Auztralia is a complex strategy game that contains a unique cooperative/competitive mechanic as well as some pretty neat euro-style strategy mechanics.
I'm taking a look at the game's adaptation on Tabletopia. We played both the solo variant and the multiplayer versions many times. We did not play with any of the unlocked Kickstarter variants.
Stand Out Mechanics
Auztralia has several strategy mechanics that make it stand out from the crowded strategy board game genre.
Solo to Four Player Scaling: The core game automatically scales perfectly from one to four players. The only difference between solo mode and multiplayer mode is your player's starting resources (and whether one particular hex is laid down.)
Card-Based Enemy AI: the enemy AI is controlled entirely by two decks of cards. There's enough variety where you never know what the next card is going to be. Additionally by shaping actions based on enemy type, it allows enemies to exhibit different types of behaviors on the map. For instance, Zombies tend to move slower than Mi-Gos.
Time As Resource: Auztralia isn't the first game to make time a resource, but I've never played a game that executes this concept so successfully. Whoever is last on the player track will be the next to go at the end of each turn. This creates a "leap frog" mechanic where you generally get two actions to do something, but if you need to you can sacrifice extra time for stronger attacks, more farms, or building railroads.
Personalities: Throughout the game, you can pick a Personality from a pool to recruit to your team. Some personalities give a one-off resource bonus, some give bonus VP, and some give major permanent upgrades to farms and combat. All of them feel powerful in the right scenario, and picking a Personality is generally one of the first things you'll do with a fresh board in a multiplayer game. It can give you a major edge over both the AI and your opponents.
AI as Another Player: The AI has a unique gameplay structure in that is treated as its own player. This means the AI plays exactly as frequently as the players (although the players do get a significant head start.) The AI is ultimately controlled by cards, the deck setup in stages that gets progressively more difficult. The AI also has different victory conditions but they aren't far off of the player's VP conditions (players get VP for farms, Elder Ones get VP for destroying them.)
This design really helps with making the game scalable. It also creates a tense competitive/solo mechanic. You want to beat your opponents, but you also don't want the Elder Ones to destroy their port (this immediately ends the game and unless happens very late in the game, ensures an Elder One victory.)
What We Liked
Everything about this game is fun. Even the setup is exciting as you dole out currency, mysterious enemies, and resources randomly on the map. It's scary when a level 1 monster gets upgraded to a level 3 due to bad series of hexes, and enticing when one area of the map gets a clump of resources.
You feel in charge of your strategy right from the get-go by making an extremely important decision in which hex to put your Port. Will you pick a hex closer to a clump of natural resources, but hindered by a glob of mountains, or will you start on the beach, no mountains, and you get an easier route to corn farms.
Throughout the game, everyone is building their army, collecting resources, and amassing VP, but there are many different ways to do this, and making powerful moves takes up Time, which is the one resource you can't get any more of once you have spent it.
The Personality cards feel powerful, and can swing your strategy up to the late-game. If you manage to stack a few that make your farms more effective, or buff up one of your military unit types helps find a path to victory. Just scoring free resources with these cards also feels good.
The action selection is best-of-genre in my opinion. You only have 8 different types of actions you can take, but by allowing you to retake actions (at a cost) and deciding how much of your Time you want to spend on an action makes it as interesting as something like Feast of Odin which has the same level of strategy but with way more complexity.
What Could be Improved
There's not much to criticize in this game. It's fun, exciting and plays just as well solo as it does with multiple players. If there's one thing to call out, it's the theme. Elder Gods are supposed to be unstoppable forces of nature, but Australia's military has very little problem handling them (even without Eldritch artifacts.) In fact, the only monster that is a real threat to a fully-equipped player is Cthulhu. I think Kaiju or an alien invasion may have been a better theme to fit the gameplay. The default game is also a bit easy once you've mastered the subtleties of some of the strategies. We are looking forward to some of the many variants unlocked in the Kickstarter that up the game's difficulty.
That said, finally getting revenge on all these monsters that have repeatedly killed us over and over again in Eldritch Horror is quite sweet.
Notes on the Tabletopia Version
The assets in the Tabletopia version are excellent, high quality and convey how the cardboard version of the game will be played excellently. There are a couple of notes for improvement however.
The biggest hindrance to playing on Tabletopia is the lack of automatic setup. It will take you at least 10 minutes to set up the game from scratch if you are playing in the regular (non-solo room.)
The rule book is very low resolution. Get the rule book on BGG if you are learning the game for the first time.
Where to Buy
Although the Kickstarter has ended, you can still pre-order the game here:
The game is currently free to play on Tabletopia. You can play a pre-setup solo mode (which lacks randomization) or an unsetup game for 1-4 players.
Time to Learn: 40 minutes watching the excellent Kickstarter how-to-play videos. and reading manual, 15-20 minutes to teach.
Price: $54USD for Regular, $64USD for Founder's Edition
9 out of 10 (Excellent - very much enjoyed playing)