One mistake I see amateur players make is that they purchase units based on what seems like it will be immediately convenient, rather than based on any kind of long-term strategy. Yes, there are times when dropping a pair of tanks in Leningrad or a pair of fighters in India will help you capture or protect a key territory, but if you let short-term tactics dominate your purchasing decisions, you will eventually be left with an uncoordinated mess of troops that cannot launch any effective large-scale attacks, and you will lose in the endgame as a result.
There are five main long-term strategies, and unless you know exactly what you are doing, you should try to choose one or maybe two of those strategies for each nation you control, and then let that strategy (or that pair of strategies) dictate 80-90% of your purchases.
STRATEGY 1: THE INFANTRY PUSH
How Does it Work?
The infantry push takes advantage of the fact that infantry offer the best defensive value per IPC in the game, and that infantry are also quite good on offense when supported by even a small force of any other type of unit. The idea is to gather an enormous stack of infantry – starting with at least 10 units, and building up to at least 20 units over the first few turns – and slowly march it forward toward an enemy capital. If your stack is attacked, you will usually lose fewer IPCs than your opponent, because infantry are so cheap. If your stack is not attacked, you will force your opponent to retreat from valuable territories, again gaining the economic edge.
What Kind of Purchases Does it Need?
The problem with the infantry push is that it typically strains your factories’ maximum production limits. For example, Germany starts the game able to produce 13 units a turn, but if you try to spend, e.g., 45 German IPCs on nothing but infantry, you generate 15 units. Similarly, Britain might want to spend about 20 IPCs per turn in India, but the Indian factory’s 3 units / turn can only support 3 IPCs. The solution is to purchase (or capture) additional industrial complexes, even if those complexes are not ideally placed. For example, a German player using an Infantry Push strategy wants to capture Leningrad or Stalingrad as soon as possible, so that they can use the Russian factories there to help overcome the German production limits. If both factories are heavily defended (e.g., with a bid), then the German player can consider building an Industrial Complex in Bulgaria. Similarly, a British player who is using an Infantry Push strategy should build an Industrial Complex in either Egypt, South Africa, or Norway. When building (or capturing) Industrial Complexes, make sure to choose territories that have a continuous land bridge to your target. For example, Britain should not build an Industrial Complex in the East Indies as part of an infantry push, because any infantry built in the East Indies would be dependent on transports to reach Berlin or Tokyo. You generally can’t afford to build industrial complexes and transports with the same nation – it won’t leave you enough IPCs to actually build troops. Don’t be afraid to build an Industrial Complex in a 2-point territory if two more units per turn will give you the leverage you need. For example, Japan can build Industrial Complexes in Manchuria and Kwangtung for a total of 5 units per turn. This is slightly suboptimal, but if those 5 units per turn can walk right into India, or even just force the British player to buy expensive fighters to defend India while Japan builds cheap infantry and artillery, then your investment is likely to pay off. If you do build an extra Industrial complex or two, make sure you use them to build ground units. There’s no point in building an Industrial Complex in Egypt and then using it to produce fighters – you could just skip the factory, fly the fighters in from London, and have them arrive at the same time. Instead, use your forward factories to produce ground troops, and your rear factories to produce your planes. The planes will catch up with your ground troops soon enough.
What Kind of Player Will Enjoy an Infantry Push?
The infantry push rewards advanced spatial thinking, as well as rapid, accurate counting of units and their combat value. You need to be able to imagine how your units will move over time so that you can evaluate where and when your forces will be able to link up, and whether your opponents will be able to successfully reinforce your target(s). The infantry push also requires a great deal of patience – you will not be making any dramatic attacks for the first few turns, and the value of your strategy may not become apparent to your opponents or your teammates until you are at the gates of your enemy’s capitol. On the bright side, the infantry push is incredibly resilient, and minimizes the role of luck (because you will have many units, each of which will roll its own die). A fleet can be sunk before it reaches its destination; an air force can be caught on the ground or pushed out of range, but the only way to disable an infantry stack is to frontally attack it, and defending against frontal attacks is what infantry do best. An infantry push is a good strategy for thoughtful, patient, risk-averse players.
STRATEGY 2: DARK SKIES
How Does it Work?
The dark skies strategy takes advantage of the incredible mobility of fighters and bombers to focus overwhelming power against a different target each turn. You might sink a fleet one turn, inflict massive industrial damage on a capital on the next turn, and then follow it all up by providing air support for a massive ground battle on the next turn. Nothing but a massive stack of ground units can successfully resist an attack from a large air force, and a massive stack of ground units can’t be everywhere at once. With enough air support, even a small force deep into enemy territory can become a deadly threat. Suppose Russia is defending the Caucasus with 5 infantry and a tank, and the Germans have only 2 infantry and 1 artillery in the Ukraine, with no other ground units capable of reaching the Caucasus. Add in a German air force of 8 fighters and 2 bombers, and the Germans are now rolling 37 pips on offense – enough to average 6 hits in the first round of combat. Meanwhile, the Russians are only averaging about 2 hits. The Germans can lose 2 infantry, and the Russians lose all 5 infantry. In the next round of combat, the Russians will be wiped out, and have a 50-50 chance of killing one German fighter. This attack costs the Russians 21 IPCs of defenders, versus an average German loss of 5 IPCs (9 IPCs of attackers - 4 IPCs looted from the Caucuses), even though, before air support, the Russians had the Germans outnumbered in the region 2:1. To stage an affordable defense against a large air force, your opponents need to outnumber you 3:1 or 4:1 in the region – but there’s no way to generate that kind of overwhelming odds in your favor on every part of the board at once, and wherever you don’t have overwhelming odds, the air force can bite you.
What Kind of Purchases Does it Need?
You need to buy a mix of fighters and bombers – if you have nothing but fighters, then your opponents will be able to sneak in some ferries just out of range of your fighters, but if you have nothing but bombers, then you run the risk of being forced to land the bombers in an indefensible territory. A large mixed air force can admirably defend itself against medium-size raids, but bombers alone are weak on defense. Just as importantly, you need to focus on buying fighters and bombers, along with a small quantity of ground forces so you have some fodder for taking hits and some boots on the ground for conquering territories. Don’t dilute this strategy too much, or it won’t get you anywhere. 10 planes can turn the tide of battle in ways that are difficult to predict or defend against; 5 planes are just so many overpriced tanks. If you try to build industrial complexes or transports as well as planes, you won’t be able to afford a large enough air force. On the other hand, if you try to build 100% planes, you’ll eventually find yourself staring at an empty battlefield, with no enemies in sight, but with no way of conquering your opponent’s delicious IPCs. Don’t let this happen to you – throw your army generals a bone and let them buy at least 2-3 infantry per turn even when you’re playing with dark skies.
What Kind of Player will Enjoy Dark Skies?
The glory of Dark Skies is the same as its limitation: you often make one big attack each turn. This means you need to be able to set priorities and stick to them, and it means that you need to be satisfied with having a shorter, simpler turn than some of your neighbors. This is not a good strategy for people who want to always be the center of attention, but it is a good strategy for people who live for the glorious, climactic battle, and for players who want to occasionally feel invincible, monstrous, or superhuman. When your opponent spends 4 turns building up a fleet of doom, and you send the whole thing down to Davy Jones’ locker in one clattering tumble of dice, it feels very, very sweet.
STRATEGY 3: THE TRANSPORT SHUCK-SHUCK
How Does it Work?
Because each sea zone usually borders multiple land territories, and because land units can load and unload from a transport and attack all in the same turn, a transport can hugely boost the mobility of ground forces. Infantry and artillery normally move one space per turn, but an infantry and artillery carried on a transport can move 4 or even 5 spaces per turn – and they can often skip over enemy-occupied regions to reach a juicier target in the rear. If Britain stacks Burma against Japan’s ground forces, then Japan is stuck slogging it out over a 1-IPC territory. But if Britain tries to stack Burma against Japan’s amphibious forces, then Japan can just skip over Burma and land in India or even in Egypt! The threat of an amphibious invasion forces opponents to either leave big expensive garrisons at all strategic points, or to allow you to seize factories and victory cities at will.
What Kind of Purchases Does it Need?
You need more transports than you think you do, and you need enough fleets to successfully protect those transports at each point where the transports will be exposed to enemy air power. For example, if you are shucking troops from the Eastern US, you usually do not need a defensive fleet off the coast of Boston, because German air simply cannot reach from Paris to Boston Harbor. However, you do need a defensive fleet at your rendezvous point near Casablanca, and you need another defensive fleet if you plan to send transports deeper into Nazi territory, e.g., to the coast of Rome, or the coast of Denmark. It is often very tempting to send a lightly guarded team of transports to seize Hawaii, or Morocco, or Poland – you see an opportunity to steal a territory, to disrupt your opponent’s plans, and maybe even to cheaply destroy some enemy ground units. This is a trap. Do not do this. You will lose your transports, lose the destroyers (or whatever) you send with them, and lose the momentum you need to set up a truly effective transport pipeline. If you try to build fresh transports every turn, you will never be able to afford enough ground troops to make a credible attack against an opponent. For example, if America spends 42 IPC per turn – its whole entire economy – trying to ferry troops to Berlin, that will buy you three fully loaded transports per turn – 21 IPC for the transports, 9 IPC for the infantry, and 12 IPC for the artillery. Meanwhile, Germany can defend Berlin with 6 infantry per turn for 18 IPC, and still send about 20 IPC per turn east against the Russians. The only way to make a transport strategy pay off is to recycle your transports by keeping them alive and sending them back to their port of origin, even as you continue to build new transports. In the America example, you move two transports from Boston to Morocco on turn 1, and then on turn 2, you send those same two transports back to Boston. If you want to move troops from Morocco to Paris, you have to wait until you have enough transports to operate a second ferry loop. That usually means a minimum of 6 transports – 2 to sit by Boston, 2 to sit by Casablanca, and 2 to sit by Paris. Keeping the loop going continuously increases the size of your transport fleet, so that by the time the endgame arrives, you can just build 6 infantry and 4 artillery per turn, neatly filling your 5 recycled transports, instead of having to dilute your income by buying new ships.
What Kind of Player will Enjoy the Transport Shuck-Shuck?
Very few people will actually enjoy the shuck-shuck. It requires a tremendous amount of advance planning and discipline, and it does not pay off until the endgame. You need to be able to figure out how many transports you are going to operate, where they are going to offload troops, how much income you will have to fill the recycled transports, and how many escort ships you will need to protect the transports, all before the game even really gets going. You will have to grit your teeth and pass up juicy targets to avoid disrupting your system. On the bright side, your opponent will also be going nuts trying to figure out when and where your transports will finally pounce, and they may over-correct by trying to stack large garrisons all over the place too early in the game. Besides, if you have what it takes to keep it going, the shuck-shuck is a mighty weapon. A pair of transports can deliver 4 troops per turn, versus only 3 troops per turn at even the best factory sites, and once you get the ferry loop running, the transports are ultimately more flexible and less vulnerable than the factories – you can sink a transport, but you can’t capture it and use it against your opponent. If your opponent does muster a force that would overwhelm your escort fleets, you can usually retreat your boats, whereas a factory is stuck in position. If you enjoy teasing your opponent, making him sweat, and executing detailed plans that guarantee victory far off in the distant future, then the shuck-shuck may be just what you’re looking for.
STRATEGY 4: THE TANK BLITZ
How Does it Work?
The tank blitz relies on the fact that tanks can quickly reach the front lines, are equally powerful on offense and defense, can converge from far-off factories or theaters of war so as to reinforce each other, and are able to rapidly vacuum up the IPCs from what used to be enemy-held territory. Basically, you build a shit-ton of tanks, and attack with them early and often, attempting to overwhelm your opponent before her slower strategy begins to pay dividends. Good regions for a tank blitz include sub-Saharan Africa, central Asia, and eastern Europe.
What Purchases Does it Need?
Tanks. Don’t build anything else unless you have factories very near the front lines (as the Germans, you could build a couple of infantry in Leningrad) or very far from the front lines (as the British, you could build 3 tanks in India and then a bomber in London).
What Kind of Player will Enjoy this?
This strategy is fun and easy to execute, but sub-optimal. You can sometimes use it to punish an opponent who tries something overly complicated, or who builds too many factories and transports and not enough ground units. You can also get away with using a tank blitz as part of a more nuanced coordinated offense, e.g., the Russians build tanks and send them all west while the British send fighters to defend Moscow from Japan and the Americans strategically bomb Berlin into the dirt. Alternatively, the Germans and Japanese can decide to both build tanks (in, e.g., Manchuria and Kwangtung), and send them all directly at Moscow, which can be very tense and exciting. The tank blitz is good for players who care more about bravery and decisive action than about winning the game, for players who do not want to be bothered with complicated calculations, for players who prefer a shorter game, and for players who have excellent teamwork and can coordinate their tank blitz with their teammates.
STRATEGY 5: LIGHT TRADING
How Does it Work?
The trading strategy relies on the fact that with modest air support, you can often capture territories with a collection of troops that are less expensive than the troops your opponents will need to recapture those territories. For example, if Germany is sitting in the Baltic States with 2 infantry, and Russia attacks the Baltic States with 1 infantry, 1 artillery, and 2 fighters, Russia is extremely likely to capture the Baltics and destroy the 2 German infantry, for a gain of 8 IPCs. Meanwhile, the Russians are very unlikely to lose more than the infantry and artillery that were invested, for a loss of 7 IPCs. The attack nets the Russians 1 IPC even if the Germans are perfectly positioned for a counter-attack – and you will catch your opponent off-guard at least some of the time, further increasing your gains. Once you have accumulated enough of an economic advantage through this light trading, you can use it to push forward in earnest, attacking a weakened capitol or building massive reinforcements.
What Purchases Does it Need?
The trading strategy needs a careful ratio of infantry, artillery, and fighters, with few or no tanks, and no boats. You need at least one fighter, and preferably two, for each territory that you wish to trade on a given turn. You also need at least two ground troops for each occupied territory that you wish to trade on a given turn – one to absorb a hit, and one to conquer the territory. If you are trading, ground troops without fighters or vice versa do you little good, so you will need to constantly customize your build to keep the proportions optimized. When in doubt, err on the side of building extra infantry, since you can bring fighters to the front relatively quickly.
What Kind of Player will Enjoy This?
This is a good strategy for relatively cautious players who prefer to conserve their units and respond to their opponent’s moves, waiting until an opponent makes a mistake before launching a serious attack. If you find yourself constantly worrying that you are going to be defeated in an attack or wind up worse off because of an exchange, or if you have trouble thinking ahead more than one or two moves, then focusing on light trades might help you enjoy the game more, because it demonstrably gives you a small and growing advantage, with little advance planning and virtually no risk. However, if you are going to focus on trades, make sure you are actually willing to advance slowly and carefully – even the humble infantry pusher gets to enjoy the drama of moving relentlessly forward into the teeth of danger, but a trader who seeks out drama by trying to attack heavily defended regions will wind up squandering her advantage.