There are lots of games focused on sending out spaceships to explore and conquer the galaxy -- but what about using ships to colonize a planet? And what if the players compete to place colonies and utilize orbital facilities, without any combat? This is the universe of Alien Frontiers, a fascinating board game, for 2-4 players, from Clever Mojo Games.

All players begin the game with 6-8 colony tokens (depending on the number of players), one alien tech card, and three ships (represented by six-sided dice); the second player gets a fuel token (orange), the third player gets an ore token (gray), and the fourth player starts with one fuel and one ore. Players keep track of their score on a scorepad, and whoever has the most points (from placed colonies, controlled territories, certain alien tech cards, and the Positron Field) when a player's last colony is placed is the winner.
On a player's turn they gather all their ships from the board and roll them; their values stay constant for the turn, unless a card changes them. Players usually send the ships to the orbital facilities around the planet. These can: get a player fuel or ore; let a player place a colony (three do this, each with different requirements); build a new ship; trade fuel for ore; get a new alien tech card; or steal resources or an alien tech card from another player. Several require certain dice and resources to be used (the Colony Constructor can only be used if a player has three dice of equal value and pays three ore), and they can't be used if another player's ships aren't in all of its docking parts.

Players also use alien tech cards. These sometimes have a cost to use and can do anything from give victory points to let players alter the value of their ships (great for getting the sequence you need for a certain orbital facility) to moving colonies around on the planet. Certain alien tech cards also let players place, remove, or move the Isolation Field (negating a territory bonus), Positron Field (giving an extra point to the person controlling that territory), or Repulsor Field (preventing players from adding or removing colonies). Most alien tech cards have two functions: a basic one (usually requiring spending fuel or ore) and an advanced one (requiring the card be discarded).

Then there's colonization. When a player makes a colony, he places it on a territory (all amusingly named for science fiction writers). Each territory gives a advantage in relation to an orbital facility; conveniently, the territories are connected by lines to each one's beneficiary. (The exception is the Burroughs Desert, which lets a player purchase and use an extra ship for -- no matter how many ships the player has --for 1 fuel and 1 ore.) If a player has the only colony or more colonies in a territory than any other player, that player get an extra point and the territory's advantage; if there's a tie, no one gets the extra point or advantage.

After sending out ships and colonizing, if a player has more than eight resources at the end of their turn, they have to discard down to eight. No hoarding! Then it's the next player's turn.

I am very impressed with Alien Frontiers. Using six-sided dice for ships is a simple and elegant way for players to have new opportunities/challenges each turn; and since a player takes their ships off the board to roll them at the start of their turn, it's impossible to permanently block a facility. The game board has a terrific layout, showing very clearly the requirements for the facilities and the bonuses from the territories. The alien tech cards are useful, but none are so powerful that they decide the winner of a game on themselves. And players need to put a lot of thought into colonization: not just what territory to colonize for its benefit, but also whether or not to tie with another player's territory to deny them their benefit. And while there's no direct combat (the closest is the Plasma Cannon, which can be discarded to make an opponent lose a ship -- but never reduce them under three), there's plenty of competition for use of the facilities and control of the territories. Alien Frontiers is pretty simple to learn, but it requires a lot of planning and strategy to be the victor on this alien planet.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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