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Subject: Pros and Cons of Axis & Allies 1941: A Review rss

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Bill Carrigan
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New Jersey
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THE PROS AND CONS OF AXIS & ALLIES 1941

Introduction

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

Pros

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.

Cons

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 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.

BOTTOM LINE

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!”
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Jim Patching
United Kingdom
Newport, Wales
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Thanks for the review, that's exactly the info I was looking for for this game.
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Steve R Bullock
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Palm Coast
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I will be buying it!

Thanks for the review - very nice.

I am pretty sure this is one game I will buy and have on the table within hours of receiving it - pretty rare for me. I usually wait days or weeks to get a game on the table.
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George Husted
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I am literally dreaming about this game. I have 2 copies on pre-order now (for double blind play) and have already purchased replacement pieces to make it more historically accurate (no Japanese Tiger tanks, thank you). I cannot wait to play this game!

One of the things I think is going to evolve in the tactics of the game is the much more careful allocation of high priced units for attacks. The limited income and production capabilities will force players to be more cautious with expensive units, and much more decisive with their attacks...in short, shock and awe or nothing rather than spreading out with minimalist attacks across the board. The value of each individual piece is now magnified significantly.

The breakdown of land units into just armor and infantry is more historically accurate. The pieces are supposed to be about corps sized units. An infantry corps would have organic artillery and even armor units within it (tank destroyers, armored cars, half-tracks, anti tank guns, etc.). The armor corps units would also have organic mechanized infantry, SPAs, etc. So the reduction to these basic land warfare types is warranted (as much as I like to tinker and home rule with the cool pieces from HBG, this new edition is actually more historically accurate).

Finally, I think the short length of game play is mostly a combination of economic/production limitations and abbreviated territory demarcations. That means, I believe, that one may add all sorts of "special" units to the game mix and have all sorts of variants in play (such as airborne units, US Marines, Soviet Guards, German SS, Japanese SNLF, etc.) and that the game length will not suffer...so long as the costs of the units reflect the cost to produce "elite" units. In fact, I think that the '41 edition may provide the most opportunity of all the games to tinker and have fun with house rules for special units...because the complexity level and game length are short enough to tolerate house rules without imbalancing the game and without any significant lengthening of game play.

Thank you for the review. I am SOOoooooo looking forward to this game!

The marathon games are a killer...almost always 8-11 hours...almost always ending by concession. That is why the '42 edition was my favorite. I usually play it in 2-3 hours and have a blast. 1940 Alpha 3+, while a great game and fun, is just totally exhausting. At the conclusion of a game, I am worn out. It feels like work rather than play.

I want to play.
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Bill Carrigan
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Thanks for the comments George. I think you observation about infantry and tanks being good representations of all the various units to be a good one. I also think you are right about the ability of this game to handle house rules and variants.
 
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Sky Zero
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Thanks for the review. This put me over the edge, definite buy!


BTW, what's double-blind play?
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Erik Navander
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skyzero wrote:
Thanks for the review. This put me over the edge, definite buy!


BTW, what'd double-blind play?


http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/17670/axis-allies-double-b...



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Bill Carrigan
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Thanks for the compliment, Skyzero! Regarding Double blind play, the core idea is that the two sides use different boards and don't have perfect knowledge of their opponents movements, unit purchases, etc. There are different ways to play double blind. The rules that my group uses are posted here: http://www.meetup.com/glassboroboardgamers/files/

If you have any questions about this form of play, don't hesitate to let me know. In my opinion, it is by far the best way to play.

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Sky Zero
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Marnak wrote:
Thanks for the compliment, Skyzero! Regarding Double blind play, the core idea is that the two sides use different boards and don't have perfect knowledge of their opponents movements, unit purchases, etc. There are different ways to play double blind. The rules that my group uses are posted here: http://www.meetup.com/glassboroboardgamers/files/

If you have any questions about this form of play, don't hesitate to let me know. In my opinion, it is by far the best way to play.



Thanks!
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Devin
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Thanks, this was a helpful review. As many people have said already, this is what I wanted to know to decide whether or not to bother with yet another edition of A&A, especially considering how little play my other editions get.

The version I have played most extensively is 2004 revised edition. I didn't find 1942 all that great and I consider it a pretty much useless edition. The 1940 global is supposedly the ultimate, but the revised edition was always good enough for my hankerings, so I didn't buy that set (however the collector in me somewhat regrets it and I hear a reprint is coming this Sept 2012).

Anyway, I was really looking for something different this time around. Something I could really call a new game, but still have that sweet A&A feel. I was hoping this game would be it and you have now strengthened that hope. I am still skeptical, but it is cheap enough that it is worth buying if only to play once with some people who I cannot get to drudge through a full game of any other A&A version and see what happens.

Interestingly the first 1942 game was and still is $25.99 at my local game shop, and this new 1941 edition is also that same price, whereas you indicated that 1942 was significantly more expensive for you. I also saw this newer 1942 2nd edition last time I was at the store and I couldn't really figure out the difference, except for having more pieces and weighing a lot more. Interestingly it is $51.99. The guy who runs the place isn't that into A&A and didn't know what made the second edition of 1942 so much more expensive. Well I am on to figure that out now. Unfortunately BGG has oddly chosen to not give the 2nd edition its own entry, making it very difficult to discern.
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Bill Carrigan
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DP,

Thanks for the comments. You are right about Spring 1942 edition, same price point as the new 1941 edition. I thought it was more, but I have edited the original review to correct the error.

I just played two more games of A&A 1941 last night. The total playing time was less than four hours and that was with playing with some very inexperienced A&A players. The Allies won the first game, taking Berlin, while the Allies won the second time around, taking Moscow and forcing concession from Allies after failed attempt to take Japan.

Best,

Bill
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Andrzej Sieradzki
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I've been on the fence as to buy this version or not for quite a long time. Thanks for a very good review! I'll take it!
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Mike Szarka
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Excellent review. While some of my friends love A&A Ihave always felt it was too long for what it was; if I want to spend 4 hours playing something, I would rather play a more serious wargame. This might be the sweet spot for a casual weeknight game, when you don't know how many players will show up. The only other game in my collection like this is 1812: The Invasion of Canada.
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The Cheng Meister
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Thanks for the review.

I think it'll be perfect for a 5 player then as:
1) I'll be the teacher and go the Soviets
2) everyone else can play a "meatier" side

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Mark J.
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devinology wrote:
Interestingly the first 1942 game was and still is $25.99 at my local game shop, and this new 1941 edition is also that same price, whereas you indicated that 1942 was significantly more expensive for you. I also saw this newer 1942 2nd edition last time I was at the store and I couldn't really figure out the difference, except for having more pieces and weighing a lot more. Interestingly it is $51.99. The guy who runs the place isn't that into A&A and didn't know what made the second edition of 1942 so much more expensive. Well I am on to figure that out now. Unfortunately BGG has oddly chosen to not give the 2nd edition its own entry, making it very difficult to discern.


I paid $19.95 for 1942 (1st edition) at Target. A&A 1941 sells for $29.95 at my local Target. 1942 (2nd edition) sells for much more ~$50.00-$60.00 at game stores, I haven't seen it at general retailers.

The difference between 1942 1st edition and 2nd is 1st has a much smaller board and (going by memory) the pieces seemed shrunk or smaller. 2nd edition also adds AAA units and the new green chips representing 'three' units.

Comparatively 1941 doesn't seem like that great of a value, but I think most of that is because of inflation causing the price of all games to go up.
 
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my set is running out of infantry and fighters. help ?!?!?!?!?!?!? cry cry cry
 
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this game does not measure up to previous quality. In terms of gameplay it is ok, it is literally "lean and mean" as the instructions say. However I take issue with the quality of the pieces and/or lack of pieces. There are simply not enough (160 total) where as 1942 has almost twice that. Not only that, but it cheap. There are no more chips. They are replaced with cardboard punch outs and there is not enough of them. There is no money (I mean, how can that cost to include? Really?) cry cry cry cry
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Walter Ariesen
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Hi Bill,

Great review. I just bought the game. But I'm a bit worried about what you and others are writing about not enough pieces...

Can you give any recommendation about what pieces and how many I should buy at www.historicalboardgaming.com?

I'm a newbie in the A&A world - but looking very much forward to playing it.

Thanks in advance!

Best regards,
Ariwa
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Admiral H_Nelson
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Coldwarrior1984 wrote:




The breakdown of land units into just armor and infantry is more historically accurate.




The problem with such logic it it fails to underscore that WWII in Europe was a war artillery and trucks as any serious reader of the war knows.
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Vladimir D
Russia
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Ariwa wrote:
Hi Bill,

Great review. I just bought the game. But I'm a bit worried about what you and others are writing about not enough pieces...

Can you give any recommendation about what pieces and how many I should buy at www.historicalboardgaming.com?

I'm a newbie in the A&A world - but looking very much forward to playing it.

Thanks in advance!

Best regards,
Ariwa


I think you need in 1.5-2 times more miniatures.
As minimum for all nations except Russians (they can't build fleet) +2 subs, +2 destroyers, +2 transports. May be +1 carrier, +1 battleship for US and Japan. For all +2 fighters, +1 bomber, +4-5 tanks, +6-8 infantry
 
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Daniel Hensel
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Kyle
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I just purchased a copy of this edition, and while I haven't actually tried playing it yet, I tried setting it up to see for myself how badly this game was shorted on pieces. It looks like you could probably get by most of the time if you made sure to always "chip up" your stacks of units. However, you need plenty of chips in order to do that, and there is a definite lack of cardboard chips included in the game. There aren't even enough grey chips to get through setup if you chip up all of your stacks. I'm very glad I have the old MB set to fall back on for plastic chips, IPCs, extra units (except for destroyers since they weren't in the MB version), and also extra dice and plastic factories if we want to use them.
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Jonathan Pinder
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~7 years later still a terrific, fair, review. I think the current price at Amazon is About $15 ... you can buy two and have plenty of ‘guys’
 
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