Update August 4, 2008: Avalon Hill has decided to shut down Gleemax.
Several weeks ago Avalon Hill launched an online version of Axis &
Allies Revised Edtion on the Wizards of the Coast Gleemax Alpha portal
site. It wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to log on and
try out a game. The following article is feedback that I have about the
Gleemax Axis & Allies board game.
First, I would like to applaud Avalon Hill for making this game
available for online play. It appears that the work was not done in
house, which is a very good thing because Avalon HIll is a board game
company and not a game software development company. It appears that
the company that developed the game is GameTable Online (www.gametableonline.com),
a site dedicated to enabling board game play online. The following
forums post references this fact and makes the annoucement of the
availability of the game
Below, I go through the good and the bad of the online game. I
understand that the game is still in beta but I think it is still
important to report the flaws and bugs along with what works well. Finally, at the end i list a few tips for using the online game.
What is Good
It’s online. First the existence of this game in the online
form, as opposed to a PC-CD game, helps ensure (but doesn’t guarantee)
that as long as people are playing it, bugs will be fixed and new
features will be developed. The other obvious advantage of this being
online and software based, it is easy to start a game, no setup of
pieces necessary. Being online the game allows you play with up to 5
players or you can opt to play solo.
The graphics. Since this is an officially developed version of the game, the graphics look great, just like the actual game board.
The interface and features. The user interface is mostly
intuitive and easy to use. If you are familiar with the game, it
doesn’t take very long to understand how to play. The chat room to find
opponents is exactly as you would expect it to be. In game, it appears
that you can either text chat with everybody or just your teammates. I
have not yet tried this because I could not find any human opponents.
During battles the game will sometimes predict which casualties you
want to remove and allow you to change or confirm. Other times it does
not. Other items like battleship bombardment and submarine submerging
are also dealt with intuitively. Loading and unloading of units from
transports is a little tricky and, in timed games, time-consuming but
it makes and makes it easier to assign which units to put on which
transports and in this manner it is easier than TripleA. Another great
feature is timed play. You can either allow unlimited time or between 1
and 3 minutes for each phase.
It’s Free. While in beta, the game is free to play. I don’t expect that to last long but hopefully they’ll still have a free version to sample and a pay version that is fully featured. From the looks of Game Table Online if and when Wizards starts charging it’ll probably be on the order of $5/month for all of the games. Please note, this estimate of $5/month is purely wild speculation but would be what I might be willing to pay, especially if they address the concerns I have below.
What Needs Improvement
I realize the game is beta but without addressing some of the
following concerns even I won’t pay for a subscription to this service (if
and when they start charging). I can’t speak for all of the play by
forum users on Axis and Allies.org but I imagine that they too would
require some of these features otherwise you might as well stick with
what works and is free.
Zoom. The game does not have a way to zoom in and out of the map. There is a tiny map and the regular map but no way to go in between.
What’s going on? During your opponent’s turn the game will show
you what is happening but unless you are on the part of the screen
where the action is happening you have no idea what is going on. At the
end of my first turn as Germany, the UK started moving naval units in
on Japan. Since I was still looking at Europe I had no idea what was
happening in Asia. Furthermore, the history log of what is happening is
very limited so you don’t even have the option to go back and read what
your opponent moved during their turn. This is especially important if
you go away from the keyboard for a moment and need to catch up to the
Bidding. All tournament play, whether it is here on Axis and
Allies.org, at Origins, Gen Con, or other conventions, have some sort
of bid to chose who plays what side. Personally, I wouldn’t even play a
friendly game without a bid. This feature is included in TripleA and
should be an option for the Game Table Online version. It should be
flexible enough where you can either use the game to submit bids and
let the game determine who won the bid or you can manually decide what
the bid is. The later is important if you want to use a different bid
system or you want to try something crazy like bidding 12 for Axis.
Rules. This is probably more applicable when playing against the
computer but it is important to allow certain rules to be adjusted. The
primary one is turning off weapons development. Again for tournament
play, weapons development is not allowed. If I’m not playing with the
rule, I just don’t want to see it.
Dice. The game does not show you the dice in enough detail.
You’ll see all of the dice but it does not break down which dice were
thrown for which units. This is just a nice to have.
Timed play. You can either play the game in timed mode or in
unlimited mode. The problem is that 3 minutes is about as fast as you
can do a turn. My computer is fairly fast and the interface was still a
little sluggish. This combined with some moves (like transports) taking
a little extra time means that even at 3 minutes I was running out of
time. We need at least 5, 10, and 15, minute options.
Can we finish later? The answer is no, you have to sit down for
3 to 5 hours and finish your game or you won’t get any pudding! But
seriously, Axis & Allies is a long game and unless you’re going to
set aside 4 hours to play there needs to be a way to save and resume
games later. The other fact of life that necessitates this more than
convenience is the fact that computers sometimes crash or connections
are lost. If you, one, or all of you opponents crash, lose
connectivity, or otherwise leave the game there needs to be a way to
resume the game.
Bugs. Sure it’s beta but here are some bugs that I experienced that you can expect. There might be more but this is what I found.
- The game just doesn’t work on Mac OS X 10.5.2 using the latest
Java with neither Firefox 2, Safari, nor Opera. I’ll try again next
Tuesday, June 17 with with Firefox 3, when it is released.
- Could not move an aircraft carrier in non-combat if it was not
moved in combat but a fighter was launched from it. For instance, I
moved a fighter from an aircraft carrier in sz50 to sz52 but did not
move the AC. On non-combat movement, I could not move the AC.
- The controlling country is not able to move a captured AA gun
even after the territory has been held for more than one turn. For
instance, Japan captured India and on the follow Japan turn I could not
move the AA gun into French Indo-China.
I don’t have too many tips about the game but I thought these might be useful.
- For timed games, use the time for weapons development and
purchases to plan out what you will do for you combat moves. Don’t play
timed games for less than 3 minutes.
- To tank blitz right click the destination and then left click to
choose which path to take. The solid red line is the blitz path.
- For an industrial bombing, you’ll see a different icon next to
the territory name. Click on that icon to bomb the industrial complex
before attacking the territroy.