Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The strategy review - Alien Frontiers

This is my second strategy review and I will talk about Alien Frontiers, an innovative game for 2 to 4 players, which I have played about 15 times.

Source: BoardGameGeek
Alien Frontiers is almost typical Euro-game, built around the worker placement mechanic with an element of luck and a light theme to create the atmosphere. 

Every player starts with three space ships depicted as six-sided dice. Every turn rolls each player rolls his 'ships' and takes actions with sets of one or more ships, striving to colonize an alien planet and gain victory points. 

There are several actions a player may take. The simplest actions are about gaining resources. The least valuable resource in the game (fuel - colored orange) is also very easy to get and it's always good to have enough, since it opens the door to more complex actions. The second resource (ore - grey) is a bit tougher to get since it requires players to place a ship with a value matching the highest already ship mining for it. So, as a first point in building a sound strategy, it is important to speculate the right moment to get this resource and make it as tough as possible for the other player to get it. If you have rolled at least three of your dice with high values (5, 6), use at least one of them to get some ore.

Building new ships is always a good idea. To do so, you need at least to roll a double. With a double, you can spend 1/2/3 ore and 1/2/3 fuel to build a new ship and the amount of resources you spend depends on how many ships you currently control (3/4/5). I will get back to the topic of building ships as soon as I cover the rest of the actions.

You can colonize one of the seven territories of the planet in three ways: spending a ship with value six (that means you lose that ship), having 3 identical ships and the same amount of ore and progressing on a track. When you colonize one territory, you add one of your "influence" there. The player with the most influence controls that "province" together with the Victory Points and the bonus.

Another important action is buying artifacts. They care cards which give you special abilities like modifying dice value, protection from stealing, etc. They represent one of the two keys to victory.

To complete the overview of action, you may spend ships with consecutive values to steal from other players resources and artifacts and you may also spend ships (ideally with with low values) to transform gas into ore.

Every action you take requires different values so you will never find yourself in the situation of not being able to do stuff with your ships. But there's a difference between simply taking actions and taking the right actions.

Source: BoardGameGeek

The most important key to building a coherent strategy in Alien Frontiers is to have artifacts which allow you to manipulate the values of the ships (=dice). Since you won't always rolls what you need, having a few artifacts will reduce frustration and increase the number of valuable actions. Most artifacts are 'eating' fuel, so have at least 3 fuel at hand. Speaking of fuel, since spending a ship with a value of 1 or 2 brings you 1 fuel, 3 or 4 - 2 fuel and 5 or 6 - 3 fuel, I recommend to use dice with odd values to get fuel if possible. Coming back to artifacts, if you're always able to create pair of identical dice and/or a die with a value of 6, you hold one of the keys to victory.

Having too many resources and stockpiling them is pointless. You will be the target of thieves. People tend to steal from those who have stuff in abundance, so simply harvest as many as you need for your current and next turn.

Stealing looks sometimes as the best option to get resources or cool artifacts. Use it wisely since people will not appreciate it. I would go as far as saying that you should not steal unless you have a way to protect yourself (specific artifact) and the theft will most likely grant you victory in at most 3 turns.

Having many ships is the second key to a good strategy. If you have only three ships you cannot transform one of your ships (value 6) into a colony, so you need at least four ships. Having only three ships decreased the probability of rolling the same value on two dice so it will be hard to get more ships. So, with three ships you will struggle to get the fourth, then you terraform and you're back at three, so back where you started. On the other hand, when you have five ships, the cost of the sixth is too big, you'll spend too much for a small gain. 

One way to optimize is to have five ships and try to control the roll so that you can do both of the following actions below in the same turn:
- sacrifice one ship of value 6 to build a colony
- spend two ships of the same value and two of each resource to build a new ship
You cannot do this every turn, but after a while you'll be able to do this every second turn. Depending on the experience of your opponents, this strategy alone gives you a chance to win of 60% or higher.

One of the other keys to success is to choose wisely the provinces where you send you colonists. I will not discuss this in details because it depends too much on the other players and their decisions, but I cannot help saying a few words. The province which give an extra ship will speed up your game a lot. Keeping it even for three turns may provide a key advantage over the other players. Another key aspect is spending the minimum number of colonists to control the maximum number of provinces. It may happen that your colonies will be the target of other players. Do not transform this into a war, simply optimize your strategy of sending colonists.

Alien Frontiers is an easy straight forward game but while playing it you face many tough decisions. That's what I actually love about this game, it allows many strategies and there's enough player interaction to make it stand out among its fellow Euro-games.

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