Expanding Space – An Alien Frontiers: Factions Preview
In addition to Agendas, Factions introduces eight new Alien Tech cards that could easily be the only thing that many players choose to mix into their base game on a regular basis. All eight cards are pretty handy, but two of my favorites have to be the Lunar Tunneler – “Pay 1 Fuel when you dock a ship at the Lunar Mine to receive an extra Ore” – and the Electrofabricator – “Pay 2 Fuel to receive 1 Ore.” These cards are especially useful when the game involves a full five players, as resources can become scarce very quickly. The new Alien Tech cards are tightly integrated into the expansion, as they can interact with new powers and abilities very readily. For instance, the discard power of the Lunar Tunneler – “Discard to move all ships docked at the Lunar Mine to the Maintenance Bay” – can be used as part of a devastating combo, along with one of the Agenda cards – “Dock five ships at the Lunar Mine on the same turn.” If a player can manage to pull off that particular trick, they’ll end the turn with five ore and an extra VP. Not too shabby!
If the new Alien Tech and Agenda cards were all that were included in the expansion, it would still be worth checking out. However, the box also includes the titular powers – the Factions. These Factions represent groups racing to stake their claim on planet Maxwell, and they all have a unique ability that is only available for the controlling player to use, as well as a docking hub, where all players can dock a ship, pay one Fuel, and activate a Faction-specific power. At the beginning of the game, the eight Faction boards are given to the player who would go last in the turn rotation, and that player chooses one Faction. The boards are then passed down the line in reverse turn order.
Of all the additions in the expansion, the Factions include the most varied subtleties for addition to gameplay. There are some Factions that provide an obvious boon to players; the Homesteader’s Union, for instance, allows the controlling player to launch a colony from the Colonist Hub when a colony reaches the 6th space on the hub track, instead of the 7th. This is great news for those who love to employ what I’ve come to call “the Grandma strategy” of only focusing on the Colonist Hub each turn. However, other Factions can be just as powerful, but require a little more finesse; the Smuggler’s Alliance may use any three-ship sequence to bump ships already docked at the Raider’s Outpost, regardless of the sequential value. This can be a boon to those who like to live the pirate’s life, but it often requires a good bit of luck, or at least control of a trusty Booster Pod in order to pull off on a regular basis.
One of the great features of the Factions boards is the ability of any player to use an aspect of that Faction’s powers if they dock a ship there and pay a Fuel. The Scavenger Fleet facility benefit is a great example of this usefulness – when a player docks a ship here and pays one Fuel, they may then dock two ships of any value (not just doubles) at the Shipyard in order to build a new ship. The use of these extra abilities often helps to offset the limits of the facility spaces in a five-player game, however, it’s important to note that each Faction only has one space allocated for a docking ship. If a player already has a ship docked there, you’re out of luck – unless you happen to possess my favorite Alien Tech, the Plasma Cannon!
Here’s the honest Dice Hate Me bottom line: Do you need Factions in order to get the most out of Alien Frontiers? Not unless you simply can’t play a game without purple player pieces (the color of the fifth player’s dice and colony tokens). But if you enjoy Alien Frontiers, you will want Factions in order to the get most out of the original. The purity and sanctity of the base game will always remain intact, whether you strip away Factions or add bits and pieces at a time. Alien Frontiers is a fantastic game and the systems and mechanics within can stand up to and complement many more additions in the years to come. Remember, when it comes to quality expansions and that big ol’ box that Alien Frontiers comes in, it’s best to remember what Carl Sagan once wrote: “The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
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