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Subject: Often misunderstood but one of the best A&A games rss

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Moshe Callen
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

Although I do not own nor want to own all the A&A games, decidedly I am a fan of the series. This game (A&AP) is probably my favorite for many reasons I hope to get across in this review.

First however I will address the oft heard claim that this game is "broken", usually meaning that the balance is off in the game. This complaint occurs so often that the FAQ addresses the issue at the top of the page. I had the good fortune to find and good sense to print out this FAQ before my first play of the game. Doing so simply forewarned me of the perception by novice players that the game balance is off. So, I stuck with it even though that was in fact what I initially found as well. In particular, I soloed the game several times, analyzing it from the viewpoint of the Japanese player and of the Allied player(s). Getting to know the game took many more plays than I expected but with each play I realized just how well balanced the game really is. What makes the game balance seem to be off is that although each side in the game has a wide variety of strategic and tactical options (i.e., choices of long term objectives and short term means of working toward those goals) those options are not immediately obvious. Ironically, Japan in particular has so many things it could do that that players will tend to get overwhelmed and hence try to do too much so that the player flounders. My strong advice is that this is a game that needs to be repeatedly soloed in order to truly comprehend the strengths and weaknesses of each side.

Yet the multitude of options for both sides, once one has figured out how to play them, becomes the greatest strength of this game. (Incidentally, the fact that this is a 2- or 3-player wargame ought not be overlooked in that wargames for 3-players are relatively rare.) Japan can win by either acquiring enough victory points (VPs) or by taking and holding a capital (other than the Chinese capital) till the end of the round. These options are not entirely mutually exclusive, but one does generally need a primary objective to actually win the game. The Allies consist of the British player, who controls both India and Australia as the bases of operations, and the US player, who controls both the US itself and China. The Allies have quite as many options as the Japanese player because the Allies win by either reducing the amount of victory points the Japanese player receives at the end of a turn to zero or by simply taking Japan itself. For the Allies, strategic bombing raids are key in many ways, a reality the Japanese player is forced to deal with. In short, the chief complaint most players have about A&A games is that the games are too scripted in the sense that each player in the game must by default if nothing else do the same thing or practically the same thing in every game; this criticism simply does not apply in the least to A&AP because each side has so many options.

Before discussing the game in more specific detail, I would like to pre-empt the usual "cult of the new"-style dismissals of this game due to the existence of the newer game Axis & Allies Pacific 1940. The latter is a revised version of this game, but this statement is correct only in the same sense that A&A Revised is a "revised" version of A&A. The two are in fact fundamentally different games merely based on similar concepts. A&AP1940 uses the victory cities system introduced in A&A Revised. (Unfortunately I have only found rules to A&AP1940 in Spanish; those who like myself can read the language can find those rules here.) In that game, Japan begins at war only with China but a player must achieve eight VCs to win the game. My point is that the two games while similar play markedly differently. Those players who like myself are not especially enamored of the VC system may tend to prefer A&AP or may like both.

2. Overview of components

The rules can be found on the WotC downloads page. I have the second edition in which the Chinese pieces are red and the other pieces are the usual A&A colors, but the first edition has red pieces for Japan and the photos in the gallery are of these. Indeed, my second edition box even pictures Japanese pieces on the back as red although its Japanese pieces are the more conventional orangish tan.
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific

The box art is more interesting and appealing than the more typical A&A collage. The board is large, nice and clear with enumerated sea zones.
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
Likewise the battle-board is clear
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
as are the reference charts.
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific

A good view of units can be seen in the following.
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
Board Game: Axis & Allies: Pacific
The blue pieces with a control marker in one of these are innovative pieces which represent a fleet which is then placed on a corresponding card off-board. I have rarely if ever needed to use these in a game, but they exist whenever needed.

3. Overview of rules

The Japanese player wins by either accumulating 22 VPs or taking and holding till the end of the round an allied capital (India, New South Wales or the USA). Japan gains VPs for every whole multiple of 10 IPCs gained at the end of a turn. The catch is that Japan can lose VPs due to industrial bombing raids if an Allied player succeeds in causing the Japanese player to lose 10 or more IPCs. Typically the Japanese player will gain two VPs per turn, one if doing badly, but three VPs per turn is also possible if Japan is doing well. Thus victory by VPs is a long game strategy but has the advantage of inevitable victory if Japan can manage to survive long enough. The possibility of winning by victory points puts a practical limitation on the Allies in that they have a limited time in which to achieve victory. Frankly this is not often an issue unless Japan is doing well but it does mean that Japan can win without bothering to take a well defended capital. The shortest game won by VPs will consist of eight turns for Japan, with Japan going first and last.

The Allies may either conquer Japan itself or reduce the Japanese player's holdings to a state that the player does not collect any VPs at the end of the Japanese turn. IPCs and VPs lost by Japan due to strategic bombing raids do not cause the Japanese player to lose except insofar as they reduce the total number of accumulated VPs and of course IPCs.

Key to both sides' strategy are convoy centers. A large number of territories have a land territory and an associated sea territory. In order to collect the IPCs for the territory, a player must control both the land and sea territory for the area. The Allies also have convoy centers which are sea zones which contribute IPCs without an associated land territory, but while the Japanese player can take these to deny the IPCs to the Allies, the Japanese player cannot gain these IPCs for himself.

A number of territories for both sides are marked as air or naval bases. These bases effectively increase the distance a friendly unit starting there may travel by eliminating the separation of the adjacent land and sea zone but only for friendly units and only for those starting at the territory; as one may expect, naval bases do this for ships and air bases for planes.

Fighters become much more versatile in this game in that fighters may also escort bombers on strategic bombing raids or defend against bombers in a similar manner. Additionally, at the end of one's turn unused fighters may go on combat air patrol (CAP) which allows the fighters to be stationed defensively in a sea zone.

This game introduced the ability of submarines to submerge and simultaneously destroyers to locate and defend against the preemptive strike ability of submarines. Planes can only attack subs if guided by a destroyer, for example.

Not only is weapons development eliminated but for every player except the USA so is the ability to build ICs. Ships can only be constructed at ICs a player controls as the start of the game, with the exception that the USA player cannot build ships in Hawaii. While the USA player does control the Chinese, no American units can be built at the Chinese IC and the Chinese receive only infantry which are restricted in where they can attack.

The USA receives a large amount of IPCs because the USA itself is worth 55 IPCs, but the USA is far removed from the primary scene of action. The British receive much fewer IPCs, albeit more than Japan but IPCs from British convoy routes can be split as the British player sees fit between India and Australia.

Finally Japan is given two advantages. First, on Japan's first turn only all Allied units except Chinese defend at 1, although battleships do still need to be hit twice to be sunk. Second, in certain marked sea territories Japan can use up to a total of six kamikaze attacks during the course of the game. These attacks can only be made against ships and all such attacks must be announced at the end of combat movement, whether used offensively or defensively. No actual Japanese units are associated with the attacks but kamikaze attacks succeed on a roll or 1 or 2 only.

4. Gameplay and strategy

a. Japan

I was one of those rare players who initially perceived this game as overly favoring the Japanese player. Perhaps this was because I am a very aggressive player and that Japan is my favorite nation to play in the original A&A. Thus, Japanese strategy came relatively easily to me. Specifically, Japan faces a war on three sides. Westward are the Chinese and the British in mainland Asia, with the associated capital in India. Southward are the British based in Australia and neighboring islands. Eastward are the Americans. Generally a good Japanese picks one Allied player, most often the Americans but not too much less often the British, and concentrates on effectively isolating that player. By this I mean that the Japanese player makes a systematic effort to destroy that player's ships and planes while preferentially taking territories and IPCs from that player. This strategy once implemented can be maintained with a minimum of units while thus allowing the bulk of combat units to hold off or actively attack the other player. At the same time, no Allied region should be entirely neglected. With Japan's first turn advantage, the Japanese player should initially attack as many Allied units and in as many directions as possible. Yet with every attack from the beginning Japan must give absolute priority to gaining more IPCs because IPCs convert not only into additional units but into VPs. In the second turn, Japan may need to pick a direction. Actually taking the USA can happen but is extremely rare. A drive for India is most common but the Australian route has the advantage that it requires mostly ships and planes which will also be Japan's primary defensive units.

The defensive situation of Japan is complex. While Japan has to play very aggressively to win with little thought to stretching units too thin, foolish attacks are clearly not in the player's interest. The CAP rules help Japan more than other players because Japan needs especially to hold other players at bay. In its initial turn Japan virtually must take the Philippines and create a buffer zone about its mainland Chinese territories because these are the only areas outside the areas susceptible to kamikaze attacks from which a bomber may launch a strategic bombing raid against Japan. Moreover if the American hold onto the Philippines, the USA player will (and should) build an IC there and simply build or land so many bombers there as to bleed Japan dry. The war with China has to be balanced in that it consumes resources with little gain, but the British in India or the Americans cannot be allowed to funnel units into China. Japan is well advised to keep the bulk of its stronger and more mobile units behind a weaker and/or cheaper outer fringe of units. Transports are key, not only for taking islands but for increasing the range of infantry. By the same token, Allied transports become primary targets. Islands cannot be taken if one cannot land units there.

b. The British

The British player begins with Australia receiving somewhat more IPCs than India, although these can be evened out in distributing convoy IPCs. In part, the British player's strategy needs respond to the Japanese player's situation. Nevertheless, on the whole the British player has three possible roles. First, the British player can play less aggressively and primarily bolster the defenses of the American units as the USA player funnels a large amount of units into the main scene of combat. I would advice doing this in conjunction to a more aggressive role from India, but in the first game I won as the Allies for example the British in both India and Australia gained little if any territory themselves, letting the Americans bear the brunt. The downside of this strategy was that the Japanese had more turns to gain VPs in, but a concentrated Allied offensive took the Philippines; the Allies then stymied the Japanese player by both launching multiple bombers against Japan to take away any VPs gained in order to give the Allies time.

A more fun and effective strategy for the British player is of course the two pronged attack if doing well enough to afford to be able to attack both northward from Australia and eastward and northward from India. If this optimal strategy is not possible, then one can funnel units from India up into China and eastward overland. If the Japanese player is foolish enough to take the Chinese IC, this should be strategically bombed as much as possible. The Americans or Australians would then reduce the Japanese holdings by primarily taking convoy routes.

If Japan is too strongly hitting India, the Australians should make a drive northward to divert Japanese units. Similarly, if the Japanese are attacking too far southward a eastward push from India should be made.

One point should be made clear. If need be, the British or Americans can win the game on their own but they work much better in conjunction. The last game I won as the Allies as of this writing was with my wife playing the Japanese. She had effectively destroyed all Americans ships and planes with Japanese forces in place to take out any new units built by the Americans. I won using the British almost exclusively so that it can be done. Yet the Allies' chief advantage lies in cooperation and forcing the Japanese to fight a war on three fronts.

c. The USA and China

Ironically, taken alone the US has the fewest strategic and tactical options of any power in the game. This odd state of affairs arises due to the fact that, while the USA has a huge amount of IPCs, the USA is far from the scene of action initially. This assumes that the Japanese player was wise enough to take the Philippines in the first turn. If the Japanese take Hawaii, generally the US can do strategic bombing raids against Hawaii, but I have seen this approach fail if the US does not buy enough bombers to make this tactic worthwhile. Generally however the USA needs to send as many transports loaded with marines (which defend like infantry but attack at 2 in amphibious landings) as possible while buying other ships and planes to both protect the transports and funnel planes to the Chinese. Strategic bombing has absolute priority generally because it costs Japan both IPCs and VPs. Next in priority is island hopping. The direct route westward leaves transports simply too vulnerable whereas islands allow troops on transports to be unloaded between turns and thus remain relatively safe if the transports are sunk. Then the USA needs to concentrate on depriving Japan of IPCs by taking territories and convoy routes. Becuase the USA has so many IPCS, the USA player can and should try to have in play simply too many task forces for the Japanese player to deal with them all effectively.

The Chinese are primarily a drain on Japanese resources but can also be used to take Japanese mainland territories like for example Manchuria. The Chinese then act as ready infantry to defend these territories from which the Allies bomb the Japanese while whittling away valuable territories.

d. Overall

A&AP is simply a great game but is often misunderstood principally because it is in fact one of the most versatile wargames I have ever encountered. Neither side has a single dominant path to victory which gives the game a high degree of replayability but by the same token the game has a steep learning curve, far more than one expects of an A&A game.
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Steve Herron
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Very well done.
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Mike Bauer
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This, and Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition are my all-time faves too among the A&A family.

The VP-clock mechanism and the second half of the game where the Allies are all closing in on the Japanese home islands remind me of another great asymmetrical wargame, Fortress America.

One thing I would like to try is incorporating the naval rules from Anniversary Ed. (where there's no "sub-stalling" and transports can not be used as fodder) onto this classic.

I'm also glad you mentioned the striking artwork on the box...A&A Pacific has the distinction of being the ONLY game in the series that does not feature a collage of assorted images...

Great review and comments!
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Kenneth Bailey
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I played this game over the weekend and my friend was playing the Japanese in our first game and he was whining that the Japanese can't win. So we played again where I was the Japanese and I then proceeded to school him. Granted he made a couple of tactical errors, but I was able to win on victory points (even occupied India at one point).
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Dan
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Yeah... I see what you did there.
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I OWN people with this game when I play Japan, AND when I'm playing the U.S. in Fortress.

It's always close, but satisfying. If someone says "Japan can't win", then you're doin' it wrong.

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The OOB rules actually favor the Japanese quite a bit I think. With the adjusted setup and a bid this disappears though.
 
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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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Nordican wrote:
The OOB rules actually favor the Japanese quite a bit I think. With the adjusted setup and a bid this disappears though.
Actually they don't but they have a steep learning curve for the Allies.
 
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Paul Owen
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Fascinating review. Everybody in my group thinks that the Japanese can not be stopped from taking India, and we even quit playing this game altogether as a result. Now I"m going to have to go back and revisit it with fresh eyes.

Thanks for resurrecting a game from the dusty shelf!
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Boris JOSEPH
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Very nice review
I am a great fan of original A&A
Discovered A&AP quite lately, won only once with Japs
Great game eventhough I found
- map to small in some crowdy areas (even with task force card)
- long in time & short in number of turns, 1 mistake or 1 critical dice result give the orientation of the game
- I prefer A&A Guadalcanal
 
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