Just to mention a few: German Tiger tank, Russian IS2 tank, US P40 Warhawk, German FW-190 Folkwolf, Japanese Kongo class battleship and the HMS Hood, and oh yeah... the German He-111 Heinkel bomber.
When I initially heard that they were releasing yet another version of Axis & Allies, I was not impressed. I am a long time player of the game. In the 1980s, I played too many games to count with my friends. The game remained vibrant and fresh to me in part because my friends and I have always played a double blind system that mitigated to an extent the optimal strategies of straight play in the original edition. After an extended break from the game, I returned to regular play a half dozen years or so ago with the Revised edition. I have since purchased and played extensively both the Anniversary edition and the Global 1940 game. However, I was not too impressed with the Spring 1942 release, even while I admitted that a low priced version was a good thing for getting more people into a game that I still loved. So, when I heard that they were releasing another inexpensive introductory version, I did not initially care that much. In fact, I was more interested in the new, expanded second edition 1942 game. However, once David Jensen’s previews on the 1941 edition were posted in June this year, I was immediately won over.
Larry Harris’s designer notes nailed the reason why I became a convert. Larry wrote that the 1941 edition “has been stripped down to brass tacks and rendered lean and mean.” This is very true as the game is not just a slightly tweaked version of the earlier games with an altered map and new sculpts for units (though it has both of those). Instead, the game is a complete reimagining. The key change is that the Industrial Production values of the territories have been lowered significantly. This means that the players have much less income to spend and thus spend less time in analysis paralysis over their purchases. This critical rule change also allows gameplay to proceed much more smoothly and quickly because there are fewer units on the board. In the massive 1940 Global game, which I still own and admire, playing time can easily approach 12 hours. In this new 1941 edition, playing time is much, much shorter. How short? Well, I have now played two games with my friends and several games “solo” testing the rules and various strategies. The two games with my friends took a combined 2.5 hours, including the set ups. I don’t think that will by typical in the long haul, once strategies have been a bit more honed, but I think 1.5 to 2 hours per game is very reasonable as a time estimate. I love the shorter playing time because this means that my friends and I can play two (or more) games in one session. Indeed, after we played Axis & Allies 1941 most recently, we followed that up with two games of King of Tokyo and, as a change of pace, the light civilization game Peleponnes. The last time we got together, we played just a single version of the Global 1940 game in a longer time period and without coming close to the actual victory conditions when one side conceded (in exhaustion as much as anything else).
Pros and Cons of Axis & Allies 1941
1. Value: The game retails for $29.99, and this is a bargain in my opinion. Yes, I have upgraded my copy of the game with units and pieces from older editions, but the quality of the sculpts and the number of plastic pieces included in the box for less than $30 is wonderful. For someone like me who wishes to purchase two copies of the game to play double blind, this is a very nice feature. (To be fair, the price tag for the Spring 1942 game was also a great value.)
2. Set Up Time: I can set the game up in 5-7 minutes now, and I think most folks could easily set the game up in 10 minutes if they have previously stored the units properly. This is great not only because it allows you to start playing quickly but also because it allows you to set the game up at any time you want and take a look at the map, plot strategies, and prepare for the next game. This is one of the unsung features of Axis & Allies, that one can gain enjoyment from the game even when one is not playing it. This is true of other wargames, of course, but many of them are not set up in 5-10 minutes!
3. Playing Time: 90-120 minutes is a legitimate time estimate, half the playing time of the previous fastest playing version of Axis & Allies.
4. Game Balance: I believe that the game is well balanced. There may be a slight edge to the Axis, but in our games each side won one game, and my solo efforts have demonstrated that even if the game tilts one way, the outcome is far from determined at the start of play due to the roll of luck in the game (more below on this).
5. Game Audience: This is one of few wargames in my collection that I can see playing with multiple ages and groups. It was a hit with my group of Axis & Allies veterans because the game’s balance of time investment to strategic and tactical planning was very positive. I believe, however, that the game is simple enough that one can use it to bring new players into the hobby. Certainly, Larry Harris believes this because he wrote in his notes that “this might end up being the most-played version of the game ever published.” That might be too much to ask given the fact that the original 1980s version had much less competition from video games and other board games and sold well over a million copies as a result. Still, Larry knows a thing or two about breakout mass market games, so I don’t discount this possibility entirely. Certainly, it will be easier to hook new players with this game than with any other version of Axis & Allies ever published.
6. The Past and My Plastic Pieces: I have long accepted that Axis & Allies is not meant to be a perfect simulation of World War II, understanding that historical accuracy had to be sacrificed in order to give the Axis players a fair chance and to make the game more fun. It is after all, not a simulation of war, but a fun game of pushing plastic pieces around the board while laughing with and cursing at friends. One issue, however, that has long bothered me is that the production values in Axis & Allies games were way out of proportion to what was historically possible. For example, Germany had about 235 divisions in 1941 but only about 350 divisions at its peak in 1943-1944 (and many of those were not complete divisions). Yet, German players in earlier editions of Axis & Allies could easily double, triple, or quadruple their infantry divisions in a few turns. Having played the 1941 edition, I am convinced that the German player’s increased unit production will be much more in line with historical possibility. (The same is true for other powers at well. Japan, for example, will not doubling the size of its initial navy as it sometimes did in earlier editions). While I accept that I almost no one else shared this concern with the earlier editions, I am happy that this new edition minimizes this particular historical concern of mine.
1. The Role of Luck: Axis & Allies has long been called a dice fest because of the amount of dice one rolls in the game. This reputation is deserved as the game does involve lots and lots of dice, but, in actuality, the game was always unfairly derided for its outcome being too much determined by luck . When one rolls a lot of dice, the randomness of the dice results are greatly minimized. Axis & Allies, I would argue, is less determined by dice luck than games like Memoir ’44 that have escaped such general criticism. That said, this version of Axis & Allies, with its fewer total units and thus fewer total dice rolls, is much more open to the role of luck than earlier editions. This is not necessarily a negative because this guarantees replayability in the game and could potentially minimize the distance between an experienced player and a newcomer, but I think that it deserves to be listed as a con of the game.
2. Upgrading the Components: While this is not necessary, I know that I would find the small number of units included in the game a frustration over time, so I added in units from other games so that my set is no longer prone to running out of infantry or fighters. Fortunately, even for players who don’t own earlier games to scavenge, they can purchase for reasonable prices additional units from the fine folks at http://www.historicalboardgaming.com. I have also added the plastic chips from earlier editions and the paper money as well (but that is more for nostalgic reasons than anything else). Finally, I have purchased some nice plastic containers to hold the different units. You should be able to find containers at the local dollar store. I got ones that fit just perfect at Target this past week.
3. Number of Players: The game box says 2-5 players, just like all basic versions of Axis & Allies. However, this version’s reduction in income production is particularly punishing to the fifth player who would surely be given the Soviets. While there are still many decisions to make for most powers, the paucity of income for the Soviets is so extreme as to reduce their options to the point where I don’t recommend playing this game with five players. Instead, I recommend the game be played with no more than four players and with one of the Allied players playing both the Soviets and the United Kingdom.
Axis & Allies 1941 has been an unexpected surprise this summer, invigorating me with new enthusiasm for the franchise at a time when my love affair seemed to be fading, foundering upon the shoals of ten hour Global 1940 game sessions. I recommend the game for new players interested in exploring what has proven to be one of the most popular wargames of the past quarter century. I also recommend it to veteran players looking to rekindle that spirit that led them to Axis & Allies in the first place, the spirit that said, “Wow, this Friday night my friends and I can replay the entire history of World War II … twice!”
Mind you, I have bought it to check out the new sculpts more than anything...
I DEARLY hope that they will use the new sculpts in the new editions of 1940 E and P - though I would also hope that each country gets one or more its own, not borrowing from others...
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