Board game nostalgia: Axis & Allies

There have been a few games that have really shaped my gaming history. These games have taught me a lot about the hobby while also nurturing my love for board games. One of the most important contributions to my gaming development was Axis and Allies. Axis and Allies would graduate me from Risk and chess to Civilization and Republic of Rome. Sit back for a stroll down memory lane as I reminiscence about a Milton Bradley classic.


1. What’s in that huge blue box with red letters?

Most Muskegon gamers have played Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis and Allies

In 11th grade, I’d go to my friend Larry’s house to play Dungeons & Dragons. As the session would wear on, our attentions drifted and more tomfoolery took place than actual role playing.

It was during one of these times that I noticed a large game box in his room. It said Axis & Allies in large typeface with a collage depicting World War II. I had recently done a research project on World War II. I believe my thesis was “How the U.S. singlehandedly won World War II”. If I’m not mistaken, my thesis was strongly defended by both my prose and the historical record. I was intrigued by this time period. And a board game that covered this was sure to whet my appetite.

Larry said, “I’ll show you how to play”.


2. Playing Axis and Allies

Muskegon loves classic Ameritrash like Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies

The goal of Axis and Allies is to win World War II. The game is set in Spring 1942. The Axis war machine has reached its historic high point. For three more years, the Allies would encroach on the imperialist holdings of the Axis until unconditional surrender was declared.

Axis and Allies has two win conditions. It’s the first game I can recall playing where this was the case. The Allies win by conquering both Axis capitals. The Axis wins by either two of the three Allied capitals or by reaching 84 on the IPC track. (IPC’s are Axis and Allies bucks; thus the Axis could achieve an economic victory).

Players take on the roles of one or more of the five major players of World War II: USSR, Germany, UK, Japan or the USA. Players collect income for all the territory their country controls. This income is used to develop new technologies and to purchase units. Those units are then hurled at your opponent’s territories, claiming new territory, gaining additional income which feeds your war efforts. This continues until one of the victory conditions is met.


3. My first play

Components of Axis & Allies
Components of Axis & Allies

After a rules explanation, we set the game up. Larry liked the idea of succeeding where Hitler and Hirohito failed. He took the Axis. That was fine with me because I wanted to be the good guys. Like Stalin.

We spent several hours prosecuting World War II that night. I misplayed the USSR. The USSR is tough to play when you are new to the game. And it’s exacerbated when you are managing three different economies that have different turn orders. I watched in horror as Larry’s forces eventually brought the USSR down. He reached the 84 IPC threshold, winning the game.

While I lost the game, I was enamored by Axis and Allies. I wanted to play it again as soon as possible. Larry won the second game as well.

I made Axis and Allies “my game”. I studied every nuance: the units, the set up and the board. I then went on to beat Larry in our third game. And our fourth game. And every game we played thereafter. Eventually he would no longer play with me. So I found new opponents.

And then I beat them too.


4. Why was Axis and Allies so special?

The rule book for A&A
The rule book for A&A

Axis and Allies was my earliest exposure to asymmetrical gaming. Normally I played games like chess or Risk where everyone started with equal forces. Not so in Axis and Allies. The Axis has a substantial material advantage. But their economy is greatly outclassed by the Allies.

The difference in units was brilliantly integrated into the game. When I would play Risk, I thought it would be cool if there were airplanes and tanks. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it. My understanding of game mechanics was greatly expanded by my exposure to A&A’s combat dice. Each unit rolls a die. Each unit has a certain hit value. If the die roll is equal to or less than the hit value, you score a hit against your opponent. This is standard fare nowadays. But in 1988 (when I first played Axis and Allies), this was new and exciting.

Several other aspects of the game were ahead of its time as well. The two win conditions for the Axis which I already stated. And those weapons development rolls. By spending 5IPC’s, you could roll a die. If you rolled a 6, you got a random technology. Some were bunk. But two of them were so amazing, they would almost win you the game. The risk/reward aspect of weapons development was very satisfying for an 80’s game.

5. Where does Axis and Allies stack up today?

Axis and Allies with poker chipsAxis and Allies with poker chips
Axis and Allies with poker chips

We don’t play much Axis and Allies at The Gaming Annex. In fact, I haven’t played it since around 2000. While ahead of its time, Axis and Allies has since been surpassed by better games.

New versions of the game are still being published. The definitive favorite today is probably Europe 1940 along with Pacific 1940. Hardcore fans play both games simultaneously.

These new versions add a ton of new units. When I played, there were infantry, tanks, fighter planes, bombers, transports, battleships, aircraft carriers and submarines. Now there’s artillery, halftracks, destroyers, tactical bombers and cruisers. The map measures a whopping 70″ by 32″. Expect to be engaged for up to 12 hours if you are going to take on this beast.

And there’s more than just the hardcore 1940 games. There are six pages of Axis and Allies games on boardgamegeek. The game has spawned a generational following. While my flame may have died out, Axis and Allies is still sparking the imagination of new gamers.

-Chris, reminiscing on behalf of the Muskegon Area Gamers.

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