Axis & Allies: RTS Review

Axis & Allies is based on the classic board game that was an abstract take on World War II on a global scale, similar to the even more classic game Risk. What is not so obvious though is that the game is in a way also based on the computer strategy game Kohan II. This is not much of a surprise considering that Axis & Allies’ developers also developed that game. What is a surprise is that while Kohan II is an excellent strategy game, Axis & Allies is a letdown, not just in the strategic portion based on the board game, but in the real-time battles as well.

This map will look familiar to board gamers.

Axis & Allies mirrors its board game predecessor in providing a map of the entire world divided into abstract territories such as “Southern Europe” and “Western US”. Units representing entire armies of infantry, mechanized infantry, or armor are moved around the map in an attempt to capture territories, with the ultimate goal being to capture the territory containing the enemy’s capital city thus eliminating the country from the game. In a nod to the board game these units are modeled on the plastic soldier pieces from the original and will invoke feelings of nostalgia in gamers familiar with the low-tech board game. Where the computer game really breaks rank with the board game is when it comes time to resolve a battle for a territory. What was once a simple dice roll based on the number of units in the territory is now a full-scale real-time battle with the victor taking the territory. While you can let the computer auto-resolve the battle instead, doing so will make you miss out on the main part of the game and also give the game’s suspect AI far more of an advantage than it deserves.

Before getting into the issues with the real-time battles I have to point out that the strategic side of the game has plenty of problems of its own. If you’re familiar with the board game you’ll find that the game’s rules have been stripped down to the point where the strategic board just serves to set-up a series of real-time battles. There are no naval or air units in the game and you can only deploy new armies to the territory with your capital, making it an exercise in tedium to play as the Americans and spend half of your turn moving units around the world. In fact, if it weren’t for the look of the board and units you wouldn’t even think you were playing Axis & Allies at all.

It would be possible to ignore the stripped down version of the strategic game if it weren’t for the bizarre behavior of the AI and other quirks. Perhaps these issues are best illustrated by taking a look at one of the games I played. I chose to play as the US which turned out to be a big mistake. The game opened with all of the other countries armed to the teeth with armor, mechanized units, and infantry, but all I had were a couple of immobile defensive units. When I tried to purchase some units, all I could afford at first were one or two infantry units a turn that all had to start in the Eastern US. Eventually I was able to get a few units out to Hawaii and begin butting heads with Japan in the Pacific thanks to Japan’s apparent lack of interest in the ill-defended Hawaiian Islands. Things were even more bizarre to the East, where Germany left its entire southern flank undefended while it massed units in Western Europe. England did not find this the least bit disconcerting and pretty much left the homeland undefended as it spread its forces all over the globe into places such as West Africa and Northern Russia. In the mean time I moved an uncontested army through Africa and into Southern Europe and was a turn away from waltzing into Berlin when German moved an enormous number of units into England and summarily whipped the single unit it found there. At this point a message box popped up informing me in somewhat odd language that I had lost the game before dumping me unceremoniously back to the campaign selection screen. Huh? Russia and I were still in the game and a turn away from taking Berlin and an idiotic British player cost me the game? Bizarre – and this sort of behavior is typical of every game that you play. It’s enough to make you want to skip the strategic part of the game and stick to the real-time battles, but then the real-time battles have their own host of issues.