Now that I have found an arrangement I like: the 18 VCs are treated as starting factories (the factory unit is eliminated from play to conserve space), with an allied bid in China on balance if desired, we are testing this set up 1941 and 42 for a variable start.
Here is the rule…
Before the first round of the game, roll 1d6 “initiative” to determine which player/nation will start the game:
the player nation rolled will start the game, with normal turn order following thereafter
Player 1 + 5 ipcs
Player 2 + 10 ipcs
Player 3 + 15 ipcs
Player 4 + 20 ipcs
Player 5 + 25 ipcs
Player 6 + 30 ipcs
added to starting income in the first round (only!)
This is to balance for the potential TUV swing either destroyed or not destroyed, as a result of which player/nation wins the initiative roll.
Standard opening (rolls 1, “Germany first!”) results in the following starting incomes for the 1941 start date:
Second opening (rolls 2, Russia first.)
Third opening (rolls 3, Japan first. The most challenging so far for G, as it allows UK to move before Germany just like in the second opening, but also provides the largest bonus to Russia)
Fourth opening (rolls 4, UK first, intense Pacific, screws Japan)
Fifth opening (rolls 5 "Italy first!, intense Atlantic, also screws Japan)
Sixth opening (rolls 6, USA first, screws Japan)
The interest, in providing a variable start to the game, is to allow for different strategies, which can then emerge in response to the first round adjustments of turn order/opening movement/starting bonus to income. You can see from the above that there are advantages and disadvantages to each starting position. (The reality is that the nation which goes last sets the stage for how the war will develop under that set up, as much as the nation which goes first.) Nations which go later get the larger bonus, but this is on balance evenly distributed across both sides, since the 6 positions are all alternating by side (axis then allies).
China can be played either under USA control +7, or as a separate nation per the normal rules, whichever you enjoy more.
Opening balance (beyond china) is anchored on the VCs, as they are the only production locations under this set up. The game itself can be made further variable, or resolved with technology or national objectives (or both) at your discretion. So far the openings I’ve played have been engaging, since it pushes the standard set up in six possible directions from the start, with different potential purchases based on the opening “Start” roll.
The bonus, provided in the first round only, allows for a number of different purchasing strategies for each power, depending on who initiates the game. I see this variable start rule as another way to balance the set up, without necessarily requiring a pre-placement bid. Axis benefit somewhat from the starting VC factories, but the ascending bonus can help all nations to build up their air and naval forces early on, especially if they manage to roll a prime first round position. USA and UK for example can wage a much more effective Pacific campaign against Japan if they receive the late order bonus, or if the first round start allows them pull units back to defensive positions, or place on their factories before the J1 attack. Alternatively if Axis go last, they have more time to adapt their round 1 purchases in response to allied movements, with more cash to build out their starting forces. In general, I think it just leads to a somewhat more interesting start, and takes the game out of it normal straight jacket, by allowing the “opening roll” and subsequent player decisions in response, to set the stage for the broader game. There are three openings effectively screw Japan, but Japan is the undisputed godzilla on this board, so this might not prove as distorting as it appears at first. The incentive for USA to destroy transports, or hit the carrier decks, but a pacific game more or less automatically into effect. The carriers are much harder to kill, so the TUV traded is likely around 29 in games where this happens, but Japan also receives a bonus to starting income on unit replacement, and already has the favored position on the gameboard strategically. Also under the three start positions where Japan gets screwed, the other Axis powers likewise receive larger bonuses, so it has a built in split theater effect which I like. Basically the first 3 positions favor Allies over Germany, the last 3 positions favor Allies over Japan. Thus Allied bid can be eliminated, with this sort of bonus cash balancing mechanism replacing it as a way to re-balance the game Allies vs Axis. These effects are more pronounced in the 1941 start date than they are in the 1942 start date, which I believe is the ideal start date for this rule. But since 1941 is more popular, I am starting with it, to see which sort of overall gameplay and strategies it develops.
Here are the numbers for the 1942 start date (with the bonus ascending by 5-10-15-20-25-30)
This set up I think will prove more suitable for the variable start idea, simply because the income disparity is less pronounced and the variation in unit position attack/defense is slightly less damaging to Japan. Yields the following starting income numbers.
Roll 1d6 : 1 Japan, 2 Russia, 3 Germany, 4 UK, 5 IT, 6 USA
First Opening: Japan first
Second Opening: Russia first
Third Opening: Germany first
Fourth Opening: UK first
Fifth Opening: Italy first
Sixth Opening: USA first
I don’t expect that any of these scenarios will necessarily be balanced, this is more for proof of concept. The question is not so much is it perfectly balanced, but is it reasonably balanced enough so at to still be entertaining and provide strategic interest. The advantage I see to using the AA50 board, and esp. the 1942 scenerio which seem most promising, is that we can use all the same conditions that come OOB.
*Set the board exactly as normal.
*Chose sides (which player will be Axis, which will be Allies)
*Roll to determine which nation starts.
*Add in the ascending bonus cash to starting incomes.
Then proceed from this starting position as normal for the duration of the game.
No additional complex rules or adjustments are necessary.
Tech can be optioned in.
National Objectives can be optioned in.
Any house rules you like.
But the basic set up is OOB. Rather than a bid, you get a variable start and cash bonuses to balance through purchasing. The challenge is in achieving victory for your side based on the start, which nation was rolled into opening position. If it works, or at least if it works “well enough”, then we will have shown that a single Axis and Allies gamemap could conceivably support 6 different starting scenarios, without requiring a bunch of different set up cards.
The same basic set up, the same basic turn order sequence, but with 6 potential start positions.
Does anyone else see the merit in something like this?
It would increase the shelf life of the game considerably. At the highest level of play, players could potentially build towards a dozen different endgames. I think A&A needs a board that can work like this, to have real staying power. If AA50 was reprinted it would lend itself well to the concept, because it is a 6 player board. But any 6 player/nation board could work this way, so long as the turn order was alternating by side. I strongly favor this approach to a collapsed turn order (i.e. all Axis then all Allies), because the standard turn order itself can be made variable, whereas if it is collapsed completely this option is taken out of the game. I would hope instead to see a dozen potential start conditions, rather than just a single start condition, which is only possible if you alternate sides between 6 powers. A 5 man game doesn’t work for this concept. It requires the roll on 1d6 (anything else requires special dice, which seems unlikely).
Until d12 is introduced to Axis and Allies, the six man map is by far the best shot we’ve got, and the best of those maps in terms of all-around design is AA50. Reprint AA50! or at least model the next long haul board on its 6 player set up alternating turn order. So we can come up with a way to make it variable like this.