Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- AuZtralia


Game: AuZtralia

Publisher: SchilMil Games

Designer: Martin Wallace

Year: 2018

AuZtralia is set in the 1930s and presents an alternative history for Australia, one is which Cthulu and the Old Ones are causing chaos and destruction. Time is a precious resource as you extend you railroads, set up farms and mine for commodities. However, if you don't also invest in you military power, you'll regret it when the old ones awaken and destroy everything you've worked for.

AuZtralia is a semi-cooperative game of adventure and exploration for 1-4 players. It comes from acclaimed designer Martin Wallace, and it's theme is inspired by his older game A Study in Emerald.

AuZtralia was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign back in March 2018, but is still open to late backers. The game has also been picked up by Stronghold Games for wider distribution, so AuZtralia will be easy to get hold of later this year or in early 2019. Should you be looking out for it? Read on to find out!

Gameplay

The core of AuZtralia's gameplay is manipulating the worker spaces on your player board in order to perform actions on the main board. You have a selection of actions that let you gather resources, build train lines, recruit armies and fight the forces of Cthulu. The key thing is each action takes time, there is a time track along the outside of the board and every time you perform an action it moves your token forward on it. Some actions take longer than others and it's always the turn of the player further back, so turn order isn't always as simple as you go I go.
AuZtralia set up ready to start. The coast lines are fairly safe by the further you roam into the continent the more forces of Cthulhu you encounter.
You get points in AuZtralia based on how many of Cthulu's forces you slew, and how many farms you have operational at the end of the game. At first everything is nice and easy with lots of space to expand and relatively few monsters to worry about. Until your time marker passes Cthulu's. At this point The forces of the elder god begin to stir, event cards start getting drawn when it's Cthulu's turn to act which awaken the unidentified enemies on the board. Awakened enemies start advancing towards you and blighting your farms.

You'll have to fight these forces back, and you'll have to work together, for if Cthulhu gets the most points at the end of the game then everyone loses. If things go very south and a player's HQ is conquered then the game ends immediately. When the game ends Cthulhu will score points for farms they have blighted and for his forces on the board, with that score being doubled if the token was still hidden. Letting a player get eliminated is a recipe for Cthulhu winning!

Combat is done using a series of cards. When you fight an enemy you choose which of your forces to send against it, your player board gives you a rough idea of how effective each unit is against each type of enemy. You then drawn a card and look at the row related to the enemy that you are facing. This will tell you if your units take or deal damage and if you lose sanity. All units can take two damage and you can spread it out, so it;s beneficial to take a varied army, but should your sanity be drained fully your troops flee leaving the injured to be devoured!

The game ends when all players (including Chthulu) have reached the end of the time track. At which point all players count their scores and the player (or elder god) with the most points wins!

Amy’s Final Thoughts

AuZtrailia is a game of resource and time management, if you aren't careful you may find you don't have the time to defend your new farms, or the money to hire the troops you need to do so! It's also a game of competitive cooperation, letting a player have his farms corrupted by Cthulhu might seem great. But as much as it drains their points it also boost Cthulhu's. Defending other players is actively encouraged as points are shared for slain monsters so long as you have dealt even 1 damage. This mechanic does a great job of tying in the theme. Although everyone is out to be the new leader of humanity, if you get too selfish then humanity might be wiped out. Building close to other players might mean there's a competition for resources, but you can also help each other when times are dire.

Combat does work fairly well, but it can feel pretty unfair at times. Just because the grid on your chart says that your troops should do well, the sizable deck will still contain plenty of cards that result in your soldier's deaths! It can be very harsh when you lose a lot of troops to a fight you should have won as you then have to spend more time and money to rearm and fight the enemy again. The absolute worst thing is the cards that are completely blank for your target, then nothing happens to either side. I'm not sure if these were intended to raise tension, but they just seemed like a waste of time to me.

AuZtralia is a difficult game, every time we played humanity was turned into a snack for the great old ones. I feel that this was partially a two player issue as you have the same number of monsters but (collectively) less time to fight them. That being said the game was still very enjoyable and I look forward to trying to win, even if it means having to involve myself in jolly cooperation! I enjoyed being able to recruit character cards to customise my military abilities or improve my end game points. For a theme that is pretty well explored AuZtralia manages to bring a breath of fresh air and unique gameplay to the table, I can't wait to play it again!

The red players rail network has had to divert around the temple and zombie, you'll have to defeat them to expand further.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

AuZtralia packs a really satisfying, mid-weight game into a pretty short space of time, especially at the lower player counts. There are a few mechanisms I really love. The first is the worker placement on your personal player board. You can do each action once without cost, but to do it a second time will cost you gold, until you waste time recalling your workers. The second is the time mechanic, which is similar to games like Patchwork. It is always the turn of the player at the back, which means you can have multiple actions in a row or might carefully plan to do a quick action followed by another that takes more time. The third is the powerful helpers you can recruit, that can really help you at a certain moment in time or focus your strategy.

The fourth great mechanism is the semi-cooperative aspect which we've yet to master. Every game we play, we find ourselves being too selfish and typically either someones port will get destroyed by the old ones, ending the game short and meaning that the old ones win by a huge margin, else we finish the game but have been inefficient at killing old ones, or even revealing them, again resulting in a huge win for the old ones! I think to beat Cthulu, you possibly need to be playing with more players so that you can kill more stuff overall ad you need to be helping to defend other people, because the old ones seem to act like a zombie hoard at times, totally overwhelming one player.

AuZtralia has a theme that 100% doesn't appeal to me, but I am more than happy to play for mechanisms alone, and although AuZtralia has a few swings of luck in combat that can be frustrating, I've loved every game. With two players, it plays in around 60 minutes and every action counts, meaning you're fully invested and on edge throughout, making great decisions. If you're at all intrigued, then I'd really encourage you to check this one out!

The player board holds your armies, resources and all the actions you can select.

The Good
  • Managing you time is a really interesting mechanism in the game for balancing your actions and the order in which you take them.
  • The theme is utterly ridiculous, but it's integrated well into the mechanics and artwork, so that you're really drawn into the game.
  • AuZtralia has one of the best integrations of semi-cooperative mechanics we've seen. It's very subtle, but you eventually notice that sometimes you need to defend other people in an attempt to get more points than the old ones.
The Bad
  • It's very hard to beat the old ones in this game - we still haven't achieved it! 
  • The combat deck can sometimes feel unfair, even when you've planned with the right mix of troops.
The Verdict
8/10 AuZtralia was a surprise hit for us. We really enjoy the time mechanism and the challenge the game provides which drives you towards having to work together.

Auztralia was a prototype preview copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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