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Subject: Thoughts on game balance rss

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Tim Earl
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I bought this game shortly after it came out, and popular opinion at the time was that it favored the Axis player rather heavily. I only had the chance to play it once, and the Allies could not take the 3rd city. So, having convinced a friend to try it this weekend, I took the Allies, hoping for a challenge. Instead, it turned out to be a complete rout after which the Axis player declared the game hopelessly broken.

I’ll admit I had some luck with my initial landings, allowing me to take Caen on turn 2 or 3. The next turn, I placed all 4 fighters there and the Axis player never bothered to try to retake it.

With Caen out of the way and the German’s decision not to reinforce Cherbourg, I was able to concentrate a massive amount of British and American troops for the assault on St. Lo. I placed the 4 American fighters there prior to my attack, and all of them survived the attack by 2 AA guns. After the initial assault left only 3 German units in St. Lo, all but one of the reinforcements were destroyed by the fighters. At this point the German player conceded and vowed never to play again.

I reread the rules at least three times to make sure I was handling strafing and AA fire correctly, as concentrating 4 of them in a city seemed to be very effective (broken, as my opponent said). We were definitely doing it correctly. He only got two shots total at my four fighters, and each unit that tried to move into St. Lo faced four dice. There was simply no way he could retake the city (especially with 16 Allied units in adjacent spaces just waiting to move in and replace casualties).

A quick review of past threads confirmed my recollection about initial feelings of imbalance, although there were some dissenting opinions. And I feel my opponent gave up too early, when he could have at least tried to keep one city contested until turn 9.

So what do people think about the balance of the game now, 5 years after the game’s release? I’ve read that the tactics and fortune cards bring it more into balance and would like to try them, but I’m afraid I’ve scared off the person most likely to play.
 
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Seth Owen
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cheng wrote:
I bought this game shortly after it came out, and popular opinion at the time was that it favored the Axis player rather heavily. I only had the chance to play it once, and the Allies could not take the 3rd city. So, having convinced a friend to try it this weekend, I took the Allies, hoping for a challenge. Instead, it turned out to be a complete rout after which the Axis player declared the game hopelessly broken.

I’ll admit I had some luck with my initial landings, allowing me to take Caen on turn 2 or 3. The next turn, I placed all 4 fighters there and the Axis player never bothered to try to retake it.

With Caen out of the way and the German’s decision not to reinforce Cherbourg, I was able to concentrate a massive amount of British and American troops for the assault on St. Lo. I placed the 4 American fighters there prior to my attack, and all of them survived the attack by 2 AA guns. After the initial assault left only 3 German units in St. Lo, all but one of the reinforcements were destroyed by the fighters. At this point the German player conceded and vowed never to play again.

I reread the rules at least three times to make sure I was handling strafing and AA fire correctly, as concentrating 4 of them in a city seemed to be very effective (broken, as my opponent said). We were definitely doing it correctly. He only got two shots total at my four fighters, and each unit that tried to move into St. Lo faced four dice. There was simply no way he could retake the city (especially with 16 Allied units in adjacent spaces just waiting to move in and replace casualties).

A quick review of past threads confirmed my recollection about initial feelings of imbalance, although there were some dissenting opinions. And I feel my opponent gave up too early, when he could have at least tried to keep one city contested until turn 9.

So what do people think about the balance of the game now, 5 years after the game’s release? I’ve read that the tactics and fortune cards bring it more into balance and would like to try them, but I’m afraid I’ve scared off the person most likely to play.


A bad strategic decision is likely to have bad consequences in a wargame. I don't know what the board situation was, but it's important for the Germans to contest Caen as long as possible. If they don't then the situation you describe is likely. I'm not sure that the game is broken. You mentioned that you had good luck in the landings and it sounds like you made good use of it. Worse luck in the landings and the game might have taken a different course.

People unaccustomed to wargames are sometimes surprised when routs occur because most other types of games are designed to prevent runaway victory situations. They often have in-game correcting mechanics or incentives that tend to even things out so that the game appears to be in doubt until the last turn.

For the most part wargames don't have this feature, largely because that's not how warfare works. In actual fighting small advantages do tend to snowball and it can be very difficult to recover from unfavorable trends. In addition there's often a fair amount of luck, especially in a light wargame like any of the A&A titles.

I've been playing wargames for decades and generally win more than I lose when playing other experienced players, but I still run into "rout" situations fairly often. Of course I attribute my successes to my excellent and insightful play and my losses to the capricious Dice gods. The reality is, however, that the fact that one side manages to achieve a big win is not a sign that the game is "broken." The true balance of a wargame can only be discovered through extensive play.

Occasionally there is a wargame that has fatal flaw (magazine wargames are prone to this because of often inadequate and hurried playtesting) but most boxed wargames from established publishers probably afford both sides a reasonable chance at winning (although probably not aperfect 50-50 split). When you get your lunch handed to you the better response is to try again and see what happens -- if you liked the game. (There's no accounting for taste. There are games I really enjoy playing that I don't win very often and games I;ve won that I still wouldn't bother playing again.)

In the case of Axis & Allies D-Day there are optional cards that you can use to fiddle a bit with the play balance. Just remove some that favor you or add some that favor your opponent if you need to entice him to try again.
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Jim Patching
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I vaguely remember hearing somewhere that the optimal strategy for the Axis to take is to just pour all of his troops into defending St Lo and surrounding areas and ignore the other two cities.

I can't comment on how effective this is as it seems such a naff way to play the game that I've never tried it. When I play the Axis I make the Allies fight for every bit of land!

The fortune cards tend to make things a little harder for the Allies player. The 'bad luck' results for both sides are bad but they hamper the Allies more so than the Axis.
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Jan Ozimek
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When I play the Axis, I always make it a priority to get AA-guns into the cities ASAP. Even if it means taking an unnecessary strafe from a single fighter. Especially in St. Lo. If you don't get a massive (3-4 units) AA-precense in the early game, the Allies will probably "besiege" St. Lo with fighters from the midgame onwards, making it very hard to enter the city.
 
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Kevin Hartley
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I just played it again last night. It was really no contest. Aside from one UK beachhead where neither side was able to hit until the 3rd turn (aside from Naval bombardment, blockhouse firing to sea, and the optional long-range artillery), the dice pretty much matched on both sides. That includes the bonus\malus from the fortunes (aside from the Allies rolling a 1 every time they rolled for returning aircraft...useless when none have been killed). We only played to turn 4, but it was obvious that, as always, Germany was not going to lose St. Lo. The fight amongst the US and Germans in the west near Cherbourg was a little bitter and even for a while, but the US was about to finally win out, so Germany pulled what troops it could south. Caen fell, but Germany had enough to strike back hard. Germany probably couldn't have taken it back and held off subsequent attacks for long, but that's mostly because Germany was sending most reinforcements to the middle by St. Lo. When we called it, Germany had ~10 units in the two territories north of St. Lo, 8 in St. Lo, and 8 each in the southern borders of St. Lo with more coming in from reinforcements. It would've taken two turns for the US to even get into position to attack the St. Lo area.

Every single time I've played this game, it's been heavily favored for the Germans. It's also always nearly the same game, esp. so if you only play with the order cards (only did that the very first time). I'm not sure, as it has been quite some time since I've played Bulge, but this may be the worst of the A&A family. I've played the '84 MB version, the PC CD-ROM version that changed some of the rules ever so slightly, 4th\Revised edition, Pacific, Guadalcanal, Bulge, D-Day, the big Anniversary edition, and the Spring '42 version. I have Europe, but have not played it yet. Bulge is more interesting to me than D-Day, but it's been a while, so I cannot definitively say that D-Day is the worst.
 
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Jan Ozimek
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Most games I play are faily balanced and tense towards the end.

I think using the air power correctly is key to Allied success.
How are you utilizing the Allied aircraft? Are you loosing many planes early? Is there any difference in how you are deploying the aircraft in the late- and early game?
 
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Kevin Hartley
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I was playing as Germany in last night's game. I don't think that the Allied aircraft were used wisely last night (considering the mental state of my opponent...), but no aircraft were ever destroyed (nor were there opportunities to do so). However, that being said, I don't think it would've made a difference last night. I've seen it happen previously, even with using the aircraft effectively, where Germany just defends St. Lo to the end.
 
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Tim Earl
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I agree that skilled use of air power tilts the balance dramatically to the Allies. If you're not concentrating your air power, you're not doing it correctly.
 
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Jan Ozimek
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cheng wrote:
I agree that skilled use of air power tilts the balance dramatically to the Allies. If you're not concentrating your air power, you're not doing it correctly.


I the earliy game I normally spread out the fighters along the reinforcement entry points to make them harder to avoid. Towards the late game I start concentrating them on the cities to dominate them.

In the last few round I will start taking more risks, while I'm very careful in the beginning.
 
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