Tuesday, 11 June 2019

New Frontiers (Race for the Galaxy: The Boardgame)

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

I was a big fan of Race for the Galaxy back in the day. 800+ plays. The only game I have played more of is Ascension, at 1200+. I played Race for the Galaxy heavily throughout the first expansion arc, only slowing down around the third and last expansion in that arc. I bought the second expansion, but didn't play much. I didn't buy the third expansion arc. I bought and played the dice version - Roll for the Galaxy, and enjoyed it well enough, but I haven't tried the expansions. I skipped the simplified version, Jump Drive. That's not for me. And now, New Frontiers is the boardgame version of Race for the Galaxy. I hadn't planned to buy it, but when I had the chance to try it, I jumped in.

The setting is the same as the series. You are aggressively expanding intergalactic empires, developing new technologies, colonising new planets and producing goods. You score points in many ways, and when game end is triggered, the highest scorer wins.

Race for the Galaxy, a card game, was inspired by Puerto Rico, a boardgame. Puerto Rico had its own card game, San Juan. The two card games have similarities, the most important of which is spending cards in hand as money to play a card. Race for the Galaxy is more complex and richer. The setting is completely different - interstellar expansion vs the age of colonialism. New Frontiers has many elements from Race for the Galaxy, and shares many with Puerto Rico too. It feels like a combination of both games, a true descendant of both.

Everyone starts with his own player board with a unique start world with some abilities. This one in the photo gives one blue resource and +1 military strength. That stack of white rectangular tokens is money. Your starting money depends on the initial player order.

The small board at the bottom with 5 player discs is the player order board. Some actions let you modify the player order, e.g. moving your disc to the first position, or swapping your disc with the one before you. The new player order takes effect next round. The seven rectangular tiles in the middle are the action tiles. When you take your turn, you pick one of them which hasn't yet been picked this round to perform an action. Everyone else gets to perform the same action. However you will enjoy some extra benefit. There are seven action tiles, so every round some will not be picked, even when there are 5 players. Not all action types will happen in a round.

The chevron-shaped tiles at the top are developments, or technologies, that you can buy during the game. Quantities are limited so you often need to race to buy them, especially the large developments - there is only one copy each. Developments are double-sided. Before a game starts you decide which side to use. So there is some variety in setup.

The number in the diamond shape is the cost. The number in the hexagon is the point value.

Large developments are double the size of regular developments. If you plan to buy a large development (which you should), you need to leave enough space on your board for it.

The central area of your player board is for your developments. The recesses along the edges are for your planets. Planets which you have discovered but not yet settled are put on the right. In this state they give you no benefit and have no point value.

Two of the development spaces are red. At the planet slots you can also see a line marking a threshold. Whenever any player uses a red development space, or controls more than 7 planets (including the home planet printed on the player board), the game ends after that round.

Whether you settle a planet peacefully or capture it by conquest, you need colonists - the little blue men. You need to collect them, and you use them whenever you settle a planet.

The actions in New Frontiers are similar to those in Race for the Galaxy. You Explore to discover new planets. You Settle to colonise planets. You Produce to create resources on production planets. You Trade/Consume to convert resources to money and victory points. You Develop to buy new techs, which improve your abilities. There's an action which lets you activate a goal tile. Goal tiles affect all players. When the game ends, anyone who fulfills the conditions stated gets to score points. When you pick the action related to goals, you get to draw three goals and pick one to activate. Naturally you want to pick one that works well for you but not for others. The goal is temporarily kept face-down, so that only you know what it is and can prepare for it. Others can only guess based on what you do. Only when the next time someone activates a new goal then your older goal will be revealed.

Developments and planets are worth points. Goals give you points. There are two common strategies - military and consumption. Going military means building up your military strength and conquering high-value military worlds. Going the consumption path means producing many resources and consuming them to gain points. Race for the Galaxy players will be familiar with these.

This is the Explore action in progress. The active player draws planet tiles from a bag, and then everyone takes turns to pick one. The planets are double-sided, one side mostly in black and white and the other in full colour. The black and white side is for before you colonise it, and the colour side is for after.

The gold coloured ship at the bottom left is just a storage ship. Some of the goals in the game require that you store some items here. At game end you score points based on how many you have stored.

The Play

We did a 5-player game. This is the max player count. When discussing New Frontiers, it is hard for me to resist comparing it against Race for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico. This wouldn't be useful for those who have played neither. Taking New Frontiers as an independent game, I would say it is a development game. You start with one humble planet and some rudimentary abilities. You grow your space empire by developing techs and settling new worlds. The developments are all laid out for you to pick. You can decide up front what strategy to pursue. There are quite a few broad strategies you can adopt. Military, consumption, a specific resource type or world type, or development. It is usually good to focus. Not that it is absolutely necessary for winning, but I think it does help. You waste less. You create a snowball effect. You need to watch what others are doing, so that you can try to make use of the actions you know they will pick, and you can minimise helping them with actions you pick. Every turn everyone has the chance to do the same thing. If the active player picks Settle, everyone gets to Settle. The difference is in the small benefits of the active player. That's one way to see New Frontiers - you need to make these small benefits count. As you augment your abilities, small benefits can be amplified. You want to build an efficient empire. You want abilities which synergise well.

You want to make good use of your opponents' choices. If one guy is regularly performing Produce and Consume, it would be good if you have one or two production worlds where you can produce goods, and then sell them for money. Since the guy will be picking those actions, you need not spend your picks. You may be focusing on a completely different area, e.g. developing weapons to conquer military worlds.

You want to catch your opponents unprepared. If you are the Consume guy, you want to perform the Consume action when only you have goods to consume and nobody else. They would be completely wasting that Consume action you pick. Or Produce. If your opponents have no production capability, or their storage is full and they can't produce more, you want to pick Produce so that only you get to enjoy the effect. This is one of the tactics in this game.

The game is mostly open information. Everybody gets to watch what everybody else is doing. You can do a lot of analysing. There certainly can be analysis paralysis. There is no direct aggression. Your attacks are mostly just grabbing something your opponent would want.

When I played New Frontiers, it kept reminding me of Puerto Rico. It looks very much like Race for the Galaxy. Some developments and worlds use the same artwork and have the same name and powers. However the colonist mechanism is from Puerto Rico. The action selection mechanism too. There is no simultaneous action selection like in Race for the Galaxy. The simultaneous action selection is the core identity of Race for the Galaxy. You need to guess the intentions of your opponent. Buying developments in New Frontiers is more like Puerto Rico, because you get to pick what you want. You are not at the mercy of card draws. When I played New Frontiers, everything felt familiar. I felt like I had played the game before. There weren't new surprises, instead it felt comfortable and soothing. It was like catching up with an old friend sporting a new bold hairdo.

I had settled the four planets on the left (they are showing the full colour side), but not the four on the right (showing black and white side). If I did Explore now, I would need to discard one of the planets not yet settled. I could discard one of the settled planets, but that might not be a good idea.

I was mostly going for a military strategy. My homeworld had some military strength, and I developed two military techs. The first world I settled gave me military strength too. In addition to the military path, I also wanted to do Alien (yellow) worlds. My second world helped in that. By using it I managed to settle my third world, the 9-value Alien world. Overall I wasn't very focused. My techs and worlds were a little messy.

This is what a 5-player game looks like. The game takes up quite a bit of space. There is a lot to digest.

The Thoughts

I used to play Race for the Galaxy heavily, and I really like Puerto Rico. However now that I have played New Frontiers, which inherited a lot from both ancestors, I don't have a strong urge to buy it or to play more of it. Not that I dislike it. It's just that I don't find anything particularly new and exciting about it. What New Frontiers did was make me feel I should revisit its ancestors. Had I not played either of them, and played New Frontiers with no relevant previous experience, I would probably feel differently about it.

One thing that I am uncomfortable with is how easily you get to pick the developments to buy. In Race for the Galaxy, you only get to develop what you draw, and it's not easy to develop a particular family of techs you want. In New Frontiers, the moment the game starts you can already look at what's available and plan which developments to aim for. It felt too easy to me. To be fair, Puerto Rico works the same way as New Frontiers, and I don't have a problem with it. So I must admit I am biased. My problem is I am playing the game with the baggage of knowledge of its ancestors. It is so similar to both that it felt unnecessary to me. Compared with Roll for the Galaxy, I find Roll for the Galaxy more different from Race for the Galaxy, and thus it kept me interested for a longer time.

The components of New Frontiers are excellent. Classy. Probably a little overproduced, especially the resources. The box is bigger and heftier than standard boardgames.

I see New Frontiers as less of a boardgame version of Race for the Galaxy, but more of a Puerto Rico in space.


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Jonty said...

I love this game. This is very interesting game which i ever played. This is the best board game for adults. Thanks a lot.