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Picked as GAMES magazine's 2007 Game of the Year, Australia is an area majority game set in Australia in the early 1920s. Players use planes and rangers to explore different territories in the continent, as they create camps, search for gold, and deal with industrialization. Players use their actions for a variety of effects, as they attempt to control the various regions. A windmill variant is included that adds even more fun - and all the pieces, especially the plastic airplanes look fantastic on the gorgeous board. A game for families and strategy gamers alike, Australia offers a wealth of opportunities with a whole lot of fun!
I've played Australia three times now; it's the sort of game that is easy to learn but takes repeated play to master. In your first game you just get the hang of the legal moves and what sort of board positions yield good scores. Later you theorize about what locations are more valuable, such as camps bordering more territories. With experienced players, attempts to thwart your opponents' plans and conceal your own become important.
The game is fundamentally mathematical, so it particularly appeals to me as a computer programmer. The keys to success are optimization and resource allocation.
There is an error to note in the English manual. During setup, the four ranger card piles should be placed face down. The manual says face up in English but face down in the other three languages -- this makes a big difference in the planning and concealing aspect of the game. Also, the piles should contain 8 cards in the introductory game and 9 in the full game (again, only the English version is wrong).
I'd also note that the printing and packaging of the game is quite nice. It's too bad that the translations are inaccurate. Fun game overall.
The game board is a representation of Australia, broken down into 'regions'. Each region is shaded various colors, and my guess is that they tried to divvy up the country according to ecological and political zones. Each region is separated typical line boundaries, but with 'Camps' at each intersection.
Each player takes a color which has rangers and a plane. There are four decks of cards. While each deck is slightly different, the function of each card is the same: the cards have a region's color (including the oceans), a number of rangers, and a number of coins. The coins + rangers = 4, and this combination is shown on the BACKS of each card (as well as the front). Hence, the four decks described above. To start, each player in turn order draws 1 card, until the 'full' hand size of 2 is reached. (Advanced: Place the windmill in a random region and set its score marker to 2)
During game play, you get two actions. In any order you may: (you may do 1 action 2x)
A: Move your plane
B: Play a card (and replace)
C: Retrieve up to 4 rangers back to supply
D: Discard a card for its gold + 2 VP
Scoring occurs immediately if triggered by an above action.
Move your plane
You may move your plane to any region. (Oceans ARE regions) After you move your plane to a region, reveal the industrial chit. The number shown is the EXACT number of rangers bordering the region needed to score the region. Range of numbers is from 4 to 9. (Advanced: If the industrial chit has a windmill symbol, then move the windmill to this region, and increment its score marker)
Play a card
You may play a card that has the same region in which your plane occupies. When playing the card, place up to the number of rangers shown into a Camp that contains your rangers, or is empty (i.e.: No Camp may have 2 colors of rangers) You may play less than the number of rangers depicted on the card. If there is any gold shown on the card, collect that gold from the bank. You may spend 3 gold to play an out-of-region card where your plane currently resides. (Advanced: If your are placing rangers into a Camp that is connected to the Windmill region, then you may choose rangers to go on the Windmill scoring tract instead of the selected Camp). Draw a replacement card from any stack.
Retrieve up to 4 rangers back to supply
You may pick up to 4 rangers and place them back into supply, but rangers may only be picked up if your plane is in their region.
Discard a card for its gold+2vp
Again, regions must match. This is more of an end-game play to END the game. This is not an optimal use of the card. (see scoring)
You may spend 4 gold to move 1 ranger on the board to any other Camp. This does NOT count as an action. The primary reason for doing so is to score one (or more) regions.
This is a game of victory points. Victory points are scored as follows: Each region at the beginning of the game has 2 chits. One is 'industrial development' the other is 'ecological development'. The industrial chit is scored when the number of rangers = number on the chit. The ecological chit is scored when the region is filled.
The person who initiates the scoring takes 3 bonus VPs. Then each player scores for their rangers 1 VP each. Note: The ocean only regions each have camps with different backgrounds. Rangers in these camps score 2VP each. (although count as 1 ranger for the industrial scoring piece).
(Advanced: After a chit is scored, it is placed on the windmill tract. Once the tract is complete, score the windmill as follows: The person with the most rangers gets the full VP value of the windmill. The 2nd most player gets half, the 3rd most gets half of that (one fourth). Then half of the rangers are removed and returned to appropriate supplies. All fractions are rounded down. If there is a tie, then the person highest on the tract wins the tie. The removal is done from the highest part of the tract.)
Ending the game
The game ends after one player runs out of cards. (decks dry up then players keep playing). Then each other player gets 1 final turn. Highest VP total wins.
This game feels like an area control game to me. Move your plane, control the camps, and try your best to set up multiple scoring situations. There is always more to do than the actions you are allowed, so the game gives a good sense of anticipation. It may have a lighter feel, but I feel this game really shines more with experienced gamers who are willing to go cut-throat and have the ability to see the multiple scoring possibilities. In our two games, the winner had in excess of 170 pts each time, so points rack up fairly quickly. A 10-15 pt deficit is not really that much. I was able to score 30 pts in one turn, by setting up 3 regions to score + windmill. There is not much you can do to stop the leader, other than anticipate their VP plots and grab those precious 3 bonus VPs for yourself.
I enjoyed the game and rate it an 8.
A booming Australia invites players to its 24 regions, each of which has a Conservation tile and a random facedown Industrialization tile (Valued from 4 to 9). Exploration camps border two or more regions. You begin with two cards and an airplane and Explorers in your color. Faceup are four decks of cards, each showing a provincial color and a combination of gold and Explorers.
Each turn, choose two of three possible actions, in any order: (a) Fly your airplane to a region and reveal its Industrialization tile. (b) Discard a card matching the color of your airplane's region, or pay three gold to discard any color. Earn the card's gold. Place Explorers (up to a maximum the card permits) on one vacant adjacent camp or on one already containing your Explorers; alternatively, gain two points. End turns by replenishing cards. (c) Return to supply up to four Explorers adjacent to your airplane's region.
Gain three points by occupying the last vacant camp bordering a region, and discard its Conservation tile. Everyone earns one or two points for each Explorer in the region's camps. Industrialization tiles similarly score when the number of Explorers on adjacent camps equals the Industrialization value -- even if some camps are still vacant. Remember that Industrialization can also be triggered by the action of removing explorers!
Beyond the usual Actions, you can spend four gold any number of times to move one Explorer to another camp. Using this ploy to occupy a vital camp often results in lucrative scoring in several regions simultaneously. Play ends when the cards are depleted and someone plays his last. Add a point for each remaining gold. Highest score triumphs.
An advanced variant features a traveling Windmill, whose value increases as it moves. Discarding a card in the Windmill's region lets you allocate Explorers to a track where, several times during play, whoever has the most Explorers earns the Windmill's current value in points.
With volatile scoring leading to frequent changes of leadership, and its appeal to all levels of players, Down Under has deservedly soared to the top.
The board is a map of Australia and the surrounding ocean, and it is divided into large areas (18 land and 6 sea). At various points on the borders between adjacent areas are "campsites". At the start of the game two markers, one signifying an environmental project and one an industrial one, are placed in each area. These represent the scoring opportunities and triggering them is a matter of getting the right combination of "rangers" into the campsites on areas's borders.
Each player has a plane and a set of rangers and on their turn will perform two actions from a menu consisting simply of
Moving your plane is straightforward: you just shift it to a new area - land or sea - and distance is no object. Removing men from the board is also uncomplicated: you may retrieve up to four from camps on the border of the region where your plane is located. The second option is less simple and involves playing a card.
Each area is in one of six colours and each card has one of these colours on its front side and four circles on its reverse. Inside each circle is a picture of either a ranger or a coin and the pattern will always feature at least one ranger. Before the game starts, the cards are sorted by the pattern on their reverse and each set is shuffled to form a mini-deck.
Each player has a hand of two cards, and in order to place rangers on to the board you must first play one of them. You then take as many coins and place as many rangers as are shown in the pattern on the card. Your plane must already be in the target area and the colour of the area must match the colour of the card. All the 1-4 rangers that you play are then put into a single campsite on the area's border and this can be either one that was previously empty or one that already contains your own men. You may not place men into a campsite that is occupied by another player. Having played your card and placed your men, you draw a replacement card from the mini-deck of your choice.
The reason for placing men is to try and set up a scoring opportunity. An environmental marker is scored when all the campsites surrounding the area where it is located are occupied. Each ranger in one of these campsites scores 1 point for its owner (except for those at sea which score 2) and there is a 3 point bonus for the player who triggered the scoring. The number of rangers involved will average at about 6-7, with the points for them likely to be split among several players, and so you can see that the bonuses are significant. Trying to gain them will be one of your primary aims. The scoring for the industrial markers is done in the same way, but is triggered differently. Each of these markers has a number in the range 4-9 which is revealed the first time a plane lands in the area. Scoring happens when the number of rangers in the surrounding campsites is exactly equal to this number. If there are already more than the requisite number present, it will be necessary to remove some. Both types of marker are removed from the board after they have been scored.
Picking up bonuses is one of the keys to success; the other is getting maximum value from your larger placements. Because the campsites are on the boundaries of areas and not in their interiors, each group of rangers has the potential to be involved in more than one scoring. Moreover, those scorings are quite likely to be close together and may even happen on the same turn. It is quite possible that a player landing his plane in a region will be able to trigger the scoring for both the environmental and industrial markers or for one marker in this region and one in the region next door. It is these chain effects that arise from campsites being on boundaries that are the main piece of cunning in the design, for they make the game. I was worried when I first read the rules that this was going to be one of those games where areas edge slowly towards a score and then someone swoops in: you do most of the work and someone else collects the reward. But that isn't what happens. It is inevitable that you will set up scoring opportunities for others - and you must be careful not to be too generous about this - but you will do it as a biproduct of scoring points for yourself, which takes out the niggle factor.
The game ends when the cards run out, at which point you complete the round so as to equalise the number of turns for all players and then add the gold coins you have acquired to the points you have accumulated.
What I have described so far is the basic game. There is also an "advanced" one, which involves a windmill and a couple of extra tracks. The windmill moves round the board according to symbols on some of the industrial markers, and if your plane is in the right location relative to the windmill, you can place rangers on one of these two tracks instead of in a campsite. Scored markers are placed on the other track and each time it fills there are points handed out for rangers on the first one. It adds an extra wrinkle to the game's tactics, so you might as well try it, but it is not one of those alternatives that is going to change your opinion of the game as a whole. Most of the play is in the basic game.
Australia is less intricate and less deep than Tikal, Java or Mexica, and it is not a game for strategic plans. What you find yourself doing instead is trying to keep ahead tactically and to grab opportunities as they arise in what is a fast changing situation. It is a good game and we enjoyed it, but when I rate it as "good", I'm deliberately eschewing better ratings such as "very good" and "excellent" - 7 out of 10 in other words. One final point: we have only played with three players and I suspect that this is probably the best number. More players will mean less control.