You would think that with all the excellent World War II strategy games that have come out for the PC, that Hasbro's release of the classic board game Axis & Allies would be met with lackluster praise. But the truth be told, if you're looking for a lasting, well-balanced strategic wargame of the Second World War, this game is a great choice.
Axis & Allies features a global view of the war beginning in the spring of 1942. In this situation, Germany and Japan are somewhat mediocre economically, but they are militarily strong. The Allies, on the other hand, have yet to bring the full force of their economic potential into production for wartime and as a result lack some adequate defenses. During the game, each player assumes the role of the commanding officer of one of the five major nations involved. You purchase and deploy units, give combat directives on a strategic scale, and even plan some research and development. As the game progresses, the tide of war can easily turn. In the standard game, the Allies' victory condition requires them to capture two Axis capitals: the nation of Germany and the island of Honshu. Meanwhile, the Axis powers have two options for victory. They can either establish an economic victory by achieving a certain production level or capture two of the three capitals of the main Allied powers (USA, UK, USSR).
In each turn, you decide what to purchase and research, initiate combat, move units, and deploy new units. The economic system of the game is governed by how you spend the IPCs (Industrial Production Certificates) between such units as infantry, tanks, submarines, battleships, bombers, and fighters. Each unit has a certain number of spaces it can move a turn whether before or after combat. The final outcome of battles is determined by electronic dice that are rolled for each unit to see if they score a hit against the defender. The combat values for each unit, which are usually different for attack and defense, are representative of how well the unit performs in that role. Bombers do well for offensive strikes, but against a blitz of tanks, they can hardly operate at full effectiveness. However, infantry, which do a meager job when attacking, perform much better when on defense due to their ability to entrench themselves. Overall, this formula has worked well, and Hasbro has done a tremendous job in making the PC version both true to the original and easy to learn.
Hasbro's faithfulness to the original is the most important factor in how well this game has turned out. In fact, the game is so true to the original, that this is one of those rare cases where the computer game is actually preferable to the board game. The game's standard rules are those of a newly revised third edition, allowing for some options not available when playing a board game. Although the new rules change the classic experience, the additions are actually impressively thought out. But, if you're a stickler for the traditional, you can turn those off. Surprisingly, other optional rules for the game that were mentioned in the board game rulebook are also available in the PC version. This simple detail provides a great deal more gameplay than could be asked for. Combine this with a full unit editor in which you can set the stats for each unit to your own desire, and you have the making of an endlessly replayable WWII strategic game.
However, there's one thing that Hasbro has added that changes the original to such a degree as to give the whole game experience a much-deserved breath of life. As you play the game, the "Time Machine" allows you to go backwards (or forwards if you're already in the past) to any point in the game to change your strategy and see how things would work differently. This utility not only allows you to try different strategies, but can also give you an edge if you decide to cheat and just have to get those heavy bombers from the research table. Just keep taking the time machine back to where you took a chance on research and keep going back until the dice favor you.
As for the other aspects, the results speak for themselves. Simple improvements such as the multiplayer capability, a tutorial for newcomers, and animated cutscenes for victory and defeat are graciously welcomed. The graphics, while they aren't stellar landscaped 3D renditions of the terrain, preserve the bright, accurately depicted colors from the original board. In order to conserve memory requirements, Hasbro eliminated the unique look of individual units from the different sides. Apart from the different colors, the original pieces of the board game had different model tanks and poses of infantrymen for the units. However, if you manage to get jet power from the research table, the look of your planes converts to the more aerodynamic models of the late '40s/early '50s.
The main drawback to the game is a lack of good multiplayer support. There's no option for e-mail games, and the gameplay on some of the online services isn't always up to par. This is a very sad fact when a game like this almost demands human opponents. The AI is adequate in providing a challenge, but the early game can tend to repeat if you don't try new moves of your own.
The result of all of Hasbro's diligent faithfulness to the source is a great version of a classic board game. Often, the intricacies of multimedia games leave out some of the tactile feel of the cardboard and plastic. Here, the resulting product goes to show that an electronic game of Axis & Allies is just as much fun as sitting around the gaming table on a rainy Saturday afternoon.