06 May 2011

Axis & Allies: Pacific [Review]

Axis & Allies Pacific is a 2-3 player game of strategy taking place in and around the Pacific Ocean during WW2. The scope is thus much more focused, and narrow, than the world encompassing Axis & Allies 1942 edition.

I find this to be one of the strong points of the game, since it really conveys a theme of naval battles, and control over the sea is just as important as control over land. The game features Japan, US/China and India/Australia under the British command. If played 1vs1 then there simply is one allied player playing all allied factions against the Japanese player.

Starting with the map itself, each nation has a starting amount of controlled territory, a set amount of convoy locations under their protection, a starting production value based on the worth of the combined territories currently controlled and a starting army. The map is for the most part made up of ocean spaces, which call for transport ships is you want to jump from island to island as you fight your way towards the core of Imperial Japan as the Allies – or that need defending from the tide of allied armies if you play as the Japanese.

Not all land contains production value numbers printed on it, as such it is useless looking at it from a resource point of view –  all strategic locations have a production value however.  Some locations feature harbors and airfields which decrease the movement penalty of ships and airplanes entering and leaving those areas allowing troops to travel further and more swiftly across the map.
The sea is printed with both Convoy centers that have a production value printed atop of them. As well as convoy routes. Convoy routes are each worth 1 production value, while the Convoy centers are each worth from 3-10 production value points. As soon as the enemy captures one of these convoy locations the owning player suffers a decrease in his next turns income phase. These locations are belonging to the starting owning player per default as long as no enemy unit enters that location. If guarded by a navy it has to be destroyed or made to retreat before becoming captured by the attacking player.

The land locations feature each nation’s capital where you will find a factory building. When you distribute your production value points at the start of each turn, investing them in units, the bought units will appear inside the land location of your factory area – or in the sea zone next to it if you have bought ships. You buy units at the start of the turn, but deploy them at the end of your turn. So there is no way of rushing the enemy with a fresh horde of units.

The units themselves, ground, air and sea-units each have their own special role to fill. And the attack/defend value differs making one type of units better for defensive duty while others are really good at breaking through the enemy lines. Combat occurs at the end of your movement phase – and each battle is played out individually on the Attack/Defend board which helps you keep track of the combat values of the units fighting on both sides. Infantry have the combat value of Attack 1, Defend 2. This means they will attack with 1D6 die and hit their targets on a roll of 1, while during defense they will hit their targets on a roll of 1 or 2.  Bombers excel at attacking as they hit on 1-4, but are very weak in defense only able to fight back with rolls of 1.

Take into account movement over land and sea which varies from unit to unit. Tanks can travel 2 regions during each movement phase, bombers can travel an astounding distance of 6 regions, while infantry slog along at the pace of 1 region per turn.

There are also unit combinations, infantry that are weak during attacks can be boosted by artillery. For each artillery unit in your attacking force an equal amount of infantry will hit their enemy on rolls of 1-2 instead of just 1. During air raids you can pair up bombers and fighters to keep the bombers safe from enemy AA fire and fighters. Carrier ships can transport fighter planes as well as launch fighters from sea zones or allow fighters to land in the middle of the ocean on the safe deck of said ships.
Transport ships are vital as only land units can invade and capture a land region. Friendly airplanes cannot land in a land region until it has been captured either. Naval invasions can be supported from the sea by attacking friendly ships  by the use of naval bombardment – but units assigned to a naval landing are trapped and must fight it out without the option to retreat if the battle goes bad.
This game is lots of fan and offers a lot of strategic possibilities.

In order to win the Japanese player must reach a set industrial production goal within asset amount of time. The allies must thwart the Japanese either by direct attack on the Japanese controlled territories or by bombing Japanese factories or picking apart Japanese sea trade. The Japanese player always goes first each turn and maintains the momentum, especially during the very first turn of the game when the Japanese can blitz enemy territories fast and have a huge attack bonus that last for the first round of combat to simulate the sudden nature of hostilities against the allies. As time goes however the tide of unit production and economic growth favors the allies and the Japanese must start the game brutally seizing important land areas, destroy as much of the allied fleet they can and dig in to protect what they have.  Victory can also be achieved by invading and capturing the capital of any one nation except China.

The allied players, each controlling two separate nations with its own production value and factories must consolidate what is left after the initial Japanese attack and work their way through the occupied islands methodically. Both sides really heavily on transport ships to carry their troops from the home region to the front or areas that need strengthening and each player would do best to group his ships into fleets to increase the survival rate of the transports and troops carried by them.

The gameplay is streamlined but offers a lot of tactical options, from both units and the map regions themselves. The map will initially be cluttered in small armies but after the first turn most regions will have been swept clean. To make movement of large groups of units easy you are given grey and red markers to place beneath each unit type in your army. The grey markers are equal to 1 unit, and the red are equal to 5. You then add the unit standing on top of the markers to their numbers. A model standing on 2 grey markers equals an army worth of 3 such models. With ships it is slightly different, you are still using the red and grey markers – but can also make use of task force markers if your fleet is very large to make movement of the fleet easier. You simply pick a task force marker, place your nation symbol on top of it and then place all your ships in that fleet on a task force card that shares the same number as the task force marker.

The game has a few special rules that can take a little while to read into and master, but it is not a difficult game to get into. The game time should be around 3 hours including setup time if you have played it once or twice. It may take a little longer to set up the game the first time before you are familiar with all the region names and their locations. It’s not often that a boardgame works well with just 2 people, but this one does so quite well.  If you liked Axis & Allies 1942 and want a more focused campaign game this game will likely suit you. If you have not played any A&A game previous to this one this game will offer a great time nonetheless.

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