#Coronapocalypse #Boardgame #GuiltyPleasure – Why AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) is a game for real grognards

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THIS GAME IS NOT MORE POPULAR. The game I am talking about is AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (Stronghold Games, 2018). First off, it’s designed by Martin Wallace who is one of the star Eurogame designers out there.

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

A Eurogame? I can hear you asking now, “Hey, RockyMountainNavy, has that quarantine thing sent you batty? I thought you were a wargamer?”

Yes, I am still a grognard, but I always look for new and innovative games. That’s why AuZtralia ended up in my collection. According to the ad copy:

AuZtralia is an adventure/exploration game for 1-4 players set in an alternate reality 1930s. The theme is inspired by Martin Wallace’s A Study in Emerald. Following the Restorationist war, the northern hemisphere lands lay poisoned and starvation was the norm. Intrepid adventurers set out to explore and settle new lands. Little did they know, after the war, the surviving Old Ones and their remaining loyal human armies made their way to the outback of Australia to lick their wounds.

Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food. You’ll need to prepare for the awakening. You’ll need to fight.

Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.

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.

You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.

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.

Well, that pretty much sums up the entire game. The first part of the game is almost a pure Eurogame; build railroads, farms, mine resources, and recruit Personalities with special powers. The key mechanic is Time. Everything you do takes Time.

Then the Old Ones start to awake. They stalk you. They Blight your farms. You have to defend yourself before they destroy everything, especially your Port.

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Old Ones Card – Courtesy Stronghold Games

This is when the “conflict” game starts. For those squeamish Eurogamers out there you can breathe easy because you don’t fight another player – you fight the Old Ones driven by their own deck of cards. There are even no dice in this game; everything is resolved by another special deck of cards. Players will need to cooperate to defeat the Old Ones. To use designer Brian Train’s description of another crossover game, it’s a “militarized Eurogame.” I prefer the term Waro.

AuZtralia is designed for 1-4 players. I played the Solo Mode. My randomly drawn Solo Objective was Frenetic Farmer – Reward: 20 VP, Place at least TWO of each type of Farm and end with at least FOUR non blighted Farms. Uh…alot easier said then done!

I lost, but I had a good deal of fun. Playtime was a little bit under an hour. As always the real stressor is finding the balance in time and resources between building your infrastructure and preparing – then fighting with – your military. This is not a serious game by any stretch of the imagination but nor is it cheesy. Strategy choices are real and supported by the game mechanics and play.

Looking at the BGG Stats on AuZtralia, I guess the boardgame community embraces the game far more than grognards. At the time of this writing, AuZtralia is ranked #682 Overall and the #362 Strategy Game. This makes it the #47 BGG Overall ranked game and the #10 BGG Strategy Game in my collection.*

That’s too bad. I know grognards often like to focus on “the fight” and don’t always want to be involved in the “why” or “how” of the situation. Especially if the “how” involves logistics (resources). AuZtralia challenges those notions by combining elements of a Eurogame with a wargame. The resulting Adventure game is both fun and interesting – even for this grognard.


*My Top 10 BGG Ranked Strategy Games in collection

  1. Terraforming Mars (BGG #5)
  2. Scythe (BGG #11)
  3. Root (BGG #29)
  4. Raiders of the North Sea (BGG #71)
  5. Pandemic (BGG #98)
  6. Tiny Epic Galaxies (BGG #202)
  7. Pandemic: Fall of Rome (BGG #219)
  8. Trains (BGG #296)
  9. Settlers of Catan (BGG #344)
  10. AuZtralia (BGG #362)

 

Never tell me the odds – except in AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018)

Saturday Game Night at Casa RockyMountainNavy saw designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) on the table. This was a three-player game with myself and the two younger RockyMountainNavy Boys. If there is one thing tonight’s game proved to me it’s that AuZtralia is best described as a schizophrenic game; it starts as a Eurogame but ends as a wargame.

Set up and teaching the game took about 30 minutes. Usually I set up the game while the RockyMountainNavy Boys are taking care of after-dinner chores but in AuZtralia the set up is an important part of understanding the game so this time we did it together.

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At start – That’s alot of Level 2 Old Ones sitting there….

In no particular order here are some thoughts:

  • I started out closest to many unrevealed Old Ones (see the Blue Port above). I built a few railroads and farms but then started arming. as I was worried about the horde of Old Ones ready to descend upon me. In hindsight I might of armed a turn or more too early and lost a chance for a few more farms. With just two more farms and if Middle RockyMountainNavy won his last battle (see below) I could of been victorious with a two point margin of victory.
  • Pay attention to the combat effectiveness chart. At least one time I threw away a combat by bringing along a combat unit that cost me time but was ineffective against that particular Old One. If I had not thrown away that attack and built a farm instead (as above) it might of made all the difference.
  • Gold is definitely the most precious commodity. Not only do you purchase Military Units but it is what enables you to repeat an already taken action on your tableau. I ran out of gold in the endgame and was unable to make an attack that (once again) could of swung the victory to me.
  • Final score was Old Ones – 28 / RockyMountainNavy – 22 / Middle RockyMountainNavy – 18 / Youngest RockyMountainNavy – 18.
  • Victory in the game can really come down to one battle. Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy played the odds with an attack at the endgame – and lost. If he has scored one last hit he would have won the whole game with 24 points and the Old Ones would have tied for second at 22 points.
  • Total game time was about 2 hours. This was on top of the 30 minute setup/teaching. With a bit of some familiarity the game can probably get down to the 30 minutes/player range of play time with 10 minutes to set up.
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Cthulhu himself – courtesy Stronghold Games

AuZtralia will land on the table again, but it is competing in a crowded part of the RockyMountainNavy game collection. AuZtralia is in the sweet spot for game length and players for Game Night. Given its schizophrenic nature, the RockyMountainNavy Boys are a bit unsure what to make of the game. Generally, they lean towards wargaming although with three or four players we tend towards the “waro” style of wargame. At the endgame, AuZtralia fits this category. It’s the beginning Eurogame (build railroads, farms, and claim resources) that we are hesitant to dive into. The Boys are also not well-versed in the Cthulhu Mythos so the theme of the game is not a factor.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

#Zombies & #Cthulhu are not my usual thing but for #AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) I will make an exception

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Cthulhu (courtesy BGG.com)

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.

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Old Ones Card  (prototype courtesy BGG.com)

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.

The COO Viking – Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017)

Or – a wargaming family’s journey into a true Eurogame.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys love Vikings. Not long ago we were in our local FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and my youngest saw Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017) and it caught his attention. I eventually ordered it and the game arrived on Halloween and we slotted it for play on Saturday night. However, the Boys got done with all their homework and chores early enough on Thursday that they asked to learn the game.

According to BoardGameGeek rankings, Raiders of the North Sea is a very strong game with an average rating of 7.8. At the time of this post it was ranked 104th overall and 73rd in the strategy category. The publisher’s blurb certainly makes Raiders of the North Sea sound interesting:

Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!

Raiders of the North Sea is a Eurogame using a worker placement mechanism. Every turn players use their worker (err…Viking) to Work or Raid. Workers Vikings come in three colors and not every action space is accessible by all colors. Players start with the black Viking which is the most common color. A white Viking is is most powerful with access to the best spaces. There is also a gray Viking that is more versatile than the black Viking but cannot access the better spaces like the white one. Each turn players get two actions; the first uses the Viking in their hand which is placed on the board and the second is from another Viking taken from the board into their hand.

Like so many Eurogames there is little actual player interaction. A few cards have a “take that” effect on another player but it usually is limited to taking a few items, trading cards Townfolk, or at worst swapping a worker Viking on the board.

Raiders of the North Sea is rated at 60-90 minutes. In our first game, which took nearly 2 hours as we learned, we quickly discovered the game can drag. The turns may be quick but the game is not. I think this is because there is a limit to the number of cards, coins, and Townfolk/Hired Crew you can have in your hand or on the table. This means your “game engine” has a governor on it. It takes a few rounds to assemble your team Hired Crew and gather Provisions to make a Raid. That assumes you get the right color worker in your hand at the right time….

After playing the game and considering it, I have two major problems with Raiders of the Lost Sea. One is the game, the other is me.

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Courtesy BGG.com

First, Raiders of the North Sea appears to hit the Viking theme to a T. The artwork is highly evocative of the theme (even if it is a little cartoonish). However, the use of the worker placement game mechanic doesn’t fit what I expected in a Viking game. Sure, the reality is that Vikings needed to do more than just raid and plunder (i.e Work) but I want to Raid!  In the end, the Viking worker placement mechanic actually doesn’t support the theme. The players are nothing more than a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a unit trying to organize their workers Vikings by Working in the town and occasionally getting out of the office Raiding. Indeed, the players are not really in charge as they need to make offerings to the CEO Chieftain!

Secondly, Raiders of the North Sea shows me that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are more waro-gamer than Eurogamer. Truth be told, I am a wargamer first and a waro-gamer second. There are a many thematic Eurogames we like such as Ticket to Ride, Scythe, Firefly: The Game, or Battlestar Galactica: The Boardgame. Given our druthers playing a good waro is the most satisfying. Unlike 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (Academy Games, 2017) the core game mechanic in Raiders of the North Sea fails to create a compelling gaming narrative of Viking raids that we can immerse ourselves into and enjoy.

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Courtesy auztralia.net

Now, I am not ready to trade away Raiders of the North Sea just yet. I think it has a place in our collection, just not the prominent role that I was expecting given the ratings and hype around the game. Our reaction to this game does make me worry about another game I have on pre-order, AuZtralia (Stonghold Games, 2018). There is alot of buzz about that Martin Wallace title and I jumped at it because it was described as a waro. I certainly hope it is.

 

 

#SPIEL18 – My ESSENtial thoughts including AuZtralia, ICECOOL, lots of Plastic Soldiers, and wars across the world

The Essen Game Fair, or International Spieltage 2018, is going on as I write this post. BoardGameGeek collected a list of around 1200 games that either debut or will be available at Essen. Like so many others I reviewed the list to see what strikes my fancy. Apparently, I am too much of a niche-gamer because my list of “Must Have” or “Interested” is very small.

I have seven games on my “Must Have” and “Interested” list. All but one are wargames or a “waro.” One is a kids game because, you know, reasons!

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Spiel18 My Picks via BGG.com

AuZtralia (Stronghold Games)MUST HAVE

I am not a Cthulhu Mythos fan and for that reason alone this game should not be on my list. However, this Martin Wallace-designed waro looks so interesting with its mix of multiple Eurogame mechanics (worker placement, resource collection, track laying, and action selection) combined with a semi-cooperative wargame. My preorder is already placed.

ICECOOL2 (Brain Games)MUST HAVE

The RockyMountainNavy house already owns the original ICECOOL. It is a favorite game amongst Mrs. RMN’s students (especially Little Clara). This expansion takes the possible player count to eight making it a great candidate for a Party Game.

1918: Death on the Rails (2D6.EE)Interested

Chosen mostly on the basis of the topic. Admittedly, the game does not appear to offer any really new or innovative mechanic but (hopefully) is a solid implementation of a block wargame. I have few European publishers in my collection; interested to see their perspective on wargames too.

Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (Lautepelit.Fi)Interested

The original Eclipse was strongly recommended to me by Uwe Eickert of Academy Games but I never got around to picking it up. Maybe I will be better this time!

Lincoln (PSC Games)Interested

Card-based wargames are not really my thing but just maybe this one will work for me. Almost pulled the trigger during the Kickstarter campaign but several design controversies made my shy away. Still a bit reluctant to go all-in.

Radetzky: Milano 1848 (Post Scriptum) Interested

A cooperative wargame? Sounds interesting!

Wings of Glory: Tripods & Triplanes (Ares Games)Interested

Technically speaking, the RockyMountainNavy collection of Wings of Glory “belongs” to LittleRockyMountainNavy. He likes Wings of Glory over Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing because it is more historical and less tournament-based. That said, he does have an interest in the steampunk genre through games like Scythe (Stonemaier Games) or AuZtralia.

Undecided

Not shown above, I have another seven games in my “Undecided” category.

Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles – Starter Set (Ares Games)

Am interested in the topic but if this is another cinematic movement system and not vector movement (more thematically correct) then I am going to pass. Have some hope since the publisher’s blurb mentions, “…unique dynamics of the battles….”

Expedition Zetta (Ion Game Design)

Topic interests. Looks thematically appropriate. Need to learn more.

Hannibal & Hamilcar (Phalanx)

Another asymmetric card game. Not sure about card games.

Normandy: The Beginning of the End (Draco Ideas)

Need to explore what the Paths to Hell system really is. Another question is, “Do I really need another WWII tactical combat system?” After all, I am already all-in on Conflict of Heroes and the Panzer (Second Edition) series.

Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games)

Looks interesting…may be suitable for family game night with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Few games out there in that 3-6 player category (with three-players key for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night).

Scorpius Freighter (AEG)

“Recruit Crew, Customize Ships, Smuggle Goods.” Sounds alot like Firefly: The Game, which I already own, only with the serial number filed off. Although thematically close it is much different graphically. Interesting, but once again I have to ask myself is another “pick up and smuggle” game worth my investment?

SHAEF (PSC Games)

Another PSC Games card-driven title. But only 2-player.

So there is my Essen. Of the 14 games here I think three or four maybe will get into the RockyMountainNavy collection within the next 12 months. Maybe.