Alien Frontiers: The Best of All Worlds
As a lover and collector of so many games, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a game is intriguing or entertaining simply because it offers players something unique. Alien Frontiers is one of those games that transcends doubt. The game is unique, to be sure, but after the first few rounds something rare and magical happens: there is a feeling of exhilaration, followed closely by the growing sense that all the pieces are quickly falling into place. Smiles spread as players soon realize that they are in the presence of something truly special, and something very great. It doesn’t happen often – gaining your first victory point in Settlers of Catan, seeing the myriad, wonderful choices ahead in Puerto Rico, harvesting your first crop in Agricola – but when it does, you know you want to experience that feeling again and again.
As unique as gameplay seems in Alien Frontiers, the object is based wholly in the familiar: score more victory points than your opponents. Players can score those victory points by using their fleet of ships to gather resources, expand their fleet, scrounge for alien technology, and build colonies that are sent to the alien surface. Each territory on the alien planet, if controlled by a player, will grant that player a special ability that will help them in various ways to expand their fleet and build even more colonies. The game ends immediately when a player places their last available colony on the alien planet’s surface. Victory points are tallied and the highest score wins!
The key game mechanic in Alien Frontiers involves managing a pool of dice. The dice represent ships in a player’s fleet, and each turn a player picks up all their available ships and rolls them to form a resource pool. There are various facilities situated in orbit around the alien planet in which the ships can dock, granted they satisfy a certain prerequisite. For instance, the Shipyard will allow a player with adequate resources to build an additional ship to add to their fleet – all the player has to do is dock a pair of ships at the facility with matching points on the die. The points can be of any value, but they must match. The player then pays the appropriate mix of resources – solar fuel and iron ore – to the stock, and places a die from their shipyard into the maintenance bay. On their next turn, that ship can be added to the available fleet, allowing the player more opportunities to gather resources, build ships and colonize the planet!
There are nine orbital facilities in Alien Frontiers, all of which must be utilized intelligently each round to maximize a player’s chance at winning the game. Each facility has a limited number of docking slots to accommodate players’ ships, so some facilities may be occupied and unavailable during a round. There are some difficult dice combos in the game, but there are always choices to be made. Successful players must remain flexible and use what’s available to their greatest advantage. Patience can be rewarded, but don’t hesitate to grab a certain resource while you have the dice – it may be a while before you can get it again!
Here are the nine orbital facilities in Alien Frontiers:
Solar Converter – Ships of any value can be docked here to collect Solar Fuel, a vital resource needed to build additional ships and colonies.
Lunar Mine – Players may dock ships here to gather Ore. The ships docked here must be of equal or greater value to any ships already docked here. In other words, if a ship with a value of four is docked here, only ships with a value of four or more may dock and gather Ore. Ore is the second resource needed to build additional ships and colonies, and it is more difficult to obtain than Fuel.
Shipyard – As described above, players may dock a pair of ships with equal value at this facility to add an additional ship to their fleet. Each player begins the game with three ships. The fourth ship requires payment of one Fuel and Ore to build the fourth ship, two Fuel and two Ore to build their fifth, and so on.
Orbital Market – Players may dock a pair of ships with equal value here to trade Fuel for Ore. The trade value is determined by the value of the ships. For instance, if a player docks a pair of ships with values of two, then they may exchange two Fuel for one Ore.
Colonist Hub – Ships of any value can be docked here to advance a colony token along the development track. For every ship docked here, the colony advances one space. Up to three ships may be docked here during a turn. When the colony has advanced to the end of the development track, the player may pay one Fuel and one Ore to place the colony anywhere on the alien planet’s surface.
Colony Constructor – A very powerful facility that allows a player to place three ships of matching values, pay three ore and immediately place a colony on the planet surface. This is, possibly, the most powerful facility in the game, but it is also the most difficult to utilize.
Terraforming Station – A player can dock a ship with a value of six and pay one Fuel and one Ore to immediately place a colony on the planet’s surface. The drawback is that the ship is consumed by the terraforming process and is removed from active play and placed into the player’s shipyard at the beginning of the next turn.
Alien Artifact – At the beginning of the game, three Alien Artifact cards are placed face-up next to the Alien Artifact. For each ship docked here, a player may cycle through the cards, discarding the three face-up cards and revealing three new cards from the deck. If a player has docked ships here with a combined value greater than seven, that player may immediately take one of the face-up Alien Artifact cards.
Raiders’ Outpost – A player may dock three sequentially-numbered ships here to steal up to four resources of any kind from any of the players in the game. Alternatively, that player may steal one Alien Artifact card from another player. If another player wishes to use the Raiders’ Outpost while ships are docked here, the sequential numbers must be greater than that on the ships already docked.
Alien Artifacts and Territory Bonuses – The Sneaky Stuff
Although the core of the game lies mainly in gathering resources with which to build colonies, there are many special abilities that each player can gain to help speed them to victory. The Alien Artifact cards are one such handy device; each card typically grants a player the chance to activate a special ability by spending Fuel. Most cards also allow the player the choice of discarding the card for a very powerful one-shot ability, such as blowing away one ship in an opponent’s fleet with a plasma cannon or moving an established colony from one territory to another.
In addition to Alien Artifacts, players gain bonuses when they control a territory on the planet’s surface by having more colonies in that particular territory than any other opponent. The Relic Ship in Burroughs Desert is particularly handy, especially in combination with terraforming; roll a six (or use a Booster Pod Alien Artifact to boost a five to a six), terraform that ancient ship, then use one Fuel and one Ore to automatically rebuild it on the next turn. There’s no need to occupy a current fleet with working at the shipyard, which frees them up to strategize and, hopefully, colonize. Needless to say, the Burroughs Desert is a hotly-contested territory.
Control of a territory also grants the controlling player one victory point. During the game, players can wrest control of a territory from an opponent by placing more colonies in that space. This grants the player an extra victory point and removes a victory point from the opponent. In this way, the victory point track remains in constant flux, making for a very taut and suspenseful game. Most games will be tight right up until the end, and even someone who has been lagging behind can, through wily use of Alien Artifacts and smart fleet management, take an opponent down a notch or two and overtake them.
Alien Frontiers is one of those rare gems that provides the players with a multitude of choices, but enables quick and easy gameplay through intuitive mechanics. A first read through the rulebook can make many players feel a bit overwhelmed, but within the first couple of rounds things fall into place very nicely, providing a very elegant and enjoyable game. Even though the first printing of this little game that could was a small one, it won’t be long before the second printing will sell out, as well, and rocket Alien Frontiers into its rightful place among the superstars of gaming.
|Gameplay/Replay||Components & Theme||Fun|
|The best games are those that provide players with a myriad of choices, and, therefore, a myriad of avenues for strategy; not only does this enhance gameplay, it provides for near-infinite replay. Alien Frontiers is all about choices. In addition, gameplay and victory conditions are well-balanced and easily allow beginners to compete with veterans. This results in a low frustration factor, which will bring players back again and again.||Some have called Alien Frontiers "Kingsburg in space." Apparently, Kingsburg has some similar mechanics. I don't know Kingsburg from my Aunt Sally, but I'll tell you this - I'd rather be mining ore on the dark side of the moon, or terraforming an alien planet than looking after some grubby peasants from my castle window any old day. If Alien Frontiers falters in any category, it would probably be components, but just slightly. The Alien Artifacts card stock is a bit weak and allows for some warping. Plus, there are teeny accent lines in the background of the cards and board components that had most players trying to swipe imaginary hairs off the game - true story!||Let's see, is this game any fun? Let me put it this way - this game restored my faith and my love in dice. Every round I couldn't wait to gather up my ships and feel that sweet click clack in my hand as I rolled and waited for those magic numbers that would provide me with a whole world of choices. To put it another way, one friend - a self-professed Puerto Rico junkie - played with me at a local convention and confessed that he might just like playing Alien Frontiers more. If that's not a glowing endorsement for fun and satisfaction, not much would be.|
|Overall score: 17 out of 18 - Quite possibly the Dice Hate Me game of the year.|
Alien Frontiers is a game for 2 to 4 stellar settlers, ages 13 and up, and is published by Clever Mojo Games. The first print run of 1,000 copies of Alien Frontiers sold out in a single day in mid-October, but a second printing is in process and will be available in the 1st quarter of 2011, most likely late March. Keep watching Dice Hate Me for updates on the second printing, and make sure to grab your copy when they are available – the second printing may sell out quickly, as well!
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