, and Formation Building has about three distinct processes that are essential to the finished product.  We’ll go through each Process step by step so that you can see how each one works.  

Step 1:  Choose a Point Value

Points are the balancing element of Alpha Strike and allow players to build forces of roughly equal value, despite fielding wildly different units.  For your first formation that you put together, i would encourage you to pick somewhere between 400 and 450 points.  This allows you to build a standard sized company (of 3 lances) that features a variety of unit and lance types.  It’s a good starting point for exploring force construction and tinkering with other ideas.  I personally build at 450, and that allows me to build heavy regular forces, elite lights and mediums, or green assaults in a lot of combinations.

Step 2:  Choose an Era

Like we’ve stated earlier, Era is an important consideration for Alpha Strike force building.  Things changing over time is one of the interesting things about the Battletech Universe, and Era is essential for determining what units you have access to, and what Combat Commands are around.  If you’re not wanting to lose a bunch of friends, i suggest you and your friends determine the Era you’re going to play in together about the same time you settle on point values.  

Step 3: Choose a Faction

Everyone needs a faction to assemble a Force out of.  This will help determine what units you have access to, what Combat Commands you can utilize, and might even help you determine a paint scheme if you’re going to paint your Units.  If you’re playing with friends, you can pick the same faction because the abundance of Combat Commands and options means that you have a very wide swath of play styles and special options to differentiate your forces from theirs.  

Step 4: Choose a Combat Command

Every Alpha Strike force is made up of a Combat Command (or draws sub-commands out of them in the case of really big formations).  The advantage that the Mercs and the Kuritans have right now is  that most of their Combat Commands are listed in their respective Combat Manuals.  Other forces are going to have to refer to the Alpha Strike Companion’s advice for this (which boils down to find a sourcebook that has the unit you’re building and extrapolate as best you can).

There are dozens of Combat Commands to choose from within each book, and you should be able to find a force that you like the combination of history, size, and special rules.  If you don’t find one you like, you can prepare an unlisted force, which forces you to roll randomly for your Special Command Abilities.

Interlude: Formation Organization

Now at this point in the text is a multiple page discussion about the standard organizational scheme used by the combat manual you have in front of you.  Take some time and look through it, because if you decide you want to expand your forces as you get deeper into the game, having a coherent battalion is a lot easier if you look at its components.  This particular section ends with a discussion of how to put together a Company, along with the typical lances that are the building blocks of companies.  

Process 2: Build Formations

Now that you’ve got the basics figured out for what you want to put together, it’s time to actually go through the steps and put together each one of your formations.  Now we’re going to plan how to put together a company, which requires 3 lance sized formations.  Let’s go through some steps to get you started, and cover a few distinct oddities.

Step 1: Choose Formation Type

Formation types are covered by the Alpha Strike Companion (starting on page 150 of the ASC). and the Campaign Operations (page 60 of the CO).  There are also some options included in each one of the Combat Manuals detailing specific options from each major faction.  Units included in a formation must meet the Formation’s requirements to qualify for bonus abilities.  

Step 2: Choose Units for the Formation

There are two primary ways to put Formations together for an Alpha Strike game, and we’ll cover both of those.  Remember that we are talking about putting together a company sized formation because they are a basic building block level unit that has smaller groups you can choose to play with.  

The First way is to take a look at the standard lances suggested within each Combat Manual.  There are a host of typical lances sorted by their Lance type (which means they qualify for the lance formation benefits detailed in the ASC).  Each Combat Manual offers standard lances for the Late Succession War and Early Clan Invasion Eras.  If you want to just jump into the game and get playing, these are an excellent resource to get you started.  

The Second Way allows you to custom build each Lance according to your desires and designs.  You have access to the Availability List in the Combat Manual (or if you’re putting together a unit from a faction without a Combat Manual, you have the Master Unit List.  This process has a lot more steps to it, but allows a much more free hand in Formation design.  We’ll be putting together a breakdown of how this works in the next couple of weeks, so if this doesn’t exactly make sense, it’s ok.  

The Company is the basic administrative unit of forces built for Alpha Strike, and depending on its make up can include aerospace assets, infantry, vehicles and/or battlemechs.  There are several important concepts to keep track of at the company level when you’re putting your forces together.  
  1. Faction Points:  Faction Points are managed at the company level, and a standard sized company has 12 Faction points to purchase out of faction mechs or special lance formations.  You can’t share faction points between your companies, and they should be tracked on the formation Worksheet from page 125.
  2. Rare Units:  Some units are uncommon within a given faction’s availability.  This means that while they don’t cost FPs to purchase, they are limited to One per company.  These units are marked with an * in the Availability List.
  3. Multiple versions of the same variant:  Most military forces lack a large enough logistical support network to field lances and companies of the exact same mech.  There are exceptions to this rule, but anytime a Force builder puts two copies of the same variant into their list, it costs them 1 Faction Point per copy.  Example:  Tim puts two copies of the BLR-1G into his list, each of which costs him a Faction Point.  Had he selected the BLR-1G and the BLR-1S, he wouldn’t have had to pay the extra Faction Points because they are two different variants  
  4. Story Availability List:  Some mechs have an interesting story as to how they made it to the battlefield.  What this means in play is that by expending a lot of FPs, a player can access a host of wider options for picking up a specific mech.  For 6 FPs, the player can access any of the following Availability Lists: Davion, Kurita, Liao, Marik, Steiner, Mercenary, Wolf’s Dragoons, and Star League cache: Star League.  For 7 FPs, they can access Star League: Star League Royal, and if during the Clan Invasion, Clan Jade Falcon, Clan Ghost Bear, Clan Wolf, Clan Smoke Jaguar, Clan Nova Cat.
  5. Unique Characters:  Each Combat Manual has a selection of unique characters that can be added to a formation.  They have fixed skill ratings, special abilities, and a unit assigned to them.  Each Force can only have one Unique character.  
  6. Sub Commands:  In cases where Players want to add additional forces that don’t feature on the primary Combat Command’s Roster, (For example, adding a lance of combat vehicles to an All battlemech force), they can assign a sub command made up of the desired units from another of the larger Combat Command’s sub commands.  Units pulled from another sub command are considered to be a part of their own company (though they can be as small a formation as a lance), and draw their Special Command Abilities and other supplemental rules from their specific Sub Command.
  7. Supplemental Formations: Some players may wish to add units that don’t show up anywhere in their Combat Command’s available forces.  Doing so is as easy as combining the desired units into formation sized chunks and assigning them to the larger force.  These forces do not generate Faction Points, and come from either the General or Kurita Availability Lists.

Step 3:  Select Skill and adjust PV

For each unit, you can adjust the Skill of each pilot/mechwarrior/tank crew up or down.  Doing so adjusts the PV of the unit, and the process for that is detailed on page 24 of the Alpha Strike book.  Depending on the Combat Command you’ve selected, you may have to adjust your Units to a specific

Step 4:  Assign Special Pilot Abilities

Up to 1 unit per company can be assigned Special Pilot Abilities.  These are detailed on page 50-58 of the Alpha Strike Companion and page 70 of the Campaign Operations.  A Unique character does not count towards this limit.  
Standard Lances (and some of the Lance Formations detailed elsewhere), often provide Special Pilot Abilities that have to be assigned during this step.  Some provide more flexible abilities, but most are assigned at this step of the Formation building process.  Some Combat Commands detail additional special benefits that need to be assigned at this step as well.  Once you’ve covered all of this special abilities, your formation is complete.  Once you’ve assembled your three lances, your company is built and ready to raise some hell on the tabletop.  

Process 3: Assigning Special Command Abilities

Special Command Abilities are basically force level special abilities that any given combat command are capable of acquiring.  These represent specific training styles, methods of organization, or just odd quirks of how things worked out for that particular Combat Command.  For players selecting a force that doesn’t belong to a listed Combat Command, you can still acquire Special Command Abilities, but they are randomly determined as detailed below.

Step 1: Determine a Force’s Experience Rating

To find a Force’s experience rating, add the Skill of all units in the Force, then divide by the number of units in the force.  Compare this value to the Skill Rating Table on pg. 24 of the Alpha Strike Corebook.

Step 2: Determine the Number of Special Command Abilities

All Forces receive one Special Command Ability (either from the listed ones in a given Combat Command/Sub-Command, or for an unlisted Force, from the table given for such forces).  Veteran or Elite Forces receive an additional SCA for a total of two, and Legendary or Heroic Forces receive two additional SCAs for a total of three.  

Step 3:  Assign Special Command Abilities

After you’ve determined how many Special Command Abilities you have access to, you need to actually pick the ones you’re using.  Unlisted forces randomly roll for there SCAs, while everyone else can pick an appropriate number of abilities from their Combat Command’s options.  


That’s the length and breadth of the Formation building process, from start to finish.  There is one thing we didn’t discuss today, and that’s picking up Mercenary supplemental forces for any given group.  We’ll cover than in another article, and we’ll also put together a full set of examples of how this process works.  That’s us for today Game Fans, Game On.  


  1. We're very happy you liked the guide, we'll be putting up some examples in the next few weeks so you can see it in practice