Part 2

By Nate Heiss

The Guadalcanal Battle System

The battle system in a war game is pretty important. Clutch, you might say. Well, today we get to dive right into it and spoil a bit of how the game actually works. Larry and I strived to maximize fun with realism in terms of how the battles play out. I think the result is pretty compelling.

One of the larger issues with designing the game combat system was that there were three distinct types of combat going on, and meshing them together just didn’t feel right. Larry came up with the idea of each unit having different combat numbers depending what they were firing at. Infantry would be good vs other infantry, but bad vs aircraft. This sets up nice foils to each unit in the game. The tricky part was figuring out how to determine what ‘firing’ at something meant. Could a unit only choose to fire at one thing? Was the player expected to remember? Also, does a player have to make separate rolls for each unit depending on what they are firing at? All this could take a very long time.

The solution we came up with was to have three distinct combat phases that were based on firing at something instead of what was firing. The three phases are attack air units, attack sea units, and attack land units. So for instance, if I wanted to attack some infantry on Guadalcanal, I would wait until the ‘attack land units’ phase came up and then roll all my dice coming from any units in range and pelt the land units on Guadalcanal with them.

What this means, of course, is that if I had bombers at Guadalcanal so I could attack land, they would have to survive the ‘attack air’ phase first, since it comes before that. In that phase, my opponent might have sent fighters to Guadalcanal to stop my bombing raid, and an aerial battle would ensue in the ‘attack air’ phase. Hopefully, my bombers would come out unscathed (probably due to sending a fighter escort with them) and ready to light up the underbrush. I might even have a neighboring battleship or cruiser that could shell the island in support.

A nice effect of this is that aquatic assaults finally work the way we always wish they did. When you have infantry on a transport and want to get them into battle on the same turn, you can. The transport simply has to survive through the ‘attack sea units’ phase and then you will have a chance to unload your infantry before the ‘attack land’ phase, meaning that your infantry will contribute.

The Battle Box
One of the things that I really wanted to get right for Guadalcanal was the battle resolution system. For Battle of the Bulge, Larry came up with the notion that mostly randomized damage placement could help simulate how crazy things get on the battlefield. In the heat of combat it would be hard to pick and choose targets – units would most likely skirmish with whatever units they happened to encounter on their way to their mission objectives. With many indirect fire units also in the game, this is exasperated. However, Larry wanted to evolve the battle system for Guadalcanal to accommodate more units than 12, since the spacing was supposed to feel more like a zoomed in version of normal A&A rather than the hex combat of Battle of the Bulge.

Thus, the Battle Box was born. Larry came to me with the Prototype for Guadalcanal and I thought it was the coolest part. At the time, it functioned more like a Yatzee dice shaker, with the important note of being able to spit the dice out in a neat line, giving them order. That order was then matches up against a line of your ships that was in the fight, and wherever the hits fell, that’s where damage happened. This had a lot of potential! Of course, lining up all your ships each combat was tedious, and the outcome still felt very random, but it was a great starting point for the current battle box!

Here is how it works:
You always keep all 12 dice in the game in the box. That doesn’t mean you are always counting all 12, but it is easier than removing and adding dice to the box each time (although if you really want to, you can).

If you pull the neck out you will notice that there ate three lines of unit types listed along the side. The top line (on the air background) is for when you are performing combat in the ‘attack air’ phase. The middle line (on the sea background) is for the ‘attack sea’ phase. The bottom line (on the jungle background) is for the ‘attack land’ phase.

Let’s say we are in the attack air units phase.

For any given combat, total up the power you have from all the units shooting at the aircraft in the space you are resolving combat. Shake up the box and pull out the next, and count all the dice up to your total power. If you have more than 12 you will do another roll after determining the results. Each 1 or 2 you rolled is a hit. To determine what it hit, simply look at the position of the die compared with the side of the box. If a unit of that type isn’t involved in the combat, then the hit is applied to the first unit in the progression on the side of the Battle Box that does appear. In effect, this allows units to screen for one another.

Example: You roll 5 dice against my 2 bombers. You score two hits, but they are in slots 2 and 3, which are labeled fighter. Those hits will go to the first unit in the progression that is there, meaning your hits will get my bombers. If I had 2 bombers and 2 fighters there, then the only way you could kill any of my bombers is to roll a hit in the 5 slot, and even then it ensures that you could only destroy a maximum of one of my bombers.

This same sort of logic allows destroyers to screen for any sea unit, and infantry to screen for any land unit. Anything down the line can effectively screen for anything beyond it. Pretty cool huh? This gives the game play value of sending infantry with your tanks in A&A in order to sacrifice them, but in a way that makes much more sense in terms of simulation.

Ships can take it and dish it out.

The last tidbit of the battle system involves ships (and to a lesser extent, artillery). Battleships and Cruisers have the ability to add their land attack dice to an adjacent island zone, shelling them. They can also use their land power to help determine the control of islands. You see, in Guadalcanal, both players can occupy a zone at the same time. Only one player can control an Island, but the other can have invasion forces on there trying to get control. The ships will help you keep control of your islands while shelling the invasion forces. Artillery have a similar ability in that they can shell adjacent sea zones, although there is no benefit to controlling a sea zone beyond its strategic advantages.

Battleships, Cruisers, and Destroyers all also have a special property in that they can sustain damage but still not be completely destroyed. Given some repairs, they can get back out in to the fray. When a Battleship, Cruiser, or Destroyer is hit – look at the number of the hit (it will be a 1 or 2). If it is a 1, the ship is destroyed as normal. If it is a 2, the ship is only damaged and will run home to your base for repairs (you can spend a supply there to fix your ship). If a ship takes two damage in a combat it will still be destroyed.

Example: I have a destroyer and a cruiser in the space, and you are rolling 6 dice.

Slot 1 2 3 4 5 6
Type Destroyer Cruiser Battleship Aircraft Carrier Transport Submarine
Result Hit Roll of 1 Hit Roll of 2 Miss Roll of 5 Miss Roll of 3 Hit Roll of 1 Hit Roll of 2

Simply go in order:

  • The first hit destroys a Destroyer because it’s a hit with a result of 1.
  • The second hit will damage the cruiser because it’s a hit with a roll of 2.
  • The next two shots miss.
  • The hit of 1 on the transport will go back to the start of the line and destroy another destroyer, since I have no transports in the space.
  • The hit of 2 on the sub will also go back to the start of the line, but there are no more destroyers left to kill (both have already been counted as destroyed from the 1’s). This will put a second damage on the Cruiser, destroying it.

By the way, 4 hits on six dice is what we call a ‘good roll’. Lucky you.

If the hit on the 6 slot was a miss, the Cruisers would have just been damaged and retreated back to my home base, where I could repair it.

That is a pretty good overview of the combat in the game. Each turn players will have to think about how to group up their units to best protect them and yet getting maximum effectiveness. Each battle also tells a nice story about what units are being destroyed and if they were protected by others. Just remember folks – Bombers and Transports without escorts are tasty targets!

Talk about Axis and Allies: Guadalcanal on the forums

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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