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Axis & Allies: Countdown to Invasion
Week 10: Air Units and the Guns that Kill Them
by Mike Selinker, Lead Developer

"Britain's radar alerted it to the threat of German planes crossing the channel. It used this warning to make sure the Luftwaffe never made it to the other side."

from the "Radar" optional rule in the revised Operations Manual

Using air units is like dating a supermodel: they're attractive but the process is complicated. In the revision, we kept their natures intact while doing a few things to make them easier to understand, maneuver, and kill.

In the Milton Bradley edition of Axis & Allies, air units flying into combat split their movement between the combat move and the noncombat move, with the combat phase in the middle. Different rules applied to the separate halves of this move. Experienced players knew how to handle it, but novices would forget where their planes came from. In the revision, air units' movement went under a high-power microscope.

"One Phase, One Move"

Early on, we adopted the goal of making air units move entirely in one phase ("one phase, one move," I called it). I'm not ashamed to admit that we couldn't make that idea work at all. I tried making players commit to an entire move during the combat move but playtesters screamed that they needed to see what happened in combat before committing to a landing point.

The combat move and conduct combat phases were separate, so an air unit flying into combat would have to move in two phases. There was just no way around that. At least it wouldn't be three, I consoled myself. (Sharp-eyed readers might intuit from this that I tried to combine the combat move and conduct combat phases. I did, and it was a catastrophe. After one awful session, I never looked back on keeping the phases separate. But I digress.)

Air Unit Movement Markers

Because I wanted air units' movements to be easier to track, I proposed that we introduce air unit flight markers. The markers shown here, designed by art director Ryan Sansaver, each show a number to indicate how many spaces the air units flew before reaching a point of combat. You place the flight marker on the map and leave it there when you move the units to the battle board. (Alternately, you can move it to the battle board underneath the planes if they flew in from different locations.) A single plane might leave two or three markers in its wake to show points at which combat occurs, since interaction with an antiaircraft gun is now defined as combat.

The end result is that air units in combat complete their move during the conduct combat phase, before any noncombat moves take place. The same rules apply to each step of the move. Air units have a special ability to "treat hostile spaces as friendly" (that is, to ignore enemy combat units in spaces they don't attack). This, of course, does not apply to antiaircraft guns.

If I Can See You, I Can Shoot You

AA Gun FireThe days of the free overflight are gone. In the previous edition, an air unit that flew into combat could fly back home without encountering any antiaircraft guns in its path. This never made sense to me. If a plane could fly so high that it could ignore flak on the way out, why couldn't it do so on the way in as well? By my read, the presence of an antiaircraft gun should always put a plane in fear for its life.

Because an air unit's entire move now occurs either in the combat move/conduct combat phases or the noncombat phase, the new edition could have one rule for overflight. If you passed over an antiaircraft gun -- even if you'd already encountered it during that move -- it could shoot at you.

So, for example, if a British fighter launches from a carrier in the Mediterranean, flies over Southern Europe, into Germany, and back over Southern Europe, the fighter will encounter antiaircraft fire three times, assuming no gun was moved from its setup position. The fact that the Southern Europe gun fires on the approach doesn't stop it from firing again on the return.

Brian Dumas's diagrams from the Operations Manual show how it works.

More Guns Don't Mean More Hits

The Milton Bradley edition prohibited you from having more than one antiaircraft gun in a territory. This made maneuvering guns less convenient than we wanted it to be, because you couldn't mobilize a gun in a territory where your industrial complex was defended by one. Now you can have as many as you want in a territory, but only one can ever fire at intruding air units. (They still can't fire while on transports, of course.)

As hinted at in the column on industrial complexes, you can now buy as many antiaircraft guns as you want, even if you exceed the amount in the box. We haven't gone over 12 guns in our games (even with the expanded rockets), but I expect it'll happen occasionally. Some players likely will use AA guns from previous editions or expansions, since the piece itself hasn't changed. (You can also buy as many of any unit as you want, but I've yet to see any capacity exceeded other than the shared industrial complexes and antiaircraft guns.)

Retreating Air Units

You know, of course, the rule requiring that a retreating force must retreat to a space from which at least one attacker came. Air units mess with this rule, because there's no guarantee that the land units came from a place where the air units can land. To account for that, we let air units retreat to any friendly territory or carrier. Antiaircraft guns they pass over can try to shoot them down.

In amphibious assaults, it gets even murkier. In an amphibious assault, the offloaded land units -- and every other land unit in the combat -- cannot retreat, as they're presumed to be bogged down on the shore. Once they're in combat, there's no way to tell the transported land units from those that came overland, so this rule applies to every attacking land unit.

Logic, however, overruled the previous edition's rule that air units couldn't retreat from an amphibious assault. Nothing seemed capable of holding back a fighter or bomber from going home after a disastrous amphibious assault. So now air units (only) can retreat from amphibious assaults, leaving their embattled brethren behind to fight and die on the shore.

"I Need a Carrier!"

This leads me to one of the new edition's most Byzantine rules. Let's say you attack your enemy, and you discover that he's not going to give up his territory. You retreat your fighters into a sea zone where there's a friendly aircraft carrier. Can you land on the carrier? Yes, because of the overarching rule that says an attacking air unit can retreat to any friendly space. (Remember, it couldn't have gone into the combat unless it had at least one space of movement left.) Once it reaches the sea zone, it can land on the carrier.

Now for the Byzantine part. Let's say you retreat your fighter into an empty sea zone. Can you do that? Yup, IF you have an aircraft carrier within two sea zones. Here's why: The revised edition has a new rule on how fighters land on carriers. They can complete their move in a sea zone, but then you must declare that a carrier will move to that zone during the noncombat move. The fighter then lands at the end of the noncombat move. (I know this is a brain-bender. The new edition states this over and over, so you won't forget it.) As long as a carrier gets there by the end of the noncombat move, the fighter lives. If the carrier is destroyed before it reaches the fighter, the plane will crash, but at least you won't have violated the rules.

Next week, I'll finally get to submarines and destroyers. 'Bout darn time, too.


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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