How to Play the Axis & Allies Board Game

How to Play Axis & Allies Board GameAxis & Allies is a strategy game set during World War II. The game is not a realistic simulation of the war, like many of the more detailed war games on the market. It was designed to be easy to play. The design also required certain compromises to give the Axis a realistic opportunity to win.

The Axis & Allies board game drew more inspiration from Risk than war game simulations. Like Risk, players were seeking world domination on a large scale world map. Also like Risk, territory acquisition led in a direct way to acquiring new army units.

Axis and Allies was a more detailed and setting specific version of Risk. It offered more than just an abstract army unit, creating a hierarchy of units which corresponded roughly to the arms used in World War II. The game also offered static alliance systems, as well as victory conditions somewhat less than total world domination.

Setting the game in one of history's most dramatic time periods captured the imagination of the gaming public. Though the game was simplistic by many gaming standards, this simplicity proved to be an advantage to the wider public.

Design and Marketing the Axis and Allies Board Game

The Axis & Allies board game was designed by Larry Harris, Jr., son of a marine who fought for the United States in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Mr. Harris designed Axis & Allies in the early 1980s for Nova Games.

In 1984, the Milton Bradley Company bought the rights to the game. Milton Bradley made minor changes to the rules, while also redesigning the cover art and changing other aesthetics of the game.

Axis&Allies became the centerpiece of Milton Bradley's Gamemaster Series. This series of strategy games were set in different historical periods. Each of the games had similar cover art and game mechanics. These proved popular with the buying public in the late 1980s.

Mr. Harris won an Origin Award for his design work on Axis & Allies. He has gone on to help design several Axis & Allies spinoffs, including Axis & Allies: Europe, Axis & Allies: Pacific, Axis & Allies: D-Day, and Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge.

Axis&Allies: The Opponents

The game allows for up to five players. Each player takes over one of the five major world powers during the latter stages of World War II:

Germany and Japan are the Axis players. Their victory conditions are bound together, therefore they are allies in the game. Similarly, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union work together in the game. As it was in history, they are collectively referred to as The Allies.

The game starts in the spring of 1942. 1942 was what Churchhill described as "the hinge of fate", meaning it was the year the war turned in favor of the Allies. Throughout most of this year, the Axis were on the offensive, but their empires were at their peak and their conquests quickly were coming to an end.

In keeping with this idea, the Axis starts the game well-armed for the immediate campaigns. They tend to have an advantage in armaments on most fronts.

This is offset by the greater spending power of the Allies. The currency of Axis & Allies is referred to as Industrial Production Certificates. These are used to purchase various sorts of military units.

The Military Units

In 1st Edition Axis & Allies, there are only three kind of ground forces. Infantry units are cheap, but have a low attack capacity. Armor can move faster and have more offensive capabilities, but are more expensive. Anti-aircraft batteries cannot attack other ground units, but are useful for shooting down enemy air units.

There are only two kinds of air units. There is the fighter, which has a high defense rating but lesser attack rating. Bombers have a greater range and attack rating, but are more expensive and are vulnerable on the defense. Bombers also can attack enemy industrial capacity, literally taking money out of your opponents treasury.

The are several naval units. Battleships have high attack and defense ratings, but are the most expensive unit in the game. Aircraft carriers have weak ratings, but can carry up to two fighter units. Like the war, carriers can be decisive in the Pacific Theater. The high costs of maintaining such a fleet makes the war in the Pacific depend on a few die rolls.

Submarine units do not have high attack ratings, but have a special surprise attack. If successful on the first round on battle, any unit destroyed by a submarine cannot fire back. Transport ships have little in the way of attack or defense, but are able to transport land armies from one part of the world to another.

Combat Resolution

Combat is decided by rolling six-sided dice. Each unit has an attack rating and a defense rating. The attack rating is for when the unit attacks, while the defense rating is used when that unit is being attacked. For example, this accounts for an infantry unit's ability to entrench or use cover when attacked. Therefore, infantry units have a higher rating on the defense than when attacking.

These ratings range between 1 and 4 for the various units. For a successful hit, one must roll under a unit's rating on a six sided die. If a unit successfully attacks, then the opponent must choose one of his or her units to take off the game board.

Because of the cheapness of infantry units, players tended to build up large quantities of infantry. These could be taken off the board first, meaning that a player's more expensive and deadlier units could continue to wreak havoc without being destroyed themselves.

Secret Weapons

Rules allowed for the research of secret weapons, too. One could spend currency to buy a die. If the player rolled a six on this die, then that nation had successfully developed a secret weapon. Another roll on a six-sided die randomly assigned what this secret weapon was. Examples of secret weapons are long range fighters or deadlier bombers.

No provisions were made for the atom bomb in this game.


Victory was achieved for the Allies if they captured the capitols of the Axis powers: Japan and Germany. This had to be achieved at the end of a round of play.

Victory was achieved for the Axis is they captured two of the three Allied capitols. Also, the Axis won if, at any time, their industrial capacity exceeded that of the combined three allied powers.

Even with this stipulation, an Axis victory was not easy. The Axis had to be aggressive from the start of the game, using their early advantages to capture as much enemy territory as possible. If this did not happen, the Allied preponderance of wealth would soon give them an insurmountable advantage over the Axis.

Typically, Germany found it easy to conquer extra territory, usually by pressing an attack on the African and Middle Eastern territories of the United Kingdom. Because Japan had to transport its armies across the ocean, their path to victory was usually more difficult.

Later Editions

Attempts were made to streamline the game and repair some of the flaws in the original game in the second edition of Axis & Allies. Axis & Allies started to include new units in the mix, such as artillery and destroyer units. Small changes were made in the combat ratings of armor, because of the perception that first edition armor units were not valuable enough in comparison to their cost.

Perhaps the most important changes were in the victory conditions. Alternate rules were created for "victory cities". These were key cities spread around the world, which were almost as important as capitol territories. If a certain number of these were captured, victory would be achieved. This rule was instituted to avoid the problematic endgame scenarios involving large armies concentrated on one's capitol territory.