Axis & Allies is a video game adaption of Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies strategy board game of the same name. Both games simulate the broad strategic situation of World War II at the beginning of 1942. Players take on the role of one of the five great powers: Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The original board game focused on the strategic aspects of gameplay, while Axis & Allies the video game emphasizes real time strategy combat.
Axis & Allies features three single player modes. These include the campaign, in which the player takes the role of various Allied or Axis factions in key battles throughout WWII, with fictional “what-fi” scenarios serving as the majority of the Axis missions. Skirmish mode is a one-off match between the player and up to seven AIs played out on of the maps featured in the campaign or in WWII mode. Since there is no resource harvesting in Axis & Allies the size of the map is the only limiting factor for the number of players.
The final single player mode is the WWII mode, which most closely resembles the board game in its design and mechanics. The mode features a world map where each of the continents are divided into territories. The territories controlled by the five powers reflect their 1942 distribution and players choose one of the five powers to lead through the conflict. Players have a global income that they use to purchase new unit tokens which represent the armies around the world. Armies are moved across the world by the player and the global game play progresses in turns. Whenever armies from two opposing powers meet in the same territory the player can auto-resolve the conflict or fight a real-time battle against the AI, with the destruction of the weakest model on the losing side following the conclusion of the battle. The capture of two enemy capitals serves as the ultimate objective of the WWII mode.
In all of these modes the player takes the role of one out of four notable, high-ranking generals from the nation they wish to play as. The generals feature their own voice clips and icons and each possesses three support powers called Special Operations. Some Operations are shared between generals and nations, but each general has their own unique combination. Special Operations require a number of experience points, which accrue over the course of the battle, to be utilized.
Sadly WWII mode is not available in multiplayer. Players can use LAN to play skirmish games with or against other human players. Active multiplayer is no longer available after server support ended for Axis & Allies in 2012, although direct connect is still an option. Once again, up to eight players can fight in a single match and the presence of multiple generals per nation allows several players to utilize the same nation in a single match.
Base building in Axis & Allies is a fairly simple affair. Structures appear as transport trucks from a central Corps HQ building. The trucks unpack to place their respective structures which are then utilized to produce combat units, research upgrades, and provide the dynamic resource of money and the static resources of ammo and oil. Any structure can be rebuilt as long as the Corps HQ is intact, however structures must be deployed inside the HQ’s supply zone or they will suffer attrition damage due to a lack of supply.
Combat units can venture outside the supply zone at any time but only heal wounded and lost units when inside the zone. Units appear as regiments and consist of anywhere from four to nine units, including one officer unit. The regiments appear as infantry, mechanized, and armored regiments and come with several specialization roles including anti-tank, artillery, or anti-air. Heavier regiments like medium or heavy tank regiments are stronger in battle but take more money, ammo, and oil to produce.
Experienced RTS players will recognize the basic conventions of RTS combat in Axis & Allies real-time combat. Infantry units are resistant to anti-tank fire but in turn deal limited damage to armored targets unless they utilize anti-tank weapons. Very few regiments in the tech tree ever become truly obsolete, as the cost and upkeep of powerful regiments tends to make them rare in most battles. Each nation also possesses unique regiments indicative of iconic weapons or tactics utilized by those nations in WWII, such as Russian sniper infantry regiments or German King Tiger tank regiments.
Axis & Allies doesn’t add anything especially new to the RTS genre in terms of its subject matter or combat mechanics. It is however one of the first WWII games to incorporate traditional RTS combat with grand strategy. Axis & Allies doesn’t carry its tactical elements as far as Company of Heroes, or its strategic elements to the detailed level of Hearts of Iron, but it contains enough content and polish at both levels to satisfy gamers looking for an extended WWII RTS experience.
In terms of content, the single player modes are Axis & Allies’ biggest strengths and contain almost all of its unique content. Sadly this is marred by the lackluster performance of the game’s tactical and strategic AIs, which while aggressive and mechanically competent are seldom able to provide a serious threat to the player’s existence. AI teammates are also rarely capable of providing adequate support to the player. The presence of generic teammate commands helps alleviate this to some degree, but the AI follows these instructions only on a basic level and for an arbitrary amount of time.
The Axis & Allies video game will likely never be as famous as the RTS giants, or as successful as its board game progenitor. However its blend of real-time and grand strategy elements, along with its very detailed and thematic use of historical WWII units, concepts, and settings provide all the appropriate building blocks for a stepping stone into a truly dynamic and immersive WWII strategy game.
There will always be WWII first person shooters, and no shortage of grand strategy games recreating the great conflict, but large scale yet detailed WWII RTS games that accurately embrace the scale of WWII are decidedly lacking in the modern market. Any developer willing to take on that challenge need look no further than Axis & Allies for a stepping stone; and any gamer can look to Axis & Allies to know what parameters they should look for.