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Part 1

By Nate Heiss

First, an introduction: Most of you probably don’t know who I am. I am the main developer for Avalon Hill. I have many responsibilities at Wizards of the Coast, but making Avalon Hill games great is one of them. The first Axis & Allies game I worked on was Battle of the Bulge, and the second is Guadalcanal. Guadalcanal, is of course the reason why you clicked on this article, right? Well then, let’s get down to business.

Guadalcanal is the first Axis & Allies naval game, not counting the minis game War at Sea (which was actually my very first game design in Avalon Hill to be published). The game has several new features, including two cruiser models and the battle box (dice box), but more on these later. The most important aspect of the game that I want to focus on is its feeling of the original Axis & Allies game. If you take a look at the game board, you will notice that the hexes from Battle of the Bulge are gone. This game is more about strategy than tactics.

Game Setting:
The Japanese have taken the Solomon Island chain threatening to cut off supply lines from the U.S. to Australia and build air bases that would put them in striking distance of the U.S. mainland. The Allies cannot afford to let this happen. The game starts in time right after the Allied forces land on Guadalcanal. There are still some Japanese forces left on the island, but the Allies are in control. The campaign was as much about controlling the islands as is was about maintaining airfield superiority. In order to obtain victory in the game, you will have the same goals. It isn’t as important to control the whole island chain as it is to have a superior airfield advantage, as this was the ultimate goal of both the Axis and the Allies.

The Game Play:
This game plays very strategically. There are many times where you need to survey the board looking for opportunities to catch your opponent off guard, while at the same time covering your risky positions. The movement system allows players to actually outmaneuver their opponents and get them to commit the wrong amount of forces to certain battles. The battle system allows for risky attacks and getting lucky, but at the same time can be very predictable in order to plan your strikes with reasonable information. There are three unit types in the game – land units, air units, and sea units. Each is important and has their place, even though at the heart, this is a nautical campaign.

There is also the ever important aspect of resource management and supply lines. Supply doesn’t work the same way in this game as it did in Battle of the Bulge. Supplies are used in this game to build airfields, make repairs, and get sea units to the front faster from your more remote home bases. Of course, buying the supplies is only half the problem – you also have to figure out how to get them to where they need to be without having their transports bombed to smithereens! A Supply caravan is certainly a tasty air strike target.

The Time Scale:
The actual campaign lasted over a year, and many hardships were endured by both sides. The movement in this game does not really relate to how far ships could actually travel and turns don’t correspond to any particular unit of time. This harkens back to the original Axis & Allies, where movement was more about strategy than the actual physics of the units. Our average game in R&D went on for about 6 or 7 turns, and experienced players could play the game in an hour (of course, this was minus the chit chat which is always half the fun of playing a game like this). Inexperienced or slower players should expect the game to run about three to four hours.

The Battle Box:
This is a really cool invention that Larry came to me with when he pitched the game. The idea was that players would put the dice they were rolling into a box and then they would randomize them in that. The dice would then be poured out of the box into a neat looking line to be analyzed for hits. The battle system was essentially an advanced version of the Battle of the Bulge system that was modified to work with any number of units in a space, and to use six sided dice. I thought this idea was really cool.

In Battle of the Bulge, we used the unique combat system in order to simulate how in battle you don’t really get to choose what gets hit. In Guadalcanal, we wanted some of that same feeling, but I really wanted players to be able to determine what got hit much more easily. The solution was the final version of the Battle Box. I am pretty excited about it and will be writing an article just on this topic later.

The Game Components:
I am particularly proud of the game components in Guadalcanal. Since I have been working with Avalon Hill, I have been striving to make sure our games have better components. After all, if you are going to shell out some hard earned cash for your games, they should make you feel like you got your money’s worth when you open the box. I really feel like we achieved that goal with Guadalcanal with beautiful thick parts sheets, lots of plastic, a great pre-built battle box, and an awesome storage tray. I won’t lie – I had to fight the good fight to bring you all of this stuff, but luckily the team working on this game all felt strongly about trying to improve the quality of our game components. Guadalcanal is an awesome example of the potential we can unlock in our games. Go team!

Feelings About the Game:
I feel some special attachment to all the games I work on, so I will naturally be a little biased here. I can truly say that this is one of the more enjoyable war games that I have played. I think the types of decisions being made and the pace of the game is very good. When I win, I feel like I have earned it. When I lose, I can usually figure out why. The game does allow for the lucky roll to turn the tide of the game, but you still have to set yourself up for it, and get your opponent to basically accept your challenge, so if it happens, it was a known risk by both players. Even when things start to dip in a players favor early on, the game does a good job of saying, “It’s not over till its over.” When it is actually over, it ends pretty quickly too, which is always good. There are lots of things to think about each time you play – What is my basic strategy? What types of units should I mix together? Can I catch my opponent off guard? These are the types of questions that I feel lead to really compelling game play in a war game. I hope you guys enjoy the heck out of it!

The rulebook states that players get 5 reinforcement points, plus 2 per island they control. This is incorrect due to an error in the rulebook. The correct reinforcement scheme is that each player gets 10 reinforcement, plus 4 per island they control. The game is playable either way, but Avalon Hill recommends playing the correct way (10 and 4 per). We are sorry for any inconvenience this causes.

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