Saturday, 1 December 2018


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

AuZtralia is a design from Martin Wallace, and the story follows his other design A Study in Emerald. In an alternate universe where Earth used to be ruled by the evil Old Ones, mankind has now overthrown his cruel overlords. What he doesn't know is the Old Ones have not been vanquished. They have retreated to their hideouts in the Australian outback, and are regaining their strength, waiting for the right time to strike again. It is the 1930's, and Western civilisation has just discovered the Australian continent. There is arable land near the coasts, and the hinterland is rich in minerals. It is a continent ripe for colonisation. As the nations develop their cities and farms, they discover danger lurking in the outback. Monsters awaken and start attacking farms and ports. Players need to work together to fight back, else the world will fall to the old masters, and everyone will lose. Only if the threat of the Old Ones can be contained then players can compare who has done best and will be declared the winner.

The game board is two-sided, and the two sides play slightly differently. You get two games in one. This side is the southeast of Australia, the other side is the southwest. Before the game starts, you go through a procedure to randomly seed the interior with monsters and minerals. The face-down square tiles with red, green and yellow backs are the monsters. The red monsters are the strongest and hide the deepest in the outback. When the game starts, you set up your ports on the coast, and then develop inwards. You build railroads and farms. You mine. You build armies. You may take the initiative to attack the monsters. When you attack a face-down monster, you activate it and reveal its identity. For those which you don't attack, the game mechanism will gradually activate them. Once they are active, they move towards the nearest farm or port and attack.

This is the player board. The two rows of boxes along the top are actions you can execute. Whenever you perform an action, you move a cube from the HQ space to the corresponding action box. If you want to perform an action which already has one or more cubes in its box, you have to pay gold. The action at the top right corner is the reset action, where you get to move all cubes back to HQ. This mechanism encourages you to perform actions as evenly as possible.

AuZtralia uses the same time track mechanism as Thebes. There is no fixed player order. Every action takes time. When you perform an action, you move your disc a number of steps along the time track. Once you are done, you check whose disc is the furthest behind on the time track. That player gets to go next. So it is possible for the same player to take two or more actions in a row. There is a finish line near the end of the time track. Once you reach or pass that point, you may take no more actions. You just wait for the rest to finish.

There are five types of combat units, and you pay gold to buy them. Once bought, you place them in your barracks at the bottom right of your player board. Different unit types have different capabilities. There is a finite number of units in each type. For some types the number is low and if you are slow, they may be sold out before you can afford to buy any. You will need to wait for some to get killed in battle before the supply is restocked.

The round purple tokens are sanity tokens. You have three at the start of every battle. As your soldiers fight, they may lose sanity tokens and start going crazy. If they go completely mad, you will lose the battle and all the units committed.

One of your actions is to recruit a specialist, like this one. Specialists have a wide range of abilities. E.g. some help you fight more effectively, some give you points at game end. The more you recruit, the more powerful you will be.

In addition to the players' discs, there is also an Old Ones disc on the time track. This disc starts at position 22. It is activated after all player discs pass position 22. It works the same way as the other discs, so there will be an Old Ones player controlled by the game system competing with the human players. The Old Ones disc always moves one step at a time. On the Old Ones player's turn, face-up monsters on the board may move towards the nearest farm or port. On every other turn, an event card is drawn. Sometimes a face-down monster is activated. Sometimes specialists are assassinated. If the Old Ones player successfully attacks a port, the game immediately ends and you total up the scores to see who wins.

This is an Old One card. These cards serve two purposes. The first is monster movement. You draw two cards to see which face-up monsters move. The monster types with the white circles are those which will move. In this example its Cthulhu (1st monster) and zombies (4th monster). The second use of these cards is combat resolution. Each round of battle requires drawing and resolving one card. Let's take an example. Let's say you are fighting a zombie and you draw this card above. The infantry on the left side of the zombie means if you have an infantry in your army, you deal one point of damage to the zombie. The purple cube on the right side of the zombie means the zombie deals one point of damage to your army. The purple circle means your army loses one point of sanity. A battle is a series of drawing and resolving Old One cards, until one side is defeated or you decide to retreat. It's a question of who can last longer. The more unit types you bring to a fight, the better your chances of scoring hits, but is also more costly. Different unit types are effective against different monster types. The artillery is effective against most monster types, but is average against Mi-go (flying monsters), and poor against zombies. Armoured cars are useless against temples. Don't bother to bring any unless you want to use them as fodder.

When the game ends, the Old Ones player score points as if it is just another player. If it scores the highest, then all the human players lose to the game system. Humanity is lost. Human players score points based on farms built, phosphates mined, monsters killed, and certain specialists. The Old Ones player scores points very differently. It scores based on farms destroyed and monsters still on the board. Monsters not yet activated score double. So it is important for the human players to scout out the monsters and to defeat them. Else the Old Ones player will score many points.

The human players do have to compete for points. This is not a cooperative game. You can't win together. However you can certainly lose together. So you still need to collaborate to fight monsters and stop the Old Ones from winning.

The Play

We did a 4-player game, which is the highest player count.

When playing the southeastern board, players' ports cannot be too near one another, so we were forced to be further apart and our areas of operations overlapped less. E.g. I (green) was in the east and Allen (blue) in the west, and we had very little interaction. In buying armies we still needed to compete, since units came from the same finite pool. Airships, armoured trains and artillery were limited in numbers. There were plenty of infantry units though, no need to fight over them.

In the early game I ran into this monster - Shoggoth. This was the second strongest monster after Cthulhu. My army was still small, and I didn't have many specialists who could help me in battle. This Shoggoth was only three steps away from my port. If it captured my port we would all be screwed. The game would end immediately, and surely the Old Ones player would outscore all of us by a mile. There were still tons of face-down monsters, and we hadn't done much development yet. This was an emergency!

Now Shoggoth had destroyed two of my farms - the cracked green disc, and another one under its foot (well, tentacles). It was only one step away from my port.

Allen (blue) had been busy building railroad tracks into the interior, but hadn't built any farms. Ivan (yellow) had built the most farms, and was now competing with Player A (sorry I forget your name) (red) for land. All of them watched nervously as Shoggoth marched towards my port, unable to do anything to stop it.

Thankfully this specialist turned up. If my port was attacked, it would help in defense and instantly deal two points of damage to the attacking monster. Eventually the crisis was averted and everyone sighed in relief.

AuZtralia is all about hunting and killing monsters. To get to them, you need to build railroad tracks. To build railroad tracks, you need to mine the necessary minerals. All the actions are closely related and meaningful. In addition to railroad tracks, you also need an army. To build up your army you need gold. You can either directly mine gold, or you can sell other minerals for gold. Fighting monsters is the main story line. You need to kill monsters to bring down the Old Ones player's score.

Players will compete in building farms. They are an important source of points. They will also compete for monsters to kill, but of course this comes with risks. You need railroad tracks to reach new plots of land to build farms and to get in range of the monsters. The spatial element is a big part of the game. You will compete for space and access. There will be blocking. There will be grabbing resources before others claim them. One interesting thing is you can build farms to lure monsters to your area. Monsters are attracted to farms. If you are confident you can kill them before they rampage through your area, by all means lure them in before they go off to other players' areas.

Among the monster tiles are some kangaroos. If you reveal a kangaroo, that means the spot where you suspect a monster is hiding turns out to be a false alarm. It's just a kangaroo. Now in real life some kangaroos are dangerous - they kick, they box, but in game terms they are harmless. We had an unusually high number of kangaroos in our game. Even one of our Level 3 monster tiles turned out to be a kangaroo. Our game became anti-climactic. By the time we defeated most of the monsters, we still had much time left. What was left to do was to build as many farms as we could before time ran out. Ivan said this was not normal. In a previous game he played, the players struggled to contain the monsters all the way till game end. I wonder whether we should consider ourselves lucky or unlucky.

Recruiting specialists is important. They can be very helpful. A decent combo can make battles much easier and less luck-dependent. We had some such combos in our game. This photo above highlights the spatial aspect of the game. We had a temple in the red player's area, which he held off attacking for a long time. He had blocked it off from other players, and it would take much effort for others to get near the temple. That was why he could afford to wait until he further built up his army. Near the centre there was a loyalist (square tile with a white background), a type of monster. It was one step away from the red and yellow players' networks, but two from green and blue. Red and yellow would want to hurry to defeat it first.

At this point there were only two monsters remaining on the board, the zombie heading towards Allen's (blue) farms, and the temple in the red player's area. The temple is considered a type of monster, but this type does not move. The white mineral at the top left is phosphate. Phosphates are worth 3VP per piece, so Allen needed to make sure he had enough time left to build tracks to that spot and then to mine the phosphate.

The Thoughts

It's tricky trying to categorise AuZtralia. You build armies to fight, but this is not a war game. You work together to defeat the Old Ones, but this is not a cooperative game. I would categorise it as a train game and a development game. You are developing your network inwards, you mine resources, and you build farms. There aren't many development games which feature warfare against a common enemy. The premise of the game is unusual and interesting stories will unfold. There is a big spatial element, which is not surprising, and because of how it works, player interaction is low between some players. In our game Allen and I started at opposite ends of the board, so we could not interfere with each other much. You mostly jostle against your immediate neighbour or neighbours. This may not be a major issue. Many games are like this. There is physical distance keeping you away from some other players. There is luck in battle, in which monsters you get, in which specialists being available. I think that's good. It creates excitement and it varies the game experience. AuZtralia is ultimately a competitive game, but throughout most of the game the players must work together to fight the Old Ones.

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