Axis & Allies & Zombies has an honourable heritage. As a brand, Axis and Allies (Avalon Hill) is a tent pole series of big box war games first released in the early 1980’s. Conjuring up images of global conflict played out over a large map of the world with hundreds of tiny troops and units, it focused primarily on the timeline of World War II.
Whilst they look like daunting games to understand, underneath the mechanics are relatively simple. The breadth of decisions available as commander of a nation during gameplay inevitably boils down to where do you want to invade next and how to bolster your forces to survive the next turn. Where the game shines profoundly is working in alliance with your fellow countries to establish tactics of where to press the attack and assist each other.
Regardless of which version of the game you are playing the series has always remained tightly associated with historical accuracy or at least a skimmed version to present a degree of balance to asymmetrical teams. Axis & Allies & Zombies is the first game in the series to present a slightly askew version of the familiar, which in turn opens up a completely different experience.
The World at War – but not quite as you remember it!
The title itself sums up exactly what you are expecting. Zombies as a theme may have somewhat been overplayed in western culture in recent years. There are many board games available that have the players running from Zombies in shopping malls, deserted towns or even playing the Zombies and feasting on their friends. What is clever about this adaption is how it has managed to take a deeply engaging and wholeheartedly serious game and inject an element of unpredictable chaos. Zombie hordes rampage across the globe whilst the main crux of World War II continues to rage on at the same time.
At the centre of its un-beating heart, the game is still won or lost on controlling the opposition’s capital whilst holding your own. Alongside this is the growing threat of a catastrophic undead invasion should neither side keep tabs on Zombies taking key locations and growing too strong to turn back the tide.
Allowing the swarm of undead to populate the world triggers a second game end condition leaving the country with the most IPC points (explained later) as the winners. Tactically, this can work in the advantage of a losing side that may also be the richest. It does not explain thematically how this works but I like to think it shows the remaining nation as the last bastion of human existence, fortified against a lost world.
What the rule book does serve up, as an excuse for this mishmash of horror and history, is a smattering of diary entries talking of something hidden beneath the ice that is unleashed during conflict. It reads like classic pulp nonsense, but that works fine in this setting where you can land tanks in Normandy with chainsaws bolted on.
My First Zombie Apocalypse
Initially, I thought that Axis & Allies & Zombies was going to be a ‘lite’ version of its bigger brothers. Some units and rules have been removed to streamline the experience and allow extra room for the Zombie additions. The opening pages of the rule book highlight changes to the classic rules for experienced players. I would have thought this would be at the back, but I think it highlights that this isn’t a throwaway gateway game. The game expects a number of its fans to be playing this.
To complement this idea, there is a whole deck of cards to transfer this entire game back to the ‘full’ game of Axis & Allies 1942. This is a superb move for longtime fans that could have been released as an expansion pack post-release, but is generously included.
For new players it does a great job in explaining the aspects of gameplay with a smattering of visual examples. There is an introductory game for two players that introduces the main aspects of the game, but in a smaller theatre of conflict. For new players, I would heartedly advise a play through of this scenario as an introduction.
The blood of this game is still Axis & Allies through and through, infected with a bite of the highly thematic Pandemic. At points it really does feel like some version of that classic game as cards dictate the next outbreak of Zombies and where they infect next on the board.
What's in the Box?
At its price point, nearly half the cost of the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, one would expect some drastic cut backs but surprisingly it still contains over 200 miniatures with a host of Zombies. The sculpts have some differences for each nation and landing little planes on actual small aircraft carriers will NEVER get old.
The box art is superb, a pastiche of Axis & Allies cover art mixed with the horror of a freshly turned infantryman. The box has a plastic insert that easily holds all the components tight. The world map shows starting player locations easily whilst at the same time the art pops really well. The only criticism here is that it could have done with being larger…once war is in full flow some locations become crowded and misplacement is easy. To assist, there are a number of plastic chips to place under the units to help multiply and remove units when crowded. This does work well and it is easy to work out unit powers from a distance. If you are perhaps a little clumsy with precision finger control, expect to knock units all over the place amidst a heavily engaged battle.
There are two decks of cards, one for this game and as mentioned before a separate set purely for adding to the 1942 game. The cards are sturdy and feature minimalist artwork.
You are given a good number of red and black dice that include a custom engraving on the number six of a Zombie head exploding. This actually serves a purpose during battles as a key reminder of bonus kills that might be easy to forget. Zombie specific dice are included for their own battles, marking hits against attackers or defenders. (The Zombies don’t care who they eat!)
Cardboard chits are functional and serve the purpose for control markers whilst each nation also receives a summery card of setup info, actions, unit powers and upgrades. The IPC (Industrial Production Credits) are given in the form of monetary notes. In an example of over-thematic brilliance, these notes are splattered with dry blood.
Rolling the Dice…
Players can decide which nation they want to command, which in-turn are split into the titular Axis or Allies team. If there are less than five players, nations are added to the existing player's choices. This can mean than in lower play counts there is a lot to balance at the same time. On the flip side, you still get the feel of a world war without a full table of players.
One very important aspect in the game for continued dominance is IPC’s. Each location on the map gives a numerical bonus to that player for holding it. The IPC track at the bottom rises and falls for each nation as land is taken, held and lost. The number relates to how much credit they receive at the end of each turn to build new units. If a nation ever loses their capital they lose all their IPC’s held and cannot build new units until they regain control.
Each nation starts with a different number of units and placement across the map is pre-determined. The turn order is staggered between the teams to allow for reaction plays to changing events. Each nation’s turn is the same;
- Play a Zombie Card – Drawn from the deck, it adds a Zombie to a map location. If playing with optional rules there is usually a bonus for the active player or a research advancement which unlocks special abilities such as chainsaw tanks or other benefits.
- Zombies Attack – Any Zombies in a location with the current players units attack with the custom dice. The player cannot fight back.
- Zombies Capture Territories – Any locations where Zombies are the only units are captured. Add points to the Zombie team equal to the point’s value on the map. If the Zombies reach 25 by the end of a full round – the apocalypse endgame is triggered.
- Combat Move – The first of two movement choices during the turn. Any amount of units can be moved up to their noted value into ‘hostile’ territory.
- Conduct Combat and Capture Territories – All battles are fought in order at the player’s discretion. There are specific cases on order when it comes to ‘amphibious assault’ or certain units that act prior to battles such as Submarines special attacks/submerge or Battleships bombarding coastlines in a land battle. After completing, if territory has changed control alter the values on the IPC track.
- Non-Combat Move – Move as many non-activated units as you may like into friendly or allied spaces.
- Purchase New Units – Spend any number of IPC to build new units in friendly locations that have a factory logo. You can only build up to the IPC number on the location and if the factory has a troop icon on it, only infantry can be built here.
- Collect Income – Receive a total of IPC equal to your value on the IPC track.
Whilst that is quite an extensive list to follow, in reality it flows quite quickly. Only the combat move section can lead to extended game breaks as tactics are discussed and applied. After everyone has played a round there is a check to see if a nation has won or the Zombie apocalypse is triggered.
The battles themselves are relatively straightforward. A separate board is supplied to place all attacking and defending units on once a battle is engaged. For each unit in the battle, they roll a single D6 and need to hit a designated number or less dependent on their type. For example, all tanks hit on a three or less. Each hit takes out a unit from the enemy. Those units get a chance to fight back as all battles are considered simultaneous. Fights continue unless the attackers retreat or a side loses all their units. If there are Zombies in the fight, they also attack everyone prior to each round of combat and I have saved the best rule in the whole game until last…
Every infantry unit killed in the game comes back to life as a Zombie.
This is a simply stunning addition to the rules that utterly changes warfare. It suddenly becomes a viable tactic to steam into a territory with troops and get hammered by enemy tanks, flooding the enemy territory with Zombies! The interplay between surviving conflicts long enough to take them and also dealing with the undead really changes the entire dynamic of the Axis & Allies system.
Final Thoughts on Axis & Allies & Zombies
Axis & Allies & Zombies mixes the dynamics of a serious war game with the trash OTT of a zombie invasion and really shouldn’t work; yet somehow the two mesh together to form an impressive hybrid. As a diversion from the main Axis & Allies titles it demands a change of usual tactics.
Whilst this game may not be the easiest to start with if this is your first step into more traditional area control war games, the theme may also be enough to draw your attention and warrant the buy-in and investment. If you are looking for something to sink your teeth into for long evening or even a weekend, this will keep your attention.
Be warned that this, like its brethren, will take many hours to conclude. Our last game lasted five hours…and even then the apocalypse was triggered forcing an early end. Axis & Allies & Zombies is definitely one game to leave on the table for a few nights if you cant fit it all in under one session.