Monday, 24 March 2014

Axis and Allies 1914 (World War I)

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The Axis & Allies series has always been about World War II. In this latest release, it explores a different era, that of World War I. Strictly speaking this should not be Axis & Allies anymore. It should be Central Powers and Allied Powers. Since this is World War I, there are quite a number of changes to the rules. The technology and the political situation are different in this earlier war. The playable countries on the Central Powers side are Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The Allied side has United Kingdom, France, Russia, Italy and United States. The objective of the game is to capture two enemy capitals. For the Central Powers, one of them must be Paris, while for the Allied Powers, one of them must be Berlin.

The flow of the game is similar to traditional Axis & Allies games. On your turn, you buy units first and set them aside. Then you move units on the board to fight. Only after combat you place the newly bought units onto the board, i.e. you will only be able to use them on your next turn. Finally you collect income based on territories you control. Here are some differences from earlier versions of Axis & Allies:

  • Technology: No bombers, no aircraft carriers, no destroyers. Tanks only get invented in Round 4, and they are weaker than infantry and artillery. However attacking tanks have the ability to absorb hits, which can be very useful. There is no rule for fighters to fly out and then fly back to land. They accompany land armies and never fight at sea. They mainly act as recon to boost artillery combat strength. Artillery can be paired with infantry or tanks to boost their strengths.
  • Land armies: Land armies must contain at least one infantry. You can't have armies of tanks or artillery or anything of this sort. You can't always decide to sacrifice the cheap infantry whenever you take a hit. Being short on infantry also means you may not be able to split your army, because each half needs infantry.
  • Land combat: Land combats are only fought for one round. If both sides have surviving units, they stay put, and the territory becomes contested. Neither side receives income from this territory. For in-progress battles, the active player may choose not to combat and just maintain the stalemate. This can be a good move, because attackers tend to have poorer odds, and sometimes you do want to stall.
  • Sea combat: When navies meet, combat is optional. However if the active player wants, sea combat can be fought for as many rounds as he likes. There are sea mines now. Each individual ship that approaches an enemy port is at risk of getting hit.
  • Production: You only produce new units at your capital, except that UK can produce in India too. No new factories can be built.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution: From Round 4 onwards, if Russia fares poorly and a specific set of conditions is met, the revolution occurs and Russia will exit the game.
  • USA: USA cannot start fighting until Round 4, unless the Central Powers attack it first or Germany robs its merchant ships.

The box cover is just as epic as they have always been.

The Play

I originally scheduled a four player session with Allen, Heng and Jeff, but unfortunately Allen couldn't make it at the last minute, so we did a 3-player game. Heng and Jeff wanted to join forces, so they played the Allies while I played the Central Powers. Jeff picked to play France and UK, so Heng played Russia, Italy and US.

Game setup: The full board. The Central Powers are Germany (grey), Austria-Hungary (bright green) and the Ottoman Empire (teal, i.e. greenish blue, or bluish green). The Allied Powers are France (bright blue), UK (light green), Italy (orange), Russia (brown) and US (dull green). Both Germany and Austria-Hungary have two fronts, and need to worry about how to distribute their troops. The Ottoman Empire needs to manage Africa and the UK troops from India, and also worry about its front with Russia. UK has no troops on the European continent yet, and will need a navy to ship them over from the British Isles. It can produce troops in India, to harass the Ottoman Empire and to fortify Africa. France only has one main front, so it is more straight-forward. Russia has all three Central Powers touching its frontline, and is under much pressure. Like France, Italy has one main front, to its north, but which side will gain sea superiority in the Mediterranean is still unknown, so there is a threat of amphibious assaults. US has very few troops, and will need to get busy preparing to ship units across the Atlantic Ocean.

At sea, the Allied Powers are slightly stronger. Every major nation has a navy, but the Allies are stronger in the Mediterranean. Things are more equal in the Atlantic Ocean, but Germany moves first and that is an important advantage in Round 1.

Africa is a patchwork of colonies, with few units guarding them. These colonies are hard to attack and also hard to hold. No one has production capabilities on the African continent itself, so it is hard to reinforce.

Game setup: The French-German border. Switzerland and the Netherlands (not coloured) are neutral countries. If they are attacked, defenders will arise to join the opposing alliance. Belgium is an aligned minor power. It has the same colour as France. If it is attacked by the Central Powers, new French units will materialise to fight the invaders. If an Allied Power steps in, it doesn't not resist, and is instead spurred into action, raising armies to fight for the Allies.

Game setup: The border between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia.

Game setup: Egypt is guarded by a strong British army. The dark blue chip under the British infantry represents five units, so there is a total of six infantry. The light blue chip represents one unit, so there are two artillery units here. The Allies use blue chips, the Central Powers use red ones. Similarly, dark red means five, light red means one. The two British ships next to Egypt are a transport and a cruiser.

Game setup: The European continent from UK's perspective.

Game setup: There are many minor powers in the Balkan peninsula. Albania, Serbia and Romania are aligned to the Allied Powers, while Bulgaria is aligned to the Central Powers. Greece is neutral. When a minor nation is invaded, the number of units that arise to defend it is double that of its economic value. If Greece is invaded (economic value = 2), there will be 1 defending artillery and 3 infantry.

In Round 1, there is a special rule where Austria-Hungary must attack Serbia. This marks the start of World War I.

The fight is on! Oh look at those thundering armies shaking the camera. On my first turn as Germany, I invaded Switzerland to create a flanking path (and there goes historical accuracy...). Belgium is now contested, occupied by armies from both sides. In the top right corner you can see Germany has conquered Denmark. Now the French are counter-attacking.

My German naval strategy was to sink all British ships as long as my fleet lasted, without investing more in building ships. This is commonly used in traditional Axis & Allies games. It is a delaying tactic, trying to hold off D-Day as long as possible, while USSR is being dealt with. It turned out to be quite effective here too. I destroyed the British fleet twice, the starting fleet plus one newly built fleet, before the combined Allied fleet destroyed my navy. However we later realised we missed one important rule. For the first two rounds, we forgot about the sea mines rule. If we had remembered that, my German navy might not have lasted that long.

Another rule we missed in the first two rounds was the artillery pairing rule. Some infantry should have fought with a higher strength. If we had played this correctly, there would likely have been higher losses. That probably would have made things worse for Russia, which had a tight budget.

Austria-Hungary (bright green) pinned down Italy (orange) to allow Germany (grey) to focus on France (bright blue) and UK (light green).

The game doesn't come with enough pieces. I had to borrow German infantry and also plastic chips from another Axis & Allies game. Jeff said this black German soldier took a time machine to return to World War I.

Africa is all about these small-scale battles, which tend to be quite iffy. Germany just conquered Belgian Congo, and now UK promises revenge.

France used transports to send troops from North Africa down south to contest the African colonies. Germany had no production capability in Africa and the German troops could only retreat.

Now there are only two German soldiers left.

In the Middle East, UK eagerly invaded the Ottoman Empire from Egypt. My Turks didn't concede so easily, and had already prepared to counter-attack. We ran out of red chips, so the Central Powers had to borrow some of the blue chips from the Allied Powers.

The Ottoman Turks have now destroyed the British Egyptian army, and are threatening Africa. Jeff never did build many British units in India, and thus never seriously exerted much pressure in this area. On land, Persia and Afghanistan, both neutral nations, lay between India and other territories. Both Jeff and I were reluctant to be first to invade these neutral nations, lest it thinned our forces. These nations remained a protective wall until the end of the game.

Once the Turks broke through to Egypt, they were unstoppable. The remaining Allied forces in Africa gathered in Sudan to set up a united front, but it proved too weak. The riches of Africa were mine for the taking.

After the Ottoman Empire became rich, it invested in a new navy to contest the Mediterranean Sea. Italy was getting poorer and poorer and it couldn't afford more ships. UK was unwilling to invest in ships in this arena. So the Allied Powers were still using the old ships they started the game with.

Towards the end of the game, the Ottoman Empire conquered half of Africa, and also controlled the Mediterranean Sea.

Let's now move to the Eastern Front.

Austria-Hungary invaded Ukraine, bringing along an airplane. Airplanes were a new technology during World War I.

The Russians put together a strong counter-attack, concentrating many armies here to drive off the Austria-Hungarians.

At the end of a bloody combat round, the Austria-Hungarians only had these units left.

The Germans invaded Poland when the Russians were busy fighting off the Austria-Hungarians. The Russians quickly returned to fight the Germans. Look at that huge stack of artillery which just came back from the other battle. The Germans had a fighter though, which gave all their artillery an advantage.

Russia simply didn't have enough GDP to cope with the joint assaults of the Central Powers. Its line of defense eventually crumbled. Now Heng had to contemplate how to manage the downfall of Russia. Round 4 was here, so the Bolshevik Revolution was an option. In fact, it was the better option. If would prevent the Central Powers from capturing more land. It would also prevent the Central Powers from capturing Moscow and stealing the Russian treasury, which would be a major boost for them. The conditions for the Bolshevik Revolution are (1) Moscow not yet fallen, (2) three territories next to Moscow controlled by the Central Powers, (3) one more other territory controlled by the Central Powers.

An Ottoman army is right next to Moscow now.

Fighting had commenced in Moscow. I was just one soldier short of capturing Moscow and preventing the Bolshevik Revolution. There was just that one single Russian soldier holding out. Aarrgghh!!

The Bolshevik Revolution was triggered. Russian territories captured by the Central Powers now belonged to them. Contested Russian territories could no longer be fought over, and the Central Powers must leave at least one infantry in such territories. With nothing else to fight for in the eastern front, my armies now hurriedly marched towards other fronts where they were needed. With Russia out of the picture now, I had one front less to worry about, which was a great relief.

Now let's look at the western front.

My German armies pushed steadily westwards. I had captured Switzerland and Belgium, but I didn't want to attack the Netherlands, worried that it would sap my strength. The Dutch stayed at peace for the rest of the game, despite the bloody fighting right at their border. At this point, although I had reached the outskirts of Paris, I knew my supply of troops had dried up and I wouldn't be able to go further. I was later pushed back towards the original French-German border.

At this point, the German navy had been sunk, and I didn't want to spend any money on ships. The British could freely unload troops onto the European continent. That meant I had to carefully defend my entire shoreline. I had to watch out for any surprise amphibious assault on Berlin. My purchases were quite conservative. I always bought many infantry units, and only supplemented that with a few artillery units, and occasionally fighters and tanks. I was defending using numbers. Every round I marched my units westwards along the coast (except for the detour past the Netherlands). This achieved two things - I defended my shoreline, and also maintained the pressure on the western front.

The most epic battles of the game took place in this area. The Americans had landed now (dull green). In this photo, my western front was broken. However I did have many troops on their way to fill the gap. At this point in the game the Russians were already out, so Austria-Hungary could now help out on the southern flank of the western front.

The Americans had built a massive fleet of transports and set up an impressive shipping line across the Atlantic.

The Americans landed in Denmark and captured it, but the Germans soon came to kick them out.

The Austria-Hungarians did well and went all the way to the doorstep of Paris. Ruhr was not empty. It was too crowded and we had to temporarily move the units off board. There were a few massive and intense battles in this vicinity. The Allied Powers fared poorly, and this sealed their fate. The Central Powers were economically stronger by this time, and if the Allies could not break through, they were doomed in the longer run because they would not be able to keep up with the production power of the Central Powers.

These are the units actually in Ruhr. My German airplanes gave me air superiority, making my artillery more effective. In every battle, if both sides have airplanes, they must dogfight until at most one side has any airplane left. That is the side which will enjoy air superiority.

Italy had been poor for many years, and could not match the production power of Austria-Hungary. In the early game the Italian navy gave the Austria-Hungarians much grief, dropping Italian troops in its backyard - the Balkans. By now the Italian fleet had been sunk by the Ottoman fleet, and it was the Ottoman Empire's turn to be the bully in the Mediterranean.

We played till Round 9, which took about 7 hours, excluding rules explanation and lunch break. The Allies conceded defeat. They had not lost any capital, but we knew it was only a matter of time. The momentum was irreversible. Looking back at the game, I could not say what exactly the Allies did wrong. I could only think of Indian UK not being aggressive enough possibly being one contribution to the Central Powers' victory. Or perhaps the Russians could play more conservatively, intentionally choosing not to fight already-engaged battles on its turns. If I look at the Central Powers perspective, I think one thing I got right was my shopping policy. I insisted on buying a lot of infantry, and on maintaining a steady stream of them to the front line. I kept up a constant pressure. I'd like to think German precision and manufacturing won the war. That was how it survived this war of attrition.

This was the economic situation at game end. Germany was the richest, followed by Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Italy was the poorest. This sheet was downloaded from BGG and did not come with the game.

This was the board situation at game end. The Ottoman Empire was unstoppable in Africa, and it was preparing to attack British India. Paris was surrounded, but would probably still last a few rounds. The British and Americans were likely going to lose their foothold on the European continent soon.

The European continent at the end of World War I. Greece remained neutral. No one wanted to mess with it.

The Thoughts

Both Jeff and Heng agreed this is their favourite Axis & Allies game so far. I was a little surprised at that comment, because despite enjoying the game very much, it didn't strike me as being particularly outstanding from its brethren. Although there are many changes to adapt the game system to World War I, I feel the core engine is mostly the same. To a large extent, it is a shopping game. You need to plan ahead and know what units to buy for the coming turns. The selling points of the Axis & Allies series have always been: (1) it is quite accessible and is not too complex, (2) there is still sufficient strategy to be rewarding, (3) it is very good looking. It's a game system which allows you to have fun rolling lots of dice. The adjustments made to this 1914 version were all very well done.

The granularity of the game is appropriate. It is not overly tedious like the combined 1940 game (but I do think AA1940 Pacific and AA1940 Europe played by themselves are fine). It's still a long game, so it's something you want to plan almost a full day for. But it's a satisfying and fun experience. I'd recommend a lower player count, at most four, so that you don't wait too long for your turns.

The dice that come with the game are quite small. I think that's a good decision, because it means you can roll many of them at one go. It's exhilarating and also simply fun.

Heng and Jeff. Guys, the victory sign is from World War II. It's a Churchill thing. You got your history mixed up.

Note: A big thank you to Jeff for providing some of the photos (the better-looking ones).


CK Au said...

Great write-up Hiew. Yes I'll be putting up my usual sessrep via BGC but much later since I still have a backlog to go thru. So it's good you got yours ready!

Aik Yong said...

I thought the Axis and Allies system is a better fit for the WW1 era than WW2, the fight to the death aspect of the original Axis and Allies felt like too much lethal board clearing.

The contested rules I felt balance the system nicely where the Central Powers still have avenues to swing the economic warfare pendulum to their advantage by ensuring enough Allied lands are contested.

These two amongst other things you mentioned makes the game feel like the most balanced of all Axis and Allies System of games.

As for strategy wise, I didn't realise you can march soldiers in without engaging in combat, which is probably why Russia is so aggressive. However since Germany did not manage to use Artilerry supported infantry, I figure both our mistakes cancelled out.

Switzerland is too much of a threat to German board position that I think it was an obvious decision to invade it.

Our only lapse was to let Ottoman get too powerful. Ottoman was able to help bring Russia and then Italy to a swift collapse. The UK factory in India wasn't used at all and now we can see the reason for its inclusion.

Other than that, a bad dice roll where the red baron took out 3 British planes meant that the rest of your artileery made short work of the British Expeditionary Force. It was tough for the Allies to replace the loss of fighting IPCs after that as Allies have less of an economic advantage in this game.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

If you march soldiers into a contested territory, the battle there is considered to be already ongoing, so it is not mandatory to fight.

Indeed the single round land combat rule makes an interesting twist to the A&A system.

Aik Yong said...

Hiew, I've written the analysis and strategy post here:

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks Heng for sharing.

One thing that is a little worrying is whether most games of A&A1914 will develop along more or less the same lines. Russia will fall and there is much incentive for the Central Powers to kill it asap. Kill Russia First seems like a no brainer. Similarly for the Allies to quickly grab Africa seems like a no-brainer. The variability from game to game may only come in the form of how players fine-tune and execute those general strategies. Lucky / unlucky die rolls here and there will force players to make adjustments and difficult decisions. So perhaps a preset general story arc should not be considered an issue.

Anonymous said...

Hey Guys,

I'm a fan of Axis and Allies too. Been playing since my secondary school days. Looking for some kakis nowadays.

Currently I have the AAA Revised and Pacific version.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

AA Revised (2004) is my favourite in terms of graphic design. I like the dark tone, more so than the realistic terrain one which is the standard now.

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys

Have you had any more thoughts on the WW1 Axis and Allies game? I really like it but think the balance may be a bit off as so far the Allies have never lost in 4 games.


Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi John,
Unfortunately I have not revisited Axis & Allies 1914. In the game that I played, the Axis won. My fellow players feel that the game is will balanced. We haven't had repeated plays yet though, so that was just the impression from our first game.