Hey, kids! Now you can control the Nazi army in its fight to inherit the earth! Okay, so there may have been something slightly disturbing about having players “become” the army of the master race for a few hours, but all in all, Axis & Allies was a benign and even educational experience. Besides, it’s no more dangerous to your psyche than pretending to be a “mighty” medieval warrior having lusty dungeon adventures and saying “ye” all the time.
Set in the spring of 1942, Axis & Allies gave from two to five players control of the five major powers of World War II: Germany, Japan, Great Britain, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. With a detailed map and literally hundreds of game pieces—including small molded plastic tanks, infantry, fighter planes, bombers, freighters, carriers, subs and battleships—this was one of those games it took an hour to set up before you even started playing. But the long process was paid off with… well, another long process. What, you thought it was easy commanding the land, sea and air forces of five military superpowers?
In addition to directing the placement and strength of military units, players had to guide the economic and technological aspects of the war, building factories for additional firepower and researching new weapons like long-range rockets. True-life war factors played into the game as well: The U.S.S.R. was loaded with infantry, ready for a long, ugly battle on the motherland. Germany and Japan had the early advantage of a huge army and quick strikes, but the Allies had the means to win a sustained war (if they survived that long).
Battles were carried out with a handful of dice, and the fighting took place, literally, all over the world. If it sounded a bit overwhelming at first, it was, but nobody said war was easy. Milton Bradley’s helpful instruction charts and visual aids made the learning curve a bit simpler, but the game was still complex enough to spark many a late-night strategic discussion and several homemade global domination plans.
Axis & Allies was the first of several “Gamemaster” strategy board games from Milton Bradley. Fortress America, Broadsides and Boarding Parties, Samurai Swords and Conquest of the Empire arrived in its wake, but Axis & Allies remained the standard bearer. A CD-ROM version eventually followed, as did the board game follow-up Axis & Allies Europe (focusing on the continent, plus the Middle East and North Africa), and several manufacturers began developing new pieces and rules for unauthorized variations. Axis & Allies remains a favorite of die-hard strategy board gamers, giving all the brain challenges of staging a major war without all the pressure of holding the weight of the free world in the balance.