1941 as a starter/intro game: What works and what doesn't

If you're looking for a quick or introductory game of Axis & Allies this is the one. It also has a very special collection of never before seen plastic units.
Just to mention a few: German Tiger tank, Russian IS2 tank, US P40 Warhawk, German FW-190 Folkwolf, Japanese Kongo class battleship and the HMS Hood, and oh yeah... the German He-111 Heinkel bomber.
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1941 as a starter/intro game: What works and what doesn't

Postby Black_Elk » Sun Sep 01, 2013 4:13 am

I am approaching this from the perspective of the first time player, since I have now had the occassion to teach 2 people how to play A&A using this board.

I would like to list here 3 things that work particularly well, and 3 things which do not. I'll start with the positives, since they require less explanation.


1. Less starting units: as intended, this accelerates the game play, because the board takes less time to set up, and the first round battles take less time to fight, less rolling. All benefits for a starter game

2. Simplified territory divisions on the map: I think the 1941 map works quite well for beginners. There is enough of the core historical geography to make it interesting, and some of the simplifications make the game interesting/novel even for more experienced players. So yes, the simplified territories are a definite benefit for a starter game.

3. Simplified unit roster. I cannot say enough how wholeheartedly I agree with this decision. It takes a great deal of explanation out of the equation, while still providing the basics for understanding how combat in A&A works. Simple principles like fodder, blitzing, pushing inf stacks etc are easy enough to teach. I agree with this decision completely

now on to what doesn't work...


1. severely reduced production/income. I have read the design arguments for why this decision was made, but I believe they are entirely misguided for the following reason... The disparity between starting units, and unit replacement through purchasing is so extreme, that a single (and I do mean a single!) bad purchasing decision or single unlucky dice roll, can lose a player the entire war before it even begins. Diminished unit replacement, means that the value of the starting units is magnified considerably, and the first round battles are now so so sooo important, that new players have no margin for error. In fact I think this decision effectively makes 1941 a game for experts, not beginners.

Let me explain further, because this point is easy to miss. You may believe for example, that you are simplifying the game because less money = less units on the board = less time rolling = fewer decisions to make. But you'd be wrong, and this is why...

A brand new player is not going to understand say, how to set up an effective logistics train using transports, or how to defend Moscow from a German rush, or when to buy inf and not tanks, or how to cover fleets, or how to use aircraft to cover multiple territories, or for that matter which territories are which, and which are critical and which are not. So what happens, typically, is they lose a lot of these starting units, the vast majority of them before they even learn how to use them. And once lost, they can't be replaced, because there is no money in this game. So, put simply, no money means no room to recover from a mistake.

And a starter game should not punish new players so severely in the first round, and make the cost of new units so exorbitant. The limited economy nullifies all the pros listed above, and pushes the game into an extremely challenging arena.

Which brings me to my next point...

2. New players need paper money. They need it! This is not a part of the game we should be getting rid of to save on cost, or because you think that counting the ipc certificates is somehow mundane or time intensive. It is, in point of fact, the easiest mechanism for tracking income. It is also an enticement to play, and a way for new players to see how they are progressing. It mirrors another game with which they are often familiar (Monopoly) and I cannot state forcefully enough, the benefit that having the paper money has for new players. This should not be thought of casually as something you can remove for the sake of simplicity. Because the alternatives (like a board tracker, or a pencil and paper) are more involved and way less fun.

3. I think removing the factory was a mistake. It's the most fun unit in this game. Every step we take that makes factory purchases less likely, diminished the joy. Factories teaches new players about logistics, and production cost vs. proximity to the action, and how just the raw numbers can be so much different when you go from 1 to 2 to 3 ipcs. One of the major challenges of learning how to play A&A effectively is to learn how to use your transports to full effect. It's not an easy thing to teach or to learn (when to buy them, how many to buy, which units to load them with, how to move and cover them with surface fleets.) It's complicated, and while I appreciate that new players have to learn this stuff too, taking away the ability to buy new factories, also takes away some of the simple strategies that new players often like to try. Like in Classic, buying a factory in South Africa, or India? Or should the US buy one in China? Or when does Japan build their factory on the mainland and where. All these decisions are nixed by the combination of low production/low income/no factories.

Finally, something I would like to mention. It should be understood by now, that in pretty much all versions of this game, the side with more Nations to manage is already at a disadvantage (just from having to coordinate 3 vs 2.) This is particularly so among new players. It's enough in most cases to mitigate even the economic advantage usually given to the Allies. Now, the problem is not as extreme with two unevenly matched opponents, in which case the beginner takes Axis and the more experienced player takes Allies, but when both are evenly matched (or both are new) then the player taking Allies is much more likely to be frustrated into disinterest by the challenge here.

That's why its so important that a starter game allow for a certain margin of error. More production/IPCs are the easiest way to accomplish this.

Simplify the starting unit set up, and strip down the roster as much as you like, but keep the purchasing aspect in tact. It's the most entertaining part of the game, purchasing units, or planning what to purchase. That's the part of the game we should be playing up in a starter game, not the reverse.

My two cents on this anyway
I am happy that the importance of a starter game has been finally acknowledged (amidst all the complex anniversary and global and theater specific games.) It's important that we have one of these, I just think this aspect of its design needs to be considered more carefully.)

Thanks again for hearing me out

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Re: 1941 as a starter/intro game: What works and what doesn't

Postby pellulo » Sat Dec 17, 2016 10:47 am

The simplicity of the game is where the beauty lies in it, you can borrow units from other games to "beef it up" in complexity & house rule it, in order to add more gaming elements to it, as time goes on. Or just get a more complex game and dumb it down for a new player, either way it cannot get more simpler. If it did, you see a version of it in the pre-school game section next to "Chutes and Ladders", thanks, Pellulo

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