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Alien Frontiers

[Gamers Alliance is international in scope, both in readership and contributors. Andrea “Liga” Ligabue is one of our valued international contributors hailing from Italy. Liga’s first contribution to Gamers Alliance Report was in the Winter 2008 issue with his review of Race for the Galaxy. In this, his 11th review for GA Report, Liga races back to the galaxy to explore new (alien) frontiers.]

(Clever Mojo Games, 2-4 players, ages 13 and up, 90+ minutes; $49.99)

 

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

alienfrontiersboxAlien Frontiers belongs to the category of management games in which the initial resources available for each round are actually determined by tossing dice, a new, more fashionable, way to simulate a random draw of cards. From Kingsburg (Spring 2008 Gamers Alliance Report) to the current Troyes, passing through the beautiful Alea Iacta Est (Fall 2009 GA Report) and other really nice games, the genre is enjoying a major success. After several years of “prohibition” where “rolling dice” and the “cult of randomness” were banned from the respectable society of real German games players, now many “German style” games are using dice in new and ingenious ways.

This is the first game for Tory Niemann and the first real hit for Clever Mojo Games as evidenced by Alien Frontiers entering the BGG top 100 and catching the interest of a great publisher like Ystari Games who will soon publish a new multilingual edition. The game, while inheriting ideas and concepts from some of these previously mentioned dice titles is, in fact, sufficiently original and innovative.

Each player starts with 3 ships/dice but can reach up to 6. The game board represents the planet (center) divided into 8 regions, the moon and the orbital installations; on the side of the board are the Alien Technology deck and the 3 displayed technology cards.

As mentioned, Alien Frontiers is a game of managing resources. Players are faction leaders engaged in fighting over the control of the planet. The dice are the ships of the fleet that, each round, will be committed to get the resources needed to build colonies and settle on the planet. You must use your ships to best advantage to get the fuel and ore needed to build and settle colonies on the planet. Each colony gives a victory point and the control of an area of the planet earns a bonus point. Controlling the area with the Positronic Field gives a bonus point. Since the game ends when a player builds his last colony (the sixth in 4-player games, seventh and eighth respectively in games with 3 or 2 players) and territories on the planet are just eight, games are usually very tight and you win (in a game with 4 players) with 8-10 points.

The game is played in turn, going clockwise from player to player. During the turn, you have to roll all your dice and then proceed, allocating ships to the various areas of the map. The dice stay on the map until the player’s next turn, in fact obstructing opponents who can not (with rare exceptions) use the same areas.

How many spaces are available in each area depends on the number of players but usually the choices of others affect much of your decision-making ability and it is common that the area you are looking for is occupied by another player’s ships. There are areas where it is best to use dice with high numbers and others where it is best to use low valued dice. Some areas need just one die, others need two or three equal valued dice or three in a row. Each die can be used to advance the construction of a colony in the Colony Building Center, which is still an important choice not just a fall back.

Now let’s look at the different areas where is possible to place a die.

alienfrontiers2The first area is the shipyard where you can, playing a pair of dice of the same value, build an additional ship. The fourth ship costs 1 fuel and 1 ore, the fifth 2 and 2 and the sixth 3 and 3. Having a great fleet is quite expensive but offers you the possibility to make a lot of actions during your turn. The new ship will be available next round.

The Solar Converter allows you to get from one to three fuel for each die. One ore is collected in the mine, playing a die whose value is equal to or greater than the value of the highest die currently present in the mine. Ore is more difficult to obtain than fuel and therefore more precious, but the fuel is also necessary to activate some of the most interesting alien technology.

It is possible to build a colony quickly using 3 equal valued dice and 3 ore in the Colony Factory. The Terraforming Station can convert a single 6 to a colony at the cost of an ore and a fuel (the ship is consumed in the operation).

Three dice in a row allow you to use the raiders to steal 4 resources or a single Alien Technology card from opponents.

The Alien Technology cards are obtained by allocating ships with a net value of 8+ in the Alien Artifact. Each die set in the artifact also allows you to replace the three alien technology cards available with three new cards.

Technology cards are very important and useful and allow you to do several things including deploy on the planet one of the three force fields. Usually the cards have a skill you can use once every turn or a special ability that can be used only once, discarding the card. Technology cards allow you to plan some special strategy but raiders are always present so you can not totally rely on the cards.

The last area is the market where you can exchange fuel for ore (based on the value of the pair of dice used).

During the game, you will settle colonies on the planet. In addition to a victory point, each area gives a special ability to the player who controls it (the one with the greatest number of colonies in the area). The abilities of the 8 areas are different and all interesting. Controlling one area rather than another has some very heavy effects on game strategy. The areas range from the Asimov Crater, which allows you to build settlements more quickly, to the Van Vogt Mountains, making it easier to extract metals mining the moon. You have to remember that victory points are made only with the colonies (1 point for each colony and 1 point for each controlled area of the planet) and that the ultimate goal must be the building of settlements using the long way (Colony Hub) or quicker ones like Terraforming or Colony Factory.

The game plays really well, is lots of fun and has both direct and indirect interaction between players in the control of various areas of the planet and the orbital areas. In the endgame, doing the right move is not always easy and waiting times can stretch but, overall, the game is quite fast, rarely lasting more than an hour and a half. Victory points are public and there is nothing secret in the game: this may involve, at times, an excess of “calculation” in picking the best move but we’re in a game where you often win or lose by a point. There is a great variety of combinations given by Alien Technology cards and planet areas so strategies may be different. Still, choices are often conditioned by dice rolls (poor dice rolls prevent the building of new ships, sinking your dreams of a “great fleet” strategy, for example!).

Alien Frontiers is a quality strategy dice game with, of course, randomness but, fortunately, not too much. This is a really good debut for Tory Niemann and a top release for Clever Mojo Games.

 


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