Hello again, glorious echo chamber! Watch this thread end up being exactly as dead as my AA50 one haha, with me just ranting on in isolation to myself, like a madman on a zero ipc desert island… even though I honestly think this is the best basic idea for Axis and Allies that I ever came up with!
OK lets back up here, I need to start by making clear to you guys why this variable start thing has been the holy grail for me since Classic.
The reason is very simple, because I believe the game will never be balanced to perfection under the current system of game start. I believe this in an impossibility, because of the way the structure of the game is handled in terms of “Who plays Who.” Any attempt to achieve perfect balance on any board will always be defeated in the end, absent some element to randomize the starting conditions. Experience bears this out, not just with Official boards, but with every TripleA scenerio I ever made (and there were quite a few!) and every house rule system my playgroup has ever tried, and every popular pre-placement bid strategy we’ve ever adopted… on every A&A board going back to the 80s!
Every single Axis and Allies game (no matter how narrow the bid ends up, or how brilliantly the map is put together), the starting set up will always eventually be broken by experienced players! In case you guys don’t remember how this goes down, every single time, let me refresh your memory…
New Official Axis and Allies comes out (joy!). Everyone is immediately elated, and excited. We all buy it and play with new eyes and new dreams, hoping against all rational and reasonable expectations, that this “will finally be a perfect game.” You know, with both Axis and Allies sides balanced evenly and no need to alter the set up! Then a few months go by, and some hard core brilliant strategist comes up with a way to “break the set up.” Everyone rages and jumps into a frenzy, now side X “can’t win!” and unless some change is made to the set up, the game is unbalanced for experienced play. Skilled players the world over teasing out winning strategies that rapidly take on a character of “undefeated inevitability.” After determining which side is at a disadvantage, a bid (our only real mechanic for dealing with game balance issues) is suggested, which seeks to take the whole balance of the game down to what is effectively a single roll, in one opening battle. Units and Units destroyed out of the first round, in a series of scripted battles, and the results of these rolls, to a large extent determining the likely outcome of the entire game. Now dice! And Dicing! As players who adopt the system realize how the whole game can basically come down to the results of a few critical engagements at the outset. Everyone rails “if I lose battle X, then the game is basically hosed, so I need to spend all my bid in one direction to ensure certain results from the roll.” If achieved, the player is happy. If not, the player feels defeated. This goes on and on, until at some point a standard preplacement bid or a hard unit change is adopted universally, at which point the process repeats. Or at least until everyone loses interest and moves on, because some new board is out.
This is how Axis and Allies works, not because the game itself necessarily needs to play out like that, but because our solutions for fixing game balance always go down the same rabbit hole, e.g. trying to fix balance by stripping the whole thing down to a narrow sequence of battle events that must play out, and then how to “break” that sequence with a bid, such that the result is always the same for the side you are playing. Why does this happen?
Well I think I know why. Because the bid system is essentially ineffective as a way to achieve essential balance. Now when I say essential balance, I don’t mean the sort of mathematical puzzle perfection of a once in a millennium type game like chess. Axis and Allies is not ever going to balance out like that, its a dice game after all! Instead by “essential” balance, I mean the “feeling” of balance, the sense of “even sides” and the possible outcomes of any given game, from the perspective of the players who are playing it. This is different than a game which is tactically balanced out of the opening round, but an experience or sense of experience, that you are determining the outcome of the gameplay in conjunction with the randomized aspect, and not just going through the motions in some pre-set series of gameplay steps. A script where everything hinges on a single battle, or a couple key battles out of the first round. Basically with the Bid, as currently conceived, I think we are concentrating on the wrong sort of fix for this issue. Or rather, instead of a bid for one side to balance, what is really needed is a bid for all sides!
Because when you give money to everyone at the outset, instead of just to 1 side, you increase the number of variables involved. The goal should not be a starting set up which is perfectly balanced on combat, but rather one which is perfectly balanced, because its start is unpredictable. This works better with starting income adjustment than with starting unit adjustment, because you give the players more freedom and thus increase the potential for variation.
The trick is not to figure out “how can I win this game by doing such and such out of the first round” but how to design a game start where you always have a chance from the starting position. Or at least, that it would be near impossible to predict every potential outcome, so instead you shift focus from “winning” in the first round, to just playing out the conditions on the ground, and trying to position for a win. Why does it make sense to give every player additional starting money, as opposed to just one? Well, because this promotes more total variation. It takes the Bid out of the realm of hard balancing act, and puts it instead into the gameplay.
If it is a roll, a randomized thing, then it is a game instead of a script. This is why the best methods for promoting the feel of game balance come from things like Decks, or Dice, or random conditions that you can’t necessarily control. Because it is an equalizer.
You can’t choose to roll a 6 for example, or to draw a particular card!
That is what makes it a game, and the play aspect comes from what you do given those outcomes. So what you are encouraging is in fact a certain attitude of play. One that accepts the outcomes of the rolls or the draws, and plays on from whatever start conditions the gameplay produced. Now this happens automatically already, in the form of first round battles, but the problem here is that one crushing roll, or one unexpected exploit, can tank the whole set up. One misplaced infantry unit and the whole set up could break, because up until now the set up out of the first round has been scripted.
The easiest way to get around this is to use a bonus scheme that alters and randomizes starting income, and starting initiative. I favor money over a pre-placement bid, because it is easier to make universal and it doesn’t alter the boxed set up on unit placement i.e. it leaves one important part of the game alone “the units” and puts the only variability into the money. This is better anyway (for anyone that understands fiat currency) because the money is flexible. You can change the money, with NOs for example, and everyone immediately suspends disbelief.
**It is easier to imagine a bonus +X to starting income as historical abstraction, than it is to imagine that Germany suddenly has another Tank column somewhere!
Or that a U-boat magically materialized out of thin air, at just the right time and in just the right position, to win the whole war for the team!
Or “good thing that magical extra infantry division was on hand to take that critical shot, and make sure its now impossible for Egypt to (die/survive)!!!” I mean honestly, I thought the units were supposed to represent real armies and positions at a specific time in the war? You shouldn’t be able to just wish another starting army into existence, and break with the OOB “supposedly historical” unit situation.**
But that is what a preplacement bid does, and lets face it, that’s just silly. If you stick instead with the boxed set up, you can ensure that everyone is dealing with the same situation on the ground. And by changing only the starting income of the first round, you get rid of the pre-placement bid “battle breaker” problem.
In the earliest games of Classic, before resorting to preplacment bids, we used to have a normal income bid. Where, in that game, Axis received +X ipcs to starting income. I have always wished that instead of this, we might have tried giving both sides +Y ipcs to starting income (some larger amount at the outset), but done in a way that was slightly randomized and unpredictable. With more money for purchase, so that the unit starting set up was less important, and purchasing decisions out of the first round were more important. Unit replacement out of the first round less cost prohibitive, which encourages risk taking on battles to seize the upper hand, and more varied purchasing by all players. This is the basic thrust, that players have more fun when you give them many potential purchase options, instead of just a few. The goal for me is to push the variation out far enough in the starting income, so that all players, regardless of which side they are playing, still feel as though victory can be achieved, regardless of the outcome in the first round.
My recommendation for this is to use gameplay randomizers, Coin flips, and dice rolls…
Stuff like that to determine which player/nation goes first, and how much money everyone gets for starting income. Have everything else (in terms of the boxed unit set up remain the same.) So that is the gist. I am very interested and open to hearing what someone thinks about this, anyone. Reply let me know I’m not totally insane here? Surely there is a better way to achieve gameplay balance and enthusiasm for all players involved, than yet another bid suggestion for an A&A game. Why not give everyone a starting cash bonus instead, and leave it up to the player to decide how to spend his funny money, to make new units.
Basically you have to pick which aspect of the game is going to more abstract, the money or the units. I think its more natural to have the money be flexible and the units hard, as opposed to the other way around. And I prefer not to break the standard game phases, by allowing units to appear outside of the normal purchasing and placement mechanics. Pre-Placement bids do not satisfy us. They never will. We should learn from our experience with this time and again, to see if perhaps some new system to determine “Who plays Who” can be created.
Does anyone out there have even a remote interest in this? Or am I just a total loon here?
Here’s the basic point, if you are willing to take the whole balance of the game down to the results of one bid battle, then you are already putting the thing into the realm of a dice roll. If you are willing to do that much, why not start the whole game with just a single dice roll?
A dice roll which could give 6 potential start positions, or balancing acts, instead of just 1. And a dice roll, which gives everyone some advantage, instead of penalizing everyone at the same time (should the results of the one roll e.g. the one bid battle go wrong.) It would be easier to control a single opening roll. With certain set conditions. Than it is to control the results of a roll for an opening battle. That is why I think the idea is the way forward. You are rolling to determine game balance already anyway, why not make that roll a more significant part of the game, by making it basically a Bid roll, that gives starting income bonuses to everyone under some roughly balanced scheme, rather than pre-placment units to just one side (the side perceived to be at a disadvantage)?
To me it seems so promising. I wish there were more people willing to explore this idea with me
Remember one of the things that makes A&A great, from the very first, it has been a game that responds to player feedback. It is a collaborative and populist game that encourages players to explore history through play. Next to Dungeons and Dragons, it’s one of those games that over time has been expanded and fleshed out by a whole community of loyal enthusiasts. This gives me a lot of optimism, and tells me that just because we have been doing something for years, doesn’t mean we can’t still improve it.
I want a bid alternative game. Its something I have always felt A&A needed. Variable roll to open is the solution that strikes me as the most promising way to achieve one. I hope others will help me get a system that works.