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Axis & Allies: Countdown to Invasion
Week 6: Startling Developments
by Mike Selinker, Lead Developer

"An investment in research doesn’t guarantee results."

-- from the "Should I Spend IPCs on Weapons Development?"section of the Operations Manual

There are two main kinds of gamblers in Las Vegas. The first is the casual "dabblers," people who like to take a risk and put a sawbuck on 17 because that's their daughter's age. People like this believe that if it's their lucky day, they'll win. They're not going to be there every day, so why not see what happens?

The second type is the more mathematical "grinders," who know that over time luck will even out. These folks will sit at the blackjack table playing a system for days, waiting for that perfect moment to play big and beat the house. The key phrase for these people is "over time," because they'll wait out the bad days, if they can.

Axis & Allies fans split into these two camps on weapons development. The dabblers love weapons development because it lets them roll the dice and see if they can get something that will turn the war on its head. The grinders hate weapons development because it messes with the mathematical precision to which Axis & Allies theoretically holds. Both groups exist in large numbers, so it behooved us to design a weapons development system that would appeal to both.

This weapons development chart was again designed by Abigail Fein. Each column has spaces for your power's marker, indicating whether you have that development.

The Roll

Even the grinders don't hate the idea of stronger bombers and submarines. Over the years I've seen dozens of web essays on weapons development systems, often involving cascading payment systems and stackable developments. These are clearly by hardcore grinders who don't hate weapons development. What they hate is the roll.

The rule in the previous edition is: Pay 5 IPCs for each die you want to roll. Roll the dice. For each 6 you roll, roll another die to determine which of six developments you gain. On a single turn you might get nothing or you might get the keys to the candy store. That roll is more volatile than any game rule I've seen. Like at the carnival, you pay money to get a chance to reach into a grab bag for a random prize.

Our solution was to eliminate the grab bag. In the revision, you pick a number and then pay for the chance to roll it. If you want Super Submarines (development #3), you'd pay 5 IPCs for each die, choose the number 3, and roll the dice to see if you get a 3 on any of them. It still costs just as much to get a chance at a prize, and you still have the same chance to get a prize, but the bag contains only one prize.

Some playtesters liked this system because it tempered the players who were rolling just to roll. In essence, we took the experimentation out of the experimentation. Of course, there is one drawback to giving players this choice: Since all options are equally available, one can't be clearly better than the others. We needed to balance all the developments against each other. With each development costing an average of 30 IPCs per acquisition (6 dice at 5 IPCs each), they had to be tempting ... but not too tempting.

Super Submarines (subs attack at 3) became the baseline. If it was always clear that you wanted a development more or less than Super Submarines, that development was in for a rough time. The roughest time of all was had by a very popular development.

The Sudden Demise of Industrial Technology

On my first day on the Axis & Allies revision, I targeted Industrial Technology as the weapons development I most wanted to kill. This development made every piece you bought thereafter one IPC cheaper. Infantry at 2 IPCs? Holy cats! Battleships at 23? Um, hold me back. It hurt my head, and not just because I couldn't tell exactly what technology was being industrialized.

Industrial Technology fell behind the woodshed on day one. We instituted a simple rule: A weapons development was the development of a single weapon. To replace Industrial Technology, we played around with several contenders, including one so good it became a central game rule. Eventually the choice for Industrial Technology's replacement came down to two choices, Heavy Artillery and Combined Bombardment.

Heavy Artillery gave your artillery a 3 attack. Playtesters loved this but it was too good. Super Submarines gave the same attack to a piece costing twice as much. Heavy Artillery lost the fight with Combined Bombardment, which allowed destroyers to bombard in an amphibious assault. As I mentioned in column 2, the destroyer bombardment from Axis & Allies Pacific didn't make the jump to Axis & Allies. Because people liked that rule, we put it in as a weapons development (but at an attack of 3, not the 2 attack from Pacific). It costs an average of 30 IPCs, still a good bargain for those who want to blow up Western Europe before they land.

Not-So-Heavy Bombers

How many times have you been on the receiving end of four heavy bombers strategically bombing you for 12 dice of IPCs a turn? Yeah, I thought so. Know how many times you'll be on the receiving end of it in the revision? Not once, thanks.

Of course, six bombers can still do that. Bringing Heavy Bombers down to 2 dice each made them still pretty scary, but more in line with the other developments. Bombers cost 15 each, so this development comes at the average cost of two bombers. If you already have six bombers, you're well on your way to destroying everything on the board, so that 30 IPCs is a good bet. If you have only three bombers, you should probably buy two more. This was exactly where we wanted Heavy Bombers to rest.

The Power of Rockets

If Heavy Bombers had to come down in power, Rockets had to go up ... and down, just like a rocket. The previous rulebook allowed one of your antiaircraft guns to make a free strike against an enemy industrial complex within 3 spaces. By comparison to the original Heavy Bombers, this was too weak. Even alongside the new, toned-down Heavy Bombers, it paled.

The new rules allow you to make a rocket strike with each of your antiaircraft guns, as long as each gun attacks a different industrial complex. That means if you have two guns and each is within three spaces of different industrial complexes, they can hit both of the complexes with one shot each. If you have six antiaircraft guns ... well, no one's going to let you have six guns near six different complexes. Besides, you've probably not bought anything but AA guns after investing 60 or 70 IPCs in this plan, so your enemies will just capture the weakly-defended guns and turn them against you.

With all this blasting away at industrial complexes, we also imposed a severe, new limit on both rocket strikes and strategic bombing. No single bomber or rocket can inflict more IPC loss on an industrial complex than the income value of the territory that the complex sits on. In other words, a complex can't lose more than it makes to a single bomber or rocket strike. This should demolish the execrable "poison pill" tactic. This tactic had you build a complex on a low-value territory, then intentionally lose it in combat so that you could blast the enemy's economy with rocket strikes and bombers directed against what used to be your territory. Now, if you build an industrial complex in a 1-IPC territory, you'll only be able to take away 1 IPC per bomber or rocket.

More Air Power

No one had any complaints about Long-Range Aircraft, which added two spaces to the move of each of your air units. Sometimes you need it and sometimes you don't. It stayed the way it was.

Less clear was the fate of Jet Fighters, which you know as Jet Power. Some playtesters argued it was less powerful than it could be. Super Submarines added 1 to the attack of an 8-IPC unit while Jet Fighters added 1 to the defense of a 12-IPC unit. That meant Super Submarines were about half-again as good as Jet Fighters. Good point.

We addressed that, but in a way that'll have to wait till my next column. Those of you who already miss Industrial Technology are going to like what you see.

Mike


Catch up on any previews you missed!


Mike SelinkerMike Selinker has been playing, designing, developing, and just plain loving games of every variety for many, many years. He is a gamer in the very best sense of the word. Mike lives in Seattle.










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