AVALON HILL, $100
WORLD WAR II RATING: 5/5
The Basics Debuting in 1984, Axis & Allies is one of the most commercially successful war board games. Since then publisher Avalon Hill has released a series of variants on the game, including a lavish 2008 edition marking the company’s 50th anniversary. In this updated release, which includes the new addition of Italy, players control one or more of the major powers of World War II. Players will have to skillfully allocate their nation’s limited resources while waging warfare against their opponents.
The Objective To win the war, of course. For Allies, players must capture the Axis capitals of Berlin and Tokyo. For the Axis, players have to conquer a specified number of objective cities: Germany must capture Moscow, for example. There are two timeline scenarios: a campaign starting in 1942—the game’s original setting—and, new to this version, one starting in 1941, before Germany attacks the Soviet Union.
Historical Accuracy The game pieces are tailored for each nation—Spitfires for England and Sherman tanks for the U.S., for example. Players will face the kind of difficult decisions world leaders did: should Japan attack the U.S. or the Soviet Union? When should the U.S. and UK invade France? The game’s economic aspect heightens the tension, with players making choices like whether they should build more panzers or U-boats. This gives players a chance to explore alternate histories and more fully understand why leaders made the decisions they did.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Beautifully rendered with a gorgeous map board. The only drawback is the limited timeline of 1941 or 1942. For those wanting to play in an earlier timeline with a fuller range of strategic options, a 1998 version, Axis & Allies: Europe 1940, is still in print (as is a Pacific 1940 edition). More pertinent, however, is the revised rule book, which, compared to its predecessor, is an easier read.
Playability This is the preeminent “beer and pretzels” game that allows players and their friends to sit down together in a casual environment. The rules are simple to digest and gameplay moves quickly enough to keep everyone socially engaged. With two different start-date scenarios and the variety of decisions available, players will want to replay it again and again, as have so many others in the last 34 years.
The Bottom Line Axis & Allies is a fun and historically accurate game that explores the grand military strategy and economic aspects of the war, achieving both a great balance of authenticity and playability. —Chris Ketcherside, a former Marine, is working on a PhD in military history.