Axis and Allies is definitely a name that resonates in the miniatures gaming community, though it does so for different reasons when you ask different people. Some aren't too fond of the relative lack of complexity and the distinct lack of realism when it comes to the nitty gritty details of the game's rules, whilst other die-hard miniatures fans aren't too fond of the miniatures of Axis and Allies as it can be argued that they aren't of the highest quality available. That said, Axis and Allies is a relatively prolific miniatures series, offering an impressive array of base packs, expansions, and starter packs. This review takes a quick look at the War at Sea 2-Player starter pack.
Axis and Allies: War at Sea is a game that allows players to recreate a variety of naval warfare scenarios during the World War II period. It is safe to say that War at Sea belongs to the category of wargames that are relatively light in nature, that is they cater for players looking for some instantly-enjoyable action that's quick to set up and quick to get to grips with. Games like this don't have the complexity of other naval wargames such as Harpoon, but they do appeal to relative newcomers to the miniatures gaming world looking to dig in to various battle scenarios at sea.
While the much larger base pack comes with 64 miniatures, this starter pack comes with just 8 of them, as well as other vitals such as full-colour stat cards, battle maps for players to actually play the game on, eight six-sided dice, and an advanced rules booklet. Also available with the pack (as well as for downloading from the Axis and Allies: War at Sea section of the official website) is a quick-start guide that lets beginners get started much more quickly than with many of the more complex miniatures games out there.
The miniatures themselves are likely to be the focal point of attention for many purchasers of this set, and it has to be said they are of fairly decent quality. They are pre-painted and are historically accurate in terms of their design, with this accuracy also being displayed in the stat cards that accompany each of the different vessels. Please make note that the 8 miniatures are randomised, meaning you won't get the same miniatures if you buy another of these starter packs. The miniatures are also made from plastic, which is durable but doesn't exactly feel very substantial in the hand.
As far as the game itself goes, the basic rules are very similar to the base pack, but the updated/advanced rules booklet that is included augments the action a little. The rulebook itself does a good job of explaining the various scenarios, allowing two players to play out any of the major battles of WWII without too much hassle. Of course with ease of setup comes an inevitable sacrifice of true authenticity, but this is the price you pay if you choose to play Axis and Allies over slightly more complicated and historically loyal games such as Naval Thunder.
The starter scenario is a great example of the quick-fire (literally) and unbox-and-play nature of this starter pack. It involves no movement, but simply playing out the attack phase of the game, allowing players to become acquainted with and get a feel for the proceedings. The attack phase involves throwing the dice at various ranges, with the resulting value determining the particulars of your attack.
Scenarios can be made more complex by adding in more ships of course, which reduces the frequency at which you roll the dice. However, since you are restricted to a mere 8 ships in this starter pack, it is difficult to argue that you won't have a much more entertaining time with the base-packs abundance of miniatures. What can definitely said in favour of the gameplay is that it is enhanced considerably by the fact that you roll the dice to determine who gains the initiative, instead of simply taking it in turns and leading to an easy yet arbitrary victory for one of the players.
This 2-Player starter pack is bound to be the ideal size of pack for casual naval warfare fans because it is likely that the more serious miniatures gamers won't be bowled over by the mere 8 miniatures that come with this starter pack, compared to the 64 that you get with the Axis and Allies: War at Sea base pack.
But since this starter pack isn't really aimed at experience miniatures gamers, it would be unfair to discount this starter pack's worth or value simply because it offers fewer miniatures than the base pack. The miniatures are of decent quality (though metal is always preferred over the plastic you get with the Axis and Allies sets) and the updated rules are great (the rulebook is also thicker than you would expect for a starter pack), making this the perfect starter kit for amateur war gamers looking to break in to naval miniatures games. Don't expect anything of the quality of other naval games though, since Axis and Allies cannot compete in this area with games like Sails of Glory.