AuZtralia

1-4 players, Competitive, Cthulhu Themed 

Designer: Martin Wallace

Artwork: James Colmer

Publisher: Stronghold Games

Overview of Gameplay

You and up to 3 other players are new adventurers to Australia……only to discover that you are not the first ones there. Cthulhu and its minions are slumbering on the land and you have to survive and settle! Starting out you are building from a port along the coast and are working on building towards the inner part of the land. Along the way you are plopping down different kinds of farms, collecting resources, buying military troops and laying down train tracks to path your way forward. 

It’s a victory point game so you will want to not only maximize your individual points any way you can but also as an added twist, Cthulhu can also defeat all players based around the amount of victory points it gets. So not only do you have to manage your points but you have to manage the amount it ends with. I have played 3 times now and have lost all 3 times by a huge margin to Cthulhu. 

Win Condition /Length

So the victory point calculation isn’t all that bad in this one. You get points for farms you have laid that are not blighted by the Old Ones. You get points for this one particular resource called Phosphate and possible points for these personality cards if you bought any. They act mostly as point multipliers and other good benefits to you, and points from any Old Ones that you may have killed. Whoever has the most points at the game’s end wins! Super straight forward and easy right? Not so fast. As mentioned above Cthulhu might win (or in my case 100% of the time). You also calculate its points based on how many farms they have blighted, how many Old Ones are still on the map AND (this is the part that killed me) Any unflipped Old One tiles that are still on the map flip and DOUBLE the amount of victory points listed on the tile. Just one of those could be worth 24 victory points alone if it’s Cthulhu itself. 

So it behooves you to not just stay close to your port and turtle up when you play. If you do not get towards the top end up the map and activate those higher level tiles, they could end up being your downfall at endgame regardless if they kill you or not. I think this has been my biggest issue, I always try to turtle and create a strong defense, but that simply will not work in this game. Other ways you can lose are if any Old One gets to your port (starting space) and destroys it. This goes for anyone, if just ONE player gets their port destroyed, the game is over for everyone and you instantly calculate points. So even though you are working against each other to have the most points, you still need to work together to defeat Cthulhu. What’s that saying, the enemy of my enemy is my friend?

The length is actually pretty quick! Solo games took me about 45 minutes each and a 3 player game took a little over an hour. I would think a full 4 player game would take about an hour and a half. 

Components/Game Board

The components are overall good with a couple of minor gripes. The resources tokens are shaped and painted like the resources they represent. The coal is black plastic, the steel is wood painted glossy silver, the gold are plastic nuggets painted gold and the phosphate are oversized white plastic nuggets. Each of the 4 players has a variety of individual components in the colors of Blue, Yellow, Red and Green respectively. Small wooden blocks for actions cubes which are used not only of showing damage you have done but also dictating what actions you have taken. I mean everything works like it should nothing blowing me out of the water here save for the resource tokens, which I really like. 

The cardboard pieces are pretty meh to be honest. I mean they are decent quality cardboard; it’s just the look that gets me. They look very bland and boring. The train track pieces and farm pieces are made to be functional but not pretty or thematic at all. I am already devising printing out some minis to use in the place of them with a 3d printer. 

The Old One tiles are good though. I mean they are just tiles but the art on them look good at least and I think they work pretty well. The cards are of a good quality, not too thin and they feel good in the hand. And there are not THAT many different decks to worry about so it’s not overly confusing in that aspect either. There are also a number of components that come with the game that are basically just extra pieces. The game comes with 2 attack tokens that are completely different but serve the exact same purpose that honestly…..you don’t even need to use at all. From what I can tell they are used to place atop the enemy you are attacking…..but I’m not sure why you would do this when it’s just as easy to look at it. I mean I highly doubt you are going to lose track of what enemy you are attacking in the mere moments it takes to attack.

Speaking of extra components there are a number of extra “variant” cards and tokens that you can use to shake up your game a bit which is really awesome. Playing solo there are a handful of mission cards that give you extra VP’s at the end game if you succeed in whatever is on the card. There are also some cards you can use for a 3 or 4 player game that shakes things up. Not only that but there is an overabundance of “seed” tiles (which I’ll discuss in the next section) the “reveal” cards that the Old Ones use and Old One tiles in general so each game will be a bit different because you will never end up using everything in a single game. 

The game board is double sided with the normal Eastern Australia location on one side and the more difficult Western Australia on the other. I haven’t gotten a chance to play on the Western side yet as I’m still struggling to defeat the normal side but I have read the rules and it looks like there are some resources that are not populated at the onset as well as a few variances to the map. The board itself looks pretty nice with little bits of realistic artwork adorned about it….such as this nasty looking spider in the top left corner which scares the hell outta me. /shudder. 

Setup/Takedown

So the setup is actually pretty fun which is surprising to me as what game is fun setting it up? But to kick the game off you have to “seed” the map. To do this you shuffle the seed tiles and start randomly drawing from them face down and place them on their corresponding locations that are marked on the board. Once all of them are placed you flip one and follow the picture on it to place resources and/or Old One tiles in or around that particular location. You continue to do this till all the tiles are exhausted. And since there are more tiles than you will end up placing, each new game is seeded differently which is really awesome. It is interesting to see how each map will turn out, however this lends to the chance zone a bit as the difficulty will curve each game based on what populates. 

Other than that there are a couple piles of cards to arrange and the player boards to setup. Luckily you don’t have to set up a variety of building locations in specific places on your character board like you would in Brass (great game btw). The Takedown is decently fast as well, just tossing everything into individual baggies and tossing them in the box. It is actually much faster than the setup as you don’t have to worry about the seeding. 

Box/Storage

The box has a nice linen finish and a spot UV on the front which looks very nice. It is average size so will fit on your game shelf very easily as well. The inside of the box has some really cool looking artwork all over the inside as well as on the little insert it comes with so everything just looks amazing. The insert itself does a decent job of holding everything in place as long as you bag up everything. There are not special holders for tokens or anything so expect to bag everything. The game also comes with a number of plastic baggies so you can easily store everything after you get it all punched out.

Visual Appeal /Theme

The theme is just amazing in this one. You are exploring Australia and happen upon slumbering Old Ones and they end up waking up because of your explorers disturbing them. And they are TOUGH which they should be. The game itself looks good save for a few of the components, which if upgraded would vastly improve the overall appeal of the game board itself. The artwork on the cards and board look great and go very well with the overall theme. It’s a very interesting mix of resource gathering/exploring/military all mixed in with Cthulhu. I don’t know how it works, but it does. 

Rulebook

The rulebook is oversized, which I just love in rulebooks. Makes them easier to read and understand starting out. And for the most part it is good save for a couple ambiguities. The way the old one movement section is laid out is confusing to read the first time and some other instances of rules being interpreted incorrectly due to the wording such as the sanity tokens on your player mat. It never goes into much detail about those and I had to take to the internet forums to get some answers. Also some of the variant tokens….it says during setup to set them aside but never elaborates….till the very end of the instruction manual where it explains what they are used for. I was thinking I missed something somewhere the entire first game as I didn’t read the variant section yet. Another strange occurrence for me is the inclusion of the VP tokens. There are a number of VP tokens included with the game and it even states in the rulebook that you count VP tokens in hand during endgame scoring….and yet; I have never needed to use those ONCE in the 3 games I have played. Another instance of not knowing if I’m missing something or not. 

Table Talk/Fun Factor

The game generates a decent amount of table talk but it’s weird because you do mostly end up playing your own player board and only really start talking when the Old Ones are encroaching on the land. Then everyone whips into action to try and prevent a player death so the game doesn’t end abruptly. I will say I didn’t have as much fun as I thought I would with 3 players and I feel 4 players would be even worse. There is SO much downtime. The way the player turns go is that everyone has a token and moves it along a track a number of spaces based on whatever action they took. So for example I could take an action that moved my piece 2 spaces leapfrogging over the other tokens. Now whoever’s token is furthest behind goes next and so on. The issue arises when I leap frog over and then another player lands on my same space, they would be on top of me so THEY would go again before me. So you can see that in a 4 player game there will be instances of all 4 players landing on the same space, that first player to go may not get another turn for quite awhile. Once everyone’s tokens move past the purple Cthulhu token then it activates and starts taking turns as well which extends the game further. These turns can be fast depending on what enemy cards are revealed though. 

Optimal Player Count

I mentioned some of the way higher player counts played above and will say that I think this game would shine at 2 players or less. With only 2 players the downtime between turns would be very short and I think you would end up having much more fun even if you are still basically playing your own board. Now solo this game really shines as you open up specific missions to do as well as it’s basically you vs Cthulhu. You no longer have to worry about other players or anything and can just focus on taking Cthulhu down. Plus a solo game lasts around 45 minutes so you can easily get a couple games in the amount of time it would normally take for 1 game with 4 players. 

Final Thoughts

Overall I did enjoy this game quite a bit solo. It’s a fun game to try and figure out how to win and once you get that figured out there are numerous rule variants in the book as well as a whole other side of the game board to play to make it more challenging. The fun lagged a bit the more players you add as the down time between turns combined with lack of table interaction started to rear its ugly head.

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