Part 2: Making the Most of Units
by Patrick GrahamPrevious Guadalcanal Strategy Articles1: Game Mechanics
Welcome to part two in a four-part series of Guadalcanal strategy articles. This time we’ll explore combat, reinforcement, and the uses of each unit. Familiarity with the function of each unit goes a long way to making the right decisions at crucial junctures in the game. Units are divided into three categories -- land, sea and air.
Land units must be transferred to and from islands using sea units. They form the crux of Axis & Allies Guadalcanal as they are your means of controlling islands and anything on them.
Air units can travel from islands with airfields or, in the case of fighters, from aircraft carriers.
Finally, sea units travel through sea zones and have many specialized functions. Sea units move only one space. Since neither axis nor allied forces can outpace the other, positioning and flanking plays a key factor in success. When opposing units of any type occupy the same space they may engage in combat if they can.
During combat, dice equal to the combined attack power of all present friendly units in a given zone or island are rolled and hits are accordingly applied to opposing units.
Destroyed units are, of course, removed from the board. However, each die rolled is applied sequentially according to a table on the battle box when the tab is pulled out. When rolling dice in the dice box, each die lines up with its target on the side and a hit or a miss is scored on that unit type. Cheaper or less effective units such as infantry or destroyers are positioned first on the food chain.
Thusly, fighters, infantry and destroyers can shield more valuable units and take the brunt of enemy fire. When making your battle plans, providing escorts can be a tremendous advantage. Bombers should seldom if ever fly alone, and aircraft carriers benefit from the presence of even one destroyer.
Combat is composed of three phases for air, sea and land. The types of units under attack define each phase; every unit with a combat value applicable to that phase adds the number of dice to the attack. As such, in the air combat phase only aircraft can become casualties, in the sea combat phase only ships can become casualties and so forth. Each combat phase resolves casualties before the next phase begins.
When allocating units to fight, keep in mind air units may be shot down before they can attack ships, and transports may be sunk before they can deploy troops. Acceptable losses must be considered in every turn.
In sea and air battles, some units contribute more than one die. In these situations, it’s possible for units to destroy more than their weight with a lucky roll. For example, while six planes have a definite edge over four planes, the potential remains for the smaller force to wipe out the larger.
During the last segment of the turn, players receive reinforcement points depending on the number of islands they control plus a base number of ten. The points enable you to carry on the fight by replacing destroyed units and purchasing new supplies. For most of the game your primary mission should be building land units to capture and control islands, supplies to build new airfields, and transports (or even destroyers) to expand your control.
Whoever hits the magic number fifteen on the victory track first wins the game; there’s a lot to be said about building victory point-producing airfields faster than your opponent. Supply tokens are doubly important as they will need to be burned off in order to deploy forces before the next turn begins. If you want to reach a distant island immediately, make sure to buy the right number of supply tokens to move each ship.
Ships represent a significant investment. Consider purchasing them when you need to replace losses or when you have extra points not needed for transports and supplies.
Aircraft should be purchased when needed. As you construct new airfields, planes should be in the air ready to land on them. A reserve supply of fighters is also very useful -- fresh fighters can replace any casualties during air combat during the Land Air Units Step.
Above all else, let the victory track be your guide to help you decide which units to purchase. If you’re behind and your opponent is close to victory, consider. If you ahead you can think about buying that extra ship you wanted or reinforcing your islands to keep your opponent out. Always assess your current and future needs and work from that.
If you’re familiar with the statistics and special abilities of each unit, you can begin to see how each works and the best way to use them.
Infantry: Cheap but critical for capturing and controling islands. While each Infantry unit only contributes a single die to combat, their power lies in numbers. Eight production points can give you a force to be reckoned once loaded onto four transports and taken to the nearest flashpoint. Thing is, infantry have a nasty habit of getting themselves perished. Thusly, you’ll find yourself making continued investments in infantry, and the means to move them, in order to stay in the battle. If neglected, you can be guaranteed a troop deficit near the end of the game. By then, it’ll be too late to react and your hard-fought control over real estate will crumble under enemy advances.
Artillery: It’s a good idea to use left over reinforcement points to ‘upgrade’ a single infantry unit into an artillery unit. It’s a small investment that can pay off. Each one contributes a die to attack ships in an adjacent sea zone. Since no friendly ships are needed to make this attack, they can take pot shots at attacking ships and passers-by. Two to four artillery units can provide excellent coverage to bolster sea zone defense, hold a smaller or flanking force, even unescorted transports. A large artillery force on a single island can hold their own against a serious naval assault – not only can they target enemy ships, freshly deployed infantry units can fall under artillery fire as well.
Anti-Aircraft Guns: These units are very specialized but they play their part well and can be used for a few other tricks. Three dice during the air phase is nothing to sneeze at and they make a good choice for defending islands that are out of reach of much of you air force. When space can be spared on your transports they can give a good boost to you efforts to control the skies over a contested island. Take care to remember that they won’t get to participate in Air Combat until they are unloaded. They will need to be on the island since the beginning of the current turn. They contribute no land power and hence cannot control islands. However, their mere presence can retain control of airfields and supplies if they survive.
Destroyers: Since destroyers have the highest priority on the hit table for sea combat, multiples really pay off in forces that aren’t very diverse. Any hits that are scored on non-existent units will go to the destroyers first if any are left. A few destroyers would make a good escort for capital ships. For their value, destroyers offer the greatest anti-air firepower out of any sea unit. At just three development points, they can throw up more than twice the flak of a battleship on a point for point basis. Finally, a destroyer is capable of transporting a single land unit. This is easily overlooked when playing the game for the first time. It is an important ability that should see constant use to help bolster your transport fleets or make quick movements of small land forces when transports are unavailable. Destroyers are more fragile than a battleship but have just the same staying power as a cruiser or aircraft carrier.
Cruisers: While cruisers are just as vulnerable as destroyers, they have a little more firepower and can attack land units on adjacent islands. If you plan on using your cruisers for off-shore bombardments, the best position for them will be The Slot. These three central sea zones border multiple islands and will give your cruisers the greatest number of options for off-shore bombing missions. Likewise, their presence will also influence control off every single island they are adjacent to if you have land units present on those islands. You’ll rapidly discover The Slot is an invaluable prize.
Aircraft Carriers: Since aircraft carriers don’t contribute any combat dice, there’s no reason to throw them into the thick of battle. When moving carriers with a fighter compliment, make sure to calculate where your fighters will be flying and try not to sail any closer than necessary in order for the fighters to complete their mission. Also consider how easy it will be to fly replacements onto the carrier in case your fighters destroyed. The board offers some good sea zones to base your carrier force.
Battleships: Both players start with a single battleship. Battleships function more or less like a cruiser, except they hit harder and can take much more damage -- battleships ignore the first hit they receive every turn. You can be more daring with these ships, but don’t get foolhardy. Losing a battleship is costly, with a hefty twelve point price tag and an important victory point to your opponent. On the other hand, battleships provide excellent targets of opportunity. Destroying one can swing the balance of power in the water widely in your favor.
Submarines: These hunters can be used with precision to target loaded transports, strip away naval defenses or earn victory points through sinking capital ships. The most effective uses of submarines are:
- Snipe vulnerable ships by stalking the edges of the map, effectively avoiding the range of large fleets and coastal guns. 2) Use the subs to sink aircraft carriers as these ships typically way anchor beyond the theatre of battle without an escort. Contrariwise, without an escort to protect your subs, they are extremely vulnerable and can quickly be knocked out. Such use of submarines can win the game, or it can be a suicide run that squanders ships and reinforcement points.
- Back up your main fleet. By getting in a preemptive shot before combat beings, submarines can turn the tide in large naval engagements. Focus on ships that deliver several combat dice to the Sea Combat Phase. Cruisers make for a tasty target. Alternatively, if you have enough subs, go after a battleship. Remember it will take an extra hit to damage or sink it, however that free hit will not return until the end of the whole turn, so a battleship without it will be more vulnerable during the Sea Combat Phase. With enemy battleships destroyed, your remaining ships can mop up the relatively impotent destroyers, aircraft carriers and transports. Submarines also have a good chance of surviving for the next round since they have the lowest priority on the hit table.
Submarines offer a wide array of options and will greatly reward players who use them with cunning.
Transports: Next to supply tokens, transports may be your most oft purchased item. Land units and supply tokens have little use if languishing on your base card. Since Sea Units only move one space, transports deployed from your base card won’t be able to return to the card until the next card (transports cannot unload and move). This means that if you have a steady flow of troops and supplies moving to an island under your control, you’ll need up to twice the number of transports; half full and heading to an island, the other half empty are returning. Barring casualties, a convoy system can be maintained and the end game can be played without focusing so much on purchasing new transports. Remember if you’re planning on moving fast to capture islands or lay down airfields, you may need to spend supply tokens to deploy the transport directly on the board.
Fighters: A small number of fighters have the potential to deal a lot of damage. A larger number (6 or more), especially when supported by ground fire, could consistently chew up almost any air force in the sky. Because air power can add up so quickly, fighters units can be spread around quite a bit if you want to play defensively. A pair of fighters should provide adequate cover above a fleet or against vulnerable secondary targets. Offensively, your objective will not be to clear the skies but to launch attacks on the ground or sea. That means using large numbers of fighters as cover against enemy fire, ultimately absorbing hits that might otherwise strike your more effective bombers. Fighters on the base card should be put into the air every turn. You can always fly them back if they have no place on the main board to land. However, if some of your fighters closer to the front are lost, you’ll be in a much better position to replenish aircraft carriers and airfields.
Bombers: Primarily offensive units, although a bomber’s air attack rating can add up quickly when use in tandem with a bomber squadron. Their range makes them easier to put on the main board than fighters, but if you’re planning to move them from the base card, make sure to fly them early (and out of enemy range) so you have some options to where to bring them down. You may also find situations where they can be deployed directly into combat from your base card. Bombers should seldom if ever make an attack without support. Only consider such an attack if the bombers will be safe, with no enemy fighters in range or three or less dice are expected to be rolled against your air force.
Knowing what to purchase, when to purchase, and what to do with a unit are the essentials to winning battles and, ultimately, the game. In the next article we’ll apply the information covered in the first two articles to present some winning strategies for both forces.
Guadalcanal Product Information