“I communicate to others by way of games– it’s what I do.” — Larry Harris
Okay, I have to admit it: this game is an excellent summary of The War to End All Wars for people that have played the original Axis & Allies game. But let me save you the $100 history lesson by revealing the big spoilers for you: Italy was on our side, France was actually a serious world power, Germany is essentially two big powers in this one, and there’s this Ottoman Empire thing doing a terrible job of filling in for Japan. But I just don’t see how you can rightly call it a world war if you don’t have naval battles all around the Pacific Rim. What a rip off!
This is a relatively hot game right at the moment and the 100 year anniversary is coming up pretty soon. Chances are that if you’re any sort of a gamer that you’re liable to be drug in to a session of this thing before long. Straight up, though, you’d be far better off playing the 2004 revision of the original Axis & Allies. Sure, it’s not the “new hotness” or anything, but it’s a much better game by far.
Seriously, though, the World War II flavor of the game came with everything but the lamentation of your opponents’ women. Your air power could be concentrated wherever you needed it, land or sea. Bombers were like battleships in the sky. Fighters could be sent to undermanned territories to beef up their defense. And Tanks could almost as soon blitz in and trample them all to pieces. Plus: aircraft carries. Aircraft carriers! The game was chock full of stuff and every turn is fraught with tough decisions as you fight a half dozen battles scattered across the globe. Any one of them was liable to blow up in your face and leave you with all manner of strategic headaches. There are very few times in that game were you can’t coolly ask your opponent, “do you feel lucky, punk?” as he moves a dangerously small amount of units into one of your territories. And, ah, the number of games that we played where everything hinged on an odd technological research roll!
Take out everything that is fun in Axis & Allies and you end up with 1914. Everything bogs down quickly as a pitifully small number of fronts are set up. Some countries will have a couple of them and will thus have to calculate what percentage of infantry to allocate to each one. All over Europe and Asia, you get these caterpillar trains of infantry streaming out of the capitals of the Central Powers… all of it going to territories to fight in battles that will each take several turns to resolve. Maybe that is historically accurate or something… but it makes for a really dull game.
Here’s the deal: you end up with these big piles a infantry and artillery with maybe a dinky little fight for air superiority before each attack. But if you are dealing with piles and piles of units, I cease caring well before the chits run out and the lack of space on the board becomes the massive hassle that it is. If we’re rolling thirty or forty dice at a time… their results just don’t matter. Not one bit. Not only can you not finish the battle before reinforcements are put in, but think about it: the more dice you roll, the less interesting the distribution of outcomes gets. The chance of anything exciting or surprising happening is almost vanishingly small in this game. I could conceivably get over my attachment to naval battles in the Pacific for a game like this… and if I was serious about the time period, I could probably overlook the insanity of an eight player Axis & Allies game… but if the battles are this dull, I almost immediately give up on it.
But I have to ask… why couldn’t this game have started at a more interesting point? The WWII edition skips over Pearl Harbor and goes straight to the most critical juncture of the war. Why does this game have to start with Serbia? If we’re going to see the exact same opening moves every single time, can’t we just skip ahead a bit here? And do we really get anything by having eight freaking powers in this game? I mean… besides making each turn take twice as long, what exactly do we get out of that? Why is Russia even represented? (I see that there’s an optional rule to allow them to be knocked out of the game early on, but really… if it’s a foregone conclusion that they are going to lose so quickly, why even bother to play that out?) Each side already has something of a fifth wheel cluttering things up… it’s not like we need that eight player.
This is a game where there is no other viable strategy than to sit down and do the math. You need to look at those fronts and compute the probabilities for attacking and defending and then determine whether it’s in your best interests to sally forth or else hang back in the trenches. If you’re attacking, you’ll want artillery and planes and tanks, to be sure. But if you’re not going to be doing that, infantry is still the best deal. Even once you make your purchases it will take a while for them to get to the front. If you can figure out a way to hitch a ride on a transport, it’s worth the effort, but frankly… such accounting trickery is probably the least interesting tactic you could possibly invest in for a wargame. Most games abstract it out so that you can focus entirely on the interesting stuff… but in this one it’s the only game in town.
This game could conceivably be salvaged with a better scenario, a couple of house rules, and maybe twice as many figures and markers as what come in the box. Probably there’s a website with suggestions on getting better play out of this thing already, but who cares? Why should you waste time tinkering with a game that is so flawed, almost any other game would give a better return for your time? If you want a strong Axis & Allies experience, go get a copy of the 2004 revised game off of Ebay or something. Avoid this one like you would a bad case of trench foot.