Alien Frontiers is a classic board game of resource management and planetary development with dice placement.
We’re also very happy to have talked with Tory Niemann who told us a lot of interesting stuff about the game. Read on!
I work on the administration side of a major university. Not the most exciting job in the world, but I have some great coworkers who are also great gamers!
Could you share the story behind Alien Frontiers? What inspired you?
The two biggest inspirations for Alien Frontiers were Kingsburg by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco and To Court the King by Thomas Lehmann.
I had read online about how Kingsburg was played and I had misunderstood the game on a basic level. When I actually learned more about it, I was surprised to find it was very different from the game I’d envisioned. I decided “why not make the game I’d pictured?”
To Court the King was a big influence on the dice manipulation element of Alien Frontiers. The very first prototype even used cards from To Court the King as Alien Tech cards!
What was first: the theme or the mechanics?
Mechanics were first on this one. When I decided to try to make the game I thought Kingsburg was, I settled pretty quickly on “colonizing a planet” as a theme, but it was Mars initially.
As I iterated abd refined the design, I decided the game would work best with a pulp sci-fi theme with a fictional exo-solar planet.
How did the game evolve during the designing process compared to the initial concept?
At first the game didn’t have a planet at all. Colonies were just abstract points, and the game ended when you earned a certain amount.
I decided pretty quickly I wanted more out of the game, and the idea of the planet with different territories came about. Alien Tech cards were always a part of the game, but we added the discard powers pretty late into develop. As soon as we started playing with those we knew it was the right choice.
Alien Frontiers was funded on Kickstarter back in 2010 and was the first big Kickstarter board game success story. How did this come about?
The decision to go with Kickstarter for Alien Frontiers came from David MacKenzie, the original developer and publisher at Clever Mojo Games. I was actually against it because I’d never heard of Kickstarter before.
He set the first goal as $5,000 and I thought he was nuts! But he saw the potential of the platform and his instincts were spot on. I’m definitely glad he talked me into it.
AF is now on Kickstarter in its fifth edition and it is currently ranked 123 on BGG. To what do you attribute its popularity and success?
For me, Alien Frontiers hits the sweet spot of strategy, tactics, luck, and fun. The theme is engaging and not overdone, and the art from Mark Maxwell is fantastic. But let’s not underestimate the glossy vibrant dice! People just love rolling a bunch of colorful dice.
You’ve designed numerous extra stuff for AF. Tell us a little about the expansions, what do they bring to the game? Which one was most fun to design?
The Factions expansion was fun because we got to give a bit more personality to the game world with the different groups vying for the planet. It also adds more variety and variability to the game depending on which Factions come out in a game.
The Outer Belt expansion designed by Randall Bart is also a lot of fun, and I love how the asteroid cycle unpredictably.
Combining the two together in one game makes for a pretty crazy experience!
What is something you like most about AF or are most proud of, like your personal favorite mechanic or a particular moment of the game? And the expansions?
I love rolling a ton of dice and figuring out how I can get what I need with the numbers I roll. The interplay between the Alien Tech cards, Field Generators, and the Territory Bonuses makes things exciting!
In the Factions expansion I like how other Factions have to pay you to use your Faction’s docking station. That’s just a little thing I always like in games.
What is your favorite faction to play and why?
My favorite Faction is the Scavenger Fleet. Being able to get dice all the time and being able to use them immediately is a big edge. I’m also fond of the Uranian Syndicate in a four or five player game, since there is bound to be lots of conflict.
Alien Frontiers is now available on Tabletopia and was once released as an iPad application. What are your thoughts on digital board games? Do you play any other digital board games yourself?
Digital board games can be a great way to get together with people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to game with.
I usually prefer the physical game, but many times that’s not an option. I love Carcassonne, Patchwork, and Stone Age, as apps or in person.
Tory, what’s next for you as a designer? Do you have plans for any board games that you can share?
I have some big plans, but nothing I can announce just yet. There will be more exciting Alien Frontiers news to come in 2017!
Thanks a lot, Tory, and good luck!
And to all Tabletopians, happy gaming and see you at the table!