I always dreamed, that I will be on Mars, look up and see Phobos and Deimos up in the sky, hovering above the horizon. Our bubble colonies will glitter in sunlight and the Earth will be just a distant dream, which someone once told us.
And now, I’m finally here. I arrived on the ship Azrael 11, which received the name of the angel of death. But his name means also „the one, who helps God.“ Name of the project caused a big stir, but eventually remain unchanged. Superstitious fears of earthlings fortunately proved unnecessary. Now there are five ships in orbit, four more are on their way back home to bring more workers. But my home is now here, on Mars…
Become cosmic pioneers in the game named Alien Frontiers, which will take you into orbit on an uninhabited planet. But without warning, there are four ships vying for control. They arrived almost simultaneously are represent worlds biggest countries – green India, blue United States, red China and yellow Europe. You can take the lead of one of these world powers and try to win supremacy over the whole new world.
Torah Niemann (the author) brings us all that just with help of his own small production company Clever Mojo Games. The game was freshly picked up also by Ystari Games. All the components illustrations were created by Mark Maxwell. The game is a great revelation of year 2011 and therefore inevitably found its way also into our editorial office.
Alien Frontiers are contained inside the massive square box. After lifting the lid, you’ll find that folded game board overlaps everything. But this time, you won’t have problems picking it up. In one side of the box, you’ll find a clever semi-circular cutout, that will help you. Also the board for maintaining victory points can be described by larger dimensions and lies right underneath the main board. You will be surprised instantly, that the scoring board has only fourteen boxes.
Under these boards, there is a color booklet with English rules and a bunch of other components that you need to play the game. Cardboard pieces are only three: color chips with the letters P, I and R. If you don’t own Quarriors, you will be overwhelmed by a bag of twenty-four dice in four colors. They also include twentyfifth colorless cube, which hasn’t any owner at the beginning of the game. These dice are larger than usual and in strict square shape. In addition, they fit in your hand perfectly. You can play with them during the game, just like pros play with poker chips.
In addition to the boards of planet territories, also a deck of cards will need to be bound by rubber band, when packing the game. These cards show alien technologies, you can acquire during the game. The list is complete, when we mention wooden materials: gray cubes ore, yellow rings of fuel and semicircular symbols for glass colonies. The latter are in four player colors, each of them will own nine pieces.
Nine sites are located on the board and indicated by gray space for placing dice. Eight of them are orbital objects, the ninth is planet’s moon. On its surface, the colonizers have established ore mine. All of these stations in orbit are circling around a planet, which is divided into eight sectors. All of them have interesting names – a tribute to known authors of science fiction. You will find Heinlein plains, Herbert Valley, Bradbury plateau or Asimov’s crater among them.
In preparation of the game, you will lay a little board with relevant name to each of these areas. During the game, you will take them, as you gain and lose control (by having most colonies there) of these sectors. Burroughs desert in the centre will receive a transparent cube at the beginning of the game. This is a ghost ship, that can aid its controller.
Players first choose colors they would like to represent and take semicircular wooden domes colonies (their number is determined by the number of players). They will put one of them on zero on the scoring board. The technology cards are shuffled to form a deck, from which each player receives one random card. The next three from the top will create an offer for the start, laying next to the board.
Each player then gets three dice in the selected color. Dice in this game are called ships, which maneuver the orbit and land on the deck of the facilities. And because these landing spots at each site are limited, only the fastest can land on them during the round. But in addition to speed, you must meet ale the requirements of navigation, which the device requires. You must always have the right combination of numbers on your dice. Without them you cannot land on the deck.
The remaining three ships in your color will remain on the board in the service dock (Maintenance Bay) for now. From here, you can buy them, when you pay for its completion and charging of their fuel cells. The remaining components (ore, fuel and three tokens) stay close to the board and form a bank for the game itself.
Players take turns, but they alternate only when the previous opponent played everything he planned. Unlike similar games, in which components are placed on the board and then evaluated later, in Alien Frontiers you’ll get your reward immediately. It is because of this change, that you can directly enjoy the benefits obtained and use it during the further course of your turn.
Each of the orbiting station needs other combination of dice numbers. One requires two dice of equal value, the other takes only sixes and a third wants the sum of dice places to be more than eight. Fortunately, there are also places, where ships can dock, regardless of their number.
You will usually get nice rewards for properly docked ships on the vacant. It may be ore cubes, fuel chips, action cards, new boats for you to command or new colony on the surface of the planet.
Precisely this placing of bubbles, in which people can live on the planet, is the whole meaning of Alien Frontiers. Anyone, who manages to settle all their available colonies on the surface, will end the game. But he is not necessarily the winner. Each site is expected to have a so-called dominance, which brings additional victory points, just like some action cards.
And by controlling some of the planet’s locations, you get also its bonuses, that will enhance the use of facilities. Each of them belongs to some place on the planet and is bound to it by a thin string. You can be able to trade cheaper (exchanging fuel for ore) or you’ll build new ships more efficiently. Each site has its advantages, but the most important is the relic ship located in the Burroughs desert – the controller can add it to his fleet.
The materials (ore, fuel) are the money here – you will need to pay to use most of the actions, like firing a colony on the planet, building a ship or even the purchase of alien technology. These technology cards can turn the game’s development. They allow you to reposition some of your colonies or throw some of your dice once more.
Like the recently reviewed Castles Burgundy (review available only in czech), are also the basics of Alien Frontiers build around the dice. Their results can greatly affect your strategy, but in this game, you can manipulate those numbers and redistribute them.
Some may be disturbed by this random element of dice. But we can assure you, that usually the number of dice suffices to make everything according to your plan. Although someone may feel limited in strategy, when it comes to dice. Arguments that chance has no place in the universe, because everything has to be completely accurate there, are not apropriate. Men make mistakes. And on top of it, the uncertainty of throwing the dice can make good games great.
The biggest fun and experience of the game Alien Frontiers then comes from combining actions and dice results into powerful combos. Using action cards, you can actually do much more activities, than what the number of dice allows you. For example some blocks can be used twice. Clever concatenation of events can gain you access to places, for which you did not have enough resources at the beginning of your turn. Players get great feeling from these successful combinations.
Individual boxes are skillfully differentiated according to their importance. So the strongest Colony Constructor, that allows you to directly transfer a single colony on the surface, costs three ore and on top of that, you will have to find three same numbers on your dice. Large quantities of materials is spent on buying new ships. Income from mining on the moon and the solar converter depends purely on how many dice you are willing to sacrifice for that particular round.
Each location has its subtle strategy, which gives you a chance to prevent others from using its benefits. You can simply block most of them, but on the moon the situation is different. Just can just sacrifice one six and the other players have to at least even it.
The action cards and abilities, which you gain from controlling territories, have great influence on the whole game. Whether it is an additional ship (dice), or abilities tied to a specific object in orbit, they always give you interesting advantages over your rivals.
Alien Frontiers solves different numbers of players by blocking some docking sites. In two players game you have only one chance to buy another boat or the building of a colony. You will breathe more easily in three players, but only with the four, you can move across the plan freely. Otherwise some places for docking are blocked by non-player colors of dice.
A strong emphasis throughout the game is on the interaction between players. Most action cards can help you harm opponents somehow. Great Raiders Outpost (site) can even give you a chance to steal the materials or cards from other players.
Players will not only invade each other, but also block important points. These moves can have a significant strategic value. In conflict between enemies, there seems to be the major strenght of Alien Frontiers. And these battles are also main foundations of replayability, because either game board nor conditions will not change much throughout the different games.
Despite the box that sais ninety minutes for one match, you’ll find that you can play most games of Alien Frontiers roughly during half of this time. Problems arise, when you have in your group some player, that wants to calculate all the possibilities and choose the best. You must play this game more intuitive, using your sixth sense. And luckily most players do.
Since players always place their entire move at once and do not alternate in laying the dice, they is some waiting for other players to finish their turns. This feeling extends also on subjective level, because you have basically nothing to do. You cannot think through your next move, because you do not know, what numbers your dice will come up with. Here the match with two players scales better.
Interestingly, the order of players in the whole game does not change. It is probably most noticeable, when playing with four opponents. The last one in the order has always limited options, which depends on the actions of his opponents. Of course on the contrary, he can better respond to the moves of others. We think, that this disadvantage is sufficiently outweighed by those several blocks, that will the later players get as compensation at the beginning of the match. Yet Alien Frontiers is surprisingly balanced game until the end, because players can always use dice to their profit.
Processing of the whole game is great. We’re not talking about wooden components, although the shape of the dome is original, but about cards and boards. The main board reminds us of material used in the Pandemic. Overall quality is absolutely perfect and there is nothing to criticize here. The icing on the cake are things that streamline the game: connection of device in orbit with the location that it affects on the planet, or the selfexplaining icons for each effect.
Tory Niemann has also recorded an important achievement with his game, when it has won five straight nomination in the public opinion poll BoardGameGeek Golden Geek Awards 2011. Just like 7 Wonders, also this game benefits from simple principles and short play time. The result of this popularity are various smaller extensions and especially the upcoming enhancements, that will introduce factions.
Alien Frontiers are an excellent choice not only for players, who do not mind using random dice according to their strategy, but also for those, who like games of direct conflict. This game offers quick fun that will everyone with a little experience learn in minutes. Additionally, this sci-fi game will force your creative thinking each round, so that you gain the most from the numbers on the dice.
Alien Frontiers are not trying to be some deep stratégy game, that will make your brain boil. It is a combinatorial game, where you have to know, how to combine your options best with long-term goals. Coincidence and conflict will be your devoted companions. And the last player may occasionally experience some feelings of injustice. However, this does not change nor its qualities neither the fun, that will intrigue every player of board games.