A Look At The Process of Redesigning ‘Axis & Allies’ With Mike Selinker

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Some classic games just get better with time. This week on Game the Game, Avalon Hill is taking over the show for a 4-hour live stream where host Becca Scott will be playing the Anniversary Edition of  Axis & Allies! Tune into Game the Game today, Wednesday, October 11, at noon PT on Alpha and Twitch to catch the action.

The gentleman pictured above is Mike Selinker, a prolific game designer whose game credits are too numerous to name. A lot of his work was published by TSR and he went on to work with Wizards of the Coast on CCGs and RPGs.  As he was planning to leave Wizards of the Coast after helping them launch D&D 3rd Edition and the Harry Potter CCG, they lured him back in with the Avalon Hill brand. He became the developer who worked with Axis & Allies’ original designer, Larry Harris, to rethink and redesign the most popular WWII game of all time.

I got a chance to ask him about his work with the Axis & Allies brand as well as his process for designing games.

Being a game developer, particularly on a title as classic as Axis & Allies can be a challenge, especially when you’re being brought on to collaborate with the original designer. As Mike put it, “I thought working with the original designer of the game would make it difficult to institute necessary changes, but that didn’t happen at all. Larry was willing to implement some big changes to the game for the first time since the 1980s, and we formed a great design relationship.”  Big changes were made from the original Axis and Allies to address the stagnation of games in its infantry strategies, problematic high-cost weaponry, and slow to reach conclusions. The first thing they did was implement the victory cities rule. “That changed the game a lot, giving the players a rope to tug on that wasn’t there before.”

They changed the tech trees, combined phases that were separated before, addressed the issues with submarines and heavy bombers, and made the biggest change, the 3/3 tank. “No other change had as big an impact on the game as adding an extra point of defense to the armor unit. Suddenly, the infantry-pileup strategy that dominated the center of the board freed up and the game started to rocket forward.”

If you’re thinking about becoming a board game designer, realize it involves a lot of research. If he’s working on his own world, Mike goes deep into his head, often leaving the office for weeks at a time to get it right. When he’s working on someone else’s property, he’ll dive deep into everything he can read or play to make him an expert. “It’s an education process, and it’s likely to involve lots of fellow designers and creatives. The big difference is that everybody wants to know what you want to do with the beloved game, and they have very strong opinions about it. You learn what you can, then you shut it out and get to work.” For all you WWII enthusiasts out there, know that Mike and his team did their research. When you read about the sinking of the Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano at the hands of the Archerfish, that’s Mike showing off what he read in a book that week.

Given how ubiquitous the Axis & Allies franchise is in the gaming world, the Anniversary Edition is one that every historical game enthusiast should pick up with its re-release.  If you’re interested in learning to play Axis & Allies, check out our handy how-to-play video! Additionally, you can learn more about the new Axis & Allies by visiting their site.

We’ll be doing an Axis & Allies stream on Game the Game on Wednesday, October 11 playing Mike’s Axis & Allies and you can catch the action  Twitch and Alpha starting at noon PT. Let us know what you love about the game in the comments, and keep the conversation going on Twitter: @GeekAndSundry!

Feature Image Credit: James Ernest
Image Credit: Avalon Hill

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