Axis and Allies …

So, I recently had what was, for me, an epic game of “Axis and Allies”.  No, not the actual board game itself, but instead the PC game from 1998.  I had been playing around with my various systems and decided to try to install a few of the strategy games that I used to like to play and that I still had disks for, so basically I was looking for a system that could play them that I could install them on.  It turns out that they wouldn’t install on one of my old systems that I still have connected, but would install on another system but the graphics seemed incredibly expanded so they weren’t playable.  So I went to play around with the compatibility settings and finally discovered that setting something like DPI scaling off made them work, with some hiccups.  So I was able to install and play “Birth of the Federation”, “Risk II”, and obviously “Axis and Allies” again.

Now, when I play strategy games — and board games in general — I’m a bit of an odd duck, in that I tend to play them solo, as I tend to dislike online multiplayer for video games and when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone to play strategy games with because my brother didn’t care for the same games I did.  So I tend to set these games up as hotseat if available and play all players.  That means that strategies can’t rely on deception since, well, I pretty much always know what my own ultimate strategy is and so would have to deliberately ignore it for that to work.  What that has meant for other games is that I tend to play them more like an RPG, where I try to act like the “characters” that I am using to represent the various civilizations and the like (in “Master of Orion 2”, for example, I tend to use “Babylon 5” groups and play the alliances and wars out like they would), which would allow for them to fall for the sorts of deceptions that they would reasonably fall for.  That wouldn’t be fun in “Axis and Allies”, so what I do instead is try to play each side the best I can and see how the war would turn out, which means that in theory I’m always playing to the best of my ability.  Which, of course, isn’t necessarily that good — I expect when I describe this game people who are more experienced in the game will be able to point out all the stupid mistakes I made and strategies I missed that would have made things work out differently — but at least everyone in the game playing at the same level [grin].

Now, my history with this game is interesting.  I had picked it up again a while ago — like, years — and at first I think I won it easily with the Allies and wondering how in the world the Axis could ever win, but then later as I got used to the strategies had it be the case that the Axis was always winning and I couldn’t find a strategy to make the game close.  To be fair, that was a while ago and it might have been the other way around, but basically that was where I left that game, with one side always having a huge advantage and winning relatively easily.

After installing it this time, I played a game quickly and the old “Axis wins” model remained in play.  What I was noticing was that other than in Africa there really wasn’t any reasonable way for either Britain or America to get troops into any of the theaters, especially if Japan hammered the fleet at Pearl Harbour early on.  This meant that Japan could push into Asia and Germany could pretty much throw everything it had at the U.S.S.R.  If Japan also invaded the U.S.S.R., they’d quickly run out of ICs and not be able to replace what they lost to Germany and be quickly outproduced.  Germany would then take them out relatively early and then be able to turn their attention to Britain.  It seemed like a decent idea to make an early attack from the U.S.S.R., but investing in armour was expensive and Germany could usually attack enough to take enough territory to, again, outproduce them, again especially if Japan started peeling off their Eastern territories.  I hadn’t changed the default rules and victory conditions, so that ended up triggering an IC victory so Germany didn’t have to invade Britain, but it seemed likely that they would have managed it and ultimately won the game by capturing two capitals as well.

So with some time to kill I decided to play it again to test out some theories of mine.  I had already believed that the best move for the U.S.S.R. would be to not invest in armour and instead to simply ramp up on infantry.  Infantry is pretty useless for attacking unless it has a massive numerical advantage, but it defends at the same level as armour and costs a lot less.  Armour is more versatile as it defends at the same level as infantry but attacks at a much higher level, so it is ideal for counterattacks, especially against enemy armour, but it costs a lot more than infantry and so you don’t get as many units for the same IC price, which is key for the U.S.S.R. since they start lower than the other countries and are likely to lose some to Germany no matter what they do.  The other theory I had, though, was that if Japan invades the U.S.S.R. there was nothing that it could do and the Axis would ultimately win.  So I put both theories into practice to see what happened.

Things started off pretty much as normal.  I had Britain do early attempts to get new technologies and train up some units, but they weren’t able to do much except kick Germany out of Africa.  Japan eliminated the American fleet and the U.S.S.R. and China.  Germany took everything west of Russia and then tried a few attacks against that area, but were generally repulsed.  I tried a couple of bombing raids against Germany from Britain to try to help the U.S.S.R. out but they were generally ineffective and only cost more than they were worth.  Meanwhile, Japan forged on, capturing Asia and Australia and everything west of Russia — since these areas were sparsely defended — and then kicked Britain out of Africa as well, also ultimately taking Midway and Hawaii.  Due to Japanese ships being off the West Coast, America couldn’t really build ships and so focused on building up some planes but mostly armour and infantry.  However, Germany still couldn’t take Russia and so they just kept adding more and more infantry to match the Germany build up of armour.

The interesting thing in this game was wrt the new technologies.  With not much else to do, Britain could focus on getting new technologies and had all of them.  Once Japan picked up a lot of territory and ICs, they also managed to get all the new technologies.  America picked up four out of the six.  While I didn’t spend much ICs on it, Germany did try to pick some up but never managed to win even one roll.  This was going to be important later.

Eventually, Japan tried attacking through Alaska, but while their armour could take that place the America build up of armour would kick them out incredibly easily, but it was costing America a lot and they likely ultimately would have won (I probably could have tried to come from South America as well to reduce the ICs they had).  But Germany was outproducing the U.S.S.R. and so was likely to overwhelm them unless they had something else to think about, and so Britain needed to open a second front.  Due to having taken the seas early on, they had support from two battleships and so attacked in the West.  It didn’t seem to help much, as they quickly were kicked out again for the most part but kept their transports, which led to the most epic turn of the game.  The numbers seemed reasonable, and so Germany decided to make an all-out push against the U.S.S.R., hoping that they could take it and knowing that while the capital could be attacked what they were producing and what they had there would outnumber what Britain could bring.  So if they could take the U.S.S.R. out, then all of their production could go towards defending the capital and eventually attacking Britain.  After an epic battle, Germany managed to take out Russia with only one unit of armour remaining, allowing them to dump their production on Germany to stand against any British attack.

The numbers weren’t good, but if the British didn’t manage to take Germany out of the war now they’d get overwhelmed, so that required a desperate attack against Germany.  The key here is that Britain had all the technologies including jet-powered heavy bombers, and those bombers get a lot of attacks in each round.  The German AA guns didn’t hit anything, and the battleships I think both hit, which made things more even.  But it was still touch and go, but ultimately at the end of it all Britain managed to win the battle with … one unit of armour remaining.

So what they had in Europe was equal, but despite having captured a capital and having two other industries Germany lost all their ICs — to Britain — and couldn’t produce anything, so they didn’t last long.  This, then, set up a long endgame against Japan, who had a lot of ICs but didn’t have a lot in the West and had to face two enemies with decent IC incomes, and Britain was able to use the IC boost they received to build up armour and retake Africa and the U.S.S.R. and the East.  Japan made some sorties against America and sent infantry, some planes and armour against Britain when it came East, but Britain kept a bunch of bombers on tap which often made the difference, and if Japan had built bombers it would have taken ICs that they needed for infantry and armour and transports.  Ultimately, America and Britain took everything except Japan, and built up two transport fleets that would have taken it in that turn.  Britain went first and managed to take it with a unit of armour and some bombers left.

That was the most epic game of “Axis and Allies” that I’ve ever played, and so was a ton of fun.  Now, especially given how useful bombers were for me as Britain and given how well planes attack and defend, one could criticize me for not really building many of them throughout the entire game, except from Britain.  However, what I’ve noticed is that planes, bombers, subs and battleships are units that are in theory useful but that in practice aren’t that useful because they cost too much for things that are relatively easy to kill.  Against a swarm of infantry and armour they may do a fair amount of damage — although everything except bombers only do one hit per round, but hit a lot more than other units — but infantry and armour that are defending hit 1/3 of the time and so if you try to send bombers, say, against 42 infantry in one round on average they will hit 13 times, and so in theory you could lose up to 13 bombers per round.  Yes, eventually the number of hits from heavy bombers will at least make that close, but you still need a land unit to take the area.  But infantry costs 3 and bombers cost 15 by default, so you can build 5 infantry for 1 bomber, making them a lot easier to replace than bombers.  Armour itself costs 6, and so you can build about 2 for 1 bomber and also get an infantry out of it, so again 3 units for the cost of 1 bomber.  Unless you have a lot of IC to spare, bombers aren’t all that cost effective except at the highest level of technology, and if you are defending they defend incredibly poorly so you can’t afford to have them attacked at all.  Planes are slightly cheaper, and attack and defend well, but “Axis and Allies” is built around rolling against a value per the unit that is firing and not against what they are hitting — unlike the “Battlestar Galactica” board game, where the roll you need to make is calculated by what is attacking and what they are attacking — and so, as noted above, they almost always hit but aren’t all that hard to hit for defending infantry and armour, and would be hit 50% of the time by attacking armour.  Battleships are the most expensive unit and their best quality is bombardment and the fact that they can only really be attacked by ships and planes, but again you can’t really buy them unless you have the ICs to spare.  Subs aren’t as expensive, but are only really useful because they get first shots at sea units and can submerge afterwards to survive, but there’s a bug in submersion in my version and other than using them against transports they don’t seem that useful (planes are slightly more expensive but can do more and can take out transports as well).

So while I focused on building armour and infantry with transports to bring forces across oceans, I’m not sure that there’s a good strategy for using the other units more heavily than I did.  If someone points out on, I might give it a try at some point.  That being said, that Britain got heavy bombers and Germany didn’t is probably a big reason for the success, as it made bombers useless for Germany and critical for Britain while early on building bombers was not a bad move for Britain.  I might have done better if I had never built any fighters or bombers for Germany, I didn’t build very many and so I don’t think it was responsible for the loss there.  That one did seem to come down to the rolls, which is not strategically interesting but, ultimately, is more exciting.

I still want to play “Risk II” and “Birth of the Federation” at some point, but that will depend on how much time I have.

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