Alien Frontiers is a dice-based worker placement game that blasts players to a fictional alien planet to gather resources and establish colonies. With its blend of Euro mechanics (worker placement, area control) and Ameritrash elements (direct conflict, “take that” abilities, high-quality plastic components), it boldly goes where few games have gone before.

Gameplay Overview

In classic Euro game style, you’re trying to score the most victory points, from placing colonies on the planet (1 VP each), controlling territories (1 VP for each where you have the most colonies), and by collecting a few cards and a gadget (Positron Field). The game can be played with 2-4 players (5 players with the Outer Belt expansion).

At the beginning of the game, players are given a few starting resources and a set of dice in their own color (representing their spaceships). On each turn, players roll their dice and place them like workers on different parts of the board. Each place on the board has a different action associated with it, such as collecting resources, building colonies, or launching ships. Players can choose to place all of their dice on a single location to take a large action, or they can split their dice between multiple locations to take multiple smaller actions. Additionally, players can use special abilities on their player board to modify their dice rolls or gain additional resources.

For instance, a matching pair can be used to set the exchange rate for fuel to ore (e.g., a pair of 3s sets the rate to 3 fuel for 1 ore). Three of kind lets you land a colony on the planet. A three-dice straight unlocks the Raider. If other action spaces are occupied with dice, you can’t use that action. But there are exceptions: a track for your player to place up to 3 dice towards building a colony, and the Raider space (you can beat the straight that is there to use the space).

Pros and Cons


  • One of the strengths of Alien Frontiers is its replayability. Frankly, I review few of the board games I play, because of how many I’ve played just once or twice, which is not enough to give a game its fair due. After recently playing Alien Frontiers for the 15th time in 10 years, I was inspired to write this review. When we first bought it, we played 8 times in two weeks!
  • The artwork is stellar. Ahem. The 1950s sci-fi theme shines through in the retro-futuristic art, components, and even the “technology” cards. It’s an immersive, cohesive aesthetic. And I love the names of the territories: Asimov Crater, Bradbury Plateau, Burroughs Desert, Heinlein Plains, Herbert Valley, Lem Badlands, Pohl Foothills, and Van Vogt Mountains.
  • Despite having dice as the central mechanic, the game offers many ways to mitigate luck. Players can acquire alien tech cards that allow re-rolling or modifying dice. This gives you more control over your options. My favorite is the tech that lets you flip one die over to the other side, the Polarity Device. This is not “Yahtzee in space.”
  • The game has a variety of strategies that can be used to win, and players must adapt their strategy based on their opponents’ actions. Having more ships helps but isn’t everything; I’ve often seen players with the largest “fleets” lose.
  • Player interaction makes this much more involving than Terraforming Mars, another game about colonizing a planet, where play is pretty independent of other players. You can block opponents from spaces, raid their resources, and contest the territories they have claimed.


  • Since you don’t know your next dice roll in advance, nor what action spaces will even be available to place your workers, you can’t plan ahead. So there’s little to do but wait when it is not your turn.
  • And this gets worse as the game goes on. As the game progresses, each player’s turn becomes longer, as they have more dice, more cards, and more decisions to make. For instance, at one point I had two dice abilities (turn a die to a 3 or 4) and remove a point from one die to add it to another. It took me a bit to figure out how to turn my roll into a straight, so I could steal back a card that had been taken from me using the Raider. Our three-player game took us almost three hours instead of the 90 minutes listed on the box.
  • While the dice mechanic is fun, thematically it makes no sense. The dice are supposed to represent spaceships, but I’m not sure why their value changes each turn or represents what they can do.
  • Some direct conflict options like the Raider space can feel overpowered and frustrating if overused against you. In our most recent game, one player used the Raider again and again with a straight of 4-5-6 (meaning no one could play a higher straight over it), and stripped me of every single card I had. I still eked out a win, but it wasn’t fun to have my engine completely stripped away.
  • The game definitely suffers from kingmaking. You don’t want to be the early leader, or the other players will you target your territories and try to take them away from you:
    • The last game I won was because the leader had been using Raider to steal alien tech and resources from me and the third player, thereby aggravating us both enough to gang up on them.
    • In a 2017 game, there was a brutal beat down of one player, who had leapt to an early lead (6 dice/spaceships) and ended up being attacked by every other player. I went from last to first as my engine kicked in (5 spaceships + relic ship) just in the nick of time.
    • When you look at the victory point track and see who is winning, you use that information to decide where to place new colonies; by removing someone’s majority, you take a point from them, while gaining a point from placing the colony.

Final Thoughts

The Outer Belt asteroid expansion provides an extra player but playing with five is probably not worth it for the amount of time it lengthens the game. And I’d probably only use the expansion if I were playing with 5. I think the sweet spot for this game is with 3 or 4 players.

Some of my group most enjoy the retro sci-fi aesthetic, while others love the dice mechanic. The game has interesting decisions and almost the right amount of chaos. Just beware of analysis paralysis and try to keep your turns snappy.

Alien Frontiers is an accessible dice-placement hybrid that appeals to casual and most hobbyist gamers. “Heavy cardboard” players and Euro aficionados will probably find the game to be too chaotic for their tastes. With the right group, though, you’ll find Alien Frontiers to be out of this world!

Photo: Wesley Tingey on Unsplash+.