When the day came that a board game literally called Axis & Allies & Zombies dropped onto my doorstep, I knew I was in for a night of hellish warfare. Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill have taken the classic 10-hour standoff classic known as Axis & Allies and modified it with a tase of revisionist history to ask the question, "What if zombies were around during World War II?" What we get is probably one of the most interesting versions of the game I have played in my life, for better and worse. I cracked this open with a few friends out at Watchtower Cafe in Salt Lake City and went back in time to a parallel world where zombies became their own global superpower.
So let's start with the most important factor: this is not the day-long event that regular Axis & Allies usually is. It sounds like a joke, but in reality, I have been in games that have lasted several hours, even one that carried onto the next day. Clearly, WotC and Avalon figured that if you were going to make a fun version of this game, the playtime also needed to be fun. So they broke this down into a version that, at best, should only take 90-180 minutes tops. They also, cleverly, broke the game in certain sections when it came to deployment, spending, and victory conditions to make the game flow a little better. Would these work in a regular version? Possibly. But the breaks in this game were made with the zombie aspect in mind.
A lot of the game works like how you would normally play the game, as up to five players fight as the primary forces in World War II: America, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Depending on what side you choose in the conflict, you're given certain resources to start out with and help defend specific areas on the board. Every round you are given an allotment of cash in order to spend it on more resources, which is based on how well you're doing int he game and how much territory you have managed to secure. Along the bottom of the board is a numbered goal chart with each country trying to surpass a specific spot on the chart or completely eliminate a power from play. But not everything is so simple.
The game plays out like a fast-paced version of the original. You choose what territories you wish to conquer using a combination of infantry, tanks, cannons, aircraft, and ships, all of which have different rankings on the chart to show how much they're worth and how many dice you can roll to fight with each. The problem that comes up in the game is the zombies. The zombies are not treated like a regular enemy, more like an epidemic that's now hitting the world as you're fighting. Throughout the game, as you kill off each other, some of the people you kill turn into zombies and are placed on the countries that you just fought over. They are now a secondary enemy int he game that you have to wipe out of the area to truly control it, or else they can take you down and control the area themselves.
At the start of every new round of terns, you'll need to draw cards letting people know where a new zombie has cropped up. Sometimes it's on land you or an enemy controls, sometimes its in brand new areas such as Spain, which then makes the country active (as opposed to how it was in WWII) and worth a point value if you can eradicate the zombies from the playing field. There's also chances for the zombies to multiplay if you don't bother going into those areas or if you simply try to ignore them for periods of time without trying to deal with the situation.
Much like any epidemic, the game forces you to deal with the zombies or else they will become the dominant force on the board. Throughout the game that we played, we would force each other down to bare-bones resources, but then be stuck with zombies who were given a chance to come in and wreak havoc over whatever was left on both sides. Sometimes leaving countries completely empty and ripe for the picking, while other times forcing us into a situation where three or four occupied a space and one of us would need to come in and wipe them out before we could do anything with the land we just barely fought over.
Overall, I thought Axis & Allies & Zombies was a great take on the game that managed to make one of the longest gaming experiences you'll ever deal with in your life and turn it into a quick and unpredictable couple hours of fun. I will say that if you are a hardcore Axis & Allies fan, this may turn you off. I know for a fact there are people who treat this game like it's a religion and play it several times a year as if it's a competition to see how the war might have played out under different circumstances. While this is a very unpredictable circumstance, it's based in fantasy, and some of those long-time players may resent it. But for people who can't stand the original and want to experience it in a more modern format with a quicker pace, this is the version for them.