This article looks at those poor, tired, foot-slogging doggies -- the infantry. Of all the units in Axis & Allies, infantry are second to last in the glamour department (last place goes to the workhorses of the sea, the transports). Infantry is slow and offensively weak. That leads too many players to think about infantry last. They spend their IPCs on the glamour items -- tanks and fighters, mostly -- and buy one or two infantry with the spare change.
That's a mistake. In fact, it's probably the most common mistake in the game.
Just consider this: The only way you can lose the game is to not buy enough infantry.
That's so important it bears repeating.
The only way you can lose the game is to not buy enough infantry.
Technically, that statement's not entirely true; you could also lose because your ally didn't buy enough infantry. But that doesn't change the fact that:
The only way you can lose the game is to not buy enough infantry.
To beat you, the enemy must occupy your territory. That means he must defeat your infantry. There's no other way around it.
Defensively, infantry is the best thing going, hands down. Tanks have the same defensive capability as infantry but cost 66% more, so defending with tanks is crazy. Fighters defend on a 4, which looks great on paper, but they're still no bargain. Consider that for the price of one fighter you can have four infantry. In three turns of defensive fighting, the fighter will likely score two hits. In the same three turns, four infantry should score four hits, twice as many as the fighter. Beyond that, a single hit destroys the fighter, but the infantry can take three hits and still hold the territory.
Even if you hadn't figured out the odds, you probably already knew that infantry is the best defensive unit in the game. Let's talk instead about offense.
On offense, a fighter averages one hit every other turn. Four infantry average two hits every three turns. Infantry has 33% more offensive firepower than a fighter for an equal expenditure of IPCs. (What the infantry doesn't have is the ability to attack almost wherever it's needed at will. Flexibility, not firepower, is why fighters cost more.)
Compare infantry to tanks. Three tanks cost 15 IPCs, the same as five infantry. Over two turns, the tanks average three hits, whereas the infantry averages just under two hits (1.66, to be precise). In other words, the tanks are scoring almost twice as many hits as the infantry for an equal expenditure of IPCs.
So should you put all your IPCs into tanks when you're on the strategic offensive? No, because even when you're pushing into enemy territory, you're taking casualties. A mixed force of tanks and infantry is best: tanks to do the heavy hitting, infantry to absorb losses so the tanks can keep fighting. Ideally, if everything works perfectly, you'll never lose any tanks and will finish the war with your original armor rolling into the enemy's capital. Things don't often work out that way, but it's something to keep in mind.
That Perfect Balance
What sort of infantry/armor ratio should be maintained? Consider a fairly typical case in which you're attacking a territory defended by six enemy infantry, and your attacking force is worth 30 IPCs. The best odds for victory occur when you attack with three armor and five infantry. That force gives a 92% chance to win. You can compare the victory odds of various forces on the table.
Odds of winning when attacking six infantry with:
|4 armor, 3 infantry
|3 armor, 5 infantry
|2 armor, 6 infantry
|1 armor, 8 infantry
Notice that the most effective ratio has the armor and infantry equal in terms of IPCs spent. That's a pretty good rule of thumb. When attacking, you'll get maximum punch by keeping your assault force roughly split right down the middle, IPC-wise, between infantry and armor. In other words, you want to keep almost two infantry on the front line for every tank. If you can't maintain that ratio, think about delaying your attack until you can bring up more infantry.
Which brings us nicely to our second strategic point regarding infantry. Sometimes it's not worth taking a territory if you don't have enough infantry to hold it.
Always remember that at its heart, Axis & Allies is not about armies or territories, it's about IPCs. You don't need more IPCs than your opponent to win, although having more is always good. Even with fewer IPCs, you can gain an advantage by spending yours more efficiently than the enemy, or at least spending them more slowly. Losing troops in battle is "spending" IPCs just as much as is trading in slips of paper for new units.
Consider, for example, the Caucasus. It's worth 3 IPCs, the cost of a single infantry unit. Anytime the Germans take it, they can expect the Soviets to counterattack strongly from Russia and/or Karelia. Likewise, anytime the Soviets take it, they can expect a strong counterattack from the Ukraine (and/or Karelia, if it's in German hands).
By taking the Caucasus, the attacker shifts the balance of power by two infantry units (one that he gets to build, one that the enemy doesn't get to build). If the attacker loses more than two infantry units in the assault and in fighting off the counterattack, then he'd better hang onto the Caucasus for more than one turn, or the exchange is a net loss in terms of IPCs. The only way to make up the difference is to inflict a greater loss on the enemy than was suffered in return; enemy losses always have to be factored into the equation (but that's another article).
The point is, you can look at the territory behind the one you're attacking and see exactly what the enemy has there to counterattack with. If you can't hold against it, and you won't inflict heavier casualties than you suffer attacking and defending, then think seriously about delaying the attack until you can bring in more infantry.
You're going to lose infantry every turn. That means infantry needs to be replaced every turn. Moreover, if the front is three territories from your industrial centers, the infantry needed to replace this turn's losses had to be built three turns ago. After your infantry is lost is the wrong time to start thinking about replacing it.
Because infantry is cheap, the defender can always build up the defense faster than the attacker can build up the offense, IPC for IPC. No combination of infantry, armor, fighters, and bombers totaling 30 IPCs will beat 30 IPCs' worth (10 units) of defending infantry. Against that defense, the attacker needs to spend at least 38 IPCs, split about equally between six infantry and four armor, in order to reach a 50/50 chance to take the territory. Even if that attack succeeds, odds are that the attackers will lose so many units they won't be able to hold the territory afterward. To reliably win the battle and have enough surviving infantry to protect the armor against counterattack requires an assault force of at least 10 infantry and four or five tanks -- a minimum of 55 IPCs in the attack, almost two-to-one against the defenders.
If you've lost tanks and fighters in your offensive, there's no point in making and sending out more until you've built up enough infantry on the front to protect them. Let the enemy wear down its forces by attacking your infantry for a turn or two! Always rebuild your infantry force first. Tanks and planes can reach the front much faster than infantry, so you can afford to wait until they're needed before building them.
The key to most successful land strategies in Axis & Allies is maintaining a steady stream of infantry replacements flowing toward the front line. On defense, infantry makes your position hard to crack. On offense, it protects your investment in the hard-hitting tanks, fighters, and bombers. This is true for every country.
Regardless of whether you see an immediate need, build infantry every turn. You'll see a noticeable improvement in your game.
Game designer and author Steve Winter lives in the Seattle area.