Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Ravensburger/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 60-90 minutes; $39.95)


The Australian continent serves as the setting for the aptly named Australia, the latest offering from the design team of Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling whose formidable credits include Tikal (Spring 1999 GA REPORT) and Torres (Fall 1999 GA REPORT). The premise of the game is straightforward. With ecology looming large, players seek to deploy their rangers to complete conservation and industrialization projects. The player who does this most advantageously will win the game.australiabox

Australia comes with a mounted mapboard dividing the continent into 24 colored land and water regions. Along these areas are “camps” (circular spaces) where players may place their rangers. The industrialization tiles have a picture of telegraph poles on the front and a number (ranging from 4 to 9) on the back. One such tile is randomly placed, face down, in each region. The conservation tiles, picturing a koala, are the same on both sides and one of these is also placed in each region. Players are given a set of rangers in their chosen color (ranging from 10 when five are playing to 20 when only two are in the game) as well as an airplane and a score marker in their matching color. A “player’s board” is given to every player, a very useful play aid which summarizes the important rules for ease of play.

The front of the 42 cards in the game depict the number of rangers that may be deployed (from 1 to 4) in a region and the amount of gold (from 1 to 3) you receive for playing that card. (In all cases, the total of rangers plus gold equals 4.) It also shows the color of the region in which the card may be played. The back of the card gives you the same information with one significant difference. As the backs are all the same color, the region where the card may be played is not seen. The cards are divided into four stacks so that all of the same type of card (allowing the same number of rangers to be placed) are in the same stack. Eight cards for each stack are used; remaining cards are out of the game. The scoring markers are placed on the track around the board’s perimeter. Now, each player chooses, one at a time, one card from any of the four stacks until all players have two cards in their hand.

A player turn consists of doing TWO of three possible actions. They are:

1. Fly – A player may place his airplane in any region on the board. (This does NOT require the play of a card.) When a plane enters a region, its industrialization card is immediately flipped over to reveal its number.

2. Play a card – Cards may only be played if the color of the card matches the color in which the airplane is located. (Think of it as flying rangers into the area.) If that condition is met, the player may now place up to the number of rangers found on his card in any one camp bordering that region. He also collects the specified number of gold coins found on the card from the bank.

3. Take back rangers – A player may remove as many as four rangers from an area in which his plane is located, from one or multiple camp sites in the region.

As the game progresses, it may be impossible or undesirable to play a card you hold. You may, however, discard a card and get 1 Victory Point for it. You also get any gold you may be entitled to for that card play. And gold can do some pretty important things here.

If stuck with cards of a color you really don’t want, you can spend 3 gold to change the color of the card! For 4 gold, you can “teleport” a ranger (that is, move one of your rangers anywhere on the board) to ANY other camp on the board provided it is empty or holds your rangers. (No “dropping in” on rangers of another player.) In this case, it doesn’t matter where your airplane is! Gold is valuable for yet another reason. At game’s end, each gold equals 1 Victory Point. But you can reap VPs in bushels by closing in regions.australiapcs

Once exposed, an industrialization tile comes into play. As soon as there are the exact number of rangers occupying camps around that region EQUAL to the number on the industrialization tile, that area scores. And scoring is a little different from your typical game.

The player triggering the scoring starts is rewarded with a bonus of 3 VPs. Then, ALL rangers in the region score, 1 point per ranger. So, for example, if a tile in that area has a value of 5 and white triggers scoring there by placing two rangers when orange already has three rangers in the area, white would earn 5 VPs (3 for triggering the scoring and 1 for each ranger in the area) while orange would score 3 VPs just for being there! The 3 VP bonus generally gives an edge to the player who triggers scoring but not always. Theoretically (and this HAS happened in our sessions), the player who triggers the scoring will actually score LESS than other players in the area! (This can be a good move and viable strategy if the other player in the region is far behind and scoring will prevent a close opponent from either distancing himself from you or closing the gap between you should he score.)

Conservation tiles work in a similar way except that to score ALL camps bordering the region MUST be occupied by at least one ranger. Again the player triggering the scoring by filling in the last camp gets a 3 VP bonus. (To compensate for fewer camps on the water, rangers occupying a camp on the water earn 2 VPs per ranger whenever there is scoring.) Once scored, both industrialization and conservation tiles are removed from the game.

The game continues until the end of the round in which all four draw piles are exhausted and one player has played his last card. Now, gold is added to the VP totals of the players. The player with the highest VP total wins. (In case of a tie, the player with the most gold is credited with the win.)

For gamers wishing to add a little something to the basic game, Australia comes with a windmill that may be used.

The windmill begins in any region and then, when an industrialization tile bearing a windmill icon is flipped (those with values of 6 or 7), the windmill moves to that region and its value (which started at 2) moves up one notch with a maximum value of 12. The windmill, in essence, provides another region for ranger placement and scoring.

Two tracks correlate to the windmill: one for rangers and one for tiles. Players may place rangers on the windmill track as if they were placing rangers in regions (except that if their airplane is in an adjacent area to the windmill, rangers may be placed on the ranger windmill track). After an industrialization or conservation tile is scored, it gets placed on the tile track next to the windmill. Once the seven spaces of the tile track are filled, windmill scoring occurs.

The player with the most rangers on the track scores points equal to the windmill’s current value. The player with the second most receives half the points (rounded down) with the player with the third most receiving half of the second place points rounded down.

Australia is very tactical in nature. Placement of rangers can cause a “domino effect” as one region can impact on another causing a run of region scoring with only one placement. A player may easily overlook a potential scoring opportunity so be alert! The rules are very unforgiving in this regard. They specifically state that if you miss a scoring chance, the next player who sees it gets the 3 VP bonus. And speaking of rules, Australia fell victim to a rules “glitch” which may (or may not) affect your view of the game.

The original German rules call for cards to be placed in stacks FACE DOWN so players do NOT know to which regions the cards are linked. The American rules call for the cards to be placed FACE UP giving players “perfect information”. The danger with the American rules is that there could be “analysis paralysis” as players become transfixed by the myriad possibilities ranger placement may cause. Fortunately, in our multiple plays, using both German and American rules, analysis paralysis never became a factor. The windmill is another story. While the windmill addition may appeal to some, it adds a certain randomness to play which the game really doesn’t need.

Australia is an attractive offering on several levels. Graphically, the nicely molded plastic airplanes and rangers give the game a pleasant look. As for design, there is, as is typical of Kramer & Kiesling games, some solid decision-making to be done although long range planning is difficult. The game stresses – and rewards – flexibility as tactical maneuvers can change the landscape of the board quickly and, sometimes, unexpectedly. Australia is a game about “Down Under” up to the high standards of a Kramer & Kiesling design and another worthy addition to their resume. – – – Herb Levy


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

Summer 2005 GA Report Articles


Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser (Kosmos/Mayfair Games, 3-4 players, ages 10 and up, about 60 minutes; $49.99) I’ve had the great fortune to have traveled quite extensively throughout Europe and the United States. However, I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting South America, and I’ve always been fascinated by pictures of the rain forest and surrounding Amazon region. One day, I hope to visit the ...
Read More
Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser (Hangman Games, 3-5 players, 2 hours, ages 12 and up; $40) Last year, the major game highlight for me at the Gathering was Alan Ernstein’s Tahuantinsuyu (Summer 2004 GA REPORT). The game is excellent, and was one of my Top 3 games of 2004. I also thoroughly enjoyed Junkyard, his novel trick-taking game using tiles. So, I was eagerly anticipating ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Ravensburger/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 60-90 minutes; $39.95) The Australian continent serves as the setting for the aptly named Australia, the latest offering from the design team of Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling whose formidable credits include Tikal (Spring 1999 GA REPORT) and Torres (Fall 1999 GA REPORT). The premise of the game is straightforward. With ecology ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Word Salt, Inc., 2 to 4 players, ages 8 to 108, less than an hour; $29.95) In today's world, writing seems to be a dying art. Baffle Gab seeks to restore that aspect of human communication in a game allowing parents AND children to sharpen their pencils and writing skills and still have a good time. Baffle Gab comes in a ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (James Miller, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $9.99) What? Another trick-taking game? With all the trick-taking games out there, you'd think you'd have to be a nut to bring a new one to the market. Except James M. Miller, who definitely shows sign of sanity, is not a nut but a "control nut". He has created and self-published ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Schmidt Spiele, 3-8 players, ages 8 and up, about 20 minutes; about $40) Jewels buried deep within the earth lure players to the table with Diamant, the first collaborative design by Alan R. Moon and Bruno Faidutti. In this light and fast-paced game, players seek to remove jewels from mines all the while knowing that disaster may strike at any time! ...
Read More
We Are NOT Alone In the vast reaches of the universe, we humans have always wondered if we are the only form of life in the cosmos. Outside of books and films and our imaginations, do aliens exist? Is there intelligent life out there? The definitive answer to that question has yet to be found. But when it comes to gaming, the answer has been ...
Read More
(Back in the Fall 1997 issue of GA REPORT, Steve Kurzban took a look at a little game called For Sale. With the new version of this game hitting the marketplace, we thought we'd flashback to see what Kban said about this great little game 8 years ago! ) FOR SALE (Ravensburger; out of print) For Sale is a card game for 3-5 players (best ...
Read More
(The Fall 1997 issue of GA REPORT featured a then new Reiner Knizia game we liked a great deal but, somehow, flew below the radar of many gamers. That game was Palmyra. Today, Überplay has revamped this release under the title Buy Low/Sell High, featured this issue. But here's what we thought of the original way back when.) PALMYRA (Editrice Giochi; out of print) Caravans ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Überplay, 3-6 players, ages 8 and up, 10-15 players; $19.99) Two awkward circumstances often arise during a typical game night with friends: 1) what to do before the rest of the crew arrives AND 2) what to do when the night draws to a close and your brain is too fried to deal with the heavy lifting required by some of ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Buffalo Games, 2-8 players, ages 8 and up, 75-100 minutes; about $30) Some people always like to get in the last word. In Buffalo Games' new adult party game, Last Word, that's the trait that can make you a winner! Last Word comes in a bookshelf style box which includes a playing board, 230 subject cards, 56 letter cards, 8 pawns, ...
Read More
Reviewed by Larry Levy (Alea/Rio Grande Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 75-100 minutes; $29.95) Last issue, I reviewed Jambo and I mentioned that when it came out, I had really been looking forward to a game from one of my favorite new designers, Rüdiger Dorn, in one of my favorite game series, Kosmos’ Spiele für Zwei. Well, I really like that series, but ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $45) I love those old B-movies and I'm especially fond of those that feature strange monsters threatening mankind. Well, now these scary monsters have returned. But this time, the return is not on celluloid but on the gaming table - with the new release of Monsters Menace America ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Überplay, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; $29.99) Reiner Knizia's Palmyra is a terrific game that vanished from the gaming scene, swept under the surface in the flood of other Knizia releases. We featured it and liked it way back when. (The original review is reprinted in this issue.) The game deserved a better fate. Fortunately, Überplay has come ...
Read More
Reviewed by Larry Levy (Zoch Verlag/Rio Grande Games, 2-6 players, ages 8 and up, 20 minutes; $24.95) Dice don’t have a very good reputation in gaming these days, primarily because a lot of us grew mighty sick of them due to our childhood exposure to designs like Monopoly and Risk. But I think that true dice games, where the gameplay revolves around judging probabilities and ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Columbia Games, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 3-8 hours; $59.99) About 20 years ago, Craig Besinque came up with an interesting and challenging design that zeroed in on the North African campaign of World War II. Long out of print, the game has now returned in a new edition, destined to warm the hearts of wargamers everywhere (just as the ...
Read More
Reviewed by Frank Branham (Days of Wonder, 3-7 players, ages 10 and up, 60-80 minutes; $49.95) It has taken two weeks to try and figure out how to start this review decently WITHOUT using a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Perhaps I shouldn't bother, as Days of Wonder includes at least two references to the legendary movie inside the game itself. What ...
Read More
Reviewed by Herb Levy (Hans im Glück/Rio Grande Games, 3-5 players, ages 10 and up, about 45 minutes; $34.95) The seven wonders of the ancient world - and why the eighth wonder was never built - is the puzzle posed in yet another new design from the prolific Reiner Knizia: Tower of Babel. Tower of Babel comes bookshelf boxed with a mounted game board, 28 ...
Read More