Over 2 million copies sold. Wow! Hard to argue with success. This classic game was first published in 1981. They are celebrating their 50 year anniversary. Congratulations! They have spawned numerous editions. I’m counting 15 on their site currently and those are just the official ones! The Axis & Allies system has also inspired many clones and alternate rules sets. Why do we need so many copies of the same game?
Well, they aren’t exactly the same. They each focus on a specific part of WWII. The original covered the entire war on a global scale. They still have a version like this but they also have a Europe and Pacific edition that focus in on their respective theaters with more detail. They have also been releasing smaller scale editions, detailing specific campaigns like: Battle of the Bulge or Guadalcanal. There is even a WWI 1914 edition.
So, many of these versions are justified and make sense. A few sound questionable. There is a 1940 edition. Also a 1941 edition. Really. How much can change in a year? You guessed it, there is a 1942 edition. Now I can’t help but ask, what happened to 1939, 1943, 1944 and 1945? Not to mention 1937-1941 in the Pacific? This makes me think there is a design problem with this game. Can’t you just start in 1940, play for a year and end up in the starting position for 1941? Well no. You mostly can’t. The rule system doesn’t really model the actual war that well. Actually, this is where all the clones come in. These all make various attempts to fix this game and make it work right. They have varying degrees of complexity, accuracy and success. Some of them are quite good, better than the original. None of them quite hit the mark but that’s not what Axis and Allies is about.
This game is more about the feel. A beer & pretzels game. Take it easy. Roll some dice. Move some cool pieces around on a board with a WWII look and feel. Yes, the kids can play too. Just have some fun and enjoy the company. This is what Axis & Allies is designed to do and it does a great job at it. It’s never purported to be a serious representation of WWII. There is something else it does incredibly well: bring new players into the hobby. Like Risk, this game is key to getting kids interested in historical board gaming.
Axis & Allies is also
Things I Like
- Simplicity. There is something to be said for a game you can just sit down and play. Figure it out as you go. This also makes it easier to find players! Although the rules have grown over the years in complexity.
- I like the grand strategic feel. You get a feel for all the powers involved in the war and some of the grand strategic effects felt around the world. In detailed wargames, it is often hard to see or focus on the big things. Players are too distracted by the little things. You don’t have time to look at the forest. There are too many leaves to worry about right now.
- For as simple as it is, it still includes some pretty sophisticated things: Strategic Bombing, Technological Research, the U-boat war, carriers.
- The Minis! These really fire up your imagination. Help players to think about and visualize the fighting in the era. This game naturally leads to players becoming interested in miniature gaming. Lots of fans want to start painting their piece sets. There are custom add on pieces to collect.
Things I Don’t Like
- The Minis! What? I thought you just said you liked them? Well, there are good things about them. There is also a downside. The first is, they are big and take up a lot of space. Stacks of chips and plastic pieces everywhere. It makes the board look busy and cluttered. God help you if someone bumps the board or a die bounces the wrong direction. The cats seem to like it though. Secondly, unless I’m playing it with kids, I feel a little silly playing with little toy soldiers. I know. It shouldn’t be a big deal but it bothers me.
- The serious wargamer inside of me has trouble letting go of all the impossible results. The incorrect OB. The quirky combat situations. (What? The subs fire at the airplanes?) The lack of rules that denote the true tactical impact of the weapon systems. But that’s why they call it beer & pretzels. I think I just need to have another beer.
This brings me to my final point about Axis & Allies. This game seems to suffer from an identity crisis. What is it? A kid’s game? A collectible miniature game? A simulation of WWII? Just a fun game? It seems like people try to take this game into different conflicting directions. Maybe it’s a little everything. Trying to be everything runs the risk of disappointing on all accounts. Then again, maybe it just is what it is. Why do we have to put it in a box and try to make it what we want. Maybe we should just let it be: Axis & Allies!