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Axis & Allies and Zombies brings undead to the classic WWII strategy game

First details on how the game will work

Proposed cover art for the final version of Axis & Allies and Zombies.
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Axis & Allies, the classic strategy board game created by Larry Harris and first published in 1981, is getting a new, over-the-top adaptation. The team at Avalon Hill — the board games division of Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast — is adding zombies to the mix for the first time. The new title is called Axis & Allies and Zombies. Polygon sat down with co-designer Scott Van Essen to talk about its development, and to get an exclusive briefing on how the game is actually played.

The undead and the occult have long been a fixture of modern video gaming. That’s especially true of WWII-themed games, thanks in no small part to franchises like Wolfenstein and Call of Duty. Van Essen told Polygon that making a zombie-themed version of Axis & Allies has always on the Avalon Hill to-do list, but such a beloved strategy title deserved more than just a casual mashup.

Photo of Axis & Allies board showing infantry, air, and sea units across the English Channel. There are dice in the background as well.
The original Milton Bradley Gamemaster Series version of Axis & Allies, first published in 1984.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

“First we laid out some ground rules,” Van Essen said. “This has to be an Axis & Allies game. It’s not a zombie game that we’re going to slap the Axis & Allies brand on to. So how can we get the feeling, the tropes of the zombie genre while still being completely true to Axis & Allies?”

In the summer of 2017, Van Essen said that Avalon Hill assembled a crack team for the job. Among them was Mike Mearls, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition and currently the D&D franchise creative director. The first task was simply coming up with a thematic way to get zombies onto the board.

Axis & Allies uses on a number of different units, from battleships to bombers, but they all fall into three main categories. There are naval forces, like transports and submarines, as well as air forces, like fighter planes. There are also ground forces, including tanks and infantry units. In Axis & Allies and Zombies, every time an infantry unit dies it will turn into a unit of zombies. These zombie units linger on the board, contributing later to the war of attrition on both sides of a battle.

Players will have to decide if a territory filled with the undead is important enough to do battle in, or if the risk is simply too great. Van Essen said that this opens up new avenues of advance on virtually every front, and forces players to make new and interesting decisions on the fly.

Take, for instance, the classic early game choice that the German player must make in a traditional game of Axis & Allies. Do you strengthen the Atlantic Wall with additional infantry and armor to defend against the coming D-Day invasion, or do you commit your reserves to the Eastern Front in order to preempt a brutal assault from the Red Army? If the German player opts to march on Leningrad, the carnage from that battle alone could create a kind of clot of the undead plugging up their Eastern flank. Doing enough damage, even without taking any territory, could create enough zombies to act as a buffer and allow the Germans to move vital panzers west.

Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast

“This also makes navies a little more important,” Van Essen said, “because the seas are a great way to get around packs of zombies.”

Zombies will also spawn randomly all around the board. A new deck of cards is being added to the game. On each player’s turn they draw randomly from that deck, spawning zombies in a single territory — even in traditionally neutral countries or places that start the game without any military forces on the board.

To add more drama to those kinds of random spawns, Van Essen said his team increased the amount of money — an abstracted currency called Industrial Production Certificates or IPCs — given to every faction at the start of the game. Individual countries are also worth more, while some smaller neutral countries have an IPC value for the first time.

“There are people who will never, in a hundred games of vanilla Axis & Allies, land a guy in Brazil,” Van Essen said, “but suddenly there’s a zombie in Brazil that’s taking your income away. You’ve got to go down and fight it.”

Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast
Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast

The Avalon Hill team went to great lengths to make every component in the box feel like part of the game world, including adding blood spatters to the in-game currency.

Last, but not least, Axis & Allies and Zombies will include a completely revised set of scientific advancements, which players have the chance to earn by paying a research fee and rolling the dice. But instead of strategic bombers and V2 rockets to attack neighboring countries, Van Essen and his team focused their attention on the zombie horde instead. New advancements include chainsaw tanks, zombie mind control, super-powerful Z-4 explosives and the Zombie Impervious Bite Resistant Armor, aka the ZIBRA suit.

One of his favorites is the “deadnapper convoy.” That turns humble, unarmed transport ships into zombie vessels that can be used to ferry the undead into enemy territory.

The final product will feature 215 miniatures, including a full host of zombies in three different sculpts. The base game, just like the original, accommodates up to five players and can be played in about three hours. It will also include a special two-player scenario that’s aimed at on-boarding new players. As a bonus, Axis & Allies and Zombies will also include rules and components to fully modify Axis & Allies: 1942, allowing fans and collectors to play an even more grand version of the game.

The retail price is set at $40. No release date has been set. The first samples of the final game will be available for fans to try out at this year’s Origins Game Fair, which kicks off June 13 in Columbus, Ohio.

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