"The Axis should attack swiftly before the Allies can build up their land, sea, and air forces. The Soviet Union must fend off German assaults. The United Kingdom must hold London while fighting to keep its many territories around the world. The United States is forced to fight on two fronts: in the Pacific, wearing away at Japan; and in Europe, trying to get a foothold on the continent to attack Germany."
from the "Which Power Should I Play" section of the revised Operations Manual
Combat is the heart of Axis & Allies. The battles that occur -- and the ones that don't, out of fear of the consequences -- lead to the great stories told for weeks afterward. The revision team focused its sharpest efforts on molding the combat system so that it was simple in its mechanics but complex in the variety of results it could produce.
Mostly, though, it had to be lethal. We didn't want to mess with the core of the system, which was that anything could fall to a concerted attack by anything else. An attacking battleship could be sunk by a lowly transport while a single infantry could shoot down a mighty bomber. If you put a piece in harm's way, you should expect the system to put it at the brink of destruction.
Before I get into what we did, here's something we didn't do, despite the desires of some of my friends at Wizards of the Coast. D&D's revision had one principle at heart: Roll high. The majority of games are based on the principle that high numbers are good. Axis & Allies is one game that doesn't adhere to this principle, requiring you to roll your attack number or less to hit. I played around with a roll-high system for a few days but abandoned it. Axis & Allies was a roll-low game and would remain so on my watch.
A Single Combat Sequence
The Milton Bradley edition contains two combat sequences, one for land combat and one for naval combat. Both followed roughly the same set of events but were different enough to cause confusion. You could even use both sequences in the same encounter, should an amphibious assault start in an enemy-occupied sea zone.
I'm a proceduralist. The existence of two sequences for nearly the same process is the kind of thing I can't abide. Uniting these two sequences would be hard work, but it was as necessary as creating a unified game mechanic for D&D's saving throws, ability checks, and attacks. For new players to understand the heart of the system, it would have to be more intuitive than in the previous edition.
After months of revisions, we unified every hostile activity under the banner of "combat." This is the combat sequence in the new version of Axis & Allies, as shown on Abigail Fein's reference chart.
- Place units on battle board
- Conduct opening fire
- Remove opening fire casualties
- Attacking units fire
- Defending units fire
- Remove casualties
- Press attack or retreat
- Capture territory
I'll address those steps one by one.
1. Place units on Battle Board
The piece of Abigail's battle board shown above shows not just the basic units' attack values but also the relevant other possibilities as well. We wanted no confusion as to the attack of Super Submarines or an infantry supported by an artillery.
Because all hostile activity is now defined as combat, the game talks about using the battle board for all combats. This includes such simple events as antiaircraft fire, bombing raids, rocket strikes, even blitzing tanks. Obviously, in most of these cases, experienced players will find combat to be easier without the board, so you can put it to the side when you prefer.
2. Conduct opening fire
It may take a while for you to get your brain around this new step. Opening fire is the step when all units which fire before the main body of combatants fire. Anything hit in this phase moves to its side's "casualty zone" (both sides have one). Three types of units have opening fire capabilities.
Antiaircraft guns fire in the opening fire step. If any enemy air unit passes overhead, the gun takes its potshot now. Also, if they can launch rocket strikes, they do that now.
Battleships fire in the opening fire step only in bombardment accompanying an amphibious assault. If enemy naval units draw their attention, they lose this ability.
Submarines, whether attacking or defending, fire on enemy sea units in the opening fire step. The defensive opening fire makes subs stronger than in the previous edition. I'll write more on the dynamic changes to submarines and destroyers in two weeks, I promise.
3. Remove opening fire casualties
Anything in a casualty zone is destroyed now (or turned on its side, in the case of a hit battleship). Unless it got a shot in the opening fire step, a destroyed unit doesn't get to fire back. This means that for the first time in Axis & Allies, anything bombarded by a battleship is wiped away without returning the favor.
Antiaircraft guns and bombarding battleships are returned to the game board in this step, since nothing can damage them. Submarines stick around, though.
4. Attacking units fire
Every attacking unit that didn't fire in opening fire takes its shot now. Defending units that are hit move back to the defender's casualty zone.
Among the units that fire in this step are bombers on strategic bombing raids, right before they head home. Also, battleships prevented from bombarding during amphibious assaults fire on enemy sea units now.
5. Defending units fire
Every defending unit that didn't fire in opening fire takes its shot now. Attacking units that are hit move, ever so temporarily, to the attacker's casualty zone.
6. Remove casualties
Anything in a casualty zone now is destroyed. If a previously hit battleship has taken its second hit, it too is destroyed. (If not, it remains on its side. If it makes it out alive, a damaged battleship is "healed" at the end of combat.)
7. Press attack or retreat
There are four possible situations at this step. If the attacking units, defending units, or both are completely wiped out, what to do next is obvious. The fourth such case, where there are units left on both sides, leaves the choice of whether to go back to step 2 entirely up to the attacker.
If a combat in a sea zone leaves only attacking units capable of launching an amphibious assault, they can do so now.
If the attacker chooses not to press the attack, the attacking units can retreat. All must retreat to the same space, from which at least one of them attacked. This diagram from the new rulebook, designed by Brian Dumas, shows how tricky retreating can be.
8. Capture territory
If, at the end of the repetitions of this sequence, the attacker still has land units in an attacked land territory, the attacker gets control of the territory. The attacking units occupy the territory, take possession of any antiaircraft guns and industrial complex the defender left behind, and the national production and victory city charts are adjusted, if necessary.
Attacking air units now complete their movement inside the conduct combat phase. Next week, I'll talk about air units and how they do that, plus more on the guns that can ruin their plans. Come back then.
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.