Exactly! Its actually kind of bizarre, given how much interest there is in things like collecting sculpts or additional accessories (dice, chips, counters and whatnot), not to mention other variant materials like card decks or specialty rules for expansion scenarios. Of course you can customize and cobble stuff together using 3rd party resources and house rules, but I think there is a pretty clear desire on the part of most players for some kind of official guidance in that area.
To me the most sensible approach would be a starter set (containing all the essential materials for the basic game) then a series of modular expansions for that starter set, and then periodically a big box (Black Box, Gold Box or whatever) where you can get a bundle of expansion materials incorporated into the sale of the starter materials. The potential for smaller transactions is pretty limitless. I could imagine things like national expansion sets with sculpts and rules for how to incorporate a new player nation into the base game, or unit expansions where you get sculpts for all the existing nations. AH tried to do something like this with their miniatures series, but the obvious issue was that those miniatures were for an entirely different “squad” based game, that had no application in the existing A&A boardgames and no real connection to the boardgame franchise other than the name recognition.
The other issue with the single “big get” model, is that the boards become outdated way too quickly. The older maps/rules become defunct as soon as the new stuff arrives, so you end up with all these total replacements and a bunch of boxes stacking up in the closet, rather than a situation where you could build up a for a master collectors game over time. In the digital arena people tend to grumble about DLCs and such, but to me it makes a lot of sense for the physical board, and is already going on anyway at places like historicalboardgaming, which is currently filling the void left over by the dearth of official A&A expansion materials.
The splintering of the community is a real problem, and there is a definite lack of cohesion when it comes to things like official fixes for game balance. It puts us in a position where people who are trying to play the same game, end up playing very different games, as they try to address these issues in localized player groups or tournaments with House Rules or whatever.
I think a lot of people find the idea of a balanced game ‘out the box’ kind of patronizing at this point. We know its not going to be balanced by sides. A balanced A&A board has never been realized to date, and the track record there is pretty clear, which is why its kind of surprising that we still don’t have any official remedy or scheme for dealing with this constant problem. Like just admitting that the game is inherently unbalanced already, so we can move past that and find an optimal working solution for choosing sides.
More importantly, even if the boxed game was balanced by sides, with the perfect starting unit set up, just the right amount of cash etc. what we are talking about there is a game balanced among players of roughly ‘equal skill,’ but that is rarely the situation around the home table. There is almost always a disparity in player ability/familiarity, so these games really do require a more refined handicapping scheme to give the underdog a leg up. It should be built into the game… part of the gameplay from the get-go, not an afterthought fix.
With respect to the A&Aonline project, I’ll admit to being a little concerned about that last point. I worry that anecdotal experiences around the office may lead them to think the game is a 50/50 toss up and so the issue doesn’t need addressing, but that is definitely not the consensus view here. There are probably hundreds of games logged in the PBF section which support the general assessment that the 1942 board was Axis advantage and seems to still be even after the tournament tweak. But you really don’t even need to go there, because we all know that even if the game was a perfect split by sides, you’d still need a way to deal with disparities in player ability. Just because an expert player can manage not to die as Allies, doesn’t mean that the average player will be able to do the same. And not every newb is going to want to play as Axis, just because its the ‘easier side’ to play. You need a system in place, an official system, to deal with this stuff.
The traditional tournament bid works alright, but even that is kind of tired at this point, and in any case it still doesn’t have the official nod despite being used by pretty much everyone. I’d rather have a series of thematic options spelled out in the rulebook.
ps. this isn’t a grand plan, but lets say worst case scenario and the boxed game is totally hardcoded with no way to edit units or provide a cash bid, or anything like that. What do we do then? Maybe skip the movement phases in the first round for everyone by player agreement? Like nothing can move until round 2, so everyone gets a preliminary purchase before it actually begins in earnest? Its the only thing I can think of right now that might somehow produce a substantially different playpattern PvP, potentially balancing if nothing else is done to vanilla 1942.2 and its just a direct port. It probably handles the balance on Caucasus and India, naval builds might be more interesting or production builds. Following the regular game sequence players would at least be able to build off each others purchases to shape the playbalance, instead of everything going to one side or one player. Might work. Allies could then save the American Atlantic transports and allow the US to pick a focus. Britain could try to set up in the Atlantic, or build for a hit on Japan out of India/sz35 so Allies get the leg up. But the Axis would also get a chance to build in sz15 or sz60 or do stuff with transports that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, so I can imagine it going different ways depending on who builds what in the ghost round. The practical restriction of only placing units at the factory territories might be somewhat stabilizing, instead of a bid that goes to a battle breaker. I wonder what round 2 would look like then after a round of purchases? Russia would be able to ice the Ukraine battle, and Britain could put the lock on sz37, but G could probably do some things to compensate like with a transport buy in the med. Not sure how it would shake down, but might be more interesting than vanilla. A full round of purchasing would have to favor Allies for the initiative since they have more nations on the team, but least it wouldn’t be just all to one side.