Board game fun: Axis & Allies & Zombies

January 10, 2020 14:26
'Axis & Allies & Zombies' is a variant of the well-known board game Axis & Allies. Photo: Chok Sien

When Axis & Allies 1914 board game came out in 2013, the series was already going a little off topic. The 1914 version was about World War I, and the title was something of a misnomer as the words Axis and Allies weren't really applicable for combatants during that war period.

Still, it is understandable that the developers sought to leverage the Axis & Allies brand. Games are to entertain and need not always be historically accurate. Even the original Axis & Allies game was not exactly historically accurate. Well, at least not precisely so. 

So, later we had Axis & Allies & Zombies, which is simply a variant of the well-known global arena game. Think historical fantasy. If you are comfortable with that, it will work fine.

Axis & Allies was an entry level game about World War II. Up to 5 players control the major powers - USSR, Germany, UK, Japan and USA, and they fight it out on a world map. This is a team vs team fight, with the Axis being Germany and Japan, and the Allies being USSR, UK and USA. You fight for territories, which generate income.

Money is spent on armies, navies and aircraft, which are needed for battle. You fight until you capture all your enemies' capitals, or until they surrender. You will roll many dice during battles. The game mechanisms are not particularly complex, but it does take some effort to digest, in particular to remember the unique abilities of the different unit types and their interactions. The game takes a long time to play. Expect to spend one full day at it.

The story in Axis & Allies & Zombies starts with an experiment being done by German scientists going awry. A zombie plague breaks out. Zombie infections pop up randomly all over the world, creating trouble for everyone. These random outbreaks are more annoying than debilitating. The bigger headache is whenever any infantry unit is killed, it becomes a zombie.

Zombies are generally passive. They don't move about. They aren't organized. However, they do occasionally bite if you share the same territory. When there's a battle, gunfire triggers them, and they may bite both attacker and defender. The likelihood of attackers being bitten is higher, so in battle the presence of zombies is slightly beneficial to defenders. However, cohabiting with zombies comes with risks.

The seemingly small rule addition of dead infantry becoming zombies changes the game dynamics significantly. In the Axis & Allies series, infantry is arguably the most important unit type. They are cheap. Their defensive ability is not exactly high but it's good value for money. They serve as cannon fodder, because the battle resolution system allows players to pick which of their own units to lose. Naturally, you want to lose the cheap infantry. With the introduction of the zombie rule, suddenly the heavy use of infantry comes with significant risks. You will likely create many zombies, for better or for worse.

The victory conditions are changed too. Now your goal is to capture just one enemy capital, while still controlling all capitals of your side. This win condition is checked only at the end of a round, i.e. after all five major powers have taken their turns. There is an alternative ending - humans losing the world to zombies. If zombies control too many territories, the game ends, and the two sides compare the total economic value of their zombie-free territories. The side with a higher value wins the game. You don't win the war. Both sides lose the war to the zombies. It's just that you enjoy a less pitiful lifestyle compared to your enemies.

Axis & Allies & Zombies is still very much Axis & Allies. The designers did not try to dumb down the game to cater for the masses, just because the zombie theme was a wide-appeal one and would help to attract new players. If you are hoping to convert some friends to the Axis & Allies series and you don't think the standard Axis & Allies would work, then Axis & Allies & Zombies would not work either. This is not a gateway game. It's more a variant meant for people who already like the series, or for people who can accept this kind of complexity in games and this genre.

You will see the familiar dilemmas in Axis & Allies & Zombies. The Axis often opts for the Kill USSR First strategy, while the Allies usually try to squeeze Germany from both directions. USA needs to decide how to allocate its resources - Pacific theater or European theater or both. Zombies throw a wrench in your plans, and I find that a welcome challenge. I see the game as historical fantasy and I don't mind the silliness of the story. It translates to an interesting predicament, and I find that enjoyable.

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Full board in the early game. Each player controls a major power - USSR, Germany, the UK, Japan, and the USA. In the photo, the Germans started the game only one territory away from Moscow. Photo: Chok Sien
The white token is the zombie, located at the German and Soviet front. In the game, zombie infections pop up randomly all over the world, creating trouble for every player. Photo: Chok Sien

A boardgame enthusiast and blogger ( based in Kuala Lumpur.