What's Eric Playing? #277: Feral Frontier [Preview]
Base price: $XX.
2 – 5 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes per player.
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A preview copy of Feral Frontier was provided by Mystic Ape Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Busy time for Kickstarters! Is it a Fall thing? Who knows. Either way, we’re back at it after Planetarium and Everdell, and even Dreams of Tomorrow next week to talk about Feral Frontier, another game from Mystic Ape, who made The End Is Nigh, a game I reviewed waaaaaaaaaay back. (And quite liked, while I still played social deduction games.)
This time around, well, the end wasn’t just nigh; it happened. Humanity has long since faded to dust and you play as animals left behind in their wake, exploring space without any pesky people to pester you. You’ve all heard rumors that humans have left artifacts from long ago that are … powerful. So powerful, they’re affecting the space around them. But if something’s that powerful, it can be traced, right? It can be found. So that’s what you’re going to do! But be warned, your crew isn’t the only one whose sights are set on such a prize…
So, the first thing to do is give each player a Player Board:
Set aside the various resources, as well:
The silver things are bones, purple is plasma, orange is nectar, blue is zircon, and green is radium. Useful to know.
Place the Captain’s Lounge in the center of the play area:
That’s the starting location. You’ll want to give each player an Ark token in their color, and place it on the Captain’s Lounge:
Also give them 5 ships, in the same color:
Honestly, it may not be a bad idea to get one in each color, but I’ll mention that later. Now that you’ve done that, randomize the starting tiles (they have the 0 on them) and set them around the Captain’s Lounge. Next, shuffle the Level 1 Tiles:
You’ll want to use 4 of those per player in the game. Set them in a stack. Shuffle the Level 2 Tiles:
Set 2 per player in their own stack. Now, take one of the Artifact Tiles, randomly, without looking:
Shuffle that into the L2 tiles, and place that stack below the L1 stack.
You’re almost ready to start! Take the Captains:
Shuffle them and deal each player 2. They can keep one. Do the same with the Scouts:
The Mechanics, Brawlers, and Astronomers should be shuffled and set near the play area.
Shuffle the Starting Missions (worth 4) and give each player 1:
Shuffle the remaining ones into the regular Missions, and set them near the play area, flipping three face-up:
Once you’ve done that, you’re about ready to start! Give each player 2 Bones, and give the Start Player 1 Plasma, the next player 2 Plasma, the player after that 3 Plasma, and so on.
So, a game of Feral Frontiers is played over the course of several rounds in which players explore the frontier looking for the last human artifact while fulfilling missions and hiring new crew. As you do this, you score points (Dominance). The player at the end of the game with the most points wins.
But how do you do that? Well, over several phases: Exploration, Action, and Regroup. More on that below.
During this phase, you may take two actions of these three:
Gain 1 Plasma. You can never have more than 6.
Move your ARK one tile. Certain tiles will give you things when you move into them, or the wormhole will move you to the other wormhole. Moving is fun!
Reveal. Choose an edge of the tile your ARK is on that is empty (not adjacent to another tile). Draw the top tile of the tile stack and place it on that edge. There aren’t weird rules for placement; that’s just kinda how it works. If you reveal the Artifact Tile this way, this round is the last round. Unless otherwise stated, you may only do this once per Exploration Phase. I also forget this every game, but when you do this action, you gain 1 Bone.
Once you’ve done that, move on to the Action Phase.
During the Action Phase, you will place Crew on various locations to activate that location’s ability. Unless otherwise stated, each location can only hold one Crew Member, so if your opponent wants to take a spot that you’re already on, well, they should understand that worker placement is a cruel business.
Some action spaces cost resources to use — they’ll be pictured under the space in red.
Generally speaking, action spaces don’t cost any resources to use, but there’s a catch — the only free spaces are the ones on the same tile as your ARK. If you want to go beyond your ARK’s tile, while you don’t have to pay for the action itself, you have to spend 1 Plasma per tile to get your Crew Member over there. Space travel is expensive! As you might guess, if you don’t have the Plasma, then you don’t make the moves. That’s … how fuel works.
There are some action spaces that will never cost anything to use — these spaces are on your Player Board, and are called The Bridge. Sending a Crew Member to the Bridge means you can use one of the following actions:
Complete a Mission. You do this by spending the required number of resources on the card. Normally, Missions can only be completed by the indicated crew member on the card, but, well, this lets you ignore that. More on Missions in a hot second, I guess.
Draw a Mission from the Mission deck. Typically you take them from the available face-up Missions. This lets you gain a random one. May fortune favor the bold. Or whatever.
Gain 1 Plasma. Again, you cannot have more than 6.
Move your ARK 1 Tile. This might be useful sometimes.
With regards to Missions, these are various objectives you can gain over the game. Typically, they’re fulfilled by taking an action with one of the indicated Crew Member types on the card. After doing that, you can spend the pictured resources to flip the Mission face-up and complete it. You gain all the rewards in the grey box and the indicated number of points. You can have as many Missions as you want, but just like your old pal Ticket to Ride, if you fail to complete a Mission by the end of the game, you lose points equal to half the number on the card. Rough stuff; try to avoid that, as you might guess.
So in order to fulfill Missions, you’ll need to increase your Crew. Some spaces will let you gain Crew Members for a nominal fee (usually Bones; thankfully, not yours). When you do, choose a Crew Member type that you don’t already have (they have really good job security since they can’t be replaced). Draw two cards from that deck and keep one. It’s both polite and mandated by the rules that you tell your opponents what that Crew Member does. That Crew Member may be assigned this round. That’s helpful, so don’t forget to do that. Occasionally, Crew Members have a resource type pictured on their card; this means that fulfilling a Mission with that Crew Member is discounted by the pictured resource, which can be really nice or … kind of useless. Choose your Missions well. Some spaces can only be occupied by certain Crew Members, so it might help to expand your Crew quickly.
One such space is the Captain’s Lounge:
Only Captains can go here. At the end of the round (during the Regroup Phase), any Captains here can use another extra ability.
Once you’ve placed all your Crew Members, you’re done. Since players may have different crew sizes over the game, you may be waiting for other players to place all of their crew, just as a heads-up.
During the Regroup Phase, you can pull all your Crew Members back to your Player Board.
If any players placed on the Captain’s Lounge, then, resolving from leftmost space to rightmost space, they may pick one of the three actions exclusively (in that once it’s been picked, nobody else can pick it this round):
Take the First Player token. This player will be the First Player next round.
Activate a Bridge Action.
Gain 1 Bone.
If nobody took the First Player token, then pass it to the next player in clockwise order.
Play continues until the end of the round in which the Artifact Tile was revealed. When that happens, proceed to final scoring.
The Artifact Tiles each have their own final scoring, which includes points (sometimes, or not) for each of the resource types. You score the points indicated by the level of resources that you have of that type. Add in your Missions (or subtract the points, if you messed it up), and add in your Bones. The player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The major thing you’re gonna notice is the length. In order to prevent the game just kinda … ending, you have to add extra tiles, but adding extra tiles makes the game run longer, so that’s also happening. There’s not usually a lot of issues beyond that, though you’ll notice contention for limited spaces (gaining Missions, hiring Crew) at higher player counts. The nice fix for that is that there are extra tiles to help with that (and the current tiles have extra spaces for 4+ players), and it’s much more likely for those to appear at high player counts. So, that’s good.
Either way, preference for games that are < 60 minutes, so I’m going to stick with 2 – 3 players on this one.
Don’t overdo it with Crew Members. Remember, they usually cost 4 Bones, which is 4 points, to hire. This means if you’re looking at the end of the game, you should not hire another Crew Member unless that Crew Member can make you at least 4 points this turn. Otherwise, you’re just lighting points on fire, which, while entertaining, isn’t super useful.
Don’t run out of Plasma. Running out of Plasma means you can’t send Crew Members very far, which is always, always bad. You should try to keep like, 3 on you at all times for emergencies.
Your Captain tells you what to focus on. Try to use your Captain’s ability to its full potential. If not, well, your opponents will be doing that, so you’re kind of missing out. It’s a player power, and like all games with variable player powers, it’s not super good if you don’t use the player power that you were given at the outset. Don’t waste it!
It’s not a bad idea to rush the endgame / surprise your opponents. If you can flip an extra tile and end the game prematurely, you can occasionally catch your opponents unaware with too many Missions and crush them with negative points. Is it cruel? Sure. But this isn’t called Friendly Frontier, right?
Try to stay close to your primary resource-generating spots. I mean, you don’t want to spend all your resources on just moving your Crew Members around. You need to save some of those for the Missions, lest you get stuck with negative points because your opponents decided to aggressively rush the endgame on “questionable advice from a reviewer”. Not sure how that would happen, though.
On the other hand, also, explore? Some of the late-game tiles are very good, and you really would like to get those, so try and get that done. Some of them give you two of anything. That’s a lot of something. Plus, you generally do want to expand the game board, especially if you can expand in a direction that keeps your opponents away from good tiles as they’re drawn. That would be … ideal.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
Fun theme! It’s space, but with animals! I already like space games, and I love games where Most or All Major Characters Are Fun Animals, so, really, just winning across the board with this one.
I really like the variability of the setup. There are so many Captain / Scout combinations that it kind of encourages you to approach the game from different angles every time; it’s pretty cool!
I also am a sucker for modular boards. They end up looking so cool on the table once they’re all done; it’s great. I’m really looking forward to higher quality tiles and hoping they have the right thickness to them; it’ll be really impressive once the whole game is together.
The bones are a really neat token. They’re kinda metallic? They’re shiny and neat to look at. That’s definitely worthy of a “pro”; I hope they keep them that way.
All the ships being the same makes it hard to remember which crew went where. It’s not a big deal unless some part of the board gets knocked, but it would be nice to have different ships for each crew member type. Hopefully something that gets fixed before production. Or it would make for a nice stretch goal, I suppose.
The small cards with low-contrast on the backs are difficult to use for a variety of reasons. I’m hoping this is a prototype issue, but the player boards / card backs for the Crew are difficult to read and, as you know, I just don’t really like small cards that much if I have to use them a lot. I understand why they are the way they are in this game, but, just something I’m mildly irked by.
I can do without the take-that from the Brawlers. I’m pretty aggressively against take-that in games that last for … basically more than like, 20 minutes, and this does that. The Brawlers are pretty much all aggressive, and I feel like having that as an optional faction is fine, provided you can opt out of it in a game if you don’t want it. Since it’s reasonably mandatory (certain spaces can only have Brawlers, and More Crew Is Good), it’s a bit frustrating for me because I’d just prefer to not deal with that in games. What I would really love is modular crew sets that you could sub in and out for certain colors; seems like an easy way to expand. So you could have like Brawlers, Gunners, and Ravagers or something such that you could sub in certain sets of crew that are tuned to the kind of games your group wants to be playing. Just a personal preference.
The wormhole / warp’s purpose wasn’t very clear to players, in the games we played. I think that’s because I mostly played at smaller player counts, so we weren’t making massive play areas. At higher player counts, you’ll probably want that to be able to zip around the board more quickly. I think that it was also unclear where the wormhole warped you to or whether it was pure entry or pure exit; I think more clear iconography / a more distinct token would help with that, so this might just be a prototype copy thing.
I wish the game leaned into its own theme more. Beyond just seeing animals on the cards, I don’t get the impression that this is more than a generic space game with some animals added. It’s hard to say if that’s because the art assets might not be finalized yet, or not, but I’d love to see more stuff that gets me properly immersed and invested in the game’s theme, because I wasn’t getting that from the prototype.
OVERALL: 7 / 10
Overall, Feral Frontier is pretty good! I’m hoping that a number of the things I’m a bit less enthusiastic about (mostly art / theme / component quality) will be upgraded from the prototype I was sent, so that’s not really a huge concern for me, but the core is going to excite a lot of people. It’s a lighter space game with a solid exploration component, highly variable setups and gameplay, and some solid worker placement (which I know a lot of people are very enthusiastic about). While I’m not a huge fan of the take-that element from the Brawlers, I’m hoping the game is modular and variable enough that some option will eventually come along to replace or remove that, sort of like how Unfair has a World Peace card that disallows negative player interaction. I think this is still a highly interactive game without it, as worker placement games often are, and the decrease in tiles for each player count only pushes that further along by making the galaxy even smaller if you don’t have many players. Add in variable final tiles and you’ve got a game I’m interested in playing more, should it get funded. So if you like space games, like worker placement games, or just like fun animals, I’d recommend giving Feral Frontiers a look — maybe you’ll like it, too!
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS REVIEW AND WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT WHAT’S ERIC PLAYING? IN THE FUTURE, PLEASE CHECK OUT MY PATREON. THANKS FOR READING!