Axis & Allies: Europe 1940, 2nd Edition begins in May of 1940, with Finland having recently surrendered territory to the Soviets and Germany in possession of Belgium and on the precipice of the Invasion of France. Winston Churchill is about to take on the monumental task of stopping Adolf Hitler from controlling all of Western Europe. The United States, clinging to isolationism, quietly plans its entrance into the Second World War.
Released in 2012, A&A:E1940 is an impressive output, including more than 600 pieces and a 2-piece bi-fold board which, when combined with its Axis & Allies: Pacific 1940, 2nd Edition counterpart, measures almost six feet across. From a production standpoint it is overly ambitious. To meet cost a point necessary to keep the sale price below $100, a few nice-to-have items were eliminated from the Classic version of the game. Gone are the handy partitioned trays for unit types, Industrial Complex pieces have been replaced with cardboard tokens, the battle-board is significantly smaller, and for a game which heavily relies on managing effective economies, the omission of actual currency is a big miss. You will be expected to keep track of each nation’s Industrial Production using paper and pencil. If you own a Classic edition you can easily salvage it for parts, claiming the trays, Industrial Complexes, IPC stash, and don’t forget the dice. Avalon Hill has seen fit to supply only six dice, potentially depriving younger gamers of the joys of rolling huge piles of dice. Alternatively, small zip-lock sandwich bags work fine for separating units, and I recommend keeping a change jar to fill the no-currency void. This sort of thing feels cheap, and I would probably pay $10 more for the game knowing it comes fully equipped to sit down and play without hassle.
I’d pay another $20 for a larger board. In spots it is simply too congested for the amount of unit traffic. Setup Western Europe and you’ll know what I mean. Africa is strangely skewed, with the northern half of the continent consuming entirely too much valuable board real estate, and the southern half getting scrunched, like the artist ran out of space. And be prepared for lots of this kind of conversation: “Where is that tank? Where did that tank come from? What about that plane? Are you sure? …” My first experience with combat movement for Germany was very frustrating. It’s difficult to move all the pieces in continental Europe – simply not enough space on the board for pieces and fingers. This sort of logistical irritation deprives players of one of the great joys of war games like this. The idea is to recreate the gigantic position tables that actual WWII generals used when monitoring unit movement. Paradoxically, the smaller board for the Classic edition rarely suffered this congestion issue. Ultimately, I found it was best to move all the defender units into separate sea zones so I could do my combat movement. By the way, the super-handy blowup boxes surrounding the Classic edition game board are not included.
These flaws add up and are significant but should not prevent hardcore fans of the franchise from buying this game. There are several nice touches, including differentiation of units by type, representing actual ships, planes, tanks and light mechanized units for each nation. That Avalon Hill went to great effort to expand its flagship strategy war game to such an extent is worthy of modest celebration. Based on my initial play-through, it is a significantly different game from its smaller-scale predecessors. The robust array of units adds complexity to tactics and purchasing and deployment decisions. You now get Mechanized Infantry, Tactical Bombers, Destroyers and Cruisers, and you must also establish Air and Naval Bases. These additional layers add time to the process. While I suppose it’s possible a game’s outcome could be predicted in a mere 3 hours and 30 minutes, I suggest dedicating an entire weekend to the effort just to be safe, especially if playing both the Europe and Pacific theatres.
Balance issues demand new rules. From a historical perspective Germany and the Soviet Union were not at war with one another in May 1940, although the battle lines were clearly drawn. Germany was not positioned to fight the Eastern Front until France was secured. In an attempt to recapture some of this historical accuracy while striving for game balance, the Soviet player is restricted from declaring war against the Axis until after turn 4. A similar restriction exists for the United States, which is not allowed to enter the war until the summer of 1941, translating to two turns of relative inactivity. The caveat to the restriction is that once attacked the Allied player is free to retaliate and the wait period is over. There are also rules for declaring war, and now neutral states come in three flavors: leans Allies, leans Axis, and truly neutral, allowing for flyovers and troop movement for sympathetic parties.
These rules naturally create distinct phases of the game. The opening is the opportunity for Germany and Italy to assert power. As with the Classic edition, it is critical for the Axis to meet historical milestones. When determining who will play what powers, understand that with the exception of a couple territories in Africa, the French should not exist as a playable entity by the time its first turn rolls around at the end of round one. Germany and Italy go first, and must strike decisively, eliminating France and most of the British fleet, securing dominant positions on land and sea. The second turn is more of the same, securing mainland Western Europe from the coming American invasion in turn three or four. Aggressive Axis players will invade Britain by turn three, two turns ahead of Soviet engagement. Or does Germany simply play for attrition with the Brits while driving into Russia early, thereby limiting the Soviet’s opportunity to build and fortify? This is where A&A has always excelled – the risk/reward decision-making dynamic is well placed, and A&A:E1940 creates highly engaging risk/reward scenarios for players to explore.
Once the Soviets and Germans clash the game switches gears. Economy management and purchasing decisions are paramount, especially for the Axis, who must now fight on two fronts, and unlike the Classic edition, Russia is no pushover. Four turns of stockpiling Infantry should put the Soviets in position to push hard into Europe. If played separately, the Axis players need to collaborate closely. Table talk is critical to coordinate strategy, and more so than in any previous edition players are encouraged to have Diplomacy-style sidebar discussions to keep sensitive planning out of enemy earshot. The chief drawback of the Classic edition, that players might do nothing for an hour waiting for their next turn to come around, can be mitigated if players engage one another to coordinate the war effort for their respective side. In games with more than 2 players this dynamic is critical to keep the game moving and fun. If players do not talk freely, and have nothing else to do, I can imagine situations where someone has no action for well over an hour. In this respect A&A:E1940 is designed to be a social war game. Roleplay it as Eisenhower, Mountbatten, Rommel or Zhukov – have fun!
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of terror. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.” – Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940.