Genre: Route Building/Exploration/Combat
Player Count: 1-4
Play Count as of this Review: 11
- AuZtralia is a Lovecraftian-themed route-building/military/resource gathering game from Martin Wallace. There is exploration and combat set in an alternative reality where the Old One’s roam the world. The game is semi-cooperative in nature where players are not directly working together but are competing against the Old Ones as a collective. It’s possible for a player to score better than their human counterparts but still lose to the game itself if the Old Ones meet their winning criteria. For full transparency, I am looking at the Kickstarter edition for this review. The only difference between the retail version and the Kickstarter version is a metal Cthulhu statue that comes included as a thanks to backers. It has no bearing on the game whatsoever but I wanted to make that known. It is neat though and is available on the BGG store if you’re looking for that sort of thing.
- It’s the 1930’s in an alternate reality where the Old One’s have retreated to Australia as a means to regroup and the human population has started to colonize the land as it’s fertile for growth. Like a typical spaghetti western, this town ain’t big enough for the two of them and there’s a clash. As a side tangent, there are character cards included in the game and four of them are indigenous people native to Australia before the colonists arrived. I don’t see the rulebook mentioning any backstory regarding these people but they are an important aspect of real Australian history and I’m glad they’re included in the game. There’s a great thread on BGG about why the inclusion is important if you have time. As a former history teacher, I like to see the inclusion of the realities of situations even in alternate dimensions.
- Set-up is incredibly varied and does make each game feel unique due to the way resources and monsters are populated (and for the latter, hidden). However, set-up is my least favorite part of the game. First you place tokens on the board and then from those tokens, you’ll seed the board with new and different tokens. It can be time consuming and does require some checks of “if x then y” when something duplicates on a location. Even with the variability during set-up, I do wonder how much ‘replayability’ AuZtralia offers. The same strategies seem prevalent game after game and there are clearly character cards that are better than others. Building routes, getting resources and attacking Old One’s will be the same formula for each game, with tiny changes dependent on which forces you purchase and how offensively/defensively you’ll be acting.
- As with most Lovecraftian themes, the same foes make an appearance (Zombies, Migo’s, Shoggoth’s, Cthulhu them-self). I am completely indifferent on the theme. I appreciate the lore but Lovecraft is becoming an over-saturated market for me. It doesn’t detract from the game at all but I also don’t see it adding anything as well. The monsters could have been generic and I don’t think anything of value would have been lost. I will say that the theme is well integrated with the madness mechanic and the varying strengths/weaknesses of the Old One’s and the military units. That being said, I still have issues with incorporating Lovecraftian themes into games due to the racism embedded in the author and their works. Ignoring these issues, the theme leads to an incredibly strange mixture of a game dealing with military forces, Old One’s, Australian history, farming, and train networks but instead of feeling discombobulated, everything fits together and feeds off one another.
- AuZtralia is a medium weight game. The complexity comes from the interconnectivity of the actions a player will take. Doing any of the actions is simple and easy to understand but the reason for chaining them together is what pushes the game to slightly more complex than a light game. I also think the usage of time as a resource may trip players up their first playthrough as it introduces a concept that doesn’t equate to a usual back and forth turn structure. I do feel that AuZtralia suffers in that repeat plays will have you repeating the first two turns every game you play. I have yet to have a game where I did not build rails to reach resources and then build units with my first initial actions. I bring this up as an issue because it never feels like the real game starts until the third or fourth action and I wonder if the placement of a railway or the recruitment of one unit could not have been kept as a set-up rule just so players are not repeating the same starting actions game after game.
- Resource management is the most important part of the game and I’m not talking about the warehouses filled with coal, gold, and iron. Time is a resource and time management will make or break a player. Every action that a player takes costs a set amount of time. Taking the same action twice requires players to spend gold in order to do so (in addition to the time). Actions are tracked by placing a players cube on that action on their player board. In addition to powering the actions players are taking, they also determine the player order for the game and eventually awaken and control the Old One’s. Players will use these actions to navigate the board. In the beginning, there will be clear paths as players push forward for resources but as the game progresses and more Old One’s make their presence known, players will be confronted with difficult choices that impact the entire table. The semi-cooperative nature of the game really shines in the mid- to late-game as players can choose when they want to offer assistance. Maybe you can easily wipe a Shoggoth off the map…but if you wait to do it after your next action, your opponent may lose a farm to that marauding Shoggoth before you destroy the creature.
- With the theme being designed as such a driving force, the artwork holds up and helps players become immersed in the lore. The art isn’t going to blow anyone away or wow someone like the art in Spirit Island or Root does but that’s not what it’s trying to do. The importance of the artwork is in making the game easy to read and decipher at a glance with its well-designed and well-placed iconography. Everything is clear and concise for players. I’ve heard a few grumblings that the board is hard to decipher due to the color choices but we experienced no issues. I cannot speak for players that have color blindness however. The same safe choices for art can be said for the components of the game. AuZtralia is a game that easily could have had miniatures produced and been a sprawling game of area control. I am completely glad they went with board tokens as opposed to sculpted minis. For one, it kept the price down and two, the aesthetic they created works with the player boards and Old One/Military tokens. Everything is of a high quality, from the linen finish on the cards to the thick cardboard components to the double-sided playing board to the resources.
- The game supports one to four players. I’ll speak on solo play next but I think when playing with others, three-players is the sweet spot. Both maps are just spacious enough that at three, players have the opportunity to expand but not too freely and have to decide very quickly how they want to interact with not only other players, but the Old One’s themselves. Two-player games are fine but more often than not, players will be playing solitaire due to the size of the map. It is too easy to just do your own thing; especially if the other player is facing an onslaught of Old One’s and all you are drawing is kangaroos. There are variants for solo and two-player games to alter the semi-cooperative nature. Four-player games play fine but can run long, especially with the time mechanic of the game as players try to fine tune their movements to maximize their time usage. The interaction and map size have seemed fine at four-players but the game just runs far too long for me, even with experienced players. I have found AuZtralia to be one of my favorite solo games. Play commences quickly when by yourself and the eventual Old One’s turn acts as a defacto pace car for the final rounds. The board is also double-sided to provide slightly different challenges depending on which map you are playing (and the rules change slightly).
- I hate farms. Players can build farms that grant them points. There are also character cards that grant farms certain bonuses that do make them more formidable but they seem a little discombobulated compared to the other actions in the game. The benefit is that they may help steer the Old Ones away from your Port city and in turn prolong the game (in the event your Port city cannot defend itself) but it was rare where this was beneficial to me personally in the games we played. I was using farms for their point/gold reason and never as decoy as it just never materialized that way on the board.
- Combat is an integral part to AuZtralia and is handled using a card-based system. Players will nominate the forces they are sending to battle and then flip a card from a shuffled deck. That card will show what, if any, damage is allocated to the monster you are fighting as well as any damage you may take. This makes combat incredibly luck-dependent and even when you have the superior units to vanquish your foe, it does not necessarily mean that outcome will occur. The card-based nature does lead to a push your luck situation, particularly in the late game when time is running out or when a monster is either close to death or close to your home port as you can draw cards until the enemy has been defeated or you have been. Even though I enjoy this game, I do find the combat frustrating as there is nothing you can do to mitigate the risk of what may be on the card you are pulling. Besides combat, movement of the Old One’s is also highly random and may further turn players off of the implemented system.
On the surface, this is a very strange design by Wallace, mixing monster-killing Ameritrash themes with resource management, route-building Euro-y mechanics.