Review: Alien Frontiers

This game was brought to my attention through the Kickstarter.com site followed by the BoardGameGeek.com site. There were numerous reviews and one of them persuaded me to buy the game from second printing while it was available in Europe. The curse of US games is that they require EU distributor which takes down some of the shipping costs1. Since I am a nut for space themed games, I was sure this game would not disappoint me.

Publisher will try to lure you with a slogan

“Alien Frontiers is a game of resource management, worker placement, and area control set in a retro-future scifi universe”

and they are right. It is a science fiction themed, territory building dice game. Yes a dice game. And although I dislike dice in games I have dusted off my dice tower because this game gets away with it. Mechanics which will compel players to play the game include

  • Area control – players are rewarded for controlling an area of the board
  • Worker placement – players draft actions from the final or variable set available to them
  • Dice rolling – game uses dice – for RNG2 purposes

Game info

Designer: Tory Niemann
Publisher: Clever Mojo Games
Playtime: 1 hour (our initial game took 1 hour + 15 minutes for setup and rule explanation)
Players: 2-4
Suggested Age: 10+
Dice: 3-6 per player (+ one extra dice for one of the players)
Board: Main board, Cards, Two types of Resource pieces, and Colony tokens for each player
Space requirement: 4 player game does not require too much space, medium coffee table should suffice

In 2010 Clever Mojo Games launcher a Kickstarter campaign to ask for founding of their new board game titled Alien Frontiers. Game was successfully funded and first printing was available late 2010 for Kickstarter backers. Due to localized market penetration3 and small initial print run game did not achieve world-wide acceptance until second and third printing both of which happened in 2011. Clever Mojo Games claims that they sold 5,000 copies of the game and are planning to sell 5,000 more by the end of the year4.

Goal in the game is simple. Score as many victory points as possible until the first player places its last colony. Now lets look at the components and give a little insight how this is achieved.

Squares on the board mark where to dock the ship!

One quarter folded piece of sturdy board with a masking tape on bends to prevent tear and wear5. It represents an unknown planet, the identity of it is not really important for the game. What is important is that this planet is a place of interest to the players. They will compete for planetary dominance by placing colony tokens on the eight areas dividing the planet. The areas are territories which give the controlling player bonus over some aspect of the game – bonus on using the orbital facility directly above the territory. Control over territory is given to the player who has the most colonies on the territory and this can change through the course of the game. Players can influence the rules of the territory by using special field generators which can be placed on the territory when circumstances allow it.

Above the planet players will notice eight orbital facilities on which they can dock their ships. Ships, are there are ships in this game? Well yes and no. To see the ships in the game you are required to posses a little bit of abstract thinking. Imagination, if you like to call it that way. Ships are represented by dice. Each die represents one ship. And what is ingenious in the form of mechanic of the game; each ship can change its value based on the die value of your roll. Players start with three ships each, and can build up their fleet to maximum of six ships. There is an extra ship available as a honey pot on the planet which can be one of the micro goals of the game.

Each orbital facility has special rule which governs its behavior. For example docked ships of specific value give player solar fuel tokens6 at the Solar converter, by docking a ship with a value of 3 player gains 3 solar fuel tokens, with a value of 5 or more player gains 3 solar fuel tokens. Rules for each orbital facility are clearly marked on the game board with iconographic reference and explained in detail in the rulebook accompanying the game and extremely well written short reference on the back of the rulebook.

Orbital facilities range from already described Solar converter, Colonist Hub, Colony Constructor, Lunar Mine, Maintenance Bay, Orbital Market, Raiders’ Outpost, Shipyard, Terraforming Station to Alien Artifact which is directly coupled with additional game component – The Alien Tech Cards. They allow the player to bend the basic game rules. Most of the cards can be used immediately after they are acquired. They have a permanent ability which must be paid with fuel. Player can discard some of the cards – if allowed by the card text – and receive the benefit of the discard action.

Setup is performed by the least experienced player

Board is placed on the table. Upper left corner will be populated with solar fuel tokens while lower right corner with ore tokens. Each player gets three dice of its chosen color.  The rest are placed by the maintenance bay off the game board; for later construction in the course of the game. Players get their colony tokens; amount of  which varies depending on the number of players playing the game.

Planet on the game board is populated with territory bonus markers along with the clear dice representing the seventh player ship; a Relic ship. Alien Cards deck is shuffled and each player is dealt one Alien tech card face up. Three Alien tech cards are dealt face up near the Alien Artifact orbital facility representing cards that can be used by the facility rule. The rest of cards form draw pile from which Alien Artifact will repopulate its artifacts.

Players choose player one by rolling for highest dice roll. Counting clockwise from player one players receive allotment which compensate for turn order disparities. This allotment is received only on first turn.

Now let’s roll the dice.

Running through the player turn

Player starts the turn by gathering all of its ships and rolling them. Once the score is known it decides to dock all of his ships on the orbital facility for which it qualifies. Once docked the benefit gain of the facility is immediate.

Alien technology cards acquired by player can be used as appropriate at any time during the players turn. Cards that require fuel payment can be used once per turn and player may discard only one not already used tech card per turn.

Once all ships are docked and tech cards used, player must discard to eight resources cumulatively and the turn passes to next player on the left.

Simple? There is not more to the game? Scoring is essential.

Victory track does not lie

Alien Frontiers game turn is as simple as it can be. While talking about initial game setup I have not written about victory track. It is a part of the game board with a scoring track on which each player puts one of its colony markers or specially designed plastic ship markers and use it to track its victory progress during the game.

The progress is not cumulative. It is a snapshot of the current board and hand situation at any single point during the game. Player will receive one VP for colony on a territory, one VP per territory they control, one VP for possession of specific Alien technology card in a game and one VP for controlling territory with a Positron field7 in a game.

Game ends when first player places its last colony marker on the planet. Ties are broken firstly by number of alien tech cards, secondly by number of ore tokens and lastly by number of fuel tokens.

I am not a drone this game is not for me!

Could be. I was initially convinced by retro style artwork of the game. It reminded me of all the science fiction novels I read all only equipped with one piece of visual art which helped me emerge my self into the story. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention it. Artwork brings me closer to 1950 golden age of science fiction. Although there is a boom of science fiction themed board games as of late I do not see a game that respects and openly shows it in their components.

As far as the components go, they are top notch. All of the game components come in zip locked plastic bags for easy storage. Game board and victory track are made of sturdy paperboard. All colony tokens and resource tokens are the same in size and well painted. And the dice are correctly weighted and lay comfortably in my hand. And remember 6 is not the best result you can get in a turn.

Further more since there is a small company backing this game I get real customer satisfaction for my money. Their support is excellent and also their distributors network is available in Europe8.

From their Kickstarter campaign they have come a long way and I wonder what is looming on the horizon.

There must be more

While launched Clever Mojo Games stated that they are preparing expansions for the base game. There are two expansions planned. First is called Alien Frontiers: Factions which is expected to be released in start of 2012 and the other Alien Frontiers: Outer Belt is still in development and will be released at later date.

Alien Frontiers: Factions is published in the same way as Alien Frontiers that is by a Kickstarter campaign which allows backers to get an expansion and a booster pack for the expansion before the expansion hits the market at affordable and competitive prices. If you are interested take a look at the

I am sure they have a backer level for Alien Frontiers owners and also for backers who are late in boarding the Alien Frontiers train available for worldwide delivery until 2, October 2011.



Footnotes:
  1. specially if you catch a pre-order []
  2. random number generation []
  3. Clever Mojo Games is located in US []
  4. see comment #1 – retracted original information and corrected fact – we presumed that 10,000 copies were already sold []
  5. Chinese are getting better and better at this []
  6. how green, ehh []
  7. one of three fields []
  8. bought the game from Gameslore.com []

  • Thank you very much for your review of Alien Frontiers. I am happy to hear it is gaining devoted players in Europe :-)

    One correction to your facts at the top of the review. We have sold about 5,000 copies of Alien Frontiers so far. The third printing (another 5,000 copies) will be arriving in October 2011. You can purchase them in the UK and Scandinavian countries through http://www.spiralgalaxygame.com. In western Europe through Ystari.com. And in Poland and eastern Europe through Locworks.com.

    Reply
    • Thank you David, for clearing that up.

      I will change the sales numbers and mark what was changed. I am sure you will hit originally reported number by the end of the year 2011.

      Reply