Review by C.J. Bunce
Axis & Allies is a classic wartime strategy board game that you’ve likely encountered either yourself or found a good friend playing over the years. First released in 1981 by Nova Game Designs it has continued to be re-released from the likes of Milton Bradley, and it currently is a game produced by Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill under the Hasbro umbrella of companies. Thirty-six years after its release it remains a fun and competitive game in various versions of play with a loyal following, continuing to be the focus of tournaments at Gen Con and other venues throughout the year. This month Wizards of the Coast is releasing an updated edition of the game celebrating the 50th anniversary of Avalon Hill. The company had tapped Axis & Allies original game designer and creator Larry Harris to take another look at the game and develop a special anniversary edition with updated features and gameplay. The result is the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, a giant, beautifully designed edition featuring plenty of extras, including two completely different games in one box as compared to the classic standard edition–one with a scenario beginning in the Spring of 1941 (the Axis attack) and the other beginning in the Spring of 1942 (from the traditional version of the game). The detail and complex strategy allow for an unlimited level of historicity depending on the desires of the players. The out-of-the-box version will test players’ skill in planning, including short-term battle tactics and long-term strategy, and as with the original game there’s also room for luck to have a hand in the outcome.
The Anniversary Edition, originally released in limited quantities in 2008 and out of print since, includes more than 650 game pieces, including some updated sculpts of tokens compared to the standard edition. It’s housed in a deluxe sturdy box that features a gorgeous painting when the eight game piece boxes are housed together. The gameboard is a whopping 24 x 46 inches. Recommended for players 12 and up, 2-6 can play, each representing one or more of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom for the Allies, or Germany, Japan, or Italy for the Axis. As compared to the standard edition Italy is feature of the Anniversary Edition, which balances out the board 3 to 3 (allowing for more players than prior editions). As with Italy during the real war, the prospects of a single player representing Italy winning the game in a six player game will be a real challenge, but we figured a cunning or lucky player may be able to make it work. China also has a different configuration in this edition, allowing for further twists to the game depending on how it is used to manipulate the balance of power across the board. The key update for 2017 is an updated rulebook correcting past errors.
We set aside an afternoon to try it: my friend (who is a regular gamer, but hasn’t played Axis & Allies in years) and I (new to wargame/combat board games) made it through two complete rounds in 6.5 hours, but that time included initial board set-up (punching out pieces, etc.) and reading instructions. Those familiar with the standard game will have no problem completing 4-6 rounds in this time, which appears to be the norm for a complete game. The winner of the game is the first to capture a set number of major city capitals. Each side starts with a designated number of cities (based on which scenario you play) and players decide in advance whether 13, 15, or all 18 capitals is the goal, which may shorten or extend the time of gameplay. Paper money is used as IPCs or “industrial production certificates” and each of the six major countries is paid each round to represent a rough correlation of the actual military spending during the war. We played the Spring of 1941 scenario and this meant Germany was powerful with Japan in a good position to strike, but the United Kingdom is entrenched upfront by design as a military stronghold with resources that, along with the resources of the United States, kept the balance in favor of the Allies for the first round.
New troop transport and submarine tactical rules versus the classic standard edition allow for some realistic battle scenarios. Players of the classic edition had complained the original allowed for repeat games based on established winning strategy moves, but additional opportunities should reduce this risk, like a rule that pays extra IPCs for achieving national strategies and an optional rule allowing players to buy research and development tokens to unlock expanded game features that can give a player an edge. Greater access to additional IPCs could start to tilt the game in favor of winning through steamrolling opponents with greater power as opposed to strictly sticking to land and sea conflicts.
Other improvements over past versions include separate boxes for each nation’s playing pieces, a separate income tracker and battle board. Regular gamers will have no problem completing a session of game play in its projected six hours, but new players should build in extra hours or play sessions at first. Much depends on a player’s ability to keep track of all the rules as play moves forward, but after a few games players will probably get the knack for things like all the unique configurations that can net IPCs via accomplishing national strategies. Anyone planning a game can download instructions at the Wizards of the Coast/Avalon Hill website here to read the rules in advance and save time. The entire game seems to be manageable even for a beginner after a few games, and my only complaint was that the cruiser, destroyer, and transport tokens didn’t precisely match the silhouettes in the rule book and battle board (causing me to need to correct placement errors as the game proceeded). I could have used a separate WWII style-silhouette card unique to each nation to use during gameplay. I loved the unique playing pieces attempting to match fighters, for example, with their country (the U.S. had a P-38, the U.K. a Spitfire, etc.), but I’ll admit I played the entire game without realizing the tanks were also country-specific, simply because the playing pieces are so small in order to fit everything on the gameboard.
If you’re only familiar with the standard edition of the game, or you’ve played the rare, out-of-print 2008 edition and have been waiting to see the Anniversary Edition available again far less expensive than aftermarket prices, now is the time to give Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition a try. Pick up a copy now here at Amazon or your local game store.