Axis & Allies & Zombies took me completely by surprise. I love this game. The addition of zombies (an admittedly overused pop-culture trope) to a long-in-the-tooth dudes-on-a-map wargame (Axis & Allies has been around since 1981) really shouldn't work as well as it does, but boy oh boy does it work. The crazy thing about this game is that the rules changes aren't really that profound, but they make the game feel surprisingly fresh, interesting, and new.
I'm not going to go too in-depth about the basics of Axis & Allies here as you can find out more about what we think about the Anniversary Edition here, instead I'm going to focus on why I like this game, and just why I think it's worth your time, even if you have played and disliked previous versions of Axis & Allies. To start, Axis & Allies & Zombies is almost exactly what the title says it is. It's Axis & Allies with zombies thrown in and a few rules streamlined, and the map tweaked to be smaller to make the game play at a much more uptempo pace. If you are already familiar with Axis & Allies, you can sit down with the game and be up to speed on the changes in the time that it takes to set the game up. If you've never played before, the rules are easier to learn than the regular versions, but teach you enough that you could jump in to a regular game of Axis & Allies just as easily as an experienced player can get in to this version.
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The main difference is, of course, the addition of zombies. The best part of the zombies in this game is that they fit in perfectly with the rest of the game. To start, every nation's turn a zombie card is drawn that shows "Desperate Times," where a new zombie will appear on the map. The same card also lets that nation implement "Desperate Measures," anything from researching new anti-zombie tech, to straight up converting a zombie back into an infantry unit. Each and every turn of the game sees the zombie outbreak slowly spread throughout the globe, and every single infantry unit that is killed is replaced by a zombie, so the growing dread of a looming zombie apocalypse happens naturally as the game progresses, so it never feels forced.
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Since new zombies appear every turn no matter what it is next to impossible to contain the outbreak. Since every infantry unit that falls in battle ALSO produces a new zombie the ever growing zombie hordes actually act as a game timer that prevents the game from bogging down into a drawn-out slog of attrition. In order to win the game the Axis & Allies have to capture and hold only a single capital city from their enemies, but the game can also end if the zombies ever control 25 or more IPC's worth of territory at the end of a round. If the looming inevitability of the zombie apocalypse actually happens, the side with the highest IPC value of controlled, zombie-free territories wins the game.
The zombie-clock does two things for the game: First, as mentioned before, it acts as a clock that ensures that the game will end (usually in fewer than 10 rounds.) Secondly, the looming zombie apocalypse combines with the more confined board layout to encourage players to play much more aggressively than they would during a normal game of Axis & Allies. In my group at least, games of Axis & Allies & Zombies tend to play much more quickly than their non-zombie counterparts because the addition of the quirky, campy zombie aspect really shifts the focus from combined-arms strategy to romp-em, stomp-em fun. It's not that Axis & Allies in its original form isn't fun, it's just an entirely different flavor of fun. The fun of history-sim wargames often comes from the depth of strategy and out-thinking your opponents, where the fun here comes from throwing a big wad of infantry into certain death in order to create a wall of zombies between Russia and Germany only to have Germany counterattack by cutting a path through that same wall of zombies with chainsaw tanks.
The core gameplay is still solidly Axis & Allies. The combat is still strictly dice-driven, its still a World War II game, and the game can still take a few hours between evenly matched players. If you absolutely hate Axis & Allies I don't know if the addition of zombies will change your mind, but if you shy away from it simply due to game-length then the modified board layout, straightforward victory conditions and looming zombie apocalypse might be just what you need in order to get your Axis & Allies fix inside of a single evening. The most interesting thing about this game is that the zombie rules are really fairly simple and straighforward, yet they alter the feel of the game immensely, completely changing the flavor and often changing how players formulate their strategy, while still ensuring that the game is solidly Axis & Allies. It really feels like it shouldn't work as well as it does, but that same feeling also makes it feel like a really successful, and unique, game.
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A note on player count: Axis & Allies & Zombies can technically be played with up to five players, but as you add players you also add down time. The you-go-I-go turn order makes this, like the original, much better played with only 2 players, as it keeps the action tense and interesting for both players each turn.
A note on compatibility: One of the most surprising inclusions in the Axis & Allies & Zombies box is a deck of zombie cards specifically designed for use with the 1942 version of the game. If you feel that the new board is too cramped, or you simply want to add some crazy zombie hi-jinks to your 1942 version then shuffle up the deck, use the included alternate setup and give it a rip.
A note on “chrome”: Axis & Allies & Zombies has great production values. The art is sharp, colorful and crisp, different nations have different unit sculpts, the rules are well laid out, and even the paper money (I really don't like paper money in board games, but it is serviceable here) has been tweaked with some various blood stains to fit the theme.
The bottom line:
Axis & Allies & Zombies adds just enough zombie flavor and theme to core gameplay that has been around since the '80s to make this game feel fresh, fun and exciting. Veteran players will be able to pick up the game and play in a matter of minutes, and brand new players can get in to this game and use it as a jumping-off point to more classic and strategic versions of Axis & Allies. The inclusion of a deck of cards to add zombies to other versions is unexpected and awesome, and the more cramped board and faster playtime should appeal to those who like Axis & Allies but avoid playing it because of how long it tends to last.
Get this game if:
You already enjoy Axis & Allies.
You like war games but prefer games with a quicker play time and/or a lighter tone.
You love zombies.
You are new to war games but don't want to dive straight in to the deep end of the pool.
Avoid this game if:
You hate dice-driven combat.
You take your war games, and their themes, very seriously.
The copy of Axis & Allies & Zombies used for this review was provided by Avalon Hill.
Axis & Allies & Zombies is great. The game manages to marry the tried and true (and a big long in the tooth) mechanics of Axis & Allies with an apocalyptic zombie theme that both lightens the mood and speeds up the game. It's not as strategically deep as the games it is based on, but it really ramps up the fun-factor.