Yahtzee — In — Spaaace!

I’m just back from another session with the Friday night gaming crew, occupied this time with a new game called Alien Frontiers. Summary: It’s Yahtzee — in — spaaace!.

Alien Frontiers attracted me with its theme. What red-blooded geek doesn’t groove on the idea of colonizing alien planets, after all? The box art made clear that the game was intended as homage to classic SF, and the gameboard briskly carried that forward: Our alien planet, divided into seven regions named after Golden Age SF authors, surrounded by orbiting installations like the Colonist Hub, Raider Outpost, Alien Artifact, Solar Collector, Terraforming Station, and more.

The actual game mechanics do rather resemble Yahtzee; you have a dice pool, which you commit to perform actions at orbital installations each turn. But instead of directly scoring points as in Yahtzee, some of the actions drop colonists on the planet; others collect ore and fuel (resources required for, among other things, dropping colonists); still others allow you to snag an alien artifact, which may give you victory points or allow you to modify die rolls or teleport colonists around or use various other rule-bending special abilities.

An unusual feature of the game is that victory points aren’t cumulative – your VP score is a pure function of the board state and the cards in your hand, and victory points can be lost as well as gained. For example, having majority control of a planetary region gains you a VP, and losing control because another player has tied your number of colonist counters in the region loses you that VP. VP leaders can expect to get sniped at a lot in the late game.

The game is designed for 4 players. There are 3- and 2-player variants in the rules, but I suspect they don’t work as well – part of the tactics depend on players getting crowded out of slots on the orbital stations, and that would be a more difficult outcome to manipulate for with fewer players.

One virtue of this game is that it will play really fast with players who know what they’re doing. Poorly-organized rules make initial learning more difficult than it should be (the objective really should have been explained before turn flow, for example) but the mechanics are basically pretty simple and once you learn how to read the possibilities in your dice a turn will often take less than 60 seconds.

Despite the simple mechanics, I think the replay value of this game should hold up pretty well. There are multiple paths to victory, and always options to balance. Early on, should you try for a lead in colonies or concentrate on building ships (enlarging your dice pool) for later? Alien artifacts are expensive but can be game-changers; how much to invest in chasing them? Will raiding net you more than trading?

Overall this game is perhaps a bit lighter than I normally like, but it’s a fun social gaming experience for four SF fans. I’ll play it again, and I’m definitely going to lean on the Colonist Hub more next time….

Categorized as Games


  1. Eric, this is seriously off-topic so feel free to delete it. If you do, though, please read it because I would like you to write about this topic in the future.

    David Brin, if you haven’t figured it out already, has largely gone off the left-wing deep end lately. He screams about “neocons” (a tell for a seriously deranged mind) and supports gun control.

    That is not the problem, however.

    In this article, http://torforge.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/whats-your-favorite-heinlein-novel-david-brin/, Brin engages in serious deception about the late Robert A. Heinlein.


    “Heinlein wrote the first half [of BEYOND THIS HORIZON] at behest of the famed editor of Astounding Magazine, John W. Campbell, who was then holding forth on one of his favorite themes . . . that ‘an armed society is a polite society.’

    “In pushing this strange notion, Campbell was behaving very much like his arch-nemesis, Karl Marx. A few anecdotes and a good just-so story outweigh a hundred historical counter-examples. But no matter. Heinlein did as good a job of conveying Campbell’s idea in fiction as anybody could. So much so that the first half of Beyond This Horizon has been cited by state legislators in both Texas and Florida, proposing that all citizens to go around armed!”

    Note Brin’s vile deception: he implies that RAH did not believe that an armed society is a polite society. A simple look at Heinlein’s letters in GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE will prove otherwise. Heinlein actually castigated the Scribner’s editor for wanting him to delete a section in RED PLANET that expressed RAH’s views on gun ownership. He makes it clear here that those are his own views, not just his characters’. He repeatedly expresses pro-gun views in other works as well–but GFTG is not fiction, but nonfiction, so Brin can’t claim it was just material for a story.

    Brin has been categorically trying to rewrite the history of Heinlein to make him into a crypto-leftist. You, Eric Raymond, have written about the political history of sf, and you are frankly much more likely to influence people’s views than I am. Brin is a liar, and he needs to have his lies stopped.

    1. >Brin has been categorically trying to rewrite the history of Heinlein to make him into a crypto-leftist.

      That’s too strong a claim to make based on that one article, though I agree the implied lie about Heinlein’s views on firearms is pretty sickening. Can you point at evidence for the stronger claim?

      1. I’ve written a response to Brin. Ken: I’ll hold off a couple of days, before publishing to give you time to show citations for your more general claim.

  2. Well, right off the top, Brin is somehow going to have to explain away ‘The Notebooks of Lazarus Long’. Which are certainly not pacifistic. (I agree with most of Heinlein’s comments there, and don’t agree with gun control.)

    My core belief on the general subject is “Everyone is entitled to go to hell in the handbasket of their choice, limited only by being required to not take unwilling passengers.” Such possible passengers being responsible for making an informed decision. “Nobody told me it was loaded.” is not an adequate defense.

  3. It’s only fair to point out that RAH *started* *out* on the Left (look up EPIC); and to the extent that the Left of his time held equality of opportunity and square dealing as virtues, he never gave up on that aspect of it. He dropped Leftist economics pretty early (mostly and gradually — read his early fiction carefully!) and never does seem to have been much of a “Statist.” –IMO, he’s pretty hard to map into the Left-Right continuum and is a better fit to the “up” direction, libertarianism. Go expecting him to be a lib or a con and the old man will confound you every time. :)

    How does Brin square the negative correlation between restrictive firearms laws and gun crime (and violent crime in general) in the US?

  4. From the Brin article above:

    “Here we see the clearest ever expression of his political philosophy, which is demonstrably neither ‘fascist’ nor anywhere near as conservative as some simpleminded critics might have us think. Indeed, his famed libertarianism had limits, moderated and enriched by compassion, pragmatism and a profound faith that human beings can improve themselves, gradually, by their own diligence and goodwill.

    “When it comes to politics, his future society is, naturally, a descendant of the America Heinlein loved. But it has evolved in two directions at once. Anything having to do with human creativity, ambition or enterprise is wildly competitive and nearly unregulated. But where it comes to human needs, the situation is wholly socialistic. One character even says, in a shocked tone of voice: “Naturally food is free! What kind of people do you take us for?”

    “None of this fits into the dogma of Ayn Rand, whose followers have taken over the libertarian movement. If Robert Heinlein was a libertarian, it was clearly of a more subtle kind, less historically or anthropologically naive, more compassionate… and more interesting.”

    [What a surprise. A writer who was in 1942 a socialist wrote a socialist-leaning book. And this is the “clearest ever expression of his political philosophy”–not the (by my count) 28 novels and a few dozen short stories he had yet to write, which showed, fairly consistently, the virtual reverse of that philosophy. Except, of course, for his position on an armed society.]

    From Brin’s blog:


    “Heinlein was a loyal member of the American branch of the Enlightenment, a believer in democracy, markets, science, etc… but far more the rule-constrained competitive spirit of positive sum games that underlies all those arenas. He distrusted government as a sole arbiter–but recognized the need for it. For example, after disdaining politics in many books, he dared himself to make politicians the heroes, in DOUBLE STAR. After disdaining socialism in many stories, he praised anarcho-socialism in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and became a hippie icon.”

    [Heinlein was in favor of constraining rules? Read EXPANDED UNIVERSE. Regarding government, his support, or lack thereof, followed a more or less linear negative procession, from “Social Credit” in BTH, to skepticism about labor unions in an otherwise statist “The Roads Must Roll,” to liberal capitalist democracy in DOUBLE STAR, to restricted democracy (in the service of greater freedom) in STARSHIP TROOPERS, to libertarian utopia in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, to a character in (if I recall correctly) THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST saying Tertius wasn’t organized enough to be an anarchy, to the title character of FRIDAY excusing the killing of a man because he was a cop.

    [And yes, STRANGER is an outlier here. That might be significant, except (a) RAH made numerous statements around the same time that indicated that he was becoming less socialist, not more, to the point of supporting Barry Goldwater in 1964; (b)Heinlein specifically rejected hippie groups that attempted to take STRANGER literally; (c) the society in STRANGER was non-statist enough that it might barely pass muster with libertarians, even though they probably wouldn’t like it; and (d) Heinlein never used the same characters again–unusual, if you’ve read his late works.]

    From the comments in a Brin article about EMP, in which he mostly shrieks about how much he hated George W. Bush instead of, I don’t know, talking about EMP:


    “Forrest demands I read Herbert & Heinlein. I was RAISED by Heinlein! I knew them both. Before he died, Heinlein agreed with Golwater [sic] that the right was going insane. Heck Ask Jerry Pournelle, Mr. Right Wing. He agrees.”

    [I’m not sure whether he means Pournelle agrees that the right is going insane, or that he agrees that Heinlein agreed that. One way or the other, if RAH actually did say something to that effect–and considering Brin’s deceptions, I can’t count on that–he was undoubtedly talking specifically about the religious element in the GOP, specifically the Christian Coalition of Pat Robertson, not the GOP’s (very weak) support for free enterprise, or for that matter, its foreign policy (which admittedly wasn’t libertarian, but then neither was Heinlein on issues of war and foreign policy). Actually, I believe it was in REQUIEM that someone mentioned that Heinlein, on his deathbed, tried to deliver a message to Jeane Kirkpatrick urging her to run for president–not exactly the act of someone rejecting the GOP as being too far to the right.]

    I don’t know if this is enough for you, Eric. It does establish a pattern of Brin misrepresenting Heinlein’s views.

  5. One of the minor problems in the part of this discussion that concerns Heinlein is the assumption that gun control is a left/right issue. It seems to be, because the parties have divided up tons of non-related issues and taken the position that they have something to do with their fundamental differences. Heinlein always believed in individual liberty, including the liberty to be armed, but seems to have changed his mind over the years about whether that liberty could best be served by a managed economy or a market economy.

    As to what he would think of the Republican party today, no one can really say. Just as no one can say what Barry Goldwater would have thought of it. But both of them wrote enough that one might be able to work out what he or she believes they would have thought of it.

    I just tried to send this and I think it failed. If this turns up twice, I’m sorry.

    Will in New Haven

  6. Maybe Brin never really READ Heinlein?

    Maybe he just watched “Starship Troopers” and picked up on all the Nazi-like regalia?

    I’ve loved Heinlein’s books since they were newly written, but I have always felt that the director/costumer/prop department slipped one over on us with all the not-so-subtle messages in the film.

  7. Oh, I don;t think he put anything over on the RAH fans. That was an interesting film (often in the way car wrecks are interesting) but it wasn’t a film version of the Heinlein novel. And it was no “Blade Runner,” either.

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