Monday, 9 March 2009

Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition Game 2

On 23 Feb 2009 Han and I started our second PBEM game of Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50). This time we played the 1942 scenario, which is equivalent to the starting setup in past versions of the game. Spring 1942 was when the Axis powers reached their peak during World War II. This time I played the Axis and Han the Allies. We played with both national objectives and technology.

Playing the Axis is fun. You start with more units and they are better positioned to fight. I played quite aggressively at the start, making some gambles here and there. I didn't really think too much. I may have been overly aggressive. Playing the Axis feels very different from my previous game as the Allies. As the Allies, you start the game doing mostly damage control. You are desperately trying to contain the Axis expansion, trying to minimise losses, and trying to build up your forces to be able to halt the Axis advance. You need to be defensive mostly, and yet you need to plan for counter-attacking, and you cannot concede too much, lest the Axis build up too much of a momentum. All this while the Allies need to conserve their limited starting forces. Well, actually the Axis also needs to conserve their starting forces too, because being economically weaker, replenishing them will be harder. Definitely playing the Allies is quite challenging. You need to plan carefully to turn the tide, before it overwhelms you.

The starting setup of the AA50 1942 scenario.

In our game, we tried some different approaches from our first game. As the Germans, although I attacked the Russians aggressively with my starting troops, I spilt my production capacity between boosting my navy and building more troops to send to the Eastern Front. I even built a battleship and a carrier. Having a German navy is convenient for shipping troops to Scandinavia and to Karelia. It is also useful in delaying the invasion of Europe by UK and USA. My German navy destroyed the British fleet in Round 3, and also the small American Atlantic fleet by Round 4. During these early battles in the Atlantic, the legend of the German Yamato was born.

Germany invested in its navy, and defeated the initial UK fleet, gaining dominance of the Atlantic Ocean in the early game.

Sidetrack: The name Yamato comes from a Japanese manga (comic / graphic novel) Silent Fleet by Kaiji Kawaguchi (沉默的舰队 - 川口开治). In the story (which happens in the 1990's I think), a nuclear submarine built by the Japanese, manned by Japanese soldiers but belonging to the US Pacific Fleet went renegade, and renamed itself Yamato. It defeated many submarines and ships sent to hunt it down.

In the Atlantic Battles, there was this stubborn German U-boat that defied the odds multiple times and sank many Allied ships. It was eventually destroyed by the new British fleet, consisting of an aircraft carrier (with fighters, of course), but not without taking a British destroyer down with it.

The German Yamato, which later proceeded to sink those 2 British destroyers and also that American transport.

The German fleet lasted only into Round 5. UK built up its Royar Air Force and sank it. Germany, which could not afford to spend more money on its fleet, had its fighters desert their poor carrier, and diverted its money to building land troops to invade USSR. The new British fleet was born in Round 7, and became a constant threat to the European coastline. USA never spent much effort in Europe, but one well-timed troop shipment to Africa help a lot in recapturing the continent which was previously conquered by a lone German tank. The Americans did recapture Gibraltar for the UK, and also helped capture France and Italy later on.

In North Africa, the Italians were aggressive in attacking Egypt, but unfortunately weren't very successful at it. Egypt only fell in Round 4. The Italian navy was very handy, and in fact was critical, in supporting the push for Africa, and in threatening USSR from the south. It was lost to British bombers in Round 7, after which the Italians could only afford to build land troops. The Italians had only ever built one naval unit, a transport, and that was on the very first turn. The fall of Egypt allowed Germany to break through and capture most of Africa, but it was soon liberated by the Americans.

The Pacific Theatre was probably the most tense area. Japan attacked the starting American fleet in Hawaii, and the American Californian fleet retaliated. After that USA spent most of its effort building up its Pacific fleet. Japan had to do the same. It was an arms race. There was much maneuvering, with the two opposing fleets being just out of attack range, and not daring to come too close. Japan starts the 1942 scenario in a strong position, because it already fulfills two of its three national objectives, which the Allies will require much effort and time to deny. Japan can easily destroy the UK India fleet in Round 1, before it can do anything (Japan's turn comes first), which I did in this game. Unlike our previous game, Han commited much American money to the Pacific Theatre, and this threat caused Japan to hesitate and limit its expansion on the Asian mainland. China was subdued quickly, but Japan didn't have enough troops to threaten India or the Soviet Far East as well. The Red Army amassed at the border and did not return to Moscow. UK built a factory in India, and USSR even sent a tank to help protect it. This was a dilemma period for Japan. The Indian factory could become a serious threat in the future. The Red Army was about to break through the western tip of China and the Japanese-Russian border to the north of Manchuria. And all this while the American fleet was building up and threatening, even capturing the Solomon Islands and Wake Island. Also Japan had build a factory in Manchuria, which needed to be protected.

Now, even after the game has ended, I am still not sure whether I made the right decision at that point in time. I sent my Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) to capture India. The capture of India was a little risky, as USSR could have recaptured it quickly. Having my IJN in the Indian Ocean also allowed the American Pacific fleet to sail to Japan, and although it didn't have enough transports and land troops to invade Japan, it was able to capture my newly built factory in Manchuria. The eager Russians waiting at the border quickly came down to help secure Manchuria. A Russian tank also invaded from the western border of China, and converted the Chinese to communists.

Sidetrack 2: Now here's a bug of the TripleA program, if I understand the rules correctly. When USSR recaptures Chinese territory, they should revert to become American controlled, since the American capitol is not enemy-occupied. Instead the Chinese territory became USSR-controlled in our game, i.e. USSR earned money, and USA didn't get to receive Chinese infantry.

The IJN rushed back towards its beseiged island home, knowing that it was facing a formidable foe. USA had jet-fighters, which were as good as bombers on offense. The US Fleet met the IJN halfway, off the coast of Vietnam, and the biggest battle of the game ensued. That was Round 7 of the game. All ships from both sides were destroyed, and only one lonely American bomber survived to tell the tale. It flew back to Manchuria.

The Battle of South China Sea. Attacking US fleet: 1 heavy bomber, 8 jet fighters, 1 battleship, 1 cruiser, 3 aircraft carriers, 2 destroyers, 2 submarines, 1 transport. Defending IJN fleet: 6 fighters, 4 battleships, 1 cruiser, 3 aircraft carriers, 2 submarines, 2 transports. 1 US bomber and 1 US transport survived this battle.

This was probably the height of Russian expansion into Asia, at the end of Round 8.

Japan quickly recaptured Manchuria and rebuilt its navy. At the same time the Americans had already started rebuilding their Pacific fleet. They even sent a small force to liberate Borneo. That's where I was born (many years after the end of World War II though). Japan, knowing that it had to spend money on land troops to reconquer lost ground and to push outwards towards Moscow and Africa, could not afford to spend too much money on its new IJN. So it invested in submarines. It had previously made a breakthrough in technology, gaining super subs, which attack on a 3 instead of a 2. This certainly helped. In one surprise victory off the coast of Alaska, four Japanese super subs defeated a medium-sized American fleet of 2 carriers, 2 destroyers, 2 fighters and 3 transports. There were still 2 Japanese subs remaining. The US fighters retreated to land in Alaska, but the destruction of the 3 transports prevented USA from capturing a toe-hold on the Asian mainland. The second arms race continued in the Pacific, with a slightly different flavour. The Japanese favoured subs. The UK joined the fray, after building a factory in Borneo (hey that's where my hometown is!). It tried twice to start a new fleet, but twice the nucleus was destroyed by Japanese planes and submarines. Eventually the second big Pacific naval battle never occurred, although the new US Pacific Fleet had advanced to the South Pacific, and the new IJN had also built up considerably.

The factory on Borneo. I was born in Sabah, formerly known as North Borneo, a British colony. This was how much the new US Pacific Fleet had built up by game end.

On the Eastern Front in Europe, the initial battles left both the Russians and the Germans quite depleted. The Russians were able to advance to Baltic States, East Poland and Ukraine, but later the joint efforts of the Germans and Italians pushed them back. After the destruction of the German and Italian fleets, the game became the often-seen race between the Axis capturing Moscow and the Allies capturing Berlin. USSR was now being threatening by Japan from the east, because of the two factories in India and Manchuria. It tried to counter-attack, but wasn't very successful. Germany kept pumping out land troops to send towards Moscow. France went back-and-forth many times, greatly annoying the French. Eventually Germany was the first capitol to fall, in Round 11, to the British heavy bombers. Both the Americans and the British had heavy bombers at this stage. The fall of Berlin surprised me, and in hindsight I only had myself to blame. I should have paid more attention to those 2 British RAF heavy bombers. The Italians helped to recapture Germany. Germany went back-and-forth many times, this time greatly annoying the Germans, while the French next door just laughed.

Berlin was the first capitol to fall into enemy hands.

Moscow first fell in Round 12, being captured by the German army. The remaining Russian troops all rushed home to liberate Moscow, but it didn't last. Next round the Japanese captured Moscow, and there were no longer any Russian troops around to recapture it. Rome fell in Round 13, to the Americans. The game became a 2 vs 1 battle, UK and USA against Japan.

In hindsight, I made a very bad mistake of using German troops to capture Moscow. Germany took all the Russian treasury, but immediately all that money was lost to UK, when UK captured Berlin again. So UK looted the German treasury when it first captured Berlin, and then looted the loot from Moscow when it captured it the second time. This made Queen Elizabeth filthy rich (she became queen in 1952, and Round 12 is about winter 1945, assuming 1 round = 3 months, so I'm not exactly historically accurate here). And it made me want to strangle myself for being so stupid.

UK had $117 after the 2nd fall of Berlin.

Now a new world order was born. The Japanese Empire stretched across the whole of Asia and into the Middle East. Europe and Africa are solidly under Allied control. The main front was now Eastern Europe, with a smaller front in Egpyt, the gateway to Africa, and also South East Asia, where the factory on Borneo and the advancing US Pacific Fleet was making Japan rather nervous. Japan was now producing from the previously Russian factories. UK was producing in Germany, and USA in Italy. At this stage, the biggest fear of the Japanese was the heavy bombers of the Allies. With a fleet of heavy bombers, the attacking power of any reasonable size of land troops can be boosted tremendously. Japanese scientists desperately tried to make this scientific breakthough, but it was not to be. When Japan lost Karelia, and then Caucasus to the UK, it conceded defeat. The remaining production capacity of 6 in Moscow would not last. So, a victory for the Allied powers, at the end of Round 16.

This was the game end.

In the technology aspect of the game, Germany had improved artillery and rockets, which helped a little. It gained jet power later in the game, but it was too late to make much impact. Japan had shipyards earlier than the rest, which helped in building ships cheaply, allowing it to keep up with USA in the naval arms race. It's long-range aircraft also provided good flexibility. And of course, the super subs technology might have created a second legend of Yamato if the 2nd major Pacific naval battle had happened. So Japan got quite a good deal out of technology. Not as big of an impact for Germany. UK and USA gaining heavy bombers was a great advantage. This was the one thing that I had no counter for. Jet fighters also benefited USA much, especially in the Battle of the South China Sea (off the Vietnamese coast). At game-end the USA had all 6 of the naval/air technologies.

This PBEM game took us almost 2 weeks. Again, it was very exciting and addicting. And again, it was also very tense and very taxing. PBEM is too much tension for me and I needed to take a break from it. Some days I actually lost sleep over it. It feels too much like unfinished business, because the game was still in progress. I couldn't help thinking about how the game would progress.

In our second game we tried quite a number of different things. This time USA fought the Japanese with a vengence in the Pacific theatre, eventually avenging Pearl Harbour, and spent little effort in Europe. Germany gained naval supremacy for a while, and didn't put as much pressure on USSR. This in turn allowed USSR to expand, and it even made advances against Japan. The Axis broke through Egypt this time, and managed for a while to bring Africa under Axis rule.


Timothy Sinister said...


i love your blog, and am a big fan of axis and allies as well.

i have recently completed a 'mockumentary' on boardgames called:

advanced battlefield technowar version vi.

if you like it, perhaps you would consider mentioning it on your blog?

thanks for your time.

Aik Yong said...

Nice! I have always thought that playing the Axis would be a more stressful task regardless of their initial unit numbers advantage.

A&A anniversary made it worse for Germany in that 10 Ipcs were deducted from them to provide for Italy. To keep pace with USSR, at least 24 IPCs will need to be ploughed into land units to break the bear down. The balance could be used then to upkeep the Baltic Fleet and make a nuisance for UK's transports.

I always felt that the clock is ticking for the Axis forces from the get go. I still can't fathom out a strategy to win with Axis.

I agree that the fall of Berlin was key to the defeat and the stolen ipcs were too much to lose. France also should not have been traded back and forth as they will gift UK valuable ipcs that the Japs have painstakenly snatched from the Asian theatre. At a certain point in time, UK itself will be quite vulnerable with its dwindling ipcs. Operation sealion could have happened.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

It's quite hard to defend France, because Germany needs to keep up the momentum in sending troops eastwards towards Moscow. Infantry and artillery move one step at a time. Indeed France is a very lucrative target for UK and USA, because both of them have it as their national objective. In this game I actually managed to leave France ungarrisoned for many turns because I had sunk all Allied transports in the Atlantic. But after UK rebuilt it's Atlantic Fleet, France became constantly threatened.

From early reports, in AA50 the Axis seem to win more often, esp in the 1941 scenario. I think the general strategy for the Axis is to fully utilise its stronger starting forces to grab land and get rich, and then with the economic gap reduced, continue the momentum to break one of the Allies, usually USSR.

Anonymous said...

Yamato is an alternate name for Japan as well as a Japanese Battleship in WWII. The word is way older than the 90s manga.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Yes, I understand Yamato is an alternative and older name for Japan. I referred to the manga Silent Fleet because this was the first manga that I knew of which used Yamato as the name of a submarine.

Good point about the battleship of the same name in WWII. I forgot about that.