Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews


  • 2020 2019 2018

    EDIT: Forgot links to the interviews. Whoops!

    Part 1: https://www.axisandallies.org/p/qa-axis-allies-zombies-game-designer-scott-van-essen-part-1/

    Part 2: https://www.axisandallies.org/p/qa-with-axis-allies-zombies-game-designer-scott-van-essen-part-2/

    As part 2 of DJensen’s interview with Scott Van Essen is now up, I think now would be a good time to take a look at his answers and see what we can gleam from them. What I’m interested in is:

    • Did WOTC know/care/acknowledge that releasing AAZ has caused a rift in the community?

    • Did the game actually sell well (I doubt we’ll ever get a true answer to this)?

    • Did WOTC just make the Zombie theme to be trendy?

    • Is A&A dead?

    • Is A&A condemned to exist only in the form gimmick-laden and/or “casual-friendly” editions forever?

    • How did WOTC balance the game?

    Anyway, my next two posts will step through each interview part. If I don’t mention something it’s because it’s not of interest to me, but please feel free to make this a general discussion on this interview series. Just because I don’t care about something in the interview doesn’t mean it’s not fair game for discussion.


  • 2020 2019 2018

    Part 1

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    Scott Van Essen: At his first all-hands meeting, our (then new) president Chris Cocks (who is a huge fan of Axis & Allies) said (paraphrasing) “we should try new things and push the envelope, like what if we did Axis & Allies … and ZOMBIES?” As it turns out, we had been bouncing that idea around the office for years, so that little nudge was all we needed to put together a team to do some exploratory design. As it turns out, it didn’t take us long to figure out that we were onto something really fun.

    I almost think that Chris Cocks said the Zombie bit as a joke, and everyone just kind of went with it. I was expecting some well-thought out plan about bringing in a younger audience but this is just silly.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    Initial design went for several months. We would try new mechanics for a couple games or even just a few turns. We very quickly got to the core three mechanics (destroyed units turn into zombies, cards drop zombies all over the map, and the zombie attack dice). The first two went through several iterations I’ll discuss in more detail later. The dice were almost unchanged from Ryan’s brain to the box. At first, the zombie dice had two ‘A’ sides, two ‘D’ sides, and two blank sides. That was a bit too lethal, and we strongly considered going to 8- or 12-sided dice to adjust. We realized that having a bias against the attacker brought the lethality level down to the right spot and set us up for my favorite dichotomy—that zombies are helpful to the defender in the short term, but harmful in the long term.

    Honestly, I would have probably preferred the added “lethality” (which is not a real word, apparently). It would have certainly gone a ways towards accomplishing the stated goal of “breaking the typical A&A stalemate”.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    There wasn’t nearly enough cost to having zombies everywhere. I wanted there to be a constant risk and drain on your resources when they were around and for players to need to clear them out. We added the zombie attack phase and put an IPC symbol on the dice. Now, when the zombies attacked, if they hit a D, they hit your troops, but if they hit an IPC, you lost the money, representing the economic damage that comes from zombies in your town. This was a fantastic concept but an awful execution. First, it was very fiddly. You’re constantly making change and taking IPCs away one at a time. The second was that it created weird situations where zombies could drain you for more than the value of the territory they were occupying. I wrestled with this problem for a while before I got to the idea of zombies capturing territories. This was one of those moments where the game crystalizes. Whole sections of rules evaporated as we realized that we could rely on the systems that the core game provided to us…

    It’s a shame they didn’t study the “core rules” more, because they could have saved themselves a lot of grief by basing the Zombies off the Convoy Rules from G40. Something like having each Zombie in a territory lower its IPC value by 1, up to the value of the territory. Again, this would have helped “speed up and streamline” the game, as the income levels of each country would be crippled quickly if the Zombies were left unchecked.

    Scott Van Essen said:

    She and Creative Director Shauna Narciso looked to take the best elements from previous versions of the game, but they were particularly excited by the Revised Edition (2004) map with its bold colors, rich palate, and strong easy to read lines.

    At least the graphic designers had good taste. Revised has the best map aesthetic in the series, hands-down. Zombies is close, but the stupid blood splotches kill it for me.

    Scott Van Essen said:

    This felt so obviously right that we initially tried to get by with only that mechanic. Unfortunately this led to way too many Zombies on the German-Russian Front and in East Asia, and far too few Zombies everywhere else. So, we made zombies only come from Infantry units rather than all types, which got us to the correct generation rate, and we added card-based deployment of zombies to spread them all over the map and push players to fight everywhere.

    Funny that the problem with the Ostfront and mainland Asia still plagues the finished product and is a huge component of the overall balance problem with this game. Perhaps they should have done a bit more balance tweaking prior to launch.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    Our creative direction on the game was that these were not “viral/infectious zombies”, but instead were “dark magic” zombies, so the second iteration of the cards had the concept of portals to the underworld that were popping up all over the world. Each of these portals had a 1-in-6 chance of spawning a zombie each turn, and the zombies could spill over into adjacent territories. This required additional pieces and a lot more rules, but more importantly the play was wrong. Instead of players rushing to portals to close them, they just wrote that territory off as forever lost.

    Given that the mere existence of the Zombies got half the community’s panties (am I allowed to say “panties”?) in a collective knot, I wonder how bad the outrage would have been if they actually went with this concept. It sounds like something straight out of DOOM.

    The other aborted ideas here make me think that the finished product is so much better than what we could have wound up with.


  • 2020 2019 2018

    Part 2
    Scott Van Essen Said:

    SVE: The initial concept for the zombie apocalypse was in fact exactly that. At the apocalypse threshold (which moved around a bit before landing on 25 IPCs), the game was over and everybody lost. The hope was that this would create some pressures in the game where enemies would be forced to work together against a common enemy. Initially, this worked exactly how we hoped it would, but as we broadened out to a larger group of playtesters we discovered a problem. Some players, when faced with a losing position on the board, get a mentality of “if I can’t win, neither can you.” It turns out that in Axis & Allies & Zombies, it is really easy to turn your own territories into a zombie wasteland. Just make a few suicidal attacks, then move your troops out of any territory that does have zombies and you can quickly and artificially inflate the zombie income to well above the apocalypse threshold. These games weren’t too common but they were very frustrating for the players who had been winning because there really wasn’t any counterplay. It was with some sadness that we cut the mechanic, because we loved the flavor.

    That wasn’t the end of the story though. After you’ve played the game a few times, you’ll learn the importance of “cleaning up your backyard”. That is, eliminating zombies and recapturing zombie-controlled territories that are far from the front. As I mentioned above, the drain on your economy is almost invisible until it suddenly not. After cutting the Zombie apocalypse rule, many games were unchanged. We didn’t get close enough to the threshold to be relevant. However, once in a while one or both players got lazy about keeping the zombies under control, or were just so hard pressed that they didn’t think they could afford the distraction. What found ourselves running into that critical point where you have lost so many territories and your income is so low that it’s almost impossible to keep up with the zombies. Even if you’re barely fighting your opponent, the zombies are still picking off your troops and you can’t even build a large enough force to start recapturing territories. Let me tell you, this is a miserable feeling and an interminable stalemate. So, we brought back the Zombie Apocalypse rule with one key difference. Instead of everybody losing, now it’s sort of everybody loses BUT one team loses less. (Or you could say that one team only wins a little bit, but optimists are scarce in the Zombie Apocalypse). The key was to set up the rules of the apocalypse such that intentionally bringing on the Zombie Apocalypse makes you more likely to lose under the alternate victory conditions.

    They were so bloody close on the Zombie Apocalypse rules. They really were.

    How did they notice that players were keen on intentionally forcing a draw via Zombie Apocalypse, but missed that the Allies can just force an Apocalypse and win on IPCs whenever they want?

    Again, I feel that they did not balance test the game enough prior to release. If they took another 4-6 months to do a little more tweaking they really could have had a well-balanced game.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    Problem 1 – I wanted China to have a low level of production so that there could be several turns of fighting for Japan to work all the way through, and for there to be a real cost if Japan chose to ignore China. Several of our other versions of the game do this and I like the dynamic it creates. It usually ends up with a variant of China spontaneously generating infantry in one of their uncaptured territories. Pumping out more infantry also does great job of introducing more zombies to that theater, so I was heavily motivated to include this. I was OK with a variant of the version that’s in Axis & Allies Anniversary edition, but I was hoping to find something simpler.

    They hit the nail on the head with the Recruitment Centers. Especially in China. I love Larry to death but the China rules in AA50 were incredibly over-complicated for no real reason. I get that it was to represent Guerilla warfare but G40 handled that much better (although I still wish the Chinese were actually allowed to leave China).

    Scott Van Essen:

    Problem 3 – India. This was the biggest challenge, and also the one whose solution let me roll up the other two. In versions of A&A where you can purchase industrial complexes, I love that a common UK strategy is to have globalized production and to be able to fight in all theaters. Given that we were printing complexes on the board, I wanted to preserve this as an option for players, which was why we put complexes in India and Australia. At the IPC scale of our board, India really wanted to have an IPC value of 2 to be commensurate with similar territories on the board and to be a territory that Japan really wants to capture. The problem was that being able to produce two units per turn made this a “must capture” territory. All of the fighting in East Asia was focusing on whether or not Japan could successfully capture India and it added too much “swing” to that territory. Basically, too much of the outcome of the game came down to whether UK could hold India or Japan was successful in taking it, which resulted in a very one-dimensional strategy in that part of the map, with both players dumping maximal resources into one axis of battle. When we reduced India’s IPC value to 1 the region played much better (it was an objective worth fighting over, but it was also valid for either side to ignore the territory and focus their efforts elsewhere). The problem was, it just felt wrong to have India at 1 IPC and the only other option was to not have a complex at all. We often joke in R&D about how being limited to integers to represent attributes in our games sometimes gives us odd challenges (“Let’s see, 2 is too high, but 1 is way too low. Can we do 1.7?”). In this case, I really was trying to find a way to be somewhere between 1 and 2. Obviously, we weren’t going to go to fractions here, so I started thinking about some kind of limited capacity industrial complex. As soon as I thought of that, I realized that India in the 1940s was not very industrialized, but did mobilize a large army in the war, so the idea of the “Infantry Only Industrial Complex” (quickly concepted as a Recruitment Center) was a perfect fit. It only took one playtest to realize that it was perfect for India and not much longer to figure out that I had solved my first two problems as an added bonus. The neat little bow on this solution was that it had a strong creative tie and could be communicated with a simple icon and a single sentence in the rulebook.

    I don’t think the developers understand Geography and actual History very well. There are good reasons why India is an extremely valuable territory, and why the British called it the “Crown Jewel” of their Empire. India should be the main focus of the SEA Theater and be Japan’s primary target in the Pacific.

    Even with the recruitment center, Japan’s strategy will still revolve around capturing India. It just becomes a bit easier for them to accomplish that goal with the UK only able to spawn INF there.

    DJensen said:

    DJ: Some key A&A rules changes were introduced, like eliminating the purchase phase and no friendly fighters on your carriers. What’s the reasoning behind these changes?

    I don’t think DJensen intended this, but this ended up being the most vital question that exposed the most (at least as far as I’m concerned). Thanks for your diligence in getting this interview done.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    SVE: Axis & Allies is a deep and rewarding game, one you can spend a lifetime enjoying (who has two thumbs and could be labeled “Exhibit 1”? This guy). The biggest challenge isn’t making a game that an existing Axis & Allies player will love…

    Given that basically the entire community has already abandoned this game and returned to G40, I’d argue that it’s pretty challenging for WOTC to come up with a game that appeals to A&A Players.

    , it’s making a game that will create new Axis & Allies players. The two most important tasks in support of that goal are increasing “curb appeal” and decreasing barrier to entry. Grossly simplified, if the curb appeal is enough to get a prospective player over the barrier to entry, then they will sample the game. That’s the first step towards creating a new player.

    They tried decreasing the barrier to entry with 41. I don’t recall that going particularly well. Also; how in the world is adding a moderately complicated mechanic (zombies) “lowering the barrier to entry?”

    Now, we felt that this new game would have excellent curb appeal. Zombies have been a big part of popular culture for nearly a decade and there are many players who love zombies and zombie games. When combined with the established pedigree of a nearly 35 year old brand, we were confident that the game would be inviting to players both new and old. Our real concern was barrier to entry, which came in a couple of forms.

    People who were ~20 and in college or whatever when AAC came out would be ~55 now. I’m not aware on any 55 year-olds who are super into Zombies…

    In fact, wargamers in general don’t strike me as the type to be big on Zombies. A&A already gets tons of flack for “not being historically accurate enough”.

    I get trying to make a new wargame for a new generation, but I have to agree with a point the naysayers made on this one. Did they really need to hijack the A&A brand for this experiment? Couldn’t they have just made a Walking Dead war game instead?

    Next is complexity, and this can be the real killer if you’re not careful. If people can’t figure out how to play their first game, they almost never come back to give it another shot. We call this “bouncing off the game”, and we do a lot of work to keep this from happening. A game like Axis & Allies has a lot of rules and a lot of special cases and exceptions, every one of which was intended to either improve the balance of the game, increase the fun of the game, or make it feel more historical and realistic. The challenge is that even though each individual rule might make sense, in aggregate they can be overwhelming. For new players, each new rule or exception increases the barrier to understanding exponentially, so we have to evaluate them as a whole and not individually, especially for a game that is focused on the acquisition of new players.

    In the case of the rules that let you share carriers and transports with your allies, we found that removing them saved more than half a page out of the rulebook and it made multiple sections that had been riddled with special cases and exceptions flow much more clearly. The clincher when I was weighing whether to cut those rules was when I realized that in the dozens upon dozens of playtest games I had played in and observed, I had never seen either of those rules used. That being said, since the majority of the cost of including those rules is in learning complexity, we included a note in the quick start rules inviting people to bring them back in if they so desire.

    In the case of moving the Purchase Units phase, we found that it was a pretty hefty tax on newer players that had little strategic interest for experienced players. A veteran player is able to plot out their turn in their head fairly easily and deduce what they will want to have purchased by the end of the turn, and it is rare that there are large enough surprises during the turn that would either reward shrewd purchasing predictions or create novel situations out of suddenly suboptimal purchases. Meanwhile, for a new player the early purchase phase commits the dual sin of making a player “do their homework” before getting to the fun part, and making your turn take longer. Even one or two extra minutes in each purchasing phase can add more than half an hour to the play time of a 5 to 6 turn game. Additionally, one of our Desperate Measures events (Salvage Operation) gave bonus IPCs during the turn, and we found that people were much more aggressive about going after zombies if they were able to spend the money immediately rather than waiting a turn.

    All of this, on the other hand, is brilliant. Sharing Carriers/Transports is needless complexity, and I’ve hated the SBR rules they’ve used from AA50-on (“Damaging Facilities” Vs. the pure IPC drain from AAC-Revised).

    DJensen and Scott Van Essen said:

    DJ: If and when new versions of A&A are released (I think Axis & Allies 1942 3rd Edition would be awesome), would some of the new rules be introduced? Recruitment centers? Combined purchase & deployment? No friendly fighters on your carriers? No friendly units on your transports? Event cards?

    SVE: If the new mechanics and rules are successful, then they are definitely candidates for future versions of the game. The criteria is always what is best for the game and what is best for the players. Every new tool in our toolbox is an opportunity to make each individual version the best it can be, but there is also value in having consistency between different incarnations of the game. We’ll evaluate the new mechanics and rules based on both of those criteria.

    It’s a shame we got a stale, politically correct, empty shell of an answer on this. That’s corporate politics, I guess.

    Scott Van Essen Said:

    There were some fun moments during the focus groups. My favorite was when watching a father-daughter pair play. She had made a suboptimal attack and her dad pointed out she was probably going to lose the battle. She—with a huge grin on her face—said “I don’t care, I’m making ZAMBIES!!!”

    I fear for the future of our society, and for Western Civilization as a whole…


  • 2020 2019 2018

    Honestly, how are you even supposed to interpret that answer about “future versions of A&A”?

    It doesn’t even assert whether there will be another A&A game or not.

    Just get Larry back in your “toolbox,” geez.



  • @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    It’s a shame they didn’t study the “core rules” more, because they could have saved themselves a lot of grief by basing the Zombies off the Convoy Rules from G40. Something like having each Zombie in a territory lower its IPC value by 1, up to the value of the territory.

    Personally I think this had also be a good approach. But this means each player must count the number of Zs. And even more: check if the number of Zs is bigger than the IPC value of that area.

    @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    The other aborted ideas here make me think that the finished product is so much better than what we could have wound up with.

    Which ideas you refer to? And why you think this is the case?



  • OK, this is a bit what-if-y but:

    Scott van Essen said:

    In the case of the rules that let you share carriers and transports with your allies, we found that removing them saved more than half a page out of the rulebook and it made multiple sections that had been riddled with special cases and exceptions flow much more clearly. The clincher when I was weighing whether to cut those rules was when I realized that in the dozens upon dozens of playtest games I had played in and observed, I had never seen either of those rules used. That being said, since the majority of the cost of including those rules is in learning complexity, we included a note in the quick start rules inviting people to bring them back in if they so desire.

    OK, so say you will play with this ‘using allies transports’ rule. Then what about Technology 5: transporting Zs with your transport ?
    I think the important thing to notice here is: who has this transport techology? That player can MOVE these Zs during its turn I would say. The other player (which does not have to have this technology) can load and unload these Zs during its own turn.

    So I suggest that the player moving these Zs onto a transport does not have to have this technology. While the player moving his or her transport must have this technology.



  • @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    DJ: If and when new versions of A&A are released (I think Axis & Allies 1942 3rd Edition would be awesome), would some of the new rules be introduced? Recruitment centers? Combined purchase & deployment? No friendly fighters on your carriers? No friendly units on your transports? Event cards?

    Regarding Event Cards: I personally would like to see an Events Cards expansion for the standard version of Axis and Allies. For now this is A&A 1942 Second Edition of course.
    My friends and I thought about this in the early days (1990s) a lot. Why not simply add a deck of cards to the game. Would be rather cheap to produce by MB/Hasbro.

    Even more off-topic: I never understond MB/Hasbro never came up with a simple ‘cruisers and artillery’ expansion. Just adding cruisers (or destroyers or escorts) and artillery to the Axis and Allies Classic game. Rather cheap to produce and I am sure many people would be willing to purchase such an expansion in the late 1980s or 1990s.



  • Good questions, I’m going to give them a shot.

    @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    • Did WOTC know/care/acknowledge that releasing AAZ has caused a rift in the community?

    I didn’t see any acknowledgement of this in the interview. I’m speculating that they knew and didn’t care.

    • Did the game actually sell well (I doubt we’ll ever get a true answer to this)?

    The closest thing I can find is on Amazon dot com, where as of today 2/9/19, AAZ is rated #616 in the top selling board games category. By comparison, here are rankings for other AA games:

    AA50 reissue is currently ranked #314 in the top selling board games category.
    AA Europe 1940 2nd edition is #1,059.
    AA 1942 2nd edition is #1,102.

    So Zombies seems to be about the middle of the pack right now. It was probably selling faster when it was first released. I’m not surprised AA50 reissue is still selling more, that one’s the best.

    • Did WOTC just make the Zombie theme to be trendy?

    Totally yes, and to sell more copies. They seem proud of it, and I think they should be. Having a variety of options within a franchise is a good strategy to maximize market penetration and of course revenue.

    Zombies are hot right now and consumers want zombie content. Also, you can attract more people into the wargame genre this way. Personally I think it was a good move. AAZ renewed my interest in the AA franchise, and after receiving and enjoying AAZ, I decided to purchase my first AAG 1940 2nd edition set. I even started spending money at HBG for the first time ever, so my money bled all the way from casual AAZ to HBG upgrades and addons. Even HBG made zombie and Atlantis fantasy expansions for Global War 1939, so the hardcore developers seem to want a piece of the pie, too.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the release of AAZ pumped up the sales of other AA sets, particularly AA50 reissue. I can’t be the only one who got sucked in.

    • Is A&A dead?

    I bet sales are up right now across the entire AA franchise thanks to AAZ. More importantly, wargaming in general seems to be alive and kicking. The hardcore wargaming crowd has more options than ever from what I can see. The internet is making niche and deep wargames more available to the hardcore consumer. Even 3D printed sets are now available that are compatible across multiple games, including AAG 1940.

    • Is A&A condemned to exist only in the form gimmick-laden and/or “casual-friendly” editions forever?

    Remember that AA50 reissue is the hottest selling AA game right now, and that’s hardly a gimmicky/casual version.

    I doubt Avalon Hill will try to compete with the depth and complexity of Global War 1939, But after releasing AAZ they will probably revisit a more complex/traditional game in the lineup, maybe do an AA1942 3rd edition, or maybe an AAG 1940 3rd edition.

    I also read somewhere that Avalon Hill wants to publish a new AA console/computer video game. I’m guessing it would be simpler than AAG 1940. Would an AA game on the Xbox/PS be embraced or rejected by the hardcore wargamer crowd? Would it be popular with the casual console gamer crowd and maybe bring some of them deeper into the wargaming scene?

    • How did WOTC balance the game?

    They claim to have done lots of playtesting but I think the Axis have an advantage thanks to the rule that only 1 capital needs to be captured to win.

    The rules say that 1 captured capital ends the game, and Moscow is usually captured easily. I quickly implemented a house rule that says 2 capitals need to be captured to win. This gives more balance and the allies are more likely to win this way (it also gives the zombies a bigger chance to win), but it increases the game time by at least a few hours. I think Avalon Hill did the 1 capital wins rule to keep it light, short, and accessible. The AAZ rulebook invites bringing in rules from other games in the AA franchise so I think a 2 capitals wins house rule is a good way for more experienced players to go.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    @thrasher1 said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    Even more off-topic: I never understond MB/Hasbro never came up with a simple ‘cruisers and artillery’ expansion. Just adding cruisers (or destroyers or escorts) and artillery to the Axis and Allies Classic game. Rather cheap to produce and I am sure many people would be willing to purchase such an expansion in the late 1980s or 1990s.

    Many people did buy that expansion. It was called Central Powers and was produced by a company called Table Tactics. To be fair, there were more than cruisers/destroyers and arty in that expansion, but those pieces were the reason a lot of people bought Central Powers.

    -Midnight_Reaper


  • 2020 2019 2018

    @thrasher1 said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    It’s a shame they didn’t study the “core rules” more, because they could have saved themselves a lot of grief by basing the Zombies off the Convoy Rules from G40. Something like having each Zombie in a territory lower its IPC value by 1, up to the value of the territory.

    Personally I think this had also be a good approach. But this means each player must count the number of Zs. And even more: check if the number of Zs is bigger than the IPC value of that area.

    That’s a fair point. I’d find it easier to count Zombies than learning an entire extra set of combat rules and adding 2 phases (Zombie Cards + Zombie Attrition) to the game. Arguably, the Zombie Cards phase would probably have been kept anyway, but they were allegedly going for a more accessible experience and (correctly) noting that the core A&A rules are difficult to newcomers. It just makes me question why their attempt to lower the complexity of the game involved adding several new rules.

    @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    The other aborted ideas here make me think that the finished product is so much better than what we could have wound up with.

    Which ideas you refer to? And why you think this is the case?

    I will list a few of them:
    Scott Van Essen said:

    • Dark Magic Zombies coming from portals from the underworld.
    • The intention of the factions needing to “work together” to defeat Zombies (it’s a bloody WW2 game).
    • The “outbreak model,” which would have greatly sped up the spread of Zombies on the main fronts, as Scott notes in the interview.
    • The “Zombie Rage” card, which increased the punching power of the zombies. This one wasn’t that bad, honestly, but was a bit much.

  • 2020 2019 2018

    @thrasher1 said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    Regarding Event Cards: I personally would like to see an Events Cards expansion for the standard version of Axis and Allies. For now this is A&A 1942 Second Edition of course.
    My friends and I thought about this in the early days (1990s) a lot. Why not simply add a deck of cards to the game. Would be rather cheap to produce by MB/Hasbro.

    I have the opposite opinion of you, but that’s only because I have a bias against event cards in war games. I do understand that several successful war games (Memoir 44, etc.) use cards as an integral part of their design, so I get where you’re coming from.


  • 2020 2019 2018

    @655321 said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    Good questions, I’m going to give them a shot.

    @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    • Did WOTC know/care/acknowledge that releasing AAZ has caused a rift in the community?

    I didn’t see any acknowledgement of this in the interview. I’m speculating that they knew and didn’t care.

    Sadly, this is my take as well. All “we” got was a slight nod at the end of the interview. Something about a “focus test group” or whatever. I imagine that was the party that DJensen and others attended a while back.

    The attitude for this makes sense, though. Casual buyers make up a far greater portion of the sales figures for these games than the dedicated crowd.

    • Did the game actually sell well (I doubt we’ll ever get a true answer to this)?

    The closest thing I can find is on Amazon dot com, where as of today 2/9/19, AAZ is rated #616 in the top selling board games category. By comparison, here are rankings for other AA games:

    AA50 reissue is currently ranked #314 in the top selling board games category.
    AA Europe 1940 2nd edition is #1,059.
    AA 1942 2nd edition is #1,102.

    So Zombies seems to be about the middle of the pack right now. It was probably selling faster when it was first released. I’m not surprised AA50 reissue is still selling more, that one’s the best.

    Are Amazon’s metric’s based on a time frame or on “all time” sales figures?

    I was intrigued by these stats, so I took some of my own (for today, 2/11/2019):
    41: “#243 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”
    AA50: “#367 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”
    AAZ: “#663 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”
    42SE: “#743 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”

    E402E: “#1,164 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”
    1914: "#1,178 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games "
    421E: “#10,132 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”
    P401E: “#13,821 in Toys & Games > Games > Board Games”

    I didn’t bother with the spin-offs or AAC/Revised (because all of them predate Amazon being a major player in shipping/eCommerce)

    I also didn’t bother with P40 2E or E40 1E, as E40 2E and P40 1E outsold their counterparts and are thus the better representative of “G40/G402E” as a whole.

    Depressingly, this shows that 41 is the king of the hill as far as pure sales numbers go. However, AA50 has amazing sales numbers (especially given that it’s a limited release item), so I’m hopeful that the next A&A edition will be a 42 3rd edition or something like that. On the scale of AA50.

    • Is A&A dead?

    I bet sales are up right now across the entire AA franchise thanks to AAZ.

    Based on the sales figures from earlier, I don’t think you’re wrong.

    • Is A&A condemned to exist only in the form gimmick-laden and/or “casual-friendly” editions forever?

    Remember that AA50 reissue is the hottest selling AA game right now, and that’s hardly a gimmicky/casual version.

    41 would like to have a word with you. AAZ may also surpass AA50 if it’s sales numbers continue to climb.

    However, I think that comparing 41 and AAZ to the other A&A games is partially unfair. Those two benefit from:

    • Lower price tag ($40 USD compared to 60+ for other editions)
    • Presence in major retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, most bookstores, etc. have dozens of copies of 41 and AAZ lying around).

    AFAIK, no other (recent) game in the franchise has has presence in major retailers, instead being condemned to hobby shops.

    I doubt Avalon Hill will try to compete with the depth and complexity of Global War 1939, But after releasing AAZ they will probably revisit a more complex/traditional game in the lineup, maybe do an AA1942 3rd edition, or maybe an AAG 1940 3rd edition.

    I feel that a 42TE is more likely. That or something ambitious like “A&A 39”. Who doesn’t want to relive the myth of German Tanks gunning down Polish Calvary (this obviously never happened but is perceived as fact by pop culture).

    I don’t expect (or want) WOTC to attempt to compete with GW36/39. There’s just no point and no profit to be made from it.

    I also read somewhere that Avalon Hill wants to publish a new AA console/computer video game. I’m guessing it would be simpler than AAG 1940. Would an AA game on the Xbox/PS be embraced or rejected by the hardcore wargamer crowd? Would it be popular with the casual console gamer crowd and maybe bring some of them deeper into the wargaming scene?

    I read that it was a planned release for mobile/tablets. Not consoles.

    • How did WOTC balance the game?

    They claim to have done lots of playtesting but I think the Axis have an advantage thanks to the rule that only 1 capital needs to be captured to win.

    The rules say that 1 captured capital ends the game, and Moscow is usually captured easily. I quickly implemented a house rule that says 2 capitals need to be captured to win. This gives more balance and the allies are more likely to win this way (it also gives the zombies a bigger chance to win), but it increases the game time by at least a few hours. I think Avalon Hill did the 1 capital wins rule to keep it light, short, and accessible. The AAZ rulebook invites bringing in rules from other games in the AA franchise so I think a 2 capitals wins house rule is a good way for more experienced players to go.

    I disagree with your balance assessments based on games I’ve played, but I’ve only played about 15 games so far (and two of those were before I had a 100% grasp on the rules). That’s far from enough to make an assertion one way or the other.



  • @Midnight_Reaper

    Yes, I know these Table Tactics expansions. I even own one (the NWO expanion). Nice new units. But the rules,… well, seem only there to make this a ‘game’ instead of just a package of new plastic playing pieces.



  • @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    I have the opposite opinion of you, but that’s only because I have a bias against event cards in war games. I do understand that several successful war games (Memoir 44, etc.) use cards as an integral part of their design, so I get where you’re coming from.

    I did I know way mean a kind of ‘card-driven’ Axis and Allies game. Just event cards. To add some spice/chrome to the game. And yes, these can maybe unbalance the game a bit. But then again: I see events cards as something extra…



  • @DoManMacgee said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    I disagree with your balance assessments based on games I’ve played, but I’ve only played about 15 games so far (and two of those were before I had a 100% grasp on the rules). That’s far from enough to make an assertion one way or the other.

    In that case you’re probably more informed on balance than I am. I’ve played less than 10 games yet.



  • of the 4 games I’ve played I feel balance is tipped in favor of allies barring good axis card draws.
    The most solid axis win was when Germany got chainsaw tanks before Russians got any useful techs.
    The most solid allied win was when Russians got Zebra suits early while germany had no useful techs. (Try attacking multiple territories of 8 infantry and 8 zombies without chainsaw tanks or explosives!)
    The allies, having 1 more player, also gets an advantage(3:2 odds…) in drawing one of the most game altering cards “decoy team”. This always gets used on the eastern front, even if drew by the US or JPN player, so germany has to deal with a lot of zombies on its east territories. (IMO this card should be erratad to only be usable in territories you own and/or adjacent.)



  • @Striker I like how you describe the cards and techs having such a big effect on the strength of a country. This mechanic is a lot of fun for me due to the fact that it keeps a player on their toes and makes the game less predictable.



  • I agree that overall the cards/techs are good. On the other end I think some cards are so game changing as to risk making making a player think “Why’d I spend an hour(or more) setting up and playing out a strategy only for one random card to effectively decide the game.”

    The randomness reduces the effect of skill gap between players, which may be intended, but it can be frustrating. Frustration at randomness is not exclusive to experienced players, but to any player who is sitting down for a lengthy game.

    If I was trying to reduce the “swinginess” of tech cards, I would either provide a non random way of getting tech, or perhaps more simply have each nation start off with one tech(either players choice or some pre-assigned tech that is useful but maybe not “the best” for current country.)



  • @Striker said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    The allies, having 1 more player, also gets an advantage(3:2 odds…) in drawing one of the most game altering cards “decoy team”. This always gets used on the eastern front, even if drew by the US or JPN player, so germany has to deal with a lot of zombies on its east territories. (IMO this card should be erratad to only be usable in territories you own and/or adjacent.)

    If more people are posting their AAZ gaming experiences (here and in other forums and other places) we can get ourselves a clearer picture if this card (Decoy Team) is maybe too ‘strong’.
    If so I think your fix might be a good one. You can only play this card on an area that contains Zs and:

    • contain one or more of your units
    • is adjacent to such an area

    Maybe add: a territory you own but you do not have units in.
    On the other hand: you must send in a team. So it makes sense you must have units close to the area you want to send that team into.

    On a personal note: I am tending to agree with you that this card might be too powerful. Indeed, if both UK and US can simply play this card on the Eastfront. Without having units there…

    Sorry, Dave. We are brainstorming about House Rules once again just here 🙂



  • @Striker said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    I agree that overall the cards/techs are good. On the other end I think some cards are so game changing as to risk making making a player think “Why’d I spend an hour(or more) setting up and playing out a strategy only for one random card to effectively decide the game.”

    And that would essentially lead to a broken game…

    If I was trying to reduce the “swinginess” of tech cards, I would either provide a non random way of getting tech, or perhaps more simply have each nation start off with one tech(either players choice or some pre-assigned tech that is useful but maybe not “the best” for current country.)

    Interesting ideas.
    Personally I would (for now) focus more on ‘fine-tuning’ some of the tech-cards. Reducing the power of some cards might be a good idea. Indeed, for instance: be more strict on when (and where) a card might be played. Some common sense approaches might do the job. Like ‘may only be played when you have units there’.



  • @thrasher1 said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    Interesting ideas.
    Personally I would (for now) focus more on ‘fine-tuning’ some of the tech-cards. Reducing the power of some cards might be a good idea. Indeed, for instance: be more strict on when (and where) a card might be played. Some common sense approaches might do the job. Like ‘may only be played when you have units there’.

    The problem with adjusting the techs themselves is that no matter what reasonable adjustments you make, some techs are still going to be MUCH more useful for certain countries then other.

    IE: Any variation of Deadnapper convoys(transporting zombies) is always going to be useless for Russia, who is really hoping for zebra suits the entire game.

    Really the two ground combat nations suffer from potentially getting worthless tech, where the other 3 can get at least some benefit from all of them.

    Russia: Z.E.B.R.A suits >>>>>>>>>> everything else. Deadnapper and AIR dots are particularly useless.
    Germany: Chainsaw tank>z4 explosive>Zebrasuits>>>>>>everything else.(even mind control, moving one zombie a turn is not really a big thing. Maybe change to move a dice worth of zombies of turn?)

    The solution would best be adjusting the acquirement of techs themselves. Perhaps if a the random cards allowed you to reroll once for selection of tech.

    Or next random idea #46.85: Everyone gets a free tech of choice turn 3*(or whatever number feels right)



  • @Striker said in Thoughts on the Scott Van Essen (Lead Developer for AAZ) Interviews:

    The problem with adjusting the techs themselves is that no matter what reasonable adjustments you make, some techs are still going to be MUCH more useful for certain countries then other.
    IE: Any variation of Deadnapper convoys(transporting zombies) is always going to be useless for Russia, who is really hoping for zebra suits the entire game.

    True of course. But then again: Germany and the US were the scientific powerhouses of the era. Russia was not. So Russia getting some useless technologies can in a way reflect just that.
    Also, this was once mentioned in a set of house rules that was featured on my Axis and Allies site: communist bureaucracy could lead to useless results. So yes, I think in a way it is logical that Russia gets some useless technologies so now and then.

    Really the two ground combat nations suffer from potentially getting worthless tech, where the other 3 can get at least some benefit from all of them.

    Russia and Germany you refer to I guess?

    Russia: Z.E.B.R.A suits >>>>>>>>>> everything else. Deadnapper and AIR dots are particularly useless.
    Germany: Chainsaw tank>z4 explosive>Zebrasuits>>>>>>everything else.(even mind control, moving one zombie a turn is not really a big thing. Maybe change to move a dice worth of zombies of turn?)

    I will post more on my views on this asap.
    To all others: please share your ideas on Technology and the several countries involved.



  • Striker,

    You played more games of AAZ? Any more thoughts on the five individual countries and the several cards and technologies?



  • Haven’t been able to get people together for a game unfortunately. Most of my local gaming buds are stuck doing 60 hours/week of work and/or university recently, so I can’t make any new critiques with confidence yet. I’ll reiterate my 3 biggest concerns of the balance so far. The need for a slightly stronger Japan(every game see’s Japan struggle out of the gate so far), adjusting the decoy team card, and doing something about overly influential random technology.



  • @Striker

    (1) Japan not strong enough…

    Of course more game are needed to determine if this is really the case. What changes would you suggest? Maybe some more infantry units in Asia to start with?

    (2) … but Decoy Team card 'too strong’

    I tend to agree on this one. Again, more AAZ games are needed. But it seems a bit against the spirit of the rules too to let say Japan play this card on a Russian-controlled area at the Eastfront and thus moving Zs from this Russia controlled territory into a German controlled area.

    (3) Tech to random

    I guess this is part of the game. If it turns out that Axis are too week a fix might be to grant both Japan and Germany a free tech roll in ‘turn zero’.


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