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We’ve got a bit of a theme this week as we dive into another animal centric boardgame. Blame our resident zoologist. So, after braving life and limb to film our documentaries on the Zambezi river, we’re taking it down a notch and heading to Australia to manage animal reserves in Outback!
If you’ve been reading our reviews for a while, you’ll probably have noticed that our coverage has been focused on simpler games recently. There’s a good explanation for this: we like ‘em. Complex war simulations, worker placement, legacy games and deckbuilders all have their place but sometimes you just want to chill out with something easy and nice and Outback is exactly that. It’s the kind of game you can play while having a conversation and that gets big bonus points for game night. Each component is bright and engaging and well designed and with its painterly style the animals just have so much character.
Every mechanic in Outback is focused around the attractive jeep centrepiece which dictates which animals you can get for your reserve on any given turn. At the start of each game you fill the jeep’s 5 spaces with animals drawn randomly from the black bag (just like real animal reserves) and replace any that are removed. To take animals from the jeep you roll 6 dice that have the Aussie favourites (Koala, Kangaroo, Platypus, Emu, and that lizard whose name I forget) and take any animals you get matches for.
So far so family but Outback actually has some great little tactical twists to it. Each row in your reserve requires a certain number of dice to access. You want a koala at the top, you need 6 dice showing the koala symbol. Want one at the bottom, you need 2 dice showing it. Thankfully you get 3 attempts to roll a valid selection, fail it however and you get a ruined zone on your board that takes points away at the end. You can’t just focus on one creature and point them to the finish line either though as you’re scored on your lowest 3 animals. Which means you have to balance which animals you’re taking, where you’re putting them, and how well you’re scoring. And with bonuses for grouping and getting 3 of a kind, Outback quickly becomes a thinky game.
There’s even an Outback Plus version included which has a slightly larger reserve and special mission tokens (be the first to fill a row, get 5 of a creature, fill the reserve) which makes for a more competitive experience. The only downside is that the scoring of some of these missions feels a bit low compared to the difficulty of getting them.
Sadly though – and we will always mention this until it stops – the rulebook only uses “he”. It’s a sad decision that, while likely not malicious, really makes our female players feel that “hey, this game isn’t for you”. Especially when its the 4th or so game in a row to do so.
To end on a lighter note, one of the example players is called Anna so I felt very included and the game itself is a ton of fun, bad rulebook aside.
You can pick it up from R&R’s website here: https://rnrgames.com/outback
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