RogerBW's Blog

Thirsty Meeples May 2015 13 May 2015

Back to the boardgame café. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

We began with Alien Frontiers, in theory a game of the colonisation of Mars, but in practice dice-based worker placement. It's not bad dice-based worker placement, with a variety of ways to score points, but I fell into my usual split between enjoying the theme of the game and mentally stripping it away in order to concentrate more on the technical play.

You roll dice ("ships") and place them in squares ("docking ports") on space stations; some of them demand multiples of the same die, or other combinations. These get you energy, ore, more ships, and eventually the ability to place colonies, which in turn get you bonuses related to a single area (e.g. more energy from the solar collector, or faster colony construction).

There are also alien artefacts, which mostly have two modes: spend some energy to activate a minor effect, like turning one of your ship dice a point up or down, or discard the card to activate a major effect.

It is fun, and I'd be happy to play it again, but I wish it weren't dressed up in a theme I like, especially with such a gorgeous board. I'd like to play an actual game about the colonisation of Mars, and this isn't it.

We went on with Jupiter Rescue, a fairly light cooperative board game. Aliens are invading the space station, and gradually destroying it; the human crew are panicking. It's up to the heroic maintenance robots to save the day, and get the humans to the escape pod.

All the humans? Why, no, friend citizen, I am glad you mentioned that. Only twenty-eight of the crew need to be rescued in order for the mission to be considered a success. Indeed, quite a bit of the fun we had playing this game was in characterising the robots, forced to save the helpless and hapless humans.

There are various cards which give the robots special abilities, one of them chosen as a permanent ability and others usable for a single turn: I had "Pilot", which gave greater control over the escape pod. As the aliens infested the station and bits broke off, we were able to bring it in closer to the human survivors, which is good as they needed to be commanded to move to it.

It's a simple game with no pretence at simulation, and the wording of cards is often strangely ambiguous (odd, since the designer's American), but it's strangely enjoyable. I don't suppose it'll find a place on my shelf, but I had a good time with it nonetheless.

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:34am on 13 May 2015

    An actual game about the colonisation of Mars would involve tedious stuff about having enough to eat and breathe.

    Whereas I found this game a nice balance about where and how to spend your dice rolls each round. There were temptations along the way (which I succumbed to, to my regret) and options to be exploited. It was nicely balanced and I never felt any player was totally out of the running.

    Seriously, Roger: what sort of level of complexity and simulation would you want in a game about Martian colonisation? Are you thinking SPI or Days of Wonder?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:52am on 13 May 2015

    I don't think it's a complexity issue as much as one of correlation between theme and mechanics. I would potentially be happy with a very simple game where I just made high-level and fairly abstracted decisions, if those decisions were the same sort that a high-level administrator in the colonisation project might be making. (How long between supply ships? What do I put into the supply pipeline now that I think the colonists will need in nine months' time? What sort of colony do I build, balancing various goals like expansion, mining, research, etc.?) I do believe that one could make an interesting game with a 60-90 minute play time that was "about" going to Mars in a way that this was not.

    As a dice game it was fun, but whenever I thought about the thing it was purportedly simulating I messed up the gameplay.

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