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Review: The World at War (Xeno Games)

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 7, 2010

Publisher: Xeno Games
Published in: 1990
Designers: Frank W. Zenau, William Kendrick
Era: World War II
Contents: > 200 plastic playing pieces, a new map, rules, new set up charts

HFC Game-O-Meter: E


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 2
Rules: 1
Playability:
3
Replay Value:
1
Overall Rating:
1,75

PRO Perfect gift to enemies and annoying people; educational value as a deterrent
CONTRA Too expensive, too horrible. Horrible rules, miniatures, map. Scary. Terrifying. Highly explosive.

Introduction

A World at War is an expansion to the well-known Axis & Allies game. It was published by Xeno Games and its intention is to bring “more depth and strategic options” to the game. It isn’t too successful, though, because it does everything plainly wrong.

Axis & Allies certainly belongs to the most played games of all time and the game eventually developed into a series of games using the same mechanics and the same WWII background. Today you can play Axis & Allies Revised, Pacific, Europe, Battle of the Bulge and many more offshoots:

* Axis & Allies – the Game
* World at War 1st Edition
* World at War 2nd Edition
* World at War 3rd Edition
* World War II – the complete Game
* Axis & Allies Europe
* Axis & Allies Europe 2nd Edition
* World War II – the Expansion
* World War II – the Expansion 2
* World War II – the Expansion 3
* Europe at War
* Russia at War
* Axis & Allies Accessory
* Central Powers
* New World Order
* Axis & Allies East & West
* Middle East Combat
* Dateline: World War II
* War to end all Wars
* Battle of the Falklands
* The great War in Africa
* Axis & Allies Trade
* Europe 1483
* Africa 1483
* Asia 1483
* North American Update
* Max Advanced Rules 1
* Max Advanced Rules 2
* Spanish Civil War
* Axis&Allies Enhanced Realism Rules
* Game Plastic Pieces
* World War II in the West
* Axis&Allies Pacific
* Enemy on the horizon
* Risk 2042
* Operation Barbarossa
* Axis & Allies von Nova-Games
* Eastern Front
* Modern Units for World at War
* More Units your World at War
* Rise of the Red Army
* Battlecards
* Conquest of the Pacific
* World War I
* WW II in the West
* Pacific at War

and much more. Some of the offshoots are really nice and of a very high quality. Some are plainly horrible – and the worst of all is Xeno’s World at War.

Graphic Presentation

TWAW contains a new collection of rules, a new game board, as well as additional armies, markers and chips.

see that ugly light blue? Armies with that colour are doomed to lose...

The colors of the partaking nations of the original A&A are similar but not quite the same which is very disappointing (Germany (grey), Japan (yellow), USA (green), England (beige) and Russia (brown)) plus France (blue) and China (white or light green). It is important to mention that there are mainly new armies (France & China) included and only few of the original nations are supported, i.e. without the pieces of the original Axis & Allies game, TWAW is rather useless. So it’s really an expansion and not a stand-alone game.

The contents’ quality is sub par if you want to use a friendly word. Everyone buying TWAW as an expansion for his A&A game has certain expectations about the map graphics or the plastic figures – because these are of a very high quality in Axis & Allies. It’s certainly not too harsh to say that these expectations will be heavily disappointed when you open the game box! The map – made of paper, simply folded four times and carelessly put into the box – looks ugly and obtrusive. The borders between the countries (which have a comic like color) are far too bold and in too loud a red so the map is really hard to look at. As already mentioned in contrast to A&A, the map isn’t mounted but is a simple print on glossy paper and cannot be compared to the A&A Map’s quality.

Without laminating this map, playing on it is also quite difficult since it’s rather thin and tends to tear. The playing pieces are extraordinarily low in detail and not of a good quality, produced in a sloppy way and again their colors don’t even match the original A&A colors. Besides the fact that it doesn’t look that good, depending on the illumination sometimes it is hard to differentiate the colors of the respective nations which is not really increasing fun.

The material of the reference cards for the countries is not cardboard (as in A&A) but they are made of simple paper and lack any color or improvement.   Although the national markers look-alike, those of A&A are much higher in quality (the symbols are often lopsidedly printed onto the markers in TWAW). Also the stacking chips are different in thickness and color compared to those in A&A.

Rules

The map is plain ugly

You will be surprised to hear that the rules are even worse than the presentation of this game… Xeno included a sloppy produced rule”book”, which is intended to be used as an add-on to the original A&A rules. Alas, it is almost impossible to play a game with these rules – inconsistencies, black holes, relevant and basic things not even mentioned etc. leave the player alone in a sheer rules chaos, forcing him to develop house rules in order to make this game playable. Nothing seems to be playtested by Xeno, and the additional rules slow the game down in a very boring manner without enhancing the game quality of the original A&A at all.

Despite these flaws a lot of A&A players swear by especially this extension due to the new political aspects and the slight differences regarding maneuver due to a map with more areas.  The problem of the inappropriate additional rules has been solved by semi-official House Rules within the A&A community. Thus the extension is made playable and allows for an application of some innovative ideas, compared to the limited options you get in the base game. Although it should be mentioned that the A&A series introduces some of these mechanics and units with the later games, so TWAW had some use before the newer A&A games were published, but seems now completely obsolete, at least the version we played.

Playability

Strategically, the starting setup in TWAW is the following: Germany is quite powerless and has to decide upon capturing Poland or not capturing it. The rules say: if Germany does not take Poland in the 1st turn, Poland immediately becomes a British protectorate which means all Polish armies are changed into British ones and the German player faces the enemy “next door” right from the beginning. A similar scenario occurs with France. As long as France is not captured by Germany, the German player cannot use the urgently needed Italian units.

If you play this game, you simply can't remain serious... or sober...

In the Pacific theater Japan is only at war with China. Although Japan has a very big armada, her presence on land is quite powerless and its income low. The Japanese player has to capture China as soon as possible to increase the badly needed income to get things going . The problem is that Japan immediately initiates the World War when going against one of the allied nations. And a battle against the united allies is not likely to be won if it is initiated too early. So actually it is a question of timing when a player of the Axis feels himself ready to start the war against all the other nations.

The American player on the other hand does not know when to intervene. He tries to anticipate the plans of the Axis by judging upon moves of the Axis’ armies, in order to be ready for the final battle. Another new aspect is the fact that the Russian player, although siding with the allies, remains independent in several ways. He even has special victory conditions and is e.g. allowed to intern allied troops within his own borders as well as to go against China himself.

One big problem of TWAW is the pre-war time: it is simply too long. In contrast to A&A, TWAW already begins in 1939. Germany at this time is only at war with GB. France or other European nations are not yet under siege or captured. The advantage of initiating the 2nd WW in 1939 has been paid by the disadvantage for the allied players of having a terribly long “Down Time”. Germany on the other hand has the possibility of two blitzkrieg moves within the first turn.

This first turn in which Germany should conquer Poland as well as France (at least if the German player is ambitious enough not to give up too early) can actually take a long time; even more so if the Japanese player uses his double turn afterwards.
The players of the allies have only a few options until the beginning of the Total War – and that often means waiting until the 6th turn which can mean the same as “a whole weekend”…

Especially the players of the USA and Russia have to show patience with their limited income and the prohibition for the American player to do anything interesting in the first turns. Their possibilities are reduced to a minimum and their turns are quickly over whereas the players of the Axis have long-time turns while the others can only watch.

Furthermore TWAW is promoted as a game for 2-7 players because of the added nations China and France. Basically, this is only marketing: no passionate A&A player wants to play one of these two new nations: China is captured by Japan within the first turn and is not really able to do anything. France is conquered by Germany within the first double-turn. Additionally, due to its very small income of only ~10 IPC France is dependent on GB in Africa concerning all decisive activities. As far as power is concerned, France and China can by no means be compared to the other 5 nations. The game is thus quite unequally split and has a lot of weaknesses that cannot be compensated by the modified new rules.

self-painted pieces on one of the unattractive charts

On the whole TWAW is very much a question of taste and before paying the high price of € 50 and more one should try to play it somewhere within the community to make sure it’s worth it.

When you are playing it for the 1st time, the new aspects may be interesting enough to compensate the long turns but after some time one realizes that TWAW is quite static during the first turns. Taking much longer than A&A, TWAW is not always the perfect alternative for a “happy wargaming weekend” but can sometimes very much frustrate and/or bore the allied player(s). Initiating the Total War is exclusively a decision of the Axis.

The new “special forces” in TWAW (part of the units of China and France) are not easy to identify so it has become common to paint them. To create your own Vichy-markers is also helpful. Generally the confusing colors make a painting of all the pieces quite necessary (esp. Germany & USA can easily be confused). The TWAW map with its unattractive layout was enlarged for our private gaming (now it’s 63×39 inches), a little “revised” to reduce the comic look of the colours, laminated and glued onto a wooden plate which is very advisable because the original TWAW map is way far too small (and too ugly). 

Replay Value

With TWAW it’s the same as with A&A. The variety of options remains limited, core strategies are quite clear from the first moments of playing, so that any long-term motivation of playing this game more than once or twice is reduced to zero. This is even more true with TWAW because it takes much, much longer than A&A, with an annoying and boring game procedure and very ugly done game pieces and map.

Creativity

TWAW wants to bring more options into the A&A game system, which may be true in some cases. I won’t call this creativity however, at least not by XENO, because most things included in TWAW are only a reintegration of aspects eliminated by MB when they republished the old Nova Edition of the original A&A. So the Nova Edition of A&A would serve this purpose much better.

There are new possibilities for a wider movement on the TWAW map than there are on the original A&A map, but that’s just because the map has a few more areas – also nothing to be called innovative. The political things that can happen are allowing for some interesting twists and turns of the game, such as a possible Hitler assassination, but the effects are rather pointless – the Axis player loses some units and then the war goes on.

We sacrificed our valuable playing time to playtest the game for YOU 😉

Simulation Value

TWAW tries to push a family board game with WWII topic in a sort of simulative direction but in doing so  it only proves that this game isn’t suited for this. Everything seems artificial and only “imitates” historical events without really having the ‘engine’ to make this an interesting aspect of the game (for example the France / Poland topic or Russia’s role as an “unallied” part of the Allies).

Deals between the allied forces are more important than in A&A so it adds a bit to the role of ‘diplomacy’. Important to mention is the fact that the Axis is more or less lost if it cannot capture France and Poland in the first turn. This might be considered a realistic portrayal of the historical situation Germany was in the early stages of the war, but gameplay-wise it hints at the unequal balance and the incongruities of some basic game aspects.

The simulation value is somewhat higher than in A&A, but this is only a relative value based on a few more options the game offers. Objectively, the simulation value is as low as in A&Azero.

Solitaire Playability

None. You don’t want to play it with others, you surely don’t want to play it alone. Sorry, nothing more to say about it.

Can be compared to:

TWAW is one of the expansions and add-ons which want toenhance Axis & Allies. Others are, for example, the expansions from Gamers Paradise or ideas such as Bakers Enhanced Realism Rules. Given the quality of the game and the high price, TWAW belongs to the worst expansions and should be avoided because other expansions are much better. Basically it’s the same game as A&A with a few more options, that’s it.

Andreas Ludwig’s résumé

TWAW changes the original A&A (which is problematic itself because of the combination of very long playing time, simple mechanics and few strategic options) into an extremely time-consuming monster. The very long political pre-war phase (Germany vs. France / Poland; Japan vs. China) without participation of the allied players (the US are practically damned to inactivity until turn 7!) is annoying to say the least.

You get the feeling of sitting hours and hours in front of the map without anything thrilling or even interesting happening. The game tries to add some “historical aspects” to A&A, but completely fails in doing this, because the game mechanics don’t integrate these aspects very well. So the players are forced by the rules to conduct some game actions in given turns, which leads to complete boredom since there’s no decision based on historical circumstances on the player’s side.

The fact that this game is announced as a “7 player game” is complete nonsense, because France as well as China don’t play any role in this game whatsoever. The possibilities offered by TWAW in contrast to A&A are somewhat nice (but only because I’m glad about any increase of possibilities in A&A), but not so good that the boring game gets actually any more interesting in the long run.

This game is a good party game... for one day...

I’m aware of the fact that by posting this review I won’t get any friends among the hardcore A&A fans – because many of them consider TWAW as an enrichment to the original game, but I must say that – despite the fact that I think A&A plays an important role in the wargaming community as a good starter – the Xeno product is an offense and impudence.

I’ve seen very few games which had as lousy rules, were as unattractively done, are as expensive and as boring as TWAW. It isn’t entertaining when you permanently encounter questions and get the impression that the “developers” didn’t even playtest the rules once, because if they did, they would have encountered the same questions then. If I see that each country owns so-called submarine pens in their own colors, but the rules allow them only for the german player, I get somewhat amazed at such a nonsense. Or if I see that China can (theoretically) build all unit types but actually cannot use any of them, I ask for a deeper meaning.

The idea of enhancing A&A in a more realistic, simulative way, cannot work because the game is not meant as a consim. Especially if done in a very unfunny and boring way as done in the Xeno expansion. I would, at any time, prefer the Enhanced Realism Rules to this lousy A&A expansion, because Baker invested time and thoughts in working out how to compensate A&A’s inherent problems and developed some interesting alternative rules indeed that can be fun to use. In addition, if I think of the fact that TWAW costs about 50-70 Euro, which it definitely isn’t worth, I definitely can not recommend it – except as a deterrent and warning against bad game design.

4 Responses to “Review: The World at War (Xeno Games)”

  1. Anonymous said

    Me and friends have been playing WoW for many years. It is a great game with many variables. Rules are full of hidden nuggets for great rule whipping. We have changed some to suit our style of play. All in all we have gotten more than our moneys worth on this game.

  2. Martin E. Newell said

    Hello Andreas Ludwig,

    I’ll inform you about this game, its history…I’m an orginal designer that helped with this game, even before 1990. Me & other Officers/NCO’s in the US & other services at Nato bases made up alot of rules for the Axis & Allies version of the Game, almost to an extension of Axis, Allies & Russia. After I got out of the Marine Corps, the orginal 1st ext. was out at Xeno Games.

    I presented them with the Militaries (all Nato Base Services) for more clearer rules, historical accurrences, more play text offshoot for history, which we had the permission from Milton & Bradly to copywrite, BUT only as an extension so they could still sell their game Version of Axis&Allies.This little game shop took my ideas I submitted, made the cheapest acessories & map, sold it high because of the popularity of MB’s A&A game. Although they did give me the 1st 2 copies of version 2&3, my copy-write was claimed by them.

    So,if you have any questions about the alternative game rules that other ppl are interested in about this game, ask me. Also, I’m very interested in the map for this game you have and where I can get a reprint. Also, some free advice about the master rules 4 this game, play it with MB’s Axis&;Allies playing pieces,because the Hobby shop couldn’t make anything that MB already had as orginal copyright, otherwise, its not a stand alone game, the playing pieces are for 2nd rate & neutral nations.

    Later,
    hope to hear back from you..(ps)it’s a very good board game, but def. not stand alone & yes, I told Xeno Games that they printed contradictions to the Orgin. rules, but they just never fixed it..

    • Hi Martin,

      I’m sorry to hear about the issue with your ideas regarding the A&A expansion borrowed by others in such a way as you described. No matter the history of this expanison though, it’s nothing that I would consider worth buying or playing because there are more than enough good lite wargames available now, so that such a cheap expansion for an existing game series is not really necessary anymore. I don’t know if the new version by Xeno Games is in any way better than the version we played and reviewed, but again – I don’t consider it as relevant anyway. When you have read the review you’ll realize that we don’t think it’s a good game and that’s not just because of the cheap playing pieces, but because of the rules and the whole concept.

      If you have an alternative set of rules feel free to send them to us, we’ll take a look and will gladly post them here on our website if we think they are an improvement to the ‘official’ ones. Personally though, we don’t play any Axis & Allies games anymore, but that is no reason to not support the series with optional and house rule sets of course, so again send us the stuff you have if you like.

      Regarding the maps, we had them done by a professional copy shop at the time we played these games and both the A&A map and the TWAW map were scanned in and then manually ‘upgraded’ to a more eye pleasing quality and then printed out in a much bigger size than the original maps, glued to a wooden plate and finally completely laminated. We still have the maps, but the copyshop that did the job is no longer available to us, so there are no scans we could send you.

      bregds,

      Andreas

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