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Part 1: Game Mechanics

by Patrick Graham

Welcome to part one in a four-part series of Guadalcanal strategy articles. We'll examine how the game is played, the options available to the player, and elements critical to your success on the battlefield. Hopefully using the information, you'll be able to formulate a game plan that gives you a competitive edge.

If you're new to Axis & Allies board games, this series will be especially helpful. If you're an expert, no problem -- Guadalcanal has more than enough fascinating rules and subtle strategies to keep you engaged here. For Part 1, let's explore the basic mechanics and the inherent advantages the Japanese and American players possess.

Game Goals and Board Design

The objective of Axis and Allies: Guadalcanal is to win fifteen victory points (VP). Your mission: Capture islands, procure their supplies to build airfields and, if necessary, attack enemy fleets and sink capital ships. You score VP at the end of each turn for undamaged airfields under your control plus any enemy capital ships you've destroyed.

The game was designed with a degree of symmetry in mind. Unlike in Axis and Allies: D-Day and Battle of the Bulge, American and Japanese goals are relatively similar. However, to add a twist to Guadalcanal, both forces have unique advantages allowing players some great creative freedom. Some of these advantages come purely from the board's composition, specifically its sea zones and bases.

Eight sea zones wreathe the Solomon Islands with an additional three sea zones in the center of the board. The center zones comprise "The Slot," the sea lane historically used by the Imperial Japanese Navy to deliver forces to Guadalcanal.

On either corner of the board is a base card representing a distant naval and air base. The six islands roughly form two ‘L’ shapes, one of single airfield islands from Choiseul to Malaita and one of dual airfield islands from Guadalcanal to Bougainville. Since there are only nine spaces to build airfields at maximum occupancy, one side always earns more VP each turn. Obviously, the dual airfield islands are more important and the positioning of each island relative to your forces and base card should be considered in developing a strategy.

Basic Considerations

Since airfields award VP each turn, VP will accumulate quickly toward the end of the game. This means airfields will be primary targets. No airfield = no victory points, so score early, score often. We'll examine combat in Part 2, but it's a good idea to remember victory at game's end can be decided simply by holding on to a greater number of undamaged airfields, thusly plan your offenses carefully.

Control of an island zone is determined by combining the land combat value of friendly land and naval units present on the zone. However, you only lose supplies if enemy land units wipe out your forces. In other words, even if you only control one half of an island, you keep your supplies.

Sea Zones
Naval units move one sea zone per turn, so ask yourself where you would like your navy to go and what they should accomplish when they get there. Since Guadalcanal sessions will likely last no more than five turns, every ship movement must have a purpose. It's a good idea to study the sea zones before the start of the game. Some zones are easier to navigate (particularly those zones in The Slot), but the catch, of course, is such areas are common flashpoints.

Forced March
Purchased units appear on your base card. This will usually mean that they're too far from battle to immediately participate. It's even likely units purchased toward the end of the game won't enter the playing field in time to fight. To resolve the problem, try expending your supply tokens to move individual ships further from the base card. This can gobble up your reinforcement points but it's an ideal strategy for rapidly constructing airfields on distant islands and deploying ships desperately needed at the front. Don't be afraid to exercise this option and always consider the possibility of using deployment when purchasing units and supply tokens.

Even with parallel goals, there are unique aspects to the board design and the game set-up. It's important you know what advantages and disadvantages each side has when formulating a strategy for achieving victory. Below are lists of four advantages each side possesses both at the start and throughout the game.

American Advantages

Guadalcanal: Since transports must load before moving, there's no way to extricate the Japanese forces from Guadalcanal on the first turn. Japanese units and supplies are essentially forfeit to your units already on the island. Land units cannot attack airfields, so the best you can hope for is taking down a couple of enemy infantry. The two supplies falling into your hands at the end of the first turn provide a small boon, but it'll be easier to construct another airfield on the following turn with the available tokens. If used wisely, they could provide an early VP boost that may prove decisive late in the game. If, by some miracle, Japanese forces have held Guadalcanal at the start of the second turn, it's unlikely they'll leave, so it might be better to use reinforcements to mop up Guadalcanal while those already on the island are used elsewhere.

New Georgia: While New Georgia is equally accessible to both forces, you can approach the island from the south side. This is crucial as this sea zone (Sea Zone I) cannot be accessed from the Japanese side of The Slot, Sea Zone G. This provides a significant degree of transport protection. If the Japanese want to sortie against any landing fleet there, they'll be forced to approach from Sea Zone F and/or Sea Zone H. From Sea Zone F, their forces are no longer contesting The Slot nor applying pressure on the American side of the board. For the Japanese to maneuver into Sea Zone H usually requires defeating your naval forces deployed there. No easy mission.

Sea Zone E: While the invasion of Bougainville isn’t the most common of occurrences in the game, you'll have the option to at least apply pressure on it or launch an invasion should the oppropriate opportunity. This sea zone lies adjacent to the island and can be immediately accessed by newly purchased forces, though their deployment there could be costly. Taking the fight to Japan’s primary island could slip their offensive into chaos, as land units have a habit of leap-frogging forward, leaving rearward islands feebly defended.

Air Power: With five bombers and five fighters in reserve, the Americans can occupy new airfields early on with remarkable efficiency. It shouldn’t take long to control the skies and use superior bomber numbers to pound enemy land units. With extra fighters in reserve, losses from carrier-borne aircraft can be rapidly replenished. Indeed, Guadalcanal grants the Americans greater longevity in the air war. If Japan wishes to bridge the gap, then it'll have to come at the cost of investing in other areas. But this does not necessarily mean air power should be frittered away. The extra bombers and fighters are critical in maintaining the American offensive. Without air power, it'll be much harder to contest islands under Japanese control.

Japanese Advantages

Spread out Transport Fleet: The Japanese begin with transports adjacent to all but one of the islands they control. While the Americans have fewer viable options at game start, the Japanese can pick and choose which islands they will immediately contest. On the other hand, with few zones occupied by more than a couple of ships, it'll take longer for the Japanese to counter an American task force fully able to rapidly consolidate inside The Slot (usually Sea Zone H).

Cruisers: Japan's ace up the sleeve. If both forces deploy their maximum offshore firepower to strike an island, then the Japanese have a two die advantage over the Americans. Don't squander your cruisers. Their proper use is key to overcoming American advantages. Use the extra cruisers to take free shots at enemy-controlled islands (easiest to do while in The Slot) or directly support your reinforcements in combat flashpoints.

Control of Five Islands: The Americans are well positioned on turn one to seize at least enough islands to put them on par with the Japanese during the first reinforcement phase. Naturally, this means the Americans must come to you, so you'll have the option of fighting a defensive and offensive game. Combined with the advantage of an excellent transport network, you can choose which islands are worth keeping and leverage that into forcing the Americans into attacking when not in their favor. If the American offensive is thrown astray by strategically placed Japanese forces, the Americans will lose many points during the reinforcement phase. Remember: An imbalance in control of even one island yields a difference of eight points during the reinforcement phase.

Well Positioned Supplies: You'll begin the game with two non-threatened supplies on Bougainville and another on New Georgia. With transports adjacent to both these islands, you'll have a high degree of flexibility in choosing where to build your airfield on the first turn. Constructing an airfield on Choiseul or New Georgia would have the advantage of a forward base for bombers and fighters as early as turn two. By contrast, the United States has safe choices at Guadalcanal or Malita, but might have to take risks if they want to build on forward islands such as Santa Isabel or New Georgia.

As you can see, each force comes with powerful weapons and unique opportunties. Victory will come out of orchestrating not only your inherent advantages, but understanding your opponent's. Now you should have a basic understanding of the game mechanics and what you can do to maximize their use in the thick of battle. In the next article, we'll examine each unit to understand how they function in the game, explore combat is resolved, and when to fight and when to wait.

Related Links
Guadalcanal Product Information
Guadalcanal FAQ

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