The best part of the game:
Since ancient times, and for a good many centuries now, people everywhere have delighted in playing with miniature figurines! In the finest tradition of toy soldiers, from clay to tin to plastic, A&A builds on this fascination that we have for the very tiny, and gives you over 400 little dudes to play with and create your battle force!
Sculpts of all sorts, from battlships to bombers! and arranging and collecting them is a big part of the experience. Think of 1942.2 as more than just one single game, because its actually a whole playset or toolbox that you can use in many different ways. One way I enjoy using it, especially if there is a kid around, or new casual player, is like a Suped-Up version of plastic army men!
Now instead of just banging them around and knocking the pieces over, (creating random situations on the fly, free form style), A&A gives you a way to actually play plastic army men. Its not just the whims, or aesthetics caprices that drive the way you set up and manage your plastic army-men contests, but an actual battle system! The rules are pretty simple and each little plastic army man (and the vehicles too! including tanks, airplanes, and naval ships) can now face each other, with randomized dice rolls determining the outcomes of individual contests. This takes the free-form play impulse of plastic army men and turns into actual game-play. The best kind of play!
I want to highlight the battle board “play” process in a simple section. But before the battle gets under way, lets think about the Dice for a minute, and casting those bones! The way it works is this, each individual unit has its own attack and defense value represented by a single die that you roll. The two opponents square off, with their forces and their dice at the ready, then roll to determine who wins! I think this is the sort of thing you can teach people pretty easily, even younger than 12, and they pick it up right quick.
There are 6 sides to the dice. Units can “Hit” at 1 2 3 and 4 (depending on the specific unit), but 5s and 6s are “duds.” This means that Axis and Allies (in its most basic form) primes us to appreciate “the Quaternary.” The 1-4. The first four sides of the die.
We know from the Greeks that the Quaternary is pretty damn cool. Its the sort of thing that sticks easy in the memory, and has all sorts of genius built into it. Out of the first Four, 1, 2, 3, 4 add 'em up together and you get 10 exactly! The base 10 system of numerics. Take each of the first 4, and flesh em out on paper, and you can see the essentials of Euclidian three dimensional space. You got the lone point in space, the period . Then connect two points . . for your straight line _
Then connect three points for your Δ and finally the pyramid (when you put the forth dot in the middle of the triangle and connect each node.) Make a Tetractys from it, and you can show how these first 4 also give us the essentials of the harmonic scale in music. Basically what I’m driving at here is that even Pythagoras, and likeminded fans of the tetrad, would probably approve of units hitting at 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s in Axis and Allies!
As a mnemonic device the first 4 hits are easy, teaching players how to dread the 5s and 6s is more challenging.
If they ever played Risk or Monopoly, they might have a predisposition to think that “6s are rad!” They might be thinking, “I hope I get double 6s.” Or in that first instant, when the dice fall, they might instinctively hope to go “beast mode”, with triple sixes, because maybe someone grilled Risk or Yahtzee into their heads at a young age hehehe. All those games privilege the “high rolls” and the six. Not so in Axis and Allies, here its the “low roll” you want! The dreaded 1s, at least in battle.
The only exception in Axis and Allies 1942.2 is the SBR, strategic bombing raid, where 6s are always best. But even there the value of the monad, and power of the 1 is present. Because the AAAgun of the factory can shoot a bomber down before it ever gets to raid, if it rolls the mighty 1!
Still brainstorming, but this is the sort of tact I might take, when you break out the physical dice, after new people have finished gathering up pieces into piles and looking at all the mini sculpts. Trying to demonstrate that in this particular game, in battle anyway, the roll you really want is the One! The more 1s, the better for you. And you don’t just want “snake eyes”, you want a whole pile of sneaky snake eyes, Indiana Jones style!
And once I drill home the point about how we really dig “the 1” in Axis and Allies, I try to take it back to a discussion of all the units. And first to the Big Red 1 (or the Black, Tan, Orange, or Green! as the case might be haha), and by this I mean the most important unit in the game…
the backbone of your army! The indispensable grunt!
Boots on the ground, your GI Joe. The pawn who protects the king, or takes the king and the makes the queen! depending on which way you look at it. But whichever way you look, you’re going to see a bunch of infantry! Because infantry is the most prolific and best pound-for-pound unit in the whole game!
Lets hang out with the infantry unit for a minute, and extol its virtues. Not only is infantry the cheapest unit you can buy, the one you’ll have the most of at the outset, but its also the best. Here’s why: infantry attacks at 1, defends at 2, and costs 3. It contains within it the badassedness of the Delta, the Spear Tip, the 1, 2, 3! Δ
Lets start with the 1-2 Punch!
For the mere investment of 3 ipcs, you buy a unit that does both the 1 and the 2 in defensive combat! Nothing else will get you as much mileage for the cost, in quite the same way as having more infantry boots on the ground. Their defensive value is solid. On D, they hit at 2 or less. On six sided dice that’s a 1/3rd shot to hit and destroy the enemy!
“Power!” Each individual infantry hits on defense at a 2 or less. Two infantry defending are said to have a total “defence power” of 4. Three infantry defending together have a total defense power of 6, etc. You add up the individual “hits at” value of all defending units to get the total defense power, or defensive value or defense “points” for that force.
The defensive value of infantry is clear for the cost, but their attack value should not be underestimated either.
Attack power, just like defense power, is determined by adding together the “hits at” value of all individual units involved in an attack. This power is also sometimes called the total “attack points” or “attack value” of a force.
Now consider how, for just 1 more ipc than the cost of an infantry unit, you could spend 4 ipcs and buy an artillery unit. That artillery unit literally doubles the attack effectiveness of any infantry that it fights alongside. It takes a unit that costs 3 ipcs and usually hits at 1, then jumps that 1 to a 2. So that now the total attack power of 1 inf and 1 artillery together is also 4, same as a bomber! (bringing us back to Quaternary connections haha) again showing how infantry can be potent on attack! More on that artillery boost ability in a second.
But beyond even the “Power” of the unit on defense or attack, the single most important thing you get when you buy an infantry unit for 3 ipcs, is the 1 hit that unit represents. The shot it can take before it goes down! Its “Hitpoint.”
In an important sense, 4 infantry (which hit at a 1, in four chances) will always be better on attack than a single bomber (which hits at a 4 or less, in one chance). If one of those 4 infantry has to take a hit, there will still be 3 guys to fight. A single bomber on the other hand, can only take 1 hit before it dies! Both forces cost 12 ipcs, but a single infantry unit destroyed only costs you 1/4th of that total amount, whereas the bomber is worth all 12 ipcs alone. If the bomber dies you lose your whole investment and ability to attack, but if only 1 out of the 4 infantry dies, you still have 3 chances left to hit at a one. The fight can go on, even after sustaining casualties!
Now imagine instead that the bomber and the infantry are fighting together, alongside each other… the 4 infantry units each hit at a 1, and the bomber hits at 4, now you have a heavy hitter, the Bomber, with dudes to back it up, and take the hits for it. This gives you what we call in A&A the concept of “fodder.”
Fodder = plastic army men destined to die, or to keep it more euphamistic and upbeat, “to be glorious sacrificed upon the alter battle,” a dedication to Mars or the Nation State. But these are the units that keep the battle going! They keep the bomber and other heavy hitting units alive, over the course of the combat.
Everybody, each Player/Nation, starts with more than a dozen infantry at the ready distributed across the gamemap. Part of the challenge in A&A is getting those Infantry forces into positions where they can link up and do the most good on defense, or the most damage on attack. Some Nations, like Russia and Germany, start with a bunch of infantry in position right away, and can produce many more over the course of the game. Other Nations like UK, Japan, and USA have their forces scattered all over the place, many out of position and they face challenges moving infantry from production centers to the front, usually having to cross the water, or buy new factories to get their infantry into the fight.
This highlights one of the few drawbacks of infantry, their lack of movement. Boots on the ground can only march so fast, and if there is an ocean in front them, boots don’t really help you to swim. The Japanese and the Anglo Americans especially, will have to buy transports (and warships for their transports) all in service of getting infantry across the water. A transport can substantially increase the range of your infantry unit, but once they touch back down on dry land, you’re still looking at a movement of only 1. This is where other units come into play, such as tanks or aircraft, to support your infantry on the move. Units that can “catch up” and make your starting infantry more effective, or to turn your newly purchased infantry into a force that can do more damage to the enemy.
There is also one more important respect in which infantry is more valuable than any other land unit, and that has to do with the relationship between Infantry and Transports. We’ll talk a lot about transports later on, but for now, just consider that in A&A the rules have it that Transports can transport “1 infantry + 1 other ground unit.” This means that a single transport can move 2 infantry, or 1 inf + artillery, or 1 inf + 1 tank, or 1 inf + 1 aaagun. But if you only have 2 artillery, 2 tanks, or 2 aaaguns, it takes 2 transports to move them! Anytime you are not transporting 2 units at go with your transports, you are not making the fullest use of those transports. This is why its important to have infantry as a naval power, because you want to load transports with the max units possible, to make the greatest potential use of each transport you possess. We’ll get to transports again in a while, but think of it like this: you need at least 1 infantry each round for each transport to “activate” that transport (and ideally 1 infantry and another ground unit!), or the transport is basically being wasted that round.
Infantry is the cheapest unit you can buy that can occupy and hold ground. Holding ground is what gets you money, money you will almost certainly be spending to purchase more infantry. To hold more ground, to make more money, to buy more infantry! And so on…
Its important to recall that the starting forces on the gameboard are more valuable than all the land, on the entire map, even put together over several rounds. The value of the starting forces in infantry alone, is worth more than any single nation’s income for a single round of income collection. Just look at the overall TUV. The Total Unit Value, of the starting forces for each nation, vs each nation’s starting income.
Axis: 667 starting Total Unit Value, but only 71 ipcs starting Income.
Allies: 714 starting Total Unit Value, but only 97 ipcs starting Income.
Germany: 362 TUV, 41 income.
Japan: 305 TUV, 30 income
Russia: 180 TUV, 24 income.
UK: 283 TUV, 31 income.
USA: 251 TUV, 42 income.
This means that, in a very real sense, your units are worth a lot more than the land they’re sitting on. In most cases, a good portion of the starting total unit value is infantry. They make up roughly a third of the TUV in each Nation’s starting forces. That means that the replacement cost of your starting plastic army men is often more than the value of the whole world. What seems at first glance, to be one of your most “expendable” units, turns out to be your most valuable resource!
If you’re going to sacrifice it, best make damn sure its doing you some good in the process.
Pushing your starting infantry at the outset is the best way to start winning early overall, which sets you up to win big later on. If you can get your starting infantry on the move quickly, and get them marching towards their main objectives without taking too many casualties along the way, and destroying as many of the enemy as possible in the process, that is ideal.
If you can sacrifice a pawn to take a pawn, that’s a fair trade, but if you can sacrifice a pawn to take a knight that’s much better! And well, if you can do either without losing your pawn in the first place, at no sacrifice, then you’re really killing it.
That’s how we want to use our infantry. They are there to take the hits when they have to, but the more of them you can keep around the better off you’re going to be. Which is why what you really want to do is back them up, and to sometimes invest in other units that will make your infantry more effective over time.
The big guns! Like Napoleon, and military strategists before and after, who have understood the merits of lobbing explosives at each other over longer distances, artillery is going to give your infantry units the back-up they need to start making an impact! Softening up the enemy, blowing up their fixed positions, and generally wreaking havoc all over the place. It does everything an infantry unit can do, but makes a stronger attack and still beefs up your defense, for just a cost of 1 ipc more than a regular infantry unit.
4 ipcs invested gets you the double deuce, hits at a 2 on both attack and defense! And not only this, but it has the special ability to boost 1 infantry unit to attack at 2 as well! This is fairly huge, just think if all those starting infantry had artillery to back them up, the whole force would be twice as effective on attack. Using the concept of fodder, even if the infantry unit goes down, the surviving artillery would still attack at a 2. This means that for just 1 ipc more, you could potentially make all your fodder exchanges at a better value.
3 infantry grouped together on attack gives you 3 separate chances to hit at a 1. Basically a 50/50 shot that you’ll score at least 1 hit in the first round of combat. If one of these guys dies, your odds drop down to just a 1/3rd shot.
2 infantry and 1 artillery grouped together on attack, gives two chances to hit at a 2, and one guy left over to hit at 1. This is better than an 80% shot. And in the next round, if one of the infantry dies, you still have a 2/3rds shot.
Now say that you win the battle and take the territory with a single surviving unit. Sure, if that unit is an artillery piece, its 4 ipcs at risk on counter attacker, rather than 3 ipcs for an infantry unit. But that’s still just 1 ipc more. Not to diminish the value of 1 ipc too much (sometimes a single ipc can make a big difference) but overall if you can destroy more TUV than you had to risk, and take the land, its pretty easy to make up the difference at just 1 ipc. Weighing the odds of victory vs defeat, it often makes a lot of sense to use artillery in your light trades, even if they end up getting sacrificed during counter attacks.
Here’s a good example
2 infantry vs 1 infantry is a little better than 55% odds to the attacker.
1 infantry + 1 artillery vs 1 infantry is over 85% odds to the attacker!
The first attack force costs 6 ipcs, the second costs 7 ipcs. But over the long haul, that 1 ipc could save you much more TUV in the trade, because it increases the odds not just that you will win, but that you will win sooner. If you can kill the enemy without taking as many fodder hits in the process, and do this consistently, you shift the pressure onto your enemy.
The hard and fast rule of thumb is that, if its just infantry alone, you need to bring about twice as many infantry on attack as the number of defenders you’re trying to destroy. But if its infantry +artillery, you can attack at roughly equal forces, and still have equal odds.
So for example, if its just infantry, you need to send 4 infantry on attack vs 2 infantry defenders, to a have a reasonable chance of success. Thats 12 ipcs TUV vs 6 ipcs TUV.
But if you have artillery in the mix, just 1 infantry + 1 artillery is roughly equal on attack vs 2 infantry defenders. That’s 7 ipcs TUV vs 6 ipcs TUV.
When you scale things up, the contrast becomes even more stark. Often times when the stacks of infantry really get large, it becomes numerically impossible to send twice as many attacking infantry vs infantry defenders, and that’s when artillery really comes into play. You need a way to even the odds, and reduce the number of casualties you are likely to sustain as the attacker, over each round of the combat phase. The more artillery you invest in early, the more effective your infantry stacks will be on attack, and they’ll still be just as effective on defense, (perhaps a bit more expensive on defense, since you don’t get any special boost, but at least you’re not losing anything to the odds on D.)
In my view Artillery is the best unit to be introduced into A&A since Classic, the most entertaining and the most important. This is another reason why I prefer to just start with 1942.2 instead of 1941. Artillery helps to diminish the power of the infantry push on defense, by giving infantry a way to attack at odds without breaking the bank. Without artillery, Axis and Allies games, especially games vs experienced players will tend to drag on, and turn into infantry “stack fests” where players use the incredible defensive power of infantry, and value for the cost, over all other units. But now there is artillery, so when your enemy starts pushing infantry against you, you at least have a way to push back.