I looked at the Polygon article and these four paragraphs caught my eye:
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
What this seems to imply, in my opinion, is that the zombies are basically there as an annoyance factor. Their job is to gum up the works in two basic ways: by preventing you from doing things that you want to do (“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.”) and by forcing you to do things that you don’t want to do (“suddenly there’s a zombie in Brazil that’s taking your income away. You’ve got to go down and fight it.”). A third potential annoyance effect has to do with unit purchases: from tha part that says “every time an infantry unit dies it will turn into a unit of zombies”, it sounds as if players may come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t buy any infantry at all in order to mininize the zombie-fication annoyance effect. If so, perhaps that’s the actual anti-turtling mechanism that the game supposedly introduces into the A&A universe: make it counterproductive to buy infantry units in the first place.
The part which says that the game “opens up new avenues of advance on virtually every front” is a strange statement because it sounds to me as if the zombie-fication of territories actually restricts movement rather than opening it up. Unless, of course, the designers regard “opens up new avenues of advance” as meaning “discourages you from going where you want to go and forces you to go where you don’t want to go,” which isn’t the definition I’d apply to the concept of opening things up.
I’m also wondering about the game’s victory conditions. It sounds to me as if the players are actually better off fighting the zombies rather than each other, and I’m wondering if the designers intend for the players to come to that conclusion on their own – kind of like those scenes towards the end of Independence Day in which the world’s military powers (including various countries which are traditional enemies) realize that they need to set their diferences aside and work together on a global scale to defeat the common threat of the alien invaders. So perhaps this game should really be called Axis & Allies vs. Zombies, at least in some sort of house-ruled version.