Axis & Allies is one of the best-known war-games on the market. While purists can probably name at least a dozen other games that are more complex or realistic, Axis & Allies is the big step up from Risk that helps players become more interested in the hobby. The game itself has grown quite a bit from the original 1981 release, encompassing a number of revisions and spin-offs. As it stands today, Axis & Allies is almost an industry unto itself. Before we can discuss the versions of the game, though, it’s a good idea to talk about what makes the game so special.
What is Axis & Allies?
Axis & Allies is a World War II-era war-game designed by Larry Harris in 1981. The game puts players in command of the titular Axis and Allied forces during the early stages of World War II, allowing them to make the strategic and tactical decisions necessary to bring about the end of the war. While the game has had several rule changes over its lifetime, the end goal has always been to lead one of the game’s nations or alliances to victory.
The game itself was originally published by Nova Game Designs, but was quickly republished by Milton Bradley in 1984. The game itself would continue to be published by Milton Bradley under the title Axis & Allies: Classic until 1998, at which time Milton Bradley’s parent company would move publishing duties over to Avalon Hill. There are currently over a dozen iterations of the game, not including spin-offs like the miniatures game.
Here’s a rundown of the various editions of Axis and Allies board game.
- Axis & Allies (NOVA)
- Axis & Allies: Classic Edition
- Axis & Allies: Europe
- Axis & Allies: Pacific
- Axis & Allies: D-Day
- Axis & Allies: Revised
- Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge
- Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal
- Axis & Allies: 50th Anniversary Edition
- Axis & Allies: Spring 1942
- Axis & Allies: Pacific 1940
- Axis & Allies: Europe 1940
- Axis & Allies: 1941
- Axis & Allies: 1942 2nd Edition
- Axis & Allies: Global Edition
- Axis & Allies: 1914
- Axis and Allies Miniatures
Axis & Allies (NOVA)
The original version of Axis & Allies is in many ways a totally different beast than what would come before. At times simpler and at others more confusing, it definitely feels more like an early-80s board game. The game starts with Russia’s offensive against German-held Ukraine and progresses from there. It’s far more abstract than the other editions of the game and does feature a host of rules that wouldn’t make it into the Classic edition. With that said, this is a true piece of war-gaming history – it’s hard to find in most cases, but worth a play if you can get your hands on it.
Axis & Allies: Classic Edition
The Classic Edition (also known as Original) is the version of Axis & Allies with which most are familiar. A global game of the Second World War, it divides players into the titular Axis and Allied forces in order to wage a new version of WWII. The game follows a very specific move and turn order, putting a great deal of emphasis on developing a wartime economy and allowing players to research new technologies. Not a fast game by any stretch of the imagination, it is nonetheless one of the most well-known WWII board games on the market and still has legions of fans.
Axis & Allies: Europe
Europe takes the formula from the Classic Edition and condenses it down to a single theater of war. The forerunner of the modern Theater games, this one kept the same victory conditions as its parent game but required radically different tactics to win. Playing a condensed version of the map does make the game go by faster, but it also requires a higher level of strategic thinking than the main game. A good indication of where the series would head later, it has a mixed reputation today. While some praise the dynamic nature, others note that it’s incredibly difficult for Allied players to pull off a win in normal play conditions.
Axis & Allies: Pacific
Pacific does not have a great reputation among A&A fans due to balance reasons, but it was definitely one of the first Axis & Allies games to take a real chance with the rules. The game pits Japan against Britain and the United States, and gives Japan a chance to gain victory not only through victory points but also through capturing and holding an enemy city. The game focuses heavily on the impact of real-life bombing campaigns in the Pacfic theater during World War II, with Japanese forces suffering the loss of victory points from bombing raids during the game. A unique twist on the formula, it nonetheless has a reputation for being a bit of an oddball when considering the pre-revision versions of the game.
Axis & Allies: D-Day
It’s hard to consider any kind of World War II board game without looking at D-Day, and Axis & Allies did have their own version of the famous invasion. Because the scope is so limited, D-Day presents a much simpler version of the game. While far more reliant on luck than the other iterations, it is nonetheless a fantastic way to introduce players to the game. While the scope is limited to the D-Day invasions, there’s still a great deal of strategy involved. Overall quicker than its predecessors, it’s a fantastic bite-sized version of the game.
Axis & Allies: Revised
At the time of release, revision Axis & Allies must have seemed heretical. One of the most popular war-games out there, most fans would say that it worked well as it was. In truth, Revised helped to fix many of the rules that desperately needed updating, incorporating bits and pieces of the errata that had been released over the years. A far superior version of the original game, it would become the gold standard for what Axis & Allies should be. Though it would itself be revised in years to come, this is still the version of the game to which many hardcore players cling.
Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge is another game that sticks to the tradition of simplifying down the grand game of Axis & Allies to focus on a single battle. The Battle of the Bulge is one of the most commonly recreated WWII battles in gaming, and the fact that it took Axis & Allies so long to get to it is a bit surprising. This is another stripped-down version of the game, with simplified rules and movement. Though not a favorite of the hardcore crowd, it is usually praised as one of the best introductory war-games on the market. The game moves surprisingly quickly even for new players, with most of the rule bloat stripped away in favor of recreating the battle faithfully. This is one of the more user-friendly Battle of the Bulge games ever made.
Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal has a reputation for being a light version of Axis & Allies, and for good reason. It’s not just the fact that the game is faster – it’s that almost everything is streamlined. Playing more like a simplified spin-off than anything else, this lean version of the game helped to show off what could be done with the system. While it doesn’t have quite as many fans as some of the other versions of the game, it does have a dedicated player base that enjoys the cat-and-mouse nature of the game’s strategic combat.
Axis & Allies: 50th Anniversary Edition
If you’ve kept track of your timeline, you’ll see that this game came out less than thirty years after the original game. The 50th Anniversary Edition was actually created to honor the fiftieth anniversary of publisher Avalon Hill by putting the focus on one of the company’s best-selling games. Anniversary is one of the biggest single editions of the game, with hundreds of units, the addition of Italy as an Axis nation and the introduction of the Cruiser to the naval line-up. Still a complex and time-consuming game, Anniversary is widely considered to be one of the best overall versions of Axis & Allies.
Axis & Allies: Spring 1942
Just to make things particularly confusing, this is actually the 25th Anniversary Edition of Axis & Allies. Billed as an upgrade, this is actually very close to a complete overhaul of the classic game. The board’s a bit smaller than in the previous release, but the great new pieces more than make up for that fact. This game places a huge emphasis on the “war” part of war gaming, taking the economy largely out of the picture. It’s a more streamlined way to play the game, though one that certainly had purists in an uproar because of how the rules were changed.
Axis & Allies: Pacific 1940
The first edition of Pacific 1940 pulled the focus out of Europe with an entirely new map. The addition of Imperial Japan and the ANZAC forces helped to create some interesting new wrinkles in the game, as did the switch over to a new part of the world. Pacific 1940 can be played on its own, but it is also fairly easy to combine with Europe 1940 to make one giant experience. The game makes use of the same rules that were featured in the Anniversary Edition, but feels different enough that it really does stand alone as its own product.
Axis & Allies: Europe 1940
The second half of the monstrous double-feature, Europe 1940 dropped in the summer of 2010. It makes use of most of the same rules as Pacific 1940, though with a few interesting new wrinkles concerning neutrality. While it might seem odd to release a European edition of a game that’s already Euro-centric, this version does provide a very different experience than the classic game. Europe 1940 can also be combined with Pacific 1940 to create a gigantic, if hard to manage, game of Axis and Allies known colloquially as Axis and Allies: Global 1940.
Axis & Allies: 1941
Axis and Allies 1941 is a conscious attempt to streamline the game. While Axis and Allies was always a fairly popular war game, the arcane rules and long play time did make it harder to play with casual players. The 1941 version of the game attacked some of the more common complaints of the game, slashing the set-up time down to around five minutes and drastically reducing the length of time needed to play the game. It is in many ways the most casual-friendly version of the game ever produced, though there is still enough complexity to the game to make it a favorite among the strategy gaming crowd.
Axis & Allies: 1942 2nd Edition
1942 2nd Edition was yet another attempt to revise the rules of the game in hopes of making it more of a hit with the casual gaming crowd. Coming out just a year after 1941, it certainly seems like Avalon Hill was concerned that their more recent streamlining of the game wasn’t quite enough. This one boils everything in the game down to capturing Victory Cities, with some major changes to how the game’s economy works – including getting rid of research altogether. Not a particularly beloved version of the game among those who have played for years, this edition of Axis & Allies nonetheless helped to move the game into new territory.
Axis & Allies: Pacific / Europe / Global 1940 2nd Edition
Just as 1942 updated the game with a streamlined experience and different win conditions, so too did the second editions of Pacific and Europe. With a barely-changed board and a host of new units, it was yet another attempt to take something that worked well before and to introduce it to a new crowd. Like the original editions of the two theater games, these editions could be combined into one massive Global version of Axis & Allies. Unfortunately, the inclusion of this option helped to remove one of the few selling points of Second Edition – Global is still a lengthy, complex game that will scare off all but the most dedicated of fans.
Axis & Allies: 1914
1914 is a rare Axis & Allies title that pulls the game out of its traditional World War II setting. Taking place in the early days of World War I, this game trades in the sweeping continental movements of the original series for something a little more brutal. The game has more of a historical feel than any past version of the series, with more focus on the deadly advances of yards that made up trench warfare along with a fantastic use of neutral allied nations. The back and forth between the Central Powers and Allies may seem less grand than those between the Axis and Allies, but they are nonetheless a fantastic addition to the Axis & Allies family.
Finally, one must address the major spin-off of the series – the Miniatures games. Available in a number of different flavors, these games are squad-based and tactical to the extreme. Almost entirely different than the main game line, they seem to scratch an itch for those who enjoy WWII war-games but who would rather deal with small chunks of battles instead of grand army movements. Miniatures can be played between armies, air forces, and even navies. These games are comparatively short and simple, but still keep some of the spirit of the game alive.
Axis & Allies remains an important part of the war-gaming world nearly forty years after it was first published. New editions will almost certainly find their ways to publishers in the near future and a new generation of players will discover these classic games. While the rules might change over time, the spirit of Axis & Allies is the same as it was during the development back in 1981.