Axis & Allies: A Basic Strategy Guide for Beginners

December 25, 2008 at 4:32 pm 10 comments

Introduction

For experienced players of Axis and Allies (A&A), many of the moves and actions will seem either natural or scripted, particularly in the opening rounds.  There are certain actions that seem obvious to veterans of A&A.   Fortunately, the Revised Version of A&A has opened up the game to new tactics and strategies, and allows for a wider variety of opening moves.  At the same time, there are still some aspects of the game that new players do not grasp right away – so if you fall into this category then this guide to the basic strategy of A&A is for you.   At the same time, I hope that even experienced players can learn something.

General Strategy

Before we look at each country individually, it may be useful to sketch out a few basic suggestions that apply to each nation.  Specifically, there are three rules you should keep in mind: be ready to adapt, focus on IPC’s, and be efficient in your troop production and movement.

The first rule for A&A is less of a rule than a mindset; it is the realization that no plan is perfect.

The greatest skill you need to develop is the ability to adapt.  The dice are fickle – and sometimes no amount of strategy can help with bad rolls – and so it’s important not to get too fixated on one goal.  If you’re playing Germany, for instance, and you are mercilessly pressing towards Moscow, yet are getting nowhere (let’s say because the British are heavily reinforcing the Russians), this might mean that the Allies have weaknesses elsewhere that you might exploit.  Perhaps you can gain IPCs faster elsewhere – by invading a nearly empty India from Africa for instance.  Those IPC’s will give you the economic superiority to finally beat Russia later in the game.

This brings us to our second general rule: economic superiority is extremely important.

A&A is won primarily by who has the most money.  And to get money, of course, you need land.   You don’t have to hang onto land forever, however.  Beginners tend to spread their troops out in order to defend every country.  This is a serious mistake.  Bigger stacks of troops suffer fewer casualties on average, and so it’s dangerous to spread your troops thinly.  You’re much better off keeping major armies together in order to use them for counterattacks.   For your income levels, all that matters is that you control territory at the end of your turn, not at the beginning.  Only once you think you can hold a territory till your next turn is it worth putting a big stack at the front line.  The exceptions are of course capitals and territories that are worth significant amounts of IPCS.

Rule number three: buy your new units in such quantities that you can get them to the front line as quickly as possible.

Let’s say you’re Japan, and you start with 25 IPC’s.  There is no point in buying 8 infantry units because you don’t have sufficient transports to move them all right away.  Efficiency is the key.  Let’s say you’re Germany – unless you plan some really risky Blitzkrieg your first purchase will likely include quite a number of infantry, because they take longer to get to the frontlines against Russia than tanks.  Late in the game, when you are preparing a final push against a capital, you might buy a large number of planes, because by then other troops will not get there in time to help out.  This principle is self-evident when you think about it, but applying it consistently is the key.

From these general rules you can really tell the importance of economics.  In the next section – a detailed analysis of each nation’s strategies, with a special focus on opening moves – we’ll focus more on specific military strategies.

National Objectives and Strategies

Russia

Russia is in many ways the easiest nation to play, primarily because your options are somewhat limited.  You’ll never have a huge navy to worry about and you likely won’t have the resources to build up a big air force.  So what should you do?  In the original A&A the general strategy was to buy massive numbers of infantry.  This is still partially true for the revised version, although now you should invest some money in artillery, tanks, or (not my preference) planes.   These units allow you to counter attack in select places in order to slow down the German advance.  The war with Germany is primarily a war of attrition.  Since you go first, your best opening move is to straighten out your front lines by attacking West Russia with significant numbers of troops.  You might as well give up on Karelia, although you should leave at least one unit to avoid a German blitzkrieg.  Once you take West Russia you will have a very strong base to operate from and it will take Germany a turn or two to build up its forces against you.   On the East Front you should consolidate your infantry, although it’s not always easy to know what to do with them.  If you leave them on the coast you risk having them all wiped out quickly by a Japanese amphibious assault.  On the other hand, it may relieve some pressure from your Allies, because Japan won’t be able to attack everything on its opening turn.  You should note one particularly useful trick – if you do stick close to the coast you allow the possibility of an American bomber to destroy isolated Japanese transports and have a safe place to land.  This is a surprising move that will really annoy the Japanese!

Japan

In the Revised A&A, Japan has more of a naval force, so the question is what to do with it all.  Of course Pearl Harbor is a good option, and I strongly recommend that you take out those American ships before they come after you.  However, you also have a bigger British Fleet in India to worry about.  And then there’s the assault on the main land.  The first thing to realize is that you can’t do it all on your first turn.  If you try to destroy the Brits and the Americans on the same turn you’re risking disaster.   Pyrrhic victories are best avoided.  On your first turn you should make sure that at the very least you either buy a transport or a factory (to be placed on the mainland).  It’s key that you get as many troops on the mainland as fast as you can.  It’s also key that you put pressure on Russia soon.   Limiting Russia’s IPC’s will help Germany out tremendously.  Japan has much more breathing room, and so has a duty to help out her partner.

Attacking America is hardly ever a good idea.  Attacking is, however, different from putting pressure on her.  If the US is entirely focused on Western Europe then sending a few troops to Alaska will not only get you a few easy IPCs, but will further divert the attention away from Germany for a little while.   It’s like if you’re friend is being attacked by an angry bear and you help him out by prodding the bear in the back.  Of course you risk having the bear (America) come after you, but that’s not a bad thing if it takes a while for the Americans to build up forces and shift their attentions westwards.

One of the key things the Japanese need to watch out for is that they don’t lose naval and air superiority in the Pacific.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the easy victories on the mainland.  However, if both the British and Americans are building up their navies, then the Japanese should too.  The reason is that the Japanese are very vulnerable if they don’t control the sea.  If the Americans should get a toehold on some of the bigger islands they can build a factory and start pumping out the troops.  Given their economic superiority they will soon make life very difficult for the Japanese.  And once you’re behind in this naval race it’s almost impossible to catch up.

The United States

New players should almost always be assigned to play the United States.  The reason is that it’s the most forgiving nation – if you make a mistake it will not always cost you the war.  The big pitfall for America, however, is to try and fight the war on both fronts.  This is not generally an effective strategy.  Decide where you will help out and stick with it.  America’s opening move depends somewhat on how the Japanese fared on their turn.  If they made some mistakes or took some unexpected losses then it might be a good idea to put the pressure on them.  Most often, however, the American player will try to help out Britain in the Atlantic theatre.  A strong opening move is to start sending troops to Africa, and limit the German attacks there.  Watch out, however, because the Germans may have landed many of their planes in Western Europe or North Africa.  There’s no need to be too hasty.

What else can the Americans do?  Generally speaking building a factory in China is a bad move – you’ll be overrun by the Japanese before you know it.  Once you’ve got some troops in Africa and Britain has built up a bit of a navy you might start to send troops into Finland or Western Europe, depending on the German strengths there.  The main thing here is to figure out a consistent and fast way to get troops across.  If you have two waves of transports then you will always have troops arriving for action every turn.  That makes it more difficult for Germany to react.

If you do decide to attack the Japanese, the key is not to send a huge invasion force when you first send your navy in.  Take enough troops to conquer one of the major Indonesian islands.  Then build a factory on it – now you will have a base in the middle of the theatre of war.  With your economic advantage you will soon out-produce and outfight the Japanese.

Germany

Germany is easily the most difficult nation to play.  Particularly the opening turn is very difficult.  Generally speaking on your first turn you should at least set the following three objectives.

First of all, destroy the British fleet wherever you can reach it.  You should use most of your air-force for this task.  If you land your planes in Western Europe or northern Africa you will also be able to stave off early attacks from the Brits and Americans.

Objective 2 is Egypt: this is the gateway to Africa and you need to conquer it right away.  Try to send as many troops from Italy and Africa as you can.  The British will sometimes counterattack from India, so watch out.

Objective number three is to figure out your Russian campaign.  Send as many troops as you can afford east.  However, don’t send them right up to the front lines, as you’re not at a level of strength where you can hold the front against the Russians.  That time will come.  Make this a war of attrition.  It’s a matter of taking and retaking weakly defended territories and leaving a few troops to tempt the Russians into attacking.  If they send in too many troops then you can take out a major army next time.  If they persist with small battles then eventually you should be able to out-produce them and send in your built-up forces for the kill.

What else can you do with Germany?  Well, one strategy is to build an air-craft carrier in the Baltic to make life more difficult for the Brits.  I’m not too fond of this idea, but I have seen it work.  You should conquer major parts of Africa as soon as you can.  It’s almost inevitable that it will be taken back, but you need to get as many IPC’s out of it for as long as you can.  The main thing to remember for Germany is to have patience.  And be ready to adapt.  Often it’s Japan that finally conquers Russia.  If it comes to that time you may have to be ready to send your troops back to Germany to defend the capital and let Japan finish the job.

Britain

It can be frustrating to play the Brits because they’re scattered across the globe and their IPC’s dwindle quickly.  Let’s have a look at each theatre of war separately.  In Asia you have a number of options.  You can try to link up your navies, but you’re probably better off sending the Australian sub and transport eastwards to the Atlantic.  If you keep your Navy by India (for instance, if you build a factory in India) then you might send your fighter plane to take out the lone Japanese transport within reach.  This is a bit risky (if you misfire), but generally it’s a safe bet.  You might also try to retake Egypt, or you can withdraw your navy towards Madagascar.  A final option is to launch a suicidal attack against some of the Indonesian islands and isolated Japanese naval units.  I’m not a big fan of this strategy, but I have had opponents pull it off (with a lot of luck).

In terms of the Atlantic theatre, you should ferry your Canadian troops to England, and there you should begin building up a fleet and air-force.   Don’t be too hasty to take out the Baltic German fleet.  Most likely it won’t go anywhere, so build up your air-force to take it out in one fell swoop.  Having a large air-force with Britain is a huge asset.  It allows you help with the defence of Russia, and it gives you a good opportunity to do damage in the Indian Ocean.  In Europe you’ll want to steal IPC’s by taking and retaking Scandinavia and Western Europe.  Once you control the Baltic you might begin sending troops in to trouble Germany’s advance to Moscow.

Conclusion

So these are a few basic strategies for becoming a competent A&A player.  Not everyone will agree with me on each of these points, but I hope that the general thrust of this article is broadly acceptable.  Remember, however, that none of these rules is set in stone – there’s no fail-proof  way to win.  Only if you are able to adapt to changing circumstances will you start to win on a consistent basis.

Happy war gaming!

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mike  |  March 2, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    like to know what people like better about each game and dislike about each game im looking to purchase one or two but dont really know which to buy and why????? these are the games im looking at axis & allies, risk, dust, attack, conquest of empires. but dont really know anything about each game and what are the strong points and weak point of each??? heres my email if you can help answer this ? ny2sincere@aol.com

    Reply
    • 2. Alex Thompson  |  November 3, 2009 at 3:27 am

      I own axis and allies, risk, and attack. Risk sucks, and attack is fun but axis and allies is much, much better. I would definitely go with axis and allies. and make sure u buy the revised version and not the old one

      Reply
  • 3. Joe  |  September 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    I played A&A for several years before I ever played Risk. One game of risk was enough to see just how good A&A really is. Of course, this depends on the type of game you like better. A&A has a million rules to keep track of, but it also has a million ways to play. Risk has much simpler rules, and is more of a family game. A&A is a beer and buddies kind of game you can spend ALL night playing. Either way you go, good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

    Reply
  • 4. Pete  |  December 29, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    How could the fighter misfire against a lone transport with the new rules? 🙂

    Reply
    • 5. Pete  |  December 29, 2009 at 3:56 pm

      Oops I have the 50th anniversary ed. not revised.

      Reply
  • 6. Anders  |  February 3, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Hey
    I think this guide is very nicely written. It has a good overall focus and doesn’t get stuck in math calculation details as some other guide i’ve seen.
    Now I would just very much like a follow up with the new spring 1942 game. The land zones f.x have changed some. How does all these new things change the strategies?

    Anders

    Reply
  • 7. Colin  |  October 2, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    One strategy i like to employ with germany is building a bomber or two early in the game and using it EVERY SINGLE TURN to just hit russia along with ur armor/infantry then sending the bomber back to a safe place in the mddle of ur army, very helpful

    Reply
  • 8. David  |  October 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    My friend has Axis and Allies, we have played a few times. The game is fun, and I will try out the strategy guide. Risk dose not suck, it’s a good game. But the best Risk game to buy is Star Wars Risk

    Reply
  • 9. Colin  |  December 5, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Excellent ideas! Great article!

    Looking to play a game of A&A revised edition.
    I live in Calgary, AB, Canada

    give me a shout if you’re interested

    Reply
  • 10. Liam  |  March 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    This is a pretty good strategy guide, but if you could make it a bit more specific about how to put pressure on the others that would really help.

    Reply

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