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Exploring New Frontiers?: Alien Frontiers Reviewed

Alien Frontiers (Clever Mojo)Game NameAlien Frontiers

Publisher: Clever Mojo Games

Designer: Tory Niemann

Artist: Mark Maxwell

Genre: Dice placement, area majority science fiction game

Year: 2010

Players: Two to four players

Ages: 13+

Playing time: 90 minutes

MSRP: $49.95

Alien Frontiers from Clever Mojo Games is unique in many respects.  It was one of the first board games successfully funded via Kickstarter and through great marketing, they raised well over the amount needed to get Alien Frontiers published.   Their first run was sold out by the time it was released to the fortunate 1000 who took the chance and pre-ordered the game.  A gamble to be sure, since Clever Mojo is relatively unknown and Tory Niemann is a freshman designer.

But the gamble paid off it appears.  Alien Frontiers has been raved about by the vast majority of people lucky enough to own or play the game. A second printing is already in the offing and things are looking bright for Clever Mojo and Alien Frontiers.

afcompBy the appearance of the game, you would not think that it is the product of a small game publisher.  The artwork by Mark Maxwell really gives a retro-science fiction feel to the game, and the graphic design by Karim Chakroun adds a professional polish.  The board is gorgeous, as are the cards.  There are a total of 24 dice in the four different player colors and one clear die representing the relic ship which can be controlled by any player.  Also, there are thick cardboard pieces that represent the special abilities a player can get for controlling each territory on the planet.  They could have been simple cards, so the fact that Clever Mojo decided to provide the nice thick pieces shows that they went the quality route rather than the cheap route.  The thick glossy victory point track, provided as a separate board, shows the game’s quality as well.  The rulebook is 16 pages in glossy full color.

To round out the component list, there are also colony tokens in each player’s respective color.  These are neat small wooden half-moon pieces.  Add in the small orange wooden disks for fuel and the grey cubes for ore and you’ve got the whole game.  (Oh, and 3 field generator tokens too)

What about the game play itself?  The object of the game is to have the highest amount of victory points after one of the players places their last colony token on the planet.  The game is a variation on worker placement with one unique aspect.  The workers are your dice.  The dice each represent ships, and each player begins the game with three ships.  You have the ability to increase to a total of six ships by building more.  So, on your turn you roll your dice, and then place them around the board to perform certain actions.  The caveat is that some actions require certain die rolls.  For example, to utilize the Raiders Outpost you will need to roll at least 3 sequential dice (3,4,5…etc) before you can use that facility.

The facilities provide the meat of the game play.  Some facilities will let you obtain fuel and ore if you dock your ships there.  Others allow you to spend those fuel and ore tokens to do other things, like building a new ship at the shipyard.  Each new ship you build gives you another die to roll on your next turn, so it is a very valuable space indeed.  Don’t forget to start building your colonies though!  You can go the slow sure way by using the Colonist Hub, or do a quick and dirty build by destroying one of your own ships at the Terraforming Station.

The colonies themselves can provide you with valuable benefits.  If you control one of the 8 territories on the planet (you gain control by having the most colonies in a particular territory), you get the bonus counter for that location.  Asimov’s Crater will help you build your future colonies faster, but the sweet spot is Burroughs desert.  If you control this area you get control of the Relic Ship.  This is the special clear die you add to your dice pool.  It can really make a difference when you are rolling 7 dice but everyone else can only have 6.  Another player can take your bonuses away from you though, by gaining control of your territory.

Then, there are the Tech Cards.  These cards are very strategic to game play, so don’t ignore them like I did in my first few games.  You gain cards by docking ships at the Alien Artifact facility.  These cards offer options such as manipulating your dice roll, moving colonies around on the planet, gaining additional resources, moving your opponent’s ships out of your way, and so on.  There are even two cards that give you a bonus victory point, which can make all the difference in this game.  The cards also allow you to place the three field generator counters, which can give you a bonus victory point, disable a territory’s bonus, or lock it down so no one can take a specific territory from you (this comes in REALLY handy).

As you can tell, I enjoyed Alien Frontiers.  I do have some criticisms and comments so it isn’t all lollipops and laser beams.

Your first game will be slow, but don’t give up.  The game uses icons, similar to the way Race for the Galaxy does, but nowhere near as complex.  Our first game took 3 hours, as we were all new to it.  Once you learn the icons, learn your options (IE: get past analysis paralysis), and start plotting strategies, a four player game can easily be accomplished in 90 minutes.

The first turn of the game can really leave player four behind the 8 ball.  The way the game operates, the dice stay on the board until each player’s next turn.  So if certain spots are filled, you can’t put your ships there.  If you are player four you will have limited options as opposed to what the first player had.  After the first turn this evens out, as everyone now has to deal with the same limited space.  The designers partially alleviate this advantage by giving bonus ore and fuel to the second, third, and fourth players when the game begins.

It is possible to be left with no legal moves on your turn.  This has happened several times, and it vastly annoys the player who is so cursed.  You are supposed to place your ships that can’t do anything into the Maintenance Bay, which does nothing for them, it’s just a wasted ship.  This is the one spot where I think there should be a change to the rules.  There should be some benefit for entering the Maintenance Bay.  We are testing a rule where if you place a ship in the Maintenance Bay, for each ship placed you are allowed to interrupt another player on their turn and force them to reroll one die.  So if Jerry just rolled three 6’s and is going to use the Raiders’ Outpost to steal your fuel, pull a ship out of the maintenance bay to force him to reroll one of those 6’s.  Another more strategic idea would be to replace your ship in the maintenance bay with one of their ships of your choice, so just trade that 6 for a 1!  No raiding me this turn Jerry!  This has the added benefit of giving players something to do between turns if they wish.

That’s about it.  I have a good time playing this game.  I recommend it for those who like worker placement, and those who are not opposed to conflict, as there are a lot of screw your neighbor opportunities in Alien Frontiers.  So it is not for everyone.  Overall, it is a fun game with a great thematic feel

Elliott Miller

1 Comment

  1. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever had a game where someone wasn’t able to play all of their dice. You figure you always have 3 slots on the Colonist Hub to advance your colony, which leaves between 1 – 3 dice left to do something with. We ALWAYS had plenty of room on the Solar Converters to place dice, and if there is room, you can alway place a die on the Alien Artifact to cycle through some cards (though, granted, that might not be what you want to do). Rolling 5 or 6 dice will generally have dice that will be able to get some ore, plus when you have acquired that many dice, people tend to have some alien tech that allow manipulation of dice so that you have more options available. Not that I’m saying that it can’t happen, but I would think it is very rare…


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Alien Frontiers (Clever Mojo)

Exploring New Frontiers?: Alien Frontiers Reviewed

I have a good time playing this game. I recommend it for those who like worker placement, and those who are not opposed to conflict, as there are a lot of screw your neighbor opportunities in Alien Frontiers. So this isn't a game for everyone. Overall, it is an entertaining game with a great thematic feel.

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