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Infantry: Cannon Fodder or Solid Math?

Cold hard facts of math make infantry the best choice

An old (and now obsolete Soviet Cold War joke):

Two Soviet infantry generals were meeting at a café in Paris. One asked the other, “Say, did you ever hear who won the air war?”

Grunts on the ground may not have the sex appeal of a strategic air wing, or a tank corps, but they’ll decide the outcome of the battle time after time.

It’s a cold, hard, mathematical fact, that infantry are hands-down the best buy in the game. Simply put, the side that sticks to the infantry plan the best - wins.

Let’s look at the numbers.

An infantry costs 3 IPCs and rolls a 2 or less on defense and a 1 on offense, a tank (and tanks make by far the most generous comparison) cost 5 IPCs and roll a 2 or less on defense and a 3 on offense.

Let’s assume each side has 15 IPCs to spend, and Player A buys 5 infantry, and Player B buys 3 tanks.

Example 1 – Player A attacks Player B:

At the end of round 1:

Player A attains .833 hits against Player B with 5 infantry trying to rolls 1s.

Player B attains 1 hit against Player A with 3 tanks trying to roll 2s or 1s.

It looks promising for Player B doesn’t it? After all they got more hits. Remember though, they have fewer units to lose.

After six rounds the battle is over. Player A still has 2.3 infantry standing on average, and the tanks are long gone.

But what if the battle is the other way around? After all, tanks are best on offense.

Example 2 – Player B attacks Player A:

At the end of round 1:

Player B attains 1.5 hits against Player A with 3 tanks trying to roll 3s or less.

Player A attains 1.667 hits against Player B with 5 infantry trying to roll 2s or 1s.

Both classes are units are here at their best (infantry on defense, tanks on offense) and the higher number of hits are a clear reflection of that.

After only three rounds the battle is over. Player A still has 2.8 infantry standing on average, and the tanks are long gone!

As you can see, infantry outshine tanks on both offense and defense.

The reason is simple: infantry provide cannon fodder. They may be cheap and only provide meager firepower, but they absorb a hit just as easily as a costly tank, fighter, or bomber.

Imagine if you were told you could buy a unit that had 0 attack and 0 defense, but could absorb a hit, what would that unit be worth to you? Even stingy estimates are that it should be worth at least 1 IPC. So in essence, 1 IPC of the 3 IPC cost of an infantry, is buying you that hit absorption ability. Similarly, 1 IPC of the 5 IPC cost of a tank is buying you that same hit absorption ability. That in effect reduces the “true” cost of the offensive/defensive capabilities of those units to 2 and 4 IPCs respectively. Now, would you rather a 4 IPC tank, or a 50% cheaper, 2 IPC infantry?

Most would rightly prefer the 2 IPC infantry, making infantry the clear winner and favored buy.

Some would argue that a tank has a special ability that infantry don’t. Tanks can move 2 and blitz through unoccupied enemy territory. That is true, but how often does a blitz movement win the big battle for you? It’s the huge 30+ units against 30+ unit battles in Russia, Karelia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Germany that win the game. A supertank that could move 5 wouldn’t do you much good at that point.

Also, don’t forget that infantry have a special ability of their own. They get to double-up on transport movement. You can carry 2 infantry with your transport, but just a single tank. That can make a big difference when you’re trying to maximize the use of your transports to get land units into key areas or make critical amphibious attacks.

Now, to be fair, a few tanks to deliver the final knockout blow are optimal at the very end, particularly if you’re buying them to take part in the big Armageddon battle that will take place on your next turn and is two spaces away from your industrial complex. But it’s better to buy too few tanks too late, than too many tanks too early. If you’ve ever seen mathematical analysis of battle outcomes given certain armies, it is truly amazing the difference that just a single additional infantry can make to the battle. When in doubt about what to buy – buy infantry!