I was interested when this was first released, but the more I play Wallace games, the more interested I am in trying his other titles. The Cthulhu theme has been hit or miss for me. But the way AuZtralia handles it feels very different.
Martin Wallace certainly seems to have some hallmarks. The most obvious is probably the use of hexes and tracks. He does like a good hex map. The combat is also card-driven instead of dice. In general, many of his designs feature some card mechanism. There have been a few of his games that also feature wargame-like army building. And the combat does become the focus of AuZtralia.
But one of the things I really like about AuZtralia is the time track (not to be confused with the train tracks). It’s a last-goes-first mechanic, but everyone has limited time before the old ones begin waking. Each action takes 1-3 time. It’s clean and works really well. And it really puts pressure on the players to prepare.
Speaking of, one of the unusual aspects of the game is that the first half or so is all build-up. You have no starting units, just a harbor and resources. You’ll spend the first part of the game expanding your reach, collecting more resources, building your army, and hopefully, attacking some old ones before they wake. It’s a game won by collecting victory points, but it’s a while before you actually earn any. The first part of the game has an almost relaxing feel of collecting resources, customizing your strategy, and expanding. Then part 2 hits and it’s anything but relaxing.
In our first game, we didn’t really do as much preparing as we should have. A zombie woke up near me very early into the second part of the game and it made a bee-line to my harbor. I wasn’t able to defeat it and the game ended (it ends early if someone’s harbor is destroyed). We lost to the old ones by a mile since they score points at the end of the game, more if the game ended early. But we had enough fun that the sudden ending didn’t dissuade us from trying again.
Game two, we knew to not take it easy until the old ones wake. We knew to prepare early and strike first. It went much better. Our crops were still almost completely wiped out, but together, we did manage to defeat Cthulhu, and our points were very close (we actually scored the same on defeated old ones, my friend only won because, at the very end, he threw down some crops for his last action).
There are so many tense moments in the game, many ups and downs, and the semi-coop elements work really well. Players aren’t arbitrarily forced to cooperate until they start fighting each other, players are instead encouraged to help each other when possible else everyone loses, and you never turn on each other.
Playing online, however, was really annoying. Lots of little moving pieces are very fiddly and slow using the mouse where it would take like 2 seconds in person. We look forward to being able to play it in person. We’ve already talked about increasing the difficulty and looking at the expansions.