Frontier stations by Victory Point Games is a Sci-Fi co-operative game. You are a space station on the fringes of an interstellar empire, as are your fellow players. You have to try and survive all sorts of nasty beasties attacking your space station while having to deal with problems with computer hardware while your AI goes rogue!
This is a straightforward game to learn and explain and a lot of fun to play. The rulebook is well written and examples are well used. Each player does a number of steps then play goes clockwise.
Every player starts off with one improvement to their space station, a Nexus. On your turn you can purchase extra improvements or deal with a threat that has reared its ugly head. Later in the game you could possibly do both.
The start player – or captain – goes first and rolls a single die. First thing that happens is that some of the threats may activate, this depends on the number on the die. Some threats activate on a single number, like 5, some activate on a number range like 6-8.
Hold on! How can you roll a 7 or 8 on a standard D6? You can’t! I will come to that shortly.
When the threats activate they will Consume. They need specific resource tokens that you can store on your Nexus or other improvements. There are five different resources in the game. Engineering, Energy, Security, Shields and Medical. Each improvement can store a number of resources which is shown on the bottom of improvement cards, for example a Nexus can store one of each.
After the threats have been activated and dealt with, every player then activates their systems, not just yourself. Using the same system as the threats, you use the die number that you rolled and see if any of your systems activate and produce goodies. When some improvements activate they allow you to do an action stated on the card rather than produce resources. However you need to be able to store the resources and if your storage is full, you do not get the resource plus you must store it on the improvement that produces it.
After you have activated your systems, you can then purchase a new improvement from the ones on offer in the shop or eliminate a threat. The amount of money you have to spend is the number of the die you rolled. So if you rolled a 1 you get 1 money to spend. If memory serves me right, the most expensive improvement you can buy is 7 (or was it 9, oh I can’t remember my memory is not that good). Again more on these larger numbers later. So rolling a 1 is a disaster right? Wrong! Firstly your Nexus produces on a 1-2 and you can spend Energy to enhance the die roll to purchase something or deal with a threat and some threats can be eliminated with a 1. When you deal with a threat they will also need a resource or two to make them go away. One other thing you can do with the die roll instead of purchasing something from the shop or dealing with a threat is you can upgrade a system you already have. You pay the cost of the system you have already and place a x2 token on it (or a x3 etc if you are upgrading it further). These then act like you have two of the same card, so when they activate they will produce double the stuff and be able to store double the stuff (or triple if you have a x3 etc). So if you are first player and roll a 1 on the first time, you can always upgrade your Nexus as its cost is 2 and you can spend the energy you have just picked up from the activation of the Nexus.
After a few improvements have been bought. Threats lurk at the top of the photo ready to make our lives that little more difficult
After you have spent the dice (you have to spend them or lose them, you can’t keep them for later on) you then draw the top card from the threat deck. There will be 40 threats in total in the deck. 20 early threats, 20 late threats. When you draw a threat you place it in the space between you and the player to your left. This is significant as only you and your neighbour the threat sits between can resolve the Consume power of the threat and the same applies when you want to eliminate the threat.
When the turn has gone around, the cards in the shop are discarded and new ones take their place, so each turn you always have number of players +1 improvement cards in the shop to be purchasing. They do not get replaced whenever someone buys a card.
When you go through the first 20 cards of the early deck you roll one die at the start of your turn. When you get to the late threats, the second 20 cards, you will then roll 2 dice. This is significant for 3 reasons:
1. When you roll the dice at the start of your turn you add the numbers together and activate the threats that activate on this number – see this is where threats with numbers over 6 activate. They may appear in the early phase, but if you don’t get rid of them and leave them hanging around, they will hurt you later on!
2. When you activate your systems, you will add the 2 numbers together and get the resources produced by your improvements. Most of the improvements produce on low numbers, so in the late part of the game you will produce far less stuff to deal with the threats. Take the Nexus as an example, it produces on a 1-2, so in the early part of the game the chances of it producing are 3/1. In the late phase the odds are 36/1. OK some systems produce on a 6 or even bigger numbers, but you have to make sure you are aware of this.
3. When it comes to spend your dice you can either spend them separately, so you can buy 2 systems or buy a new system and eliminate a threat or eliminate 2 threats. Alternatively you can add the 2 dice together to allow you one big purchase or eliminate one big threat. So this part of the turn you can use the dice independently if you wish whereas the other 2 times you refer to the dice on the turn you must add them together.
The game ends with the threat deck running out and you survive the final threat that appeared. You win as a team. You will lose when a threat activates and you or your neighbour can’t give the threat the resource it consumes to be dealt with. However you do have 2 Distress Beacons. So if you can’t meet the consume power of the threat you can and in a distress beacon. You have 2 of these. So these in effect are lives in the game. Oddly enough you lose as a team too.
I totally love this game. There is a lot going on and it plays from 3 to 6 players well. It will do this in about an hour. The fact that every player produces on each dice roll and each threat needs to be dealt with on each dice roll, not just those effecting the rolling player means that there is not much downtime in this. This is a big thing in my eyes. The box is like a pizza box, if you have had Victory Point games in the past you know what to expect, if not, don’t let the small unusual box put you off. However I love the counters in this game too, nice and chunky and very nice symbols on the front and text on the back over the top of the symbol.
I took this to a 5 day con that I attend and this was one of the hits of the weekend. Everyone liked it that played it and I had to track it down once as I wanted to play it and someone else was playing it.As itis so easy to teach, you can teach it easily from a single play of the game, which is what everyone was doing!
You get 50 threat cards in the box and you will take 5 cards out from both the early and late threat decks so you don’t get the same cards each game. The shop deck is pretty big and you will not get through the deck, so again each game will be different.
The difficulty can also be adjusted by removing or adding Distress Beacons and you can choose to start with a different Nexus, a Light Nexus for a more difficult start or a Heavy one for an easier one. The cards also have a very handy indicator of the odds of them activating on a roll of 2 dice. Both for the improvements and threats, so you can see straight away how likely something is likely to activate in the late half. You can see it in the photos of the improvements and threats.
You don’t get the cup cake cases in the game. These are just some of my gaming things I have that make things more orderly. A great trick my mate Paul O taught me!
The game is a lot of fun and is a doddle to teach, so could be considered a gateway game. The win ratio we have is around 50%. We found that things could go south very quickly, just a couple of unfortunate threats in the wrong locations that can’t be dealt with where they are and a couple of dice rolls not in your favour can have your space station drifting off into the abyss with its crew suffocating as you could not deal with some infected circuitry that plagued your space station. So just when you thought you were all doing ok……
“We are all over this game, where is the challenge?”
3 turns later
“How was I supposed to know that that threat would activate 3 times in a row and kill us all?”
Go on admit it, we have all been there in a co-op when someone says something like that first quote – usually followed by everyone else groaning that you are now cursed as someone spoke way too soon!
In short, if you like co-ops and see this in the shop buy it.
If you are in the UK and know about how difficult it is to get your grubby mitts on Victory Point games and you want this, you will be glad to hear that boardgameguru has this in stock. Get it here.
If you are US based you can get it direct from Victory Point games and the game page is here.