Axis & Allies: Countdown to Invasion
Week 4: The Price of Victory
"On the map are twelve victory cities crucial to the war effort. As the game begins, each side controls six of these cities."
-- from the "How the War is Won" section of the revised Operations Manual
You're probably used to it, but the current Axis & Allies victory condition is a bit confusing to a new player. To review:
The Allies win when they capture the two capital territories (Germany and Tokyo). Simple enough. The Axis wins when they either capture two capital territories (any two of the Eastern United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia), or they reach a combined German and Japanese national production of 84, a net gain of +27 IPCs. Not so simple.
The economic victory existed because some felt it was impossible for Axis players to take two Allied capitals from equally skilled players. In a revision, both Larry Harris and I wanted to torpedo the economic victory. It seemed less flavorful than smashing your opponents' capitals. We got the game to the point where we felt that both powers were roughly balanced, so the economic victory could go away. We could have stopped there, but we didn't.
The "Two-Capitals" Version
Our early version gave the Axis and the Allies the same goal: capture two enemy capitals. Capturing the Eastern United States has always been quite difficult, so this generally came down to the Axis needing to capture the United Kingdom and Russia. Not an easy task, but neither was capturing the capitals of Germany and Japan.
Some problems arose with this version. Without the economic victory, the game no longer had much activity on the fringes. Longtime strategies of German tanks invading central Africa, Japanese attacks on India, and the British invasion of Scandinavia all dried up. Now players focused on building up for D-Day and (least welcome of all) the Japanese tank drive to Moscow. We needed to make certain we preserved the global nature of the war rather than funneling it into a couple of areas.
Simultaneously, my obsessive need to streamline games took over as I looked at the map. The original map had cities all over it: all the capitals, sure, but also Rome, Hong Kong, Sydney, New Delhi, and a bunch of others. I like having more flavorful detail but I also like everything in a game having a purpose. There was a solution there, I thought.
The Birth of "Victory Cities"
We theorized that the game could be steered in certain directions by making every city on the map a crucial point of conflict. Capturing capitals was already a cornerstone of the game but in real life the world powers didn't focus all their efforts on these capitals. There was a reason that Rome belonged on the map.
We moved victory cities all over the world and settled on having six cities per side: two for each Allied power and three for each Axis power. Here's the victory city chart that made the final cut, laid out by art director Ryan Sansaver.
That's Washington, Los Angeles, London, Calcutta, Leningrad, and Moscow for the Allies, and Paris, Berlin, Rome, Shanghai, Manila, and Tokyo for the Axis. Many of those choices are obvious but some deserve some explanation.
Once we went to twelve cities, Paris was a lock. Perhaps the most emotional combat event of World War II was the liberation of France, and we wanted it to appear in the game. When you take Western Europe (or keep it), you'll talk about it for some time.
Calcutta was a personal favorite choice. In Axis & Allies Pacific, India became a major focal point (some would say the focal point). In life, Japan poked at India during the Imphal attacks. I always got the sense that the British empire would do anything to stop the fall of India. Now players of Axis & Allies would have the chance to wage that war.
Leningrad (in Karelia S.S.R.) and Stalingrad (in the Caucasus) jockeyed for a spot in the lineup. Both were magnets for German attacks and Russian reinforcements. Eventually we went with Leningrad, not because of anything the Germans or Russians would do but because it was easier for the British to get involved in Leningrad. (Funny story: Larry and I are a generation apart in age. This was proven when I said, "I want to go with St. Petersburg." He said, "Mike, I beg you not to put St. Petersburg in the game." I replied, "Sorry, Larry. I've never been to Leningrad, but I've been to St. Petersburg.")
The two Japanese choices, Manila (in the Philippine Islands) and Shanghai (in Kwangtung), were less certain choices. We wanted to encourage combat in the South Pacific, and Manila ended up mattering in that battle. Shanghai gave a strong importance to those oft-brutalized American units in China and Sinkiang. If they could take and hold Shanghai, it might be Russian tanks in Tokyo instead.
Minor, Major, and Total Victories
In my first column I mentioned the issue of the length of Axis & Allies. For the game to matter in this era of tournaments, quick German boardgames, and reduced leisure time, it had to be possible to play in less than four hours. At the same I didn't want to give up those world-spanning, seven-hour marathons that spawned the great stories. Somehow, both of those goals would have to be accomplished.
If you've looked at the victory city chart, you can see where this is going. We'd eliminated the economic victory and given both sides the same number of victory cities. Now we could create a scalable game length based on the number of victory cities you controlled after everyone had taken their turn. We'd have three levels of victory.
You'd decide on the victory condition when you chose the length of the game. A minor victory game could take an hour or two, as you struggled to strike at Paris, Leningrad, and Calcutta. A major victory game was the three to four hour version that may not see either side fully defeated but one side definitely would be down at least one capital. The total victory game -- take it all -- would assuredly take all night and possibly into the weekend. How long you wanted to play determined what you would fight over.
Some playtesters insisted they'd never bother with the minor victory, and that was fine with me. Others said they were finally able to get their friend or relative to play because the game no longer seemed intimidating. Neat -- whatever floats your battleship.
I almost cut this concept entirely. The only individual victories I cared about were in two-player games. Multiplayer Axis & Allies always seemed like a team game to me, with everyone sublimating their own desires for the good of the alliance. Other people really liked having a single winner, though, especially because it could show a person's skill if he got stuck with a partner who wasn't his equal. This was especially crucial for tournaments, since players didn't advance as teams.
I don't know how many of you use the tables in your rulebook, but I don't. I am not thrilled when, as the United Kingdom, I gain 19 IPCs (and have a 63.3 percent increase in production) and "lose" to my U.S.S.R. ally's 16-point gain (a 66.6 percent increase). Those intimidating percentage tables have been removed from the new edition. Because the playing field has been leveled a bit, individual victory is judged by the absolute increase in production. If you start with 30 IPCs and end up with 49 (+19), you'll beat an ally who starts with 24 and ends up with 40 (+16). Of course, this only counts if you're playing an individual-victory game.
Now that you know how to win the new Axis & Allies, you need to know how you start. Next time, I'll tell you about the starting positions of the powers, and why there's a navy off the southern coast of Australia. More to come.
Catch up on any previews you missed!
Mike 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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