"Sinking of the Shinano: The U.S.S. Archerfish torpedoes the world’s largest aircraft carrier before she ever sees combat."
-- from the battle descriptions in the revised Operations Manual
I've been down that road, let me tell you. Nothing is more frustrating in Axis & Allies than building a big piece of hardware and then seeing it blown up before you can use it. With the Shinano example in mind, the revision team took a hard look at the cost of every piece in the game. After splitting Weapons Development off from the Purchase Units phase, we set to work on what you could buy in the Purchase Units phase.
I'm not going to bore you with essays on how we decided that some pieces were correctly costed. Suffice it to say that for a couple of months, we played around with higher and lower cost versions (transports at 6 IPCs? infantry at 4?) and concluded that in most cases the costs were right for what we wanted the pieces to do. The 18-IPC battleship sure impressed some players for a while, though.
Eventually, we decided that two pieces had to change in price, and with those new costs would come some functional changes as well.
The Dawn of the 10-IPC Fighter
The fighter is the piece in the game that causes the most chaos. At the start of the game, the six German fighters can strafe all of Europe. We love that.
Trouble was, people weren't buying many fighters to replace the ones they lost in combat -- and they lost them a lot. Attacking fighters often would be sacrificed before the last land unit so that the attacker could still take the territory. (Air units still can't land in a newly captured territory.) Eventually, the board would be relatively free of fighters, and the game would lock down to a war of land units.
We wanted a lot of fighters in the box, and we wanted people to use them. To accomplish both of those goals, fighters now cost 10 IPCs. That's still the price of two tanks, so it's hardly cheap, but it's more in line with the pricing scheme of the game overall. It also makes purchasing a bomber seem like a bigger deal.
This decision solved my Jet Fighters problem from the previous column. As I mentioned there, playtesters complained that a 1-point attack increase on an 8-IPC unit (the submarine) was much better than a 1-point defense increase on a 12-IPC unit (the fighter). With fighters now closer to the sub in cost, this distinction faded.
The Arrival of the 16-IPC Carrier
Quick quiz: How much does an aircraft carrier cost in your Milton Bradley edition of Axis & Allies? Your answer is probably 18 IPCs, but in my mind you're at least partially wrong. I make the case that an aircraft carrier costs 26 IPCs -- 18 for the carrier plus 8 for the transport or submarine that will take the hit when the enemy sub comes in to kill it the next turn. If you've built a wall of ships around your harbor, you can get away with buying a carrier by itself, but some of those sea zones are awfully hard to surround with ships.
This cost was prohibitive for all but the richest combatants. The sad thing was, the new aircraft carriers are the coolest pieces in the game. As I whined in column 2, my beef with the pieces in the Milton Bradley edition was that fighters didn't fit on the carriers. With the new pieces borrowed from Axis & Allies Pacific, you can place two fighters snugly on a carrier and even move it as a single unit. Nice, but not all that impressive if no one bought more than the four in play at the start of the game. (I'm still waiting to see my first Soviet carrier.)
An aircraft carrier was clearly better than a destroyer (12 IPCs) and worse than a battleship (24 IPCs). We pegged the carrier at either 15 or 16 IPCs. It tested well at both prices. We settled on 16 IPCs -- the cost of a transport and a submarine. There was still the hidden cost of the "safety" transport to thwart the bushwhacking submarine. At a combined cost of 24 IPCs, you could buy a two-hit battleship instead.
The solution came in a subtle rules fix: We'd let fighters be built directly on new carriers. (Previously, fighters could only be built on land.) Now you might say that an aircraft carrier still costs 26 IPCs, but now you got both the carrier and a fighter you could use on it. That's a lot better than building a ship to protect the carrier. If someone attacked your new carrier, a fighter would defend it. You're still advised to have something in the water before you build the carrier, but the aircraft will make an attacker think twice before threatening your shiny new carrier.
The Rule Without a Home
With fighters costing 10 IPCs and able to be constructed on new carriers, one oft-requested rule got squeezed out of the game: fighter escorts. This rule, which first appeared in Axis & Allies Europe, allows fighters alongside bombers on strategic bombing raids to attack, and be attacked by, enemy fighters. This popular rule was just one thing too many for a 10-IPC fighter, so it got axed from an early draft of the new rulebook.
There was one place, however, that we felt we couldn't ignore fighters on bombing raids, and that was where it involved Stukas. The Stuka Ju-87 was our choice for the German plane. Rulebook graphic designer Brian Dumas was one of many who noted that the German Ju-87 wasn't really a fighter at all. The Stuka was a dive-bomber, a fighter-sized plane that terrorized civilians with small bombs and screaming sirens. Its unique wing angle made it a great shape for the German fighter, but by including it, we begged the question of German fighters on bombing raids.
OK, I reasoned, if history demands that our Stuka be a dive-bomber, it'd be a dive-bomber. I had 30 spaces for optional rules, so one would be reserved for the Stukas. Under this rule, German fighters could conduct half-strength bombing raids. You roll one die for IPC loss per fighter but divide the damage in half. The dive-bomber now had a place in Axis & Allies.
Next week, I'll discuss where you put all these newly priced units. See you then.
Catch up on any previews you missed!
Mike 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.