Axis & Allies balance problems …

  • SFO Founder TripleA Admin

    … because transports?

    I was thinking today about why so many A&A games have such a balance problem. Keep in mind that I’m usually thinking about this from a timed point of view but even with 1-2 extra turns after a timed situation, the writing is on the wall for one side or another.

    I was also thinking about something @Argothair alluded to about regarding balance; can’t recall the specifics there.

    As the Allies, it’s hard to get into position. I’m not sure about Global but it feel like a huge issue is transports. It costs 14 IPCs to send over 1 infantry and 1 artillery. You’re literally paying double for a ship you might use twice. The only country that doesn’t seem to be affected as much is Japan.

    Some thoughts on fixing this:


    Make transports cost 3 or 4 IPCs. Then they can truly be throw away units and the transport tax is only 50% instead of 100%.


    Other ways to Transport

    If all the units on the board represent a group, why not “group” transports with other ships?

    • Give battleships and carriers the ability to carry one unit of any type.
    • Give destroyers the ability to carry 1 infantry


    Just realizing this might be better under house rules but we’ll keep it here for now and see what happens.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    This is basically my favorite topic.

    I agree that in most A&A games, transports are too expensive, especially for tournament play (since tournaments usually have fewer rounds, which means there’s less opportunity for the transport to slowly pay for itself over many rounds).

    I think it’s going too far to say that expensive transports are the reason why A&A games are unbalanced. I think the reason why A&A games are unbalanced is that most games are unbalanced by default, and it takes an enormous amount of skill and effort and testing to make a game balanced, and historically Avalon Hill etc. have not invested that level of effort into balancing their A&A games, and even if they did put more effort into balancing their games, it’s not always clear that they would be successful.

    If you imagine the game designer as an archer who is shooting arrows at a paper target, then getting a “balanced” game is like the bullseye. If the average bid is 5 IPCs or less, then the game is at least roughly balanced. That’s the bullseye – it’s the width of a one-time payment of 5 IPCs. But there’s no special reason why the arrow has to hit the bullseye. Maybe the game will need a one-time payment of 10 or 20 or 80 IPCs. Maybe the game is so unbalanced that you’ve got to add extra national objectives or extra unit types for one side, or change the turn order, or something drastic like that. There are lots of ways to shoot an arrow at a balanced game and “miss.” The total design space is much, much wider than 5 IPCs – it’s hundreds and hundreds of IPCs “wide.”

    At the start of an A&A game, the position is intentionally asymmetrical: the Axis will have more armies and planes, and the Allies will control more territory. That means you can’t necessarily tell whether the game is balanced just by glancing at it – it’s not obvious what the conversion factor should be between Total Unit Value (TUV) and Production (IPCs). Do the Axis need an extra 3 IPCs of TUV for every 1 IPC of Allied advantage in the production value of their starting territories? Or is the ratio closer to 2:1? 4:1? 5:1? It depends on what the best-available opening strategies are, and how effective they are, and how quickly and reliably the Axis can expect to conquer Allied territory, and, yes, on how much it will cost the Allies to build up a fleet of transports (or minor factories) with which to project their power from far-away sources of income such as New York City and London. It’s very hard to say what the exact ratio of TUV Advantage to Production Advantage should be without extensive playtesting and/or complicated, detailed analysis. It’s not something you can just eyeball.

    So when you make a new Axis & Allies game, it might look balanced to the naked eye, but if you’re even slightly wrong about the proper ratio of TUV to Production, you could easily be so wrong that re-balancing your game will require a bid of 30 or 60 or 200 IPCs.

    There’s a kind of horrible paradox in A&A design: if you design a great game, then people will play it to death over many years, and, in so doing, will invent all kinds of new openings that change how rapidly the Axis are able to conquer territory from the Allies. When people first started playing Global 1940 2nd Edition, even moderately-skilled players weren’t necessarily familiar with Dark Skies, or Middle Earth, or Bright Skies, or the Russian tank blitz, or the Yunnan stack – all of which are sort of core parts of the way the game is currently played. But if you’re looking at the game and trying to figure out how large of a bid the Allies need, well, that depends in part on how good the Allied opening strategies are and how good the Axis opening strategies are. So you’re trying to balance a game with literally hundreds of pieces so finely that you don’t want to need to add even two more pieces to one side – i.e., to within 1% tolerances – but you’re also hoping to build a game that’s dynamic and interesting enough that as people play it, they’ll develop new openings and new approaches to the game.

    After all, if players could work out the “one best strategy” for an A&A game within a few months after it was released, and nobody could ever improve on that strategy, then it wouldn’t be a very good game, or, at least, it wouldn’t have much replay value. But if you can’t work out the “one best strategy” with 1,000 players in 6 months, then you probably also can’t work out the “one best strategy” with 10 playtesters in 2 years – so the playtesters are necessarily going to miss some of the best opening strategies, which in turn will throw off the balance in the opening.

    I do fault the designers of Axis & Allies Spring 1942 2nd Edition, because the balance on that game isn’t even close – ordinary, straightforward play by the Axis should win at least 80% of the games at even a moderate skill level if the Allies don’t get a bid. You don’t have to do anything fancy to win that game as the Axis – just build 1/2 infantry, 1/6 artillery, and 1/3 tanks with both Germany and Japan, leave a couple of infantry at home to guard Berlin and Tokyo, and send the rest of the units to Moscow. Roll some dice, and then the Axis win. This is a strategy that the designers could have and should have discovered during playtesting, so they should have been aware that the game was not balanced out-of-the-box, and they should have changed the rules or the starting setup accordingly.

    For the other games, I don’t necessarily fault the designers; they made a reasonable effort to hit the target, and they just happened to miss. World War I is massively biased in favor of the Allies, but it took a little while to figure that out; it wasn’t necessarily obvious that Britain needed to spend its entire budget in India, or that the USA needed to spend its entire budget on shoring up Rome via the Mediterranean. These are ahistorical strategies that haven’t really been tried in previous A&A games, so it’s fine that they came as a surprise to the designers.

    Same thing with A&A Anniversary Edition 1941: it turns out that the Italians are able to can-open for the Germans in a way that devastates Russia, and that it’s too hard to stop Japan’s amphibious explosion because there’s nowhere sane for the Allies to build a Pacific factory, but those weren’t necessarily problems that were obvious in advance: these problems were the result of changes in the Italian and Chinese setup that were new to Anniversary.

    I would like to see cheaper transports as an option, especially for tournament games, but I don’t think there’s any way to set a price on transports (or to scrap transports in favor of infantry-carrying cruiser groups) that would eliminate the hard problem of balance.

  • 2019 2018

    yea cheaper transports could be worth trying. oztea gives the USA more starting dudes in his 41 mod of global to make up for the expense of transporting. Of course that only helps the US and only at game start.

    One could also try giving transports their defense value of 1 back. Maybe have it only work against naval units and not planes. Idk, it’s probably best to keep it as simple as possible.

    3 or 4 bucks seems a little too cheap at first thought for me. That’s just a gut feeling though. Maybe try 5 bucks to start ?

    Also, using global as the example, what’s that do for Japan ? You’d think they wouldn’t really need to buy too many more, but maybe they just use them as throw away units and are all over the Pacific ?

    Might not necessarily be a bad thing. Should help Italy a little as well as far as trying to reinforce Africa.

    You can solve a lot of potential problems with discussion, but ultimately (as I’m sure you’re well aware of), the play test will be the deciding factor. Even then it might work at first and then someone finds a flaw to exploit as Argo alluded to above.

    Then one just needs to tweak again or have someone come up with a counter to that. : )

    Heh heh. I think that’s part of the fun though 🙂

  • SFO Founder TripleA Admin

    @Argothair said in Axis & Allies balance problems because transports?:

    For the other games, I don’t necessarily fault the designers; they made a reasonable effort to hit the target, and they just happened to miss.

    This is fair. You can only do so much play testing before you need to ship the game and so far it’s been good enough (expect 42.2 of course). Even if there were public play testing, there may not be enough time to find all the various strategies that “break” the game.

    I do fault the designers of Axis & Allies Spring 1942 2nd Edition

    And this is also fair.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    Returning for a moment to the transport-pricing question, I think one good way of analyzing that is to compare the cost of sending loaded transports vs. the cost of sending planes.

    Suppose for the sake of argument that you have unchallenged control of the seas, so the only extra expense you have to incur for amphibious assaults is the cost of the transports themselves. Also for the sake of simplicity, suppose you have a token beachhead of 3 infantry that is already on the mainland, so that if you support that infantry with enough planes, it can theoretically conquer as many territories as necessary. These two assumptions cut in opposite directions (control of the seas makes transports better; having a beachhead makes planes better), so hopefully they at least roughly balance each other out.

    If transports cost 7 IPCs and you are able to use the same transport twice over the course of a tournament game, then the cost of buying and delivering a supporting force of 2 inf, 1 art, 1 tnk is 6 + 4 + 5 + 7 = 22 IPCs. This results in a total force of 5 inf, 1 art, 1 tnk, which has 7 HP, 11 punch, and 15 defense.

    Alternatively, if fighters cost 10 IPCs, and bombers cost 12 IPCs, then the cost of buying and delivering a supporting force of 1 inf, 1 bmr is 10 + 12 = 22 IPCs. This results in a total force of 3 inf, 1 ftr, 1 bmr, which has 5 HP, 10 punch, and 11 defense.

    Under the (admittedly artificial) assumptions of the experiment, the transports are strictly better – you get more HP, more punch, and more defense for the same amount of money.

    On the other hand, suppose each transport can only make one delivery during the length of the tournament game. Buying and delivering a supporting force of 2 inf, 2 tnk will now cost 6 + 10 + 7 + 7 = 30 IPCs. You could instead deliver 3 fighters for those 30 IPCs. The total amphibious forces (including the beachhead) would be 5 inf, 2 tnk = 7 HP, 11 punch, 16 defense. The total airborne forces (including the beachhead) would be 3 inf, 3 ftr = 6 HP, 12 punch, 18 defense. Those forces appear roughly equivalent to me – the airborne force has one fewer hit point, but it has slightly more punch and defense.

    Finally, suppose the transports can only make one trip, and they also need to be escorted by a pair of destroyers in order to survive even that one trip. Buying and delivering a supporting force of 4 inf, 1 art, 1 tnk + 3 transports + 2 destroyers now costs 12 + 4 + 5 + 21 + 16 = 56 IPCs. For less money than that, you could afford 4 ftr, 1 bmr. The total amphibious forces (including the beachhead) would be 7 inf, 1 art, 1 tnk = 9 HP, 13 punch, 19 defense. The total airborne forces (including the beachhead) would be 3 inf, 4 ftr, 1 bmr = 8 HP, 19 punch, 23 defense. The airborne force appears superior to me – it would be able to reliably trash the amphibious force if they fought in direct combat.

    Part of why I think transports are overpriced in tournament play is that you often do need something like destroyers to protect your transports. You might not be able to finish a second round-trip before the tournament game ends, especially for transports built after turn 3 or so, and you might need two or even three fleets of transports to efficiently ferry infantry from, e.g., New York to Rome/Berlin. If you have to set up a shuck-shuck where transports are constantly swapping places with each other (i.e., if you want to cross an ocean rather than just bridge a single sea zone) then that seriously increases your transportation costs.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    If you have no beachhead at all, and you still want to fight in a region, then you need to send at least one transport full of actual land units. A single transport could cost 60 IPCs, and you’d still have little choice but to pay that price if you wanted to occupy a region that’s cut off from your forces by sea – although there are plenty of weird exceptions. Items like paratrooper technology, sub convoys, and strategic bombing become more important as the relative cost of transports rises.

    As soon as you’re able to deliver one transport to your target, though, then the usual cost-benefit equation goes back into effect. Do you want one loaded transport plus 10 planes? Or five loaded transports? Or something in between?

  • 2019 2018

    @Argothair nice number crunching : )

    so even with the assumed 3 dudes, we need to be able to replace them. Mini factory obviously would be ideal.
    It seems to me a person needs cannon fodder and basically boots on the ground.

    I’m not a very good player though and I do like my planes : )

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    Anybody try the 6 icp transport ? If u go to a 5 icp transport you probably would need to change the setup a bit for trannys.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    If you make Transports 5 icps and then have to remove Transports from setup just defeats what your trying to do.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    @SS-GEN Can you say a little more about your logic, SS Gen? You’re touching on some interesting ideas, but I don’t think I understand why anyone would need to remove some of the starting transports.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    There’s 2 scenario’s being discussed here. G40 and Tournament play.
    When I mentioned defeats the purpose was if transports cost 5 icps will it make Japan to strong ? Help Italy, US, UK ya.
    For tourney play ya it makes sense to try at least a 5 icp transport cost. But do you now need to take away 1 or 2 transports from Japan ? Depends on setup ?
    Or do you just add more Transports to the setup ?

    Now I saw in your earlier posts about other changes to game.
    I just don’t understand why there’s not more play testing or play for G40 with Russia going first and Italy neutral on T1. Or give at least Russia Inf a D@3 the first time Germany attacks Russia in game. Going of topic here so I’ll stop.

    Making transports cost 5 icps in game is a changer. Its got to benefit the allies more you’ed think.
    I’m just saying look at the transport setups on map if you go with a 5 icp transport cost.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    Bit off topic. Has anybody given Russia Inf D@3 also on the first 2 turns Germany attacks Russia. The worst winters were in 40, 41 and 42. 2 of those winters were the worst ones in the last 100 years at that time. I believe it was 41 and 42. My weather chart has both winters in it.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    I am all for cheaper Transports, but perhaps for balance, it should only be for the US. I have also said that the US should be allowed to transport Mech, as if it were Inf. This is most necessary for any North African landings.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    Ya I’ve played with US Transports and destroyers cheaper once at War. But is that still to late for tourney play ?

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    From what I’ve heard Japan waits as long as possible in tourney play to keep US out of game even longer.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    @SS-GEN Good to know it has been tried .

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    Just thoughts.

    1. US not at war.
      Destroyers C6
      Transports C6
    2. US at War
      Destroyers C5
      Transports C5
    3. US at war
      Destroyers C6
      Transports C5

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016

    @SS-GEN Well, in G40, the main effect of making transports cost 5 IPCs for Japan is that Japan could buy 5 transports on turn 1, which I guess would make J3 attacks on India virtually impossible to resist…although to fill all five of those transports, you’d wind up stripping northeast China almost dry, so maybe you’d see more Russian invasions of Korea/Manchuria.

    Sea Lion would also become a much more powerful strategy for the Germans, but that probably just means that the UK typically buys either 8 inf, 1 art in London or 6 inf, 1 ftr on UK1. That might not be very interesting; it makes the first turn a little too scripted.

    On the flip side, the Americans can reach Italy with overwhelming firepower on US4 – with cheaper transports, two turns of purchasing should be enough to crush Rome unless Italy keeps all its forces very close to home. That’s also somewhat less interesting.

    So, yeah, 5 IPC transports might be disruptive to G40. You might need to stick with 6 IPC transports for G40. I think 5 IPC transports would work well in Anniversary 1941, though. Cheaper transports could make an Australian factory more useful to the Allies (if you can actually afford to build a transport there, then it threatens the money islands), would help the UK get off to a faster start in the opening in the Atlantic (they’re often short just one or two IPCs to build the fleet they want), and would help the Americans get off to a faster start as well (ditto). Meanwhile Japan has all the transports it needs, and Japan is short on men / build slots. Germany might be able to try a 1941 ‘sea lion’ with cheaper transports, but it would still be an oddball, suboptimal strategy.

  • 2018 2017

    As I’ve said before about BM, putting units on non-transports isnt functional because of two rules; 1) you cant bombard and land troops 2) you cant combat and noncombat. Because the bombarding ships especially have other duties, the Marines or whatever woudl end up trapped on those ships alot of the time because they have a more important duty (Cruiser can choose 1–fight, bombard, or land 1 man–you’d choose one of the first two in many situations).

    In any event, its unrealistic. Soldiers were transported on large combat ships, but this affected their combat readynesss, and the troops were rarely deployed like that into direct combat. If they were, it was with the clothes on their backs (the slot/tokyo express)

    This feels like trying to mess with one of the most interesting things about the game—the large difference between the teams. Each team values different units, and some are forced to use strategies that others cannot. USA’s high income (and the difficulty of destroying it) is offset by the fact that they have to buy transports to take land. However, the USA can’t grab much money by taking land, other powers can also help, there remains a perfectly rational strategy where USA buys few or no transports or troops, and puts all that $$ (in global) into warships. Those dynamics keep alot of choice out there. And still, with 200+ IPCs over 4 turns, you can build a pretty big fleet of any composition…

    A reduction of 1-2 IPC wouldn’t be game breaking, alot of those savings would just go directly into the cost of building more troops to fill more transports. Taking them down to 5 would make them more viable to sacrifice, it’d help the Axis in the early and late game, and the US in the mid and late game, alot. I don’t think it would balance the game much, though it might change it.

    Probably an even more historical and effective way to deal with this would be Lend Lease–the US can convert its resources down ratio to its allies, say 2:1. Whether this is in units, money, or convoys would be up for grabs.

    It still doesn’t really address the key problems to the playout though, which is that russia is too weak and the 3 Axis together are too strong. That’s why the balance is in when Russia falls, not if.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    @taamvan I am afraid I can’t agree with your statement about America’s high income. The problem with most A&A games is that its income is not high enough, considering where it needs to go and how it has to get there. In most games, Japan or Germany can make more and this is the problem.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    I like what I have in my game. Shore Bombardment. D12
    Battleships - 4
    Cruisers - 3
    Destroyers - 2

    Part of the problem is the D6 dice in the game. Cost and AD values not correct. Some to strong some to weak.
    Probably help a lot if G40 went to D12 but heaven forbid on that !!!
    I don’t know why nobody does anything with Russia but just talk about it.

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    You give Russia more things and allies don’t need to send figs to Moscow, now you can use all those figs elsewhere.
    That’s a copout.

    By the way what is the transport rule in G40 ?

  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13

    My Transport rule suggestion. I do have most of this for my transports.
    D@1 plane only.
    ES @1
    Any planes in a naval battle with defending transports.
    Can take transport as a causality but loses the D@1 against a plane.

    No planes in a naval battle can’t take transports as a causality.

    Lone Transports against Ships and planes. The attacker has to kill the transports .
    Non of this cop out crap with lone transports all dead. WTF. They can escape.
    This will prolong the battle at most 5 mins. This only happens 1-4 times in a game.
    A transport gets a D@1 plane shot if killed if there is planes in battle.
    No planes then the ship or ships have to kill the transport.
    Now the transport only gets a escape roll if he survives the round of attack.
    No escape roll for a sub FS.
    2 Dest and 1 Sub attacking 3 lone transports.
    Attacker rolls for 2 dest a 4 and a 5. both misses.
    1 sub rolls FS shot of a 1. I killed transport. No escape.
    Now the 2 transports roll for escape and get a 1 and 6.
    1 transport escapes to another sz or stays in same sz and then next round of combat
    the attackers only get to attack 1 transport.
    Works great in my game. We ave 2-4 transports surviving per game. But it gives you more options to use transport
    in naval battles.

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