Friday means it’s time for a board game review. And since the Alien Frontiers Kickstarter campaign just ended I suppose I’m a day late putting up this review. But after seeing that the campaign received 75 times the funding level they were after I doubt my review would have had any effect on the campaign. Let’s get on to the review.
Alien Frontiers, at the time of it’s release in 2010, used a very innovative dice placement mechanic for claiming different portions of the board. Your dice represent ships and based on the rolled values you can dock your ships at several of the orbital facilities. Throughout the game your goal is to colonize the planet, and doing so can give you special bonuses in the game. When you’re ready for an outer space adventure, and curiosity about the temporal warper has reached it’s peak, then get your friends together for an intergalactic kegger and enjoy Alien Frontiers!
Here’s a look at all the components in the base game (image via BGG user GremlinMaster):
Since the game was released there have been three other printings (including the Kickstarter that just ended). There have also been expansions, which I am not reviewing today, since I have not played them. Time to launch the rocket and get into the details:
- DICE PLACEMENT: I think this is one of the first games that really had an elegant dice placement mechanism, combining not just the concept of using a die based on its number, but also using combinations of the numbers you rolled. I think that it makes it really interesting because sometimes you want equal numbers and sometimes you want different numbers.
- ARTWORK: The artwork for this game is really beautiful. It doesn’t go over the top. It’s family friendly and visually easy to understand. And everything fits the theme of the game.
- SCI-FI NAMES: A really cool thing they’ve done with the game is name the different regions on the planet after science fiction authors, including Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. That’s just a really cool feature that associates the game with sci-fi literature that fits the theme.
- THE ENDING: I don’t often like games that just end. This one is like that. Once someone gets to the right number of points it just ends. There’s no final move to try to claim victory. It’s just done. There’s something nice about how a game of Ticket to Ride ends where everyone gets a final turn when the endgame is triggered.
- ANALYSIS PARALYSIS: This game offers so many cool options to do on your turn that it can lead to some AP. I love options, but I hate AP and the slow play that it causes. I suppose this could be mitigated by playing with the right people. Not really too much of a downside here, though.
- BALANCE ISSUES: It feels to me like some of the cards that players can earn are a little too powerful. These can allow for some huge moves in the game. And if the other players gets a few of these then you’ll likely lose. Or so it seems.
Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:
Based on the downside above I’d probably try to balance the cards a little bit better. This is a pretty weak answer for this section, so I’ll go out on a limb and make up something more awesome: Player boards where you can change your capabilities of adjusting your dice rolls! OR Factions where each player has a different ability. Oh wait… that’s been done! Aye… it seems they’ve got a very complete and awesome game here!
This game could be paired with many different beers. I could choose something complex because there are so many options on your turn. I could choose something elegant because the game is elegant and beautiful. I could choose something light because it is pretty easy to understand and play. But instead I’ll do like the game did with the naming of the planet’s regions and choose a beer based on someone associated with space: Straight to Ale’s Werner von Brown Ale. While I haven’t had it, it just seems like a good fit for this game.
I really enjoyed playing Alien Frontier’s. I love the awesomeness of the dice placement mechanics. The theme fits really well. I love the concept of having a fleet of ships and sending them off to do different things. Sometimes you have to send ships off together. Don’t forget about Terraforming! I wish my friend hadn’t traded it away. And I wish I had $95 I could have thrown at the recent Kickstarter campaign. I’m looking forward to playing this again. I’ll rate it 8 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek.com rating scale!
I have a new game design I’m working on and today I am posting the first of 4 articles about it. Today, and the next three Thursdays, I’ll be writing about the game from it’s creation to the present state. Here’s the four articles I’ll be writing:
- TODAY 5-16-13: Origins of Trading Post
- 5-23-13: Prototyping Early Versions
- 5-30-13: Hiatus and Re-design
- 6-6-13: Path to GenCon
So let’s jump back to 2010 when I was first diving into game design and take a look at how Trading Post became a thing…
Here you are, explorer extraordinaire! You have been selected from an elite group of explorers to develop a new Trading Post. You role, should you choose to accept it, is to utilize the resources found on your section of their territory, and contribute the most to the Trading Post. Contributions include constructing new buildings for the Trading Post, successfully exploring all of your allotted territory, and completing trades that are beneficial for the Trading Post.
Concept: The Map
Normally when I start a new game design I start with a theme. Trading Post is an unusual case in that it started with both a theme and a map mechanic to be used in that theme. For some reason I thought that a square grid with spots on the corners for putting cubes would be a good idea. And it would seemingly work very well with the Trading Post concept.
Here’s a look at one player’s section of territory in very alpha artwork, if you can refer to lines as artwork:
The idea of the map is that you can explore the land and add buildings to the octagons. Then each building can produce something that you can place into the diamonds. The resources would be represented by cubes, which would fit very nicely into the diamonds. The really sweet part of this map design is that you have to try and move your goods into the diamonds that adjoin to your territorial neighbors so that you can trade with them without having to use the Trading post as a middle man.
Concept: Game Play
With a theme and map mechanic in place it was time to figure out how the game would actually be played. I had found a really nice article online about what makes a game good. It included things like Tension, Replayability/Variability, No Runaway Winner, No Kingmaker, No Player Elimination and more. If anyone know of the article can you share the link? I can’t ever find it. So after working through some of those things in my head I came up with a ladder type design where you would become more capable of doing more things on your turn.
The idea of this was that you would start as just a person in the Trading Post. You would thus be able to move one spot per action, and you could only explore up to two rows into your territory. Since exploring all of your land is part of the game it would be important to build up the capability. So the first step would be to purchase a horse via trade with the Trading Post.
Once you traded for a horse you would be able to move two spots per action. You would also be able to explore the next row. In the game design the tiles that would be available in this “Horse Region” were better than those available in the “Person Region” (first two rows). This would allow you to do more stuff, make better trades, and work toward the wagon.
The Wagon was the last “upgrade” you could do. To build the wagon you would have to make a series of trades to procure the necessary components: wheels, axles, canopy, box. Once you’ve upgraded to the wagon you can then move three spaces per action and explore the furthermost regions of your territory. This is vital as the most valuable resources are only available in the “Wagon Region.”
Concept: Time and Action Points
During the game each action would cost a certain amount of time. The game would be played over 7 years with each action costing a certain number of months. So moving would cost 1 month. That’s why it would be important to upgrade to a horse or wagon as early as possible to be able to move more spots with the same action. Basically with the game being 7 years of 12 months each player would have 84 action points to work with.
Because I made “time” part of the game I was able to also have the seasons play a role. Each year had a new “Event” card come up that affected something for the year. This could be seasonally dependent as well.
So I came up with a series of event cards to add several things to the game design:
- Replayability: Each game would be different since the draw of event cards is random.
- Variability: Specific scenarios of event cards could be established to promote specific game play.
- More details: Having event cards made the game deeper, in my opinion.
I found early on that having a time mechanic like this made things difficult to design. Since players weren’t always taking the same number of actions on a turn I had to incorporate a “last player gets a turn” mechanic similar to that in Glen More. By doing this I would never have to worry about how player order worked.
The other downside of having 84 actions points (84 months) in the game was that every single turn players would have to advance their “months” token and potentially their “years” token if they entered a new year. Fiddly.
I thought I really had something with this game design. I was gung ho about putting together a prototype and making this into the most awesomest game ever. With 8 different resources, 84 action points per player, upgrades to a horse and then wagon, land development, trading, exploration, etc. I knew this would be awesome. Perhaps I was being a little too optimistic.
In my mind I thought this game had a lot of potential. I put a lot of time into it early on only to realize that it was ridiculously complicated. Next week I’ll cover my initial prototyping efforts and the lessons I learned during that phase. In two weeks I’ll share with you the current re-designed version, which is night-and-day better, potentially even being a playable and fun game. And three weeks from now I’ll discuss my path forward with the game as we approach GenCon.
If you have any questions or comments about the game over the next three weeks, just let me know!
It’s Friday, which means it’s Board Game Review day! Today I’m reviewing Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games, which currently has an awesome expansion available on Kickstarter (KS link) for only $20. So since the Kickstarter campaign is live I figured now is as good a time as ever to post this review!
In Belfort players take on the role of a builder who has been hired to build the castle Belfort. Unfortunately, other builders were also hired in a mix-up. So you are tasked with being the best builder of the castle. To do that you have to make effective use your elves and dwarves with a worker placement mechanic in various spots throughout the city. Leftover elves and dwarves can be used to claim wood, stone, metal, or gold. Decisions in this game get tough and heavy. But that makes it awesome. The other part of the game involves building the buildings of the castle to claim a majority of a district. That’s how players can obtain points, which are needed for victory. When you’re ready to visit the Pub for some Master Dwarf action, or the Blacksmith to get some metal, then grab your friends and sit down for a game of Belfort!
Here’s a look at all of the awesomeness that is Belfort (image from BoardGameGeek.com):
I’ve played this game a bunch and I totally love it. But the real question is who can find the Ton Ton from Hoth on the game board first?
- ARTWORK: I must start with the artwork. This game is so visually stunning that I sometimes set it up just to stare at it (not true). It just looks so good that I must give a shout out to artist Joshua Cappel! Excellent work!
- STRATEGY: This game looks too fun to be a heavy strategy game, but that’s exactly what this is! There is a lot of strategy behind each decision from the first turn throughout the whole game. Players have to optimize their workers capabilities and then optimize which building to build and where to build it. There’s a lot to think about in this game!
- THEME: The theme of building a castle with your hired elves and dwarves is a lot of fun.It is easy to get immersed in this game and feel like you are really putting your elves and dwarves to work. And everything works together thematically, which always makes a game better!
- ANALYSIS PARALYSIS PRONE: While I am a player that enjoys heavy strategy and tough decisions, there are some players that I play games with that would struggle mightily with indecision throughout this game. There would be times where they wouldn’t know what to do or why they are doing it. Beware that this can lead to long games.
- SETUP TIME: This game has a ton of components. Thus, it requires a higher than average setup time. If you know you’re playing this game during your board game night perhaps you should set it up beforehand!
Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:
Belfort is a brilliantly designed game of worker placement and area control. The upcoming expansion looks like it will enhance the game greatly, so I won’t offer anything that the expansion is already doing (or at least that I know of it doing). If I were to change anything I think I’d add the ability of players to swap buildings between districts. This would add a huge “screw-you” factor to the game, but might also unbalance the game. By being able to swap my Inn in district 1 with you Inn in District 2 I could gain the majority in both! Bonus!
I would normally pair this game with a heavy beer since the game is a heavy game. However, I just can’t imagine the worker elves and dwarves sipping a heavy, gentlemen’s beer after a hard day of work on the castle. So my preferred beer pairing is one that drinks easily, tastes great, and would work perfectly in the hands of elves and dwarves. And that beer is New Glarus‘ Cabin Fever Honey Bock. It is a very tasty beer brewed with clover honey, but not too much. And it goes great with brats, BBQ, and Belfort!
This was at the top of my Christmas list a couple year’s ago and it has lived up to that! Belfort is a great game that is a ton of fun to play. There is deep strategy, awesome artwork, and a lot of tense decisions. I can’t wait for the expansion to come out! I will rate Belfort 9 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek rating system!