RogerBW's Blog

Alien Frontiers 15 October 2017

Alien Frontiers, designed by Tory Niemann, is a dice-placement game for 2-4 players.

At least that's where it starts; I plan to give an overview of the various add-ons and expansions as part of this review.

The theme of the game is colonisation of an alien planet. It's a pretty thin theme; you're not making any decisions that a colonist would, but rather rolling dice and allocating them to the various spots on the board. Some of these get you fuel, some ore, some let you buy more dice, some let you advance your colonies towards completion; some need specific values, or multiple dice in particular combinations. You leave your dice on the board until your next turn, thus potentially blocking other players from using those spots.

Each colony you place (up to six in the standard game, eight in the long game) gets you a point. Having more colonies in a particular zone of the planet than anyone else also gets you a point. When someone places their last colony, the game ends immediately, and the highest scorer wins.

So far, so fairly standard worker placement game. But two spots are different: one, the Raider Outpost, lets you steal resources or Alien Tech cards from other players, while the other, the Alien Artefact, is the source of those Alien Tech cards, which let you bend the rules in some way. One makes you mostly immune to the Raiders; several let you spend fuel to get some special effect, like clearing an opponent's ships off a space or altering the value of your own ships (thus giving you more options when you roll badly); a couple just give you points. What's more, when you control an area of the planet, you get a discount of some sort on using tha area associated with it.

So this game's somewhere on the continuum between conflict-free deterministic worker-placement Eurogame and random bash-the-enemy Ameritrash. You can do some engine-building, but you won't be able to lock other players out of anything permanently. You can be aggressive against other players, but aggression doesn't get you colonies.

I rather like it even though it's an abstraction-gap game for me: the theme really is minimal, but it's quick and easy to work out what's going on, and there's a good mix of luck and strategy.

There's a solo mode which I haven't tried, and people generally seem to recommend the automatic opponent rules on BoardGameGeek instead.

The various expansions are mildly fiddly.

Factions makes the players a bit more distinct and gives them specific goals. It adds components for a fifth (purple) player, and includes both Factions (new rule-bending locations, usable by anyone, but everyone except the owner has to pay extra Fuel to use them, and they give some extra benefit to the owner) and Agenda cards (secret goals, which you can score either during the game or at the end, with different conditions for each). This is highly recommended, and although so far I've mostly played the game without, I've read reviews that suggest that Agenda cards at least should be included from the start to make things interesting. There are four Faction Packs which depend on this expansion; each of them adds one new faction with add-on board, rules, an Alien Tech card, two Agenda cards, and any special materials that the faction may need.

Outer Belt adds the system's asteroid belt and more of the planet's moon: a new location to place colonies, and a set of asteroid cards that will gradually cycle round. The difficulty of getting to them varies depending on where on the track they are; once you do, you can keep them and use their bonus (a bit like Alien Tech cards). There are also components for sixth (orange) player – but the designer recommends keeping it to four, since downtime while waiting for your next turn can be a problem.

There are seven (I think) small Expansion Packs, which just have cards in them: typically four Alien Tech, two Agenda, and some others such as quick-reference cards. Packs 6 and 7 refer to Outer Belt content, and they all have material that will only be usable with Factions.

It's not trivial to separate out the non-expansion material if you want to play the base game again (there are no set icons on the cards), but it ought to be possible just to re-draw any Alien Tech cards that refer to Factions, Agendas or Navigation cards (Outer Belt content).

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