Me and my Mac
Conditions of play
A&A Revised plays like Chess
The opening game
Control of the center
The middle game
Conclusion & further notes
This paper is part of a series of 7 papers designed to share my ongoing insight in strategies usable and sometimes not usable in A&A Revised. These insights can and – most probably – will change as I gain more experience in the game. Although I have roughly 16 years of experience in A&A Classic, the number of games – finished – in Revised number exactly 18. Not much, but the greater part of those games have been played over a short period of time – and more importantly – with a great variety of players.
Me and my Mac
To understand why these papers are important to me, you must understand were I’m coming from. I’ve been playing A&A Classic for numerous years and I can safely say that the game had a huge impact on my ‘gaming’ life. Thanks to A&A Classic I was able to play with toy soldiers even though I was supposed to be a grown up, an adult. There was little that gave me so much satisfaction as producing a mental picture of the game and playing out the first 2-3 rounds in my head, thus escaping boring colleges or dull meetings at work. I loved the game so much, I really thought that could never change*. But then a guy named Mike Selinker came along and opened my I eyes to a different gaming experience: A&A Revised. And… alas for Larry… a better one. Revised shook up my world (my first impression: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1530625#1530625) but the mere fact that the game was there, wasn’t the only ‘discovery’ I made last year…
Al the days, nights and sometimes weekends dedicated to the game of A&A Classic could not have been possible without the participation of Mac. My ongoing war with him has kept our A&A Classic spirit alive for 16 years. Sure, we tried to play with others. We tried teaching the game. Invite other players, but they could never be brought to our level of play, so they – and ultimately we – gave up. We were masters at the game, and after I began reading ‘strategies’ here at BGG or elsewhere, my opinion towards us being superior didn’t change. But then I decided to download the Triple A online Revised game, again. I had used it before, but they had changed the setup of the interface allowing you to play face-to-face in real time. PBEM was never my thing and so this was to be my first time** against other experienced players. I was blown away. I didn’t loose my first game, mind you. But the possibilities, the impact, the changes, the different player styles… it was… overwhelming.
The last few weeks I’ve spent as much time as I can, trying to catch up on existing strategies, gaining experience and even developing new ones, which I can see are picked up by other Triple A players.
So, these papers are – first and foremost – an attempt to sort out MY private thoughts on this new game. To incorporate the old into the new… and perhaps… a sentimental goodbye from the once sublime Classic to its offspring: the improved and highly recommendable Axis & Allies Revised.
Those of you who hope to get a full and detailed (unbeatable) strategy ‘handed’ to you, complete with what to buy, turn-by-turn moves and whom and what to attack, don’t have to read any further. I don’t believe in the concept of ‘the’ strategy nor do I think it’s useful to tell others how they should: move, attack or buy; because due to the nature of the game and the fact that the game mechanics use dice, there is no real point. Action-reaction and the luck of the day – to my content – will always successfully prevent such statements.
What you will find however, is a reflection on certain aspects of the game, mostly on the strategic level and sometimes narrowed down to an incidental tactical issue.
That means that in the course of the next few weeks you will be able to read my reflections on the following topics:
· Opening, middle game & endgame
· Trying to get an “immortal game” – the art of sacrifice
· 1st, 2nd and 3rd line of defense for Germany & Russia
· Mirroring – the plus 6 rule
· A new hope for Africa – Kill the Chuck-Chuck
· On the importance of Pearl Harbor
· Getting stuff out: IC’s & transporters
The setup of each article will be something like this: looking back to my old friend A&A Classic, sliding down to my new found love A&A Revised, as I dive into the topic.
Conditions of play
Part of discussing a strategy, is explaining under which conditions the strategies are played, explored and modified. These conditions are:
· 14 out of 18 plays have been done on Triple A with other players than Mac
· Triple A follows the out-of-box rules except AA that doesn’t fire in the non-combat phase (at least I believe so, it never occurred in-game, but this comes from the FAQ from their site).
· I play with TTL; which means Territory Turn Limit, and doesn’t allow a player to bombard a country for more then its IPC value per turn, period. Unlike the out-of-box rules that say you can’t bomb for more then the IPC value of the country for each plane.
· There are no official Victory Conditions. I suppose we play for World Domination, but most of the time a player will concede long before that happens.
· I play with the normal tech options but without the optional rules.
· I play with Regular Dice following out-of-box rules
· Neither side gets a bid, ever.
A&A Revised plays like Chess
That’s a bold statement to make huh… Chess being an all time favorite, diceless, highly tactical game with a steep learning curve. Well… apart from the dice, A&A revised plays like chess, with the same conditions. It even has a given setup from which you develop your game, just like chess. You have to think and plan ahead and to a degree something chess like, as a center exists in A&A as well. A known pivoting point – arguably the most important country in the game – is West Russia. The USSR uses it to coordinate defense & offensive operations. For Germany its one route that can’t be flank attacked via the White- and Black Sea. Yes, I do believe that – without going in further details, here – A&A compares to chess in many ways. One particular aspect referred to in chess has a truly significant impact on game play and that is the concept of: Opening, middle & endgame
The opening game
Let’s pretend for a while that Axis & Allies doesn’t have a sequence that concerns an opening, middle and endgame, but that you would want to find some way of identifying where you roughly are in the game. Or say you want to introduce a newbie to the game and tell him what he should pay attention to in a certain phase of the game. Perhaps you want to be able to tell an unexpected viewer on triple A, who barges in on a play, what the status of the game is? In any case you would like to make a point which everyone can grasp quickly since its use could be universal. All considered I feel that defining an opening, middle- & endgame useful and necessary to just that, and more.
In most cases I can instinctively feel in what stage the game is, even without looking at what actual round it’s in. At some point along the game, I can predict with great ease if I’m going to win or loose the game or not. Not always, but often I and my fellow players, concede early in the game even though the victory conditions are far from met. Now: is that cowardly behavior, defeatism… or might there be something more to it? I like to think there is more to it indeed! It’s not coincidence that my ‘feeling’ tells me I won’t win a particular Axis-side game on R4 anymore. It’s primarily deduction, based on experience, that lets us decide outcomes with great accuracy.
So, apparently I – and others – are able to decide a game is decided based on our experiences. But how could I possibly determine when an opening switches to a middle game… Again I choose to look at chess and then add something of my own.
In chess the opening is supposed to cover the following principles:
Development To place (develop) the pieces (particularly bishops and knights) on useful squares where they will have an impact on the game.
Control of the center: Control of the central squares allows pieces to be moved to any part of the board relatively easily, and can also have a cramping effect on the opponent.
King safety: It is often enhanced by castling.
Pawn structure: Players strive to avoid the creation of pawn weaknesses such as isolated, doubled or backward pawns, and pawn islands.
Apart from these fundamentals, other strategic plans or tactical sequences may be employed in the opening.
It’s actually amazing how easy these 4 pillars (and the mentioning of strategy) of a typical chess opening can be translated to Axis & Allies Revised.
Lets start with the last notion on openings: strategy
The first 2 rounds in Axis & Allies Classic were almost always decisive. I think this holds for Revised as well. Prior to each game and certainly in the first turn, you must decide on a strategy. You can not, not decide. Even doing nothing – for the purpose of this thesis – is considered as executing a strategy. So both sides think up a plan and execute it. The actual execution of the plane translates in buying, moving and deciding on your battles. Those are tactical decisions. Because you only have limited movement (range) and you must decide before conflicts what you want to buy, it’s hard to change the goals of your strategy once you start executing them in tactical maneuvers/decisions. Of course you can always try to adjust your strategy, but not as radical as moving from an ‘attack Russia’ to a ‘capture Africa’ path. The loss of momentum, absence of adequate material and the distance to the new targets for units you placed earlier, make it almost impossible to change a strategy once you’re committed. So the first turn is absolutely part of the opening phase, and vice versa: part of an opening is committing to a strategy. But what about the second round? Why is that part of the opening and not 3 or even 4? Well, changing your strategy in the second round is difficult, yet often I – and other players – try to conceal my primary goals or strategy by making dummy moves, that require movements in a false direction. Or we set up some other type of distraction, in the hope that my opponent will not notice what my strategy is, and make complementary moves that will strengthen my strategy. Besides that; the second round is the first round in which you get fresh units, units you have chosen to carry out the strategy you conjured up in R1, units not belonging to the opening setup. If there is still a chance to alter your strategy, when things don’t work out in R1, I consider this round to be the final round where you can attempt to do so. All turns after that, units involved in your U-turn in strategy will probably be to far away to make a difference.
Round 1 and 2 are opening rounds because these are the rounds in which you commit yourself to a strategy. Therefore an opening round can be described as a strategic round.
There are more reasons however then mere strategy to determine the first two rounds as the opening rounds. Let’s take a closer look at the chess definition, and encapsulate it in A&A Revised.
Placing your units in useful countries is just as important for A&A as it is for chess. Development in A&A means that you – preferably – want all units to be within reach of the enemy (when you want them to be, of course); there is nothing so frustrating as all those Japanese misfits enjoying the sun on all those neat islands, doing absolutely nothing for your country. The same goes for the Alaska unit and some others as well. So be it either defense, or offensive: you would like to have every piece to be of value to you. For the largest part you can do that in the first two turns. That’s also why I consider the first 2 rounds to be part of the opening phase.
Control of the center: “Control of the central squares allows pieces to be moved to any part of the board relatively easily, and can also have a cramping effect on the opponent.”
I thought I’d just leave it like it is… it’s such a simple and true text. Replace the words ‘Central Squares’ with country names like Egypt, Eastern Europe or West Russia, or even China and a few Sea Zones; the concept will stick. All these countries give you great mobility and will allow you to block an opponent’s move at the same time. West Russia, for example, is the key to both Russia and the Caucasus. When either side has it, the other has some tough decisions to make. Maneuvering in-and-out through these countries can make a big difference, in both advance AND retreat.
When talking about King safety, you obviously want to translate the ‘King’ part as being your home country. Your home country – in all cases – will be the most expensive nation, reeking in most cash. Without it you loose the game eventually or at the very least you will have lost one round of IPC’s.
Now… King safety means: protect your home country in the opening phase of the game from a potential sucker punch. A sucker punch is often a gambit designed to knock out a home country in the early stage of the game. There are quite a few sucker punches out there: for England, the US and Japan I know of at least one. A sucker punch, however, is – when you know what to look for – easily identifiable in the opening rounds. Most sucker punches are designed to knock you out (or prepare to inevitably do so) in rounds 1 through 3, but require obvious preparation (especially when there are transports involved) so being alert to them in the opening rounds, means you won’t be sucked in.
This may get a little more abstract – I admit – but if you stay with me, my interpretation might be acceptable for you too.
When trying to identify a type of ‘pawn structure’ for Axis & Allies I kept coming back to Don Rea’s Death Zones: http://donsessays.freeservers.com/deadzone.htm and Counter attack structures. Besides that, the easy identifiable single infantry man in Novosibirsk, Evenki, Kazakh, Ukraine, Belorussia, Archangel and Leningrad (and sometimes Yakut) blocking a path to either Russia or Germany (or similar situations) was an obvious comparison for explaining a good pawn structure. When I first read about Death Zones and counter attack structures I was deeply impressed. Most of the time I had played according to a ‘sort of’ Death Zone type of play. Plus, over time we learned the value of setting up a counter attack without specifically naming it that way. But it wasn’t until I read Don Rea’s essay on Death Zones, counter attack structures and retreating that I really started to understand the depth of the game I was playing. Pawn structure is not specifically about these 7 countries, although it’s tempting to think so. It’s more about creating Death Zones and setting up structures for possible counter attacks (like a pawn exchange in chess). If you can lure someone in a Death Zone you set up in the opening rounds, you might very well be on your way to win the game. However – and that is why I contribute this section to the opening game – Germany and Russia do decide in the first round which of these seven countries they consider as the swapping grounds. The countries to be exchanged from player-to-player each turn, until one side is strong enough to push the frontier further.
So there you have it: the opening game is considered to cover the first 2 rounds of A&A, primarily based on the fact that you make and deploy your strategy in these turns with regard to the 4 pillars taken from a chess game. Now on to the middle game…
The middle game
I consider the middle game of a typical A&A play to contain rounds 3 trough 5 (… perhaps 6 but I’ll leave that up to you). For a definition towards what a middle game is, again, I’ll turn to chess: “The middle game is the part of the game when most pieces have been developed. Because the opening theory has ended, players have to assess the position, to form plans based on the features of the positions, and at the same time to take into account the tactical possibilities in the position”***.
That’s clear huh? After round 2, every piece on the board ought to be developed (which is not true in some cases, but that can’t be helped) and the opening theory – strategic planning, executing schemes – has ended. From here on a player has to react to what’s going on, on the board. How are the dice results? What’s the reaction of my opponent to my opening moves? Did I successfully break an early opening gambit (sucker punch) leaving him wide open? From now on you react to what’s real; no longer can you rely on your pre-war game plan to claim your victory. There are practical considerations to make, new possibilities to explore and perhaps old intentions to abandon.
That’s all good and well but what about the time indication? Why only include round 5 and not 6, 7 or even 8 in the middle game?
To explain why I choose round 5 to be the end of the middle game I won’t turn to chess, but to a movie called: Gattaca ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gattaca )
Still here? Good:
The movie basically revolves around the relationship between two brothers: one being perfect because he’s the product of genetic manipulation (he could be considered as the Allies), he’s supposed to be a super human. His older brother, however, is the product of natural conception and thus is considered inferior to his older sibling. The fact that he has a heart condition attributes to the perception of him being weaker (so he must represent the Axis, for most players consider them to be weaker then the Allies). As children, the two brothers would swim out into the sea trying to beat each other in who would dear (and had the strength) to swim the furthest from the shore. Of course the genetically superior brother (Allies) would win every attempt… except for the last one, the one before the Axis brother disappeared (he was fed up with the racism). In that last race the Axis brother won and he had to save the Allies brother from drowning. (He did so and then secretly made is exit…) now fast forward to one of the final scenes in the movie… Both brothers meet each other and for the last time decide to swim one more time, the Allies brother, convinced it was a fluke of luck that the Axis brother had won their last match, is determined to beat Axis this time, yet again he loses… So when he confronted the Axis brother about why he wasn’t able to beat his inferior – plagued with heart conditions – Axis brother, his simple reply was: “I never conserved any energy for the way back!” that’s why the middle game has 5 rounds.
In my opinion the Axis have two main strategic paths they can follow:
1. A speedy all-out attack forcing a victory (or defeat) in the 3rd 4th or 5th round (and yes, perhaps the 6th as well) in a death or glory kind of way.
2. Or a slow win, trying to chuck-chuck your way to Russia and actually stretch the game successfully to an open-ended endgame.
For the Allies it’s much simpler. I’ve never seen the Allies win the game as early as Round 3 or 4 and I can’t remember them winning in Round 5 (by taking Berlin or Tokyo). The reason for that is simple. Even if the Russians manage to follow a straight path to Berlin (via W Russia, that is) they will not reach it sooner then R4. The same goes for the US, which I’m not even going to explain, because the distance should make it obvious. And for England; I suppose they could make an early victory in R2 or 3 but that would constitute a Sucker Punch for which enough warning signs should have helped the German player from preventing any attempt at doing it anyway, as part of his opening King Safety.
Most of the time the Allies are not pressed for time. They have the advantage of outweighing the Axis in money and after they spent their first 5 rounds equalizing their sea/air capability setting up a supply structure (meaning trannies), they can start to use that surplus in cash on Axis bashing. In fact it’s one of the reasons I say round 6 is part of the endgame and not the middle game.
The Axis have a bigger problem. Their supply structures are either set up from the get-go (Germany) or developed very fast (Japan), but they don’t have the luxury of time on their hands… that is; once they start teaching the lessons of speed to their opponent, in every future game an interesting paradox emerges, whereby fear of the Axis speed, speeds up the Allied game (inevitably leading to great sacrifices) , or turtles them down even further actually allowing the Axis to do the same (all of this will be covered in later articles) and thus allowing them to execute an otherwise loosing strategy of chuck-chucking towards Russia.
Try to pick up what I’m revealing here: When playing the Axis for the first time with a new opponent you might want to consider the all-out strategy (when conditions are right). There is a good chance you will loose, but in future games your blast-from-the-past will leave some consideration with your opponent, hopefully allowing you more time in those plays (with him).
But there is more: consider you are playing Japan and you’re thinking about taking Australia… but your team is on a steamboat determined to collide with the Allies like an elephant on a rampage; straight forward R5 win or die trying! Consider that and then consider attacking Australia… you probably wouldn’t bother, and if you’re unable to do the math yourself; here is why:
An attack on Australia can not be carried out earlier then R2. Suppose you do that and make it: the net IPC value Australia will give you is 2 times 4 = 8 IPC’s over the course of the entire game (all-or-nothing strategy, remember). The last 2 are of no value to you since your war in this strategy won’t last much longer then R5, thus reducing the value to 6 IPC. But what you can actually buy and use won’t hit the table before the end of R3 and that’s only for defense at most… So now what can be bought in R4 is considered ‘worthless’ as well, since defense in R4 is not Japan’s main worry and the unit won’t do much attacking in a bash like strategy in R5. Leaving you with only the value of R2 and R3 to do something positive for your cause, right… euh… no! To make sure you gained a victory you had to bring in land forces and transports to conquer Australia. That means that, even if you leave the port of – say – Kwangtung empty and pick up otherwise useless stuff from East Indies – a good thing btw – you would still be ‘investing’ the transporter into the frenzy. And it can’t be used for anything else for several rounds (at least 2). That’s a serious drawback! So knowing this it’s a perfectly sane decision not to bother with Australia in a quick and dirty showdown scenario and a fistful of countries along with it.
Summing up; there is a middle game in A&A Revised. It’s limited from R3 to R5 and that is because it’s the ‘natural turning point’ in the game either because the Axis are making a dash – that runs out of steam or achieved its objective – or the Allies have their sea/air structure set up. They will now begin spending the IPC surpluses on land units, greater in number then the Axis.
If there is such a thing as an open-end endgame at least one of three conditions has to be met:
1. TUV (Total Unit Value) of both parties is roughly the same or slightly lower for the Allies and always clearly under the initial value for both parties. When this happens the Axis usually have a surplus in land forces which allows them to continue attacking for a while, and the Allies can only defend at this point. But at the same time the Allied supply structures have been fully developed and ready to mass-move larger quantities of land units. So an actual end game can still be quit tense, but not too long.
2. The Axis at the end of each round, starting from R6, still manage to get roughly the same amount of IPC’s per round as in the beginning of the game – some 70 – but no more! The Axis still have a chance in this particular situation, but only if the (western) Allies weren’t able to build significant pressure yet.
3. The Axis intentionally developed a chuck-chuck of their own and they want the game to stall into an endgame. In this variant their aim could be to equalize the IPC’s each side gains: in à 50-50 split somewhere around 83 IPC in the first 5 rounds. Where the split condition is first met at the end of a round: that’s where the endgame begins. It’s not unthinkable that this condition will be met for the first time in R5 (ex. Germany -2 & Japan + 12/16 for a total of 80/84).
There is another reason for an endgame, but it’s not open-end:
4. Despite the obvious: an opponent might not be ready – willing – to concede, just yet... – who knows what kind of tricks are up a man’s sleeve.
What is important to notice here, is the idea that an actual endgame is an Axis choice! The Allies (mostly) don’t mind if the game drags on far beyond the 5th round, ‘cause most often stalling the game is to their benefit. It’s therefore important to diversify strategy and try out Axis chuck-chuck techniques (when playing a player more then once) in order for the Allies to feel a sense of urgency themselves, perhaps hoping for a mistake on their part.
All-in-all the endgame is usually about wrapping up (a number 4 reason), which can still take a very, very long time, although the outcome is inevitable. Axis & Allies Revised has greater distances between Germany – Russia & Germany – US, making it that much harder to kill either in an endgame. The fact that UK can only build 8 pieces a turn in its home IC only contributes to this slow wrap-up process.
Remember; for the most part the Axis decide the pace of the game: fast or slow, with or without an endgame. If you want the Allies to feel the sense of urgency racing towards you like you naturally feel when playing the Axis: you must teach it to them. How to do that will be covered in a later topic.
Conclusion & further notes
It’s important to identify an opening-middle-endgame since it’s an easy steppingstone to explain various moves in strategies at a specific stage in the game; a hat rack if you will: enabling strategists to clearly explain what should be done in each phase, rather then each turn, making it more general and therefore perhaps more applicable in similar situations.
Phases can also help explain/teach/learn/review when to employ, or specifically not to use certain tactical maneuvers, buys etc. per phase – rather then saying from this and that round I would concentrate on fighters etc.
You can use it to indicate in what phase of the game you’re in when explaining the current set up to other players.
Hindsight analyses can be done easier, perhaps more accurate if you dissect each phase; concentrating on your best-worst decisions important to each phase in the game (most notably the 4 pillars in the opening round and its employment in your games)
And last but not least: the opening-middle-endgame will be referred to – and will have a prominent place – in all 7 essays yet to come, and all future session reports I will write.
Hope I entertained you,
*In fact it was my first and only 10 on BGG, until I had to come to grips with reality
**Actually it was the second time as I had just previous to played a 2v2 game with Mac against 2 other experienced players, but we never finished that game.
***Al quotes are taken from Wikipedia.
I will break him.
Well, what can I say, you have increased my appreciation of this old classic (in the broad sense) and I look forward to reading your future articles. Great work!
Triple A follows the out-of-box rules except AA that doesn’t fire in the non-combat phase (at least I believe so, it never occurred in-game, but this comes from the FAQ from their site).
TripleA supports both classic, revised and revised LHTR.
No National Advantages supported though.
Regarding the AA fire this is tunable.
In classic.xml or revised.xml or lhtr.xml look for
property name="Always on AA" value="false" editable="true"
Re: A&A Revised: strategy paper #1. Opening, middle & endgam
VERY interesting paper, Seth. Not sure if I'm totally with you on the comparison to chess, since that game continues to mystify me with its absolutely perfect symmetry (I can easily conceptualize a map of the world with a simulation of a real conflict in which the two sides are evenly balanced, but along different dimensions; but the 8x8 chessboard and the exactly equal nature of the two forces throws me). But you make your point very well, and the comparisons with the beginning, middle and endgame are perhaps apt ones.