Resource Management is a straightforward concept to understand but one that can certainly be difficult to master. How many resources do you need to track, what's the important resource to keep an eye on, and most importantly are you keeping your eye on the prize? Alien Frontiers is a game that incorporates resource management with a planetary settlement where you and your friends can race to colonize a new planet, but just how well does it juggle its elements?
As this is the Fifth Edition of Alien Frontiers it brings with it a new look and enhanced illustrations. Inside the box, the players will find the large folding game board, Alien Tech Cards, Ore and Fuel Tokens, Territory and Field Generator tokens, a scoring tablet, and for each of the participating players Scoring Rockets, Colony Tokens, and Colored Dice.
How Do You Play Alien Frontiers?
In Alien Frontiers, players take on the role of the owner of a fleet of ships. Each turn, you'll visit the different facilities orbiting the planet's surface, completing various tasks including harvesting resources, building new ships, or working towards developing settlements. It's the ultimate goal of the player to create their settlements and send them down to the surface of the planet, taking control of different sectors of the world that will grant additional boons to the player.
You can determine where you can land based on the values you roll on your dice. You begin the game with three dice -- these are your spacefaring armada. Each turn you'll roll all of the 'ships' available to you and decide where you want to place them on the board. Some Orbital Facilities allow you to place a die at almost any time, but as the purpose of the Facility becomes more important, the requirements to use them will also become more difficult.
Something as simple as collecting fuel can be done with almost any die, with the number of pips deciding how many fuel tokens you obtain, and you can land at the Lunar Mine as long as your die shows an equivalent or higher pip value than any other dice already present. The facilities also allow you to slowly build colonies, collect alien technology, build new ships, and if you manage to roll three dice of the exact same value you can even instantly create a Colony.
This almost Yahtzee-like mechanic always means that the player can have their pick of the board and develop what kind of strategy they like the idea of the most, but that there will always be that luck of the dice roll that will determine whether you're able to complete your strategy or not.
What Makes Alien Frontiers Different From Other Resource Management Games?
I've tried a number of Resource Management games in the past that offered multiple ways to score points, having a defined 'ending' to the game but leaving the winner shrouded in mystery until the final points had been tallied. In games like that, I feel I spend too much time overanalyzing my own strategy and the strategy of my opponents. In Alien Frontiers the most complicated aspect of the resources isn't their number, but the unique way that each can be collected and need to capitalize on when you get the dice rolls it keeps you more engaged in the game, and less in your head.
The majority of this game is spent in a way that's difficult to antagonize any other player specifically, but due to a limited number of spaces on the Facilities as you pay attention to your opponent's resources and current goals you can attempt to preemptively shut them out for a turn while furthering your own adventure. In the games I played, high rolling dice would continuously be used on the Lunar Mine when other players were low on ore to make collecting more of that resource a much harder process than usual. It kept the game light and fun, while still allowing for some slight elbowing across the table.
Alien Frontiers is marketed for 2-4 players, normally even with board games that work with two players, there's some trade-off that's not as fun. Alien Frontiers has an extremely well worked out balance, when more players are added to the game the number of settlements required to put on the planet decreases, but a few more spaces for dice on the board get added. Where you could only mine for ore with 4 dice at a time, suddenly it's 5. This works not only to keep the average time of games around the same regardless of players, but reduces the amount of bottlenecking that could occur.
Final Thoughts of Alien Frontiers 5th Edition
Going into Alien Frontiers I was cautious, expecting that I would need to keep track of all kinds of resources, but that is just not the experience I had. Even with just two players, this game is extremely enjoyable. Quick to set up, and easy to teach, this game will keep players engaged from start to finish.
Should I buy Alien Frontiers 5th Edition?
If you're looking for a new Resource Management game that isn't too heavy and something you can introduce a number of friends to then Alien Frontiers is an excellent choice. I could also see it being a good gateway into some of the deeper Resource Management titles out there. That it plays well as just two people also is appealing if you have a smaller group of friends that are into board games. If you like a game where you can be more directly antagonistic to the other players this might not quite satisfy you, but there are still a few good opportunities to get some jabs in.
The copy of Alien Frontiers used in the creation of this review was provided by the publisher.