- Designers: Kristian A. Ostby, Kenneth Minde
- Publisher: Aporta Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Times Played: 2, with review copy provided by Aporta Games
Thus far, I’m a self proclaimed fanboy of Aporta Games. Admittedly, they’re a new company with only one game to their credit… But I was a huge fan of Doodle City, and as of the start of Essen 2015, they have a 100% hit rate in my book. As a result, I was looking forward to trying out their newest release, Automania. In Automania, players run competing car factories – trying to make the most popular cars to sell in both Europe and North America over the course of four years.
The gameboard is dominated by an action area which has 9 grey action area spaces which are around the outside of a 4×4 array. In these 16 spaces, factory tiles are laid out, one per space. The left side of the board then has the North American market – with an area showing what sorts of cars are fashionable there as well as cargo ships for completed cars for this market to be stored on. There is also an area at the bottom for cars to be sold in the market. The right side looks similar, but these car demands and cargo ships are for the European market. The demand for each market is shown by distributing 10 demand discs – 5 on each side. Three discs are active for each round (worth 2 stars, 3 stars and 4 stars). The other two are in waiting, and one of them will move into an active slot in the next turn.
Next to the board, a supply of all the other components is laid out. The deck of contract cards is shuffled and the top three cards are displayed.
In the basic game, each player takes a car factory board, puts in front of him, and each takes 3 city car tokens, 2 family car tokens and 2 sports car tokens. Each player starts with an identical setup in the basic game. In the advanced game, you use the back side of the factory boards, and each player has a slightly different starting arrangement or in-game power. This player board shows the three different production lines for your three different cars, and each line weaves its way through the factory crossing over different factory tile spaces.
Player order is randomly decided and marked on the turn order chart. The starting player starts with the lowest starting VP and money, and each player later in turn order has more money and VP to start with. Each player gets 9 meeples in his color that represent his workforce. Finally, each player is given a starting contract card.
The game is played over four rounds – each split up into two phases: the Action Phase and the Sales Phase.
In the Action Phase, each player takes a single action on their turn or they withdraw from the whole phase and wait for the Sales Phase to begin. To take an Action, you place meeples on any of the 9 Action spaces on the board. You must place a number of meeples equal to one more than those already present on the space you wish to occupy. Any previously placed meeples are returned to their owner for use later in the round. You may not displace your own meeples (i.e. you cannot take the same action twice in a row). As you place you meeples, you must then take a Factory tile that is in the row or column of the Action space you just claimed. If there are no Factory tiles available, then you cannot choose that Action space. This Factory tile must be placed in your factory immediately or be discarded. Once placed, a tile cannot be removed from your factory board, though it can be replaced by a different tile of similar type later in the game.
There are three different types of tiles – Manager tiles, Machine Tiles and Styling Tiles. Manager tiles are placed in one of the four office spaces to the left of your board. These manager tiles give you bonuses in production, sales, or workforce. Machine tiles are placed on the factory floor. As a newly constructed car is made, machine tiles can add to the popularity of a car. Styling tiles are placed above one of the three types of cars, and these add characteristics to all cars of that type from your factory.
But, let’s get back to the whole taking an action bit – when you choose an action, you place meeples on one of 9 spaces. The majority of them (7 of 9) involve producing a car. The space tells you which type of car you’re going to make, and the cost of doing said action. You decide which market that you are making a car for, and then you look at your factory and trace the line that the particular model takes through the factory. You count how many stars (popularity points) that particular car has – stars can be gained by being preprinted on your factory spaces, they can be printed on Styling tiles above the type of car, or by crossing over Machine tiles that have one of the three current wanted traits in either North America or Europe. You total up the star count, and then you place that car on the matching numbered space on a cargo ship. If your number is not available (already occupied with another car), you choose the next highest available slot. If your car is popular enough, you may immediately score victory points – this will be shown on the cargo ship where you place the car.
The other two actions are to draw contract cards. You can either take one of the three face up cards or take the top from the deck. You can use these contract cards later in the game whenever you produce a car. If your newly produced car matches the criteria on the contract card, you show the card to your opponents and then place it into a stack which will be scored at game end.
There are two other areas that you can play your workers – the Sponsorship space and the Marketing space. There is no limit to the number of meeples that can occupy these spaces, and once placed here, you meeples will not return to you until the end of the phase. For each meeple placed in the Sponsorship space, you get one dollar from the bank. For each meeple placed in the Marketing space, you can add one star point to the car you are currently producing.
At any point in the phase, you can choose to withdraw on your turn. You place your turn order marker on one of the four sales office spaces – this will give you some benefits in the Sales Phase (i.e. how many cars you can sell) as well as determining your turn order for the next round.
- Space 1 – you go first next round; you can sell up to 2 cars in the Sales Phase
- Space 2 – you go second next round, you can sell up to 2 cars, and you can choose one of the two tiles shown beneath the sales offices
- Space 3 – you go third next round, you can sell up to 3 cars, you get to take a Contract card now
- Space 4 – you go last next round, but you can sell an unlimited number of cars
Once all players have passed out of the Action phase, you move to the Sales Phase. You always start with the North American market. Starting with the most popular car (the one in the highest numbered space on the cargo ships), the owner of that car can choose to sell that car by placing it on any available open space in the market – some spaces offer only money while other offer a combination of money and VPs. The owning player could choose to not sell, and if so, the car remains on its cargo ship space until the next Sales phase. The topmost space in the sales market, which simply pays a single dollar or VP, can hold as many cars as want to be sold by the players. Remember that players have a limit on the number of cars they can sell in a round based on their turn order choice at the end of the Action phase.
At the end of the sales phase, you need to set up the board for the next round. The player who currently has the lowest score gets to choose the new demand tile. You must choose either the left or the right side to promote (the same side will be used in both markets). The chosen tile will slide down into the 2 star spot, the other tiles move down one space, and the current 4 star tile is moved into the empty waiting spot on the other market. Any remaining factory tiles on the board are removed and new tiles are laid out. Players get their meeples back.
The game ends after the end of the fourth Sales Phase. Any unsold cars are scored at 1 dollar for North America and 1 VP for Europe. Players then score 1 VP per medal on completed contract card or on tiles in their player board. Finally, 10/6/3 VPs are paid to the players with 1st/2nd/3rd most money left at the end of the game. The winner is the player with the most VPs. Any ties (for money or for final VP count) are broken in favor of lower player order from the last round – i.e. the player who would have gone earlier in the next round.
My thoughts on the game
Automania is a nice combination of the worker placement and tile-laying mechanisms. It does not use the traditional worker placement action – where an action can only be used once by the first worker to claim it – though the escalating costs for re-using an action space still makes it important to get to a space earlier in the round. There is also the interesting twist that the action space that you choose limits (or directs) you tile choice for that turn as well. There are definitely times where the action is the primary factor in placement and others where the tile choice is the what drives the decision (and other times where you choose an action because it’s what you happen to be able to afford at that time…)
There is an interesting recycling factor to the worker placement in that you get your workers back when another player displaces your workers from a spot. There have been more than a few rounds when I essentially received an extra action that I was not expecting to be able to take when I got some meeples back just before my turn. It also is important to consider who is getting meeples back (and how many they get back) when you are choosing actions near the end of a round.
The fight for building the best car can be fierce. While you’d like to be able to build the best car possible – by having the right tiles in your factory or the best styling tiles – ties on the cargo ships always go to the car which was produced earlier in the round. Waiting until later may help you meet the criteria on a contract card though – and that is also an important way to score VPs. In the end, the game’s scoring system pushes you to create the best possible car as the scoring is definitely weighted towards rewarding the best cars each round. This is reinforced by the fact that you will be limited in the number of cars that you can sell in most rounds.
You will constantly be changing the focus of your car building, and keeping an eye out on the current and upcoming demands of the market will help you continue to build cards with high star values. The scoring is the same in all rounds, so you could choose to focus on the 3 star traits in the first round and lock in bigger rewards then, or you might choose to build the 1 star traits from the start, knowing that those traits will be desired for the first three rounds of the game. Though the market desires change slowly, the decision of choosing which set of traits to put into the system can be huge.
The artwork style is cartoony – and while I don’t really have any complaints about it, it might be a little mismatched with the more serious/complicated nature of the game. The iconography is easy to follow, and it’s easy to understand what’s going on in the game at a glance.
Thus far, we have only played the basic version of the game where each factory starts out with identical circumstances. I should also make mention that there is an advanced version with “special powers” – each player’s factory does something just a little bit different, and this asymmetrical start will create different paths (and action choices) in those games.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan F.: I’ve only played it once in basic mode, so take this all with a hunk of salt. The game is quite streamlined, other than the cool/quirky movement of the features that give bonuses. I enjoyed the ideas behind it and the tile/grid selection system. I don’t care much about manufacturing cars, but if it is a good game, who cares. I had a few niggling issues. The game is Power Gridish in terms of how often you are calculating and recalculating the same things, such as my car had 15 stars, oh, wait the conditions changed, is it 14 or 16? 1,3,5,8,11, 13, ok 13. Second, we could not find much of a catch the leader mechanism. Once a player can place on the speedboats, there is no way to stop them, as the blocking game goes from essential to irrelevant. Finally, although there is a very strong arc to the game, it is also somewhat tactical and repetitive. This is not inherently bad if you enjoy the process of the game, but I was ready for it to end before it ended. This last issue was likely because it was early morning at a con and it was a learning game, so as I said, take this all with a hunk of salt. I would expect future games will go much faster.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Craig V, Jonathan F
- Not for me…