AAZ - Review and Thoughts (Work In Progress) [House Rules]
“Fun” and “Balanced” are two different things altogether. My playgroup has a blast playing this game OOB, balance issues be-damned.
In this game series, the Axis are tasked with utilizing their superior starting forces and initiative to conquer territory from the economically superior Allies. My argument is that the Zombie Mechanic makes conquering and holding territory more difficult than in previous iterations of A&A, and thus, negatively impacts the Axis more than the Allies.
Basic Example, let’s say USSR has 24 IPC income and Nazis have 40 IPC icnome.
Germans attacks a made-up Soviet territory, we’ll just call it “Karelia”, and say it’s worth 2 IPC. Let’s assume it’s a typical trade and Germany takes the territory with ~1 INF remaining (we’ll say it was 2 INF Vs. 1 INF or INF/FTR Vs. 1 INF).
In a normal A&A edition, Germany goes up 2 IPC, USSR goes down 2 IPC for a total swing of 4 IPC.
This plays out mostly the same in AAZ, with the caveat that the battle can potentially result in both sides getting wiped out due to Zombies.
In the base case, this is highly unlikely, but as the game drags on and the Zombie Stacks get bigger/more impenetrable, you will see situations where you get territory arrangements that look like this:
Territory 1: Safe German Clay (we’ll call it “Eastern Europe”). The main German stack is here.
Territory 2: “Karelia” from above. Was originally Soviet, but now has a massive Zombie stack on it, and is controlled by the Zombies (i.e. not providing income to either player).
Territory 3: Safe Russian Clay (we’ll call it “Archangel”). The main Soviet stack is here.
This is you usual Dead-Zone situation, but the problem here is that Germany is not able to maintain its income level by continuously attacking “Karelia”. Yes, the Soviets are similarly denied the income from the territory, but the result is beneficial to the Allies overall:
Normal Game: Germany takes “Karelia”: +2 to German Income/-2 to Soviet Income = +4 swing to Axis.
AAZ: Zombies take “Karelia”: +0 to German Income/-2 to Soviet Income = +2 swing to Axis.
These sorts of situations play out all over the map (Chinese mainland, Eastern Front, Africa) and the overall effect is that the Axis’ progress in meeting the Allies’ income is slowed, which gives the Allies more time to leverage their superior starting income to overcome the initial disparity in starting forces.
This can be managed, yes, but it’s difficult when you also factor in the following points:
most of the territories that are passed back-and-forth in the ETO are considered German-owned (W. Russia, Ukraine, Norway, W. Europe, North Africa Vs. Karelia, Egypt and maybe Caucasus if the Soviet Player is doing poorly).
The Soviets go first (out of necessity, as this is a 1942 setup and the Germans start at the gates of Moscow), and thus may immediately begin doing damage to the German income that they may or may not be able to recover effectively due to the accumulation of Zombies.
In a strictly numerical sense, the gap between the Soviet and German incomes (14 Vs. 23 in AAZ, a 9 IPC gap) is not as large as it is in your typical A&A game (which is usually 24 Vs. 35/40/41, anywhere between an 11 and 17 IPC gap). This makes the Soviet’s Task of “hanging in there” against the German onslaught less difficult, despite how massively superior the starting German Army is.
I know a lot of this is just me throwing numbers at you, but the point is that, with the current setup, the Allies have the luxury of dictating where the main concentrations of Zombies will appear during the earliest stage of the game, which in-turn sets the tone for the entire match by giving the Axis a hole to punch themselves out of before they can even start challenging the Allies’ economies.
The Axis need a handicap to compete under these conditions, and diverting the attention of the UK/US to the more far-flung regions of the map for a few turns via biased Zombie Cards is, in my opinion, the simplest way to do it. A bid won’t cut it here because if Germany is given too much extra power at the start they’ll just steamroll the Russians and ruin things in a different way.
I agree: the cards are fun. That’s why I liked Fortress America so much…
One more thing: if you remove say half of the cards then you also remove the ‘Desperate Measures’ part. This might unbalance the game…
Thanks for the extensive analysis. Almost all territories are included in the deck of cards.
Maybe a more diverse, well fine-tuned, deck of cards should do the job. So say some US/UK areas being represented in the deck twice. Maybe some even receiving two Zs…
Maybe some Axis territories should not have been in the deck at all. Maybe Axis (and Russia?) should have been given some cards that only apply to them. Say GER/JAP/RUS being allowed to change a Z into an own infantry. But this card can only be used by an Axis player. Just some ideas
A custom Zombie deck could do wonders for the game. Something like varying “Desperate Measures” effects based on which country/power flips up the card, and different ratios of cards (i.e. your idea of some territories being in the deck twice).
I was just trying to focus on simple solutions that can be handled using the base game’s components.
Maybe a bid for the Axis, but only Japan is allowed to use it? Japan is the country that has the hardest time getting anything going in the game as-is, IMO. If the Soviets suicide into Manchuria R1 and the UK suicides into FIC B1 they can basically knock out half of Japan’s starting income and almost all of their land forces. A bid that can only go to Japan can help them actually be a factor in the game without allowing Germany to simply steamroll Russia and win the game by themselves.
That anti-Japan opener is more powerful here than in other editions, and Japan has too little income to get troops and ships.
Tinkering with the deck in order to remove zombies from certain teams and areas has lots of issues–the game rewards you for converting zombies and so if you remove the bad, you also remove the good. Also, the cards are distributing 1 zombie per player turn, whereas its the battles that create the huge stacks of zombies. Having 1 zombie pop up here and there isn’t what makes the game problematic.
Also, to your point DMG, later in the game, the techs make it easier for the teams that have them (earned them) to plow through formerly protective stacks of zombies. If a zombie wall appears between moscow and the german army, that seems pretty pro allies to me–in every other edition of the game germany proceeds with all it has to destroy moscow without having to worry about other considerations. Interestingly, most of the techs don’t reduce the danger of attacking the zombies (with their first strike), only text on the cards does that-- the “zombies dont attack on round 1” card is one of the strongest single bonuses in the game because it removes and reduces the risk of clearing the zombie wall for a specific player on a specific turn.
The 1 INF bonus for liberating a Zombie-controlled territory isn’t particularly helpful on the Eurasian Mainland, seeing as it will inevitably be converted into a Zombie when it dies in a future battle.
Yes, UK/US will get a free INF or two from liberating their far-flung territories, but they’ll need to:
Buy/bring additional Transports to pick up said INF
Waste the time/resources to liberate said territories, which would otherwise be spent confronting the Axis in more strategically important locations.
Risk having their units die to the Zombies (unlikely but the possibility still must be accounted for by the player attempting to liberate their territory).
Your point about tech breaking the stalemate is fine, except that they removed the Purchase Research Dice/Tech Roll Phase from this edition of the game. Instead, you have to get lucky enough to draw a Zombie Card that gives you a tech.
I’m starting to agree with you though that tampering with the deck might be a bad idea because it destroys the “fun-factor” (basically the only thing AAZ has going for it, given the fact that its balance issues become monumentally worse when you try removing the Zombies).
Maybe the Japan-only bid is the safest bet? That and having the Zombie Apocalypse result in a hard-draw rather than what’s basically a free win for the Allies.
Just some more ideas:
Japan/Germany/USSR were police states (to say the least). So they can implement very harsh matters much easier then UK/US.
At the very start of their turn Germany/Japan/Russia may remove one Z from a territory they control,
(Or maybe even: from a territory they originally owned - though this might be too ‘strong’ an advantage.)
Ideas are welcome!
Germany and Japan (and maybe Russia too) get one free Tech Roll Attempt each turn. A classic-1984 style one…
Roll one die (for free). If you roll a six roll again for a specific technology.
But these are just ideas…
@thrasher1 I’d go for requiring them to control the territory, at least. That would be a way of representing the various atrocities/genocides committed by those powers during the war.
Plus, it plays into my re-purposing the “Zombies” as “Partisans”/“Resistance Members”.
In addition to the one free roll for each Axis, I’d at least give everyone (including the Allies) an option to pursue the Tech Dice, for a price. None of the techs are as overpowered as Jet Fighters/Increased Air Movement/Heavy Bombers, so I don’t see a reason to not let the Allies blow their money on it.
I’d really say kind of the opposite, that the value of the techs is situational and really incidental to the game, such that none of them (except perhaps mind control) seem worth buying, to me.
We sure do have a lot of new ideas…still happy to continue to experiment with what’s there, and has re-invigorated our Global games (so AAZ may be on back burner for a while).
Don’t forget in your ideas that the card with “improved reinforcements” gives you special reinforcements–that and several other cards rely on there being a fresh flow of zombies and zombie controled territories to interact with.
@taamvan Looks like I’ll have to give the deck another look-through. I haven’t play AAZ in about 2-3 weeks now.
Yeah, based on the paucity of new posters and considering how few of my AXA friends are buying or discussing AAZ, my general assessment is that its gone over like a lead brick. And if there’s anything fun in here–we’ve already identified it and its problems (a fun but random deck and one clever but troublesome new mechanic)
@taamvan If you’ve paid any attention to the forum drama in the leadup to it’s release, you’d know that the game was a huge base-breaker on here. Probably a 70-30 split between people who said that the game “ruined axis and allies forever and they were boycotting it because Zombies were in it” (the 70%) and people who were willing to give the game a chance (the 30%, including me).
The point of my huge rambling posts at the start of this thread was to give the game a comprehensive overview, and a “fair chance”, since I figured no one else was going to (and still hasn’t as far as I know).
Unfortunately, while the game is amusing and the concept of Zombies is novel, the game is too unbalanced to have any long-term viability. I’d also speculate that the scale of the game is just too small for the community’s taste these days (G40 is the only game that sees any discussion on this site, really).
The latter reason for the near-total dismissal of this game by the core community may be more of the latter case than the former, though. As far as I know, 1914 and the 42SE Larry Harris Tournament Ruleset were also more-or-less ignored (although they did not receive the absolute vitriol and backlash that AAZ did).
I guess sales numbers will decide this game’s fate to WOTC, but from the community’s perspective I’d label it a massive failure, possibly even greater than 41. At least 41 didn’t break the community/inspire backlash. I’d still argue that the INF Recruitment Centers were a good idea though, and if WOTC doesn’t kill the brand they should work to include them in future editions.
I agree with most of your sentiments. I tried to focus on the “try it before you judge it”, but the game overall is too similar to 42.2 with the zombie mechanic plugged in. The zombie idea does all it is supposed to (shake up decisions, add some chaos without affecting balance too much, keep things creative and random), but some of the community ideas to do similar things (change scenarios, setups, event decks) are as inspired as this mechanic/edition or even moreso.
I love games in general, so I’ll remain willing to play. However, Dave and I have resume Global play after 5 AAZ games–he’s less forgiving of AAZ than I am, and now that I’m not so burned out on Global, its fun to continue our DaveMod v2.0 games.
@taamvan Fair enough. My group can’t stomach the idea of devoting an entire day (or multiple days if the game is in a stalemate) to G40, so we mostly stick with the “medium-scale” games (Revised, AA50, 42SE, etc.).
I imagine that in my group Zombies will lose its novelty and then die out. A similar thing happened for us when 1914 came out.
You experimented with any of this house rules lately?
@thrasher1 No time, sadly. Work has been busy the last two weeks.
If things pick up I’ll have an update.
the AxA site on FB has some guys playing the HBG Zombies in Global and photos of same…pretty cool
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I’ve been looking around, and most game review sites are giving favorable reviews to AAZ. And zombies are hot right now in popular culture, so I bet it will be a relatively good seller and will be considered a win in the eyes of Avalon Hill, despite the pooh-poohs it’s getting from the diehard wargame crowd.
And it’s also very affordable, especially on Amazon and Ebay. I wouldn’t be surprised if AAZ eclipses the other AA games’ total sets sold counts in due time.
If you read this thread you’d fine that the short version of my verdict on the game was:
- has balance issues for competitive play
So you’re in good company here. Most of the haters are over on the G40 board.