|Tactics 101: Building Your Army|
|by Jon Mayes|
This is the first in a series of articles where I will explore the tactics of Axis & Allies Miniatures through army building, battle strategies, and map strategies for the standard 100 point game. To some it might seem odd that I start my series of tactics articles by devoting two entire articles simply to army building, but your strategies cannot be executed without the proper foundation; trying to outflank your opponent’s King Tiger with Renaults will rarely end well for you.
While there are many valid ways to go about making your army, it’s perhaps best to take a step back and go over the units themselves and classify them. One of the broadest ways to classify units is whether they are good against vehicles, good against soldiers, or good against both. However, there are many other classifications you can give them: Is it fast? Is it able to deploy in a non-standard manner such as Paratroopers or Partisans? Is it exceptionally well armoured? Also, how does one define whether it is “good” against a unit type?
Terminology and Definitions
For some quick and basic labels let’s go with the following:
- Fast: Vehicles with speed 4 or more, or Soldiers with speed greater than 1.
- Elite: Soldiers with defense 5/5.
- Heavy Tank: Vehicles with defense 6/5 or more.
- Disruptive: Units with special deployment.
There are of course many more labels you could come up with, or even change the numbers of these examples – perhaps to you, only speed 5 is fast. Keep in mind that units will often fit into more than one category; for example the Guards T-34/85 is both fast and a heavy tank.
A simple way to determine whether a unit has a decent anti-soldier attack is to compare its attack dice against a defense of 5/5; since this will be the highest value possible in the game. Without going into all the dry and boring numbers, 9 attack dice is the magic number against defence 5/5; giving you a 50% chance of scoring a hit.
To find a suitable anti-vehicle attack we use much the same method as we did for soldiers. In a standard game the highest forward defense you will encounter is an 8, but the highest rear defense is only a 7. Additionally, all of the current units with a forward defense of 8, only have a rear defense of 6. This makes 7 an acceptable number to keep in mind. Anything good against that number will be reasonable against those forward defense 8 units and better against their rear defense 6. Therefore, 13 dice provides 50% odds against defense 7 and is what we will aim for here.
In most games one finds that combat tends to occur most commonly at medium range, especially for vehicles. We give these numbers the most weight when considering them. Short range is the next most common, with soldiers often fighting at it slightly less often than at medium range. Long range is a fairly uncommon distance to fight at, if for no other reason than most of the terrain prohibits it and soldiers generally can’t shoot that far.
Of course this is only looking at how units fare against the best your opponent could field. It’s quite possible the enemy force won’t consist of only these units, however it’s best to be prepared. If you don’t come up against elite soldiers and heavy tanks, your units will be that much more effective.
What about units like the Renault R-35? It definitely isn’t fast. I might even make a negative Slow category for it. It can barely scratch defense 7 vehicles or defense 5 infantry. Well quite honestly, under these conditions the unit probably isn’t worth using. Many units have special niches, often under year restrictions, where they shine. Without those they just aren’t useable. Try playing a France vs. Germany game with a 1940 year restriction and you’ll see just what a monster the Renault was. As an aside, if you do play with year restrictions, you can simply adapt the above numbers to reflect what’s available for that period. In 1940 the highest vehicle defense drops to 5/5, while the soldier defense remains 5/5.
Concept of Battle
Now that we have some basic classifications we can get around to actually making the army right? Well almost, but not quite yet. There’s one more thing to consider when making your army, and it’s fairly important for the strategy and tactics you’ll be using later on: How will your army win? Will it move in quickly to take and hold the objective, or simply crush your enemy with overwhelming force? Every idea has its own merits, and no matter what you plan on there’s always a chance your opponent will counter it somehow, so it’s wise to have contingency plans. You don’t have to have the whole battle planned out, and you would be a fool to attempt to do so as no plan survives contact with the enemy, but it’s good to have a general idea of what you want to have happen.
Building the Army
Once you have a rough idea of the capabilities of your units and what your battle plan concept, or at least theme, we can begin building your army. When choosing units you still need to do more than simply pick the best of each category. They should aid your army’s theme and have good synergy with other pieces. For example many anti-tank guns have good dice, but they may not fit the theme of a fast attack army so well unless they have transportation. A tank destroyer might fulfill that role more capably and at a similar cost to the gun and transport. Another example is the Marines M2-2 Flamethrower. It may be a fairly effective weapon, but its limited to a range of one. By itself the flamethrower can be too slow to be useful, perhaps being destroyed before you can even get a shot off with it. However add in a Jeep for a cheap transport and you effectively give it a ranged attack.
Having the right commander for your army can make a huge difference. It’s always good to have an initiative +2 or +3 commander. The difference even a single point of initiative makes to the die roll is far more than it would seem. Depending on the army, it can be just as important, or more so, to have a Command Ability that fits the theme of your army. 10 Points is a fair amount of your army to waste on an Inspiring Lieutenant if you don’t have any soldiers he can use Tally-Ho! on. On the other hand, the more soldiers you have available in your army to take advantage of his Command Ability the more efficient he becomes. Look at what your army does and consider your options. If your Allied army focuses on destroying your opponent at range then maybe the Red Devil Captain’s pinpointer ability is the way to go, but then maybe the Eagle Eyed NCO's extra range would be more useful if you’re using primarily infantry.
It’s efficient to utilize units that perform even moderately well against both vehicles and soldiers; the M4A1 is a good example of this. Its anti-soldier dice are 9/9/7 meaning it’s just where we want it for close and medium range, and only slightly below for the less important long range. Its anti-vehicle dice aren’t quite as good. The medium range value is less than would be preferred but its close range is right on. So we find the M4A1 performs adequately against both unit types. Indeed, if we consider its “Fast” speed of 4, which may even offset the slightly lower medium range value by being able to close with the enemy.
After putting together an army build you can look over it and see what categories it might be deficient in and where you have enough or even too much. Do most of your anti-soldier units only fire at close range? You might want to fix that, or at least be aware of it when developing tactics with them. Review the synergies of your army. Have any changes you’ve already made upset any of them? Would replacing a unit or two make it even better? Is there a glaring weakness your opponent could exploit? Unless you’re playing a defensive army, it’s not critical to cover every possible angle, but you should at least be aware of them and know what to do if they occur.
It’s important to note that making an army that has, at least in theory, a counter for every weakness often leads to a force that can’t handle an opponent thats focused on a particular theme. The classic AAM army of “four M4A1 Shermans and two Humber Scout Cars” is a great example of this. Originally the army dominated many games against players who didn’t have adequate defense against armor. However that army was still adequate against both vehicles and soldiers.
It’s a lot to take in at once, or maybe some of this you already do intuitively. Whenever new preview units are released I find myself falling back to this so I can compare and contrast the new units to the old and see what improvements I can make to existing armies or even what new themes I can implement. Let’s take an example of an army I want to build for an upcoming game. There’s no restrictions given and I’ve decided to build an Allied army and specifically one using Americans. I’ve already decided I want to play an Infantry-Heavy army, as they tend to be tough to kill, supported by tanks.
So to start I see that my two main options for Elite Soldiers in a US army are the Rangers and Screaming Eagle Paratroopers; both have their pros and cons so I’ll use a handful of each to start with. The Screaming Eagle Captain seems a good choice to go with them, especially with that nice Initiative +3. The Resourceful Hero is a lot like the paratroopers, so I’ll take one of him too. The M4A1 is a well rounded and efficient tank, so I’ll use two of them for support leaving me 4 points. Since my anti-vehicle seems light, I’ll shore it up with a Bazooka which gives me:
M4A1 Sherman x2
Screaming Eagle Paratrooper Captain x1
Screaming Eagle Paratrooper x2
Resourceful Hero x1
Now I have an army that fits the theme I was looking for, but it has questionable synergy. The Paratrooper Captain’s Command Ability only works on Paratroopers of which I only have two. The Paratroopers are likely to deploy forward on or near the objective, while the Rangers and Bazooka slowly slog it up there. This leaves the M4A1s as a mobile response unit. It seems as if it could work, but could also easily be disrupted. The best way to find out is to play test it a few times. Take note of what happens; not only what worked and what didn’t but also why. If you’re able to, play multiple games before making any drastic changes. What didn’t work one game might work the next depending on the circumstances. For example I might find in one game my opponent tears up my Shermans with a King Tiger but then can’t harm my soldiers. Instead of instantly replacing the Shermans with more Rangers and Screaming Eagles I should try again a few times; I might find in a later game that the Shermans were quite useful in laying down supporting fire or rushing a Brummbar threatening my units.
Will this army win the tournament? Right now I can’t be sure since I haven’t tried it, but I suspect not. I have no experience playing it and can see a few faults in it. While there are many changes I could make to it, which may involve a complete overhaul of the army, for now I’ll stick with it and try it out. It’s not perfect yet, but I at least have the basics set out and can build on it from there. Feel free to discuss this article on the message boards.