Axis and Allies Classic: Remembering the game

Collection-AxisAllies-1981Celebrating Axis and Allies Classic, this article does nothing but praise the original Milton Bradley Gamemaster Series board game.   Its popularity lived beyond its last print as new games carry its branding.  We honor the original game that sparked our imagination and love for World War II strategy.




Still my favorite, most loved, most played board game, I doubt I will ever recapture the exciting mood experienced with Axis and Allies (now known as “Classic”).   Long before the Internet, my only knowledge of games was what was found on retail shelves next to Candy Land and Monopoly.   Like many teenagers, I played Risk and was a fan.  I even enjoyed Stratego thinking it was great strategy.  Speaking of Risk, it was a step up from many other kiddie games.   I enjoyed war gaming, with dice and pieces.   It didn’t take much to be entertained and Risk provided the first, feeble steps into something more fascinating.

Toys “R” Us had come into my hometown.   They were the first to introduce the game making shelf space like no other store did.   What stuck me was the level of detail.  Many plastic pieces, a large map, and paper money.   Given an imaginary opportunity to recreate World War II, it was a game that appealed to me.   In retrospect, it was made during a time where publishers were not ashamed of a big box presentation.   Minimization had not reached the corporate game world.

Axis and Allies Classic was perfectly balanced between imagination and re-creation.    We’re all familiar with World War II and gave us a common idea what the game was about.  Unlike modern varieties that push more simulation, the classic was open ended.   Anything can happen.    Germany could invade Great Britain with Operation Sea Lion in the first round.  The Soviet Union can make a surprise invasion into Africa.   Japan can take Madagascar.  No carrots or sticks, each player decided their own strategy even if it was contrary to history.  And that is what made it fantastic, you made your own history.

The game had other characteristics difficult to find today.   It had a giant and beautiful board with built in blow up boxes and an easy to read map.  I found the balance of game gave the Axis victory only a third of the time.   Today, balance is defined strictly as “50/50”.   I personally don’t think its the best thing.  What made the classic, well classic, was challenge choosing to play the Axis powers.   They were the underdog, forced to make big gambles, big moves, as the Allies sat back living off their combined industrial production.   When the Axis did win, it was mostly from reaching Industrial Production victory.  Mostly out of Allied inaction and empty on strategy.

Like chess, the typical opening moves were predictable.  An occasional unorthodox opening would be greeted with raised eyebrows, but most always ended in miserable failure accelerating the game to a quick end.  And like chess, as the game progressed,  no two games were the same.   Looking back, the game was simple, but still an attention grabber.

Risk is to Axis and Allies what checkers is to chess.   There, I said it.   A&A was a huge leap in strategy, enjoyment, and may I say, sophistication.   In one game, there were five different strategies depending on which power you choose to control.  Each nation had their own unique characteristics and it took a combination of luck and strategy to survive and win.   Again, that was something new not found in common retail board games.  There are no equals and fairness is not to be read in the rule book.

I still have my box.   Every piece is accounted for and neatly collected into plastic craft bags.   Including the battle board, rulebook, and the Styrofoam trays too.   The slightly worn box is inside a large, sealed “Space Bag” and placed into storage.   While I collect many of the newest games, this game will always rank number one.


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2 Responses to Axis and Allies Classic: Remembering the game

  1. JoeC says:

    Agree, it’s a complete classic. I remember the first time I ever played it, after having scantly read the rulebook. For some reason, I got it in my head that the amount of IPCs you collected each round was double whatever IPCs you possessed. Made for a wild game!

    As we eventually learned the rules, A&A became a staple and, yes, it became obvious that it was a grossly unbalanced game. The better players would often take the Axis as a challenge, but Allied victory was almost guaranteed provided the Allied player wasn’t comatose.

    Despite its flaws, it will always have a special place in my heart. Risk simply does not compare and has zero personality compared to A&A. The only games that compare to A&A are the other games in the GameMaster series, such as Fortress America and Shogun (Conquest of the Empire was never one that I enjoyed).

    I still think there’s room for more games like these. If only someone would release something new (and no, Conquest of Nerath is NOT that game… it has the packaging, but the gameplay is boring and impersonal).

  2. Eric Robideaux says:

    The entire GameMaster series was great, and Axis & Allies remains my favorite. What great times! I’m not as convinced of the tilt towards the Allies, however. In my experiences Russia would often fall, and after that it was only a matter of time until an Axis victory (usually economic, occasionally with a successful German invasion of England.) Russia’s survival seemed pivotal to the game.

    Currently, I think “Axis & Allies 1942; 2nd Edition” is the way to go. I still have original copies of every GameMaster game!
    -Axis & Allies (note that all of the new versions refuse to have a swastika on the box!)
    -Fortress America (the version with Saddam on the box!)
    -Conquest of the Empire (“everybody had a house rule for the catapults!)
    -Shogun (before it was stupidly renamed to “Samurai Swords”)
    -Broadsides and Boarding Parties (Aarrgh: underrated and forgotten)

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