In the boardgame community zombies are probably the most overused theme for a game. Right up there with Cthulhu. While many gamers obviously like these themes (based on how many games are made – and purchased) I don’t. Horror stories just don’t grab my attention and horror gaming even less so. Given my attitude, I never should have pre-ordered designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (SchilMil Games/Stronghold Games, 2018). After all, the game has both zombies and Cthulhu! However, after listening to several podcasts discussing the game I succumbed to the Cult of the New and ordered it. I am very glad I did because AuZtralia is a good game that smartly uses a mixture of game mechanics to bring a theme I have no real interest in to life. It does such a good job that I find myself wanting to play AuZtralia despite my negative attitude towards the theme.
AuZtralia is thematically linked to an earlier Martin Wallace title, A Study In Emerald. ASiE is a game I will probably never play if for no other reason than both the theme and core mechanic (deck-building) do not appeal to me at all. AuZtralia, on the other hand, was described as something near a waro, a category of gaming I positively love. After getting the game in hand, I discovered that AuZtralia is not a waro because there is no player-vs-player combat possible. Instead, BoardGameGeek describes AuZtralia as an adventure/exploration game. The game actually mixes multiple game mechanics together. Using the BGG description I see the following game mechanics in play:
- Resource Management – Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food.
- Time Management – Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.
- Opponent AI – At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.
- Semi-Cooperative -You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.
- Combat/Hand Management – Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.
Although I was expecting a waro I am happy with the game nonetheless. AuZtralia’s mix of game mechanics delivers a relatively quick-playing game that builds a play narrative that in turn fits the theme perfectly.
Time, the most precious of resources, is constantly ticking away. Actions cost not only resources (money, commodities) but most importantly time. The time track is used to not only show who goes next but also serves as a countdown timer for the game. This simple mechanic puts pressure on the players and both literally and figuratively builds towards a climatic showdown.
One of the most interesting mechanics in AuZtralia is the Old Ones AI. A set of 40 Old Ones Cards is used for movement and combat. Being a wargamer, I focused in on the combat mechanic. There are no dice used for combat in AuZtralia; instead, the Old Ones Cards are used to allocate hits. The combat results feel plausible and build a narrative of desperate battles.
Even the solo version of AuZtralia is not really solo since the Old Ones are controlled by an AI. In my first solo game, I lost to the Old Ones by a large margin, mostly because I didn’t understand the strategy needed and the Scoring rules made me pay for it. In my second solo play, I barely eeked out a victory (52-49) even though I lost my Port and all my farms were blighted. The difference between victory or defeat was my Solo Objective Card which gave me a bonus 20 points for being a Railroader (place all Railroads on the board by game end). As the game was winding down I really felt the pressure of losing time and made the decision to forego protecting my farms and concentrated on building the last of my railroads. I placed my last railroad the turn before I lost my Port. The game made me feel like a heartless railroad tycoon absolutely determined to get the last rail of track laid regardless of the insanity happening around me. All very dramatic.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys have watched me as I played several games of AuZtralia solo. I think this game will be a perfect fit for our Game Night. AuZtralia is a game that should be playable in a few short hours but more importantly delivers a compelling narrative of play without a difficult set of rules to parse. AuZtralia really is an adventure/exploration game built on a solid foundation of mixed game mechanics that fit the theme and make it interesting to play.
Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.