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Subject: Alien Frontiers: The Mario Kart of board gaming rss

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You've played Mario Kart, right? You zoom off into the lead, you're a good half lap ahead of anyone else, you've thrown bananas around curves at strategic places so it's tougher for people to catch up to you, you're feeling great about what you've done and how you set everything up to win.

About halfway through the last lap.....a blue shell hits you. OK, no big deal, you're still way ahead. Then another one. That's OK, you're still in the lead. Then a lightning bolt and you spin out and while trying to straighten out, you're flattened by another driver. While the animation finishes and you finally start back up, you watch 2 other cars zip by you, finishing ahead of you and you limp across in 5th place (since before you finish, someone hits you with a red shell and barely crosses the finish line before you.

Welcome to Alien Frontiers
For those who don't know, it's a game of rolling dice, and depending on what comes up, using those dice to get resources, spend resources on more dice, colonies (which give you special powers and VP), cards (which let you manipulate your die rolls, give VP, manipulate colonies, and other special powers), and/or steal stuff from other players.

The components
The board has some nice art, the dice are well-made, and the colonies remind most people I play with of the old candy buttons (the ones stuck to paper), but serve their purpose fine. The cards and tiles (used to mark who has control of which power) are perfectly fine.

The other nice part is the colors of the dice are wildly different from each other, which makes finding your dice among the rest easy, even for those slightly color-blind. The 2 resources are completely different shapes, so even those completely color-blind can pick them apart.

One small gripe about the resources is the Solar resource is represented by small discs. I'm yet to play a game where at some point, one doesn't turn on its' side while moving them around and roll off the table.

The theme
Your dice are space ships and they're running around collecting different things, trading things, stealing things (despite the fact that stealing doesn't actually involve your ship going anywhere near any other ship or resource pile). Going to one place gets you a card (really no attempt at making that fit into a theme at all). And there's really no explanation as to why sending your ships to one of a few areas creates a colony (as you pay resources to actually create it, and depending on the spot, the cost is different).

Really, the game feels like the mechanics were worked out and then the theme was added later. The art helps push the idea of the theme, but I never feel like I'm colonizing a planet (as compared to, say, Mission: Red Planet). I feel like I'm placing my dice in order to get what I want, block out my opponents, and almost independently, my colonies are being placed on the planet.

The fun
For the most part, the game is a lot of fun and very interesting. Every turn, you roll the dice and depending on what comes up and how you can manipulate things, you have a number of options on how to play the turn from there. You will almost never have a turn where you can't use your dice to do something (I've never seen it personally), but you won't always be able to do exactly what you would like.

The downtime
Others have commented on this, but it has to be restated: if someone is new to the game and/or suffers from AP, this game can drag. Horribly. When I play with people who are generally quick thinkers and understand the game, it plays at a good pace, but even then, you have literally 2 choices of how to spend the time between your turns (in-game):

1) Think up of what you HOPE you can do next turn if you roll correctly
2) Help other players by laying out options to them of what they can possibly do with their dice.

The cause is not just because there are many choices each turn, but the cards. The lovely, lovely cards....

The cards
One of the spaces on the board allows you to take one of a few face-up cards. These cards usually have 2 uses:

1) Pay X to add/subtract/reroll/manipulate your dice after rolling them
2) Discard the card to move affect colonies

So if you roll what you need, great. If not, then it's not just a matter of finding what you can do, but it's a matter of seeing if you can afford to pay X in order to make the dice what you want, while still having enough left over to actually do what you had planned in the first place.

Additionally, considering the second option can give you additional powers from taking control of areas by moving around colonies, which lead to your choices having other options.

I love all the choices and love having a mechanism to move everything around, so the game is not based completely on the luck of the dice, but for some, it's an overload of choices.

The end-game
The game ends when one player places all of his colonies on the planet in the middle. You score 1 point for each colony you have on the planet and a bonus point for each area where you have the most colonies.

Since nothing is hidden, when one player has almost everything on the planet, the game jumps into "the last half lap of Mario Kart" mode. Between players scrambling to put colonies on the board and discarding cards to move colonies around, the general goal ends up being, "how can I take points away from the leader by removing leads he has, while giving myself points?"

Additionally, since controlling an area leads to having a special power, when the leader loses an area, he not only loses points, but a power. With 2-3 people ganging up on 1 person, it's impossible for that person to hold onto control of many areas or powers. He might still be able to hold onto control of the most points, but that's generally only if he can be the one to actually end the game and have the most colonies on the board.

Conclusion
If you have people who are generally slow, do NOT break this game out. It will drag out to 90+ mins. If everyone can move at a good pace though, who doesn't like an occasional game of Mario Kart? It's fun, it's pretty, you get to screw the guy in the front, and then it ends. Just don't expect it to be what the hype made the game sound like when it first came out.
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Michael Mesich
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AF is much like a lot of other games (Catan in particular) where breaking away with points is a BAD idea. I think the trick is to weigh getting points for butressing your position without sparking retribution from the other players ... up until that point you can sprint over the finish line!

Easier said than done? Don't I know it.

But the worst thing you can do is break open a 4-5 point lead in the early-to-mid game.
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Yea, the problem in this game is if you're not scoring points, there's not much you CAN be doing to try to win. You can get your extra dice and then after that.....well, you can get cards, but you can only hold so many resources and you can only advance one colony so far before scoring.

So if you're advancing, you're scoring, and if you're scoring, you're moving towards ending the game, which paints a target on your back.
 
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Chris Talmadge
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sybrwookie wrote:
You've played Mario Kart, right?


Excellent Mario Kart analogy. I know EXACTLY what you mean!
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Carter
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Any analogy to MarioKart is IMO an excellent complement. The original MarioKart is a masterpiece. Perhaps the issue here is that both MarioKart and AF are short tactical games, and people want something else. I am doubtful one could improve upon either.

If you are a good MarioKart player, then you can take the lead and keep it (alternatively, if you are truly any good, you would stick to Battle Mode). This is not necessarily true of AF, but the nice thing about AF is that when you are capable of winning, it is too late for the other players to change the outcome.

An attempt at kingmaking in AF carries alot of uncertainty, and it's always the result of lousy groupthink anyway. Personally, I wish it were explicit that you cannot place the last colony unless it results in your victory (however with hidden points in the expansion this won't work).
 
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