the main case FOR NG is in cases where you have great respect for your opponent and need a leg up.
Yeah, good call. I agree.
But also NG is good in my opinion if you think you are much better than your opponent. If NG gets diced, then you gave yourself a challenging game. If NG doesn't get diced, you end the game quicker. It's a win-win.
It's also a decent opening if you're playing Allies, and are having problems dealing with German bomber buy strategies.
Like Hobbes writes, it's a lot about West Russia on G1, but I'd also mention Caucasus.
Since this thread has gone on a bit, I'll recap the arguments for each side as I see it.
Germany's attack on G1 (Germany's first turn) gets big bonuses if it can successfully take West Russia, and even more if Caucasus can be thrown in. A NG opening helps Germany with that goal by dropping five units (3 infantry 1 tank and the Moscow fighter which at best lands on Karelia where Germany destroys it on G1)
Germany taking West Russia is important because West Russia is where Russia needs to be to contest Karelia (2 IPC), Belorussia (2 IPC), and Ukraine (3 IPC). If Germany breaks West Russia, that usually means Russia is down some income and Germany up some income. It doesn't SEEM like a big deal, one or two 2-3 IPC territories, but it does add up.
Germany taking Caucasus is usually not a good idea, because Caucasus is usually not a viable target for G1. Sure, Germany can often take Caucasus on G1 but at ruinous cost; on R2 Russia reclaims Caucasus and since Germany paid such a high cost to take Caucasus in the first place, Germany is then too weak to do anything useful. Even if Germany takes Caucasus on G1 and starts with an eight tank build, that still sets up an R2 reclaim of Caucasus, followed by a G2 stall where at best Germany can move tanks to Ukraine - Russia can hit Ukraine and kill a lot of valuable tanks, or can use its R2 hold of Caucasus to put its R3 build in Caucasus to stall out the Germans.
BUT the situation changes if West Russia and Caucasus can BOTH be hit by Germany. Sure, Russia can reclaim both West Russia and Caucasus, and Germany is not very strong, but Russia itself is very weak after losing so much. This usually means Germany can contest West Russia or Caucasus or both on G2, which makes things much more difficult for Russia, especially if both Japan and Germany focus on tank push. Granted, hitting West Russia and Caucasus usually means make or break for the entire game on G1. But it's decent odds, especially if Russia opens with a Norway attack that sacks five units from the West Russia-Caucasus front. If you open with a West Russia/Ukraine attack, you're hitting German units that can hit West Russia and Caucasus. If you open with Norway, you're hitting Germany units that couldn't hit West Russia or Caucasus anyways, and losing five defenders from the West Russia/Caucasus front. Besides, you're losing a Russian fighter which is very useful for trading territory without committing valuable Russian attack units.
So much for the early Axis game. How about the early Allied game?
Preserving the UK battleship allows UK to open with carrier-destroyer-transport, for a possible 2-3 transports to Europe on UK2 instead of 1-2. UK is almost guaranteed to be able to use the battleship's support shot ability on most turns, with so many targets to choose from. If Germany DOES do West Russia/Caucasus, UK and US will have an easy time of building protective fleets, with Germany's airforce weak. If Germany does NOT do West Russia/Caucasus, UK and US can use the durability of the battleship to discourage German air attacks against the fleet.
Suppose Germany does WR/Caucasus, and suppose Germany killed the UK Canada transport (worst case for UK) UK can drop 2 ground to Norway on UK1, threatening 6 ground to Karelia on UK2 (2 from Norway, 4 from transports).
Suppose Germany didn't do WR/Caucasus; Germany will likely have 5 fighters 1 bomber; UK will have 1 battleship, 2 fighters, 1 carrier, 1-2 destroyer. Germany can still kill the Allied fleet with moderately poor to decent odds, but it will definitely be extremely expensive.
After the first 1-2 rounds, though, things start to be worse for the Allies in my opinion.
What have the Allies gained from preserving the UK battleship? The ability to drop to Europe a bit faster, a heftier fleet to discourage German air attacks, and the battleship support shot (which is very useful). But in my opinion that's about it. Landing at Algeria on UK1 is still a deathtrap even with a UK battleship. Landing at Algeria on UK2 was never a problem to begin with depending on the US1 build.
What have the Axis gained? If they went West Russia/Caucasus and failed, well, they gained nothing and probably resigned. If they hit West Russia/Caucasus and succeeded, all the important stuff is happening in Belorussia/West Russia/Caucasus, and it's happening too fast for the UK's early drops to make a big difference - this is what I refer to by saying the Norway opening potentially shoots the Allies in the foot.
If they only hit one of West Russia or Caucasus, they're gaining some IPC advantage or some positional advantage. Regardless, Russia's down a fighter.
Besides all that, Germany can screw with UK/US logistics in Europe by keeping its bomber on Western Europe. If UK keeps its fleet on the coast for a turn, that offsets the speed advantage it gains from having an early battleship. If UK doesn't keep its fleet on the coast, it needs to build more defensive fleet or wait for US defenders, either of which suck up IPCs or time, again offsetting the speed advantage from keeping its battleship.
Of course, with the Allies ramping up their fleet and reinforcing to Karelia/Archangel, the German front against Russia deteriorates pretty fast. This usually means Germany has to send units east, rather than west, so Germany usually cannot actually hold Western Europe as a landing spot for its German bombers. So the Allies do have some counterplay to Germany's counterplay.
Late game -
The usual as the Axis try to secure Caucasus with *JAPAN* (NOT GERMANY!) and try to secure as much African territory as possible with *GERMANY* (NOT JAPAN!). Even though the early to mid game is pretty different with a NG opening, the late game more or less resembles the usual animal, with the exception that Russia is down a fighter so is particularly weaker in its ability to counter both Japan and Germany at the same time.
Summing up - in my view, the Allies have some potential gains - particularly, Germany may try West Russia/Caucasus and fail, which pretty much means game over. The Allies have a bit of accelerated development against Europe; though Germany can counter, any German counter probably gives the Russians that much more breathing room. However, this does not add up to a winning position in general in my opinion, particularly because if Germany tries West Russia/Caucasus and does well at it, probably it's game over, only this time Allies lose - additionally, the loss of the Russian fighter hurts the Russians pretty quickly. The loss of the Russian fighter isn't game-deciding, though, by any means; in fact, I'd say it probably makes very little significant difference until R4+, by which time a single Russian fighter probably wouldn't have made much difference in the overall game anyways.
I think NG's a nice strategy to keep in one's back pocket. First, opponents may not be prepared to deal with it. Second, I think it makes for quicker games, whether win or lose. Third, it pushes the game in a different direction than usual, so makes things more interesting to players that are jaded with the WR/Ukr open.
all I say is that when it works, it really can work beautifully . . .
So OK, I admit for the best players playing against the best players NG might not be the optimal way, but I know as you know, that I am not going to beat the best anyway on the standard dice, so why not give it a shot with the edgy sharp opening, eh?
Well, when a Russian triple works, that also works beautifully. Of course, I'd say NG is much less risky than a Russian triple (and also less potentially rewarding).
Anyways, if you at least are not claiming NG is superior to West Russia/Ukraine, that's good enough for me.
Truth be told, I like a brutal fast game, so I am MORE likely to use things like Russian triple and two-fighters-to-Norway than most players.