Need a worker placement, dice roller, deck building, territory control game for 2-6 players? Done. Alien Frontiers packages all this into one “BIG BOX” in the reprinted mid-2016 release of this amazing board game. Easily one of the more attractive worker placement games I own, Alien Frontiers’ most recent release is sure to delight new and veteran players alike. Already a crowd favorite in my group, read on to find out just what makes this game so enjoyable.
Ok board gamers, this is an exciting post for me! For over 2 years I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy of this game but was unwilling to pay the ridiculous price of the board game with expansions. Thanks to a recent Kickstarter, Game Salute brought a single definitive edition to market that I was more than happy to get a hold of. With that said let’s jump right into what makes me so excited to play Alien Frontiers.
The Super Basics
A worker placement game first, Frontiers takes a handful or dice and a allows a player to place them at various locations around the board as spaceships docking into ports. These ships stay docked until the players next turn, blocking those locations for all other players. Some locations allow resource collection, others allow ship production, and some steal from or affect your opponents. The ultimate goal is to land colonies on the planet, earning bonuses and victory points until the last colony of a player is placed. There are three separate ways to place colonies on planets, some a little lucky and others purely planned, that allow all players ample opportunity to fight over control of the planets territories. The person with the most victory points (ultimately due to controlling the most territories) when a player’s last colony is placed wins.
Most dice rolling games are social experiments to see how long a player will continue to play a game of which they physically have no control over the outcome… 2/10 strategies that are really complicated versions of Candy Land. Alien Frontiers doesn’t have that feeling. Different locations on the board allow for different dice to be placed at them. Collecting energy and ore (your core resources for building colonies and using powers) allows any faced dice to be used; Rolling higher would help collect more, but over several games you won’t usually find yourself hurting because you rolled too many 1’s. Gaining cards from the card deck only require dice that add up to >= 8… not exactly the hardest accomplishment. These cards are, in my humble opinion, the meat and bones of the strategy side of Alien Frontiers–allowing manipulation of rolled dice, placed colonies, and various other game mechanics. Stealing from other players requires a three dice straight to be rolled, one of the more specific requirements, but one that becomes very easy once you have five or six spaceships rolling each turn and the power to flip over dice after you roll. Building new ships require a pair, placing a colony can be done with three-of-a-kind, a single 6, or seven of any spaceships placed over the course of multiple turns. The point is, no matter what you roll, there are options available to you, and no matter what you plan, there is a way to get it done, taking a novel idea of luck in dice rolls and making it more of a fun mechanic to throw little wrenches in your plans and force you to think outside the box each turn.
The Strat of it All
I mentioned the card deck as the meat and bones of the strategy side of Alien Frontiers for a reason. With or without expansions (with has a caveat attached), the deck contains many various board/dice manipulations that a player can use each turn. Usually at an energy cost to use or a “discard to use” super power, the cards do everything from turning your 1’s into 6’s to swapping all the colonies on one territory with those on another, trading any bonuses those players were receiving. It isn’t all about colonies and dice rotating, though, as many cards also affect other players ships. Cards can allow you to hijack ships for a turn, using them as your own, or they can remove all the ships of one color from any location, giving you first dibs on whatever you may need; by the time you add in the expansions of just cards, the possibilities are nearly endless on manipulating the board. The caveat I noted about playing WITH expansions is this: the base game has a couple of each card, and those cards are limited and easily remembered. If you want to move through the deck to get what you want, it’s easy to do so. Once the expansions are added in, there are so many additional cards that, although fun with new powers, the strategy actually feels like is goes DOWN since you cannot get through the deck to the cards you necessarily know you want. This adds a whole other random side to the game, which feels like it makes it harder to plan a future move. That being said, feel free to stack the deck for your game, there are plenty of cards to choose from and it helps keep it fresh!
2-6 players is the written game player availability, but this game was obviously made for 4. The board caps at 4, the starting resources are altered for 5-6, and the board is changed for 2-3. HOWEVER, this game plays well 2-4 , period. Anything more than that and the time between turns, the lack of available locations, and the limited number of territories to claim make for a cluster-cuss of a game, in my opinion. For 2 players, the board is open, placing on a territory where another person placed is usually a strategic move against them, and the cards become even more powerful and worth stealing. I think the game is most fun with 3 people, but give me a friend or a group and I’ll still bust it out.
The interaction between players in this game is not as great as some of my previous reviews, but it is still extremely prevalent. Once you start placing territories, you score based on the colony being placed, as well as having the most on a single spot. This means placing on top of another person not only steals their bonus for the land but also their “control” for the victory point. Stealing others players resources to prevent them from buying a colony, or picking off their cards whenever they buy them also increase the interactions between friends. Plenty of cards also affect other players placed dice and colonies, so there will be moments where blowing up their ship and locking out an area they control will get people riled up. I have noticed there aren’t a lot of table flipping moments, but there are moments where you watch the game being stolen from you by everyone in frustrating helplessness.
This review is biased. It is written BECAUSE it is biased. I don’t just love Alien Frontiers, it is my favorite game to date. It’s a dice rolling worker placement game with deck building elements. It’s a game that supports a friend or a crowd. It’s intense, luck based rolling with calculated plays no matter what you end up with, and it’s just plain fun. I am slowly adding to the list of people who want this game, now I just wish it wasn’t $175 on preorder SALE! So keep your eyes open for the open box if you don’t want to take my word for it, or just accept that it’s as good as 3 other games and pretend it’s only 60 bucks per game. Either way, play it, and keep on gaming on.
It Gets NERDIER!