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Tactics 103: Battlefield Tactics
by Jon Mayes

Tactics 101 and Tactics 102 primarily dealt with building an effective army, as well as having a concept of battle for your force. With those foundations in place, we can proceed to the next step of mastering battlefield tactics by learning some fundamental battlefield tactics. These tactics by no means cover every situation, but should give insight and allow you to develop to them to suit your needs as situations develop during your battles.


Initiative can be one of the trickiest things to master in Axis & Allies Miniatures, as there are a lot of variables to consider. Many units aren’t as effective if your army doesn’t go first. Units with Covering Fire or Flamethrower are good examples of this. Often these abilities will dictate whether you want to go first or second – or, if your opponent wins initiative, when you get to go. Few players will be keen to let a flamethrower have the chance to torch a unit. No matter how slim the odds are, it’s something few people would want to take a chance with. However, it’s not always best to let your units’ abilities decide initiative for you. Whether you should go first or second depends heavily on the battlefield situation. Your flamethrower may have a target, but if eliminating it won’t make much of a difference in the greater scheme of things going second might be a better option.

Whenever you win initiative ask yourself this simple question: Which would I benefit more from; forcing my opponent to react or reacting to my opponent? The general rule of thumb is that on the opening turns you want to go first. This allows you to seize key areas before your opponent can, claim the objective, or simply set up whatever strategy your army is based on. Towards the late game most players tend to prefer going second; their army has taken casualties and they have to be careful in either taking or holding the objective. It’s the mid-game that can go either way and will be heavily dependant on your units and the general game situation. In this case the most important advice I can give is this: Be flexible. Don’t get yourself into a frame of mind where you have to always go first (or second), but be constantly considering the situation.

In very basic terms going first can be seen as being proactive, while going second is more reactive. A lot of the time more aggressive players, or those on the offense in scenarios, will want to seize the initiative and be proactive; forcing their opponent to react to them. If pressed hard enough this may cause your opponent to make mistakes, but beware, you can make them just as easily. More defensive minded players will prefer going second so they can react to what their opponent is doing and attempt to neutralize it.

The following guidelines can be useful in determining when to go. You want to go first if:

  • You want to seize a location before you opponent can.
  • It is important that your units can fire first. Either due to their abilities or because you can catch vulnerable enemy units.
  • You want to force your opponent to react to you; pressing him into a corner or otherwise putting pressure on him.
You want to go second if:
  • You’re defending a particular area- especially the objective.
  • You can capitalize on a mistake your opponent has made, or will likely make.
  • Going second will allow your units to flank your opponent during your assault phase; putting you into a better position for the next turn.

Aggressive Defence
While going second may usually be seen as the best option in a defensive situation, it’s not always the case. Taking the initiative and moving first often gives you the advantage of setting the stage for the turn. Take this scenario as an example:

The German player is defending the city on map Baker-2 from the U.S. player and manages to win initiative. If the German player goes first he can move his units into position to fire upon the M1 Garands out in the open. In response the US player will likely move the top two Garands into the cover of the forest, but the remaining two won’t be able to get in cover before the Germans can attack. The US player can either move them out of range of the Mausers (but not the MG42) or stand there and trade fire with all of the German units. However, if the German player decided to go second instead, the US player now has a few options. It’s still likely that the top two Garands will move into the forest hex adjacent to them, but the second group can now either make it into the cover of the larger forest or move completely out of sight behind the first unit; the German player’s units will be unable to get line of sight to that hex. While going second wouldn’t be terrible for the German units, they can still concentrate their fire on at least two of the Garands. You can easily see it’s much more advantageous to catch the second pair of Garands out in the open. Of course, we still need to talk to the US player and see why those infantry out in the open in the first place.


Running out in the open gets you killed.
This rule applies to every unit and most games to some degree. There’s really no reason you should ever be in clear terrain if you can help it. Even the heaviest of tanks can benefit from cover to ward off those lucky hits. As illustrated in the previous example, soldiers out in the open can be gunned down by any number of units, from machine-gun emplacements to aircraft appearing out of nowhere. While there are times you simply have no choice, it always pays to stay in cover as much as possible.

Use cover to your advantage.
The most obvious application of this rule is to stay in cover, but there’s so more to it than that. Streams, and the bridges across them, can be used as focal points to channel or block your opponent. A few units in cover around a bridge can seriously hamper your opponent; jamming up the units as they are forced to make movement rolls across the river or move along the narrow bridges. Terrain that blocks sight, such as hills and forests, can allow your units to flank around the enemy to avoid threats, attack vital units, or suddenly overwhelm and swarm a unit. Even clear terrain, such as that on map Able-1 can be used to your advantage; it’s going to be difficult for your opponent to sneak up on that city.

Avoid movement rolls
There’s nothing more tedious than watching your units crawl over a forest, and nothing more vulnerable than a tank facing the wrong way and out of cover. Aircraft in particular can immediately take advantage of these situations as they arise. If you must make a movement roll, then attempt to minimize your vulnerability if you fail. Do it out of sight of enemy units or, in the case of vehicles, at least so your front defence is facing them.

Watch your facing
After you’ve moved a vehicle, pay particular attention to the facing as you don’t want to give any free shots away on a vulnerable rear. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, either because you’re surrounded or the enemy has an ability such as Strike & Fade that allows it to slip in a rear shot. In those cases, keep your front towards either the most powerful unit or the highest number of units depending on their relative firepower.


Units with the fewest targets should fire first
You always want to make sure you attack with as many units as possible, so to this end make sure that units that only have a few targets get their attacks in first. This way you don’t suddenly find that they can’t attack because everything in their line of sight has already been destroyed by your other units.

It’s better to disrupt two units, than to disrupt one unit twice.
This rule sums itself up rather neatly and is fairly obvious, but is frequently overlooked. There’s no question that destroying an enemy unit will reduce your opponent’s firepower. Yet if you allow that one unit to draw a disproportionate amount of your firepower, you’ve reduced your own effectiveness and aided your opponent. Units in cover have a tendency to draw fire in this way. We’ve all encountered that one soldier that refused to die. Keep in mind that disruption has an impact on your opponent. Before focusing all of your firepower on a particular unit, try at least disrupting others first. It will not only reduce your opponents firepower next turn, but it also immobilize them. Now of course there’s always an exception to the rule and certain units may be a high priority due to their location, firepower, of abilities, but the basic rule still applies: don’t concentrate too heavily on just one or two units.

When appropriate, units with abilities that reduce or negate cover should attack last. It was touched upon in Tactics 102 that sometimes the order in which you attack units can matter, particularly depending on the abilities of those units. In the example of the Shermans firing on the Panzer, if the M4A3 (105) had fired second instead of first there would have been a good chance of damaging or even destroying it’s target. While in theory combat is simultaneous, in practice examples such as this show it isn’t always so. The order in which you attack with these units can make all the difference in whether your target is destroyed or not.


Something I cannot stress enough regarding the Air Phase is that planes are fragile! Treating them like tanks by throwing them into the middle of your opponent’s army will likely get them destroyed. This is not the fault of the aircraft. The best way to envision an aircraft is not as a predator, but as a scavenger. Target enemy units that have been left on their own, or that have already been weakened. You’ll have a better chance of eliminating them and a much better survival rate.

Your exact placement depends heavily on your target, the units surrounding it, and the number of dice your aircraft gets at close and medium range against it. Normally you want to place the aircraft as close as possible, but without exposing it to too much fire. Circumstances may dictate otherwise and some important reminders are:

  • Most vehicles have the same number of anti-soldier dice at medium range as they do at close range. Therefore, unless there are other factors to take into consideration, it doesn’t matter how close you get to the vehicle.
  • Remember that if the target is in the same hex as the attacker it gets -1 to cover rolls. This is frequently overlooked by players.

The concept of unit classifications discussed in Tactics 101 should be applied to your aircraft as well, and will help you keep in mind which tactics to use with them. There are really only two main categories of aircraft: fighters and ground attack.

Fighters usually have poor anti-vehicle dice but respectable anti-soldier dice coupled with the Antitair ability. When not attacking enemy aircraft, they are best used to take out enemy commanders, support units, or soften up targets for your ground forces. Certain fighters, such as the Corsair and the Mustang, have a single-use ability giving them a more powerful attack against vehicles. This is best used to take out lighter vehicles or soften up heavier ones.

Ground Attack planes may have good dice all around, but lacking antiair, they aren’t too effective against other aircraft. If your opponent is fielding fighters you may want to hold these units back at least for the first few turns until it’s either safe enough for them to come out or you need them desperately. Generally speaking, ground attack planes are more suitable to larger games where you can afford a few of them, or some fighter cover for them.

Tactics 104
Next time we’ll look into more advanced tactics, including dancing, baiting, and the most powerful weapon of all – psychology. Until then discuss this article on our message boards.

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