Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Intriguing ships in the upcoming Condition Zebra expansion

One of the things I've enjoyed about the whole Axis & Allies miniatures approach is the potential educational aspects of the game. I'm still thrilled that real history gets to share some shelf space with orcs and space marines.

On various A&A forums you see occasional complaints by competition-oriented gamers about pieces that don't have any real use in the competitive game, such as the Higgins Boat back in the land game's D-Day expansion. In a purely competitive, fantasy game these complaints would have merit, but the complainers seem oblivious to the fact that the Axis & Allies land and naval miniatures games appeal to at least three not-mutally exclusive types of gamers. That Hasbro recognizes the constituencies is explicitly recognized in the rulebook copy for the Naval game.

The first group are the players who use the miniatures to play the game using the rules included in the Starter kit. While doing a rather good job of reflecting the theme, the game adheres to the usual conventions of collectible games as far as competition goes. This subgroup tends to be vocal on the A&A boards, but I suspect they make up a minority of the game buyers. These players get annoyed at "useless" ships, "reprints" of existing units and incorrectly "costed" units.

The second group are those players who use the miniatures to play more traditional naval miniatures games. Small at first, now that there will soon be more than 200 different models to choose from in the naval game, I expect this usage to grow. The A&A naval line already compares to traditional pewter-based lines such as GHQ in numbers and diversity. This use is already pretty common for the land game as well. This group will be pleased with a diverse choice of ships and often asks for more models of types that are unlikely to ever be useful in competitive games such as fleet auxiliaries.

The third group are pure collectors, who may not even use the models for gaming at all. This group also values diversity and especially odd and unusual units.

The key point is that no one of these groups is probably large enough to keep the line going and Hasbro has to balance their interests with each set. I think they've done a good job at that and the upcoming Condition Zebra expansion has a few models that look like they will be of minimal interest for competitive players but of considerable interest for traditional naval wargamers and history-obsessed collectors.

Scanning the list, the Finnish coastal defense ship Vainamoninen seems highly unlikely to be an important ship for competition and it didn't take part in any naval battles of note. But it's an interesting example of a ship type that was popular in the mid-war period and practically unknown even among naval buffs.

Another unusual ship is the Greek armored cruiser Giorgios Averof. It was an elderly example of an obsolete type and spent its wartime service performing convoy escort duty in the backwater zone of a backwater theater of war. It will take a creative scenario designer to get it into a wargame and I doubt it will be a very useful piece for the competitive game, but it's a great piece for the collector.

In contrast, the Japanese carrier Junyo isn't a particularly interesting ship for collectors and probably wont bring much to the competitive game, but it's a very useful ship for designers of traditional wargame scenarios given how many 194 battles it played a role in.

Overall, I think the lineup for CZ looks good and my only complaint is that we will have to wait so long for the next expansion.

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