Howdy and welcome to the second article covering the Special Pilot Abilities in Alpha Strike. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading the previous article before continuing with this one, as this will just be a continuation of that article. For a brief refresher, we are going over the various SPAs that you can take in Alpha Strike, and assigning them a letter grade based on how good I feel they are. SPAs are a pretty wide range in quality, so this will hopefully help narrow things down. Another clarification is that the amount of SPAs that you receive on a unit is based on its skill level, and that is where the points come in to play, the skill level of the mech gives it an amount of points it is allowed to spend on SPAs, so if you had 4 points you could have 4 1 point SPAs or 1 4 point SPA, or any variation or mix that adds up to 4 points. I forgot to mention this last time because I have a room temperature IQ, sorry about that!
Natural Grace is situationally good. It gives a mech a 360 firing arc, and reduces the penalty for moving through rough terrain. Its potentially interesting if the map is set up right for it, but 3 points is a lot to ask. Solid B, though map dependent.
This is one of those hyper-specific SPAs. It gives any unit bearing it with the ART keyword a -1 bonus to hit, as well as some interaction with off-map artillery and counter battery fire. This is pretty good, and 1 point is very cheap, but Artillery units are not super common, though they are much more useable in Alpha Strike than they are in Standard Battletech. Solid B+ if you were already bringing the artillery, but it’s not really worth bringing artillery just to use this.
This SPA on the other hand fucks hard. It not only gives a -1 to hit bonus on all indirect fire attacks, it also allows a unit to indirect fire without a spotter, albeit at a penalty. One of the big issues with indirect fire is the reliance on your spotting unit not dying, and this helps smooth that out and keeps the indirect fire ability useful for much longer than normal. Basically every list should have some indirect fire in it from LRMs, so nearly every list has units that would want this SPA. It is also one of the cheaper ones at 1 point. The cherry on top though is that you can get it for free in the Fire Support Lance formation, which is fantastic. Overall an A, basically every force can make good use of this.
Range Master is busted wide open if you know what to do with it. It has a ridiculous chart in the book that explains its interactions with other SPAs, which makes it seem much more confusing than it is. It essentially just lets you get -2 to hit at a specific range, and +2 to hit at short range as a penalty. This is incredible. Medium Range Master lets you hit without a range penalty out to 24 inches. Short range is only 6 inches, so you get 3 times the no-penalty range by taking it, and with the high speed of units in Alpha Strike it is really easy to make sure that you can use Medium Range Master every single turn to land your damage much, much more consistently. Long Range Master lets you basically count as being in medium range at all times, with all of your shots being a +2 to hit out to extreme range, and it is potentially interesting on an LRM boat or artillery piece. This is a steal at 2 points and I consider it to very nearly be an auto-include, A.
Ride the Wash
Ride the Wash is a weird SPA that makes it easier for your Aerospace fighter to manuever. It also lets you force an opponent to make a check or potentially crash, which is great fun. Solid SPA for fighters, though it is IMO a bit less impactful than some of the other ones, C+.
This SPA is a more powerful version of Cluster Hitter. It gives +1 damage and -1 to hit when firing cluster type weapons, does not require you to stop moving the way cluster hitter does, and the only drawback is that you can’t use damage that doesn’t have the cluster traits. This is a very powerful SPA on any sort of SRM boat at 2 points, solid B+ on any unit that can take it.
Shaky Stick costs 2 points and gives aircraft a +1 TMM when being shot by a ground unit. This is a decent buff to survivability, if unexciting. I give it a C.
Sharpshooter is Marksman’s superior cousin. It costs 4 points, which is a lot, but it is potentially spectacular. As long as you stand still, it lets you make an attack at full damage and, if you succeed by 3 or more, you get a through armor critical roll. Crit rolls are really nasty in Alpha Strike so this is a pretty decent SPA, a solid B+.
Slugger costs 1 point and lets your mech pick up a tree and beat people with it, giving them the MEL keyword which boosts melee damage. This is a fun one to stack with all of the other melee SPAs but is otherwise not great, I give it a C-.
Sniper is another one of the best SPAs in the game. It costs 3 points and halves the range penalty at all ranges, meaning you are only +1 at medium range and +2 at long. This is somewhat boring but will basically always be giving you a big bonus to hit, and is useful on a huge amount of mechs, I give this an A+, you will nearly always want it, it loses the title of best SPA to Combat Intuition in my opinion but you could make an argument for it.
Speed Demon is an SPA held back by one line of text. It gives 2 inches of extra movement to a unit for 2 points, which seems great, but it doesn’t raise the unit’s TMM. This is a huge bummer because one of the main purposes of high speed is to get a higher TMM. It is ok I guess but you will usually want a different, more impactful SPA, C-.
Stand Aside is a cheap SPA at 1 point and simply allows the unit to walk through enemy units. This is very rarely useful unless your opponent has completely surrounded a unit and blocked it’s movement, which is a very rare situation. I give it a D.
Street Fighter rules so hard, even if it probably isn’t that good. It has a huge amount of rules text on it, but what it basically means is that whenever an opponent within your melee range makes an attack, if you haven’t already attacked them you can make an attack at a +1 penalty, and if you succeed you do damage equal to your melee damage and your short ranged damage added together, and this attack happens outside of the initiative order so, if this kills the enemy, they don’t get to shoot this turn, basically acting as a less powerful version of Combat Intuition. This SPA rocks because you counter punch a robot with your robot and knock him out, but it kinda sucks to use because the use case for it is really narrow and having to get into melee range is a huge problem for most mechs that do enough damage for this to matter. I’d rank it a C+ at 2 points, situationally incredible but difficult to set up.
Sure Footed makes you faster on roads and less likely to slip on them for 2 points. This is a D-, it really genuinely will not come up often enough to be worth it.
Swordsman is another situationally incredible Melee SPA. For 2 points, it grants a unit the ability to, in melee with the MEL keyword, you can choose to either deal 1 extra point of damage, or you can roll an additional crit regardless of armor. This not only means a free Through Armor Critical, it also means that if you already were going to crit them, you get to make 2 crit rolls instead of one. This is a shockingly powerful SPA because, as we have seen throughout these articles, abilities that give Through Armor Criticals tend to be very strongly limited for ranged attacks. I suppose that this SPA gets a pass due to it requiring melee range, but even with that downside this cracks into a B+, being good enough to consider kitting out an entire melee mech for.
Tactical Genius allows you to reroll initiative every couple of turns. It is pretty good, and, as it comes free with the Command Lance, you will see it very often. Its a generically nice SPA, a solid B.
Terrain Master (Drag Racer)
Terrain Master (Drag Racer) is exactly the same as Surefooted, but for tanks instead of mechs. It is still a D-.
Terrain Master (Forest Ranger)
Terrain Master (Forest Ranger), other than having a name which sounds like a bootleg 90s action figure, allows a unit to move through woods faster, and it gives a +1 TMM bonus to the unit when it is in the woods. Actually not terrible at 3 points due to the extra TMM, but I would still usually pick something more impactful, I give it a C.
Terrain Master (Frogman)
Terrain Master (Frogman) makes you faster when moving underneath the water for 3 points. This is not worth it, I give it a D-.
Terrain Master (Mountaineer)
Terrain Master (Mountaineer) makes you faster when you climb or change elevations, and when you walk through rubble/debris. Not particularly good, but better than Frogman, so a D.
Terrain Master (Nightwalker)
Terrain Master (Nightwalker) makes you ignore the penalties for being in the dark. This is a really cool, powerful ability until you are not playing at night, at which point it is literally worthless, D-.
Terrain Master (Sea Monster)
Terrain Master (Sea Monster) makes you faster in shallow water, and makes you harder to hit in it. D+, brought up by the “being harder to hit” part.
Terrain Master (Swamp Beast)
Terrain Master (Swamp Beast) makes you move better in swamps, become immune to bogging down, and you are harder to hit while in a swamp. Pretty meh, D.
Weapon Specialist costs 3 points and means that whenever you miss by 1, you do half damage. This is really interesting, because it reduces the feast or famine nature of damage in this game, and makes it more likely that you will do something to the enemy, rather than nothing. I give it a B-, nice to have but not unit defining.
Wind Walker is an Aircraft SPA that makes flying and landing easier. Why are there so many SPAs that just make flying and landing easier? C-.
Zweihander is 2 points and is a very simple SPA. It just gives you +1 melee damage, no matter what else. Nice to have, but not exciting and still a melee buff in a shooting focused game, C+.
There are actually a few SPAs that are exclusive to infantry, and, for some baffling reason, these are separated into their own special category in the book. I have no idea why Infantry SPAs in particular are separated off but mech, tank, and aircraft SPAs have to timeshare the main list.
Foot Cavalry costs 1 point and makes infantry a lot faster, adding 2 inches of movement and cutting down the penalty from some rough terrain. This is mostly good, B-.
Battletech apparently has cavalry in it, and this is the exact same as Foot Cavalry but for… actual cavalry. It is missing a couple of the terrain types that Foot Cavalry has though, so it is demoted to a C+.
Heavy Horse costs 2 points and makes a unit of cavalry, like, horse riding cavalry, do one extra point of damage in melee. I cannot fathom the world where you are doing horse cavalry melee charges in Battletech, I give this a D- and my extreme confusion.
Urban Guerilla is a cool SPA. It makes a unit of infantry harder to hit while in a city, and also gives damage reduction, which is rare. On top of that, once per game it allows you to summon a free unit of infantry out of nowhere as long as they are fighting in a city. I love the design on this SPA and hope that more SPAs use it in the future, but as is it is about a C+, really nice but not earth shattering.
There is a huge, huge range in the effectiveness of SPAs in this game. Some of them are earth shakingly powerful, while others are just a way to waste points and slots. Overall I do really love the SPA system and messing around with it is one of the highlights of playing Alpha Strike. This article series also made me really want to take a Banshee 8s and go ballistic with melee SPAs on it and beat people to death.