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World War 2 is very much talked about this year, what with the 60th anniversary of VE day just passed, and that of VJ day not far off. A good thing too. As the number of actual witnesses to the conflict dwindles, it's becomes ever more important that each new generation is educated about the last time the world was caught up in the catastrophe of total war. Personally, the more I read on the topic, the more fascinating I find it. And the clearer it becomes that it's impossible to underestimate the impact of the war and its outcome on the way we lead our lives today.
Perhaps this worthy desire to deepen my knowledge and understanding of that period of history goes some way to explain why I'm currently so obsessed with Axis & Allies. Or perhaps it's simply that it's a brilliant game. Or perhaps (and, I confess, this is probably closest to the truth), I'm just a child who never grew up and I love playing with little toy soldiers, tanks, aeroplanes and boats. Whatever the truth of the matter, I love Axis and Allies, passionately (nearly obsessively), and I can't resist the opportunity to tell you all about it.
Axis & Allies is a board game that has been about for many years now. Originally published in the 70s it has endured in one form or another ever since. It probably achieved its greatest popularity while published by MB through the 90s (MB first included plastic playing pieces to represent the units, which are cheerfully reminiscent of the 1:72 scale airfix models we all used to have, and in which in our secret hearts we all still hanker for). It is now published by Avalon Hill games, who are a subsidiary of Hasbro. The game can be played by 2 to 5 players, and allows each player to take control of one of the major powers involved in the war, on the Allied side Russia, the UK, or America, on the Axis Germany or Japan.
The game board is a map of the world, divided between the five antagonists in line with the disposition of land and troops that prevailed in spring 1942. So Germany controls almost all of Europe, and menaces Moscow in the east. Japan has occupied the east coast of Asia, and is threatening India, China, and Eastern Russia. The UK is alone in Europe, and clinging on to the remnants of her colonies around the rest of the world, her troops spread precariously thin. America is fairly isolated in her hemisphere, having a greatly reduced Pacific fleet after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, and few ground troops near the action.
From this starting position each player takes control of the military destiny of their power, controlling not just the armies on the board, but the industrial spending of the nation, so that in addition to commanding the units on the board at the start of the game, one also buys units to be used in the next turn's attacks. Depending on what you decide to purchase you can build an enormous land invasion force to assault your near neighbours, or a huge fleet to defend your shores against hostile armadas. You can attempt to bomb your enemies into submission, or blitz them off the board with combined tank and fighter assaults.
Victory goes to the first power to conquer a predetermined number of 'victory cities' - cities of strategic importance, of which there are twelve on the board - at the start of the game each side controls six apiece. These include the capitals of all the powers, plus Paris, Rome, Leningrad, Calcutta, Shanghai, Manila, and Los Angeles. You can play to a minor victory - one side must take two additional cites, a major victory - for which one side must take four, or if you have time on your hands and want to play on until the utter ruination of the other side, and laugh cruelly as your adversaries weep over the ashes of their once mighty empire, you can play until one side holds all victory cities.
I bought the game a few weeks ago, realising that I needed a five player game to play when some friends came over for a weekend. I also knew that this kind of light wargame would be right up their alley. I bought it online from Maddison Games, who delivered it promptly. The cost was a shade under £40 including P&P. The odd games shop will stock it as well (I also saw it on the shelf of a fantastic comic shop in Bristol), again the price around the £40 mark.
Great was my delight when I opened the box discovered all of the little plastic men, and planes, and tanks, and boats. However, I confess that I quailed a little when I saw the rule book (or 'Operations Manual' as the designers have styled it). There's an awful lot there to assimilate. Furthermore, if you're about to play it for the first time with four other people who've never played it, there's an awful lot there to explain. In the end I settled for reading out almost all of the rulebook while the other players set up the board. That seemed to go off fairly well (I flatter myself that I have an entertaining speaking voice), although it took a very long time and the two ladies present paid little attention (but that is the way of ladies). We did get a couple of things wrong, however. I found the rules to be obscure on a couple of points the first time round, and it is only now, with a few games under my belt, two re-reads of the book, and a visit to the FAQ section of the Avalon Hill website that I feel pretty much completely au fait with what's allowed and what's not. It would probably be best, when playing against inexperienced players, to give them the rulebook for a read-through in advance. There's more information in there than can be conveniently explained, and it's quite possible for your strategy and tatics to be limited by not knowing the special capabilities of your units.
Setting up the board takes a fair old time. The rules dictate the initial disposition of everyone's troops, so the first thing each player has to do is put thirty or forty plastic pieces on the board to represent their army. One person doing all five powers alone takes about 40 minutes. Once everything is in place, each player takes a turn. The Russian player always goes first, followed by the German, then the UK, then the Japanese, then finally the USA. As the starting position is always the same, the first moves tend to assume a familiar pattern, but there's so much variation in the game that, by the time the second turn comes around, you're likely to be presented with a wholly unfamiliar tactical situation.
The genius of the game is the strategic flexibility offered by the fact that you decide what kind of troops you will buy to carry out your strategy in later turns. It virtually guarantees that no two games will be exactly the same (unless you happen to be playing the Russians - more on that later). History tells us that Hitler never achieved dominance in the Mediterranean, which made resupplying Rommel more difficult and prevented him taking Africa. Well, if the German player decides that was a mistake he can buy himself a couple of ships in the first turn, use them to kick the British navy out of the med, and stream tanks and troops across to reinforce the Afrika Korps. The Americans can choose to buy troops and transports and to invade the European mainland, or build a huge navy to turn the tables on the Japanese.
Like most strategy games, Axis & Allies is played in turns, each turn divided into phases. Each time it is his turn the player has the opportunity to perform 7 actions. These are conduct research, buy new units, combat move, resolve combat, non-combat move, place new units, then collect Industrial Production Credits (which are the money of the game).
Research allows you a chance to develop new and more powerful weapons to use against your enemy - however it is expensive and has no guarantee of success. And, alas, the atom bomb is not available. Research and new units are paid for with the aforementioned Industrial Production Credits. The number a player receives is based on the amount and quality of territory he owns. The industrial heartlands of Germany and America yield huge amounts of IPCs. Africa and the back waters of Russia, very few. The Americans begin the game with the highest income, closely followed by the Germans. Japan and the UK are on a par with each other, and the Russians have the least. Any units you buy are not usable until the next turn, so you have to plan ahead, and think about what you're likely to need in a turns time. Combat is resolved with dice, based on the characteristics of the attacking and defending troops. Infantry defend well but attack badly, tanks are good at both, aeroplanes are expensive but can move a long distance and attack well.
It's all too easy, in your enthusiasm to get on with executing your fiendishly planned pincer attack, to forget completely about buying new units. This happened to a couple of players in our first game, and we imposed a strict reading of the rules, disallowing them to step back and buy their units, which was a considetrable setback to the attacking designs of the players involved. After that experience, I would now recommend a certain flexibility in respect of this kind of thing, certainly if the players in question are new to the game. As I've said before, the rules are complex, and winning through being a stickler is strangely unsatisfying.
Not that I can claim to know much about winning, whether through strategic mastery or low pedantry. I've played the game seven times now, and have won but once. As five of those games have been played between myself and my wife, I as the Allies, she as the Axis, this has been a desperate situation for both the freedom of the world at large, and for my own self-respect in the domestic sphere. The first four games she won with ease. I clung with dogged tenacity to the conviction that if I only persisted, eventually I would come up with a strategy to conquer her. I began four games with boundless optimism, only to see my little plastic armies and navies destroyed by the Axis. It began to affect my sleep, and my work. By day I would bore my colleagues into a glass-eyed stupor by describing the game I'd played the night before. By night I would lie awake, trying to conjure a strategy that would turn the tide, while beside me my wife would snore the contented snore of the victorious. Worst of all, I would sulk after a losing game, which, besides being contemptible, ran the very real risk that she would simply stop playing with me and leave me dangling, useless and impotent, a General without a war.
Eventually I came to the consoling conclusion that in the early stages the game is biased toward the Axis. Germany and Japan begin with large concentrations of troops close to inadequately defended victory cities. As the starting position is always the same, it is highly possible for them to win a two city victory in the first turn, unless the Allied player is particularly adroit. I finally managed to win a four city game as the allies (well, after two nights of play I was declared the winner, however, I hadn't actually managed to take four cities. We just decided between us that I was in the dominant position), however, had we been playing to two cities I would have lost in the first turn. Later in the game, assuming the Axis don't steal an early victory, the Allies, with their greater production, tend to get to terms. The test of this will come when I finally play as the Axis, which I haven't done yet, and hopefully smash my wife's forces with consummate ease. If the game is so imbalanced (and if it isn't I'm clearly missing something), it's a big flaw, as it renders the shorter, two city game more or less superfluous.
The rulebook suggests that a two city victory game should last roughly two hours, a four city victory about four hours, and a total victory longer still. In my experience, unless the Axis players win very quickly, even a two city game will take well over two hours. Whilst I find the game absorbing and compelling, however long it takes, my wife has taken to complaining about the length of time she has to wait between turns. It is true, particularly if there are five players, that there is likely to be a fair bit of sitting around. Unless you're inclined to spend that time watching the action like a hawk and honing your strategy based on unexpected events, you'll likely find the game to be a bit slow paced.
Another slight niggle with the game is that the Russian player is at a significant disadvantage. Russia begins the game with a whopping German army on its western border, and the Japanese (who are, contrary to historical fact, unbound by any non-agression treaty) to the east. Under such circumstances the Russian player has no choice but to go entirely on the defensive, knowing that one mistake on their part will hand a quick victory to the Axis. This leaves the hapless player little scope for imaginative play, or indeed for doing anything other than trying to hang on long enough for the other Allied powers to get into position to help.
However, these complaints aside, I heartily recommend Axis & Allies. If you're the kind of person who enjoys Risk, Diplomacy, Civilisation, or indeed strategy computer games like Command & Conquer or Sid Meier's Civilisation, you'll find plenty to enjoy here. If you're never heard of any of the above, but find Ludo, Monopoly or Cluedo a little bit random and unchallenging, then Axis & Allies might be for you. At £40 it's a little expensive to pick up on the off chance, but if you take to it it'll guarantee you hour after hour of enjoyable, stimulating play.
OK, this is a game that I have been playing for over 17 years now, and I have a lot of experience in. This game is basically what we Americans call a "beer and pretzles" version of the serious war games by companies like Avalon Hill. It does a fairly good job of getting you into the logistics of world wide conflict, but does not bog you down in the minutia of how to monitor every little detail. I will cover my review on several topics, then finish it up. Board and pieces: The board is beautifully colored, and large. It gives you ample room for placing the pieces, and movement around it is fairly simple. The pieces also are very detailed, and are fair representations on how they look. While there are not enough naval pieces for my taste (no cruisers, no destroyers, no "transport carriers"), it is enough to give the idea of how large scale naval battles are conducted. The only problems i have is in the number of chips provided, and in the colors of two of the countries. The yellow and light tan of ANgland and Japan are to close together, sometimes causing confusion when putting them away. This is something that has been in place since the game first went on sale, and I doubt it will go away. As for the chips, well they never give you enough of them! If you end up in a "Germany-Russia" stalemate with lots of tanks and infantry, you will quickly wun out of chips. I suggest to anybody that plays this game to get some small poker chips and add them to your game set. Rules and game play: The rules are detailed, and for the most part easy to understand. The only real confusions I normally encounter are in the attack sequence of submarines (subs ALWAYS get the "sneak attack", not just on the first round) and the Panama Canal. I still wish that the sea zones bordering Panama were 2 seperate sea zones, not just one. Anybody that has ever gone throu
gh the canal knows how long it takes. Having them be the same zone stretches reality to far. Also, the aircraft carriers are able to go through the canal, where as real carriers are unable to do this. But I think they left this alone in order to make it easie to play. But if you use "house rules", you might want to make this change yourself to add more realism. The order of countries is easy to follow, going allies, axis, allies, axis, allies. It gives a lot of time for the other players to plan and get ready for their next moves. And if one attack-defense goes bad, the others might be able to step in and render aid before it is to late. The new technologies are a nice feature, although they are rarely used. With only a 1 in 6 chance of getting one, it is for those with money to spare, not for countries barely winning in the early parts of the game. And the ballance bay be thrown off by them. If Germany, England, or USA get Heavy Bombers, the game is almost over. And sometimes they are worthless, as in a case of Russia getting super subs. An average game takes around 3-6 hours to play, so this is a nice length. It is not so long as to bore you to death, and it does have set endings. Although rarely is it played to that point. Normally when it becomes obvious one side is winning over the other, the players decide on the winners and either put it up, or have a rematch. And yes, this game is best played with 5 people. 4 players also works, and 3 can be done. With only 2 players, it becomes a more serious "slug match", since then they can work a true combined offensive, which never worked in the real war. Final notes: This is an excellent game, but I place it in the "12 and up" age range. It is probably to complicated for most children younger then that. And to give an idea on how accurate it can be, it has an almost cult status with the members of the US military. When
I was in the service, we would ovten play this for hours every night. And new players were able to quickly grasp the basics of the game, and then concentrate on long range goals. While luck does play a role, this game really is about logistics. The pieces bought are purchased before any combat in a round, and placed after it is over. This means they normally will not come into use for 1-3 rounds after they are bought. This makes planing a requirement. In this game, being unable to think 2-3 rounds into the future can be fatal. I recommend this game to any serious gamer that either wants a lighter version of their games for more relaxing games, or to use to introduce new players before taking them to the more hard core games. For a war game novice, this is a great introduction to the more serious war games. After playing this several times, they can now start to look at the offerings by companies like Avalon Hill with less fear of the numbers of pieces and complexities of rules. Final note, there is no option for price for my country. Here in the US it sells for $40.
The most important thing you must do to make this boardgame fun is to read the rules.I've won 3 times in a row back home because I was the only one to read the rules properly. This game is set in 1941 with the German forces about to begin Operation Barbarossa.The Germans are allied with the Japanese and the Russians,Americans and British form the other powers.Each "area" on the board is given a certain industrial worth and the more you control,the wealthier you are.You start each turn by launching invasions into neighbouring territories,the attack is resolved using dice,you move troops,pick up "money" which corresponds to the amount of territories you own and buy troops with them which you place at factories.Then the next person has his go. This is a very simplified version of the game and the only way to truely understand it is to read the rules maybe twice while playing the game in between those times.This is a very good game if you know what's going on,very frustrating if you don't. In the nature of Allied advice the most important thing to note is that Russia is the key to the game.If Russia holds Germany will find it very difficult to expand in any direction.The Russian player should stockpile infantry at the front and remember tanks can hit you from basically anywhere except France and Italy. America is sealocked but has huge industrial power so invest in some planes-they can land on Russian soil.The main job of America is to kick Japan's ass because no other country is really near it so a navy is also vital. Britain is not,in my opinion,that central to the game but rather should prop up Russia in the East and wipe out German forces in Africa.Fighters should be flown up to Leningrad for their brilliant defensive capability-kill on 4 or less.The most important thing aswell is to win the initial battle for the Mediterranean to stop Nazi forces gaining a foothold in Africa.
For the Axis powers the main thing is to wipe out Russia.Nazi German should blitz into Leningrad and Moscow and hopefully hold them for a turn.If you can do this then you can begin churning out units DIRECTLY at the front.Also blitz throughout Africa generally making a nuisance of yourself.Don't worry about losing forces there-just make Britain try to recapture the territories you took there.Remember aswell mainland USA is only 2 territories from west Africa so you could sneak attack from there if the oppurtunity arose. For Japan you have to immediatly wipe out the US in China.Then don't bother with the Pacific(you lost there remember) and go through the back of Russia.You stop Russia from being able to produce as many troops as it should so Germany can come through the front door.With the added industrial capabilities of Russiayou're bound to win. Finally whenever you can invest in Industrial Breakthrough-if one of them comes good you have a big advantage. It's a complicated game but very enjoyable so become the World dictator.
Axis & Allies is a good fun boardgame that anybody can play. A lack of historical knowledge will not prevent you from winning this game which is a refreshing change to the norm for this type of game. The game is configured for 2-5 players but the fewer players there are the less fun there is to be had. Set in the Second World War, players take on the roles of the various main player nations of that conflict (Germany and Japan form the Axis powers, Italy surprisingly being left out….. vs. UK, the USA and Russia as the Allies). The game itself is well balanced and is very playable possibly even addictive but I have to say that I couldn’t play for that amount of time. It can take a long while to finish a game which can mean having to leave the game set up over a period of days so if you are pressed for space or have young children it may not be the best game for you. I would have to say that I find this game a little expensive for my tastes at £25.00 but having said that for those of you that have the time and space to play this game I would certainly recommend it as a good purchase.
Set in the year 1942, this boardgame could be described as the adult version of Risk. The foldout board displays a map of the world and the main five countries are divided between the players. There can be between two and five players and they are the United Kingdom, United States of America, Russia, Japan and Germany. Then battle commences as each side fights for world domination. This is not a game which you could buy one day and be ready to play straight away. It?s quite complicated and does help if there?s someone available with some prior knowledge of the game. Nevertheless there?s also a degree of common sense to the rules, and once you?ve got the idea, it?s tremendous fun to play. You probably need to be over 11 years old to enjoy it though. The map is colourful and the playing pieces - bombers, soldiers, warships - are nicely made. Although some luck is involved, the game is mainly down to strategy. It?s about co-operating with your partners and outwitting the other side. I?ve never got bored with it over the years because there are always new tactics to try out and battles to win. A bit like chess, there?s always someone who can beat you. The game is now available on CD ROM which means a brilliant concept is being taken to a new audience.