This article was inspired by studies at defense academy on military strategy and consistent Axis and Allies victories. Many of it is also present in the excellent strategic reflection of AndrewAAGamer.
All warfare is based on 4 principles (and deception)
Principles of War
- Know yourself
- Know your enemy
- Negate being dislocated
- Dislocate your enemy
Dislocation means bringing the enemy out of balance, taking away it’s ability to resist, so that you subdue him to your will. Your enemy will always try to dislocate you at the same time as well. In this strategic masterclass we will delve in how to make sure you emerge victorious after every battle.
In this Strategic Masterclass we will delve into the three major strategic principles you should keep in mind when playing (and winning) your next game: Center of Gravity, Defense, Timing.
1. Center of Gravity
A center of gravity is that point that when broken, the rest of the body collapses. To dislocate an enemy, it is most effective to focus on protecting your center of gravity, and attacking his center of gravity. Clausewitz believes that the best center of gravity was to defeat the enemy army. Sun Tzu, whom I prefer, believes that the best center of gravity is to defeat the enemy strategy.
In the global geopolitical landscape, there are two crucial centers of gravity, one in Europe, one in the Pacific. In Europe the center of gravity is Western Russia, in the Pacific it is South East Asia. The control of these areas decide every game. Ignore them, and you will be defeated. Why is this the case?
Armies cost money
In order to wage war, armies must be amassed. In order to amass them, finances are needed. As Cicero said: “The sinews of war are infinite money.” Therefore, one must always consider it’s economy above all else. There are three ways to gain money: territory, capitals and national objectives. These three elements are the most important aspect of every game.
Strategies versus Tactics
Let us delve into the difference of strategy and tactics for a moment.
Strategy is the allocation of resources (time, human & material resources) or concentration of power to achieve a goal, in our case: competitive income and highly effective armies due to buying good composition, so that military units can defeat armies and capture victory cities and win the game.
Tactics are always based on confrontation, so limited to the battle. Military units against enemy military units, to defeat them and thus gain a strategic advantage. Western generals and populations at large like to focus on tactics, this is our expertise (like Clausewitz). They often suffer from strategic inertia. As tactics are not concerned about money or centers of gravity – you can gain 100 victories in 100 battles yet still lose the war (as United States did in Vietnam or many other wars). So most important in tactics is army composition in moment of confrontation.
Back to why Western Russia and South East Asia are the centers of gravity in Axis and Allies Global 1940. We have observed that to amass armies, money is crucial. Money can be gained from territories, capitals and national objectives. Capitals are usually well defended and thus need an extreme concentration of force – this is not easy to achieve. Much easier is to capture national objectives coupled with territories, often less well defended as the priority of the defender is the protection of its capital.
Point Swing within the Balance of Power
When territories with national objectives are captured we call this a Point Swing, it affects the Balance of Power. The Balance of Power is in favor of the Allies due to the enormous industry of the United States, and due to Allies control over vast amounts of territory. The goal of the Axis is the push the Balance of Power into their favor, the goal of the Allies is to keep or return the Balance of Power in their favor.
The regions in the board that have the most dramatic point swings are thus the centers of gravity. We can make a distinction of 3 centers of gravity: crucial, important, valuable.
Crucial – 60 IPC Point Swing
These regions decide the game. If the Axis neglect them, they lose. If they conquer them, they win. The vast and luxurious trade routes and cities in South East Asia adds +30 IPC to Japan while it negates -28 IPC to the Allies. This is the center of gravity in the Pacific. The productive agriculture and industry in Western Russia adds +30 IPC to Germany while it negates -25 IPC to the Allies. This is the center of gravity in Europe.
Important – 35 IPC Point Swing
These regions heavily tilt the Balance of Power in favor of the Axis. They are important, yet the game can be won even without these regions. These are the oil from the Middle East and Caucasus, the conquest of China and the trade in the Mediterranean Sea.
Valuable – 20 IPC Point Swing
When the Axis is able to conquer these areas they add value, so they are always good to keep in mind. But, they will not decide the game or be worth sacrificing units that could otherwise focus on the crucial center of gravity. These are the gold from Africa below the Saharan and iron ore from Scandinavia.
2. Defense trumps Offense
While the attacker has a powerful advantage over the defender of having the initiative to strike, when the defender increases it’s defense to such extent that the strikes of the attacker can not penetrate it, it will win. So always follow this rule: negate being dislocated. When the enemy is unable to dislocate you, you will gain 100 victories in 100 battles. As when you can not be defeated, you can more consistently defeat the enemy before he defeats you. It might seem so simple, but is so powerful. What does this mean?
You must always protect your capital. It is your most important objective, if you want to win. Of course, this depends on the availability of the attacker. When he is out of reach, nothing has to be defended. When he is in reach, all must be done to repel the attacker. Ideally, you even deter the enemy to consider assaulting your capital, or do you something to compel the enemy to stop the assault on your capital. Both deterrence and compellence are strategies to coerce your enemy to do or not do something. Deterrence is preventing the enemy to do something. Compellence is stopping an already undertaken action. What does this look like in the game?
For the United Kingdom, always buy 6 infantry and 1 fighter in your first turn. In the Pacific, also focus on buying only infantry for India and Sydney in your first turns. Your focus is to deter the enemy from thinking it is possible to conquer your capital. Italy has the luxury of a powerful German protector and potential safe zone in the Mediterranean, yet must also always be aware of its capital.
The United States is so well defended that when defended strategically it cannot be captured. The best defended mainland area is Western Europe, it is the best region to defend. As a result, it is not strategic to capture countries in Western Europe when you are unable to hold it against German counter-attack. Germany can easily repel minor invasions with minimal cost. The only way to negate this German defense is a combo-attack of UK and USA on Denmark to conquer Berlin.
Japan is very easy to defend from an amphibious assault, you can easily amass 10 ground troops per turn. What is not easy to defend against a powerful American fleet is Sea Zone 6. So always make sure your fleet has the ability to protect or counter-strike SZ6. When not approached strategically, defending the Empire of Japan at large is also difficult. As the Pacific is so vast and you need to be at different far away locations, ensure you have optimized your internal logistical routes. My preference is to build a harbour on French Indo China so you create the Triangle between Japan, South East Asia and the Lower Pacific. The Allies will attack you from all sides so your priority is to weaken different fronts, to negate the different fronts to attack at the same time and to be ready to counter-attack lost ground. However, when you are able to make use of timing to weaken enemy fronts early on, establish a strong internal logical safe zone and continue to empower your fleet, it can be well defended.
Russia, as centre of gravity, is most likely under heavy attack every game. There are two philosophies to defend Russia, the vast retreat or the mobile counter-attack. I prefer the mobile counter-attack as I find it more historical to Zhukov’s doctrine and more effective in my games. In the vast retreat you aim to amass as many troops as possible to Moscow for the final battle, even the Siberians. In the mobile counter-attack you use mobility to greatly increase your options, as Japan can do with the harbour on French Indo China. This mobility is provided mainly by mechanized infantry instead of infantry and the perfect geographic locations in Russia to optimize this. As a rule, you never retreat the Siberians are this would make their offensive/defensive power disappear for the majority of the game – while it is so decisive in concert with the other Allies on the Pacific board.
The same strategic principle applies to the tactical level, the battles of army against army. For this we use the best unit of the game: infantry. It is by far most cost effective in defence, but also offensive (as it defends the high value starting pieces from dying all game long). We could summarize their power in two words: mass and fodder. Then we delve into their best reinforcements: fighter, bomber, tanks.
In all cases of defense infantry will be the decisive factor of winning a game. The one with most infantry, coupled with just several upgrades such as AA guns and high value units will win the game. As a result it is imperative to always build infantry constantly. In the case of Germany and Russia, you want to upgrade them to mechanized infantry when fighting each other at the Western Russian front. This is because of German’s ability to blitz with Italian can-openers (using combo-attack to sneak through Russian territory). It is also because of Russia being able to defend multiple fronts on land and being able to counter-strike when the opportunity arises, as Japan is doing on sea. Besides infantry the most important units are artillery on land and submarines on sea, that greatly enhance your offensive power. I like the composition of 70% infantry for 30% artillery.
Every player has starting high value units, while most lack mass amounts of infantry. Your goal should always be to keep all your high value land troops alive: tanks & airplanes. These are your most precious and prized possessions. Never throw them away without a great strategic advantage. This is also why you build (mechanized) infantry as player always. You will often observe that the player that builds most infantry consistently will usually win the game. It is also why it is so difficult for the United States to capture mainland territories, as it can only bring infantry to the frontlines through transports, 2 at once. The most important units to combine with fodder is the fighter, bomber or tank.
By far the best defence unit, as a nation you want to have 3 to 5 at least. Due to scramble the ideal joint defensive unit. Aircraft carriers do not add the value on their own, they add value because they allow 2 fighters to join your fleet. When you have a minimum amount of fighters (3-5) you will experience how every mass will greatly enhance your ability to win battles.
Why bomber, as it only defends at 1? The defence of the bomber is not its ability to defend which it very low, but it’s vast mobility that enables it so always return back to safety. It range makes it the most effective offensive unit on both land and sea. The ultimate joint operations (and thus flexible) unit is thus the bomber. Yet as defensive trumps offensive, and this using attack as the best defense, bombers are much more niche – often reserved to Germany, USA, UK or a rich Italy.
As aircraft cannot land in just conquered territories (besides the Dutch islands) they are very powerful in either defense or offense, but not when you are waging a conquest in Russia or China, always ready to counter-attack your now unprotected ground troops. In that case, you want to have elite ground troops moving up with your armies. However, there is nothing worse than 4 Russian infantry with Russian air force destroying your 6 German tanks. So even more than with airplanes, make sure you have enough fodder reinforcing your lines preventing your original tanks from ever dying. Russia is here of course the power that can benefit above all others from some early tank investments, Germany already has them.
In this light, there is another reason why combo-attacking is so powerful such as Italy-Germany or UK-USA. You can reinforce the airforce of your friend in the territory you just captured. So when Italy captures that crucial Russian territory in it’s turn, now Germany can land it’s airforce before Russia attacks, the same applies to USA-UK order.
What does this mean? Never buy cruisers, only in limited cases battleships and tactical bombers. Your fleet will need 1-2 destroyers against submarines, but your sea fodder should always be submarines.
As Germany and Japan it should be a principle to always buy 1 submarine every turn, combined with lots of infantry. As our goal is win the economic game, we can use these submarines effectively to negate national objectives, hunt unprotected high value fleets or convoy capitals.
3. Timing (particular for Axis)
The most valuable resource, above human or material resources, is time. Especially in a game like Axis and Allies when the Balance of Power is in the favour of the Allies when the Axis are inactive. The Axis greatest strength is their explosive power and initiative to project that power. The United Kingdom has this same strength in relation to Italy.
In the beginning, most Allies are still quite weak, while the Axis are quite strong. This difference will disseappear with every turn due to the Balance of Power. The only way to overcome this as attacker is to push the Balance of Power into their favour by 1. Point Swings through conquest 2. Favorable Battles and thus more costly losses at the side of the defender.
That is why Japan must always declare war in it’s first turn, as the United States are not yet ready to counter-attack, the UK battleship (20 IPC) is still vulnerable and UK pacific economy can be crippled before it was able to buy infantry (from 17 to 10). As the center of gravity is South East Asia, conquering this as soon as possible will greatly change the Balance of Power in the Pacific. By impoverishing UK pacific, it greatly empowers Japanese strength to focus in the seas on USA and on land on China. You use timing to attack a front before the other fronts are powerful enough to take advantage of your concentrated power somewhere else. When you are not aggressive as Japan, you will lose, as you did not use timing to prevent the Allies from being able to work in concert while UK is a powerhouse due to it’s wealth. Besides always making sure you are empowering your fleet with aircraft carriers to land your fighters on, you are building fodder to fight Russians/Chinese, assault capitals or defend Japan.
That is also why Germany must always focus on Russia, with G1 buy to be able to conquer London when not well defended (but this should never be possible with must-buy of 6 infantry and 1 fighter) such as failed scrambles or over-ambitious against Italy. An ideal first buy is thus 6 artillery + extra. You always try to optimize your further buys for a G5 capture of Moscow, so mechanized infantry, tanks or planes. The longer it wait’s the more powerful it’s enemies will be at both fronts. Like Japan, you want to prevent having to commit to two fronts at the same time. Like Japan, you use timing as your greatest ally to attack and defend at the correct moments. Like Japan, when Germany conquered it’s center of gravity (Western Russia) it will win the game.
As the United Kingdom your main goal is to cripple Italian fleet. This is possible because at the beginning you have the explosive power and initiative to attack Italy while divided. Never waste this opportunity as when Italy get’s the opportunity to expand, it will greatly shift the Balance of Power. It must only be possible for Italy to grow after heavy German investment and focus in the Mediterranean (and thus not on the center of gravity in Western Russia).
One more notable country on timing is Russia. When Germany tries to attack you from several fronts such as Scandinavia, Northern Route, Southern Route, Black Sea or even Caucasus, he will divide it’s forces. There is very likely to be a moment, either due to bad luck in a battle, or careless movement, that an opportunity arises for you to strike, when your striking force has mobility 2 instead of 1 (hence the mechanized Russians). When not all German fronts are fully mechanized (as I found is often the case due to starting troops) they can only counter-attack with 1 move, while you have 2. So that gives you timing to relocate your mobile mass to where it is most needed. Even when the Germans respond by concentrating all their troops in 1 army, your mobility gives you the opportunity to misuse it and sever their logistics / invade their soft belly. I believe both Napoleon and Hitler failed not because the Russians followed the vast retreat, but the mobile counter-attack. Try it and you will forever love playing guerrilla Russia. My first buy of Russia is either artillery to power starting Infantry or when feeling aggressive 6 tanks. Then focus on building mechanized defensive army always ready to counter-attack the opportunity arises. Bonus tip for Russia; get Iraq, send 2 Infantry to UK transport in Persia to get the two Italian countries in Africa and two islands in front of Italy. The extra IPC can make a crucial difference. Patience is crucial but will pay off most of the time.
My experience is that when you apply these strategic principles in your battles of Axis and Allies 1940, you will emerge victorious. I even believe that when we start applying these principles to our military or even civil disobedience campaigns, we will start winning. As the nature of war has been constant since the beginning of time. Like all those thousands of years ago, the four elements are still as relevant today, as when Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War.
So to recap:
- Know yourself
- Know your enemy
- Negate being dislocated
- Dislocate your enemy
- Center of Gravity
- Defense trumps Offense