Expansion Buzz – Space Alert: The New Frontier

When Space Alert came out in 2008, it received a lot of praise.  It was riding in on the big wave of cooperative games, but its innovative use of a real-time mechanic was really what made people take notice.  It even won a special Spiel des Jahres award (German game of the year) for New Game Worlds.  And so, it was natural to expect an expansion.  And after months and months of speculation, the world finally has received word on what exactly will be in that expansion.

The New Frontier - image by BGG user karel_danek

The New Frontier is the Space Alert expansion…and thank goodness it has an English title, because it’s been listed on BGG as Vzdálené Horizonty for a loooong time.  The game is being released by Czech Games Edition, and by Rio Grande here in the US.  It adds five distinct elements to the base game – new threats, double actions, specializations, an experience system, and crew badges.

For anyone who doesn’t really know how Space Alert works, here’s a brief rundown.  The game is played in two parts.  During the first part, you will be planning your actions for a 10 minute mission.  These actions can be moving around your ship, firing weapons at various threats, recharging your energy, controlling robots, checking the computer, or even just looking out the window (visual confirmation).  Threats come along a trajectory and do various evil things as they cross certain points.

This first phase of the game is controlled by a CD, representing the computer.  It announces when and where threats appear, when you can trade, when you can draw new cards, when you are not allowed to converse, and when you’re running out of time.  All of your actions get planned during this part of the game.  In the second part, you will execute your actions exactly as planned.  You don’t get to do anything, you’re basically just watching a film of your mission.  You can either watch your brilliant victory, or (more likely) your humiliating defeat.  Then, you can play again.  With a bunch of different threats (basic and advanced), several random trajectories, and a CD full of different missions, you should have plenty to keep you entertained.

If the base game is not quite evil enough for you, here comes The New Frontier.  The first thing you’ll find is that there are new threats.  There are 16 new threats that correspond to difficulty levels in the base game, but there are also 32 new threats that are even deadlier.  The threats have new abilities – carriers (which send small fighters at you); plasmatic ships (which knock out all crew members in the attacked zone of the ship); phasing (can only be damaged half of the time); megashields (which provide the threats with a lot of protection, but which also can be worn down); inaccessibility (which allows the threat to ignore the first point of damage); polarization (lower the effectiveness of lasers); jumps (can move to a different trajectory); the ability to span all trajectories (filling your field of vision); and the ability to call in other threats.  Vicious.

There’s a new CD in the box that includes longer soundtracks for missions with more threats.  To balance this, the game includes double action cards.  In the base game, you choose a card that will allow you to move in one direction, press one button, or activate the battlebots.  According to the expansion rules, you will NOT be able to survive these new missions with those cards.  So, they have included double action cards.  On one half of the card, you will have two actions instead of one, meaning you get to do two things during one action.  These double actions allow interceptors a chance to move as well as attack.

In addition, there are cards which allow you to perform specific non-standard actions.  These include launching a rocket from anywhere, launching two rockets at once with a combined strength of 5, performing computer maintenance from anywhere, performing visual confirmation as three players, recharge the central reactor from anywhere, giving the ship a temporary shield for one turn, the ability to fire a laser and the pulse cannon at once, increasing the effectiveness of the pulse cannon, turning all actions into heroic actions, preventing any players from being knocked out this turn, causing threats to move one less space this turn, making an early jump to hyperspace, repairing the ship, and getting in the interceptors from the lower red zone.

The next big thing included is an experience system.  Essentially, you’re creating a character that gains experience points that can be used to gain rewards.  If you fail in a mission, you lose your character…unless you checked the “I consent to be cloned” box.  If you did, your character’s clone will take over with no memory of the mission you died on.  If you didn’t check the box, well…I like the way the rules put it: “For your next mission, you will need to make a completely new explorer…and maybe think about whether you want to check the box this time.”

The final thing in the expansion is crew badges.  These add nothing to the gameplay, just to the experience.  You give out badges based on each player’s title – captain, communications officer, etc.

I’ve only played the base game for Space Alert once.  We completed on training simulation successfully (though barely), and failed miserably in our first training mission.  I really want to play some more, but I need to find some gamers…I suspect that most casual players would not do well with this one.  As such, I don’t plan on getting the expansion.  Not yet.  But it looks very cool, and I look forward to hearing what people think.  I’m a bit daunted by the 40 page rulebook – that’s way longer than the base rules.  However, there are a lot of examples and explanations, and I think it will be helpful for fans.  If you’re interested, I’d suggest that you read more and see some images at BGG.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll be back soon with some more buzz…insert clever tagline here.

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