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In Axis and Allies, the U.S. starts with the largest number of IPCs, and also has the furthest to go to reach the main battlefields. These conditions both suggest the use of strategies using (expensive) air units.

One strategy is build bombers. The U.S. can spare 30 IPCs to build two a turn. Send them to the UK (one turn) for the strategic bombing of Germany. With six bombers, there will be a loss of one per turn (on average) to anti-aircraft. The surviving five planes will average 3.5 hits on average, or 17.5 IPCs in total. Since a bomber costs 15 IPCs, this is a profitable strategy. And it hurts Germany's economy even if they get some IPCs from Africa.

A second strategy is to build 2-3 fighters a turn, and fly them to the UK, then to Karelia or wherever they are most needed in Russia. Enough of them will stop a German attack cold. Or the U.S. could use a "hybrid" strategy, build one bomber and one fighter per turn for a combination of both. Then spend 5 IPCs a turn on tech research.

Tech discoveries could alter the equation, especially if they were jet fighters or heavy bombers (using one of the "two roll" modifications #1, #2, not the standard three-roll rules). Perhaps I'd use the fighter strategy if I discovered the one and the bomber strategy for the other (some versions of the game don't allow you to choose which tech to research).

Would you use any of these strategies without tech enhancement? With tech enhancement, especially "modified" heavy bombers? Or is the shuck-shuck strategy still superior?

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2 Answers 2

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The US can't afford to waste money (and time) building planes

The trap the Allies fall into when considering an airpower-based strategy for the United States is to evaluate the strategy on its own merits instead of by comparing it to the alternative strategies.

The question points out that a large bomber force can do more IPCs in damage than it would expect in AA-gun losses--which is all true. However, it neglects three important considerations:

  1. It takes too long to implement. The US can only afford two planes a turn and starts with one bomber. This means a 6-bomber fleet takes three turns to build and it isn't available until the Combat Phase of turn 4. Furthermore, it will take an average of 15 IPCs per turn to maintain this force in the face of AA losses--about half the US economic output.

    If all the US has been doing until turn 4 is build bombers then the game is probably already over (a fait accompli if not an actual economic victory). Also remember that because one bomber a turn is needed just to maintain the force at 6, the US can only afford 2 transports OR 5 infantry per turn afterwards. Granted, a smaller force can attack in the prior turns, but the net IPC swing is too small to hurt Germany, and any AA hits set back the strategy by a half turn.

  2. The strategy can collapse in the face of bad rolls. One turn of good AA rolling by Germany, or a multi-bomber run that only does a few IPCs of total damage, and this strategy is defeated. In contrast, the typical shuck-shuck strategy can't really be defeated by bad luck. The naval force the US and UK can set up by the end of turn 2 can't be attacked by Germany without decimating their air force, and deterrence of German aggression is the entire point of shuttling a mass of Allied infantry into Europe.

    Good players tend to shy from luck-based strategies, believing that they will eventually win a game decided by skill but could lose one decided by luck.

  3. The opportunity cost of building fighters is too high. This point has some overlap with the first, but it is a distinct argument. The key metric is not how many IPCs a bomber force can destroy compared to how much it costs to maintain. Strategies have to be compared against each other. The goal is not to bleed Germany for more IPCs than the US has to spend, it's to use the US IPCs to their greatest effect. Bombers are just not as useful as a fleet of five or six transports dropping off 10 infantry a turn in Finland, France, or Algeria.

Lastly, to quickly discuss the fighter-heavy variant that was also proposed.

Sure, a stack of fighters is pretty dominating on defense, but a stack of infantry four times as high is more dominating: they will do more damage on average, are cheaper to replace, and can actually occupy territory if necessary. They are slightly less mobile, but the battle lines in Europe move slowly anyway (when they move at all), and the consequences are much less if some get caught alone in a territory because the UK and Russia decided to bail on a lost cause just before Germany's turn.

So given how much less effective a plane-based strategy is than the shuck-shuck, I would not choose it. Even if some good tech rolls made it occasionally a winner, lots of times the tech won't work out.

I'll take the eventual sure-thing over a long-shot any day.

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I think I get it. Planes are "expensive," meaning that if you get unlucky with a few of them, your game goes down the drain. Infantry are cheaper and more plentiful, meaning that their fate don't depend nearly as much on the "luck of the draw." –  Tom Au Jun 18 '11 at 0:34

Because infantry are cheap and defend at 2, the best strategy is to build up a wall of infantry. You need boots on the ground to hold a territory in Axis & Allies. It's axiomatic.

By following an air-focused strategy, the US is going against the grain of the game and such a strategy is bound to end in failure. Without US support, the UK must focus entirely on rebuilding her navy and building it so that it can withstand future German air attacks. Russia must spend all of her energy on defending her Western line. What does this result in? A fast and powerful Japanese expansion and a defenseless German push into Afria. Goodbye East Asia. Goodbye India. Goodbye Africa. Goodbye Oceania.

In the end you will have a land-locked UK and a weak Russian Western front. Germany can twiddle her thumbs, keeping WE, Germany, and EE well defended while Japan's economy soars and soon is able to overtake Russia from the east. Once that happens, it's curtains for the Allies.

Anecdotally, I've seen the heavy bomber tactic you mentioned used by a particular player in a handful of games over at GamesByEmail.com. All of the games were five player games, and each time the Allies lost (and convincingly). Granted, this may be more of a reflection on the skill levels of all five players involved, but I do think that an air-based approach is a mistake - shuck-shuck all the way.

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