Please see below an open letter to Larry Harris. If someone (Krieg?) could draw it to Mr Harris’ attention, I would be honored if he were to read it.
I’d welcome the A&A.org community’s views.
Dear Mr Harris,
You have created a wonderful game in Axis and Allies Anniversary. I’ve played it many times and gotten much joy out of. In my view, it’s in good company with ultimate classics such as chess and bridge. The game has come so far since its first release, yet has remained true to its original form.
In the context of my great affection for the game, and a considerable amount of time playing, analysing and reflecting on it, I offer some humble observations. There is one small hole in the boat which I think is taking in water. I hope to persuade you of its existence so that you can offer an official solution for the enjoyment of the large community playing your game. It’s important to our community that everyone play the same official game – and that it’s yours.
The battle for Egypt decides all
The dice for Germany’s first round attack on Egypt has an enormous influence on the game. In the order of 100 IPCs value rides on the outcome of this single battle. Allow me to explain.
Assume Germany attacks Egypt with the maximum force possible: 2 infantry, artillery, bomber, 2 armor – with that order of loss. If my opponent decides not to, well frankly I’m delighted - they don’t collect 100 IPCs of low hanging fruit. About 25% of times, Germany will fail to capture Egypt. Britain will then control most of Africa for at least the first 4 turns, until the Japanese juggernaut arrives. In 60% of games, Germany will capture Egypt with 2 armor, or better. The tanks will have captured the majority of Africa by turn 2, and nearly all of it by turn 3, with proper play.
The difference between these two scenarios is simply staggering. Below is the relative value for the Axis in the second scenario compared to the first:
Germany killed a british fighter (and you might count the armor), which otherwise survive (10-15 IPC).
Germany also didn’t lose 2 tanks (and maybe count the bomber), which are casualties in the other scenario (10 or 22 IPC).
Germany captured Egypt (2 IPC income)
Britain will not recapture Egypt on their turn - happy to demonstrate why this would be silly and unlikely (2 IPC denied plus 5 IPC for their National Objective which otherwise would be collected).
Italy is therefore highly likely to collect its National Objective in turn 1, by taking Trans-jordan (5 IPC)
So that’s about 35-50 so far, just for one battle. But the consequences over turns 1-4 make it even more stark:
Germany will still have Egypt on turn 2 as a result (2 IPC gained, 2 more denied to Britain)
Germany will have at least 3 other African territories on turn 2 after the victorious tanks roll on. Maybe four territories if the artillery survived in the attack and the transport can take it to Madagascar (3-4 IPC gained in turn 2, with those 3-4 also being denied to Britain).
Germany will take more of Africa on turn 3. This compounding effect applies every turn for turns 1-4 until reinforcements can reach Africa. Germany is gaining about 10 income a turn which is simultaneously denied to Britain. They do not achieve this if the Egypt battle fails in turn 1.
It’s like stacks of poker chips. Assume the axis armies and allied armies are both worth 600 IPC (that’s pretty close to true at the start). By the end of turn two, and all else being equal, one team will be worth 575 and the other worth 625 (a fifty point margin). By the end of turn 3 its more like 565/635 (70 point margin) and will look worse on turn 4 (~90). This is a huge game-deciding advantage that is being determined by a single battle. Experience suggests that Axis nearly always win when they take Egypt with 2 tanks or better. They tend to have a slight edge when they take it with 1 tank (the other 15% of games). When they fail to capture Egypt, a game between two good players is very close – perhaps with an allied advantage. It is a shame for a game as rich and complex as Axis and Allies to have a button on the board that, when pressed, determines the winner.
I wish only to draw the issue to your attention and leave to you the job of finding an elegant solution for us. I recognise the difficulty of changing one thing without affecting others. However it’s clear that the largest component of the problem is the income from African territories. After 4 turns, there is something like 90 IPCs difference. About 20-35 of that was due to unit loss/retention from the battle, 10 from National Objectives in turn 1, and the rest from African income.
The things we love
There’s so much to love about Axis and Allies Anniversary. Italy is a fascinating and welcome addition. National Objectives add income to the game, giving powers like Russia the flexibility to do things other than just “buy 8 infantry”, the new face of naval combat is groundbreaking, and the board design is layered with strategic depth. Russia having 3 factories is genius - potential strength and vulnerability at once. The new sub rules are utterly engaging, and the naval cost structure is close to perfect. The new cost of planes is spot on.
While, the Egypt problem above is the only real worry that affects playability, there are a few small matters which have been observed in this community. Tweaking these would help this game stand the test of time:
We were all very excited to see the new role of China. However, it seems that Japan stomps on the Flying Tigers every game before it gets a chance to move. Perhaps if it started in another location, or China went before Germany allowing it to escape.
It’s also not clear why the regular powers collect their income at the end of their turn, but China collects its infantry at the start of its turn (to its disadvantage). It’s already very marginalised once Japan moves
Good players rarely buy cruisers. At 12 IPC they are too weak for the cost. At 11 they would still be the weakest ship in value terms, but I think they would then enter the repertoire for their bombard ability. With cruisers at 11 IPC, no ship is obsolete and all have their role.
East Indies is an unsually powerful spot for a Japanese factory, with most players heading straight for Russia’s jugular via Persia > Caucasus. Perhaps if it was worth 2 (constraining production), Borneo was worth 1, and Japan had a National Objective of 5 IPC for holding both (to compensate for the income).
No one is quite sure why the British have capturing a Japanese island as an objective.
Mr Harris, in Axis and Allies Anniversary you have created an innovative game with simple and intuitive rules, that leads to enormous strategic depth. Like all classic games. I offer this feedback as an admirer of your work, and after a considerable amount of playing and reflecting on your creation. We all know it’s impossible to make a game perfect on its release, and the real playtesting comes after that. We understand the constraints and challenges caused by the production/release process. Now that it has seen the light of day, we would all celebrate some minor amendments to ensure this game is the closest to hand in the games cupboard. We’d love to see the icing put on the cake, and we all want to eat the same cake together.
Thank you for your consideration. Sincerest regards, and may we all have the opportunity to play your games for many years to come.
Letter submitted to HGD in ‘Talk to Larry’ thread.