Axis & Allies: War At Sea Review
Axis & Allies: War At Sea
By Wizards of the Coast
Designed by Richard Baker (Lead Designer) and others
Starter $24.99, booster $14.99
I have to admit it; being the goober that I am, I got sucked into the newest, collectible incarnation of Axis & Allies entirely by the miniatures. Being able to assemble squads of pre-painted US, Soviet, Japanese and German forces from World War Two was exciting, and the collecting part was great fun as well. Seeing the potential in this, Wizards of the Coast set about working on a set of naval warfare rules to bring the most globe-spanning conflict ever to the world’s waterways in miniature. Thus Axis & Allies: War at Sea was born.
Sequence of play begins with determining initiative for that turn; high roller wins and moves second; the advantage of being able to place your units in reaction to your opponent’s placement is highly desirable. Players take turns moving their various aircraft and ships and firing their weapons at eligible enemy targets. Typical scenarios have three objective markers on the board, each with a value of 50 points. The winner is the first to amass 150 or more victory points from collecting objective markers and by eliminating enemy forces.
To attack, players roll a number of dice according to the relative strength of the weapon used, and each result of 4, 5, or 6 is considered a hit. A roll of 4 or 5 counts as one hull damage, while a six counts as two; submarines only hit on a 6. If the attacking player scores more hits than the armor value of the target, then one point of hull damage is scored. With the exception of a few heavily armored battleships and carriers, ships have between one and four points of hull armor. If you score more hits in a single attack than the ship’s Vital Armor rating, you’ve sent her to the bottom with one roll of the dice, or more poetically, with one well-aimed shot. Larger, more heavily-armed vessels have multiple weapons at their disposal, and may also direct each weapon at a different eligible target.
Attacks within a given phase are considered to be simultaneous for the most part, though Sub attacks using torpedoes are calculated in a later, separate phase from aircraft attacks and surface attacks, so it’s not only possible but likely that subs will be sunk before they have a chance to fire. This is a major drawback of the rules; given the nature of submarine warfare, this design choice seems a gross oversimplification for convenience’s sake, but I’m also not an expert in naval warfare so perhaps it makes more sense to those better informed than I.
Starter Sets include nine models and their matching stat cards (guaranteed at least three Axis and three Allies in the mix); two large maps overlaid with a grid of 3-1/2-inch squares in staggered lines; island/fog bank tiles; damage markers; dice; quick-start rule booklet; and the advanced rulebook, including aircraft rules. Boosters include five random miniatures and their stat cards. With 64 different vessels to collect from among seven different factions, players will easily be drawn into collecting the whole set. While many hard-core gamers don’t find the collectible aspect palatable, it cannot be denied that these handsome models would work well for other naval war rules, though the relative scale of these large ships may require a bit of fiddling to make things work out. Another strong point to this game is that it represents a good introduction to naval warfare strategy, giving new players an interest that can be encouraged and developed by more veteran gamers. After all, the hobby is graying a bit; having fresh faces on the scene is ultimately a desirable goal.
The components for War at Sea are nicely detailed and well painted; the gun turrets rotate on the larger ships; the maps and supplementary tiles are handsomely designed and attractively illustrated; the rules are clear with good examples of play given; play is easy and straightforward, and while there are a few aspects that could be improved, War at Sea is a decent and highly accessible game that should capture the imagination of armchair admirals everywhere.