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Axis & Allies: Countdown to Invasion
Week 3: Defense Spending
by Mike Selinker, Lead Developer

"You must prioritize and allocate limited production to competing, resource-starved battle fronts. You make the big decisions. You can rewrite history."

from Larry Harris's introduction to the revised Operations Manual

Axis & Allies is, now and forever, a game of maximizing your money. If you don't use strategy about what to buy and when, you won't beat a quality player very often.

In the previous version of Axis & Allies, many players suggested that the Axis couldn't win on a regular basis. They believed that the Axis powers started too deep in a hole and quickly lost ground. Whether or not this was true, I mandated that we'd try to balance the sides in terms of cash and starting position. I'll talk about setup a few columns from now. Here I'll talk about money.

But First, a Word About Style

Below, I'll unveil the national production chart, the first major element of graphic design that we're showing the world. So as to minimize the number of cardiac arrests that follow, I want to tell you that the new Axis & Allies looks very different from editions past. Under the grand vision of art director Ryan Sansaver, everything about the appearance of this great game will soon change.

The national production chart will give you a taste of the much darker palette used in this revision. What you'll see is the fine work of Abigail Fein, one of the five graphic designers who worked on this game. Early on, Ryan pulled me aside and said, "Mike, I told Abigail to do something, and ... well, she did something different." Then he showed me what she did, and I told him, "Ryan, don't ever tell her to do that again."

Abigail's dark touch brought the game a sense of impending danger. Over the next few weeks, you'll see more of her work, and that of fellow designers Brian Dumas, Todd Gamble, Lisa Hanson, and Ryan himself. For now, enjoy the national production chart.

National Production Chart

The Production of Industrial Production Certificates

The edition you own has these starting IPC values (yes, the periods are gone from "I.P.C."):

Soviet Union 24 IPCs
United Kingdom 30 IPCs
United States 36 IPCs
Allies Total 90 IPCs
Germany 32 IPCs
Japan 25 IPCs
Axis Total 57 IPCs

By now, if you're an experienced player, you've decided exactly what to do with your starting cash on turn 1, no matter which side you're playing. Essays have been written about Russia buying eight infantry out of the gate on turn one, no matter what. It's a surprise (and not a good one) when someone spends all 24 IPCs on a battleship.

On the revision, we weren't going to make changes for the sake of making changes. If we were going to change these time-honored starting values, we would do so with an eye to changing the starting balance of the game. So, after significant work, the new edition will have these starting cash values:

Soviet Union 24 IPCs (same)
United Kingdom 30 IPCs (same)
United States 42 IPCs (+6)
Allies Total 96 IPCs (+6)
Germany 40 IPCs (+8)
Japan 30 IPCs (+5)
Axis Total 70 IPCs (+13)

I'll break that down for you.

Allied IPCs: Business as Usual

Only one thing was locked in stone: Russia would start out cash-poor. The Stalinist regime had bankrupted its nation through five-year plans and was not helped by the German occupation of the Ukraine, the Soviet Union's breadbasket. In the old version, Russia started out with 1 less IPC than Japan, so these economic straits were not as pronounced as they could be. Because we planned to raise the Japanese starting money, we left Russia where it began, at 24 IPCs.

The United Kingdom starts out with its IPCs flung all over the world and must instantly get to work defending them from many assaults. With little ability to make new combat units near those outer territories, it made sense to keep any one loss as not too severe. While we tinkered on the edges, Britain stayed at 30 IPCs.

Larry Harris noted that the United States needed a boost, however. Starting out far from the action, the USA spends most of its IPCs on expensive units and transports for less expensive ones. This meant that the average cost of an American unit was more than that of, say, a German unit. Plus, we wanted the taking of America -- a rare event, to be sure, but less rare than it used to be -- to be a major IPC windfall. For those reasons, we bumped up the value of the United States itself by 6 IPCs. At 42 IPCs, America would be the richest nation on Earth.

Axis IPCs: Business Far from Usual

Playtester William Jockusch coined a sentence that rang true throughout the redesign: The Axis starts the game at the height of its expansion in World War II (Spring 1942), with footholds in China, Russia, and Africa -- all of which it soon lost. To allow the game to swing either way, William said, "You have to give the Axis something they didn't have in real life." He didn't mean giant robots or 7-foot amazons. He meant that Germany and Japan had to start the game in a better position than they held at this point in history.

Germany was first under Larry's microscope. Because it faces immediate threats from three sides, we wanted Germany to be the most productive nation on the board. Because they don't have to build fleets of transports and carriers, even if the Germans start a bit behind the USA they can still be more productive. Their starting number became 40 IPCs and stayed there throughout the game's development. This +8 bonus from the previous edition is the biggest boost in the game.

Japan was the nation most in need of help. With 25 IPCs and the least concentrated forces at the game's start, Japan was on the defensive early. We reminded ourselves what Japan was actually doing in the early 1940s: making lightning attacks that conquered territory after territory in the Pacific Rim. They needed more value out of that. We boosted Japan's starting value to 30 IPCs, a +5 bonus from the previous edition. This raised the Axis starting pool to 70 IPCs (+13 over previous editions), which gave them a fighting chance. (That is, they were down 33, and now they're down only 26.)

IPCsI can't yet tell you exactly where these additional IPCs come from but I will say this: expect activity in the South Pacific and the Russian Front to be very meaningful.

Uses for IPCs

At the same time we balanced out the IPCs, we also made them less useful. IPCs had two main purposes: buy units and research weapons. This is all we wanted them to do.

In the previous edition, you could spend 3 IPCs to invade a neutral territory. This stretched the definition of "neutral." Yes, I'm aware that this definition was stretched quite a bit in the war. Still, it seemed an unnecessary activity in a game about invasion, so we eliminated this rule. Now, if someone hoards IPCs, he's probably planning to conduct some serious weapons development.

(By making neutral territories impassable, we also could expand our definition of "impassable" territories to include both politically neutral and geographically inconvenient territories. This was quite useful, as you'll see in a number of weeks.)

Sayonara to the Economic Victory

With the starting IPCs evened out and plans to change the setup, we knew the game was progressing to a fairer fight between the Axis and the Allies. This meant we could get rid of one element of the game I've always disliked: the economic victory. Previously, the Axis could win by getting 84 IPCs in territories, while the Allies had no such victory condition. This seemed unbalanced, so we eliminated it. Now there's just one set of victory conditions that everyone is trying to achieve.

That's the subject of next week's column, which will contain some surprises. See you then.


Catch up on any previews you missed!

Mike SelinkerMike Selinker has been playing, designing, developing, and just plain loving games of every variety for many, many years. He is a gamer in the very best sense of the word. Mike lives in Seattle.

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