KJF Doesn’t Have to Mean Kill Tokyo First
Strategy for the Allies typically gets divided into two groups: KGF (Kill Germany First) and KJF (Kill Japan First). For the most part, KJF strategies focus on building a superior Allied navy, getting the navy across the Pacific, and capturing the Japanese capital in Tokyo. Some KJF strategies might include some strategic bombing to weaken Tokyo’s defenses, and/or a quick detour to capture the ‘money islands’ – Borneo, East Indies, and maybe the Philippines.
There are several problems with trying to build a superior navy that can reliably sink the Japanese fleet: (1) it’s bloody expensive, because naval units are the most expensive units in the game, (2) it’s risky, because the Japanese navy is centrally located, so when you try to link up the British Pacific fleet with the American Pacific fleet, there’s a good chance that the Japanese navy will be able to pick them off one at a time, (3) it’s a full turn slower than a land invasion, because first you have to destroy the fleet and then you have to take the Japanese home island chain, (4) it’s unrewarding, because you don’t get any IPCs for taking Wake Island, the Solomon Islands, Iwo Jima, or other Pacific staging grounds, (5) it weakens Russia because it gives Japan a free hand to send tanks to capture Russia’s territories in Siberia, Vologda, and Kazakhstan, and (6) it’s inflexible, because once you finally win the naval battle it’s hard to find another way to put all your Pacific boats to a good use.
So what if, instead of going for the Japanese capitol or the Japanese money islands, the Allies try to drive the Japanese off of mainland Asia? Mainland Asia has 21 IPCs (from India up through China to the Soviet Far East) and 2 Victory Cities (Calcutta and Shanghai), which is at least as good as any other contestable region. For example, Oceania has 15 IPCs and 1 VC (Manila); Eastern Europe (from Poland to Archangel) has 21 IPCs and 1 VC (Leningrad); and western europe (including Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, and Northwest Africa) has 16 IPCs and 2 VCs (Paris, Rome).
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Shore Bombardment?
One reason why the Allies have traditionally avoided mainland Asia is because it’s a good spot for the Japanese fleet to score some bombardment casualties – the Japanese can unload troops from Japan onto the Chinese coast with their transports, and use the same battleships and cruisers that are protecting those transports to score a few extra hits. This is a noticeable downside to invading east Asia, but it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. For one thing, cruisers and battleships are a very inefficient way of scoring hits – a fighter costs 10 IPC, rolls a die that hits on ‘3’ or less in every round of offense, and rolls a die that hits on ‘4’ or less in every round of defense. A cruiser costs 12 IPC, rolls a die that hits on a ‘3’ or less, but only in the first round of offensive combat, and can’t roll at all when defending land territories. You would almost never choose to build a cruiser – so why would you run away from a region just because the enemy has cruisers there? If you wouldn’t avoid a whole region to avoid a medium-sized air force, then you definitely shouldn’t avoid a whole region just to avoid a medium-sized navy.
Another way of looking at the bombardment problem is to notice that a large-ish fleet of 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1 carrier, 2 fighters, and 2 transports together cost about 90 IPCs. That fleet will let you deliver 4 land units a turn, plus rolling 4 ‘bonus’ dice that hit on 3 or less (2 ‘bonus’ dice from bombarding cruisers, and 2 ‘bonus’ dice from fighters). But for only 70 IPCs, you could build 2 Industrial Complexes and 4 Fighters. You’re still delivering 4 units a turn plus 4 ‘bonus’ dice that hit on 3 or less, but now the bonus dice have more staying power, you can use your bonus dice on both offense and defense, and you can build any land units you want instead being forced to buy 50%+ infantry.
How do you get Allied land units into east Asia?
Another reason why the Allies have traditionally avoided attacking mainland Asia is because it’s very hard to get a foothold there unless you already have naval dominance – the US can’t build a factory in China because it gets captured after only one turn of production, the USSR doesn’t have any plausible build sites for an eastern factory, and the UK can’t afford to both build a factory in India and ship over enough troops to defend it against a determined Japanese attack.
Fortunately, in Second Edition the British start with an Industrial Complex in India. This means you can start dropping troops in India on the very first turn (instead of having to wait for a factory there to come online), and it also means that the UK can (maybe) build a second factory in the east without going totally bankrupt.
Here is one potential build order that I’m toying with:
UK Turn 1: build IC in Egypt, 2 inf / 1 art in India (25 IPCs)
UK Turn 2: build 2 tanks in Egypt, 2 inf / 1 art in India (22 IPC)
UK Turn 3: build 2 tanks in Egypt, 2 inf / 1 art in India (22 IPC)
UK Turn 4: build 1 bomber in Egypt, 3 tnk in India (30 IPC)
UK Turn 5: build 2 inf / 1 bomber in India (18 IPC)
Depending on how well you do in Africa, that should leave you about 30-40 IPC for reinforcing London and Moscow, preferably with infantry and fighters.
Including your starting 3 infantry in India, this build allows you to link up your forces and drive on Shanghai in UK Turn 6 with (9 inf / 3 art / 7 tank / 2 bomber) – a well-balanced, powerful army. At setup, Japan has only (10 inf / 2 art / 2 fighter) on the mainland, and it’s spread out across a dozen territories, and they’re likely to lose at least half of it fighting the Chinese and the Siberians – so unless Japan spends a significant part of their economy building reinforcements for mainland Asia, they’re going to lose Shanghai. Even if the Japanese do reinforce the mainland, the balance of forces is probably going to stablize with French Indochina as a dead zone, instead of with India as the dead zone. With Burma under British control, the Japanese have to leave a garrison in western China, leaving little or nothing leftover to attack the Soviets from the rear.
American Bombers and Subs
Meanwhile, depending on how the Japanese are fueling the mainland, the Americans can devote almost all of their resources to a focused counter-strike. If the Japanese build ICs in mainland Asia, then the Americans can build nothing but bombers. With three ICs to target (e.g., Tokyo, Manchuria, and French Indochina), the Americans can make good use of (8 + 3 + 2) * 2 = 26 pips per turn of bomber damage, which is almost enough to wipe out the Japanese economy. With 8 bombers, America can deal 8 * 3.5 = 28 pips per turn of expected damage, and America can get those 8 bombers with only two full turns of production (2 starting bombers + 36 IPC + 36 IPC).
If the Japanese build transports to get their units across the South China Sea, then the Americans can build a huge wolf pack of subs. This is a fun and ironic strategy. Normally, in KJF games, it’s the Americans who have to build a complicated combined-arms fleet with destroyers, carriers, fighters, transports, and land units to try to occupy Japan without getting sunk by subs or fighters – the Americans are trying to safely ferry a large land army to Tokyo, but all Japan has to do is stop them from getting there. That means that if all the ships crash into each other and kill each other, Japan wins and America loses – after a mutual naval wipeout in KJF, Japan can keep driving tanks toward Moscow, whereas America is sitting around looking stupid. But in KAF, if all the ships kill each other, then Japan has no way to get troops onto the mainland, so Britain can keep driving tanks toward Beijing and Kamchatka, and it’s the Japanese who have to sit around on their islands feeling stupid. All the Americans need to do to win in the Pacific in a KAF game is to destroy the Japanese transport fleet – and since airplanes can’t be used to take sub casualties, subs are a perfect weapon to achieve that goal. In the first two turns, the US can theoretically drop 13 subs into the Pacific.
On any successful KAF strategy, even if the Germans take Moscow, that leaves them holding Paris, Rome, Berlin, Leningrad, Moscow, Manila, and maybe Honolulu – well short of the 9 VC the Axis need to win. Meanwhile, the Allies are significantly outproducing the Axis even without Moscow, and since they’ve already got a strong base on the Eurasian landmass, they’re in a good position to use that income to start rolling back Nazi gains.
To get KAF started, you obviously will have to find a way to securely hold Egypt – that might mean placing a Infantry there on bid, or it might mean moving a Russian fighter there on Round 1, or both. The IC in Egypt also means that you need to keep the Med clear of significant German naval deployments, – but the resources you spend on attacking the Mediterranean German Navy probably mean that you have to let Germany have a big navy in the Baltic, so you have to keep an eye out for Sea Lion-style attacks on London.
Another weakness of KAF is that the Russians will have to hold or at least trade the Caucuses to make sure the Germans don’t penetrate eastward, since India is being used as a vital center of operations rather than just a convenient place to stage a delaying action – if the Germans start poking at India from the northwest in KAF, it’s pretty much game over. The silver lining here is that the British should be able to send the occasional tank up to the Caucuses from India, since India won’t be fighting for its life.
One last downside is that you have to be prepared to play a very long game, because even when KAF works, it doesn’t give you a capitol or even a majority of the victory cities – it just gives you a majority of the world’s IPCs, which you can then leverage into an official win over the next several turns. KAF might be inappropriate if you’re trying to finish the whole game in a short evening, and KAF won’t do you much good if you’re playing tournament rules where whoever has the most victory cities at the end of Round 6 or Round 7 is automatically ruled to be the winner.
I don’t pretend that KAF is an optimal strategy or even that it’s as likely to win as a more traditional KGF or KJF. There are some real risks here, from an early German breakthrough in Moscow, to a monster German Atlantic navy, to the possibility of getting some bad rolls and just having the Japanese hold onto Asia despite your best efforts, making you feel very silly indeed.
Then again, most Allied strategies have some very serious problems in Second Edition with no bid. I also think A&A 1942 2nd Edition makes it easier than ever before for the Allies to try a credible ‘third way’ strategy that breaks out of the old familiar routines, and that’s a big part of what makes Axis & Allies fun for me. You need a little something beyond just the starting setup to make KAF work – some lucky rolls, or the right Allied bid, or a German player who neglects the Mediterranean, or a Japanese player who overextends himself by buying three transports or 2 ICs on the first turn – but if the situation is right, then I think KAF can be a heck of a lot of fun.
Would love to hear your thoughts!