The balance of sportsmanship & competition among A&A players

  • Sponsor

    What does it mean to play fair in Axis and Allies? In a game like A&A 1940 Global which has hundreds of units, a vast complexity of rules, an order of sequences that must be obeyed, and a guaranteed slew of errors from everyone… can sportsmanship and competitiveness share the same stage?. In this article I’m going to humbly attempt to answer these questions, but before I tackle this controversial subject, I should introduce myself. I am 40 years old, male, married, Canadian, and a long time Axis and Allies table top player from Classic to Global. I have been host and participant to many group games of 1940 Global, Anniversary edition, and Classic as well as playing competitive 1 vs 1 games against long time friends with equal or greater experience since I was 19.

    In the past when discussing sportsmanship on these forums, the phrase “it’s only a game” came up quite often. Well of course it’s only a game which begs the question, what is the socially acceptable level of competitive behavior allowed if it’s just a game? OK, enough with the questions, we all agree that the most important thing is to have fun and to contribute in the fun of others, but it helps to have unwritten rules to ensure fun and remain competitive. I’m going to go with the assumption that the players at my table and yours are not cheating scoundrels, you know… the ones that take extra money, lie about dice rolls you can’t see, or place units on the table when your not looking. That said, if you catch a cheater cheating and he meant to cheat… teach him a lesson and never play with them again.

    In our games we have unwritten rules about what errors are forgivable, and what is irreversible. Using the example of 1940 Global throughout this article, the rule book states that all players must look for and point out convoy disruptions even if it is against you. That is quite the president in a game like this don’t you think? it means that if my opponent has an opportunity to convoy me and he doesn’t see it, the rules demand that I make my enemy aware of his chance to harm my war effort. Now I know what you’re all thinking… that I am some kind of hard case and a jerk to play against, on the contrary… I just think that the rule is interesting.

    In our games we forgive almost everything, for example… If you begin your combat movement phase, but forget to purchase new units… you may do so. If you have collected your income but wanted to make another non-combat movement… you may do so. If other nations have completed their turns after you, and you have forgotten to place your units or collect your income… you may do so. Hell… if you forgot your nations entire turn… you may do it. We even help figure out the conditions at the time of the missed actions. Imagine it’s Japan’s turn and they reach for their money, but quickly realize that they forgot to collect their income last turn. Well… we all do our best to calculate the income they should have received before the tracker changed after a full round, and thats what they use to begin their purchase new units phase. I remember a Japanese invasion of Sydney where I scrambled 3 air units, and when it was all said and done… I kept the ANZAC capital with one unit. After a few rounds went by, I noticed that there was only a naval base on Sydney, and no air base making my scramble move illegal. What a head ach… should I tell him and declare the game broken or should I just play coy and pretend I didn’t know? Well of course I did the right thing and told him… and I know all my opponents would do the same. Never the less, it was embarrassing, but we back tracked and saved the game ( after a redo, I still saved Sydney, but I was prepared for the worst, and ready to accept it).

    All these type of errors and miscues are pretty standard and forgiven in all friendly games, however, in our games… when the dice are thrown in the resolve combat phase, you may not purchase new units, you may not roll research dice, you may not walk on an empty hostile territory or any other attack for that matter, you may not pass go, and you may not collect $200 dollars. In fact most recently we have even spotted a loop hole in our system that caused a bit of a stir our last game. During America’s combat movement phase which saw them move units into the Philippines for an amphibious landing, the Japanese player said “OK lets go… this is an amphibious landing so we do that before general combat” his teammate who was playing Germany blurted out “wait… you have Kamikaze units available and thats a kamikaze zone” The Japanese player says “OK, I’m putting three on each of those aircraft carriers” and he began to roll his dice hitting both of them. The American player who didn’t say anything until this point says… “what the hell are you guys doing? I’m not even finished my combat movement phase and your rolling dice, who told you to do that?” at which point he began to pull back his units to reevaluate his attack.

    This was a fortunate, yet unfortunate situation. Unfortunate for the Axis who would have crippled the American fleet if not for the premature outburst. What they should have gotten was some kind of confirmation that one phase had ended, and another begun. Fortunate for the Americans who obviously didn’t see the kamikaze attack capabilities before his opponent explained it, which allowed him to avoid certain doom of his loaded carriers, not to mention the loaded transports that would have been sunk by the scramble threat. We learned from this lesson that even if the American player verbally declared his combat movement phase over, the first act would be to launch Kamikaze units due to the mandatory amphibious assaults before general combat rule. At which time the American player could argue that he has not yet rolled any dice which is how the house rule is understood, and could therefore retreat to rethink his strategy based on the new information.

    I know that some of you may say “what’s the big deal if he didn’t see the attack option, just let him take it back to rethink his move, it’s only a game”, but our club doesn’t play like that. Our collective perception is that the Japanese player saw an opportunity to strengthen his war effort using rules within the game, and we congratulate that move, we don’t punish him for seeing something his opponent didn’t. The American player knows that he dodged a bullet, because if the roles were reversed, he would have wanted to be rewarded for his savvy awareness as well. The rules don’t state that all players must look for and point out Kamikaze opportunities, even if they are your enemy sailing blindly toward your kamikazes (faint zone are not an excuse, because my game board has enhanced symbols for easy visibility). Never the less, our group has adopted a new system, instead of a hard line of “when dice are rolled”, each nation will get a combat card (solid red) which will be placed anywhere on the game board so players can formally indicate when their combat movement phase has ended, and when their resolve combat phase has begun. Once it hits the table, all is fair in war.

    There are other areas of discrepancy in games of A&A Global 1940, such as scrambling orders. In the example above… the attacker had the momentary lapse of awarness, but it can go the other way as well. If a defender finishes a sea battle during an amphibious assault, but realizes before the land battle that they had 2 fighters on an air base that they could have scrambled… they can’t say “I want a redo… I didn’t see the option, and I wasn’t given scrambling orders”. The rules don’t say that it’s the responsibility of the attacker to point out scramble opportunities that will ultimately harm their war effort. I fully understand that their are groups out there who are dealing with a significant gap of skill and experience between players, or don’t wish to see a game in it’s infancy become greatly unbalanced due to game changing mistakes. There are friendly games out there between father and son, or between good friends that make long trips to play each other, and don’t want to see a game end from such trivial details. I totally get your social logic behind the phrase “it’s only a game”, but this article is not for you, it’s for those who wish to play a competitive game where their strategic genius is recognized without losing all their friends.

    I don’t know about you guys, but when I was in chess club nobody ever said to me “don’t move your queen in that position, because my bishop can take it”, instead, they were licking their chops while they watched in slow motion as my fingers released the prized token. That said, I learn from mistakes that I’m not allowed to take back, and I’m privileged to play with a group that is of the same school of thought. Although we are strict about 10% of the game mechanics, we are very forgiving when it comes to the other 90%, and we are not monsters, when newbies play with us… we give them all the rope in the world. However, when the veterans meet, when a mistake is made, when all those involved know that it’s irreversible, and it’s clear that one has out witted the other… then there is no argument… it is done.

    In such a complex game of strategy that can take as long as 14 hours to play, mistakes become as tangible as the plastic pieces in your hand, and in our games, if one of those mistakes fall within the unforgivable 10% category… it could be game over. Thats how our wars are waged, but our games couldn’t function without basic decency and respect. We all know the type… jerks who are incapable of fun because all they see is the importance of winning. If the balance between sportsmanship and competitiveness was a see saw, than the center pivot point would be “fun”. There are some that can suck the fun out of a room by bullying others when they say “I’m losing because you haven’t helped me with reinforcements” or “If you did what I told you to do, we would be winning by now”. Or how about those immature players who throw their dice across the room swearing because they rolled a few sixes. This kind of behavior has no place in friendly table top games, and say what you will about our club’s hang ups and strict house rules, none of us treat each other like that. I’m sure players who can’t conform to having fun in a social environment because they are so consumed with the goal of winning, have migrated to forum play due to their alienation of fellow table top players. That said, like minded people have a way of finding each other, and those are the games you hear about when boards gets flipped.

    In conclusion, it’s safe to say there have been, and always will be a difference of opinion on what is socially acceptable competitive behavior when playing Axis and Allies. Sure our group hears the odd outburst of “In your face France!” or the soft praying chants “miss, miss, miss, miss, miss”, but if it’s all done with good intentions, and that all important ingredient called fun, than I believe sportsmanship and competitiveness can function harmoniously when playing this great game among friends.


  • I like what you said here.  Most of the time I get to play Global we play with a big group (4-6 players… even 7 sometimes).

    Typically, there is one or two players on each side who know all the rules and have played many times- we look out for the newbies- even so far as “hey, you didn’t move these units in South Africa- do you want to move them in NCM?”

    Agreed on the dice- when they start rolling, no takebacks.  However, anything else is fair game, within reason.  Its Japan’s turn and russia forgot to move his eastern troops?  no problem!  You didn’t collect your money last round?  Ok lets fix that.

    One thing though- sometimes early in the game when a pivotal battle happens- say, an early USA/Japan fleet clash or early stack battle on the eastern front and the dice go ALL one way to the point of absurdity, then we may redo it.  Sometimes its even the attacker who says ‘man that was crazy, I don’t want to win the game because of dice.  lets try again?’

    Or if someone forgot to move troops to Berlin with an allied landing force in range- heck man, we’ve played for 6 hours, you are doing well in Russia (and we want to see where it goes), Japan and USA are about to have an epic fleet battle, and you make the game over because Germany made a mental error because its midnight and we are all tired?  We don’t have time to play a whole new game, and this one is just now getting interesting.  We tell the German player to fix themself.

  • Sponsor

    Understood, but man… I could never imagine a battle within our group where a player offers a redo because of bad dice. They would sympathize but never redo… LOL.

    We just say things like “WOW, you must have really pissed off the dice gods”.


  • Well, the battle redo’s are rare- only if it meant a early end to the game.

    One time Russia in an ill-advised move attacked the german stack in east poland round 3 with everything he had.  It failed miserably leaving russia with minimal units.  We didn’t ‘redo’ the battle, we ‘redid’ his decision.

    I mean, who wants to play 4 hours, the US is finally in the game, and then someone does a gutsy attack which actually works (or doesn’t) and one side wins right there?  If I was the US I would be pissed- you mean I spent 4 hours doing non-combat and buying/placing units to be done for the night?

  • Customizer

    I’ve got 2 modes,

    friendly:
    Everything except for the dice can be redone, or changed later

    competitive:
    Everything before combat phase can be redone,
    Everything after combat phase can be redone,
    Once dice are thrown, that is it for most things,
    And forgetting to walk into an unoccupied territory can be redone (unless it is somehow effected by a decision made, like scrambling, in combat phase)

    Assuming same skill level, I generally do not point out anything to my opponents (except for convoys).  The only exception is forgetting stupid things like that damn Russian submarine, or Russian far east guys, etc.

  • '10

    NEVER reroll the dice. The dice represent your field commanders and the fog of war. The player is the commander in chief and orders movement and combat. But if your field commanders screw up then you just have to move on. On the other hand I have told my opponent many times “are you sure you want to do that” when he declares a battle that appears to be poorly thought out. I would do that rather than let a good game be ruined by a poor move. The global games are very long and one hates to see a game end by poor play and its too late to setup and restart a new game. Now I am speaking of friendly games with your buddies. If its a tournament of some kind than that is another story.

  • '12

    With our group, “fixing mistakes” is up for negotiation. If an Axis player forgets something vital the Allies get to decide whether to allow them to fix it out-of-sequence and vice versa. Usually, this is done verbally with a “if we make a comparable error later, you need to let us fix it too.” The opposition holds the power to decide, but there are informal “credits” given and taken. Eventually, the friendly bartering of mistake for mistake hardens into a “tough luck” stance on both sides. It’s fun to see how much the tone of the game changes once the first foot is put down. Serious business.

    Interesting moral considerations re: scrambling and convoy zones in Global '40. I’m slowly steering the club towards playing it, but we’re still a little shy in the experience department.

    Yrs.,
    R.

  • Sponsor

    Sometimes poor choices don’t ruin a game but rather enhance it, especially if the player making the error or poor choice was winning the game. I don’t get the argument that if a long game has been played, you don’t want it to end due to a bad decision. I would argue that it’s time to wrap it up, and what better way than to expose a weakness caused by sloppy play.

    Our group was once into the second day of a war when the German player saw a can opener for his capital, so he built and monuvered in order to avoid it. However, the can opener still took place because the German player simply forgot the turn sequence and prepared inaccuratly. We took his capital, and ended a long game because of a fatal mistake… and to his credit, the German player never sited unfairness, he just accepted his fate, and learned from the experience.

    In fact, that’s a big reason why we do what we do, because learning from mistakes that have consiquences is more effective if you’re trying to become a good Axis and Allies strategist. We don’t create environments where it’s possible to argue that different players were treated differently from game to game. Of course I’m not saying that our way is best… but it’s best for us.

  • '12

    Absolutely. I see the fatigue, the sometimes overwhelming complexity, the social qualities of a multi-player alliance, awful luck, great luck, dumb errors, varying levels of chivalry, the uneven-ness in play skill and confidence, etc. as integral parts of the game. Every one of those things has an analogue in messy and awful real wars and is welcome at my table.

    Yrs.,
    R.

  • Sponsor

    Well said big R.


  • Good article YG, red cards sound like a good idea (mainly for Ken lol)

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    I believe in 2 rules.

    1. Play your opponent at “thier” best.  That means defer to their interests, and for the sake of the game, point out the glaring mistakes/stuff.

    2. Dice are the point of NO return.  You can only go back as far as the last dice roll.


  • Conan the Barbarian’s answer to YG’s question would have been: “Crush enemies…see them driven before you…hear the lamentations of their women.”

    A more nuanced answer would be the comment I once read in a book on wargaming (written, I think, by Tony Bath).  He said that, in many decades of wargaming, his experience of sportsmanship had been that true wargamers will push the rules to their limits (and that they can be very clever and inventive about it), but that they would regard actual cheating with horror.


  • Well if I played by you guy’s rules I’d win every time (or my alliance does) and that only pushes people away from axis and allies.  I’d rather have a friendly game where they are learning so that maybe someday they won’t need any help.  I successfully created a axis and allies group on the submarine and at shore duty, with some people loving it and some people that just show up for beer and to toss dice.  If I had no mercy they wouldn’t have played long.

  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    Where can I get one of these BJ Cards you’re named after?

    That sounds really good. :)


  • They are only issued to my wife at the moment.  :-D

  • Sponsor

    @CWO:

    Conan the Barbarian’s answer to YG’s question would have been: “Crush enemies…see them driven before you…hear the lamentations of their women.”

    A more nuanced answer would be the comment I once read in a book on wargaming (written, I think, by Tony Bath).  He said that, in many decades of wargaming, his experience of sportsmanship had been that true wargamers will push the rules to their limits (and that they can be very clever and inventive about it), but that they would regard actual cheating with horror.

    Great Post!

  • Customizer

    The greasier the nerd the less sportsman-like I become.

    My old A&A crew had one of our own who was a total D-bag he was a friend of my best friend and we didn’t get along in anything much less A&A. Yep I was a total rules lawyer with this guy. He thought he would kick our arses because he was a veteran D&D player….NOPE! Mind you, we had an A&A session EVERY Friday. ROFL He left Russia wide open and I literally took one tank and captured Moscow! He picked up the said German tank and threw it at the table as hard as the tall-skinny jack-ass could, it bounced off the table and hit the radiator in the room. The clink was so loud it sounded it was hit with a pellet gun. Now I’m not the best A&A player but I was damn sure better than him and that’s all that mattered that night.

    OTOH I’ll point out mistakes and strategy to my opponent depending upon ability. Stray dice or wrong rolls for the most part will fly by and re-roll. Out and out cheating get will get you kicked out. If someone plays like an A-hole they’ll get treated like one.

    Last story: OMG this one guy came over bought pizza and soda all the while talking trash for weeks about how he would school my crew on how to play A&A. Board was set up he played Russia lost Karelia G-1 and quit. Wouldn’t come back. Didn’t want to just start over. Nope he left and looked like he was going to cry.

    Okay one more: Guy from my friends high school wants to play with our group. Big AD&D, Mech Warrior, Fortress America Guy. Bragged how he used world maps and Battleship pieces for A&A House rules. We set-up a game for friday. He wanted Germany so we said okay. He takes Karelia first turn and then proceedes to start moving survivors into Moscow for another attack. We’re like,“Hey wait you have to wait until your next turn!”  HE’s like “WTF!, you guys don’t use house rules?” We told him there was no way in hell we play with rules like his. He got bent and stormed off. He didn’t talk to my buddies who went to his school for a while.

    Had a lot of good times with A&A Classic through the first half of the 90’s.


  • How is Germany taking Karelia turn 1?  You don’t have the 19 Inf, 2 Arm, 2 Fighter wall there?

  • Customizer

    @BJCard:

    How is Germany taking Karelia turn 1?  You don’t have the 19 Inf, 2 Arm, 2 Fighter wall there?

    It was Classic. These stories were all from Classic when that’s all there was. Karelia on Germany’s first turn was easy because he was stacking on Moscow and left a token force Karelia. Maybe I sound mean in my post, but these were just a few examples literally hundreds of games I played as a teen. My freinds and I played A&A Friday nights and about every other Saturday. The guy in that story did play strategy games a lot and he was quite a bit older than us but he wasn’t as experienced as a bunch of teenage guys that had nothing better to do than play A&A.

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