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Axis & Allies: Countdown to Invasion
Week 8: The Complexity of Complexes
by Mike Selinker, Lead Developer

"The United States is the strongest economically, but it begins far from the action. It must gear up to get its troops mobilized or it will be contained in its own hemisphere."

-- from the "Which Power Should I Play" section of the revised Operations Manual

In "Action Sequence 5: Place New Units on Gameboard" -- hereafter referred to as the "mobilize new units" phase -- you place your units at your industrial complexes. Simple enough, but this activity contained a lot of not-so-obvious complexity. The revision team made simplifying the building of new units a priority.

The basics of industrial complexes haven't changed. A complex still is a 15-IPC unit that can't move, defend, or attack. If it's hit by a rocket or strategic bombing raid, you bleed IPCs. If you lose a territory containing your industrial complex, it isn't yours anymore.

The Mobilization Zone

The most ignored rule of the Milton Bradley edition of A&A may have been this one: "Put all the newly purchased units on top of the colored symbol of your country on your Reference Chart." If I had a nickel for every time I saw a player do that, I'd still be 30 cents shy of a Mars Bar. As a result, units awaiting deployment were accidentally hidden or mixed back into the unit pool more times than they ever needed to be. I certainly muffed this step more times than I can count.

Mobilization Zone

The easiest decision we made in the revision was to create an area on the map where you placed your units awaiting mobilization. The mobilization zone is shown above. It was designed by talented cartographer Todd Gamble to show the silhouette and price of each purchasable unit. Detail-obsessed folks can even stack their new units on the correct silhouettes.

Getting used to this step is just a matter of retraining your muscles. Now my players call out a player who forgets to place units on the mobilization zone as if he or she is trying to get away with something. (That player is usually me, by the way.)

Placement of New Units

Originally, the summary on placing units at industrial complexes was written in the longest sentence I've ever tried to read. It's on page 13–14 of the Milton Bradley rulebook, under (ahem) Combat Movement. My editor, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, would like you to know that you'll never again have to read another 147-word tangle like this:

Three important rules about industrial complexes have already been stated: (1) newly purchased units you bought at the beginning of your turn in Action 1 can be placed only in territories with industrial complexes that you have owned since the beginning of your turn; (2) newly purchased industrial complexes can be placed only in territories that you have owned since the beginning of your turn; and (3) original industrial complexes (those that you started the game with) have unlimited production -- that is, you can place any number of newly purchased units on a territory with an original complex; and that new industrial complexes (those that you purchased and placed or captured during the game) have limited production per turn -- that is, the number of newly purchased items that can be placed in a territory with a new complex is EQUAL to the income value of that territory.

That last rule about limited production deserved some attention. The game logic was sound. We didn't want players capturing an opponent's complex in the Caucasus and then producing eight tanks one space from Moscow. The story logic, though, was less sound. Hitler wanted the Caucasus not just because it was close to Moscow but because the Georgian oil fields could fuel the Wehrmacht. What the Russians could gain from the Caucasus, the Germans could gain as well.

If you could capture your opponent's industry, you should gain the spoils of the war. This led to an inevitable conclusion: All territories' maximum unit production should be limited by their income value. If a territory produced 3 units for one side, it produced 3 units for the other.

The consequences of this decision were vast. Certain areas of the board -- especially the aforementioned Caucasus -- suddenly became more valuable and needed greater defenses. Other areas became less likely to produce certain types of units; for example, American infantry would be less likely to debark from Los Angeles than the richer Washington. Eventually, we decided that only Washington, Los Angeles, and Berlin would be able to produce more than 8 units in a turn, ever.

Even though this change sounds revolutionary, and it did have ripple effects, the final effect isn't that different from earlier play. Lots of infantry continue to be produced at the Russian complexes, tanks are spawned in Germany, and high-priced boats and planes come out of Tokyo. There are times, however, when it really matters, and those times make for great gaming.

Placement of Specific Units

The Milton Bradley edition highlighted five specific limits on which newly built units you could place where:

  1. Infantry (and presumably other units) couldn't be placed on transports.
  2. Fighters couldn't be placed on carriers.
  3. AA guns couldn't be built in territories that contained AA guns.
  4. Sea units couldn't be built in hostile sea zones.
  5. Industrial complexes couldn't be built in territories with other complexes.

Each of those got serious scrutiny in the revision.

The first rule survived intact, as putting land units on a transport in your mobilization phase is insane in almost every context. Since the land units couldn't defend themselves, they were sitting ducks for an air raid or naval attack. Only when you had a vastly greater force at sea than on land would you do this, so we left it out of the game.

The second rule went away, in part. For reasons I described last week, fighters can now be built on newly built aircraft carriers. You still can't build a fighter on an existing carrier, though.

The third rule went away entirely. If you want more AA guns, get more. (Only one in each territory can fire, however.) We also removed the overarching rule that if all the antiaircraft guns or industrial complexes had been built, you couldn't build more. If someone else takes the last gun, that shouldn't stop you from building one. Just use a coin or a bead.

The fourth rule on hostile sea zones hurt the defending power too much. Now, if an opponent has your home port blockaded, you can place new units in the hostile sea zone. This allows you to build a transport to attract the enemy battleship's fire so it can't bombard -- it should be hard to take London, after all.

Placement of New Industrial Complexes

The fifth rule on complexes remained. You still can't have more than one industrial complex in a territory. (Side note: The Russians have a cool new trick to avoid this limit. In the optional rules, the Russians can actually move their industry. They did this in 1942, building 5,000 tanks east of the Urals.)

Larry HarrisAxis & Allies designer Larry Harris took a hard look at the Milton Bradley edition's exception that you can always build one unit at an industrial complex, regardless of its territory's income value. This allowed for a complex on Midway or Gibraltar to spawn a battleship, which made little sense.

Under the logic that territories with an income value of 0 shouldn’t be able to produce anything, we removed the ability to build a complex on a valueless territory. When we added the rule that all territories could build only a number of units equal to their income value, this made even more sense. (Also, it was one more nail in the coffin of the "poison pill," the strategy of building a complex on a territory you intend to lose so you can bomb it later. Good riddance.)

I could write for hours more on industrial complexes, but I'm itching to get started working on the column on combat. That's what Axis & Allies is all about, after all. Come back next week and you can read how to beat the living daylights out of your friends.


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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