Avalon Hill, 2000, 2-3 players, ages 12 and up. This A&A spin-off streamlines some of the production rules of the main game and focuses on the war in the Asia/Pacific region between Japan and the United States (and the British and Chinese as well, although they are barely relevent in this scenario - it's all about Japan and the US). The rest of the game is straight Axis & Allies- capturing certain key territories earns you IPC's (money) at the end of your turn. At the beginning of your next turn you use the money to purchase new units (planes and ships costing the most, then armor, artillery and infantry). Then you move your units into harm's way and start rolling dice (a feature that either you like or you don't - some people absolutely detest all the die-rolling. Me, I love it). The pieces are the excellent (and fun) little toys we've come to know and love, although they still have the problem of being too big (especially those damned bombers) to comfortably occupy the tiny territories on the board. Providing poker chips to allow stacking of units is still a pain in the neck. The rules are decent and well-organized, but they are long. It took us over an hour to go through them the first time, and we still got a bunch of stuff wrong (rectified by a second read-through between games, along with going through the FAQ). I think the whole game could be refined further, but I guess it's not really designed for the casual gamer who only plans on bringing it out once a year.
The set-up is pre-Pearl Harbor with Japan poised to strike. Consequently, the Japanese player has many more forces on the board to start with than the other two players. To simulate the surprise achieved by Japan, the Japanese player gets an amazing first turn advantage. While all of Japan's forces attack getting their normal odds of success, all the Allied players' pieces only score hits when they roll a 1! And this lasts throughout Japan's entire first turn! Consequently, Japan's first turn is crucial and takes one hell of a long time to plot out (or should, anyway). The first time we tried playing, we quit after about three turns and decided that we had learned enough about how the game works to form some basic strategy for the next time. Then, I sat down with the game by myself and literally scripted out Japan's entire first turn. I'd say I spent close to TEN HOURS on this project, maybe more. Frankly, I just don't see how anybody could do this by just winging it (with the other players sitting there staring at them and drumming their fingers impatiently on the table).
There are two ways for Japan to win. The first is to earn 22 victory points (a victory point is awarded for each 10 money units you earn on a turn). Early in the game when Japan has the momentum, Japan can earn 3-4 VP's per turn, slowly dwindling to 2-3 points per turn (depending on the allied strategy). The other way for Japan to win is to capture and hold (for one turn) India or New South Wales. The allies win by either taking and holding the Japanese home island for 1 turn or causing Japan to go an entire turn without earning a victory point (reducing their income below 10 IPC's).
As constituted, this game is woefully tilted in favor of the Japanese player. After spending its first turn wiping out as many British and American units as possible and taking enough new territory to double its starting income, the bulk of Japan's air and naval forces can then be focused on India for a massive invasion on turn 3, 4 or 5 (depending on your luck and the allied response to your actions), with the rest set aside to tap-dance with the Americans and buy time. After the first turn, the British player is damned no matter what he does. With his income slashed by Japan's first turn incursions, he will feel sorely tempted to dilute his India defenses in a futile attempt to regain lost territory. This plays right into Japan's hands, however, because all he is playing for is that Indian invasion. On the other hand, if the British player simply fortifies India, this virtually guarantees a VP win for Japan (and the money to stack defenders on the home island to the skies). While America is an absolute economic juggernaut, it is too far away to be able to mount a large enough invasion of Japan in time. All Japan has to do is use its Midway carrier fleet to slow down the American advance. And once its carriers get back to home waters, Japan can make use of its special Kamikazee advantage during the inevitable naval battle with America to buy an extra turn or two. Time is definitely on Japan's side (not having to deal with the real life end-game decider of atom bombs) and the longer Japan can forestall America, the more long distance bombers it can build to use against India. As Japan, I was able to build up to a turn 5 annihilation of India, with the bulk of America's navy and planes still a couple of turns away from even attempting to attack Japan.
Avalon Hill has recognized this imbalance and released as part of their FAQ for the game a revised initial setup which cuts down on the number of fighters, transports and infantry that Japan starts with. This might be enough to balance things out, but I think the whole "take India and win" thing needs to be tossed out entirely. And frankly, I'm not a big fan of having to fix games in order to make them playable. There are enough good games out there that work right out of the box without having to waste gaming sessions trying to find ways to fix a broken one. These are the changes they recommend:
- French Indochina receives 2 infantry, not 4;
- Hainan receives 6 infantry, not 4;
- Sea zone 37 receives 1 transport, not 2;
- The Mariana Islands receive 0 fighters, not 1;
- Sea zone 20 receives 0 subs, not 1;
- Sea zone 22 receives 1 sub, not 0.