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What rule variations do you recommend for playing Axis & Allies, from ones meant to balance the game to ones that add a little spice?

Here are the variants I've played with - always looking for new suggestions!

  • Russia cannot attack on first turn. Personally, I don't consider this a rule variation because I only play games where this is enforced.
  • Bidding system for choosing Axis player(s). Namely, the unit of currency is decided - IPCs or infantry or tech rolls - and then each player writes down how much of the currency they'd need to play Germany or Japan after which all players reveal their bids. The lowest bidders are awarded the Axis power(s) and are given their compensation, either before the game begins or at the start of their first turn.
  • No economic victory for Axis.
  • No new factories. This variation makes life very tough on Japan, especially if she has some poor luck in the Pacific to start the game off.
  • Free weapons developments for Axis powers. Traditionally, Germany gets Jet Power and Japan gets Super Subs, but I've played where Germany and Japan can choose a technology of choice other than Heavy Bombers.
  • Every country must spend exactly 5 IPC per turn to do weapons development. A somewhat silly variation, but invariably adds some twists to the game.
  • Two hit battleships. This variation makes for an interesting opening game, strengthening the UK Sea Zone fleet, making it harder for the Allies to take out the German Mediterranean fleet, and giving Japan a little more of an edge in the Pacific.

Are there any other variations you've played with that you'd recommend?

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Why no economic victory and no new factories? You want the two sides to battle it out, right? –  Tom Au Jun 1 '11 at 16:10
@Tom: No new factories is an interesting twist that can be fun to play if Japan is a very strong player. (Although I've noticed that most highly skilled Japanese players only buy factories very late in the game, anyhow.) –  Scott Mitchell Jun 1 '11 at 22:32
With the 2nd fewest IPCs, Japan can't afford a factory early in the game. It's only late in the game, when Japan has a line of something like India, Sinkiang, Yakut that it makes sense for Japan to build a factory closer to the front. But maybe Japan has captured an allied factory in the former two in the meantime; which may be why the ALLIES also should be prohibited from buying factories. –  Tom Au Jun 2 '11 at 13:55
@Tom: The no new factories variation applies to all players - Axis and Allies alike. Why it's tough on Japan is that if their navy is destroyed then they are screwed as they can't get troops onto the mainland, whether that happens in the early-, mid-, or late-game, no navy for Japan equals a guaranteed loss (unless Germany has cleaned up Russia, owns Africa, and has UK penned on the isle with a mediocre number of IPCs/turn). –  Scott Mitchell Jun 2 '11 at 16:24
My preferred version of this rule is "only" two factories per country. That caps the US, Germany and Russia, but allows a new factory to Japan (the greatest beneficiary) but also the UK, to make it fair. –  Tom Au Jun 11 '11 at 1:12
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4 Answers

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Interesting variations you listed.

A house rule I sometimes play is paratroopers. A bomber can load up an infantry and drop it in a friendly or hostile territory.

Axisandallies.org has a great discussion on Axis and Allies from the original to the 1940 World Edition.

Here is a link to their forums. Apparently I dont have enough rep to post more than one link but you will be able to navigate your way around Im sure.

Here is the link to their variations section.

And another link to their house rules section.

Will be hard to find more hardcore fans so it would be worth while to poke around there.

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Would you mind posting a link to those listing variations on the axisandallies.org forums, and/or provide a synopsis of them here? –  Scott Mitchell Nov 23 '10 at 0:20
I remember trying paratroopers once -- it made for a COMPLETELY different game and dramatically slowed things down, as you basically had to hold back guys in every single territory (especially Russia and Germany) unless you wanted surprise infantry knocking on your back door. –  LittleBobbyTables Nov 23 '10 at 3:45
I marked your answer as THE answer, thanks for adding the link. Maybe when your rep is higher you can come back and provide some more links and descriptions. I was hoping to see some variants listed like I listed mine - basically a name followed by a short description. Thx –  Scott Mitchell Nov 24 '10 at 17:51
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One Hit Infantry

For advanced players, the overarching strategy of A&A reduces to the infantry push mechanic as described in Don Rae's excellent essays--this is especially true for 2nd edition games, which have 3/2 tanks vice 3/3 tanks.

The essence of the IPM is that Germany and Russia should buy only infantry until the late game, after they have fortified their borders with infantry and established dead zones in Eastern Europe. The US, UK and Japan also play IPM, but after a short delay to build navies and/or factories to move/spawn all this infantry.

IPM works because the opportunity cost of all units is higher than infantry's (i.e. infantry are the cheapest unit in the game and are twice as effective on defense as they are on offense). Cheap means they are the only units you can ever afford to leave in a dead zone (i.e. open to counterattack by a superior force). Their effective defense means they are most valuable in large stacks that can devastate an attacking force with insufficient "cannon fodder".

Don suggests a brilliant and simple solution to the stalemated and long-developing game common between experienced players utilizing IPM: modify infantry so that they attack and defend on a roll of 1+.

This change takes some getting use to, but after only a game or two becomes second nature and dramatically changes the game for the better. What was once a defensive stalemate becomes a furor of attack and counter attack. 1/1 infantry means a one-on-one combat between two lone infantry becomes a fair fight, it means any additional attacking force is statistically overwhelming, and it means infantry alone defend so poorly as to be almost useless. All of these factors bias the game just enough in favor of the attacker to prevent large stacks of infantry from materializing. This change also makes a fighter-only vs. infantry attack feasible since the odds that the infantry will score a lucky hit have been cut in half.

Beyond the traditional sitting around a table method you can try out this variation on the computer if you are lucky enough to have a copy of the out-of-print Iron Blitz (you can edit the infantry attack/defense values); it's also trivially easy to implement if you play-by-email.

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Great suggestion! Did you know you can play A&A online for free at gamesbyemail.com/Games/WW2? I added a new rule variant for Infantry defense at 1 and am interested to give it a try. Let me know if you ever want to play online. –  Scott Mitchell Jan 5 '11 at 17:53
This raises the value of armor. Because the latter can defend at 2, and costs only 5/3 as much as infantry. (Unless you reduce the cost of infantry to 2.) –  Tom Au Jun 1 '11 at 16:12
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Here are some fixes that I propose for the game.

  1. If Russia is allowed to attack on the first move, Germany is allowed to move back one fighter and one armor from the Ukraine to Eastern Europe, and one fighter back from Finland to Eastern Europe, and Japan one fighter back from Manchuria to Kwantung BEFORE the game starts. I don't mind letting the Russians attack (even in Manchuria) just don't want Axis fighters killed off in the process. (And my preferred strategy is to play a defensive Russia and not attack, because the Axis can now counterattack advantageously in either case, assuming average die rolls).

  2. Factory rule: No factories in landlocked territories (basically China, Sinkiang, and some Russian territories). In the "real war," the "industrialization" of China was about the only thing the Allies failed at. It's hard enough to build factories on the coast without shipping materials inland. And in "Sinkiang?" You're talking about Tibet and the Taklamaken desert for crying out loud.

  3. Heavy bomber rule: limit increase to 50% like other techs. For conventional combat, attacker gets two dice, but hits only with 1-3 (six rolls instead of four). For heavy bombing, if the roll is 1-3, attacker gets to roll second die and add the two (range of outcomes is 2-9, for an average of 5.5.). Or if using only one die, attacker hits FOR SURE in conventional combat, and heavy bombing damage = die roll+2 (ranging from 3 to 8 for an average of 5.5).

  4. Bomber transport: A carrier can carry one bomber in lieu of two fighters (like a transport can carry one armor in lieu of two infantry).

  5. Kamikaze rule: Japan (and Japan only), can launch "kamikaze" air attacks where planes don't have enough range to return. (Japan did so in real life).

  6. Paratrooper unit (per suggestion above). Has a 1-2 combat factor (like infanty) but costs 12 IPCs to build (like a fighter). Special movement feature; with a complement of its own planes, can move two spaces to a friendly or unoccupied enemy territory (e.g., over the North Sea to or from England or Germany) "leapfrogging" over intervening territory. If enemy territory is occupied, treat as "amphibious" landing. Is identifiable as a "specially trained" unit, not just a generic infantry on a bomber.

  7. Economic victory for Axis: As a practical matter, the Axis would have won World War II if they had ever accumulated one-half of the world's industrial capacity, unless the Allies had some offsetting technological advantage (such as the atomic bomb). In this game, that's only 74 IPCs (because the U.S. is "hobbled," with a fraction of its real-life industrial capacity. The victory condition is 84 IPCs in the game and something like 99 IPCs in real life.) But 74 IPCs could represent a "tipping point," especially in conjunction with either of the following:

7a. Treacherous (minor) Allies. In World War II, the defection of minor German allies like Italy and Romania contributed to the Allied victory. In Axis and Allies, if the Axis get 74 IPCs, minor U.S. Allies like Sinkiang, China, Brazil, Mexico, Panama and the West Indies defect, sensing an Axis victory. The resulting coup d'etats puts one (pro-Axis) infantry unit in each country (as total of 11 IPCs), and U.S. land and air units on those territories are destroyed. (Japan gets the "income" from China and Sinkiang, Germany, from the Latin American territories). If the Axis reach 74 without any of these territories, the switch of 11 IPCs brings their total to 85 (unless the U.S. can recapture, e.g., Mexico on its turn). If 4 of those 74 IPCs are China and Sinkiang, the Axis still have 81 (until the U.S. starts reconquering the Western Hemisphere, a major distraction).

7b. Set the "bar" initially at 74 (it never goes below that even if the Axis have a tech advantage) but since the Allies have more income for research, raise the bar by 5 IPCs for every DIFFERENT additional technology that the Allies have over the Axis (multiple holdings of the same technology don't count). Maximum of 30 IPCs (Allies have all six technologies, the Axis, none). Example: the Allies have developed three new technologies, the Axis two, net Allied advantage of ONE technology. The bar for economic victory has been raised from 74 to 79 (5 IPCs).

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Change Tech Research

This post and the commonly held opinion described in its answers suggests that the A&A tech tree could use some work. Here's a set of house rules that fixes the two main problems with the 2nd Edition rules (I haven't played the newer versions as much so perhaps others can elaborate):

  1. Tech is too hard to get. That is, you have to spend too much money, on average, to get any tech at all, and a tremendous amount to get a specific advance. The opportunity cost of a tech in terms of foregone tanks and infantry is too high for even a player with a moderate risk profile and an absolute no-go for anyone who wants to win consistently.

  2. The advances, if they are ultimately achieved can be complete game breakers. Heavy bombers is a great example as every country can use them to devastating effect, but 2 IPC infantry are also too powerful, as are most of the other advances under slightly more restricted circumstances.

The changes

  • For 4 IPCs you get a technology of your choice on a roll of 6. This increases by a factor of six the probability of getting the technology of choice and decreases the expected cost by 20 percent. Besides making research cheaper it also enables strategic research: a player can go after something they actually consider useful given the game situation.
  • Jet power: fighters attack on a 4+ (improved from 3+) instead of the base rule of increasing defense from 4+ to 5+. The game needs more offensive firepower not better defense.
  • Rockets: allow one rocket attack per AA gun, but give defending AA guns a chance to block each attack on a roll of 1.
  • Evasive submarines (replacing super subs): Submarines are immune to aircraft attack, or alternatively, are only subject to a single round of attacking at a 6+ for fighters or 5+ for bombers. This change can make a wolf pack strategy feasible for Germany.
  • Long-range aircraft: +1 movement instead of +2. Still provides a strategic advantage but doesn't extend the round-trip range by a full territory like the original rule did.
  • Improved AA guns (replacing Industrial Technology): Re-roll any failed AA attempt. Great equalizer against all the airplane techs.
  • Strategic bombers: when strategic bombing roll two dice, pick the higher roll. Still cool, but much less powerful than adding the sum of three dice, which was crazy awesome.
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What do you mean when you say "a roll of 6+". How could you have a roll greater than 6? –  Scott Mitchell Jan 19 '11 at 4:06
@Scott: Good point, I was in the mode with all the other X+ notes below. I'll edit the post. –  Adam Wuerl Jan 20 '11 at 3:59
The increment of a fighter attack factor from 3 to 4 for jets is 33.3%, greater than the increment of the defense factor from 4 to 5 (25%), making jet power more useful. –  Tom Au Jun 1 '11 at 16:18
@Tom Au: agree with your calculations (obviously), but I don't think jet power was broken because it was too powerful. Jet power (as a defensive bonus) is broken because it biases an already defensive game even more so in that direction. Changing the ability to an attack bonus helps incentivize people to attack with fighters. –  Adam Wuerl Jun 1 '11 at 23:20
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