Find Out Which Axis & Allies Box Is Best For You
Axis & Allies is often described as one of the next steps from Risk, but the number of versions can be overwhelming and confusing.
Let’s simplify things, and compare two of the best ways to get into the system, both of which are still in print.
Axis & Allies 1941 is an excellent introduction to this series of games. It reduces the complexity of other versions and plays in a couple of hours while still maintaining the feel of other Axis & Allies games. 1942 is the modern successor to the original edition and provides the full Axis & Allies experience of an epic war game which takes several hours to play.
Axis & Allies is one of the classic designs of board gaming, a multiplayer war game that was first published in 1981 and which has gone through various versions since then.
However, there have been so many different versions of the game published over the years, including one with zombies (!), that it can be really difficult to know where to start.
This awesome buyer’s guide by The Attic Dwellers will take you through pretty much every version of Axis & Allies that there was up to a few years ago, including 1941 and 1942, but be warned that watching it could end up being expensive!
The core games from the modern series are the 1940, 1941 and 1942 editions but unhelpfully they do not gradually get more complex from one year to the next.
1940 also comes in two flavours – Europe and Pacific – which can be combined for an epic experience, but we are not going to get involved in those versions, as these boxes are only for veterans.
The best way to keep things simple is to think of the three main versions of the game on a sliding scale of complexity:
- 1941 – least complex
- 1942 – moderately complex
- 1940 (either Europe or Pacific) – more complex
- 1940 (Europe and Pacific combined) – very complex
Instead of discussing them all, let’s compare 1941 and 1942, as both of them represent excellent ways into the world of Axis & Allies, even if they serve different purposes.
They both accommodate two to five players who compete over a map of the world to complete certain objectives.
However, they do feel quite different, so which is best for you?
Both 1941 and 1942 versions follow the standard Axis & Allies mechanisms, pitting two or more players against each other as opposing sides in the war.
If two players are going head to head then one player controls the Allies and the other controls the Axis, and you can add more players in as you go as long as they always control nations which are on the same side.
However many people you end up playing with you are always going to have a full complement of pieces and nations on the board.
Both 1941 and 1942 have turns which proceed in the standard way for all Axis & Allies games, as follows:
- Purchase Units – spend Industrial Production Credits (IPCs) on new units of any type
- Combat Move – move your chosen units into hostile territory
- Conduct Combat – units involved in combat attack, defend and retreat
- Noncombat Move – move your chosen units into unoccupied territory
- Mobilise New Units – place the units you bought earlier in the turn onto the board
- Collect Income – collect IPCs based on the territories you control
Of course, any game of Axis & Allies is a little more complicated than this, but the basic structure of a move is the same across all the major games in the system.
It’s also not a million miles away from a game like Risk, so if you have played that and enjoyed it then you are already some way to understanding how a game of Axis & Allies plays.
If you have never played a game of Axis & Allies before then you should definitely try 1941 first and forget about 1942 for a while.
This is because Axis & Allies 1941 was designed specifically to be the best way into the game system for players who are completely new to it.
It streamlines many of the elements of the larger versions of the game, reduces the number of exceptions and edge cases, and keeps things lean and mean, so it’s possible to play a game of 1941 in a couple of hours.
That’s significantly shorter than a game of the 1942 version.
The global map has a reduced number of territories in order to make movement, combat and control more streamlined and easy to understand.
There are also fewer units overall than in the 1942 box, but the clever bit is that they are still spread over several different types, keeping your options open
In a game of 1941 each nation only has thirty two pieces they can put on the board, but they still have nine different types of pieces.
This means that 1941 plays in a less intimidating fashion but without taking away the feel of the larger versions of the game.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that while both this version and 1942 can be played with up to five players, the users on Board Game Geek reckon that 1941 is best with just two at the table, one player controlling the Axis powers and the other in charge of the Allies.
1941 is also a really cheap game for what you get in the box, as the recommended retail price is less than £30 – shop around and you can really pick up a bargain.
The official Axis & Allies website is really useful when it comes to resources for the game, and you can read the rules by clicking this link or if you are more of a visual learner then try this Harsh Rules video.
In short, while 1941 is a pared down Axis & Allies experience it is much more likely to get played often than 1942.
- It’s easily the best introduction to the Axis & Allies system
- You can play it in an evening
- It’s great value for money
- It’s been really cleverly designed so that it still feels like Axis & Allies
- It’s better for head to head play
- It doesn’t have the epic feel of the larger version
- If you like 1941 you’ll definitely want to buy 1942 at some point
The numbering of the Axis & Allies sets might make you think that 1942 was designed as a sequel to 1941 but that’s not the case.
1942 is a much more meaty proposition which represents the core game of Axis & Allies for modern gamers.
You also need to be aware that it exists in two editions, and that the second edition is the version to get and is the one I’ll be discussing here.
If you imagine Axis & Allies 1942 as the original game revised and brought into the twenty-first century then you will be on the right track.
However, if you are new to the system or just want to dip your toe into the water then 1942 can be a totally overwhelming experience.
It’s a full-on miniature fest with multiple territories and units and which can take several hours to play, so it is something that is best experienced if you have already played some Axis & Allies.
If you have the full player count of five, which is where BGG users think it plays best, then there is also going to be some significant downtime as you wait for your turn to swing around again.
For that reason I would recommend buying 1941 first if you are new to Axis & Allies and then moving on to 1942 if you enjoy the experience, but if you have maybe played somebody else’s copy a few times and want a version of Axis & Allies for your own shelf then you can drop into the system here.
Because of all the extra bits and pieces in the box, and also because it was designed from the ground up to represent the full Axis & Allies experience, the cost of 1942 is higher than 1941, with a recommended retail price of around £60.
Again, shopping around can get you a good deal, but it’s an expensive gamble if you are new to Axis & Allies, especially as 1942 is harder to get to the table regularly.
This awesome video by Board Game Nation takes you through all the rules in one giant example – phew!
- It’s the full Axis & Allies experience
- It’s the modern version of an all-time classic
- It’s more expensive than 1941 but there is a ton of content in the box
- It’s a great choice for a day of war gaming with four friends
- It can be overwhelming for new players
- You’ll need a big table for a long time
- There’s significant downtime when playing with a full table of players
- The rules are trickier than the ones in 1941
Here’s a table that lines up the two versions side by side so that you can see what you would be getting:
|Axis & Allies 1941||Axis & Allies 1942|
|Cost:||around £30 rrp||around £60 rrp|
|Board Size:||83×44 cm||102×66 cm|
|Map:||Global – fewer territories||Global – more territories|
|Types of units:||9||12|
|Players:||2 to 5||2 to 5|
|Complexity:||Medium||Medium to Heavy|
|Game Length:||2 hrs approx.||4 hrs approx.|
|Win conditions:||Capture two enemy capitals (standard condition)
Capture one enemy capital (short game)
|Control nine cities (standard condition)
Control all twelve cities (long game)
I hope that I’ve been clear enough about starting with Axis & Allies 1941 if you want to get into the system and only moving on to 1942 once you’ve played it.
The only reason for diving straight in with a copy of 1942 is if you have played Axis & Allies before and are happy with the rules and the system, in which case you probably don’t need to buy 1941 unless you are looking for a version you can play in an evening.
You should now have the information you need to work out which version of Axis & Allies is best for you, so here’s hoping that the dice fall in your favour!