Axis & Allies D-Day


Avalon Hill, 2004, 2-3 players, ages 12 and up. In this addition to the Axis & Allies series (which originated with the great Milton Bradley Gamemaster series of the 1980s), players reenact the World War II battle of Normandy. One player plays the Germans and the others play the Americans and the British (or both together for two-player games). The components are first rate and the rules are short and sweet. Turns are played out using "order cards", which basically lay out each sub-phase of a turn as you go, eliminating the need for lengthy rules. Each turn consists of naval bombardment by the Allies (trying to take out of the German blockhouses - fixed fortifications aimed at the landing beaches), launching fighter patrols (Allies only, the Germans have no planes in this game), anti-aircraft fire by the Germans, bomber strikes (again, Allies only), more ack-ack from the Germans, Allied movement, blockhouse firing (at the seaborne Allied reinforcements), Allied beach landing of reinforcements, Allied attacks, German movement/attack, and the mustering/placement of new reinforcements.

Combat is accomplished using the same nigh endless die rolling scheme of the original game (you either like it or you don't). Each unit in combat has an attack value and a defense battle, and to score a "kill" you must roll that value or less on a six-sider. Each unit engaged in combat gets to fire once and then the casualities are removed. Unlike other games, combat ends after a single iteration, so regions can remain contested (and the units therein unmoveable) until the next round of combat comes up. Reinforcements are finite and fairly rigid in their makeup. You place all of your reinforcement units on a card at the beginning of the game and place them on the board in a set order (the number of which is determined each turn by die rolling).

The object of the game (for the Allies) is to capture and hold (un-contested) all three of the object cities on the board (St. Lo, Caen and Cherbourg). For the Germans to win, all they need is to have at least one unit holding (or contesting) one of the three cities by the end of turn nine. In addition to the order cards, the game contains optional "Fortune" and "Tactics" cards. The Fortune cards add a lot more randomness to the game (as if there weren't enough already), by possibly altering each order card in favor of (or against) the forces to which it pertains (for example, you might get a boost to your reinforcements one phase, or have them halved the next). The Tactics cards give each player an optional one-shot aid during each of their order phases (used once and then discarded).

This game seems to be tilted rather drastically in favor of the Germans. Yes, the Allies have air supremacy, but it does not seem to be as overwhelmingly powerful as it should be. Each Allied power has four fighter units that they can deploy each turn. However, these can only attack ground units that move into (or out of) the spaces in which they are situated. And even then, their odds of successfully destroying a unit are fairly low (requiring a roll of 1 on a D6). Mainly they serve to interfere with the Axis player's ability to deploy his reinforcements with impugnity, but with so many reinforcements, it's tough for the Allies to totally stymie the Axis player throughout a given turn. Plus, the Axis player has a wealth of artillery units which can be used to shoot down any planes patrolling their area (at the same odds that the planes have), making it pretty easy to scare off the Allied planes when need be (because once a plane is shot down, it's out of the game and cannot be replaced). The bombers are a much more formidable force, having a 50-50 chance of taking out a single, targetted Axis unit each turn, but with only one for each Allied player, it's a very limited resource (and again, bombers have to deal with the dreaded Axis anti-aircraft shooting down their non-replaceable bombers).

The real problem seems to be with the victory conditions. Once the Axis player figures out that all he has to do is have at least one unit in one of the three object cities, his strategy becomes pretty simple. First, collapse the numerous starting units in the Cherbourg region back into Cherbourg and hold out for as long as possible. This will divide the attention of the U.S. player and there are enough units on the board to begin with that they can hold out for quite some time. Since the goal is to simply play for time, you can then totally write off Cherbourg when it comes to reinforcements. It's too far away from the Axis staging areas to make reinforcement practical anyway.

Finally, divide your reinforcements (which are more numerous, more powerful and better positioned when staged than the Allied reinforcements) between fortifying St. Lo and hasseling Caen. The British forces can generally overwhelm and take Caen fairly quickly, but they are inferior to the Germans (the Germans having both more and better units to bring to bear) and have a hell of a time holding Caen (particularly if the British commander diverts reinforcements to the battle of St. Lo). The Americans are screwed from the beginning. Omaha Beach is a blood bath and the Americans will spend several turns simply defeating the starting Axis beach defenders. Then, it's the long slog to St. Lo (where the clever German player will have situated a huge defending force).

We played this game twice (and no, there won't be a third time). In the first game it took the Axis player (me) a while to formulate the above mentioned strategy. I wasted a lot of time and resources trying to "hurl the Allies back into the sea" (I guess I've seen too many documentaries about Rommell on the History Channel), rather than focusing on holding at least one city. I eventually did figure that all out and wound up winning with one unit left in St. Lo at the end of turn nine. The second game wasn't even close. The Allies barely took Cherbourg, were bogged down in a losing battle in St. Lo and I completely annihilated the British forces in Caen (not a single British unit left on the board).

I was really excited to play this game, but ultimately it turned out to be a disappointment. An interesting idea, but it really needs some tweaking to give it more balance.



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