Apr 24, 2017

Let's Play Star Trek: Frontiers

We've tremendously enjoyed the Lord of the Rings living card game because of its co-operative nature. Therefore, whenever we set out to expand our game repertoire, co-operative games are very much a priority. One game that jumped out at us by combining co-op with a theme we enjoy was Mage Knight in space, aka Star Trek: Frontiers. It seemed a bit on the expensive side, but luckily, I popped into Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm and found it was a lot cheaper on that side of the pond. Even better, by the time we got there to pick up a copy, not only was it on sale, but the sale was on sale and we grabbed one for an absolute pittance.


First, a serious complaint: how can WizKids not manage to get card backs printed properly? The basic crew deck cards have no less than four clearly distinguishable hues.

The advanced crew deck comes in two:

Worst of all, the ship deck cards come in two radically different shades of blue.

Yes, those cards are meant to be shuffled together. Honestly, this is unacceptable. So if you're going to get this game, make sure to budget for card sleeves as well. You'll need some transparent ones for the two-sided cards, but most importantly, something for the ship deck cards to hide the glaring differences in color.

Other than the card backs, the game components are of decent quality. I'm not too thrilled about the card art; using screenshots from the various Trek series is fine, but the choices are often rather uninspiring. The ship decks are largely made up of exterior shots of the ship in question, which isn't really very evocative of, well, anything. There's a million different counters, which I kind of like, but sadly they're so small that it can take some squinting to figure out which symbols and numbers are on them. The map pieces are made of a pleasantly sturdy cardboard, but the color scheme is very drab, which also occasionally makes it difficult to tell the map symbols from each other. Especially the recruitment symbols on the crew cards can be really hard to decipher. So play this in a well-lit space!


The other bad news is that at first glance, the game is simply overwhelming. There are approximately three billion counters and several piles of cards, and the setup instructions alone are enough to cause acute despair in someone who plays War of the Ring for fun. It also doesn't help that the rulebooks are quite poorly thought out. What all this adds up to is to make the game somewhat difficult to approach, not least because until you actually sit down and play it, it's extraordinarily difficult to get any grasp of how anything works.

Also, be warned: the game takes up a lot of space. Especially with multiple players, think War of the Ring. Below is a four-player game set up on a dinner table that seats six, where we've previously played two simultaneous games of Blood Bowl.

However, it's all worth the trouble, because the game is very good. Set in Next Generation times, the premise is that a stable wormhole into a new sector of space has been found, and the Federation and the Klingons are scrambling to get a foothold in the region. Each player picks a starship and sets off to explore a randomly generated map. The victory conditions vary by scenario, with both co-operative and competitive options, but in the tutorial, the goal is simply to gain the most experience.

We actually tried to play this on the boat back from Stockholm, but there was such a heavy sea that we got too seasick! A second attempt on land was more succesful: my partner picked the Enterprise, while I was delighted to find that I could play as the Duras sisters, Lursa and B'Etor.

Each player has their own starship and their ship deck, a deck of cards that are used to move around, fight and interact with planets, outposts and whatnot. As the game progresses, you get to add various new cards to your deck, and also acquire additional abilities by recruiting crew members. Gathering experience levels up your captain, which lets you get more cards and recruit more crew.

Below, the last turn of our first game: while the Enterprise was busy blowing up yet another Romulan warbird, Lursa and B'Etor and their unlikely crew (foreground) found the Borg cube we were looking for.

As my partner points out, the card only says "Riker", so we don't actually know which Riker it is! Given that Lursa and B'Etor recruited him from a Dominion starbase they assaulted, I like to think it was Thomas Riker on some particularly unfortunate escapade.

Here's a shot from our second game:

The map tile closest to the camera is the starting tile, with the wormhole where everybody starts, and the map stretching out from there. This was a full four-player game, so if you look closely, you can see General Martok's battle cruiser on the left, and the USS Defiant between the Enterprise and the Duras sisters' warbird. This time, General Martok, scourge of the Romulans, was victorious.


Once you get the hang of it, the gameplay is simply great fun. We're looking forward to getting more games in over the summer, and there's even an expansion coming out next fall! For the moment, though, based on our initial experiences, we highly recommend Star Trek: Frontiers.

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