Axis & Allies by Avalon Hill has been a staple war game in my family for nearly 20 years now. From the basic game all the way up to the behemoth, 14 hour + global version, and bar a few alterations in scale and a few units, it has stayed pretty much constant, game mechanic wise, since the 80s; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it and all that.
I, therefore, have to admit, when I first found out about a new version of Axis & Allies, with Zombies, I wasn’t overly interested. The Zombie trope is used everywhere these days and it being added to a game I felt needed no additions seemed to me like a cash-in, on an ageing, but classic, franchise. I, therefore, happy with my yearly global slog, had no inclination to pick it up and only did because Fan Boy 3 had a sale on… Boy am I’m glad I did.
Like in all A&A games you have Axis vs Allied powers and its each alliances job to capture their opponent’s capitals and destroy their armies using infantry, tanks, artillery, fighters, bombers, aircraft carriers, battleships and more.
Each area captured provides your nation with additional IPCs ( money) to spend on forces. You then can place those units on areas with factories ready to defend or build-up for attacks.. and that, for your vanilla A&A game is about it.
Combat is straight forward enough, each unit attacks on a number and defends on a number. Infantry attack on 1s ( unless supported by artillery, then its 2s) and defend on 2s. Fighters attack on 3s and defend on 4s; with successful rolls in combat being equal to or lower than. Hits (both attacking and defending) cause casualties; with no modifiers or saves just dead units.
The strategy comes in with what sort of units you buy, where you spread your forces, when you attack and where. It’s like A more complicated game of Risk, coupled with chess and set in WW2. It couldn’t get any better than this… or could it?
Well apparently it can and that’s where the Zombies come in. Whereas in a standard game of A&A you know where you stand, with set “fronts” to attack or defend on and these all succeeding or failing based on dice rolls and or army composition ( for the most part), A&A: Zombies adds in a “Z” factor in the form of random cards, infection and zombie attacks and it really works!
How The zombies work
First up, you know the way, when you play the normal version of Axis and Allies that you use loads of Infantry to soak up casualties? If Russia, spam infantry to defend against early German attacks… win the game, right? Wrong, you don’t overly want to do that now. Every dead infantry unit turns into a zombie and zombies don’t care that they used to fight for mother Russia they will attack anyone and you’ll go from holding the thin red line to suddenly being overrun by zombies that you can’t deal with.
Secondly, as well as infantry turning when killed, each time a nation takes a turn, a card is drawn*, causing an outbreak in a random place on the map. You might be turtled up in Britain, or readying an attack from Japan, only to have a card drop on you stating that a zombie infection has started in your midst.
*You get 2 sets of cards, one for the base game and one to add to the bigger 1942 vanilla game.
Initially, it might not seem overly problematic, it’s only 1 Zombie after all.. but they might attack and kill another infantry unit, making 2, or destroy a tank or artillery piece that you need. You leave it and focus on the real enemy only to come back and realise that 2 zombie stack has turned into 3… 4.. 10. And you lost control of your industrial heartland, rendering you impotent and defenceless.
Thirdly, the Zombie cards can work for you as well as against you. Granted they might drop a zombie somewhere you don’t want but they give you the chance to develop Anti Zombie tech, like chainsaw tanks or zombie mind control rays and they also let you gain IPCs, move zombies around ( generally towards your enemy ) and some times even recruit them.
Fourthly, zombies attack at the start of a round, everywhere they are in contact with your forces and then again at the start of every nation’s turn and then again when combat is occurring and zombies are present. Now granted their attack dice have a 1:6 chance of killing a unit but with all the attacks they get, it adds up and what started off as a small issue, turns into a major problem.
You can of course fight back. Attacking zombies is like attacking normal units. You also get collateral zombie kills in normal combat if you get a 6 ( or a 5 or 6) with certain tech. But you suddenly realise that if you take casualties you either have to give up expensive units like tanks or artillery or give up infantry and make more zombies. #WeirdWW2problems
Finally, Zombies can take areas and even stop production. If you don’t have a unit in an area and a zombie is in there it becomes Zombie territory and they have a marker on the victory point board. Once they hit 25 points the Zombie Apocalypse occurs and you only have 1 more round to win as many points as possible before the game ends.
Why it’s a game-changer.
In vanilla Axis & Allies you know where you stand and as much as unexpected breakthroughs and ridged defences occur you generally have a good hold on where you are going to place units and where you are going to attack. A&A: Zombies takes this comfort away from you and throws in brain-eating randomness that gets worse as time goes on.
You initially ignore it, in the end, you need those units to breakthrough in China, or Europe but as soon as you start ignoring internal threats the sooner you start to lose areas and your front lines can’t sustain themselves. You suddenly start building more expensive tanks and artillery because you don’t want to lose infantry who turn into zombies, but then you lose those expensive units to relentless zombie attacks and the area becomes a wasteland occupied by the undead…. it’s bloody amazing.
You not only have to think about the outward enemy but also the potential enemy within and you soon start using it to your advantage. Zombie areas can be used as buffer zones, stalling attacks, sending in forlorn hopes to attack enemy areas can help spread the infection and cause issues for your foes. The strategy soon shifts from conquest to survival and end game points and I’ve got to admit, it works brilliantly.
What was a pretty unchanged game over 4 decades has now, ironically, been given a new lease of life with the addition of Zombies. A 3rd dimension that really creates a sense of tension and uncertainty within a game that already is quite tense at times.
The randomness and additional strategic effect Zombies cause create a completely different, if somewhat familiar feeling, game and it really impressed me and my brother. We went into it with one mindset on how to win and ended with a completely different one. Victory did not come to the power that was the strongest or had won the most battles but to the one that could mange its outbreaks, all the while staving off attacks.
A zombies game that really adds to its progenitor and even builds upon it. I don’t think I could go back to vanilla A&A anymore and just want them to bring out an expansion so I can play it with the Global game!