Axis and Allies Europe PLAYTESTER OPTIONAL RULES FOR BALANCING THE A&A EUROPE GAME
- by Don Rae -
So far, I have never lost a game as the Allies while playing A&A Europe....which is starting to give me some cause for concern, with regard to the game's overall balance. Because of the things I'm beginning to notice in the final release edition of the A&A Europe game, I am leaning toward the opinion that the Allies should probably win most games during expert level play of A&A Europe.
I'm not saying it's totally impossible to win as the Axis/Germans, since I have done it from time to time against very experienced players. But - what I am saying is that the German player probably cannot afford to make ONE purchasing mistake ANYWHERE.....but the Allies, it seems, can afford to make the occasional mistake from time to time without it costing them dearly.
Why is this the case? My perception of the matter is...this is because the Allies have so much "extra" income at their disposal, that they can usually make up for a mistake on a following turn, or by adjusting the purchases of their other Allies in turn to suit the created problem situation!
When I was involved in the playtesting of A&A Europe, I based most of my game balance commentary on the general IPC and unit allocation capacity of the board at hand...namely, the IPC levels assigned to each country, and each country's ability to defend their income. I feel that the most crucial balancing issue, when dealing with all the issues in the A&A game model - ALWAYS involves each nation's capacity to replace any of their ESSENTIAL units that were lost in territorial battles on an even investment basis! When any country loses this ability in the A&A game model...they are finished.
Keeping all this in mind, these are my main comments concerning the balance in this game (among others that I probably won't get into much):
1) Russia has been given a LOT of quality land units at the start of the game, including several tanks, a bomber, and a fighter.
This has been a significant cause for concern for me as of late, because it appears that they aren't having to make too many difficult decisions about their purchasing early in the game.
The Russians, having been given four very strategic factories, six tanks, with TONS of infantry - they simply have the ability to create dead zones at will anywhere on their front lines. This has given them the ability to mount an incredibly solid defense when using the optimized dead zone and the infantry push mechanic as their means for survival. Because of this, the cost of Russian troop replacement is not really a crucial factor in their purchasing....so buying at least one extra fighter or bomber near the start of the game is almost always sufficient to hold off the Germans when using the dead zone method of play....so they can forever play holding actions instead of being forced to rely on their Allies for occasional support.
Not in one game have I found it necessary to send Allied units over to help out Russia (like the game rules allow). Not for ANY reason at all! This strikes me as a significant balancing problem...mainly because this means that the Allies can always decide how they can control the pace of the game INSTEAD of the Germans....since they can afford to wait and build up a massive amount of investment into units to eventually deliver the sole purpose of crushing the Germans.
Because the cost of Russian replacement is near negligible at the start of game, mainly due to their numerous "free" tanks and powerful factories which can easily defend their average of 22-24 bucks worth of income every turn, it is very safe to assume that Germany cannot mount a major offensive without costing them dearly. Thus, the Russians can always seem to afford the cost of replacement for their troops, allowing at least 7-8 infantry mimimum replacements per turn. If they build an extra fighter, or even a bomber, they can just strafe off German sortees into their region, taking back their territories on a minimal basis while pushing the Germans back regularily enough.
I didn't think this factor was all that bad by itself, since this just forces the Germans to open new fronts and use industrial bombing to help supplement their strategies.
But, in addition to the other factors that will follow this one (the ones that surprised me in the final design, which I will mention shortly)....I feel that the the Russians cannot significantly be punished enough for any tactical mistakes they make in any consistent manner....it always seems to balance in favor of the Allies when using the dead zone to help you out!
2) The proximity of the Leningrad factory to the Poland area frontline, and the problems it introduces into the game....
The final version of the game seems to have almost twice the number of units than we had played with while we were playtesting the game.
I recall stressing that this would be a significant problem when balancing the game: the more units you have on the board - the less risks that are needed to be taken in the early stages of the game by both sides - so this factor will always allow the defensive minded player to replace their units more easily and very far in advance of any anticpated battles, since they aren't really being THREATENED by anything in particular near the beginning of the game....the consequence being that they DON'T have to choose more risky paths of play at all!
All the Russians need to do is play it safe....causing endless delays in any advance on these lines, usually due to the nature of the dead zone and the infantry-push mechanic.
The Leningrad factory was implemented in the final version of the game (I regarded it as a potentially questionable feature in my testing notes) - not too bad by itself....but this factory was also combined with the almost twice as many extra units from the playtest designs....effectively giving the Russians several turns of disposable front-line infantry with this pre-game setup, thus the old "front proximity problem" arises in this game model (much like the old Karelia vs. Germany fron in the original game) - the Russians only need to decide "where to build their units" instead of "where they need to allocate their units during their movement".
Because of all these factors, the dead zone creation on the Baltic States is always easily set up early on, and is then very formidible with the Leningrad factory which replaces almost the entire front lone every turn, causing any advance in this area to be near suicidal for the Germans if the Russians know how to use their dead zones! If the Germans advance too far, they can be punished by strafing (attacking a territory to remove units, then retreating before the battle has been completed), then building a "wackload" of new fresh Russian units!
3) The American income base - 40 IPC's...this might be WAY too much income capacity...
When we were playtesting, I was playing the Americans incredibly successfully with an income base of 36 with the unit purchases as they are...and I potentially suggested reducing it to 32 IPC's because of this - so this should tell you something very significant. So....what a difference these 4 extra dollars can make over several turns....they can usually buy "that extra destroyer", which can make all the difference in cracking the Germans VERY EARLY in the game.
The Allies, upon losing up to 8 bucks in the Middle East, can almost always be taken out of the American income, causing only minor hiccups in their overall playout. If they are cashing out around 32, they can always purchase a mere two destroyers and a fodder piece (take your pick- transport or sub). I recall that when I was playing this U.S. game at 36 IPC's - it really made the decision of "where to take the money away from" a lot harder than it is in the final game design. For me, I always choose the Americans now, because I KNOW I can still do a LOT of significant purchases with the Americans when utilizing a "mere 32 bucks" per turn.
The Americans, in addition to this, also have a fantastic proximity to their own convoy zones, since these areas are always within American dead zones right after they purchase units. Can the Germans afford to hold onto these convoy zones for long? Not very likely, when they have to deal with the UK convoy zones as their main priority - and they can't afford to be using their sea units needlessly in American dead zones! This means that the U.S. will be cruising along at 40 IPC's per turn, regularily and early enough in the game!
When you consider that Germany's income has to be divided between their land front and their naval fronts....this all simply leads to an eventual victory for the Allies in all sea based fronts....namely the convoy zone areas as being the most important! This cannot be stopped, no matter how clever you are during purchasing.
This ocean front is one of the major reasons why I have been reently advocating "always BOMBERS" for the Germans. This unit is the only feasible, cheaper attacking unit with any kind of range that can be resused over and over again on different kinds of fronts - both land and sea. I think sometimes, just based upon recent playouts recently, this is not always enough for them....there's just way too much force that can be built in these waters....force that can deal a very decisive blow all at once.
4) Destroyer capabilities - and wow, they're very cheap to boot.....
"Offshores"....This is an enormous ability when you're hitting on a 3 or less. Done in large quantity, this ability is very deadly. So why wouldn't the Atlantic area Allies build almost nothing but destroyers for their early game? They are far too useful, and far too cheap for the punch they give, to ignore!
Typical endgames involve the Americans using their numerous destroyer offshores to smash France every turn with a single loaded transport, forcing the Germans to allocate badly needed Russian front area resources to the western areas. This allows the Russians to get their offense going, and voila...."no more Germany" is the end result, eventually, if all their fleet was completely smashed in the Atlantic areas.
Destroyers were also implemented with the "remove first strike from submarines" ability. This basically allows destroyers, by themselves, to achieve superiority over every battle - ESPECIALLY ON THE DEFENSE, WHEN THEY CAN STACK MANY OF THESE UNITS TOGETHER. Because of these factors....there is usually no need to reinforce the battles with airforce or carriers - but you can if you happen to have them around. I like to build a carrier with the Americans on the first turn....which becomes indispensable later on when defensively protecting your American and UK fleets optimally!
5) Too many Allied bombers at the start of the game.
There was only one Allied bomber available when we were doing our playtesting....based in the UK. Why this was changed, I have no idea....these extra bombers are far too useful in the early game, and tend to punish the Germans unfairly since there are so many start-of-game Allied destroyers available to potentially assist on a counterattack against a lone German sub here and there.
Because of this, I feel that there should have been at least one extra bomber allocated for Germany at the beginning of the game, to help compensate for this problem...after all, they have to defend a lot more territory at a time than any of the Allies by themselves!
6) 12 additional IPC's for both Germany and the Allies
The Allies have these extra 12 IPC's at the start of the game, which simply counteract the extra 12 IPC's given to Germany. The Allies can use this extra income to counter anything the Germans can dream up for using this money, rendering it mostly useless as any potential advantage for the Axis.
In my opinion, this just helps the Allies more than it can ever help the Germans. My typical allocation for this start-of-game "extra" 12 IPC's for the Allies:
2 to the U.S. 10 to the U.K.
Spend the 10 for the U.K, and save the two for the U.S.
The UK uses their IPC's for extra defense of the middle east...two infantry and an artillery. They are allocated in any way the UK feels they want to play it out. A particularily annoying allocation: 1 infantry in Malta, 1 infantry and an artillery in Iran....this creates so many potential dead zones, and gives that Malta fighter a chance to survive the offshore attacks it's going to get, forcing even MORE allocation to this one attack by the Germans, probably stalling their advance by a whole TURN....combined with other stalling tactics available, this is very very damaging to the Axis game.
The U.S. uses their extra two IPC's on their first turn (giving them 42 to start the game with!) by purchasing a battleship and a carrier with it, thus combining this build with the destroyer and transport they will usually have in their start-of-game sea zone.....
"Oh how lovely it is to see that battleship and carrier" right at the start of game....and the Germans will probably have no practical defense for this build, since they were too busy killing the British fleet (a mandatory event that needs to occur unless you like to defend against early invasions, costing you even more in replacement income)....and everything they have will usually be too far out of position to do anything about it.
7) Replacement Cost Imbalances
The issue of replacing lost sea units is at the forefront of the game balancing problems....the Germans can only really afford to build a capable fleet through allocating and saving portions of their total income, and the Allies can build new fleet every turn with their total income if they want to do it.
In this scenario, Allied tactical issues will become mainly irrelevant in favor of "building a big fleet", then "going out to hunt down the German sea units en masse". Taking back the convoy areas simply becomes an issue of sending that fleet out to deal with the problem...and not having to worry about it afterword, since the fleet is so big now...that it can't really be stopped! The dead zones in the ocean are incredible to contemplate when playing the Germans when faced against an Allied player who is smartly building up their fleet presence for a "massive assault base"....(so again, this stresses the need to buy bombers in the early game instead of buying extra larger fleet units!)
In a mere three turns, the U.S. can usually have at least a total of 110-120 IPC's (in addition to their signifcant amount of start of game units on top of this!) worth of "instantly replaceable investment" floating around in the ocean waters, taking care of any necessary business in the convoy zone areas of the board.
Meanwhile, during the same time period, the relatively poor Germans can only probably afford a mere 60 IPC's worth of replacement sea units, if they are to simply equal the land unit investments that the Russians are placing against their eastern front lines (if they don't do this, they lose that front eventually, because the Russians can afford to buy more attack units to prepare for an advance)! Never mind that the UK can afford to build their units (with whatever they can afford for the first few turns) in the Canada area sea zone, eventually joining up with easily replacable American units, for their eventual final assault on the Germans.
This all adds up to a very rapid reataking of the convoy zones if the Allied player knows what he's doing...these being crucial to Germany's long term survival in the game.
I honestly think there's just too much the Americans can do to harm the German advance, far too early in the game, with all their early investment and available units! This is too bad, since I initially hoped that there would be more balance in this area. When I playtested the game, 36 IPC's for the U.S. seemed on the unbalanced side of things...never mind 40 per turn.
So, I guess I'm saying that the Germans have only a few playout options, because of these problems. They're pretty much forced to build bombers to deal with all their front problems....they must use them to bomb the Allies into submission without losing them.
Onward to my focus of this article then:
BALANCING THE A&A EUROPE GAME AGAINST THE ALLIES
So if you're having trouble winning with the Germans, or if you can always play the Allies anywhere near the level of unsurmountable quality....you can use these game balancing ideas, which seemed to work fine during playtesting. I'm trying to keep these rules within the spirit of the game board in it's present form, so that there will be no need for adjusting "land values", or anything like that.
MANDATORY GAME BALANCING RULE
The Allies DO NOT receive the beginning-of-game "extra" 12 IPC's as specified in the game rules. Only the Germans receive this income for their choice of allocation, or save it at their option!
This is the most significant balancing issue, since the Allies should not be able to respond to a German "pre-game" investment with one that simply counters it. This extra-IPC rule, in my strongest opinion, should have not have been implemented for the Allies at all.
If you've been having significant problems with the game balance - try out this single balancing rule by itself, and see how it works for your games.
I think this rule will probably be just enough balancing capacity for the expert player who doesn't make many mistakes.....but in case this just isn't enough for you - what follows are the additional game balancing rules, the ones that we used during our playtesting, that you can use for yourself!
OPTIONAL RULE LIST
You should ALWAYS use the before-mentioned MANDATORY GAME BALANCING RULE. Then, you must CHOOSE ONLY ONE of the following additional game balancing rule options (using more than one of these rules will just end up skewing the game model FAR too much in Germany's favor):
Always allow German submarines to attack with the "first strike" option intact, no matter what the official rules might say otherwise. This can eliminate the significant problem of the Germans being forced to spend far too much on their ocean based fronts, making their sea unit investments last quite a bit longer. Open up the sea route to the Black Sea. The Black Sea is an area of the board which is closed off to all sea units in the normal game, which really doesn't force the Russians into dealing with this front area all too often....they can prepare for any southern area invasion much too far in advance, and this optional rule can help alleviate this "problem". During our playtesting, this area was open to the German advance, thus allowing some very interesting playouts to occur.....probably enough to balance the overall game situation completely, and force those Allies to deal with it all! The U.S. starts the game with 0 IPC's cash-on-hand instead of 40 IPC's. This optional rule allows the Germans to decide what kind of offense and investment that they want to mount on the ocean areas....before the Allies do! I think the U.S. has WAY too much free stuff at the start of the game according to the setup instructions, especially since they always have a "consistent cash out of 40 IPC's"....this is especially so, since in our playtesting...the U.S. was starting out the game with absolutely NOTHING except a single factory, and they were STILL causing the Germans plenty of grief as it was! Eliminate the Leningrad factory from the game, entirely. Remove it's anti-air gun as well. This is an entirely different kind of war to fight out, because the Allies WILL be forced to help out the Russians a lot more aggressively (instead of "slowly building up for a big crunch", like they should be doing). The Russians WILL have to be careful where they allocate their units! I like this optional rule especially, since this rule makes the game a lot more "tactical" in nature. In our playtesting, we played with this rule with much success, as I recall. Boost the IPC cost of destroyers to 14 IPC's. This will certainly help balance the issues with the Allied income base against the general value of the destroyer units! This game will play out fairly evenly for sure, since the relative value of bombers and destroyers (which, I feel, are "on par" to each other in terms of long-term value) will be relatively even. Eliminate ALL of the American player units at the start of the game, forcing them to use their start of game IPC's to purchase everything they need! This allows the German player to set the pace for the game, and the Allies have to be WAY more careful about what they purchase for the long term. (As I said before - with 40 IPC's at the start of game...there's no real reason why they should have any units at all....especially so, since the U.S. was not really involved in the europe area war at the very beginning anyway!) Anti-aircraft guns may only fire once per anti-aircraft gun ONLY, and NOT "once at each aircraft that flies over the territory!" This is another great game balancing rule that WILL work to primarily help out the Axis, since the game rules also allow you to put more than one anti-air unit in a territory! If the Allied players want to have more anti-air defense than they normallty have...they have to buy it, or assign more fighters to their factories then! This rule helps the German offense against both the UK and Russians significantly enough to balance the game entirely! I'm very sure that these playtester "optional rules" will help you enjoy the A&A Europe game experience a bit more, just in case you have been having enormous trouble playing with the Axis, in light of any of the balancing issues that you may have run into while playing the game.
You have my permission re-post this article IN IT'S ENTIRETY to any other A&A website or publication, and perhaps I can see what I can do about getting some or all of these unofficial optional rules endorsed by Avalon Hill/Hasbro in the future.
Don Rae Playtester, A&A Europe
These rules originally appeared at Don Rae's Axis and Allies page. You can respond in his forum for Axis and Allies Europe.