After having played out a few solo sessions of Gathering Storm, the game seems generally balanced from all sides. While having more games under my belt would validate this, there appears to be a few key points underlying any competent play (for any interested readers):=================================================================
1) As in A World at War, the Axis are in the driving seat in Gathering Storm. Since the Axis do not need to meet any threshold requirements to initiate aggressions, they can generally decide how quickly they would like to expand in Europe. The flip side is that overly-rapid Axis expansion plays directly into the hands of the Allies, since:
the Axis may not have fully mobilised by the time war begins. This will have detrimental consequences in both Gathering Storm and A World at War in the form of VP reductions (from unmobilized factories) and unbuilt units respectively (since the Axis will not have sufficient units to defend their homeland while building out their forces once war commences in A World at War);
for subsequent Axis aggressions (beyond annexing the Rhineland and conquering Ehiopia) to succeed with certainty without a credible threat of war by the Allies or Russia, the Axis will have to work very hard to achieve high support level and pro-Axis Balance of Power differentials to offset any European Aggression Index increases (which make it easier to declare war) and target minor countries' resistance levels. To gain a support level advantage, the Axis will have to out-research the Allies and this requires heavy tile and activity counter expenditures for research each turn. While superior research efforts can help in the Balance of Power calculations, the latter remains primarily dependent on the extent of unit construction which costs tile points and results in higher per-turn maintenance costs. Hence, the Axis player should ensure that any Axis Balance of Power advantage achieved is sustainable. While the situation may allow for a successful aggression, the Axis should not quickly succumb to the temptation of initiating one, but bide their time and even consider delaying the aggression until a subsequent turn if there are clear longer term benefits from doing so.
rapid mobilization of civilian factories reduces the potential income trajectories of major powers. Since tile points are required for almost every undertaken activity, rapid mobilizations greatly reduces the ability of a major power to further its interests in areas such as research and diplomacy. Tile point income also generally lags behind activity counter availability, after taking into account the need to save tile points for factory conversions or mobilizations. As the game progresses, major powers will receive more activity counters which enable them to perform more activities in each turn. A comfortable income surplus (sourced from trade pacts, or converted civilian factories) will hence ensure that these additional counters can be utilized fully and effectively;
2) Each Gathering Storm game begins with the Axis in a position of potential strength (represented by the superior force pools, and number of unmobilized factories), with the Allies having far fewer factories and units. Since Russia may not convert idle factories to civilian factories, its starting five civilian factories will form the baseline of its tile point income for the game though this can be augmented by reduced maintenance costs from mobilizations over time. While Russia's force pool is also significantly large by game standards, it has to maintain a large force of built units to meet garrison requirements. While this leads to higher maintenance costs, the converse is true too, though -- having a surplus of built units can provide Russia with a support level increase which further increases its income, and allow it to place military counters to aid its diplomatic efforts. Therefore, it may be advantageous at times for Russia to build more units than required by its garrison requirements during the mid or later parts of the game, but only after it has the resources to comfortably do so.
3) While the Allies and Russia are technically hostile to each other, neither of them will be able to win without any form of cooperation. The primary opportunities for cooperation are in the realms of diplomacy (to minimize the number of Axis trade pacts) and non-naval Balance of Power aspects (which directly impacts the Russian Garrison requirements). A high Russian Garrison deficit results in negative support level modifiers and lowered income for Russia. Though it is likely that the Allies will be able to establish naval Balance of Power superiority in any Gathering Storm game, this does nothing to relieve the pressure on Russia's garrison requirements. Hence, the Allies can ill-afford to focus solely on establishing naval superiority, and in the process allow the Axis to run Russia into the ground.=================================================================
My initial dive into the game was called early due to a rule oversight regarding Russia's cohesion level and its restriction on its mobilization pace. The next game ended with an Axis victory by a moderate margin, with the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Greece and the Polish Corridor firmly within Axis control by Summer 1938.
I am now into the Winter 1937 turn of my second proper solo game, and am trying different strategies. This time, the Allies are firmly in a position of economic strength, with clear naval Balance of Power superiority (in excess of eight naval counters on the chart). On the other hand, Russia is weighed down by its Russian Garrison requirements, due to a +6 Axis air/infantry/armor Balance of Power advantage and +2 EAI level. Time will tell how this game pans out!
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- Brett Dedrick(bdedrick)United States
One of the things we noticed was that the Allies HAVE to keep the Balance of Power leaning their way OR have their support up high in order to prevent Italy or Germany from be able to do Aggressions as often as they like. The problem is that Germany especially has a LOT more units to build and every built unit affects Balance of Power.
So our question was, how do the Allies cancel that advantage?
Also, I know you're playing solo, but did it seem like the Russian player did not have a lot to do?
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Agreed that the best chance of dissuading Axis aggression is for the Allies to keep the Balance of Power and support levels to their advantage. If all sides play competently though, the Balance of Power should certainly tilt towards the Axis by the end of the game though this ought to be a gradual development over the course of the session.
I have just concluded my solo game which ended in Winter 1938 with an Allied victory (check my comments in my game play record for the final scoring). The short conclusion from this game is that early Axis aggression and focus on the Balance of Power will inevitably be self-defeating:
The Axis had focused on attaining an early Balance of Power advantage during the game by building many of its starting units, and was hence able to take Austria as early as Summer 1936. However, that also signalled the last of Axis aggressions;
From the start of the game, the Axis received much lower tile point income levels per turn due to 1) continued construction of units and ships (the latter to offset the initial Allied naval Balance of Power advantage), and 2) high maintenance costs. To offset their expenditure, the Axis maintained a high number of civilian factories to maximize income;
Overtime though, this proved to be fatal for the Axis as they were compelled to stretch their slowly-diminishing resources to maintain their Balance of Power advantage, and fight on the diplomatic and research fronts at the same time. In contrast, the Allies were almost always flush with excess tile points despite the early setback, which they used to capitalize in the same areas of Axis weaknesses;
The Allies were able to raise their support levels from the additional modifiers arising from Axis aggressions beyond the Rhineland and Ethiopia, military factories and research efforts (e.g. Maginot Line), which hindered further Axis aggressions;
The Allies also attacked the Axis indirectly by working on diplomacy to secure trade pacts for additional income, and raise the resistance levels of potential target minor countries. To ensure certain success during the crisis phase, the Axis were compelled to lower the resistance of the target minor country through diplomacy which cost them time and more tile points;
As this went on, it came to a point where the Axis found themselves in a no-win situation:
--> Neither Axis major power could mobilize its civilian factories to increase its support level from additional military factories, since it could ill-afford the reduced tile point income.
--> On the flip side, neither major power was able to initiate aggressions successfully without a threat of war due to its support level disadvantage against the Allies. At its peak, the Germans had a support level of +4 (+2 from 6 military factories, +1 from West Wall research and +1 from a National Random Event), though this mattered little against a French support level of +5 (+2 from 6 military factories, +2 from Maginot Line research, and +1 from Axis aggression other than Ethiopia and the Rhineland);
Aggressions beyond the Rhineland and Ethiopia also raised the EAI which would offset any Balance of Power advantage, so the early conquest of Austria had the counter-effect of aiding the Allies in this manner;
The Allies benefited from an early civil war outbreak in Spain in late 1936 which hampered the Axis diplomatically. While the outbreak of civil war is generally not within any player's control, having one happen does help the Allied and/or Russian cause depending on the country that the civil war takes place in. The civil war outbreak also raised the EAI by +1, which further contributed to point 7 above.
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Keeping the reply on Russia separate to avoid text overkill:============================================
My belief and experience from two "meaningful" (in that relatively little material rule errors and oversight were committed) solo games is that each side in Gathering Storm has a different approach to the game, so players playing each side may do well to imitate their historical counterparts (i.e. when playing as Russia, try playing like how Stalin would):
The Axis start out as the attackers, and they get to decide when and how to attack in the areas of Balance of Power, diplomacy, research, or conquests (i.e. the culmination of the previous three aspects). Similar to A World at War, how long this remains true will depend on the strategies and an element of luck (through card draws in Gathering Storm, and die rolls in A World at War);
The Allies start out as the defenders, though with some attacking room in aspects of diplomacy and Balance of Power. The game can reach a point where the Allies are able to adopt an all-out attack approach towards the Axis, provided they survive long enough to reach that stage. The Allies are also challenged by the fact that they may be called upon to defend Russia via diplomacy and the Balance of Power at certain times in order to allow the latter to build up its strength without threat of collapse;
Russia is clearly a defender at the start of the game. How soon it can turn into an attacker though depends not only on Russian play in response to Axis play, but the extent to which the Allies 1) cooperate with it, and 2) are able to minimize the impact of any anti-Russian Axis play. Russia typically does not have as many available resources to compete on all fronts as the Allies do, neither can it deploy those resources at times if specifically prohibited by a purge event. In these situations, Russia would certainly have to rely on the Allies for assistance -- in a three-player game, whether that help should or would arrive is another question for another day.
Russia play may appear to be boring at the initial stages of the game, as it typically adopts a reactionary approach to purge effects while it saves up tile points for its first mobilization. However, if the Allies are able to restrict Axis progress to some extent while ensuring their own overall survival, or if the Axis purposefully adopt a strategy which has limited short-term impact on Russia's garrison requirements, Russia may well be able to get into the game sooner than expected.
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