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Outback Board Game Review


Michael Kiesling is Mr AP to me. Well, I should probably say “a Mr AP” as his buddy Wolfgang Kramer is half the brains behind games like Azul, Renature, and Savannah Park,. He also designed my spatial nemesis Miyabi which I love but never win. And what mind mashingly wonderful, analusis paralysis inducing tile laying abstract games they are. We have nearly all of the Azuls and Miyabi. and each of them hurt my head in the best possible way. I’d love to say I also have Sansoucci. But, as it seems unavailable everywhere except Brazil, that will be on my wishlist for a while yet! Anyhooo, shortly after the OG Azul was released, he designed Outback. And Outback is all about getting zoo animals back to, well, the outback! Unlike the Azuls etc. this one involves some good old fashioned dice chucking. Don’t worry though; tile placement, set collection, and pattern building are still there. This is a Kiesling game after all! But, with a lighter touch on the brain burn button, Outback is an altogether friendlier family affair.

Jeepers It's Hot In The Desert

At its core, it’s rolling and matching dice to animal tiles to get them on your board in groups suitable for scoring. Koalas, lizards, emus, kangaroos, and platypus all vie for space on the desert jeep hoping to be rehomed.

And each turn, you roll 6 custom dice, setting aside any you want to keep and re-rolling the rest (including those previously set aside) up to another 2 times The idea is to match the animal on the dice (or the wild joker symbol which has to match one of the animal types you already rolled) to any of the 5 the hexagonal animal tile types on the jeep tile holder. Note that if the jeep ever shows 5 identical animals, they get replaced with 5 new ones from the tile bag.

If you do, you can use as many dice as you want to collect matching tiles and place them on spaces in your Outback. Where you place them depends on how many of that type you rolled e.g. if you rolled 3 koalas and 2 lizards, you could place a koala on the 3 dice row and a lizard on the 2 dice row. A single animal on your board will score a point and move your token up the left-hand scoring tracker on your Outback board. But, as you start to group them, the more points you’ll get for laying additional animals of that type adjacent to each other. There are also bonuses for every player should they lay specific sized groups of animals – power of the pack! When you have picked and placed, the jeep gets refilled from tiles in the bag.

Living La Vida Lizard

When you reach 9 points for a single animal type, the token starts moving along the top point tracker on your board. And that’s good because that means that animal type is guaranteed to score at end game. If you still have tokens on the left-hand track by end game, however, only 3 out of the 4 are going to score points. And the lowest becomes a negative!

If you can’t place a tile from the jeep onto your board on your turn, you take tile from the bag and flip it face down on a spot on your board. And that means more negative points at end game. It also hinders future grouping opportunities which is going to hurt potential scoring as the game goes on.

When your boards are bursting and the first player has filled up their Outback, the game is over and the player with the most points is the winner!

Final Thoughts

Does anything about Outback sound familiar to you? Ok, let me ask you this: have you played a rarely mentioned game called “Yahtzee”? I’m pulling your platypus, of course! Almost everyone has either gone a round or ten with Yahtzee or at least heard of it.

And here, the familiar basic dice rolling Yahtzee gameplay is in effect. Rolling dice (including “keepers”) to score the maximum you can each turn. Okay so you don’t have 13 different one-time scoring options to select from each turn. And straight runs won’t get you anything in Outback). But the idea of allocating dice rolls to score specific sets is there.

But I’m not saying that in a bad way. Yahtzee is a hugely accessible and popular game. So the fact that Outback borrows the dice mechanism from it means that newbies and those more familiar with gaming can pick up and play with ease. And that’s the mark of a fun family game! Having the advanced “plus” side of the board with first-past-the-platypus scoring goals and all that extra negative scoring potential keeps it fresh for those more experienced gamers seeking out more sand in their gaming sandals.

With player interaction limited and zero player elimination, Outback feels like a “friendly” game option, although there is a bunch of negative scoring. To make it “nicer” it might have been cool to be able to remove face-down tiles or flip them over and re-position them if you, say, sacrificed dice rolls on a later turn. But I’m really just trying to get myself out of finishing last place here!

Components wise, the boards, tiles, and dice are all good. I was hoping the jeep may have been something a bit more exciting – it’s just a cardboard stand for pool tiles – but our son likes it.

To be fair, we went straight in and played with the “plus” advanced mode scoring objectives in effect – I know, such rebels! And I would recommend having them in play for the extra challenge unless there are really young players. We like playing Outback with our 7 year old son (he’s not at Azul level meanie drafting yet haah!) He’s a dice chucker fan. And he loves “driving” the jeep to each of us on our turn (even though it is neither necessary nor on actual wheels). And when we play, he knows that “making families” of the same animal is good. He hasn’t quite got the finesse of all the scoring yet - neglecting an animal type often sees his score reverse quite substantially, as does the double hit when he lays a face down tile). But then again sometimes so does mine! And the scoring is pretty clever in Outback. Learning how to balance competing interests is a life lesson for which board gaming gives a safe and exciting platform to practice. And boy, do I need the practice in Outback! Maybe I should just insist we play the team variant instead: 2 v 1 sounds fair to me! Haha