Review: Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal

Posted by James (admin) on August 28th, 2010

[Note: After posting this review, someone let me know that Hasbro issued some errata and the reinforcement points should have been twice as many, i.e. 10 + 4 per island.  That would have made a big difference as we could have bought a lot more reinforcements.  Hasbro’s web site says you can play it either way (with double reinforcement points or without) so this is a review of the game without that ammended rule as we played it using the rules as stated in the box.  Please keep this in mind when you read the review and I’ll comment more on it at the end.]

Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal is one of the three 2-player Axis & Allies games – the others being D-Day and Battle of the Bulge.  Each game has completely different rules to the others and all have different rules compared to the main Axis & Allies game too.  Earlier this year, my friend Matt and I decided to start playing some games that are connected to their anniversaries so we played A&A: D-Day on June 6th.  As I like A&A: D-Day and Battle of the Bulge, I picked up a second-hand copy of Guadalcanal to play in August (anniversary of the start of the Guadalcanal conflict).

The Guadalcanal conflict was a series of battles during World War II which lasted many months where both sides fought over a group of tactically important islands in the Pacific.  So, the board shows 6 main islands (land zones) and the sea around them is segmented into zones, plus players have a home base zone each too.  Both players have land forces (infantry, artillery, anti-air), air forces (fighters, bombers) and sea forces (transports, destroyers, cruisers, submarines, aircraft carriers, battleships).  The islands have spaces on them where one or two airfields can be built.

The Axis player starts the game controlling 5 of the 6 islands but is spread thinly, whereas the Allied played controls just one island but their forces are more concentrated they start with a greater number of aircraft.  Just like the real conflict, victory is primarily based around controlling islands and airfields.  At the end of each round, players score 1 victory point (VP) for each airfield they control, plus they can score bonus points for sinking enemy aircraft carriers or battleships.  The first player to have 15 VPs at the end of a turn wins.

Game rounds are broken into 3 phases (movement, combat, re-grouping) and each phase is broken into a strict series of steps – for example, load and move transports, then move cruisers, then move battleships, and so on.  One player completes their actions, for a step and then the other player does the same before moving onto the next step.  So, there’ s little downtime as players are constantly involved.

Movement Phase: This is simple – ships can move up to 1 sea zone, fighters 2 zones, and bombers 3 zones.  Land units and supply tokens can be loaded onto transports and destroyers in adjacent sea zones and then unloaded later (if the ships they’re on survive any combat).

Combat Phase: This is the area of the game that is slightly unusual so needs some explanation.  Some units can attack in multiple ways, i.e. destroyers can attack air and sea units, artillery can attack land and nearby sea units.  Units have attack power ratings from 0 to 3 which is how many dice that unit adds to an attack.  For example, infantry have 1 attack power against land units only, whereas cruisers have an attack rating of 2 against sea units and 1 against air and nearby land units.

During combat, air units are attacked first, then sea units, then land units.  I say they are attacked, rather than they attack, because that is exactly how the combat in Guadalcanal works.  For example, let’s consider air attacks – each zone is checked and if any units can attack enemy air units in that zone then their total attack power is added up and the dice rolled.  This system means that, if positioned strategically, some units get to lend their strength to several attacks, i.e. a destroyer can add to an attack on air units and then add to an attack on sea units.

The other unusual item is they way the dice are ‘rolled’ because, instead of rolling, 12 dice are shaken inside a thin box.  To attack, a player shakes the box and then pulls out the drawer at the bottom of the box where the 12 dice lay in a neat row.  The player looks at the first dice equal to their total attack power, i.e. the first 5 dice if their attack power was 5.  Any result of a 1 or a 2 is a hit.  The player then looks at the outside of the drawer where there are three rows of words (one for air, one for sea and one for land attacks) which determine what type of unit the die at that position in the drawer has hit (if it is a hit).  If the enemy doesn’t have a unit of that type, you allocate it to the first unit type in the row of words that the player does have.  If there’s still a choice, i.e. you score a hit against a transport but there are 3 transports then the attacker chooses which one if the result was a 1, but the defender chooses if the result was a 2.

Note that some of the bigger ships can be damaged instead of being destroyed if hit by a roll of 2 (1’s always destroy) which will place them back in the home base box if only damaged once.  Also, during land attacks, players can also choose to attack airfields to take them out of commission.

Re-grouping Phase: In this phase, control of each island is determined by the amount of attack power that could be brought to bear on it by land and sea forces (if you have land forces present).  Controlling islands is important because players get 5 reinforcement points (RPs) plus 2 per island they control to spend on creating new forces.  Each unit has an RP cost from 1 (infantry) up to 12 (battleship), plus players can purchase supply tokens for 2 RPs.  Unused RPs are lost.

Next, planes land on airfields (and fighters can land on carriers), or they’ll crash if there is no base (or no room at a base) within reach.  Then, players can use 3 supply tokens on an island to build a new airfield there (if there is space) or 1 to repair a damaged airfield.  Supply tokens can also be used to repair sea vessels too and even immediately place forces from the home base out onto the board.  Finally, players earn 1 VP for each undamaged airfield they control.

Overall, Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal really is a game of two halves for me.  In the good half, I really like the tough decisions required as the situation changes rapidly and you and your opponent have to react to each other’s moves.  Each sea zone borders quite a few others, so this gives players quite a lot of movement choices.  You can even end up having to re-think your plan for the turn part-way through because of where your opponent moved to.  Also, you never have enough units and supplies to do everything you want comfortably – troop and supply movements need to be well-planned (and protected) so you can keep feeding the front and (re)gaining new islands and airfields.  But, the supply chain is just one aspect as you need to have a strong offensive and defensive strategy too where your units support and compliment each other.  Plus, whilst you don’t want your forces to be too concentrated (because you need to protect all your islands), lone units are likely to be easily picked off (so having cheaper units with more expensive ones is very important or all hits will affect the big unit).

The system of resolving attacks feels very different and works nicely to make you think about how to combine your forces well.  Plus, it paints a cool picture of the different units fighting together, i.e. sea and air units fighting against incoming fighters and bombers before the surviving aircraft can attack the ships below.  In fact, using units to support others is vital to get the most from your forces.

Due to the strict game turn order, there are a lot of steps to each turn so it can feel a bit fiddly although you do get more used to the order after a few turns, plus it reduces the game into many smaller decisions rather than a few massive ones that would slow the game.

However, there are downsides to the game too.  Maybe it’s the way we played but our initial forces got ground up pretty quickly and at a much rate faster than they could be replaced.  I thought if we played more cautiously then maybe we’d have time to build more but it seems the game will usually only last around 6 or 7 turns as players are soon earning 3 VPs per round.  So, it was a shame that our forces dwindled over the game making it harder to keep battling as the game continued.

The dice box for attacking is a bit strange.  I don’t mind unusual combat systems but it’s hard to work out what may happen as a result of your attacks.  Also, they reason for the box drawer is the allocation of hits to different unit types – without that you could just roll the number of dice.  In our game, allocating hits to different types was quite rare because it only really makes a difference when there are lots of different types in one zone.  When there are only a few types in a zone, most hits get allocated to the different types written on the box drawer so hit your units anyway.  There has to be a method of allocating hits and this is simple but it didn’t come into play as much as I thought it would at all, and using weaker ships to soak up damage before it reaches the larger ship[s required a lot of ships which we didn’t often have.

Physically, the game has great pieces for the units (as with the other A&A games) although some of the ships are incredibly similar looking at small scale.  I didn’t understand the mix of figures in the box though as there aren’t enough of the smaller units and way too many of the big units.  Having too many of a type isn’t a problem (although building 2 battleships during a game is incredibly hard, let alone using all 6 battleship figures included); however, there aren’t enough of the smaller figures like infantry so you have to place grey/red discs underneath them to show the total number.  The discs are standard Axis & Allies practice but, in this game, it’s a shame –  The cost of the discs would have been better spent on including extra unit figures instead, especially as there are far too many discs to use too.  Having one figure for each unit looks so much better and makes it much easier to immediately see what’s going on, especially as there’s lots of room on the board.

If playing it again, we both thought we’d try and attack opponent’s airfields more (to reduce VPs), we’d use the artillery more because of their ability to fire into adjacent sea zones.  Also, we’d both attack en masse more – I used the Allied air advantage to create a concentrated deadly swarm without exposing them to too many attacks.

In summary, I think Guadalcanal is the weakest of the three 2-player Axis & Allies games (I think D-Day is the best and Battle of the Bulge second).  That’s not to say Guadalcanal is a bad game and I will play it again.  It’s good that you’re always stretched to find the right balance and placement of units that can work offensively, defensively and still move the front forwards, but it’s a shame it feels like your forces are continuously diminishing and that combat is hard to judge beforehand.  In December, we shall play Battle of the Bulge on its anniversary.

[Note: Now I know the errata says we should have received double the amount of reinforcement points that we did, I can see that this would have made a big difference as we could have reinforced properly and our forces would have diminished much less.  I’m not sure it would solve all the issues in the game and I’m not convinced it would mean it would be better than its siblings (D-Day or Battle of the Bulge); however, it would have been better than it was and could make a bit more sense to the ratio of pieces included in the box.  I’ll write a revised review when I play it again using the proper rules, although that may not be for a while.  Such a shame a game could have such a major error in the rules.  I really should check the Hasbro/Wizards/Avalon Hill web site before playign their games from now on – the original version of ‘Betrayal at the House on the Hill’ had so many errors and incomplete rules that the errata was about the same size as the rules!]


[Played with 2 players]

6 Responses to “Review: Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal”

  1. newuser Says:

    Did you know about the errata for reinforcement points, posted on the Avalon Hill website and at Board Game Geek? The values were supposed to be doubled, giving each player 10 points plus 4 per island they control.

    It would probably feel like a different game with twice as many pieces on the board. Whether that makes it a “better” game, I couldn’t say…

  2. James (admin) Says:

    Wow, no, I didn’t see that. I read through the strategic tips pages on their site after we played and it wasn’t on there – I didn’t see the errata.

    You’re right it would have made for a very different game with more going on in the latter game, rather than a dissipating battle. And I agree, I’m not sure whether it would make it better. It would have solved one issue I had with it though.

    Thanks for letting me know.

  3. newuser Says:

    It’s easy to miss and I have to wonder how many people ever actually find out about this errata. For those curious, here is a link:

  4. James (admin) Says:

    Thanks. The Hasbro site says you can play it both ways (not sure why you’d want to play it the non-ammended way) so I’ve updated the review to point it out and will post an update too. Cheers, James.

  5. travis Says:

    ya it does make it better when you got way more peices me and my dad is pplaying it and its way better than playing with a couple of peices we got over a thousand peices on the boared and we even give them alot more money too so you should try it with more peices

  6. Burns Macpherson Says:

    Personally I’m a huge fan of the A&A games as a whole but definetly not this one in particular. I find that this game tends to dedlock, with the Americans controlling the three islands on the “right” side of the the map and the Japanese the other three. With the same number of islands players can bring in basically the same reinforcements and their opponents and it basically becomes a race to fill up all of your islands airfield zones.I definetly agree with you that both D-Day and Battle of the Bulge are far batter games.

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