Monday 6 September 2010

Axis & Allies Pacific 1940

I have always been a big fan of the Axis & Allies series, since the 1984 Milton Bradley edition that I bought when on company training in USA, back in 1997. I first encountered the game when I was much younger, around 1986. My only memory about that was my parents wouldn't buy it for me. I guess even if they had, it would have been too complex for me. But the game indeed looked very impressive, so when I could buy it myself after having started work, I was quite excited. I still remember the name of the colleague from India, Puneet Karla, who was my roommate during the training, whom I first played the game with. I have completely lost touch with him but I somehow never forgot his name. We were both completely new to this type of game. We had a lot of rule lawyering. I remember winning the game, but I'm not sure whether it was helped by any unfair rule lawyering. I hope it wasn't.

After the 1984 version, I bought Axis & Allies Europe, Axis & Allies Pacific, Axis & Allies 2004 edition (a.k.a. Axis & Allies Revised), Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge, Axis & Allies Guadalcanal, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, and now Axis & Allies Pacific 1940. The only games I didn't buy were Axis & Allies D-Day which didn't interest me, and Axis & Allies Spring 1942 which being a global game I felt wasn't necessary since I had the Anniversary Edition. Unfortunately despite owning so many games in the series, the only one that I have played more than a handful of times was the 1984 (global war) edition. I probably should arrange some kind of Axis & Allies month to play all of them one after another. That would be so cool.

When I heard the announcement that there would be updated versions of Axis & Allies Europe and Axis & Allies Pacific, and they would combine to become one big global Axis & Allies game, I had more-or-less already decided I would buy both games. AAP40 (Axis & Allies Pacific 1940) came out last year, and I have recently bought it. AAE40 (Axis & Allies Europe 1940) just came out, and I'll definitely buy it eventually. I have only played less than half a game of AAP40, so here are some more-initial-than-first impressions.

The Game

The game is about World War II in the Pacific theatre. Japan is at war with China, having captured many of its coastal regions. Tension is mounting between Japan and the Allies - UK, ANZAC and USA. Europe is at war, and there is now a power vacuum in the French Indo-China and Dutch East Indies. USA has no appetite for war, and will only declare war on Japan at the end of Round 3 unless provoked. If UK or ANZAC strikes first at Japan, both of them will enter war with Japan but USA will stay out. If Japan strikes first at any Allied power, all will enter war with it. Japan wins the game by controlling 6 out of 8 victory cities (Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Calcutta, Sydney, Honolulu, San Francisco). The Allies win by conquering Japan. I suspect in some cases one side will concede before the actual victory condition is met.

Japan starts with a massive army (and navy, and especially air force). The Allies do not have much, but their combined income is more than Japan. USA does have a decent sized navy, but it's quite far away. USA's income is initially low, but once at war, it switches to a war-time economy and earns an additional $40 every round (that's a lot). So Japan needs to press its initial advantage and try to win the war quickly. If the war drags on too long, the American economic power combined with the rest of the Allies will eventually overwhelm Japan.

AAP40 works mostly like other games in the series. You decide on unit purchases, combat move, combat, non-combat move, deploy new units at factories, and finally collect income. There are many different land, sea and air units in the game, and each type is unique. Bombers are devastating in attack, but are no good at defense. Submarines can sneak attack. Tanks can blitz through ungarrisoned enemy territories.

Some new elements from the Anniversary Edition are in AAP40, e.g. transports have 0 defence and must be protected by other units, or they can be easily wiped out. Some elements from the previous AAP are kept, but are mostly slightly modified. Japan can make kamikaze suicide attacks. You can disrupt convoys, denying your opponents some income. Naval bases and air bases let sea and air units move one additional step.

There are some new elements. Air bases let fighters on islands scramble to defend the surrounding sea zone if it is attacked. There are two new units, the tactical bomber and the mechanised infantry. A tactical bomber normally attacks and defends at 3, but when paired with a fighter or tank it attacks at 4, effectively like a real strategic bomber. It costs $11, i.e. between fighter and strategic bomber. The mechanised infantry attacks (at 1) and defends (at 2) like normal infantry, but it moves 2 steps instead of 1, and it can pair with a blitzing tank to move further into enemy territory.

The victory condition compared to the previous AAP is rather different. In the previous version, Japan can win by capturing Calcutta or Sydney. In AAP40, assuming Japan doesn't try to go for USA, it would need to conquer both to win. Also in AAP Japan can win by accumulating enough victory points. Every turn it earns VPs depending on its income collected. This acts as a timer. The Allies need to turn the tide before Japan achieves the required number of VPs. In AAP40 there is no such timer mechanism. But Japan is still under time pressure due to the superior combined economic power of the Allies.

The full board showing the initial set up.

Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) is empty and can be claimed by UK or ANZAC without triggering any war. French Indo China can be claimed by Japan, UK or ANZAC without triggering any war.

China. Japan has conquered the coast, except for Hong Kong, which is British territory.

Mongolia is neutral territory. Whoever enters a neutral territory will cause it to join the opposing alliance, and there will be resistance in the form of infantry units.

Japan starts with a massive force.

The Pacific Ocean. Japan has a base in the Caroline Islands. USA has a base in Hawaii.

USA has a big fleet off San Francisco.

See the grey silhouettes above and below the number 20 (Sea zone 20). The one above is the kamikaze (神风) symbol, which means Japan can use kamikaze strikes in this sea zone. The one below is the convoy symbol, which means coastal territories next to this sea zone can have their income diminished if there is convoy disruption. Also notice that Guam has an airbase which is 20 times larger than the island itself.

I did these ref sheets myself. I prefer this table format (that sheet in the middle) for placing troops to the sentence format that comes with the game. In the sheet below I summarise the political rules and the National Objectives. The storage box doesn't come with the white compartments. It's just one box. I did the white compartments myself using this file by Jan Ozimek.

The game board is huge and takes up half my dining table. When I combine it with the AAE40 map, my whole table will be occupied.

Japan's perspective of the starting setup.

Japan starts with a indecent number of planes. Each grey chip represents one more unit.

The Play

Han and I only managed to play up to Round 3. I played Japan, because I was home alone with my two daughters and might need to attend to them sometimes. Han played USA, China, UK and ANZAC. Up front I decided I wanted to crush China first, since it was the only country I was at war with at game start. USA couldn't attack me at all. UK and ANZAC would be reluctant to attack, because if they did they would enter war with me without USA being able to help them. So I crushed China indeed. In the first round the Chinese defenders in Yunnan fought bravely. Although I killed them all eventually, I had no more surviving land units to claim Yunnan. I wasn't willing to sacrifice more air units in lieu of (cheaper) land units. In AAP40 if Japan is determined to crush China, it seems China has no chance of surviving for long.

Although I had initially planned to not attack USA, UK or ANZAC in the first 3 rounds, I soon realised it might not be such a good idea. UK claimed the Dutch East Indies, which gave much income. ANZAC also claimed the group of islands surrounding the Solomon Islands, which was their National Objective (which gave bonus income every round). Retaining Philippines was also a National Objective of USA, and every turn that they still held on to it, they earned $5 more. So eventually I decided to launch my major offensive in Round 3, without waiting for the scheduled USA entry into war at the end of Round 3.

My two main objectives were Philippines and Malaya. Taking both would deny USA and UK from fulfilling their National Objectives. Both fell without heavy Japanese losses. The invasion of Malaya was costly for Han. He had left his navy split into two. He probably should have retreated all back to India. Also he misread that there was an air base in Malaya (there was only a naval base). He had two fighters that couldn't scramble to defend the sea zone. Philippines was quite a lost cause for USA, and Han should have moved the bomber away before the inevitable Japanese invasion.

The US Pacific fleet had assembled at Hawaii. There was a naval base in Hawaii, which meant the Pacific fleet would be able to strike at Japan. So while I launched my attacks in South East Asia, I had to get some of my naval units to return to defend my homeland. This fleet was big enough to deter Han from striking this round, but now that USA was at war, it would be able to build up a massive navy very quickly.

We didn't have much time remaining, as Han had to leave soon. So he made a gamble of a move, having UK attack my fleet that had just invaded Malaya. My battleship and aircraft carrier were damaged, i.e. another hit would destroy them. Han had some cheaper naval units, so if we made an equal number of hits, the loss would be more costly for me. Unfortunately (for Han) the die-rolls were rather one-sided. He lost most of his units, while both my battleship and carrier survived.

At this point in the game, I felt the game had just started. The first few rounds were almost just like part of an elaborate (but interesting) set-up phase of the game, consisting of initial maneuvering followed by that first strike by the Japanese. Now the fight was really on. Too bad we couldn't continue. It would be interesting to see what would happen next. UK (India) was in trouble. ANZAC was doing OK, still having those three initial fighters, and well positioned to capture the small Japanese islands and thus claim the $5 bonuses (their National Objective). However the ANZAC forces were not very big, especially compared to the huge Japanese airforce. For the Japanese, the Asian mainland was quite secured. The question was how to balance assigning forces to conquer India and to fight the ANZAC and American navies. Japan also needed to spend transports and infantry to claim the lucrative Dutch East Indies. USA had most of its starting forces (only those in Philippines were lost), and had a strong economy to keep churning out troops. The biggest challenge for USA would probably be the distance.

Round 2. Kwangsi completely swamped by Japanese planes. Most of the Japanese ships assembled here too. I built a naval base here, which would allow this massive navy to strike far in the next round. Those two British soldiers must be feeling rather intimidated.

Round 3 after Japan's turn. Almost the whole of China was under Japanese rule. Philippines and Malaya had fallen. Wait, no, I mean they had been joyously integrated into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The Initial Impressions

So far, so good. I don't think the small additions make the game too complex, but then it may be because I have been following the series for very long and have been introduced to the many changes bit by bit through the many games in the series. I like the political element of the game, which makes the initial maneuvering very interesting. When I say "elaborate setup phase" I don't mean it in a negative way. The initial setup of an Axis & Allies game should present the players with difficult decisions, and I think in AAP40 this is done very well. Well, maybe except for the crushing China part. At the moment I don't see why Japan shouldn't crush China early.

Han commented that there is not a lot you can do in this game, which I can understand. About 3 quarters of the map is water. There aren't that many rich territories to fight over. But I think despite this the game is still interesting. The game is long though. I would consider this a game where the work-to-decision ratio is medium-high (what some would call "fiddly"). You spend more effort executing the strategy than thinking up the strategy. But then that's OK if you enjoy the execution - the excitement of rolling a full hand of dice, the joy of pushing around all those toy soldiers, tanks, battleships. I must admit that Axis & Allies is very much about the latter - giving grown-ups a chance to play with toy soldiers.

AAP40 is still very much Axis & Allies. If you don't like the system, this game won't change your mind. Like in other games in the series, you can have some general strategy at the start of the game (e.g. do a Pearl Harbour to USA, go straight for the Dutch East Indies), but once the dust settles after the initial skirmishes, the board situation can become quite different, and you then decide whether to stick to your initial plan, or make some adjustments, or even completely change your approach. The starting scenario of the game is always the same. All it can provide is an interesting position with multiple viable options you can pursue. It is usually after those first few rounds that your game will develop into something more unique (possibly ahistorical too), and things become more interesting.

Let's hope I can do a complete game soon, so that I can write more about it.


Aik Yong said...

oooooo, when are you combining it with AAE40?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

it'll be either after jeff can help me get the game, or after i order it directly from usa.

deck said...

Is there any place where I can download a rulebook to read up on the basic rules for the Axis and Allies series? I could probably find something myself, but there are so many versions that it becomes confusing. I'm just curious about how the basic mechanics shared by all the versions work.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I tried to do a search, but couldn't find anything online, at least not for the newer versions (Anniversary Edition, Spring 1942 edition, Pacific 1940 or Europe 1940). I was thinking the best way to start is to read the rules for the Spring 1942 edition, which is a global version game mass produced for the mass market. It incorporated rules from the anniversay edition (which is a limited edition and is OOP - but Chong Sean still has a copy in shrink if you plan to rob him).

I have a softcopy of the rules of the 2004 edition. I'll email it to you separately.

dan daly said...

the rules for all the current versions are on the Hasbro Avalon hill website.

deck said...

Thanks for e-mailing the rules, Hiew. I just got done reading through them.

The rules seem straightforward enough and I see that Twilight Imperium must have cribbed their combat system from here (complete with the big ship tipping over to take one hit). But I think getting used to the interactions of the different units might need some getting used to.

I'm not likely to ever buy any of these games, seeing as how my wife doesn't like any games involving fighting at all. Plus I got tired of even setting up a game of Battlelore. I'd imagine setting this one up would be even more tiresome. But I suppose I should try playing one these things one day just to see what it's like.

Offhand however, my videogame elitism instinct is telling me that this is exactly the kind of thing that would be best handled on a computer.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I've never thought of the setup in A&A games as troublesome. Now that you mention it, it is indeed a little tedious. I guess it didn't feel so because the games themselves are long, so the setup didn't feel like much. In contrast, the setup in Battlelore and other Memoir'44-like games feels a little tedious to me because the actual game play time is shorter than A&A.

At Triple A there used to be a free version of A&A Anniversary Edition that could be downloaded. But I think it was taken down due to copyright issues. I have used this program before to play two PBEM games with Han. You can see the screenshots in my earlier posts.

Chong Sean said...

Setting up games, moving tokens and chits, even tidy up/sorting the cards after playing, these are part of the fun of boardgames.

This is something you cannot enjoy when installing or uninstalling games on computer.

I should ask Neil for a session of A&A anniversary

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Indeed! Setting up Axis & Allies games is a fun activity for me. But this doesn't apply to all games. E.g. I find the setup for Dominion a chore. Maybe because the game itself is so quick. Also I find the setup required for Puerto Rico a little annoying (especially when counting the colonists). But then the play time is more normal, so I don't mind the setup much.