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Axis and Allies: Translating History into Strategy

October 20, 2011

Since returning to the states, I’ve played a couple games of Axis and Allies with my brother in law, and I find the game rather fascinating. For those who don’t know, the basics of the game are similar to Risk but set specifically in WWII , with a variety of units and a more complex system for purchasing units. The basics of the game are quite simple, you attack a region, and each piece (attacking and defending) gets a dice roll to kill the opposing sides, kill the other side and you get the region. From the basic rules the game builds an extensive set of rules about the power and range of each unit, with a few special abilities.

What I find most interesting is that the strengths and weaknesses of the units does not seem to be enforced from a balance aspect, but from a historical perspective. This seems to be the prevailing philosophy for the game. The initial set up makes certain choices far more viable than others. I played the Axis, and the best initial moves are for Germany to siege Britain by air, and for Japan to attack Hawaii. My first game, I tried to take a completely different strategy, and the opportunity cost of those actions became immediately apparent (I used my navy to siege southern asia, and it didn’t take long for the USA to build up an unstoppable naval attack).

I found this to be an incredibly clever set of mechanics, that through gameplay elements alone the game is able to encourage an accurate recreation of a historical event. Even the map is divided up in such a way that would affect movment, rather than a strictly accurate map. Many games have certain optimal strategies, (some would say all games have a single optimal strategy) and it’s interesting games use that strategy to engage players in certain ways. Likewise, Agricola makes it necessary for a farm to diversify instead of specilize, which makes sense for self sufficiency. However, the degree to which Axis and Allies pursues accuracy makes for a powerful narrative.

It’s also not good news for the player playing Axis.


~The Author M~


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