Axis & Allies & Zombies is a well-designed crossover game that is just missing some final polish. While it can play up to five, the amount of downtime makes it a poor game for more than two players. The significant randomness makes it the least strategic of the Axis & Allies line, which can be a pro or con, depending on your taste—pro: fun battles between two players of uneven skill; con: bad luck can cost you the game. If you’re interested, buy it now, though, as it is no longer listed in the Avalon Hill product catalog.
- Quick Start Rules that summarize the differences from conventional Axis & Allies, so that experienced players can jump in immediately. If you’re remotely interested in the game, definitely read this one page from the rules (page 4).
- An introductory scenario (Germany vs. Russia) is a great addition to the game and makes it easier to learn the rules and play.
- Moves the purchase phase from the start of the turn (with placement at the end) to the same penultimate phase as placing units (Mobilize), removing a key source of analysis paralysis. (This was a design decision I had reached independently for WW2 1941 ABC.)
- Shorter games than traditional Axis & Allies:
- You win by capturing just the enemy capital rather than needing to capture multiple capitals.
- The zombies act as a timer, bringing the game to an early end. In one of our games, Japan captured Moscow only to be destroyed by zombies. At the end of any turn, if the zombies control 25 IPCs, the next turn (full round of all five countries) will be the last, with the winner being the side with the most income from regions without zombies.
- The tech chart, something that always seemed too expensive in traditional A&A, is randomly awarded here and the techs are campy and thematically satisfying (e.g., Chainsaw Tanks, Mind-Control Rays, Deadnapper Convoys).
- Industrial complexes are printed on the board and have limited capacity, and recruitment centers in China and India are industrial complexes that can produce infantry only, providing more realistic constraints (greater realism in a zombies game?!). The industrial complex in Australia enables Britain to more easily defend its regions from Japan.
- More interesting purchase decisions. Zombies shift you from an infantry-first production schedule – you’ll know that those can come back to fight you. The limited unit count also means you’re not going to be stacking infantry either.
- Fun dice, with zombie symbols. All the standard dice now have a zombie symbol instead of the 6; zombies aren’t directly targeted but are collateral damage in combat, then can be hit by any attacking unit if all the other player’s defending units have been eliminated.
- Lots of downtime with 4-5 players. One player complained in a BGG review that in 3 hours they took one turn as U.S., then Germany took over Moscow on turn two, ending the game.
- Lack of polish:
- Some embarrassing typos – Erie (for Eire), Monzambique, costal China.
- The tech chart is fiddly: you place a control marker on the tech you have, covering it – the name should be above the spot where you place a control marker.
- Not enough plastic pieces (presumably to keep the cost down). Just one type of each naval ship for the Soviets. Fighters especially were a problem; Japan has three carriers but doesn’t even have 6 fighters.
- As Polygon points out, the rules needed additional examples of battles involving zombies (both as the only enemy and with a defender).
The randomness here can good or bad, depending on your taste.
- The game uses fewer units per region than the original, provides less revenue per region, and caps industrial production: these smaller unit counts add randomness, as combat results are now more swingy.
- On each player’s turn, they draw a card and place a zombie on the region specified by the card. Randomly infecting regions definitely change things – on the first turn for the U.S. in one of our games, it had to invade Central America (worth 2 IPCs to it) to destroy the zombie there (by the time the U.S. goes, up to 5 regions may be infected).
- Zombie cards also have other actions, called “Desperate Measures,” which can provide random tactical goals. For example, “Salvage Operation: This turn you get 1 IPC for each zombie that is destroyed.” Some of the measures force you to reshuffle the deck, adding a Pandemic-style mechanic of reinfection, leading to placing additional zombies in regions where outbreaks have already occurred.
- Neutral territories cannot be invaded unless they have become infested with zombies, which adds another nice bit of randomness: for instance, all of a sudden, the Allies can liberate Spain, giving themselves an easier landing in Europe. Many neutral territories have IPC values, which gives you another reason to liberate them.
For anyone interested in professional game design, here is a great interview with Scott Van Essen, the lead designer, about the design process behind the game (part 1, part 2).
Zombies in a region can significantly help repel attacks – they do wear down your own units as well. The zombies change the calculus of battles in ways that took a bit of first-hand experience and loss to internalize. I saw Germany founder in two separate games, it’s tank corps eliminated not by the Russian infantry but by the zombie infantry. In a game I won as the part of the Axis, Germany retreated from its battle in West Russia, moving all its units into Ukraine, from which it overwhelmed Caucasus on the next turn – so it truly was a strategic withdrawal.
Speaking of strategic withdrawals, unfortunately Avalon Hill has discontinued the game. Get Axis & Allies & Zombies while you can. There’s still stock at many retailers, but the price is inching up. You could even say it’s the walking dead.
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