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Since no one has written a review, I though I would take a stab at it. But, to be fair, I’ve only played this game once - as Russia, in a 5 player game.
Overview: This game is Axis and Allies on steroids. Much more complicated, with added unit types and rules specific to the various countries. It has a new board map, which introduces France as a separate entity with overseas colonies. It has new rules for technology development with some developments restricted to certain countries. Overall, it encourages you to follow history more closely. But is it better than the original game? I’m not quite sure. Let me explain.
Components: The board is great with high production quality and enough changes from the original to eliminate previous "choke" points. The plastic figures, however, are only barely passable. They don’t match the original colours included in Axis and Allies, and they are of cheaper, softer plastic. Thus, I decided to use them as special elite units. (The game has rules for German SS Units, US Marines/Rangers, Russian Guards, etc). However, there are insufficient numbers included even for this limited role (eg. 3 tanks in each colour when the Germans can produce 4 Panzer divisions). Also, the summary cards for each nation have obvious errors. For example, some countries cards state that fighter planes have a movement of only 1, which if you know anything about A+A rules makes them useless. Also, cruisers are supposed to get a shore bombardment during an amphibious assault - the rulebook says hit on "2 or less" but the cards for some countries say hit on "4 or less". "4 or less" would be the same as a battleship and this also seems ridiculous. In the end, we simply agreed that units would have the same stats for all countries but vary in their production costs as per the cards (eg. Russia would still be able to produce cheaper infantry). This seemed to work OK, but I’m not really sure if this was the designers intent or not".
Rules: The rulebook is fairly well written and there wasn’t too much need for clarification other than the problems above. However, someone from your gaming group will definitely need to read them ahead of time and spend some time digesting. It took me over an hour to get through ¾ of the book. The sheer number of rules is a bit daunting and will be hard to remember through your first play.
(One small annoyance was the lack of stats for Russian "Guard" units - present neither in the rule book nor on the Russian summary card. We assumed equivalence to German SS Panzgrenadiers.)
So how is this different from good old Axis and Allies? Probably a country by country analysis would help.
Germany - Starts in much the same position. It needs to come out hard and fast and grab as much land as possible. In fact, the Germans get 2 movement and combat turns "back to back" to start the game (simulates the blitzkrieg). It’s forced to conquer France early and also to take Poland in the first turn to avoid its conversion to British forces. It needs to fight to get a hold of production in North Africa. So what’s different? Germany starts the game with a Russian treaty. It gets an extra 5 IPCs bonus per turn until it attacks Russia. Russia remains neutral and producing at only ½ of its IPCs until Germany attacks. So, the classic "grab all of Russia in the first 2 rounds or your sunk" strategy of A+A doesn’t necessarily apply. However, if you don’t attack Russia, even with their income reduced by 50%, they are going to produce a lot of infantry before you show up - especially since infantry only cost 2 IPCs for the Russian player.
Other interesting German rules include an attempt to assassinate Hitler 1x/game and special units such as SS Panzgrenadiers and SS Panzer divisions.
Britain/France - Probably the most changed country from classic A+A as France now plays a more major rule. The conclusion of a friend was, "This game must have been designed by a Frenchmen! It’s total revisionist history!"
France- Likely to have the homeland conquered in the first turn. All French colonies on the board then have to take a dice roll to see if they will remain as Free French forces or convert to Vichy Forces. The British player can control any Free French forces as usual, but Vichy forces remain where they are and attack any force (axis or allies) that enter their country. The production from Vichy countries goes to the German bank account. Interesting twist, although somewhat random. My concern is really that over the course of the game the French income can get ridiculous. Unless the German player is willing to invest heavily in Africa, the French can get a pretty good production scheme going and then push into the middle east to gather further income. If France itself is ever liberated, the French have production similar to Russia or Japan all at the British players disposal (although British and French funds must be used only on their respective countries unless "Lend Lease" is undertaken - see American rules.)
Britain - Better economy then in the original A+A. Probably the biggest beneficiary of a new rule called "off factory placements". One per map area per turn, any player can produce an infantry unit without a factory at the cost of 1 extra IPC. With Britain’s large empire and lack of factories in the classic game, this definitely makes a difference. Can’t say much else about unique rules that affect the British, but my friend’s comment was "more fun than the original from the British perspective."
Japan - Probably benefits from the rule changes. Easier to conquer China in this version because the US funds are separated from Chinese funds (see US rules below). Furthermore, the Japanese player does not have to worry at all about Russian or US advances because the Japanese and Russians are forbidden from attacking each other until turn 6 and the US doesn’t enter the war until turn 6 (unless attacked outside of China)! Thus, the Japanese player will very much enjoy grabbing up land early in the game at the expense of the British and Chinese players.
Other minor rules allow for banzai infantry attacks, the development of kamakazi fighters, and once per game a "double impulse" similar to the Germans’ first turn (ie 2 consecutive rounds of combat and non-combant movements).
Overall, the strategy of mainland advances followed by holding off US amphibious assaults still applies.
Russia - BORING!! If you thought Russia was boring to play in the initial A+A, it gets worse. First off, you can’t attack the Germans until turn 5 unless they attack you first. You can’t attack the Japanese at all until turn 6 and then would have to pay 15 IPCs to initiate the war! So what do you do? Sit and produce infantry - but only at ½ of your production value until you’re at war. You can’t improve your factories until you’re at war. You can’t do technology advances until you’re at war. Russian turns take about 5 minutes to play and if you’re anything like our gaming group, the average round will take over an hour to play. Translation? You’ll wait 5+ hours before you get to roll any dice and then you’ll be hoping to hit on "2 or less". Very little aggression, lots of waiting for the fight to come to you and then getting your butt kicked. Not real fun.
USA/China - BORING!! You don’t enter the war until turn 6 and produce at ½ the IPCs until then - see waiting 5+ hours noted above. In the meantime, the designers do throw you a few dry bones to try and keep you entertained. First, you can lend money to Britain via "Lend Lease". This helps the British but is a little risky - a dice roll determines how much of the money actually makes it through. Second, you can spend some money trying to economically seduce the countries of South America into joining your cause. You pay money, you roll the dice and hope for the best. Infantry in these countries convert to US troops if you’re successful. Not a bad way to get a bunch of cheap infantry, but all dice dependent and only 1 attempt per country per turn.
By the time you arrive in turn 6, you’ll likely be quite "economically advantaged" and you’re ready to kick some Japanese butt or turn to Europe and help the British liberate France. Probably fairly fun, if you can make it through the first 6 hours of game play!
Other miscellaneous rules not covered above?
1. factories - produce up to 5 units per turn or double there production value on the board
2. technology - pick your technology, pay 3 dollars to start researching and then spend some extra cash to get some dice to roll. Hope to roll 1’s on your dice to advance up the research track. Then attempt to roll under your current research level to develop the technology. Gives you more control over what you want to research. Each country has specific things they can research (eg. Japan can get kamakazis, Russia can get advanced anti-aircraft guns, the USA can build the atomic bomb) and then there’s a list that everyone is eligible to research. Overall, can affect the game fairly significantly in later turns and furthers the feeling that each country is unique.
3. neutral countries - each has a standing army. Germany and Russia and Japan can fight them. The British and US have to roll dice to try and gain allies. Many countries have specific rules attached (eg. Can only attempt to influence them if other game criteria have been met). These minor rules will be impossible to memorize initially, which results in frequent references back to the rule book.
4. Victory conditions - Allies need to conquer Germany and Japan’s capitals. Axis gets an economic victory at 108 IPCs combined income per turn or needs to conquer Russia and get have 104 IPCs combined income per turn.
Overall impressions: I think you will like this game if want Axis and Allies to be more historically accurate and you want to add a little more weight to the game. The countries feel more unique and the millions of little rules do add flavour. However, my overall impression is that more complicated does not translate into more fun. The extra rules (and our groups’ lack of familiarity with the new rules) made turns very long. (We played 6.5 rounds and it took us more than 8 hours). And despite these additional rules, it still felt like very similar strategies to the original A+A set-up eg. Germany still needs to attack Russia but now it happens in turn 4 or 5 instead of turn 1, the USA and Japan are still going to battle it out in the Pacific with the USA’s superior production eventually turning the tide but this happens in turn 6 instead of turn 2. If you're going to replicate WWII
there's not much way around these overall strategies...
If you’re looking for a middle weight game with lots of dice rolling and miniature pieces, stick to the basic A+A (or one of the variants like Pacific, Europe, D-day). If you’re a die-hard A+A fan and are looking for a heavier game with more flavour and historical accuracy, give "World at War 2005" a try. But DON’T play with more than 3 players (one player should control the entire Allied force) and make sure you have a good deal of time to kill.
Bottom line? In my opinion, 8 hours could be better spent on a variety of other games...
Although I think you make many valid points, there are some things I don't quite agree with:
I wouldn't call Russia " boring" they are allowed to attack neutrals from the start and they certainly have more options than just building infantry in this game!
As for the "millions of little rules" I feel they all fall into place quite naturally. Well, most of them that is.
As for technology: one thing you didn't mention, but is really a big plus to me is that it finally pays off for Germany to invest in subs (merchant hunting, factory specialization from the start). In the original A&A you just lose your original fleet only to never rebuild it.Subs are also much more likely to survive as they first need to be detected. If an enemy doesn't invest in radar/sonar technology they're very unlikely to succesfully hunt the u-boats. To counter this the Germans in turn can invest in counter radar/sonar.
Finally as for the pieces: W@W is not supposed to be a completely stand alone game. People don't usually own/buy it without also owning A&A. I think you're more or less expected to use the pieces that come with A&A.I also use the pieces that come with the game to represent special forces.
One final remark: especially the Germans have to play incredibly aggressively because otherwise the UK income will overwhelm them and indeed the Russians will have a HUGE army which you can't hope to conquer!