Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The World War that Wasn’t: Axis & Allies 1914

“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.

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20 responses to “The World War that Wasn’t: Axis & Allies 1914

  1. Rhetorical Gamer October 30, 2013 at 7:21 am

    This was pretty much my exact feeling about the game. And the “sit down and do the math” thing is so depressing. I could basically tell from the moment the game was set up what the outcomes would be (barring something truly surprising – which this game doesn’t really offer). I think I annoyed everyone by telling them every turn how it would play out… I try not to be that guy but this game was so dreadful I couldn’t help myself.

    Besides that – we played the game for a solid five hours or so and we still only got through three turns before just walking away. This game really does have so many things wrong with it that it’s not worth salvaging. One or two things I could overlook but when the play is dull as dishwater on top of those things and then there are five more things… well… it’s just time to move on to another game.

    Glad it’s not just me though.

  2. Alex October 30, 2013 at 8:24 am

    My dad played wargames for decades and swears that there’s never been a really good boardgame for WWI or if there was, he’d never played it. Part of the nature of the conflict, over a million infantrymen desperately fighting over a few hundred feet of scorched earth until none of them were left, does not really facilitate an interesting tactical game. Its just going to be huge piles of pieces stacked up along the front with next to no progress made on either side. That the Axis & Allies format borrows from Risk’s province based map rather than a hex based map just makes it that much more cramped and uninteresting. It was ambitious to try to make a WWI game, but it’s the sort of project that, short of a miracle, is doomed from the start.

    • Jason Packer October 30, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Before Jeffro mentioned it, I’d never heard that there was an Axis & Allies 1914 – it didn’t seem like the sort of game you’d want to play at that scale, and your take seems to support that.

      Squad level, sure, I can see an interesting game. Role playing potential, out the wazoo. But not as an A&A game.

      • Alex October 30, 2013 at 9:55 am

        That’s a big part of why the air-war was so romanticized despite its often negligible effect; an individual could achieve a degree of greatness and nobility based on his own skills in a way that one couldn’t dream of in the trenches. Nevermind that you had a life expectancy of two weeks… At least you weren’t in the trenches.

        I COULD see a WWI game working if it used a similar map and engine as Fortress Europa, and simply eliminate a lot of the faster moving units to prevent large ‘break outs’ from pushing the front back too far too quickly. But having the front be the equivalent of 3 or 4 squares/hexes/whatever is definitely going to cramp and bog things down.

    • Karl Gallagher October 30, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      I could see an interesting WWI game that focuses on abstract levels of morale, resources, diplomatic leverage to bring in neutrals, etc. Something like the Babylon 5 CCG. But nothing with an actual map.

  3. Lee October 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    “Paths of Glory,” a card-driven game at the strategic level, is a very good WWI game, IMO. It moves, and both players are making interesting decisions all along.

  4. mike January 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I’ve been playing board games for well over fifty years. The creator of this game should be applauded for his elegant design and command of the subject matter. He has created a first class game simulation.

  5. Joe G March 8, 2014 at 10:39 am

    My son & I did create a set of rules modifying Larry Harris’s ‘Tournament Rules’ that makes the game more historic: mobile warfare in 1914, then static warfare(as the game plays originally), then a tech. chart for gas, stormtrooper, tanks, etc. that allows the game to become mobile again, generally in 1918. Also added blockade rules, as well as changing the OoB for AH, Ottomans, & France to be more historic. Game plays great: Germany is at the gates of Paris in 1914 & 1918, and the Allied blockade slowly strangles the Centrals. Find rules @ boardgamegeek.com

  6. Garrett December 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I have a few things to say about this game. I haven’t played this game yet, but hear me out. The rules to this game our, well, just guidelines, and the lame ones (Trench Warfare, Lack of mobility, the letdown over tanks,) you could just take out. I think it would be very fun if you used the same rules from 1941 (Which is the only A&A game I have) and implemented them in this game. If trench warfare is so bad, if troops move so slow you run out every turn, then just make house rules. I personally am excited to play this game when I get it, and using the same rules as previous games makes this just as exciting.

  7. Jeff Lewis December 21, 2014 at 12:52 am

    Is this a redo of the old The Great War by Imp Games?

  8. Jon December 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Might be wrong but it sounds like you’re trying to force Risk gameplay into an A&A game. Who said you HAVE to build just troops? In that vein, it also sounds like you’re using the strategy of attrition, also Risk-esque.

    • jeffro December 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

      It sounds like you haven’t played A&A: 1914.

      • Jon December 11, 2015 at 3:02 pm

        So? Are you playing the game via attrition like a Risk game or not? The way your review reads, this is a complex Risk game where you hardly ever use anything but troops.

      • Jon December 11, 2015 at 3:03 pm

        …and my point is, maybe your way of playing it is not the only way?

    • jeffro December 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      My friend sold this game shortly after this session. If I play an all night A&A game again, it will be the 2004 edition. It will not be this one. World War I is not that fun in general.

      • morrisonmp December 11, 2015 at 4:48 pm

        To echo my original comments on this game as well as jeffro’s point… the game doesn’t necessarily play like Risk so much as an extremely clunky machine that has difficulty doing anything well. WWI was a war of attrition, but the way this gameplay makes it feel the attrition is not your pieces on the board so much as your attention span and patience.

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