Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures Game

Since we're touching on the subject of plastic miniatures in tactical gaming let's look at another option. In years past Avalon Hill was the world's greatest wargame company. It was like the Cadillac of game companies. This is not to slight their competitors but AH was really the awesome giant in the field. It was the pinnacle of cool for a certain geeky type of teen. The years have passed and Avalon Hill is now a company with a fairly limited range of products, the most successful being the Axis and Allies game. That franchise has been expanded in recent years to include some collectible miniatures games.

Collectible games are based on the premise that you buy a package of game tokens- cards, figures, pieces of some sort. Some of the tokens are common, some are found less often. The rare tokens are usually especially powerful in the game milieu. It's rather like buying a big bag of office supplies knowing that you're fairly likely to get paper and pens but only one bag in twenty will have a stapler. As you could imagine the stapler becomes a highly sought after item and people in the office might trade thirty pens for one rare stapler.

In the Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures Game (AAN) players purchase a starter set which gives them enough ships for two players, along with game rules, maps, dice and counters. The players assign each other a few ships and lay them out on the game map, which resembles the ocean and may have some islands upon it. The rules provide you with a mechanism for sailing your ships, firing at enemy ships, sending in waves of attack bombers, dealing with submarines, and other aspects of naval combat.

The game system in AAN is simple and intuitive: guns are assigned a certain number of dice to roll when firing. The larger the gun the more dice are rolled. The player counts up the number of times they roll four or more and compares that number of successes to the targets protective rating. Roll enough fours and you damage or sink your target. The game system includes rules for air combat and submarines. These are also based on attempting to roll a number of successes versus some target number. Roll well enough and you may shoot down enemy aircraft or damage submarines.

There is much to like about AAN. The rules are clearly written with plenty of examples and diagrams. There are a number of special rules and modifications to take into account specific differences between certain ships and aircraft. And the ships look pretty decent. In many ways this is a very nice introduction to tactical gaming at a decent price.

A few caveats come to mind with regards to AAN. This is certainly not a very accurate simulation game and if or when your child is looking for more detail and historical backup then it's time to move on. At the same time I have noticed that with games of this sort the more realistic they are the more interminable they are, to the point where the most realistic war-at-sea games are almost unplayable. The only other caveat to AAN is the collectible element. It does set the player up to throw down more and more money just for that elusive ultra-rare ship. In AAN's favor I don't see this as being as addictive as Magic or Pokemon (though I'm sure Avalon Hill wouldn't mind if it were) so the money drain risk is probably slight.

I like Axis and Allies Naval Miniatures Game as a good introduction to naval strategy and tactics. For very little investment you can give this genre a spin and if it's appealing move on to more realistic games.

Pros: Cheap and easy introduction

Cons: will cause historians to roll in their graves

Beyond the Basics: a gigantic hobby, a wealth of literature, art and history

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