Best Strategy Games - Axis & Allies Strategy

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Clumping - Axis & Allies' Fatal Flaw

The first principle is: act with the utmost concentration

-Carl Von Clauswitz, On War

First off, what exactly is clumping?

Clumping is simply put, the situation where it’s better to have all your eggs in one basket, rather than a few eggs in a couple of different baskets.

Clumping is virtually guaranteed to occur in Axis & Allies, due to the rule allowance that gives each unit its own die roll. What that means is that you want to have as many of your units in a single territory on the frontline as possible. You don’t want a spread-out frontline, but rather a massive clump of units that can deliver a punch on offense, but more importantly, can survive on defense without getting cut up piecemeal.

Example: If the German player has 20 units and is at the gates of Russia, controlling both Caucuses and Karelia, what troop positioning is best for Germany? Are they better off to have 10 units in each territory, or are they better off to have all 20 in Karelia or all 20 in Caucuses.

They’re better off clumping their units in either territory. This is because on the Allies players turn, assuming the Allies have the forces and desire to attack the German positions, they would probably only have enough troops or desire to attack just a single German position.

Let’s assume the Russians have 20 units in Russia, and are building 6 infantry. If the Germans clump their units, having all 20 German units in a single territory, then odds are: the Russians won’t attack.

However, if the Germans do divide their forces, let’s say 10 and 10, then the Russians have an opportunity. The Russians could then attack with all 20 units from Russia against either German position. After 1 or 2 rounds of attack, in which the severely outnumbered Germans would get mauled, the Russians could pull back into Russia (which ensures their main army doesn’t get stuck outside Russia).

The end result of the 2-round battle: The Germans have lost about 8 units, and the Russians have lost about 4 units. On the front as a whole, the Germans now have 12 units, and the Russians have 16 + 6 they just built.

Mathematically, clumping occurs because when you’re getting attacked by “x” amount of troops, they are going to achieve “y” hits on your units. On your turn, your troops are going to do “z” hits in response. The only number on defense that you get to influence is “z”. You determine how many of your units are going to be in that territory on defense, and the (number of units * the average number of rolling die points per unit) / 6 is going to be the number of hits that you deliver, or “z.” Now assuming “x” and “y” are givens (and you should always assume worst case scenario), you as the defender want to maximize “z.” You want to maximize the number of units that you have in the battle, which are able to respond to the attack and deliver hits in return. That desire usually outweighs other considerations, such as keeping a reserve, protecting more expensive units, maintaining a nice frontline, spreading out your attack, etc. Also, it must be remembered that those additional units in the battle are “safe.” The minimum number of units that you would leave in that territory is already fixed and therefore will absorb the blow of the attack. Assuming the attacker wouldn’t be able to wipe them all out on the first roll, then adding additional units to the defense doesn’t cost you anything, but gives you lots of additional retaliatory hits.

Controlling territory, or more importantly, just getting credit for owning the territory on your turn and thus gaining the IPCs for it, in the long run will often win games, particularly the close ones that go for many rounds and the economic edge becomes the economic sledge. Yet despite the importance of gaining a few extra IPCs, the game is won and lost in the big battles. Picking up 3 IPCs pales in comparison to the risk that you lose 10 more units than your opponent in a key battle. If you don’t clump and your opponent hits you with everything they’ve got, you’re going to lose a lot of mid-sized armies, and likely the game.

Now, every strategy has to be used with a little bit of common sense. There are many situations where your best strategy isn’t really to clump or to divide your forces, but rather retreat in the face of overwhelming odds (when clumping wouldn’t help at all). There are also situations where you don’t have enough units to defend either territory, but you either can’t retreat, or want to leave them in there just to tie down additional enemy forces that would be required to oust your troops. In that case, you want to spread out your forces, making things less efficient for the attacker, and forcing him to use even more troops in order to guarantee statistical success against you. Finally, there are situations in which the enemy’s forces are so few, clumping gains you minimal additional advantages, as evenly divided your forces can still easily triumph. However, by and large, most situations in which you have a choice between putting a few troops in multiple territories or a lot of troops in a single territory, the best solution is to clump them in a single territory.