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Went to Gen Con 2012
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Mark O.

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Alien Frontiers

74 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

I do not live under a rock, so I have heard of Alien Frontiers, and I have heard a lot of reviewers I respect say good things about it. It has always been on my “buy” list, but there always seemed to be a game I wanted more.

Things have changed now. I got chance to sit down and play it at GenCon last week, and I was in love within 10 minutes. Here’s my laundry list of reasons why I love this game:

Theme: Space! I love science fiction in general and space in particular, so I was hooked. The design integrates theme very convincingly. Even the “dice as space ships” mechanic works, although I bet that’s even more evocative with the upgraded dice that are available.

Components: Top notch, nice chunky dice, solid wooden bits, even a little plastic space ship. Add to that the absolutely stellar art design (a gorgeous combination of form and function), and you have a winner. My only quibble is with the cards. They are of fine quality, easy to read with nice artwork, but the background color is a stark white, which to me makes them seem slightly at odds with the rest of the color scheme.

Rules: I cannot speak to their quality in terms of learning the game, as I was taught in my first play, but in two subsequent playthroughs with a friend who was also a newbie, we had no trouble finding answers to our questions.

Time/Space: The game has a fairly standard footprint. Should be easy to play on your typical card table sized surface. It you have a dice tower or other dedicated place to roll the dice, that will help. You do NOT want to roll your dice on the board. The games plays in a very satisfying time frame; a table of 4 inexperienced players learned the game and played in through in less than 2 hours. In 2 two-player games, one a learning game, we played twice in two hours.

Game Play: I am not going to go into a lot of detail describing game play, as this game has been around for a while, and other reviewers have covered this at length. Just take a look at the other reviews here and you’ll find out everything you need to know about game play.

Number of players: I have played two player and four player, and both have interesting dynamics. In two player, the sense of “take that” is more intense, since there is only one target of any such action. In four player the game has less direct back and forth, but the frustration around limited available courses of action seems more prevalent.

Complexity: Deceptive. The mechanisms themselves are not complicated, and they blend well with the theme to generate a good common sense basis for understanding how the game works. Goals are clear, and there is almost no hidden information, so knowing where you stand and what you need to accomplish is apparent. The challenge is in the HOW. Discovering and understanding the interaction of the mechanisms is the most difficult part of the game, and also the most fun part of it. That said, the game could certainly induce analysis paralysis in some players, especially in early playthroughs. To provide some context I would say that anyone who can play Catan or Lords of Waterdeep can easily play (and enjoy) Alien Frontiers.

Final Thought: As I said, I love this game. The goals set before you are very straight forward – almost seems simple. The trick, as I mentioned, is in the How of accomplishing the goals. There are a lot of choices to make, and your power to manipulate your situation is entirely based on what you decide and plan for. Sure the dice rolls every turn definitely set limits, but there are so many ways to mitigate that luck factor that a good player can win even with “bad” rolls. I have only played this game three times, but each time I figured out some new way to “work the system” to overcome obstacles (if not opponents). The only tragedy is that game is currently out of print, and will not be available again until approximately November. If you haven’t played this game yet, go find a copy and play, or get in line (behind me) in November.

Go to the Space Cadets page

Space Cadets

44 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

Just started playing Space Cadets after a holiday gift showed up early, so thought I would try to field some questions that people probably have about this game:

What kind of game is it?
A 3-6 player cooperative game that puts players into the roles of bridge officers on a starship in the vein of Star Trek. Each player mans a ship system console such as Engineering, Helm, sensors, weapons, shields, damage control and of course the captain’s chair as well. The crew then goes off on a mission of space exploration and combat, fighting enemy ships and collecting jump crystals before spinning up the jump drives and jumping for home, which finishes a mission.

How does it look?
It is a very good looking, colorful game. It has a LOT of bits – at first, a downright confusing number of them. All of the boards and bits take up a lot of space on the table too, due to awkward shapes of the various playing boards. This game has a very large footprint.

Is it hard to learn?
No, but yes. The core activities of the game are the various player stations. Each player system console is in fact a little mini game, with simple mechanics and rules. But – the interaction between these systems, managing the turn sequence, and the surprisingly deep decision making and planning needed make the learning curve pretty steep. Sadly, the rule book is not terribly well done, and needs thorough study to assure you play correctly. The box says ages 8+, but I think that younger children will feel a little left out of planning, although they should have no problem running a system console.

How does it play?
The mini games would be easy except for one thing – you are on the clock, with most “Action Phases” allowing only 30 seconds to “win” your mini-game. It can get pretty crazy at times, as players scramble to work their stations, and three minutes to plan at the start of the turn sounds like a long time, but it’s never enough. The multiple station dynamic beautifully neutralizes the type A gamer who tells everyone what to do in a co-op game. That guy has no time to micromanage others, his own station takes all of his attention!

Does it take long to play?
It depends on the mission you play through, but you should be prepared to spend 2-3 hours on your first game. After that is should fall into the advertised range, 1-2 hours. It may also take longer with more players.

What about replay value?
Good question; I have not played enough yet to know for sure. There are three difficulty levels and 6 missions, so you should get quite a few play throughs, I think (hope!). Stronghold also says more missions will be coming out, so that should help too.

Who will like it?
Anyone who claims to be a Star Trek fan needs to play this at least once. Gamers who enjoy fast paced games that require quick decisions, planning and teamwork will really enjoy this. This is NOT a casual game, in my opinion. Gamers who are looking for a light cooperative experience like Castle Panic will find this one way too much to deal with. I personally enjoyed the experience immensely, and I look forward to my next opportunity to get this one out again.

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