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Jeff Carey
United States
Mount Pleasant
South Carolina
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Billabong is a simple strategy game, lightly themed around the concept of a kangaroo race around a billabong (Aussie for "pond" or "lake"). The standard-sized board consists of a grid of squares, with the small billabong in the middle fed by a stream that stretches out to one edge of the board, with the water elements denoting a race oval with a start/finish line. The kangaroos are represented by good-sized wooden cylinders. Some additional artwork adorns the board, but is not relevant to game play.

Game play consists of a brief setup phase, followed by the race. During the setup phase, two to four players take turns placing their five 'roos anywhere behind the finish line, with each player placing one 'roo in turn, five times around the table. The race then commences, with players taking turns moving any one of their five wooden kangaroo tokens, choosing between two possible move options. A 'roo may either move one space in any direction, or it may make a series of jumps over other 'roos.

There are simple rules defining a legal jump. First, each jump in the series must pass over only one other 'roo. Second, the jumper must land an equal distance on the opposite side of the 'roo being jumped. That is, if you jump from three spaces away from the other 'roo, you'll land three spaces on the opposite side. A player may continue a series of jumps with a single 'roo (jumping other 'roos) as long as he wants to, and has legal moves to make. This can lead to some spectacular advances by a 'roo. I've personally made it from start to finish with one 'roo on a single move. Generally though, the moves are much more restrained. Additionally, there a referee 'roo, which stands in your kangaroo's starting position, both to mark where you started (in case you need to try again) and to stand in as a legal 'roo for one of your jumps in the series (you can use the referee to jump over).

The other move option, a single space in any direction, is generally only used when no good jumps are available, or in order to set up a good jump on a future move (which may be foiled by someone else's move that turn). This move option is also occasionally useful to cross the finish line when a jump has left you just one or two squares short.

So the game essentially requires players to find the best option each turn for advancing their 'roos, while at the same time setting up jumps for future turns, and avoiding leaving one 'roo stranded at the back of the pack. The first player to advance all five of their 'roos around the board and across the finish line wins. And that's all there is to it.

The game can be played by two to four players. I've played with three and four, and find the four player version to be much better, although three players still makes for a decent game. With three players, there aren't nearly as many jumping options though, and I imagine the two player version would be even more limiting. Perhaps two players could each control two teams, with the first player getting either one of their teams across the finish line being the winner. This option just occurred to me though, and I haven't tried it.

The rules for this game are so simple that children can easily play, and I think the best audience for this game is a family with younger children. Even though the game accommodates kids, there's also enough room for strategic play to keep an adult mind busy for a while. There is also little down time during the game, as turns move from one player to the next fairly rapidly, which especially benefits children. I don't think there's nearly enough to this game (either in theme or variety) to make it a lasting favorite for sophisticated adult gamers, however.

I have one suggestion if you play this game. Since your 'roos all start behind the start/finish line, and must cross this line once to begin the race and a second time to finish, the "not yet started" 'roos can often get mixed in with some especially quick "nearly finished" 'roos. To avoid confusion, we always start our 'roos face down, and flip them face up once they make their first move across the start line. That way it's apparent that face down 'roos have not yet started the race.

I like this game, given the right circumstances (kids, no desire for a "gamer's game"). It's simple, yet allows for strategy and doesn't depend at all on luck, like most kids' games. Unfortunately, its availability seems to be quite limited. It's hard to find on auction sites, and at the time I wrote this review, it was a special order item at FunAgain for $37.95 (new) or $32.95 (used). Considering what you get in terms of components (just a board and the wooden 'roo tokens) and game play, it's hard to justify that kind of price. If you can find it at a better price though, it may be worth your time.
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Larry Levy
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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Re:User Review
Like Jeff, I'm a fan of Billabong. But I also think it makes a fine gamer's game. All of my games have been with other serious gamers. I also think it plays very well with three (that's usually how we play it, since there are more good alternatives for four than for three). I'm not a huge fan of abstracts, but there is enough scope for clever play in Billabong that it is one of my favorites. Don't be afraid to play this one without the kids.

Larry
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richard glanzer
United States
New York City
New York
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Re:User Review
Billabong

A kids game. A family game.
You must have wining down pat.

This is truly a gamer's game with lots of interaction and intense thought required.

I challange any kid to even be close when playing with a gamer. It's just too hard to do that. Too much skill required.
 
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Jeff Carey
United States
Mount Pleasant
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Re:User Review
glanfam (#3420),

I hope you meant "winning" and not "whining".

I agree that adults could nearly always win against kids, but that's true of any game based more on skill than luck. I don't think that makes it a "gamer's game".

I just don't think there's enough variety in this game to create any lasting appeal for most adult gamers. It looks like this assessment may be incorrect though, based on a few comments.
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Gary Jackson
New Zealand
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Re:User Review
Larry Levy (#3416),

I have only played it with serious gamers, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We often play with 6 and I think once 7 people - gets pretty crowded and can take a bit long but gives a whole new series of tactics to consider.

Gary
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Nick Parish
United Kingdom
London
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Re:User Review
I like it. Not sure about the bit about "little downtime", though. Play it with a dedicated thinker and a complicated situation and the game can really take ages as analysis paralysis sets in.
 
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Andrew York
United Kingdom
Basingstoke
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Re:User Review
The new version at Essen 2002 contains kangaroo shaped pieces.

The designers suggested to avoid confusion between pieces which have not yet crossed the starting line and those which are approaching the finishing line is to orient them to face in opposite directions.

Interestingly, I have played this game twice only, both with 3 players. The game I won, I won by clumping my roos together and keeping them adjacent to the billabong as far as possible (often 4 in a line). The effect of this was to curtail the amount of jumping that my opponents could do winning me the game.

As for kids, I am sure that kids would enjoy this game. I am also sure that any kid that was a good chess player would do very well, even against the most 'expert' of gamers.
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