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Introducing Alien Frontiers



Alien Frontiers is a 2010 release in which players assume the role of deep-space explorers who are attempting to settle and develop colonies on a far distant planet. Although this planet is now deserted, it was once inhabited by an advanced alien civilization that has left a number of powerful artifacts behind – artifacts that can be employed by players in order to help speed up their own efforts at colonization. Alien Frontiers is a game which combines a number of different mechanics including dice rolling & manipulation, worker placement and area control. It is designed for 2-4 players, and takes less than 90 minutes to play. If that sounds like the ingredients for a hit game, then you're right.

Alien Frontiers has been designed by Tory Niemann (forthcoming from him is a party/card game called Hook, Line, & Sinker) and published by Clever Mojo Games. Let it immediately be said that this game is a remarkable achievement for a first time designer and for a relatively new publisher. They're done an excellent job in using the KickStarter model to get Alien Frontiers off the ground, and judging by the incredible buzz here on BGG, it's gone off like a rocket, and is soaring up the charts! Want to know more? Let's take off, and get into the review!




COMPONENTS

Game box

The box has been both solidly constructed and economically designed. The lid fits snuggly onto the bottom section of the box – and despite a few negative comments by other Alien Frontiers owners, the smooth finish of the box is eminently pleasing. A very pleasing box all round! With the minor caveat of the astronaut fellow on the cover that is. A brief word, to the folks down at Clever Mojo Games: for those of us who find ourselves in the position of having to convince our wives to play this game, it has to be said the really dorky looking spaceman on the box cover did not help the cause at all!



But if that's the game's worst fault, it's something we can live with. This is uncharted space, after all, and one expects to see a few unusual things when venturing into the unknown. The back of the box tells us a little more about the sci-fi theme, and what to expect inside.



This is not one of those games where the box is twice the size that it needed to be. All of the components fit compactly inside and the board sits tightly in place when set atop the box insert. First impressions are positive!



Component list

So what do you get when you open the box? You get:
● 1 Game board
● 8 Territory counters
● 3 Field counters
● 22 Alien Tech cards
● 25 Dice (in four colours, plus a transparent die)
● 36 Colony tokens (in four colours)
● 30 Fuel tokens (orange)
● 20 Ore tokens (grey)
● 1 VP Scoreboard
● Rulebook



It has to be stated from the outset that the components of this game are absolutely top-notch in every respect. Whether it’s the quality matte finish on the cards, or the pulp sci-fi artwork on the board, everything about the game components is outstanding. It’s been said before by other reviewers, but it bears stating again: it is remarkable that a small company like Clever Mojo has succeeded in producing a game which can run with the big dogs without being out of place in the slightest.

Rule book

Alien Frontiers is a relatively easy game to learn to play and this is in large part a reflection of its clear, well written rulebook.



The sixteen page, full colour, glossy rulebook not only provides a clear and concise overview of how the game is played and won, it also provides a thorough summary of how each orbital facility functions, the bonuses granted by each of various the lunar regions, as well as explanations for each type of alien tech card available in the game. Nearly all of these summaries have been augmented by clear examples based on potential game play scenarios. The back of the rulebook also features some handy references, summarizing the icons and flow of play.

Game board

The game board is both attractive and functional, and has a pleasant matte finish reminiscent of the look and feel of Pandemic. With its solid construction and outstanding pulp sci-fi artwork this is one of the more impressive boards to come out this year. The artwork on the board strikes a sensible balance between elegance and kitsch and is genuinely evocative of the space exploration theme - kudos to artist Mark Maxwell (see a gallery with more of his work here). As a side note, the graphic design was by Karim Chakroun who also has made contributions to games such as Arimaa, Julius Caesar, Long Shot and (perhaps most spectacularly) has provided a complete design for a print and play version of Magic Realm (follow this link to be both awed and amazed!).



Two features of the board deserve special mention. First of all, around the planet are various locations called "orbital facilities" (e.g. Solar Converter, Orbital Market, Terraforming Station) where players will place their ships (= dice) in order to perform various actions. This is where the worker placement mechanic comes in.

Secondly, the center of the board features the planet that players will colonize (by placing Colony tokens in their colour) to earn points and win the game. It is divided into eight regions, each of which corresponds to one of eight Territory counters. In a nice touch, the various territories on the planetary surface have been named after famous science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. It’s a little thing, but a satisfying detail that speaks to the care and thought that went into producing this game.

Ships (Dice)

The 24 dice (six in each of four player colours) represent ships during game play. Each player gets six dice in their colour. Here too, you get nice big, chunky dice that are satisfying to roll and place. Not so sure that the pastel colours were the best of all possible choices, but nevertheless they’re well made. Instead of placing meeples, as in worker placement games like Stone Age, in this game you'll be placing dice in various locations to perform different actions. The dice represent ships, so the more ships (dice) you have, the more you can do. This mechanic will be somewhat familiar to people who have played Roll Through the Ages, where dice represent cities.



Additionally there's a single clear die that represents a relic ship. This can be gained for use by getting control of one of the territories.



Colony tokens

There are 36 wooden Colony tokens (nine in each player colour).



These will be placed on the various territories of the planetary surface and they will provide the chief means of acquiring victory points over the course of the game. Players start with six each, and since placing your last Colony token triggers the game end, there is an optional variant of beginning with seven or eight each if you want a longer game. A Colony token in each colour is also used for the score track.

Fuel & Ore tokens

The 20 grey Ore Tokens & 30 orange Fuel tokens represent the resources that you will need to collect in order to build both colonies and ships.





Like the Colony tokens, they're made out of wood, and will be found eminently satisfactory by the average euro-gamer.

Alien Technology cards

These 22 cards represent various technological devices abandoned by the alien race which previously inhabited the planet.



When acquired they provide players with special benefits that will aid them in their colonial efforts. They include technologies like Polarity Device, Statis Beam, Plasma Cannon, Orbital Teleporter, and more.



Two of the cards earn extra victory points.



The cards have been made from a high quality linen card stock and should hold up well with repeated play.

Territory markers

The 8 Territory markers grant the player who controls that corresponding territory a specific bonus. They serve well to illustrate the time and attention to detail taken in producing this game. They could have been made out of some cheap plastic or laminate cardstock, but instead have been made from good, thick cardboard stock – satisfying to hold and durably constructed.



Victory Point Score Board

Ditto for the Victory Point board – solid cardboard construction here as well!



There's a nice inside joke or easter egg on the front of the scoreboard. I'll give you a chance to figure out this one yourself, it shouldn't be too difficult: what is the significance of the series of small capitalized letters on the side of the score-board? Solution here.



I like the publisher's sense of humor and attention to detail! But there's more: the reverse side contains some small print with a model number and the words "Rated 3000V 80A" - apparently patterned off the publisher's iPhone. The mojo here is ... clever! Well done Clever Mojo!




Field Generator tokens

Solid cardboard construction for these components as well. There are three of them (front & reverse side shown), and they all have a unique effect by `breaking' one of the regular rules of the game, and are just another way of helping keep the game balanced and enabling players to counter one another's strategies.



GAME-PLAY

So how does all this come together in game-play?

Set-up

Set up is a straightforward process: Put the board in the middle of the table. Place the orange Fuel tokens near the Solar Converter and the gray Ore tokens near the lunar mine. Set the scoring track near the board - the rules recommend that you assign one player to keep track of the score as the game progresses. Next, shuffle the Alien Tech cards thoroughly and deal out three cards face up on the table (this will serve as the Alien Tech stock); also deal one card (face up) to each player. The remaining cards will form a draw pile for the remainder of the game. If the draw pile is depleted, simply shuffle the discard pile to form a new draw pile. The three Field Generator tokens should also be placed beside the board. Place all eight Territory markers face up on the matching territory on the board, and the clear "Relic Ship" die on the Burroughs Desert.



Players should then choose a colour and take the six dice in their chosen colour. Three of those dice are placed into the Maintenance Bay on the board and the remainder should be placed at the side of the board near the Shipyard. Players then should take the required number of colony tokens in their colour (six for a four player game; seven for a three player game; eight for a two player game).

Finally, each player should roll a die with the player who rolled the highest being declared the starting player. To mitigate the starting player's advantage, proceeding clock wise: player two receives a fuel token, player three an ore token, and player four a fuel and an ore token - a similar dispersal of resources holds true for a two and three player game. Here's what the fourth player in a four player game might start with:



Note that in two and three player games, certain “berths” at specific orbital facilities are will be blocked off and made unavailable, to keep the game competitive by limiting some of the options. The spaces that need to be blockaded have been clearly identified on the board and are also discussed in the rules. Here's how the complete set-up for a four player game would look:



Objective

The goal of the game is to place your colonies onto the planetary surface and to place those colonies in such a way that you control (by virtue of a possessing a majority of colonies in a particular region) as many of the territories on the planetary surface as possible. For each colony that you place you will earn one victory point; for each territory that you control you will gain an additional victory point. The VPs earned via colonial placement can be supplemented by additional VPs earned from two of the Alien Tech cards, and from the Positron Field Generator. The game ends immediately when one player succeeds in placing their last colony and the winner is the player who has acquired the most VPs at the moment when the game ended. Here's a game in progress:



So how do you go about placing your colonies on the planetary surface? Well the heart of the game is to be found in the rolling and placement of your dice – dice which represent ships in your fleet. You start with three ships in the Maintenance Bay at the beginning of the game, however, you can increase the size of your fleet as the game progresses. In turns, players will roll their dice and assign their `ships' to the different orbital facilities that surround the board in order to perform actions like acquiring resources or colonizing. Alien Tech cards can also be used on a player's turn. Play then goes to the next player, and so on around the table.



Using Orbital Facilities

Game-play is smooth and fluid, with players taking turns to roll their dice and placing them on the board to perform actions at the various orbital facilities. Despite the exotic sci-fi terminology, this is really just another way to describe simple worker placement, but using dice. The rulebook has a nice reference that explains what each of the different orbital facilities can offer.



Let's give you a broader overview and explain what the different possible actions are.

Getting resources

Placing Colonies on the planet requires the acquisition of resources (what a surprise!). There are two base resources in the game – fuel and ore.

Fuel can be acquired at the Solar Converter – you may dock any single die here, as many times as you wish, receiving the allotted amount of fuel in return.



Ore can be acquired at two locations. In the first instance you can dock ships at the Lunar Mine – receiving one ore token for each single die placed at this location – the trick being that the value of the die you dock must be equal to or greater than the value of the highest die currently docked there.



Alternatively, you could get ore at the Orbital Market; here, you need to dock two ships of equal value and pay in fuel the value of one die to receive one ore in return. The Orbital Market is ugly but it gets the job done – ideally, however, you want to dock low value doubles here.



Colonizing

Once you have amassed the necessary resources (you can’t keep more than eight resources in your supply from turn to turn) you are ready to build some colonies. There are three ways to go about doing this.

First there is the quick and dirty approach: if you roll a six you can dock that ship at the Terraforming Station and pay a fuel and an ore to transform that ship into a colony. You get to place a colony onto the planet immediately – however, you will lose that ship to the stock on your next turn.



Next there is the lucky and expensive route: If you roll triples and you have three ore on hand you can use the Colony Constructor to place a colony.



Finally, there is the slow and steady approach: you can dock your ships of any value, one die at time, at the Colonist Hub. It’ll take time but by doing this you can ‘bump’ a colony down the colonist track one die at a time until, when you reach the final space, you can pay a fuel and ore to place your colony in the region of your choice.



Optimizing

The remaining orbital facilities provide a means of either streamlining your efforts at colonization or, messing with your opponents.

First, there is the Shipyard. You can dock two ships of equal value at the Shipyard and then, having paid the requisite resources, add a ship to your fleet. That ship goes into the Maintenance Bay at first but it will be available for use on your next turn.



You might also choose to dock ships at the mysterious Alien Artifact that orbits the planet where you might discover a piece of alien super-technology that can provide you with a much needed bonus or special power. To do this you must dock ships with a combined value of at least eight and if you do you will be able to choose one of the Alien Tech cards available to be discovered at that time. Don’t like what you see – well then place your dice in the Alien Artifact one at a time and cycle through the cards – discarding the three available cards and replacing them with three more drawn from the deck.



Finally, you might decide that all this hard work generating fuel and ore is not really your cup of tea. After all, wouldn’t it be so much easier to just steal resources from those poor yokels who have acquired them by the sweat of their brows? Well, roll a straight (in this case, three dice in sequential order) and dock them at the Raider’s Outpost and you have the option of either stealing a total of four resources, of any kind, from any mix of players or, you can choose to steal one Alien Tech card from any single opponent.



Other Bonuses

Territory bonuses

Want to make your efforts at resource acquisition or colonization even more efficient? Use your colonies to control one of the eight Territories to get even more benefits. If you are the player with the most Colony tokens in a particular Territory (in gamers' language this is a simple majority/area control mechanic), you get to take the matching Territory marker, and use its benefit. So not only do you earn a point for colonizing a territory, but if you have the majority in a given territory you earn an additional point, and controlling that territory gives you the right to the special abilities it offers. The abilities of each territory are varied, but in every case what is offered is a means of making use of a particular orbital facility in a more cost-effective or ready fashion. For example, if you control Herbert Valley (named after the famous author of "Dune"), the cost to produce new ships becomes even cheaper!



Alien Tech bonuses

As already mentioned, the Alien Tech cards can also be used to give special bonuses, which also help you optimize your efforts at resource production and colonization in various ways. These represent a number of technological devices which were abandoned by the alien race which previously inhabited the planet, and are acquired by docking ships at the mysterious Alien Artifact that orbits the planet. There are twenty-two cards in the deck (two each of eleven different kinds of artifact) and each AT card offers you one of two potential bonuses. The first bonus requires the payment of fuel and/or ore and for this payment you get a “small-scale” bonus. A larger, more powerful effect, however, can be acquired by discarding the card. The bonuses are offered by the Alien Tech cards are varied, but in general they allow you to either manipulate the values of the dice you have rolled, or to manipulate the placement of the colonies on the planetary surface in a personally advantageous way.



Worker Placement with a Twist

Sounds simple, right? Isn't this just good old fashioned worker placement? Well, sort of. Just because you roll the necessary dice to occupy a given orbital facility doesn’t mean that you will be able to do so. That’s because once a player places their dice on the board those dice remain there until either: (a) their turn comes round again, or, (b) some set of circumstances or ability allows another player to remove those dice from their locations. Thus, as the turns go by locations will fill up and you might find that the orbital facility you need has no available berths for you when it’s time for your turn. This can even be the case when it comes to placing colonies on the planet: one of your crafty and annoying opponents might have placed the Repulsor Field Token on a region, thus making it impossible for you to place your colony in a given region! Furthermore, your possibilities for placement on any given turn will be dependent on the dice combination that you roll. So things become a little more complicated than just rolling a handful of dice and taking whatever actions they allow, and there are indirect ways to mess with your opponents and keep things in check.



Scoring

The game ends when any player puts their final unplaced colony onto a territory, and the player with the most points wins. Colonies will account for the majority of points scored in a game, but you also get an extra point for each territory you control, possessing the Alien City or Alien Monument tech card, and controlling the territory with the Positron Field counter. Here's the end of a four player game, with Green coming from behind to win!



Scalability

It's also worth noting that the game scales well regardless of the number of players. Depending on whether it is a two or three player game, certain space on various orbital facilities will be blocked off – creating an obvious competition for resources. Alien Frontiers certainly plays very well as a two player game – although a strategic and cutthroat one. In fact, some might say it is downright evil with two – since now, all of your thievery and crafty plays will be directed at just one opponent. Incidentally gents, when that opponent happens to be your lovely wife, you might discover that the dork on the box cover can end up being the least of your problems! There are those who have suggested that with four players the player who goes last will have a more difficult time gaining access to key locations – and this does seem to be the case. With four players the board becomes slightly more cluttered and competitive; however, with three players a solid level of competition remains, without the frustrating sense that there is nothing meaningful to accomplish when it’s your turn. For that reason Alien Frontiers seems to be at its best as a three player game. Regardless, however, it is a satisfying and fun game with any number of people.

CONCLUSIONS

What do we think?

The Good

My friends, it’s rare in life that really intelligent things come along – and when they do it’s a good idea to take notice. Alien Frontiers is one of those intelligent rarities. Simply put this game is smart. In what ways you ask? Well in the same way that when you see something brilliantly executed by a professional in a way to make it seem effortless. It’s like watching Michael Jordan hit a three pointer from downtown, or when Wayne Gretzky split the defense and went top shelf. When it’s done well it looks like anyone could do it – but, in reality, behind that momentary expression of grace there stands a mountain of hard work and discipline. And that’s what it’s like when you play Alien Frontiers. It seems so simple and it plays so easily – but beneath the surface lies a level of sophisticated thinking and attention to detail that is belied by its unassuming façade.

Consider for a moment the simple detail that, on the game board, the various planetary regions have been connected via a faint dotted line to a specific orbital facility. This serves as a simple, but surprisingly helpful, reminder that if you were to gain control of that specific planetary region it would provide you with a special ability that is directly relevant to the orbital facility to which that region is connected. Okay, that's a relatively minor thing - but it is the kind of attention to detail that gamers will appreciate. Need a more compelling example? How about the Terraforming Station? The idea of taking one your own spaceships and slamming it down on the planetary surface in order to establish a new colony is effective at both a thematic and a game play level. Or, how about the fact that you have to pay a price in fuel and ore in order to make use of the Alien Ship on the Bradbury Plains (the clear die) – again, a smart rules choice that keeps that region of the planet from being way too powerful.

Still unimpressed? Well reflect on the design of the Alien Tech cards which have been carefully crafted to offer two potential functions: a lesser value benefit that can be purchased for the cost of a given quantity of fuel and/or ore; and a more powerful effect that can be carried out only by discarding the card. As an aside, the inclusion of the rule that only one Alien Tech card can be discarded per turn is another example of how well thought out this game is, as it prevents players from daisy-chaining Alien Tech cards together to create blowouts. The dual-layered functions are also very thematic, and perhaps the Plasma Cannon card is the most outstanding example here: For the cost of one fuel per die, you have the option of “shooting” your opponent’s dice off from a particular orbital facility and sending them to the back to the Maintenance Yard for repairs - rinse and repeat next turn. Think of it like powering up your lasers and pinging away at a number of enemy ships – kind of like Han Solo blasting away at Tie Fighters from the Millennium Falcon. If, however, someone is really annoying you – you can choose to discard the Plasma Cannon and not only remove one die from an orbital facility but actually obliterate that ship entirely! Now, I defy anyone out there not to feel precisely like that fellow in Star Wars who got to power up the cannon on the Death Star right before blowing up the planet Alderaan!

From a mechanics perspective, Alien Frontiers also does an excellent job of combining a number of popular mechanics, like worker placement, area control, resource management, and dice rolling, into a single system that works. Achieving the right balance between building new ships, acquiring resources and Tech cards, and placing colonies on the board is a challenge that will be well received by eurogamers everywhere. And yet despite the many possibilities it offers, it doesn't feel like it has any unnecessary fat or complexity that needs to be trimmed. The game is surprisingly approachable and accessible, yet without a significant reduction in the number of potential strategies or in replayability. Further, the positive elements of the game mechanics are strong enough that even those who don't normally enjoy science fiction themed games will find enough enjoyment from the gameplay to make Alien Frontiers a rewarding experience. It won't supplant heavier games like Agricola or long standing favourites like Puerto Rico, but I can see Alien Frontiers giving those heavier games a run for their money in terms of time spent on the gaming table. At a minimum Alien Frontiers is going to give games like Stone Age and Kingsburg some real competition.

All in all, Alien Frontiers is the product of an enormous amount of time and thought, wrapped up in a nice, neat little package. Now don’t kid yourself – Alien Frontiers isn’t going to put an end world hunger, nor will owning it make you look and feel ten to fifteen years younger (only eucalyptus infused, pro-biotic skin crèmes can accomplish that)! But it does stand out one of the more elegant, intelligent and carefully designed games to come along in a while. And it’s all the more remarkable for having been produced by a relative newcomer from both a design and publishing standpoint.

The Bad

At the end of the day – no matter how much the luck factor can be mitigated by skilful play and the manipulation of the dice – this is still a game which can be won or lost with the throw of the dice. This isn’t a fault of the game, and indeed it may even be one of its strengths. But all the same, if you think that you’re likely to be kept awake at night by the sheer frustration of knowing that you lost to your buddy simply because he managed to roll a higher straight than you and then proceeded to kick you out of the Raider’s Outpost and steal your one and only Alien Tech card in order to win the game – well, this might not be the game for you.

Further, if there are those amongst your play group who are subject to the dreaded disease of AP, it’s entirely possible that Alien Frontiers might bring out the worst in them. Why this should be the case is somewhat befuddling: You only have so many dice and they can only go so many places – seriously! The real trick is to begin by eliminating all of the places that you CAN’T go. No doubles: well the Ship Yard and Orbital Market are out. No straight: well then you aren’t going to be robbing anybody this turn! The Lunar Mine is full: then perhaps you should stockpile Fuel or take a quick look at the Alien Tech cards. When you have eliminated the places you can’t legally go – well, wonder of wonders, there are often only two or three options left – and now it’s just a matter of making the most efficient choices given what you CAN do. But for some of our dear, dear diseased AP friends the prospect of determining just where to place their dice turns into a nail-biting, brain-burning, panic-stricken, and (worst of all) lengthy affair. Perhaps as a BGG community we need to come together to help these poor afflicted souls, by establishing a Foundation or a Treatment Centre. Or at the very least, some kind of support group where they could get help, something we could call: H.A.P.P.Y! (Healing for Analysis Paralysis Players You know who you are!) To be frank, even if such an organization did exist, how in the world would these AP-afflicted folk ever successfully get through the mental minefield necessary in order to make the painstaking decision to attend?! Meanwhile, be aware of the potential for the game to slow down somewhat if there are AP-inclined gamers at your table.

The Debatable

This is just being tossed out there for discussion and debate: but does anyone else feel that the Raider’s Outpost might be just a tad too powerful? Stealing four resources from a mix of players is pretty sweet – unless, of course, you’re the one who is being mugged for your hard won ore! And imagine this situation for a minute: It’s a four player game, you’re the first player and it’s your first turn. You throw d’em bones only to discover that you’ve somehow rolled a straight with your three starting dice – and you then proceed to divest the remaining three players of their starting resources. Ooh snap! Anyways – too powerful? Talk amongst yourselves!



What do others think?

The critics

It's almost an understatement to say that Alien Frontiers has been the subject of rave reviews, this being one of them. So is it even conceivable that you might not like this game? Well, yes. There is no game that is a perfect fit for everyone, and Alien Frontiers is no exception. The overall reception to this game has been extremely positive, and while negative comments are in the minority, they do make it evident that if you can't stand games that are about optimizing dice-rolling or that have any luck elements, then Alien Frontiers is likely not a game for you. It is also quite tactical in nature, and more hardcore gamers might prefer heavier games that lend themselves more to deeper long-term strategies. Some of the critics also find Alien Frontiers too long for what it is, and suggest that particularly with AP-prone players it has too much down-time. There are those who find the potential for screwage and kingmaking too harsh as a result of the significant interaction that the game offers. For the most part, these are matters of taste. The `average' gamer will find much to enjoy and appreciate in Alien Frontiers, as a fun and lighter game with good elements of resource management, worker/dice placement, and area majority. In that regard, it has a similar appeal to successful games like Kingsburg, and will satisfy a similar audience.

The praise

It is worth knowing that we're not alone in the world in thinking that this is a great game. Here's what other enthusiasts are saying about it:
"There is a lot to like about this game - euro-style with dice/action selection, opponent screwage, awesome artwork, and an ameritrash (50's sci-fi) theme. It all comes together to make for an fun experience. " - Nevin Ball
"Great game! The hype is true. Lots of tough decisions on where to place your ships and the best way to get colonies on the planet. Looking forward to my next game." - Scott Everts
"Easily one of the best of 2010. Very fun little Ameri-Euro hybrid with a great balance of luck and skill." - SuperflyCircus Pete
"Believe the hype! Alien Frontiers is an absolute gem of a game. Great aesthetics and components, simple to learn, and it strikes the crucial balance between luck and strategy with an absolutely spot-on theme. This one deserves to be in every game collection." - Demian Lord
"This game is the new benchmark for dice assignment games! Strategic "worker" placement with fist fulls of dice, and huge amounts of interaction. And it's drop-dead gorgeous, too!" - Antti Karjalainen
"This is one of my favourites of 2010." - Martin Wright
"Believe the hype. This is a good and fun game. Can't believe it came from a tiny publisher. The quality is fantastic." - Mike Mead
"This game takes the dice rolling placement action and just makes it near perfect." - Jonas Fowler
"Great mechanics, beautiful art, a theme that actually shines through and quick to play! What's not to like?" - Cogdiz
"Excellent game. If you like Kingsburg, Alien Frontiers is the game that Kingsburg should had been." - Paul Nomikos
"Fantastic game.A lot of nice screwage but some great limits on it as well. You can hurt a person, but you can never outright destroy them. Outstanding production quality, smooth gameplay, and welcoming rules just make this game a joy to play." - HanClinto
"Great balance of fun and difficulty. The game has tons of potential and it will be a mainstay in my house for years to come. The theme is excellent and the gameplay easy, fun, yet still challenging." - Enrique Canales
"Just the right mix of strategy and luck." - Thomas Staudt
"Interesting dice rolling/action selection game. It scratches that Euro-style resource-collection and area control itch while providing the variety of dice rolling, and the opportunity to mess with your opponents. One of my favorites of the year so far." - Eric Summerer




Recommendation

Is Alien Frontiers for you? Ultimately, while Alien Frontiers isn’t a game that’s going to make it any less likely that Uwe Rosenberg will lighten your wallet on an annual basis, it is a game that will almost certainly find a comfortable place in your heart and a regular place on your gaming table. It’s got great components, is thematic and fun, simple yet satisfying, and plays smoothly in a reasonable time frame – what more could you ask for? All that remains to be said is: “Bring on the expansions!”



Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Todd France
United States
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IF ONLY I had a plan...
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The lesser of two evils?
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Re: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Honey, You Had Me at Kingsburg in Space!
EndersGame wrote:
As a side note, the artist for Alien Fronters is Karim Chakroun...

Actually, the artist is Mark Maxwell. Karim Chakroun did graphic design work on the symbology, card layouts, etc, but not the images on the board or cards.
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Karim Chakroun
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Besançon
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Re: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Honey, You Had Me at Kingsburg in Space!
Thanks for the praise, but I only did the graphic design : Mark Maxwell did the gorgeous retro-scifi illustrations. More by Mark here: http://www.aeromancy.us/

Also, it's not seven or more, the sign is "strictly greater than"

Edit: added scifi, and doh too late
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Tim Myers
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Re: A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Honey, You Had Me at Kingsburg in Space!
EndersGame wrote:
... And imagine this situation for a minute: It’s a four player game, you’re the first player and it’s your first turn. You throw d’em bones only to discover that you’ve somehow rolled a straight with your three starting dice – and you then proceed to divest the remaining three players of their starting resources. Ooh snap! Anyways – too powerful? Talk amongst yourselves!

This actually happened in the first game that we played. or devil

I was first player, my wife was next followed by my friends wife and then my friend. When I rolled the straight I just stared at it and my friend could tell that I was somewhat torn about taking everyone's resources as the first action in a new game. He knew that I did not want to start off a new game with an aggressive action with our wives. If it was our group of gaming guys there would be no question about going for the throat!

"You have to do it." he said.

I did devil but I did not end up winning the game ... I came in 2nd with 7pts, my friends wife won with 8 and my wife and friend both had 6.

Great Review!!
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Dennis Bingham
Germany
Herford
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There's one thing i really hate about this game:

It's availability.

We're moving overseas in 2 weeks and i wasn't able to get a copy and getting it overseas will be....problematic.

DARN!
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Don Alexander
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Wow. If I was not saving for a microbadge, I would give you all my geek gold. I wish everyone took this kind of time when writing reviews, including myself!

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Michael Pearsall
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Excellent review. I knew one was coming when my subscription to the game's page was getting flooded by component pictures!

Regarding the dorky astronaut, does it seem that he has a little bit of the Captain in him?


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Max Maloney
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Portland
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Another nice review, Ender. I think you inadvertently left the Scoring Track off of your "list of components."
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Great review. As for the Raider's Outpost, I think our initial reaction to it was that it was too powerful, but after playing a couple more times, I don't really think so anymore. It can be a bit annoying to be on the receiving end of it early in the game, but I've found that as the game goes on, it just doesn't seem to be used that much for a few reasons:

- People start taking the Holographic Decoy, which CAN be stolen, but in general, we've found that if you are going to use the Raider's Outpost, you tend to want the resources instead.
- It takes 3 of your dice. Especially at the early stages of the game, if you use the Raider's Outpost, that is ALL you are doing on your turn, leaving you behind your opponents on moving your colonies down the track, etc.
- During the later stages of the game when you have spare dice to do the Raider's Outpost, people tend to have the Holographic Decoy, or are using up all of their resources during their turn. Also, the game tends to speed up towards the conclusion quickly, when you have 1 person that has only 2 colonies left, and potentially win in one turn. During this time, we tend to focus on doing as many actions as possible instead of using 3 dice to raid.

Of course, each gaming group is different, and your group may be Raider happy during the entire game. I just haven't seen it.
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fanaka66 wrote:
Regarding the dorky astronaut, does it seem that he has a little bit of the Captain in him?


LOL I Love It!!! Yes, he obviouly has a bit of the "Captain" in him!
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I absolutely love this review. It is very well thought out and you obviously put a lot of time and effort into it. Thanks!

And it's good to hear that the minutiae of the game hasn't gone unnoticed.

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Gunther Schmidl
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I did see the injokes on the scoring track and was both pleased and wondering when they'd be mentioned.

Printing the reverse of things seems to have been a somewhat popular thing this year, with Caravelas' board's reverse having the game's logo on it.
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I actually find the part that you find bad as actually a strength. Unlike Kingsburg a bad roll can really throw a hell of a monmkey wrench into the leading players plans. Kingsburg suffers from being a solvable game that can be won by playing a specific way down a very specific path. Bad rolls don't slow down a person who is running away in kingsburg but in AF you better have an alternate plan for a bad roll.

Great review and explanation Ender. A big contender for best game of 2010 IMO.
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Anthony DuLac
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Sounds like just another blah Worker placement Euro-style game only this time, it's mixed with a few random elements ala Kingsburg. A hearty "meh!" for this one, I'm afraid.

Thank you bunches, though, for a GREAT review. Well done, highly worthy of praise and appreciation. Wish more reviews were as thorough as this one. Bravo, sir!

I would love to see the typical, trite "VP scoring track" removed as an option in game-design and see how much more interesting games could be without it. A gamer can dream, can't he?

Finally, in the section where the Praise from other gamers is listed, someone (laughably) called the game, "Drop dead gorgeous" - seriously? Because it looks like an attempt at a throwback style of crummy simplistic art from some old Yaquinto or AH games. Fugly with a capital "Fug."

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wytefang wrote:
I would love to see the typical, trite "VP scoring track" removed as an option in game-design and see how much more interesting games could be without it. A gamer can dream, can't he?


Anthony...actually, the VP score board was one of the last things we added to the game. It did not start with one. We originally thought that since the VPs were fairly few in number and they were not cumulative, that players would be able to just look at the board state and see who was ahead or behind. It worked ok, but it was difficult to see the relationship of the scores for each player. Adding the score board gave us a "quick glance" score reference that was greatly appreciated by most of our play testers.
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wytefang wrote:
Sounds like just another blah Worker placement Euro-style game only this time, it's mixed with a few random elements ala Kingsburg.


Totally disagree; there's a lot more interaction, screwage and table-talk than your typical Euro. It's one of the most vicious games I've played.

wytefang wrote:
Finally, in the section where the Praise from other gamers is listed, someone (laughably) called the game, "Drop dead gorgeous" - seriously? Because it looks like an attempt at a throwback style of crummy simplistic art from some old Yaquinto or AH games. Fugly with a capital "Fug."


You're totally wrong, man. You can keep your scowling cartoon Euro-dudes.
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Anthony DuLac
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Eh, art is admittedly subjective.

I'm torn on this game - I'll admit that parts of the review had me believing that I could really like this game but I'm fairly scared off the Euro-style gameplay (worker placement has usually been un-fun for me) and scoring track.

Still it does sound intriguing. I will have to try it at tomorrow's MPLS board game marathon (hopefully).

Best to at least give it a chance, right?
 
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wytefang wrote:
I will have to try it at tomorrow's MPLS board game marathon (hopefully). Best to at least give it a chance, right?


No one could ask for more than that.

Everyone is different and everyone likes different games. At the risk of tanking my geek-cred, I really don't care for Dominion, so I certainly can't hold your personal likes and dislikes against you.
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Scott Everts
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Foothill Ranch
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wytefang wrote:
Eh, art is admittedly subjective.

I'm torn on this game - I'll admit that parts of the review had me believing that I could really like this game but I'm fairly scared off the Euro-style gameplay (worker placement has usually been un-fun for me) and scoring track.

Still it does sound intriguing. I will have to try it at tomorrow's MPLS board game marathon (hopefully).

Best to at least give it a chance, right?

Difinitely give it a try. BTW, do you like Kingsburg? If you hate it then maybe you won't like it. It's not exactly the same of course but might give you a good indicator if you will like it.

As for the cover astronaut, one thing that might of improved it is not have the head visible. An illustrator friend thought the general image was cool but the head just didn't come out right. If the guy had a mirrored helmet that would of solved that problem.
 
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ScottE wrote:
As for the cover astronaut, one thing that might of improved it is not have the head visible. An illustrator friend thought the general image was cool but the head just didn't come out right. If the guy had a mirrored helmet that would of solved that problem.


The only problem there, I think, is that mirrored helmets are a product of the era after the pulp scifi era we were aiming for. It's more "Mercury/Apollo" and less "Buck Rogers".
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Michael Pearsall
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CleverMojo wrote:
wytefang wrote:
I will have to try it at tomorrow's MPLS board game marathon (hopefully). Best to at least give it a chance, right?


No one could ask for more than that.

Everyone is different and everyone likes different games. At the risk of tanking my geek-cred, I really don't care for Dominion, so I certainly can't hold your personal likes and dislikes against you.


You've got more geek-cred with me now. I still haven't found a deck-building game for me yet.
 
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Jim Bolland
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Apple Valley
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I may want to join H.A.P.P.Y., but I need to think it over first.

Even my sorry AP-prone self shook it off after a couple games. The first game hurt because I was thinking so hard. By the third game, the number of real options each turn became quite manageable. I do believe we'll get the 4-player game length down to an hour in games where everyone has played before. (So far, we keep teaching new people.)
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Randall Bart
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Winnetka
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ScottE wrote:
As for the cover astronaut, one thing that might of improved it is not have the head visible. An illustrator friend thought the general image was cool but the head just didn't come out right.

I think the problem with his head is that the helmet is too small. There's not enough room for him to move his head around inside his vac suit.
 
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James Mckane
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Not comprehensive enough. I demand more information, Oh wait, my bad , sorry I just scrolled down.laugh
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Gunther Schmidl
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wytefang wrote:
(worker placement has usually been un-fun for me)


Usually can't stand worker placement games. Love this, though.
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