I heard about this game a few months ago before it was released. It sounded a lot like another game that I love called Kanban: Automotive Revolution. That one is a heavy Euro game about working in a car factory. I love this theme so I was definitely interested, but when I saw the art on the box cover, I was kind of turned off. The art makes it look like one of those mediocre family games you’d find at Target. But then I saw Tom Vasel’s review over at The Dice Tower, and that changed my mind. He loved it. Do I love it? Do I like it as much as Kanban? Let’s find out.
Automania is a 2-4 player game. It plays from ages 12 and up (though my 9 year old nephew can play it no problem), and plays in about an hour, maybe 90 minutes depending on who you play it with. It was released at the end of October.
In this game, each player is running their own car factory. They will be using their workers to make different cars, upgrades for their cars, and ultimately selling their cars to get money and victory points. Players can also collect contract cards. The cards will have an objective for the player to fulfill by the end of the game. Whoever has the most points after 4 rounds is the winner.
Each player takes their own factory board, , 6 workers and starts the game with 6,7,8, or 9 dollars, depending on turn order. They will also get a starting contract card.
During a round, in player order, everyone takes one action by placing their worker on a spot on the main board. Players will continue to do this until all players are out of workers and/or have withdrawn. If a worker of another color is already at the space you want to go to, you can still go there, but you must put one more worker than what is already there, kicking those workers out, which return to which ever player they belong to (they will also be able to use those workers again this round).
There are various action spaces to place your workers on.
You can place workers on a car space. You can build a smart car, station wagon, or a sports car, which cost 1,2, or 3 dollars respectively. The corner spot featuring the covered up car means you can build any car.
You can also place it on the draw 1 contract card space, which means you draw one of the face up contracts, or draw one facedown from the draw pile.
Now when you take one of these action, you can take any upgrade tile that is the corresponding line of the action space you just placed your worker(s) at.
You then can place these immediately on your factory board, upgrading any car of your choosing.
These upgrades are important, because each type of upgrade is worth a certain number of popularity points, which you can track on the chart at the bottom of the main board:
When you make a car, you have it go through the assembly line on your factory board. For each star, and upgrade tile it passes over, you add up it’s popularity points. You pick which market you are selling it to (There are 2 different markets, one on the far left and one on the far right of the board). Then you place the car on the numbered space that matches it’s popularity points. If there is already a car there, then you must put it on the numbered space that is lower.
Once the round is over, cars will be sold in each market, starting with the car whose popularity is the highest. The player will take their car and place it in a spot on the market space. These spaces will give you victory points and/or money. Money is good to have because that’s how you get to make cars, but it’s also good to get victory points because that’s how you win.
There are also spaces on the board to get you more money and to boost your popularity on a car. These spaces can hold unlimited workers of different colors.
One thing I forgot to mention. There are also manager tiles you can acquire from the board, besides the upgrade tiles. When you get them, you place them in your office spaces on your factory board:
The managers give you benefits. Like extra workers, extra popularity for every car you produce, allowing you to build an extra car or to get extra money. You still have to pay to place them in your office though.
Let’s take a look at a contract card:
Each of these have a certain requirement in order to score them. Like the one on the far right needs you to produce a sports car with a popularity of at least 14, plus it must also have a speedometer upgrade. If you do this, you will receive 4 points at the end of the game.
Sorry if the explanation was a little messy. There’s a lot going on here, or at least it may seem that way. It’s actually pretty straight forward.
First there is the action phase where you produce cars and take contract cards. Then there is the sell phase, where each player sells their cars that they placed on ships. That’s it.
I should say that during the action phase, when you withdraw, you place your remaining worker on a turn order spot. This will determine how many cars you can sell during the sell phase.
I didn’t go through every little detail of the game, but I think this should give you a pretty good idea of how the game plays. After 4 rounds, the game ends and every score their contract cards. Player with the most points is the winner.
I would like to call this Kanban Jr. Not because this is like a kiddie version of that game, but it’s definitely a more streamlined version of it. To be fair, they are different games with different mechanics. The only similar thing really is that it’s a worker placement game with a car factory theme. That’s where the comparisons end.
The flow of this game is very smooth. Once you know how the game works, it can move very fast. The 4 rounds can go by pretty quickly. Almost a little too quickly. But I did feel like I could complete my contract cards in time, or at least most of them.
The theme is a fun one, and it really comes through . You really feel like you’re making cars. I love the idea of upgrading your car to make it more sought after. That makes thematic sense. The managers that you can collect are also cool. I like figuring out different ways to boost the popularity of each car I make. I forgot to mention that the popularity of each upgrade changes every round, which makes balancing the popularity of each of your cars a challenge. It’s not too difficult, but you definitely have work to do.
I do have one negative thing to say about the game. And that’s the artwork, especially the cover. I find the cartoony artwork is disconnected with the type of game that this is. It’s a medium strategy game, but the artwork makes this seem like a game for 5 year olds. I think it’s unattractive. Though I do think the layout of the board is really neat. It functions really well. I also like the scoring track around the board.
That said, the game itself if a really good one. I like the decisions one has to make throughout the game. Plus, I’m a sucker for objective cards, so I collected a bunch during my plays of the game. There’s something satisfying about completing objectives. Love it!
Do I like it better than Kanban? Well, I kind of think that’s not really fair to ask. I do prefer crunchier games, so I do like Kanban better, but in no way do I think this game should be dismissed. I like this one quite a bit, and I think I will be playing this one a lot. And here’s why:
I feel that this game is a really good introduction to heavier games. If you have a friend who likes Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Pandemic, and other gateway games, and you want to take them to the next level of gaming, then I feel that Automania is the perfect game for that. Its rules are easy to understand, it has a fun theme, and it plays fairly quick for a worker placement, Euro game. It also introduces a deeper strategy than most gateway games, but in an accessible way. So I will definitely be using this in my gaming group.
Sound mechanics, a decent amount of strategy, and with a very smooth gameplay, Automania is a winner! A really good game!