1. Russia is Vulnerable: Axis and Allies wouldn’t be remotely interesting if Russia wasn’t ridiculously compromised in its territory placement. But fortunately, Russia is. Russia is cursed with a strategically rich caucausus territory with an IC, that is adjacent to persia that it basically can’t afford to lose and win the game. But unfortunately, west russia on the west and Kazakh on the east make its defense immensely difficult. Both of those squares allow the axis to use big piles of defensive, infantry-heavy stacks to move adjacent to both caucausus and Moscow. This inevitably leads to the loss of caucausus as the allies can’t defend both it and Moscow. What makes things especially hard for Russia is that if they, for instance, stack west russia, they are forced to leave kazakh exposed, or vice versa.
This point may seem obvious, but I am constantly surprised at how often axis players will sit and build up stacks in persia or europe, and not aggressively push the “passive aggressive” move to kaz or west russia to force an allied collapse. I am equally surprised when russian players discount the importance of russia having a strong offensive capability. It’s counter-intuitive, since Russia is “weak” and needs units, but if you over-rely on just infantry and fighters, you can be setting yourself up to be a victim of passive aggressive Japanese or German stacking.
So in summary, since defense (read: infantry) in A&A is more efficient than offense, and russia has to play offense against invading powers due to its territory placement, Russia’s life is rough!
2. Germany is Exposed: Fortunately, the axis are also screwed. Particularly Germany. Transports from the north, and transports from the south, stacks in Ukraine, or stacks in Karelia, can all put a massive amount of pressure on germany, without actually expending any effort. (And, in a 9 VC game, several of the territories are VC cities to boot.) The constant threat of transport invasions, particularly allied “double” strikes by Uk - then USA /Russia mean germany has to guard its capital, has to be wary of risking its expensive fighters in places like WE, and has a really hard time exerting its full force against russia without losing Eastern europe.
This fundamental implies that the allies can get out-sized benefits from larger-than-needed transport options. UK with 6 transports in the north, usa with any amount of transports in the south. The allies definitely don’t want just the minimum needed to get their units to the front in a steady shuck. They want large numbers of tranports placed in ways that force germany to have to over-defend, or give up defending territory. The allies also have to constantly be aware of what they are giving up if they move their transports out of range of german squares (say, to drop off units in archangel, or for the usa to get distracted dropping off units in southern Africa). Obviously sometimes you want to do those things, but there’s always a cost in terms of germany freeing up its forces to take on the Russian front.
3. Production is King: Because cheap units are the most efficient purchase, the powers that can always spend their money on hordes of cheap units get a better return on money, which makes a big difference. Russia always spends everything because it has so little. Germany has a whopping 16 builds, which is the main reason it is the strongest power - it can actually build large numbers of units very close to the front. So germany making an extra 10 dollars is far more powerful than Japan making an extra ten dollars a turn. USA is also powerful and can make good use of $, because while it’s far from the front, it can always pump out more units when it makes more money. Uk, on the flip side, is very cramped and can’t make great use if it starts getting lopsided economic levels above 30. Finally, Japan starts out limited, has the ability to invest in IC’s on rich territories. A big cost early, but in the long run this makes japan’s potential efficiency for making use of large amounts of $ just overwhelming.
This point is probably the most obvious of all, but it relates to how you value money in the game. Germany is always the top priority for getting more funds. Japan catches up later. On the allied side, Russia is the priority, followed by enough for Uk to make use of it’s 8 production, followed by USA. So not just the overall levels of income matter to which side is winning, but the way that income is divvied up.
4. 2 Beats 3: This is related to point #1, but I’m often surprised that players who are able to achieve even a temporary parity or close to parity of axis forces to allied forces on the mainland don’t take advantage of it. The allies have the huge disadvantage of having to “double” strike big axis stacks in order to make their presence felt. This means that they can have, for example, 20+% more units than the axis between multiple allied powers, but pretty bad and terribly inneficient odds for actually taking out the defending axis forces.
What this means in practice is that the actual composition of the allied forces matter alot. One power (ideally russia, since it’s threatened on 2 sides) needs to have a big hammer. If the allies have a troop advantage, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can stop an axis stacking advance - what matters is that the proportions are correct so that they can actually hit hard with their “big hammer” power, while the other powers reinforce, suicide, or mop up as appropriate to make the attack efficient.
This, as in point #3, suggests the importance of having the right balance of allied economic and military power, and not just the right total number advantage. For the axis, this indicates the importance of bleeding the particular allied power that is most dangerous in terms of individual undivided strength, while not allowing the other powers to bleed too much from their own forces, as that’s a relative free-bee for an allied nation that is otherwise too weak to act.
Expanding further on this point - consider it in combination with point #1, Russia is Exposed. Since the axis can always waltz into Russia comparatively easy and collapse her defense, and since 2 beats 3 on efficiency, it’s critically important for the allies to take as many even trades as they can get with german forces. Particularly the UK/USA allies, who are not the last line of defense. Each time the allies (who have more $) trade units with the axis in small battles, their job gets easier. The best axis play exposes no axis forces to being stomped on or traded turn-after-turn with the allies powers trying to reinforce Russia…
5. Threat > Force (and never lose your last bomber): This point is probably the most fundamental, and important. Basically, IMO the key to winning a close game of A&A is to leverage every single unit you have to put maximum pressure on your opponent. Uk transports threatening multiple german territories with the same 12 units is a classic example of this. UK is pinninng down superior numbers of enemies relative to its costs. In a stalemated game that is all about board control, this kind of pressure is critical.
The critical units for Threat are transports, tanks, and air power. Their ability to partakte in multiple potential operations means that they threaten attacks on multiple enemy locations. The opponent in turn has to surrender the location, or over-defend it, so as to avoid allowing their units to be crushed in an unequal battle. This is true on both a large and small scale. A single tank in cauc, for example, has all sorts of strategic implications. Threatening control of the suez canal, threatening india, or an india IC, for example. Having tanks from each of the 3 allied powers in cauc is even more powerful. In sequence, units with multiple-movement power can potentially threaten/stack/strike a multiplicity of targets. This forces a good opponent to slow their advance, to land their planes differently etc… And a slower, out of position opponent is an opponent who is getting reduced efficiency from their units in terms of holding territory.
One example of Threat being huge even without any force, is placing a USA transport presence in the mediterannean. Just sitting there, off the northern coast of algeria, usa threatens to accelerate an attack on an axis stack in egypt, with a bonus pile of units from algeria. This forces an axis defensive response that may be more powerful than running around the mediterranean taking pot shots at german in ukraine, for example. Another example of threat without force is the power germany gets from placing air power in strategic WE.
The most classic example of Threat > Force is the case of the bomber. In both Revised and A&A42, it is theoretically efficient for a bomber to attempt a bombing run on an enemy IPC. However, even if this is a cost-effective move, it’s among the least efficient uses you can make for a bomber. With a 6 movement, a bomber in algeria can threaten J boats landing in alaska. A bomber in parts of russia can threaten J boats in the middle east and asia. Allied bombers can threaten every single stack in an opponents arena of combat, making the opponent defend several squares more heavily than they would otherwise. I’d basically say don’t IPC bomb just because you can’t do anything else with your bomber – only IPC bomb if you have so few potential targets that your bomber is basically just playing the role of a glorified tank.
With the allies, Threat > Force is particularly prominent since they can support each others stacks, and do double-moves against the axis powers. So, for example, even having both a uk and a usa bomber in the same space adds a threat value, since each of them will have different potential landing zone, depending on what squares the other allied player conquers.
And finally, though it’s hard to always follow, I would argue that you should never, ever risk your last axis or allied bomber on a bombing run. As soon as you lose your last bomber, you’ve basically freed up every single enemy aa gun on the board to move and position anywhere it wants as a threat to your fighters. So unless you’re willing to lose 30+ ipc’s when you get shot down, it’s just not worth it!
I may come up with more illustrative examples of Threat > Force as I mull over this post a bit more, but for now I assume the point is pretty clear. And hopefully worth putting out there.
6. Pressure or Release, Every Turn: This is something I posted in my KJF strategy write-up, because it’s especially important in a good KJF. But it’s actually something worth considering in many game situations.
Many players will tend to calculate each territory in which they are exposed individually. “Should I leave a USA fleet stack in Solomons and how likely is J to win a lopsided battle if I do?” “Should I drop in algeria with my allied fleet, given that germany can strike it from WE with planes?” Calculating each of these questions is straightforward, and probably most people focus on single-battle calculations because it’s just a lot simpler and it’s not always worth the time of looking at the bigger picture. When in doubt, leave nothing exposed to a costly enemy attack where you might be outnumbered.
I would call this approach to weighing your options the “Release” option. Exposing as little as possible of your forces to the superior counter-attack of your opponent. You would by default do this every turn, and it’s never really a BAD option.
But it’s giving maximum benefit to your opponent’s threatening troops. The J planes that can hit 4 different targets keep you from contesting four different squares. The german air force keeps you from really pressuring germany.
But this common sense approach isn’t always the right way to think about it. The more dangerous, but potentially more efficient and deadly option on some turns is “Pressure” - giving your opponent so many targets that in practice you have good odds, even though theoretically any one of your exposed stacks could be destroyed efficiently by them individually. This is because your opponent may not be able to ignore all of your movements.
Pressure moves are a critical thing to plan for in KJFs - J is just too strong in their navy and air force for you to hang back and build up a USA fleet to take them on. But they work versus G as well, when players combine somewhat exposed fleets in sz 12 with heavy russian pushes in europe, for example. Or for the axis, determining when and when not to pressure russia on multiple fronts.
Pressure moves are also very easy to do wrong. Because they always involve exposing at least some of your units to an uneven attack, and rely on you calculating correctly that your opponent can’t really afford to hit them, or they can hit them but will be paying a bigger price elsewhere. If you do your math wrong, miss some enemy units, or miss that your opponent really CAN ignore one of your threatening moves simply by repositioning, then you will be in a world of hurt.
With all that in mind, you should usually have a strategic positioning gain in mind when you do a pressure move. Dropping to algeria early as the allies. Pushing allied boats towards J islands in a kjf. Pushing axis units towards moscow to enable a 1-2 push from both G and J at once. The whole point of pressure moves is that they can allow for strategic shifts in map control that would not otherwise we possible with purely incremental moves. For example, if your game is stalemated around Egypt, around a position in Europe, and around a position in Asia simultaneously, how do you break the inertia? Sometimes, if you plan well enough you can calculate exactly how much pressure you are putting on J to hold egypt, for example, and then set up a move elsewhere that would normally be risky, but that isn’t because J simply can’t afford to both attack your new opening AND hold egypt in the same turn. This is just an example, but it’s the type of pressure that is really important. If you simply assume that your opponents can do everything that they could theoretically do, then you’re missing out on the chance to pressure them into hard choices, stretched supply lines, and costly mistakes.
Another good example of both Threat>Force and Pressure options: Assume the axis are trying to hold WE against allied landings (avoid losing G fighters there), and trying to hold Egypt. The Axis make great use of Threat>Force by positioning maximum J fighters in range of these squares - if UK hits WE or does some kind of suicide on egypt with a handful of units, J can respond appropriately with fighter landings to bolster remaining axis troops. if not, j gets to use its fighters in other areas. The flip side of these axis options is a potential pressure move by UK. UK might consider a suicidal strike on WE, forcing J’s hand. Suddenly, J can choose to either to reinforce WE with planes, and leaving egypt more exposed to a USA attack, or reinforcing egypt, allowing USA to do a drop on WE and finish off the german air force there. In this case, UK’s move was a very expensive gambit, but one of the two strategic squares (and troop piles) for the axis is now threatened. A good move, if you’re certain that the axis can’t adequately reinforce both on J’s turn.