Monday, March 30, 2009

A world at war

The history
Lugged home 5 weeks ago amid much grump and bitching, and having started to lurk on the sidelines just a bit too long, my shiny new Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition finally hit the table yesterday; and in a full 6-player game to boot. This was a landmark Sunday session for more than one reason:
  • We hadn't been 6 on a Sunday since the first session of my WFRP campaign (back in the days before RD/KA! believe it or not!).
  • This was the WW2 strategy game I'd waited all my life to play.
The setup
Saturday night gave the first hint of what the A&A:AE experience was going to be about. I'd read somewhere that setting up in advance was advisable to speed play, and I could easily see the point:
  • There are a lot of pieces to set up.
  • I wanted everything to go off as smoothly as possible so that everyone would like the game.
The subsequent hour and some spent sorting out and deploying pieces across the expansive board gave me a foretaste of what turned out to be Sunday's key experience, that of a game strangely compelling despite being uncommonly gruelling.

The choice of sides thrown open as we awaited Dave and Tony, Donald chose the Japanese, and Andy plumped for the Italians because he thought that their tiny forces would enable him quickly to cut his losses should his worst fears about the game be realised. My suggestion of smokers versus non-smokers lined us up thus:

  • Germans: Me.
  • Italians: Andy.
  • Japanese: Donald.
  • Americans: Dave.
  • British: Tony.
  • Russians: Gav.
We played the 1942 scenario because I assumed that starting later in the war would shorten the game (an unfounded assumption it now seems); and I'd figured we should play the short 13VP game, because I thought that'd give us our best chance of getting finished (another unfounded assumption it turned out).

The game
We started at 2pm and played until about 7. It was taking us an hour per game turn, which meant that we each played 5 turns in 5 hours. That was a bit of a shocker. I mean to say, we've all become used to playing games in which you get a turn every few minutes or less, and in which you might well be engaged during other players' turns in any case. This is very much the cutting edge, be it Euro, Ameritrash, or just plain wargame.

By contrast, 45-50 minutes downtime per 5-10 minute turn is about as 'old-school' as it gets, and it certainly proved distracting, if not outright burdensome. Turn structures of this ilk are not to everyone's taste, and it has to be said that some were heard yesterday to wonder why they were bothering at all. The turkey's clucks were almost audible.

Yet, the game's qualities rode out our frustrations so that we're all looking forward to the next time despite yesterday's inconclusive outcome after all that effort. We realised that it wasn't just a matter of the first-game learning curve; A&A:AE just isn't a game for a Sunday afternoon with a Monday morning to follow.

I certainly enjoyed my first taste of the A&A economics engine and combat system: attacking with the Wermacht at the height of its powers; capturing Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow by early 1943; Russia was mine as the game came to its inconclusive end. Andy - a possible sceptic because of his professed lack of interest in WW2 boardgaming - was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed his ramage through the Mediterranean and into Africa. Tony's highlight was surely his 2-phase 2nd front which captured France while I was preoccupied with conquering Russia.

These and other events in the game were really exciting. As the battles unfolded round by round we often found ourselves stood around the table, cheering our sides on. And I relished the groans of dismay (echoed even by my allies) as Germany's resource base and income burgeoned thanks to my exploits on the Russian front.

Teething troubles aside then, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition was a success, if not an instant hit. As Gav said, it's "advanced Risk". This mechanical simplicity makes the game accessible and quick to master, while the wider range of units and the expanded economic system give it real depth. The secret of the game's success yesterday, I expect these qualities will be put to the test again just as soon as enough of us can find the time. ;)

For those who might want to take a look at the rules before their next game, look here: A&A:AE rules.PDF.


Alistair said...

Good stuff! :)

You know if you ever have any trouble getting players, I always have at least three A&A fanatics on standby...

You're right about the pacing, it's not a speedy game, though it definitely does get faster once everyone's played it a few times. That said, AA50 is huge, and has generally taken place cross two evening sittings for us so far.

Being a team game, we also tend to get involved in each other's turns (if only so the Brit player can beg for American salvation! ;) ), which keeps it more interesting.

We haven't tried 42 yet, 41 is an ace scenario.

It sounds like your game was just about to end. If Germany has Moscow, the allies need to take an Axis capital very soon or the economics dooms them to lose. And with the enormous German build you'd have, that means next turn, or Berlin will surely be invincible.

Where we've really taken a lot of pleasure from the game is once we've figured out the basic strategy and opening moves for each country, and every new game is about innovations from these.

Glad you enjoyed it! :)

Andrew said...

The thorn in the Axis side was the huge fleet massing around Airstrip One - when the Italians finally made it through the Gates of Hercules, they got sunk by a monstrous fleet of British cruisers in the Bay of Biscay.

If it weren't the last turn of the game, I'd have taken it a bit slower - I was steadily progressing to complete Italian control of Africa, and had India in my sights, allowing me to link up with the Japanese and make inroads into China (the other annoyance - Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek wrested Hong Kong from the Japanese twice, as I recall, and also liberated Shanghai).

Still, Mussolini did better than Caesar, so that's all that mattered :)

JMcL63 said...

Hi there Alistair. Welcome to RD/KA! and thanks for taking the time to comment.

I don't really know where the game might've gone after that last round of turns, because I was busy in the kitchen for the last 3 turns after my own, and the game was being put away to clear the table for dinner before I'd had a chance to take a look at the final dispositions. But I did have a huge wodge of IPC's, so I guess I'd've been able to retake France and hold the rest of western Europe without too much difficulty. My vastly expanded Luftwaffe would've helped I'm sure (3 new bombers and 4 new fighters delivered in that last turn).

I discovered what I think was the inevitable rules mistake: an anti-aircraft unit fires 1 shot at each and every aircraft attacking that area that turn; only 1 anti-aircraft gun may fire even if there are more than 1 in the area. This makes anti-aircraft look like it's actually worth the bother; that 1d6 with 1/6 chance of 1 hit was a bit feeble don't you think?. ;)

Matt Severns said...

man oh man....if it wasn't so pricy, I would have to get a copy of this....Thanks for the excellent AAR, John...Matt

JMcL63 said...

It is expensive Matt, but worth it I'd say if you could be confident of playing it even 4-6 times a year. And like I said, it is an appealing game. I'm already wondering which Friday night we can set aside to give it another go! ;)

Alistair said...

Were you playing with National Objectives and Technology? The NOs are very worth it, I think, they'll probably be used in tournament play. Tech is far too random for its own good :/

There's actually one serious rules mistake in the book! (grr) Did you realise that planes can only hit subs if there's a destroyer present - even if they are on the defender's side in a naval battle? We missed that til we saw the errata, and it makes subs a lot more worth the trouble.

We have been speculating that Italy (and that pesky fleet!) should be an early target for the Allies - what happens in Africa and South Asia is such a big tipping point for the game.

My favourite game so far saw the British D-Day force saving Leningrad instead, while the Commonwealth armies were all sucked into the battle of Stalingrad and ground to dust. I was the Allies, and obviously lost, but it was so epic... Monty at Stalingrad... :D

JMcL63 said...

We were using the NO's and R&D. If you wanted to deal with the randomness of R&D, off of the top of my head I'd suggest rerolling on the development table each 6 rolled on the research roll, still choosing just 1 upgrade. This would make multiple research tokens even more useful.

And yes, I remember reading that bit about planes and destroyers. I forgot about it though. ;)

Andrew said...

"Were you playing with National Objectives and Technology? The NOs are very worth it, I think, they'll probably be used in tournament play. Tech is far too random for its own good :/"

I liked the National Objectives. In fact, that was what I used as a personal "victory condition" - if I could achieve the Italian objectives, that was enough. Anything more would be a bonus.

JMcL63 said...

I had thought about using neither the NO's nor R&D for our first game (they're optional rules), but I figured that the rules wouldn't prove burdensome. I was right about that much.

And I'm kind of keen on my suggested house rule for the R&D. The single most common complaint at the table on Sunday was about not getting something for multiple 6's on the research rolls. ;)

Anonymous said...

Not sure about your economics answer Alistair, but the Americans should have been a power-house by '43. Was rather pleased by my taking of France in '43 (estimated), after destroying the Italian Med Fleet (Oh, and the German U-Boats!). But I think the German economic rules are too generous given the time-scale in the later turns. Did joke with Dave (The American Player) at the beginning that I required $50 Billion in war debt,fully payable in 1997!