Review by Ken Tidwell, May 8, 1994.
Livingstone Games recently issued a thousand copy limited edition of Ian Livingstone's Automania, the game of the motor giants. Automania simulates the struggle for control of six of the world's largest car markets. Four to six intrepid gamers assume the role of automobile producing nations and duke it out for the hard earned sheckles of the car buying public. Their weapon: advertising.
The mechanics are fairly simple. Every nation produces a fixed number of cars each turn. The players openly export two of their cars to countries of their choice. Here the players can either make a bold move for the control of a large market (such as the United States) or they can feint in hopes that either those large markets will go unclaimed or that the other players concentrate on a heated battle for the large markets while they snap up a set of smaller markets.
Next players secretly allocate their remaining cars. Players can concentrate their cars in one of the six export markets or shoot for picking up the dregs of many markets. Players must consider the going rate for cars in the various markets in addition to the rate of consumption. For instance, the Swiss public only buy two cars per turn but are willing to pay US$12,000 for them. In contrast, the Mexican public snaps up ten cars per turn but will only pay US$5,000 per car. Players also have to remember that their exports may end up rusting on the lot. Control of a market is not determined by sheer export volume; it is determined by who runs the most expensive ad campaign!
The players then allocate advertising money to each of the six export markets. At the time that advertising dollars are allocated no one knows which markets will be hit with a glut of automobiles and which will be so transportation starved that everything with wheels will be snapped up, clever ads or no. Maximizing your ad performance is the key to the game. There is no limit to the amount of money one can spend on an ad campaign which makes this a real spoiler's game! A player that goes all out in a country can guarantee that their cars will sell first there even though they will not make a profit. It is also very easy to overspend on advertising making profit impossible.
The players then place their auto exports on the board. At this point the game should be completely deterministic; there are no random elements involved. Ah, but Mr. Livingstone is aware that the world markets just aren't like that! Each player has at their disposal at all times two market information cards. Market information cards represent the caprices of local taste, market control by national governments, and sheer bad luck. At this point each player reveals one of their market information cards. The effects of these cards are applied immediately. The effects range from exports from a particular source being barred from an export market to a strike which limits the number of cars produced by a particular country to a card which causes all players to play both of their market information cards in the same turn which results in total pandamonium.
Finally, advertising budgets are revealed. The player that has spent the most on advertising in a particular country sells their cars first. Then the second biggest spender sells their cars and so on until the markets appetite for four wheeled transport is sated.
Players tally their income from car sales and subtract their advertising spending to come up with an annual profit. Annual profits are divided by US$10,000, rounded down, and their marker on a point scoring track is advanced that number of spaces. There is no retrograde movement so losses are rounded up to zero. The first player to advance their marker to the finish, which represents US$310,000 in profits, wins.
The game is fun but falls short of classic. At first our players were shy of going for the big, high profit markets but we quickly learned that shyness has no place in the automobile industry. Landing two blowout turns - say, taking all of the U.S. market or part of the U.S. and all of Canada - can pretty much guarantee you a win. If a leader is quick on their feet it can be difficult for the other players to gang up on them because so much of the play is simultaneously revealed. Truly vindictive moves are limited to the market information cards and your choices there are limited by the draw.
The components are nice: a sturdy board, heavy cards stock for the market information cards, and wooden cars color coded by country. However, the mix of cars in our set meant it was impossible to use the appropriate colors for four player games as certain countries are meant to be used and insufficient numbers of cars were supplied in those colors. Also the secret turn sheets should be mass photocopied immediately as you burn through a surprising number of them in a game. I was surprised to see that the game was produced for Livingstone Games by Games Workshop. I wasn't aware that Games Workshop offered game production as one of their services.
Hardline gamers may find the strategy a bit light and will be annoyed by the market information cards. Non-gamers may be boggled by the apparent complexity of the game. A good, hot cup of tea and a slow, calm walkthrough may see them through it.
The game really shines with a good group of light, family gamers. Our group enjoyed the planning aspects and the fact that the unlimited advertising budgets allow you to hang yourself but, because the losses don't carry over from turn to turn, one duff move doesn't blow the whole game.
Automania is available from Just Games for around 30 pounds sterling.
Copyright 1994, Ken Tidwell
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell