Simplicity in House Rules…


  • '16 '15 '14 Customizer

    Recently I noticed this chart that was posted on Facebook. It was made by Silver Oak Casino and the title of the chart is “How to Choose the Perfect Board Game.”

    It began with this introduction:

    "If you’ve finally gotten a group together for a game night — or if it’s family game time — and you have no idea what to play, this chart can help.

    The flow chart, from Silver Oak Online Casino, is pretty extensive and covers a wide range of games. It has the classics, including Monopoly and Life, as well as the more intense stuff, such as Arkham Horror and Carcassonne. It even includes card games like Cribbage and party games like Twister. It narrows things down by age, play time and what style of game everyone is into. So start at the top and see where you and your group end up."

    The link is here for a sharper image: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/01/pick-the-best-board-game-to-play-in-any-situation-with-this-flow-chart/

    I will post the chart here - look where Axis and Allies is:

    Notice it is under the box “Hardest Rules Ever.”

    I was surprised that Axis and Allies has gotten this reputation. I would imagine it is a far cry from what Larry Harris originally wanted. In a post on his website from November of 2008, Larry Harris said:

    “A game with too many complexities can hurt sales and discourage first time players from ever getting involved in a game in the first place. This all is of course a bit ironic when considering the fact that I designed A&A with simplicity in mind. I personally was feed up with only being able to find very complex simulation games that were around at the time I designed A&A. Whether or not A&A is too complex is always in the back of my head when designing the different variants of the game.”

    When designing game rules there is always a conflict between realism and simplicity. World War II was a huge conflict, arguably the biggest in the history of mankind. The variables involved with equipment, economies, politics etc. approach infinity I’m sure. Game designers are attempting to shrink all of this down to a table top.

    It seems the more realism you introduce into the game, the more complicated the rules get, and the less people want to play it. I have copies of “Third Reich” and “Panzer Blitz” on my shelves, which are considered pretty realistic games, but nobody wants to play them.

    So I think the defining word in a good set of rules, whether official or house rules, would be simplicity. If you have a simple Axis and Allies rule vs. a more realistic but more complicated Axis and Allies rule, perhaps the simple rule is the way to go.

    Indeed, Larry Harris said  “I always wanted to error on the side of simplicity rather than complications.” (2005)



  • Great post, and thanks for sharing that chart… I always try to keep my house rules simple and in line with game mechanics that already exist in the regular rules. As for Larry’s comments… I think classic edition was a very condensed board game with only a handful of units to represent everything in the war. Sure it was more complicated than risk, but it’s also 10X more fun. The editions that came later (especially anniversary edition and 1940 global) was driven by the hardcore fans of Classic A&A. In the 80s the populous had their little “game of high adventure” to be played “in a few short hours”, but now it was time to up the anti as far as the true fans were concerned, and it’s the whole A&A franchise that gets labeled as “hard as hell to play” not the first cookie cutter edition from Milton Bradley. Also, these are different times now, back then the board game market was expected to sink from the weight of the new video game craze, and all the new “arcades” that were popping up. The Milton Bradley series (Axis & Allies, Shogun, and Fortress America) was aimed at the masses to try and compete with Atari, and Nintendo, and therefore needed to be exciting as well as easy to learn.

    Now that society is spit into so many scenes, clicks, bubbles, trends, cells, etc… that boards games have evolved into the “I don’t care if I’m popular” attitude, because “I have enough fans who love me”. Ironically board games which were incredibly popular in the 70’s in contrast to the “computer geeks” at Atari who were inventing pong and astroids, have now inverted to having the huge “cult following”, while the obscure and difficult to own video games have become the popular drama queens of our modern times fighting for popularity. It has become cool to play board games again, just for the fact that everyone is climbing over each other to play the next “Call of Duty”. However, there’s nothing cool about Monopoly, Sorry, or the Game of Life… board games today are sophisticated and challenging, board gamers and especially A&A players should never be apologetic for learning and playing such a “hard as hell” game. We had the simplistic years with Classic edition when we had to share our passion with millions of people, now we get to play more complex rules with bigger editions… so I say screw popularity, A&A has never been better in my opinion.


  • Customizer

    I’m at work right now but love your post DK and I just had to drop something quick on this topic. I still love A&A but recently I have been expanding my games collection rapidly. I will expound on that in a further post (s).


  • Customizer

    @Young:

    Great post, and thanks for sharing that chart… I always try to keep my house rules simple and in line with game mechanics that already exist in the regular rules. As for Larry’s comments… I think classic edition was a very condensed board game with only a handful of units to represent everything in the war. Sure it was more complicated than risk, but it’s also 10X more fun. The editions that came later (especially anniversary edition and 1940 global) was driven by the hardcore fans of Classic A&A. In the 80s the populous had their little “game of high adventure” to be played “in a few short hours”, but now it was time to up the anti as far as the true fans were concerned, and it’s the whole A&A franchise that gets labeled as “hard as hell to play” not the first cookie cutter edition from Milton Bradley. Also, these are different times now, back then the board game market was expected to sink from the weight of the new video game craze, and all the new “arcades” that were popping up. The Milton Bradley series (Axis & Allies, Shogun, and Fortress America) was aimed at the masses to try and compete with Atari, and Nintendo, and therefore needed to be exciting as well as easy to learn.

    Now that society is spit into so many scenes, clicks, bubbles, trends, cells, etc… that boards games have evolved into the “I don’t care if I’m popular” attitude, because “I have enough fans who love me”. Ironically board games which were incredibly popular in the 70’s in contrast to the “computer geeks” at Atari who were inventing pong and astroids, have now inverted to having the huge “cult following”, while the obscure and difficult to own video games have become the popular drama queens of our modern times fighting for popularity. It has become cool to play board games again, just for the fact that everyone is climbing over each other to play the next “Call of Duty”. However, there’s nothing cool about Monopoly, Sorry, or the Game of Life… board games today are sophisticated and challenging, board gamers and especially A&A players should never be apologetic for learning and playing such a “hard as hell” game. We had the simplistic years with Classic edition when we had to share our passion with millions of people, now we get to play more complex rules with bigger editions… so I say screw popularity, A&A has never been better in my opinion.           Â

    I agree with much of what you’re saying YG. Lately though I have really discovered the diversity of today’s gamer and the amount of really great WWII games there are out there. Additionally I have rediscovered Risk! and many, many other really good war/fantasy/sci-fi miniature/board hybrid games. Another discovery I have made is that there is a large number of traditional hex and tile games which are really good; and frankly in some ways, easier to play than my beloved muse Axis & Allies.

    Much of this new perspective and philosophy has come from Axis & Allies clubs themselves. They like many of us who grew up with A&A simply cannot commit a whole day to a session of Global and therefore are expanding into other games for more casual meet-ups, and save Global for a “big event day”. And while I agree with “screwing popularity” and consider A&A as my top game, I have had a VERY difficult time creating a solid group. My best member, and best HR play-tester, is so busy running his business and working his job that even a quick game is hard to schedule. I have five-eight other potential members for a gaming group, but A&A while prominent in our regular line up, will not be an exclusive.

    Last while I LOVE the A&A franchise, Larry really needs to consider the some of the development suggestions that have been made by his inner circle. Yes veterans of the franchise and “power gamers” need the franchise to continue evolving but he also needs to recognize that for the “A&A Army” to survive we need fresh recruits. 1941 IMO didn’t do that. Black Elk in many posts has suggested a simple core set and an advanced set with complimenting expansions. I think many agree and (like myself) have thought of this before. So Larry for SE42 3.0 give us a basic and advanced rule set.

    As for simplicity of play and house rules,

    More to come later…


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Thanks for your post, Der Kunstler, which raises a lot of thought-provoking points about A&A’s status as a board game and about its development over the last 30 or so years.  The November 2008 website post from Larry, in which he says he designed A&A with simplicity in mind, is particularly interesting.  The question of where to strike the balance between realism and playability is, as you’ve said, an issue that all wargame designers have to deal with, and there’s no single right solution because the answer depends a lot on what the game is trying to accomplish and who the intended audience is.

    I don’t own the original 1981 Nova Games version of the game, so I know very little about it, but the Milton Bradley version fits well with the concept of having a fun, fairly simple, easily-playable board game that illustrates (rather than simulates in a strict sense) some of the major elements of WWII.  Once that’s been accomplished by a game designer, however, the question becomes where one goes from there.

    One option is to have the basic game remain fairly static for the rest of its life.  Monopoly and Risk are examples of games that have taken this route.  The rules and mechanisms for the basic versions of these games have changed very little over time, as far as I know, and my guess is that someone who played Monopoly fifty or more years ago could sit down in front of the current version of the basic game and start playing right away without having to learn anything new.  In the basic versions of such games, the main changes that occur over the decades tend to be restricted to the “chrome”(the design of board, the playing pieces, the cards, the money and so forth), while the engine under the hood stays pretty much the same.  There have, of course, been many “brand extensions” of the two games I’ve mentioned, but these have mainly consisted of special editions built around various themes.  Monopoly in particular has spun off a plethora of variants (for instance regional and national versions based on places other than the original Atlantic City location), including a deluxe edition in which the properties were priced in millions of dollars and the traditional fake paper money was replaced by an electronic debit card system.  Fundamentally, however, most or all of these variants work in the same way as the basic game.

    A second option is for a game to be designed as a fairly open-ended system that is infinitely expandable by the addition of extra modules.  Memoir 44 would be one example, and the various A&A Miniatures games (land, sea and air) would be another one.

    A third option is for a game to evolve into a “product line.”  This is the route which A&A has taken so far.  We’ve seen several versions of the basic 5-power WWII A&A board game, and we’ve seen several specialized A&A variant board games that deviate from the basic game in various ways.  (We’ve also seen the A&A brand applied to collectable miniature tactical games and to electronic A&A gaming systems, but I’m only discussing the actual board games here.)  With the exception of Pacific 1940 and Europe 1940, which can be played on their own or combined into Global 1940, all of these A&A board games are self-contained products: many of their sculpts can be transfered from one game to another (as piece junkies like me sometimes do), but their maps and their rules aren’t modular and can’t be combined.

    The conventional 5-power A&A global games and the specialized variants have had an interesting relationship because they’re not entirely separate evolutionary branches; they’ve actually influenced each other a lot, in both directions.  There have been quite a few cases of new unit types and/or new sculpt designs being introduced in one of the specialized variants, and of these pieces then becoming standard features of subsequent games.  A good example is the evolution that took place as A&A progressed from the Milton Bradley version to the Revised version.  The Milton Bradley version (1984) was a global game that involved the 5 major powers of the original Nova Games version.  It had 8 unit types, colour-coded infantry sculpts with nation-specific designs, colour-coded equipment sculpts with generic designs, and neutral-coloured AAA and IC units with generic designs.  It was followed by Europe (1999) and Pacific (2001), the first two specialized A&A variants.  They were more limited than the previous games (they were theatre-level games, not global ones, and neither of them featured on its own all 5 of the big powers), but they dramaticaly upgraded the “chrome” elements: two new unit types (artillery and destroyers) and the introduction of non-generic equipment designs (although some designs were used in common by two or more powers).  Revised (2004) then took the expanded range of unit types and the upgraded sculpts from Europe and Pacific (in which the US and the UK were the only two powers to appear in both games) and combined them into a conventional 5-power global game.

    In terms of the three options I described above, I have no problem with the third-option route that A&A has taken – other than the fact that there currently seems to be a lull in the introduction of new games, and that it’s not clear whether the next developments would be of the conventional 5-power global game type or of the specialized variant type.  Would some combination of the first and second options (which I think is along the lines of what Black Elk has proposed) work better?  I honestly don’t know; it would depend on the specifics, I guess.


  • '16 '15 '14 Customizer

    Well written as usual, CWO Marc! Axis and Allies has really evolved and branched out over the years. Some people like myself enjoy the simpler versions - maybe in a nostalgic nod to the 80’s. Some AA veterans are tired of the same, and enjoy the more complicated versions now. There are enough different versions out there to enjoy it as you like. But I still think one of the general characteristics of the game is/has been simplicity, and that simplicity should still be a major consideration when considering house rules.


  • 2017 '16

    @Der:

    Well written as usual, CWO Marc! Axis and Allies has really evolved and branched out over the years. Some people like myself enjoy the simpler versions - maybe in a nostalgic nod to the 80’s. Some AA veterans are tired of the same, and enjoy the more complicated versions now. There are enough different versions out there to enjoy it as you like. But I still think one of the general characteristics of the game is/has been simplicity, and that simplicity should still be a major consideration when considering house rules.

    I agree for the core game, simplicity is a must. But when talking about house rule, as house rule, it is clearly according to the players’ group taste, more than anything else. House rule, as is, seems often developped to increase the depth and historical details: which means more complexity.

    IMO, the core game of A&A should keep simplicity as the main target.
    But the main criteria to make critics and improve the game will come with some kind of historical inadequacy.
    And this gives the thrive to go further and find a new OOB rule which can gives both world.
    Usually, getting such both worlds will increase the overall experience.

    Besides that, what do you think if any main Axis and Allies game should be a 6-player games (3 Axis including Italy and 3 Allies). It seems to me that it could improve the flow of the game.
    The USA-USSR turn sequence is slowing the pace.
    Mainly because at a 4 players game, it is very often the same player which have to do both in a row.
    It seems bogus.

    Do you think a 6 powers with 4 players will still slowdown the pace?


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Speaking of Monopoly special editions, here’s an interesting one that was just announced (https://uk.news.yahoo.com/bank-error-favour-monopoly-real-notes-france-160912952.html).  For the 80th anniversary of the game’s first appearance in France, manufacturers are issuing 80 special sets that will include real money.  79 sets will contain a mix of real euros and regular Monopoly money, and there will be one grand prize set in which the entire normal package of play money – 20,580 euros in fake currency – will be replaced by real euros.  The 80 lucky sets will be hidden within 30,000 boxes of different editions of the game (classic, junior, electronic and vintage), which in turn will be part of the 500,000 sets sold each year in France alone.

    I can’t help wondering: if A&A were to do something similar, what would the “real” item in the box be?  Real cash instead of IPCs?  (Though I’m not sure “instead” is the right word because the newer A&A games don’t include the paper IPCs that were issued in the earlier games.)


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Baron:

    Besides that, what do you think if any main Axis and Allies game should be a 6-player games (3 Axis including Italy and 3 Allies). It seems to me that it could improve the flow of the game.

    I guess the potential problem is that, as has been noted by YG and others, the Italy player in Europe 1940 and Global 1940 often feels that he’s getting the short end of the stick and that he doesn’t have an interesting enough role.  If he feels short-changed in a big game like 1940, he might well feel even more short-changed in a smaller-scale game like 1942 or 1941.


  • 2017 '16 '15 '14 '12

    @CWO:

    if A&A were to do something similar, what would the “real” item in the box be?

    Europe 1940 third edition will come with a Luger, and Pacific will come with a Colt 1911.  Both include a full magazine.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @variance:

    Europe 1940 third edition will come with a Luger, and Pacific will come with a Colt 1911.  Both include a full magazine.Â

    I bet the two guns will be in the Europe 1940 box and the two magazines will be in the Pacific 1940 box, in order to encourage people to buy both games.


  • 2017 '16 '15

    Custom units for all the armies


  • 2017 '16

    @CWO:

    @Baron:

    Besides that, what do you think if any main Axis and Allies game should be a 6-player games (3 Axis including Italy and 3 Allies). It seems to me that it could improve the flow of the game.

    I guess the potential problem is that, as has been noted by YG and others, the Italy player in Europe 1940 and Global 1940 often feels that he’s getting the short end of the stick and that he doesn’t have an interesting enough role.  If he feels short-changed in a big game like 1940, he might well feel even more short-changed in a smaller-scale game like 1942 or 1941.

    The Convoy Disruption in Adriatic seems almost like a loophole or a bug in G40 version.
    Actually, I was more thinking about A&A 50 Anniversary-type of map and game.
    There is no Convoy Disruption is this game.
    Does those which play on this board get the same issue about Italy?
    Too weak to make it interesting to play this Power?


  • Customizer

    Basically I have two kinds of players I play A&A with. For casual player and family I can con into playing A&A with during the holidays, it’s all about simplicity. When I can get an A&A junkie like myself and one of my brothers playing, we can do complicated HRs. For that middle ground game I use a little of both. Frankly most games I get in, because I only play FTF, are Revised and Classic with 42.2 coming in distant 3rd place. Global with “Toblerone’s House Rules” is solo and experimental.


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