The tagline on the box says “The Race for the Galaxy board game”. With several games appearing in the RftG world in recent years, it seems strange that it took so long for a board game version. Given that the dice implementation, Roll for the Galaxy, was very much a simplified version of RftG, stripping out some of the concepts to make the game more streamlined for dice-based game play. And that the great majority of board games are weightier than their dice or card based counterparts, how will New Frontiers fit in with the family?
It will come as no surprise that New Frontiers has many things in common with Race for the Galaxy. It features the same key phases in the rounds, with players selecting the phase they want to see happen, and unselected phases not happening. However, there are a number of changes to the core elements of the game, which make it feel more like a blend of Race for the Galaxy, Roll for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico.
On their turn, players select which of the seven available actions they want to take. However, unlike the other games in the family, these actions (phases) do not occur in a predetermined order - instead, they happen as they are selected, with the player who selected the phase gaining a bonus appropriate to that action. As a result, only one player will ever get the bonus on any action, in a round. The phases will feel familiar to Race and Roll for the Galaxy players… though there are some changes which make NF feel sufficiently different, while retaining elements of both games.
- Explore - the explore phase is where new worlds are discovered - seven worlds are drawn randomly from the bag, and players take turns to draft one each. These are then stored on the player board (much like in Roll for the Galaxy) until they can be Settled.
- Settle - from the previously discovered worlds, players can choose to settle one world. Some worlds are military (just like in Race for the Galaxy) and require points from military worlds to colonise, others require a monetary investment, to build a colony. Both types of world require one or two colonists to be placed (permanently) on that world. This is a new mechanic for New Frontiers. If a player is unable to settle (because they cannot afford the cost, or do not have the colonists), or if they choose not to, they may choose instead to take two colonists from the pool.
- Develop - developments function similarly in New Frontiers as they do in the other games - they provide bonuses or discounts at other points in the game (such as more military points, or a discount to settle). However, the developments come from a common market board, and are limited in number. Several of each development are available (according to the number of players), as well as some more advanced developments (which take up twice the space of regular ones).
- Produce - all previously settled worlds which are capable of producing will generate a good, if there is not one on there already.
- Trade/consume - goods which were previously produced on settled worlds can be traded for money (which can be later used to purchase developments, or to settle other worlds) or consumed for points. Consume actions require consume abilities on worlds or developments.
There are a couple of other actions which may be selected - these are not phases, as such, since they do not apply to other players. Instead, they give the active player a couple of credits, or a victory point chip and move them to the front of the turn order. There are alternative versions of these actions too, but these are the recommended actions for a first game or two.
Game end triggers
The game can be brought to an end in a number of ways. If a player settles more than seven worlds, or if they purchase more than ten developments, this can trigger the end of the game. Similarly, the current round will also end the game if the victory point chip supply runs out, or if the pool of colonists reaches four or fewer.
Once the game has ended, points are counted up from earned chips (from consume actions, for instance) and the “face” value of settled worlds and build developments. Advanced developments earn a variable number of points, according to player achievements - these can easily swing the outcome of the game.
New Frontiers seems to take elements of both Race for the Galaxy (particularly the different types of worlds) and Roll for the Galaxy (the way new worlds are discovered before they are settled), as well changing the action selection mechanism (echoing that of Puerto Rico), and adding in new elements (the colonists requirement). I can imagine that there will be people who are steadfast in their belief that the original is still the best (Race for the Galaxy). There will be others who prefer the streamlined simplicity of Roll for the Galaxy. But I’m inclined to say, after a few plays, that New Frontiers may be my favourite in the family… I just wish it wasn’t such a big box!