Thursday, 14 February 2013

further thoughts Axis & Allies Global 1940

This is a follow-up to my previous post, which was a session report of a one-and-a-half-month PBEM game of Axis & Allies Global 1940 (AAG40). Here are some of my thoughts (and my opponent Han's too) about the game. This is based on the ALPHA+3 rules, a.k.a. second edition rules.

It's still all about the economic equilibrium - The Axis starts with more units, better units, and better positioned units, but has lower income. The Allies start off richer, but have fewer units, weaker units and poorly positioned units. The Axis powers will have fun playing the aggressor in the early game, but they are under time pressure to catch up with the Allies economically by conquering territories and fulfilling national objectives. They need to strive for economic equilibrium, and then push beyond that equilibrium to win. If both sides can reach a near equilibrium, a game of A&A can drag for a long time. The long term goal in A&A that you must always keep in mind is to tilt the economic equilibrium in your favour and push it into an irreversible slide. In my opinion the game is more about the economic momentum rather than the victory cities (the victory condition according to the rules). Set the number of victory cities too low, and the game becomes an artificial blitz of the Axis trying to quickly capture enough victory cities, throwing caution to the wind and ignoring long-term implications. Set it too high, and the results of the game will be obvious long before the condition is met.

Game balance is done well - AAG40 is well balanced. OK, having played only one game using the ALPHA+3 rules doesn't exactly make me an authority in this. This is just my gut feel. The heavy bomber tech is toned down. Major factories are not allowed in non originally owned territories. The initial setup presents a number of interesting decisions for both players.

The war in Europe.

Excellent map design - The game is a beautiful temptress playing hard-to-get. There are more territories than other versions of A&A, and very often you will find that your naval task force or air force is just one space short of reaching where you want to attack. You are always just that teeny-weeny little bit out of range. And then there are naval bases and air bases to give you that one extra step. Such bases become very important. When you use a naval base, your fleet can move three spaces instead of two, but there may not be a friendly naval base at your destination, so you may not be able to move back to where you started the following turn. Do you want to risk having your fleet being out-of-position later on? Another very interesting aspect is the straits and canals - the Strait of Gibraltar, the Danish Straits, the Suez Canal and the Turkish Straits all control access to crucial sea zones, making the territories next to these seaways important strategic locations.

Long-term planning - You need to do this. In addition to that economic equilibrium, buying units and positioning them require much foresight and commitment. You need to know how you want to fight and where you want your units to be a few rounds ahead. You also need to watch what your opponent is buying and guess his long-term intentions. You need to have a consistent plan and stick to it so that it can come to fruition.

The Pacific theatre.

Sounds good so far? Despite these strong points, if I want to play a global-scale A&A, I would prefer not to play AAG40. Here's why:

Tedium - Although I greatly admire the map design, I feel it is good execution under flawed orders. Given the (in my opinion) poor decision to make a more complex global A&A game, what AAG40 achieved is probably already the best result possible. I think the map is just too big, making movement too tedious, and progress too slow. It does make certain aspects of the game more realistic, e.g. indeed it should not be easy for Japan to reach Moscow. I think tedium is not a problem if you play only the Europe theatre or only the Pacific theatre. I think I will enjoy these theatre-specific games much more if played separately. At the global scale, I feel there is too much effort required in execution compared to the strategic decisions you are making. It's not a problem with lack of decisions or lack of variety in tactics. It's just that the fun-effort ratio is not high enough. One analogy I can think of is the traveling in the early part of Lord of the Rings (the novel). I don't mind some details, but I don't want to dwell on every waterfall and tree seen and lembas bread eaten along the way.

Actually that's the only problem I have with the game. Here are some other thoughts.

Playing using the TripleA software.

It is not realistic - Don't expect it to be. I suspect the original A&A started as an advanced Risk. Usually one round in the game is considered roughly 3 months. In real life, battleships take much longer than 3 months to produce. A ship does not take 3 months to sail from Hong Kong to Indonesia. Or do we take the movement of units in the game as representing the pushing of the front line, or power projection? I guess that is possible. My view is just don't worry about realism and scale too much. Just accept that there is a high level of abstraction in this game, even if it doesn't feel like so because of the many beautiful sculpts and how the different units behave.

Replayability may not be that high - This applies not to AAG40 specifically, but to every game in the family. Just how many times can you re-fight WW2? Long before I became a boardgamer, I already felt A&A (the 1984 global version) has lower replayability than Samurai Swords (a.k.a. Shogun and Ikusa). WW2 has a fixed starting setup, and for each power there are only a couple of broad strategies to pursue. Early battles can push the game in many different directions. There are still many tactical decisions to make. However I can't imagine myself playing A&A too frequently. It's a once-in-a-while game. It's a good game, but not something I want to play 3 or 4 times in a row. I can imagine playing it 3 or 4 times every year, but not back-to-back.

AAG40 is epic. Among those who have played it, I am probably in the minority in that I prefer Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50) if I want to play the global game. Unfortunately that is out of print, so the next best option is probably Axis & Allies Spring 1942. I have not played AA42, but I understand it uses similar rules as AA50. What I am looking forward to now is Axis & Allies 1914, which covers World War I. Now that's something different.


Aik Yong said...

I hardly think of Axis and Allies as a balance game. To my mind it always ends with an inevitable Allied victory.

As you mentioned, the economy is the key, which is clearly in the Allies' favour. Which means that the 'game' is more instructive as a lesson how quantity and good logistics will win over fancy strategies. After saying that, perhaps I should add the caveat that the term 'strategy' is being used loosely here as some might argue that logistics is strategy.

My interest in AAG40 is that the war start at an earlier stage than AAAnniversary and the possibilities of blitzing London captures my imagination. As a game, AAAnniversary is shorter and 'more playable' but to my mind, more scripted - attack Moscow till it falls and yet still lose the overall war.

Aik Yong said...

After writing all that, I do remember a concept I heard about called 'national will'. Basically when a nation took enough losses, the people will call it quits and surrender. This is the idea behind Germany's and Japan's rationale to start a war which they knew they would be out-produced. If they strike hard enough at a target, the target will sue for peace at terms favourable to itself.

Of course it is not implemented in AA and I'm not sure if it could. But there are other games which has done it and I suppose those are better 'balanced'

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed the earlier starting point, and also the political rules, make AAG40 interesting. I am particularly impressed with how the Japan - Russia - Mongolia relationship works.

I don't feel the game is unbalanced, clearly favouring the Allies, although I'm far from being an expert in this. Although the Allies start with a much bigger economy, the Axis do have a better military and the ability to strive for economic equilibrium. So there is a story arc to the game - the Axis will grow economically, the Allies will grow militarily, and depending on which side can push the economic equilibrium to favour itself, that side will eventually win (usually).

One thing to note is in the TripleA scenario we played, the setup was specifically tweaked to make Operation Sealion a bit harder than the standard ALPHA+3 setup. That further deterred me from considering invading UK.

Comparing AAG40 and AA50 (anniversary edition), I don't feel AAG50 is much less scripted than AA50. It's WW2 afterall. To me, the earlier starting point creates some variability, and can be thought of as a randomiser to create variety for the "real" start of war. However the general strategies seem to be quite similar. One thing that both Han and I felt was in AAG40 there seems to be little incentive for Japan to pull a Pearl Harbour on USA. There aren't many valuable ships in Hawaii, and Japan probably has better use of the planes in range of Hawaii.

Overall I do find Axis & Allies games to be a little scripted, whether it is AAG40 or AA50 or other versions.

Anonymous said...

A turn is ~6 months, not 3.

Kiaos Tan said...

I am looking for players for A&A 1940 Global, Europe or Pacific. Have just returned from australia.
Just bought a copy of A&A 1942 2nd edition for shorter game. I am based in KL/JB

Hit me up if anyone if you is interested.

Laurens Luiten said...

Yeah I've been looking for AA players for some time in KL, definitely interested!

Laurens Luiten said...

Yeah I've been looking for AA players for some time in KL, definitely interested!