Australia: A Ranger Placement Game

“All I know is that, of the ten deadliest anything in the world, seven of them are in Australia.”

This was my contribution towards determining the start player for Australia, a board game involving troops of rangers who have been assigned to carry out various conservation and industrialization projects in 1920s Australia.  This is a fairly simple worker placement game for two to five players, with the unique rule that whoever thinks he knows most about Australia starts the game.

Each player gets a little aeroplane, some number of ranges (between 10 and 20, depending on how many people are playing), and draws two cards. The cards are in four piles, face up; each one has a color and shows between one and four rangers, plus between zero and three points, such that the number of coins plus rangers adds up to four.

Each turn, you get two actions, which can be the same. Action one is moving your aeroplane; when you first put it into play it can go anywhere on the board, but after that you have to move it to an adjacent region. You need a plane present to play or pick up rangers, which is pretty much the entire game.

Every area of the map has two counters on it: one, the industrialization counter, is face down, and has a number on it. The other, conservation, is the same in every tile. When a plane moves into the region for the first time, the industrialization counter is flipped face up. Scoring is simple: each region has circles around the edges (which it shares with neighboring regions) where rangers can be placed. If every circle in a region contains at least one ranger, then the conservation token is scored. If the total number of rangers in the region is exactly equal to the number on the conservation token, then it is scored. However, there’s a nice little twist to keep people paying attention: scoring is optional. If you don’t notice that you can score a region on your turn, your opponent might go and score it on his!

Scoring is again pretty simple: whoever scores the region gets 3 points, and then every ranger in the region scores a point for its owner; rangers on boats (that is, ocean circles) score double. In the full game, the tiles are also used to determine when to score the windmill, which adds a bit more strategy.

So how do you place workers? The second possible action is playing a card, which must be the same color as the region; you can also pay 3 coins to treat another card as if it was the correct color. You then take any money shown on the card, and play up to as many rangers as it shows (provided you have enough left in your supply). Finally, you draw another card to replace the one you just played; up until the end of the game, you’ll always have two cards in hand. Run out of rangers? For another action, you can pick up up to four rangers from the region your plane is in and return them to your supply.

What makes the game tricky is that, while you want to have as many rangers as possible present in each scoring, your total number is pretty limited so you can run out quickly.  If you don’t have time to go over and pick up some of the rangers you previously deployed, you can spend $4 to parachute one of your rangers to another location. Of course, every coin is worth a point at the end of the game..

The game ends when the draw decks have all been exhausted and one player is out of cards; since cards can also be discarded for two points, this tends to happen pretty quickly once the decks run out. The windmill is scored again, and whoever has the most points wins the game.

This is the type of game that I like to play occasionally (which has generally meant once every couple of years), but wouldn’t want to play a lot. It’s easy to teach and plays quickly, but there’s not really a whole lot of strategy there; you’re basically looking for a chance to score multiple tiles in one action, for as many points as possible. It can’t compare to a strong worker placement game like Caylus, but it’s a reasonably good introduction to the concept.

My advice? Try before you buy.

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