Thursday, November 10, 2011

Worker Placement + Area Control = Great Fun

I got board the Alien Frontiers train about two months ago.

I was on Kickstarter pledging money to a friend's theatre project and while I was there decided to check out Alien Frontiers. I had heard a lot about the game on The Dice Tower podcast and, being a devout member of the cult of the new, I thought I should have a look at it. The Kickstarter program was actually for the first expansion for the game, but one of the funding levels included the game itself. So I pledged my money and waited.

Now that the game has arrived and I have played it twice, I am glad I supported the expansion (and got the game). Alien Frontiers is a worker placement/area control game and will be compared to Kingsburg for all time. That is because both games share a worker placement mechanic involving placing dice. In Kingsburg each player has a dedicated set of (six-sided) dice that she rolls each turn and places on characters that each have a unique set of actions. In Alien Frontiers each player has a set of dice (or "ships") which can be placed on a multitude of orbital platforms, each with its own action.

While Kingsburg is a deeper game -- there are more complex choices for players to make through the course of the game and more going on in general -- Alien Frontiers has more player conflict, especially in the area control aspect of the game. The primary thematic-goal of Alien Frontiers is to colonize a planet, which is divided up into territories (each named after a different science fiction author). Victory points are scored by placing colonies in each territory, as well as controlling (having more colonies than any other player) territories. (There are a few other ways to gain victory points, but placing colonies and controlling territories are the major ones.) Early in the game each player usually takes over different territories (each of which also gives a bonus ability for the controller), but as the mid-game sets in players begin to the fight for the same territories. As victory points can be lost as well as won, control over a territory can mean the difference between winning and losing. This leads to decisions having to made about fortifying a single territory (getting fewer victory points, but securing the territory from takeover by another player) or expanding quickly (getting more victory points, but being more susceptible to takeover by another player).

The worker placement aspect of the game ties in very well with the space colonization theme. The obital colonies with which players can dock ships are designed so that ships (dice) of any value can be used, but doubles, triples, 6s and sets of 1-2-3/2-3-4/4-5-6 are particularly valuable and can be used for stronger actions. Add to this the abilities controlling the different territories give and the abilities from alien tech cards, and balance is restored to a game that could have been too dependant on lucky dice rolls.

I'm looking forward to playing more of Alien Frontiers, and also for the expansion which will add even more depth to the overall game.

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