Essen Preview #19: Alien Frontiers Factions (Clever Mojo Games)

Alien Frontiers: Factions

Designer: Tory Niemann
Publisher: Clever Mojo Games
Players: 2-5
Time: 60 minutes
Ages: 13+

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

Back in 2010 Alien Frontiers was one of the first boardgames to be funded with kickstarter, getting the attention of gamers community. The game has a real simple mechanic and was able to satisfy the tastes both of German and American likers (or to disappoint both).
I really like games that could successfully join good mechanic and strong theme and I really like dice and sci-fi, so Alien Frontiers was for me a great hit!

Before going in the details of Factions, a quick recap of what Alien Frontiers is.

Players compete in colonizing the Planet Maxwell, building colonies on areas like Asimov Crate or Heinlein Plains. One colony = one point; most colonies in an area = 1 more point and few more scoring possibilities. The game ends when a player builds his last colony (how many depends by the number of players).

During your turn you have to roll you starships (dice): in the beginning you have just 3 but you can build up 6!! Than you have to place your ships on the different orbital facilities to get solar energy and mineral needed to build colonies. The possibilities are real a lot: some orbital facilities need pairs, triples or three dice in a row; high and low numbers can be both used. It is not really a random driven game but, of course, rolling the right numbers in the right moments really helps!

Simple game, fun and challenging. The only real failing is, sometimes in 4-players games, the downtime in the final rounds when players are rolling 5-6 dice each.

What Factions offers both to Alien Frontiers fans and to new gamers approaching this game ? Actually two main adds: Factions and Agendas.

With this expansion each player start with a special faction board. Each faction has a special power that can be activated during the player turn: sometimes for free, sometimes spending resources. On the faction board there is also a place where players can dock one ship, paying 1 fuel to the faction owner and activating a special ability. Faction’s powers and faction’s abilities are related but different and sometimes could be useful to dock on your own faction facility. In the expansions are included 8 different factions and so every game is different depending on which factions are present. I was really scared, reading the rules, how this expansion could alter the good equilibria and the right flowing of the game, inserting unbalanced powers. It seems, according to my play, that the powers are quite equivalent and the faction’s facility are not altering the game. If the goal of the designers was to introduce some more strategic opportunities to players without altering the normal flux of colonies building they got the goal.

Of course Alien Frontiers plays different according to the faction used. Docking at Scavenger Fleet’s facility you can use any two dice (also with different numbers) at the shipyard to build a ship: this, of course, will helps in building ships quicky and so you’ll have a game with more ships and, consequently, more terraforming. If the Uranian Syndacate is present you will have a different kind of fight on the planet since colonies can be moved from an area to another one. Prxima Centaury Scholars will offer a game were the field generators will be much more important than usual and so on. Different games without altering the normal flow: nice!

The second things this expansion will add are Agendas. Agendas are special cards that give players two objective: in game objective and end game objective. Each playe start with two Agendas cards and can have up to three during the game. You can score Agenda card during the game revealing it and fulfilling the requests in his in-game objective part: usually things like “gains two ships in a single turn” or “possess for alien tech cards that no other player possesses”. You can score Agenda cards at the end of the game (a secret final score) fulfilling the endgame objective: “you control Asimov Crater”, “you possess Plasma Cannon and Electrofabricator”.
You can score no more than three agenda in total (actually you can’t have more than three Agenda cards including already scored cards) so also this expansion offers some more strategies without altering the core of the game. I really like the idea to combine in-game and endgames objective in the same card. You can change cards or get new cards at the Orbital Market.

Finally the Factions expansion include materials and rules for a fifth player and some new alien tech cards.

Does this expansion offers new strategy options and freshness to the game ? Yes, of course. Does this expansion alter the main flow of an Alien Frontiers session ? No. That means that if you like the basic game you will probably like what the expansion add but if you don’t like dice management games you still not be an Alien Frontiers likers. Does this expansion fix the problem of downtime in the final rounds of 4 players game ? Not at all. But with people knowing the game it is really a minor issue. I have not tested what’s happen with 5 players: of course it is a nice possibility.

Finally in my preview pack I also found the Upgrade Pack (great plastic colonies and figures instead of counters for the field generators) and Factions Pack #1: Xeno Exploration and the Remote Exploration Vehicle. This, of course, open the gates to an apparently endless amount of small pack introducing new factions: if the designers will be able to design these kindly, without hurting the core of the game, it will be a real pleasure!

Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!: Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
I like it. Matt Carlson
Not for me…

About Andrea "Liga" Ligabue

Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is a game expert contributing to many games related international projects including Gamers Alliance Report, WIN, ILSA Magazine and Boardgamenews. Member of the International Gamers Awards Committee is coordinator of Play - The Games Festival and founder of the project Ludoteca Ideale.
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