It seems that everywhere I turn lately, people are talking about Alien Frontiers. Part of the reason is because it’s a pretty novel story. Tory Neimann, the designer, and Clever Mojo Games decided to raise the funds for the game by using Kickstarter.com, a fundraising site that allows people to invest in your ideas. For what amounted to a preorder, you could put money down to help them to raise enough money to produce the game. The project was a success, and you can bounce over to their Kickstarter page to see the results. Review copies have found their way into the hands of several prominent podcasts (The Dice Tower and Game On! for example), and everyone seems to be raving about the game, which should be out into the general public by the end of October. So, let’s talk about it.
Alien Frontiers is a game for 2-4 players that is for ages 13 and up and plays in about 60 minutes. The game was designed by Tory Neimann, features art by Karim Chakroun and Mark Maxwell, and is being published by Clever Mojo Games. It’s a dice rolling worker placement game, much like Kingsburg, where what you roll determines your choices for the round. The theme is that you are a space explorer trying to establish colonies on a new planet. You’ll be competing with other explorers who are trying to do the exact same thing.
One of the compliments I’ve been hearing is the quality of the components. Clever Mojo used their investor’s money wisely to make this game look very good. The art is highly stylized with a very retro sci-fi look. The board is well-laid out, and the bits are of high-quality plastic. Components included are 25 six-sided dice (six in each of four player colors and one clear die), 20 grey cubes (ore), 30 orange discs (fuel), 36 colony tokens (nine domes in each player color), 22 alien tech cards, 8 territory counters, 3 field generator counters, 1 scoring track, and the game board.
The main setup for the game is for four players, with 2- and 3-player “variants”, which makes me think that this game is intended for exactly four. Each player gets a set of dice and colony markers matching their color, with one colony marker going on the score track. You’ll be using seven of the colony markers in the 3- and 4-player games, and eight with two players (also in the more advanced 3- and 4-player games). Three of your dice go in the shipyard (aka the Maintenance by), while the other three stay off the table near the shipyard. Three alien tech cards are dealt face up to form the stock, with the rest making a draw pile. The big difference with 2- and 3- players is that the unclaimed dice are placed in various docking ports, limiting your options. This scattering of unused dice reminds me of Dungeon Lords and the way the unused minions are used to automatically block certain things.
On your turn, you roll all of your dice from the board. You then get to place them based on the numbers you rolled. The Terraforming Station, for example, requires a 6 for you to land, and then you can place a colony (but lose the die). The Solar Converter will take any number, but will give better benefits for higher rolls – specifically, more fuel. The Orbital Market and the Shipyard require a set of two equal numbers to use the space. The OM allows you to trade fuel for ore, while the Shipyard allows you to get more dice. The Colony Constructor requires three equal numbers and three ore to dock, and then you can place a colony. The Raiders’ Outpost requires a sequence of three consecutive numbers, and then you can steal four resources from your opponents. The Lunar Mine requires that you must dock a ship that is equal or greater than the highest ship already there, and helps you get ore. The Alien Artifact space can take any number, and you can discard the face up tech cards for three more. To take one, the total of the dice you place at the Alien Artifact must be greater than seven.
Each territory on the planet provides different benefits, and you can also use the alien tech cards to bend the rules. Your dice will stay in place until your next turn, which could really screw up your opponents – many of the spaces have limits on the number of ships that can be there.
As in 51st State, scoring is not cumulative. You’re not earning points after every turn, but your points are scored based on the current board situation. It will change throughout the game. You get one point for every placed colony, every controlled territory, having Alien City, having the Alien Monument, and controlling the territory with the Positron Field. The game ends after one player places their last colony. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken by number of alien tech cards, then by ore, then by fuel. If there’s still a tie, the rules suggest that you play again.
This game looks like a lot of fun. As per usual, it’s probably better to play the game to find out how everything works together. I’ve heard it referred to as Kingsburg in space, and it’s not hard to see why. However, Alien Frontiers seems to be a fairly unique and original concept. It’s always great when a smaller publisher can make such a splash by trying innovative ways of marketing, and by producing what appears to be such a high-quality product. Read more buzz at BGG, and if you’re interested, you can go to the game’s website to preorder ($10 off the standard retail price of $50).
I’m trying to figure out a good tagline for the blog. “Thanks for reading…now buzz off” seems a little nasty for the spirit of the blog, though sort of thematically appropriate. “Buzz on” makes no sense, and I don’t want to seem like I’m copying Game On! or The Spiel with their taglines. Maybe I’ll just use “Insert clever tagline here.”
Insert clever tagline here.