Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!
- For ages 9 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 90 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Worker Placement & Area Control
- Child – Moderate
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Take to the unfriendly skies and stake your claim in this game of exploration and airship combat!
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
By royal decree, all men and women of able body and means are to immediately assist the Crown and Country explore and claim the wilderness across the frontier. For too long, we have waited behind our walls and looked out across a land that is ours by right. The Queen now asks all her loyal subjects to be brave and find new land to colonize for future generations. Several well-known airship captains have been drafted to help in the effort. Now, take to the skies, and claim our birthright!
Fantasy Frontier, designed by Michael Coe and to be published by Gamelyn Games, will reportedly be comprised of 4 Airship player pieces, 4 Airship player boards, 80 Terrain tiles (26 Plains, 18 Forests, 18 Mountains, and 18 Water tiles), 35 Research cards (25 Map cards and 10 Development cards), 12 Township pieces (3 for each player), 20 Airship damage markers, 4 Combat victory point markers, 20 Workers (5 for each player), 48 Resource pieces (12 Gold, 12 Stone, 12 Wood, 6 Fish, and 6 Turkey Leg pieces), 1 Combat die (standard six-sided die), 3 Resource dice (custom six-sided dice; 1 Forest Resource, 1 Mountain Resource, and 1 Water Resource die), and 1 draw bag (that is used with the tiles). The final component contents of the game are subject to change based on Kickstarter overfunding goals. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game component quality. The proposed artwork by Naomi Robinson is fantastic and does an excellent job of capturing the fantasy world the game is set in.
Game Set Up
To set up the game, first shuffle the Research cards. Contained in this deck will be the Map and the Development cards. Once shuffled, each player draws 1 Research card. If the card is a Map card, it is kept face-down in front of the player. The player can look at their card, but should keep it hidden from their opponents until it’s revealed later in the game. If the card is a Development card, it is placed at the bottom of the deck and a new card is drawn. Once all the players have 1 Map card, shuffle the Research deck one more time, placing the deck to the side of the game playing area face-down and within reach of all the other players. Keep a good amount of space in the middle of the playing area open as this is where the map will be built.
Second, sort all the Resource pieces and make a separate pile for the Gold, Stone, Wood, Fish, and Turkey Legs. This area is the general resource supply. Set next to the piles all the dice and Airship damage markers. We suggest you use small cups to hold all the bits to help keep the playing area organized.
Third, using the Combat die, determine who the first player will be. This will determine the play order for the game with the turn order sequence going clockwise from the first player. Starting with the first player, have each player select an Airship faction. At the time of this review, there are 4 different factions. Each faction has a unique Airship player board and Airship player piece. For the most part, each Airship is similar when it comes to crew and capacity. Each deck of the Airship has a different layout and each faction has a unique bonus. To reduce the time it takes to set up the game and to reduce paralysis analysis, we suggest you simply shuffle the Airship player boards and pass them out. The Airship player piece will be matched to the Airship player board by color.
Fourth, each player takes 5 Worker, 3 Township pieces, and 1 Combat victory point marker. Each player has their own colors. These are placed in front of the players at this time.
Fifth, place all the Terrain tiles in the draw bag and mix them up. Each player now draws 2 Terrain tiles.
Sixth, starting with the first player, each player will place their two Terrain tiles in the center playing area. Terrain tiles must always be adjacent to another Terrain tile with at least one full side touching at least 1 other Terrain tile. Once the 2 Terrain tiles are placed, the player places their Airship player piece on one of the two Terrain tiles.
That’s it for game set up. Let the exploration and colonization begin!
Fantasy Manifest Destiny
Note: Fantasy Frontier is not an overly complicated game to grasp, but a non-gamer and inexperienced player is going to be a bit overwhelmed at first. This is because of the many actions available to a player. It’s helpful to know, however, that a player need not consider taking all of them during their turn. When playing the game, a player will select actions that reflect the type of game they want to play (peaceful exploration and colonization or aggressive combat and control). We are only going to summarize the rules here and encourage you to read the full rules for all the details.
Fantasy Frontier is played in turns with no set number of rounds in a game. Each player’s turn is comprised of several phases. But before we even get into that, let’s quickly discuss the Airship player board.
The Airship player board contains a great deal of information, including the faction bonus, player color, action order sequence, victory points, and Worker action assignments. It’s the last bit of information, the Worker actions, that are essential to game play. Each player is the captain of their own Airship and their crew awaits their orders. Scattered around the Airship are “stations” where the player will be assigning their Workers and keeping Resources. Where the player places their Workers will determine what actions are available to them during their turn. A quick glance at the Airship player board will also show that there are more actions available than there are Workers. This is a very good thing as aerial combat will damage the Airship and remove one of the stations a Worker could be placed in. Having a bit of redundancy in the stations means the player will have a chance to complete specific actions even when their Airship is on fire.
All the actions available to the player are noted on the Airship player board, but the individual actions are taken during specific turn phases. The phases and actions are summarized here.
Phase 1: Worker Assignment
During this phase, the player takes their 5 Workers and places them on the different “stations” on their Airship. Once all 5 Workers are placed, the next phase is triggered. Note that a player is welcome to keep their Workers in the same station positions as their previous turn if they like, but must remove Workers from stations that have taken damage.
Players can optionally elect to set aside as many Workers as they like to counter-attack. These Workers will take no action unless the player’s Airship is attacked by an opponent.
Additionally, if the player has successfully built any Townships, they roll to determine if the Townships provide any Resources which are automatically collected and placed on the player’s Airship player board.
Phase 2: Green Actions
These actions are identified with a green oval on the Airship player board.
- Place Terrain Tiles: Placing Terrain tiles is considered a “free action” and does not require a Worker, but it can only be taken by the player during this phase. Terrain tiles are acquired by the player during the third phase. If the player has any Terrain tiles, they can now place 1 or all the Terrain tiles they have acquired thus far. Once placed, they become available to all the other players, too.
- Pilot: This action allows the player to move their Airship player piece across 1 to 3 Terrain tiles. This action can be broken up during the first phase, meaning the player can move 1 Terrain tile, complete another action, and then move their Airship to another Terrain tile. The player is welcome to do this as often as they like as long as they do not exceed moving 3 Terrain tiles.
- Blast Ground: This action allows the player to remove 1 adjacent Terrain tile that is not occupied with an Airship, Worker, or Township. The Terrain tile is removed and placed back into the draw bag. Due to the complex navigation and armaments, the player must assign 3 Workers to this action to complete it.
- Attack: This action allows the player to attack an adjacent Airship. We’ll discuss combat in further detail below.
- Repair: This action allows the player to remove 1 damage marker from their Airship. The now repaired station is available for use.
Once all the green oval Phase 2 actions have been taken, the next phase is triggered. If all 5 Workers have been used, the player’s turn is over and the next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn starting with Phase 1 noted above.
Phase 3: Yellow Actions
These actions are identified with a yellow oval on the Airship player board.
- Exit Airship: This action allows the player to anchor their Airship and send out their crew to gather resources and assist in the building of a Township. Workers can only be placed on a Terrain tile that is not currently occupied by an opponent that is directly under or adjacent to the player’s Airship player piece. Once the Workers are safely on the ground, the player can then gather resources. A player can also build a Township that secures victory points and opens a trade route that provides resources automatically. We’ll discuss Resources and Townships in further detail below.
Once all the yellow oval Phase 3 actions have been taken, the next phase is triggered. If all 5 Workers have been used, the player’s turn is over and the next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn starting with Phase 1 noted above.
Phase 4: Red Actions
These actions are identified with a red oval on the Airship player board.
- Research: This action allows the player to draw 1 Research card for ever Worker they assigned to this action. Research cards contain Map cards and Development cards. Map cards depict a number of Terrain tiles in a specific pattern. If the player is able to either create this pattern using the Terrain tiles or through the course of the game the pattern is created by other players, the Map card can later be claimed for additional victory points when the player moves their Airship to any Terrain tile that is part of the pattern and reveals the Map card. There would appear to be a hand size limit, but the rules made available to us did not include it. The Development cards represent permanent upgrades and improvements to the player’s Airship. Each Development card describes what the upgrade or improvement is. When the Development card is drawn, the player must equip it or sell it before continuing their turn. If the player elects to equip it, it is placed face-up in front of them and next to their Airship player board. If the player elects to sell it, the player takes any type of resource they like and the Development card is permanently removed from the game. The number of Resources the player receives is noted on the Development card.
- Scout: This action allows the player to draw 2 Terrain tiles from the draw bag for each Worker they assigned to this action. The Terrain tiles can be used on the player’s next turn.
Once all the red oval Phase 4 actions have been taken, the player’s turn is over and the next player in turn order sequence now takes their turn starting with Phase 1 noted above.
The game continues, with each player taking their turn until the endgame condition is met.
Big Balloon Combat
A player can engage another opponent who has their Airship player piece in an adjacent Terrain tile during Phase 2 by using the Attack action. Combat is intended to hinder an opponent, not remove them from the game. To put it another way, no player will ever lose a Worker or go down in a ball of flames due to combat. For every Worker assigned the attack action, the player gets to make 1 attack. If multiple opponents are located in adjacent Terrain tiles, the player may assign each Attack action per target, but must declare all their attacks prior to attacking any opponent.
There are two types of attacks. These are the Standard and the Focused attacks.
- Standard Attack: For every attack action spent, the player rolls the Combat die. On a roll of 4 through 6, the adjacent opponent is hit. Prior to attacking, the player must declare which station is being fired upon. If successfully hit, a damage marker is placed on the previously declared station on the opponent’s Airship player board. Any damaged station is unusable until it’s repaired.
- Focused Attack: For every 2 attack actions spent, the player automatically hits their opponent’s Airship and the declared station they are targeting.
Note that every station on the Airship can be targeted. This includes cargo bays. If a cargo bay is successfully struck, 1 Resource is removed instead of a damage marker being placed. The removed Resource returns to the general supply.
Once an opponent is attacked, they can optionally elect to counter-attack, but only if they assigned workers during Phase 1 to specifically address any attacks from opponents. If they did, the opponent can take a Standard attack for every Worker they assigned or a Focused attack for every 2 Workers they assigned to the Counter-Attack action. Combat rolls and rules are the same as a normal attack action. This includes declaring the target station and collecting Combat victory points.
If a player is able to successfully attack an opponent 3 or more times in a single turn using either attack type, they are awarded 5 Combat victory points. These are tracked on the player’s Airship player board.
Resources and Colonization
During Phase 3 of a player’s turn, they can move Workers from their Airship player board to the same Terrain tile their Airship player marker occupies or to any adjacent unoccupied Terrain tiles. Only those Workers on the Exit action can be moved off. Once the Workers are placed on the Terrain tiles, the player can use their Workers to gather resources or build settlements.
The resources in the game represent wealth, building supplies, and foodstuffs. They are collected by sending down a Worker and rolling the Resource die (a custom six-sided die) that corresponds to the Terrain tile the Worker is occupying. Some Terrain provides a resource automatically.
- Plains: Any Worker assigned to gather on a Plain Terrain tile automatically acquires 1 Turkey Leg resource piece. Apparently, in this fantasy world, the turkey population is exceedingly high.
- Forest: Any Worker assigned to gather on the Forest Terrain tile rolls the green Forest Resource die. The Worker could gather Wood, a Turkey Leg, or come back to the Airship empty-handed.
- Mountains: Any Worker assigned to gather on the Mountain Terrain tile rolls the brown Mountain Resource die. The Worker could gather Stone, Gold, or find nothing at all.
- Water: Any Worker assigned to gather on the Water Terrain tile rolls the blue Water Resource die. The Worker could gather Fish, Gold, or simply come back all wet with nothing to show for their efforts.
If the Worker does successfully bring back a Resource piece, it is stored in the player’s Airship cargo bay. Each resource has its own section on the Airship player board (“Food” covers the Fish and the Turkey Legs) and no more than 4 of each type of resource can be held at a time. Any Resources gathered that would cause the total to be over 4 are not collected. If a player is awarded a Resource that is no longer available in the general supply, they can take it from any player of their choice. Not a great rule, but it does ensure that resources are always present and pushes the players to spend what they gather versus hoarding it.
Gathering resources is all fine and good, but it does little more than add weight to a player’s Airship if they are not used. Instead of sending a Worker down on the same Terrain tile as their Airship or to an unoccupied adjacent Terrain tile to gather resources, the resources gathered so far can be spent to build a Township. A Township costs 4 Workers, 2 Gold, 2 Stone, and 2 Wood Resources to build. If the player can pay for it, they place the Township in the Terrain tile that one of their Workers is occupying and automatically gains 10 victory points. Placement of the Township is important. On every subsequent turn after the Township is built, there is a chance it will provide a resource to its owner. Townships act like Workers who are sent to gather resources during Phase 3. A roll is made (if necessary) for the Terrain tile that Township is on and for every adjacent Terrain tile to the Township. The gathering of the resources from the Township is a free action and does not require any Workers. Townships cannot be destroyed by opponents and remain active for the duration of the game.
Ending the Game
The game ends as soon as a player earns 40 or more points through Combat, Township colonization, or by matching Terrain tile patterns with their Map cards. Each player now counts their total collected victory points and includes 1 additional victory point for each Resource they have in their Airship cargo bay with the one exception being the Turkey Legs (turkeys get no love in this game).
After all the counting is done, the player with the most victory points wins the game.
To be perfectly honest, Fantasy Frontier is not bringing anything new to the table, game mechanics wise. All three of our groups have played games where area control, tile placement, pattern building, resource management, and worker placement were integral aspects of the game play. Nothing being offered in the game will blow their minds or send them running to a corner shaking with confusion or fear. For any non-gamers or new players we might be able to get to the table, Fantasy Frontier is going to feel really big. There’s a lot going on in this game and a great deal for the players to think about. Luckily for everyone, the game’s wide range of actions and possibilities are very easy to manage. Instead of doing it all, the player is only asked to do 5 actions. Further separation of those actions by phases makes it all the easier to manage the game and helps to focus the player.
I predict good things from our Child and Parent Geek groups. Games where exploration is part of the theme always do well with the Child Geeks and at the family gaming table. Fantasy Frontier is a more complex game and will most likely be a bit too much for our younger Child Geeks to tolerate. While the game is not terribly difficult, the game’s duration and large number of actions will quickly tire out the non-gamers and the younger Child Geeks. For the Gamer Geeks, there is nothing in Fantasy Frontier that the elitist group hasn’t seen before or is already exceedingly familiar with. The only reason I can see them not endorsing the game is because the game itself feels a bit “old” and doesn’t provide anything that really excites them, or the game comes across too busy. We’ll just have to see.
The game’s learning curve on this one is a moderate for the Child Geeks (which includes non-gamers), but should easily be understood by casual gamers and more advanced players. For those who haven’t or simply do not yet have enough experience to quickly grasp the game, you’re going to need to take the time to explain the game in-depth to them. I usually avoid suggesting as much, but in this game’s case, you really have to. Fantasy Frontier is a Euro-style game, despite the players having the ability to attack each other. In a Euro-style game, players have the ability to adjust their tactics and strategy based on what their opponents are doing on the board. The same applies here, but there are only three roads to victory. These are Combat, Map cards, or Townships. Combat is pretty straight forward. Bonehead simple, really, but emphasis needs to be put on movement and proper Worker placement for both attacking and counter-attacking. Map cards are the most complicated but the most fun as they encourage the player to explore and place Terrain tiles. You’ll need to focus on how a player collects them, how they place them, and how they remove them if they think an opponent is getting close to completing a Map card or a Terrain tile is in the player’s way of victory. Lastly, the Townships are more difficult to acquire, but end up helping the player in the long run. You’ll need to make sure players recognize what Resources come from what Terrain tiles, clearly state the Airship holding capacity, and make sure everyone knows that Resources can be stolen and destroyed through combat or normal Resource allocation.
And so, after teaching Fantasy Frontier to my 9-year-0ld (who is well below the suggested minimum age, but understood how to play the game in less than 15 minutes), I asked him his thoughts on the game so far.
“A really neat looking game. I don’t think we’ve played an airship game before. A lot of what you said I already know about, so I don’t think I’ll have any problems playing it.” ~ Liam (age 9)
To be fair, my little geeks do not, nor should not, represent the “average Child Geek”. Remember that I put a lot of games in front of my kids. Some make them cry out in excitement and some make them cry in frustration. But they always play them. Let’s see if Fantasy Frontier provides an exciting airship adventure for our players or this game is all hot air.
No Child Geek younger than 9-years-old was able to play this game in its entirety. My 6-year-old tried and excused himself from the table after about 20 minutes out of boredom and frustration. All the other Child Geeks, 9 and older, had a really great time with the game and liked just about every aspect of the game play. Every aspect save one. They found the Map cards to be terribly frustrating. They would attempt to build patterns, but would get hung up in combat or an opponent would shift the Terrain tiles before they had a chance to complete their pattern. As such, there was a lot of Blast Ground actions being taken, which was a loud indicator to the player’s opponents that they were working on a specific pattern in that area. The typical response was for an opponent to drop Workers or build a Township, which really made some of the Child Geeks angry. Like almost flip the table angry. Oddly enough, I observed very little in the way of players making use of their specific Faction’s bonuses. I reminded the Child Geeks several times, but they prefered to stick to the general actions. I didn’t bother to attempt to correct this strategy as everyone was clearly having fun. So much fun, in fact, all the Child Geeks voted to approve the game.
The Parent Geeks found Fantasy Frontier to be an excellent time. One Parent Geek said, “This sure does come across as really big and time-consuming game, but it played fast and I lost track of the time!” Another Parent Geek said, “This is one of the few Euro-style games you have shared with us that makes sense to me.” Indeed, all the Parent Geeks liked the game’s theme and mentioned several times how much fun it was to be soaring over a fantasy world in a giant airship. The game was well received at the family gaming table and with just the Parent Geeks when they played with their peers. The game’s length makes Fantasy Frontier a bit longer than what many of our players would consider a “casual game playing experience”, but the Parent Geeks made the time to play the entire game through. Several, actually. All the Parent Geeks voted to approve the game, finding it to be challenging and fun with surprises and adventure around every tile.
The Gamer Geeks were pretty much “OK” with the game. It didnt’ thrill them, nor did it displease them. According to one Gamer Geek, “The theme feels pasted on but the game’s gears are solid and it plays very well. I just wish there was something new here.” That is an excellent point and I dived a bit deeper into it with my Gamer Geek group. Due to having played so many games, the Gamer Geeks seldom see anything new anymore. This doesn’t displease them, as they all have favorite game play styles they prefer and purposely seek out. What does get them a bit miffed is the use of overly used game mechanisms. Fantasy Frontier uses nothing new and everything in the box and in the rules has been seen before in countless other games. Not one-to-one, you understand. Fantasy Frontier is by no means a copycat. Honestly, there are only so many game rules and ways to play a game. Fantasy Frontier uses tried and true game play that is solid. I encouraged the Gamer Geeks to look past their own personal disappointment in not finding something new and focus on the game’s play and challenge. When they did, they had nothing bad to say about Fantasy Frontier. According to one Gamer Geek, “The game works, plays well, and you have to use tactics and strategy to win. You have to play smart and be smarter than your opponents, but there is also a race-like aspect that I enjoy. It’s a good game and I bet I’d like it a lot more if I played it 10 years ago.” All the Gamer Geeks agreed and voted to approve the game for its solid rules, solid game play, and depth. Zero points for originality, however.
It’s hard to get excited about a game when it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the final results from all our groups clearly show that the game is a good one. The level of excitement the game brought to the table depended on how long the individual has been playing games. Our Child Geeks were thrilled with the game, our Parent Geeks were fascinated, and our Gamer Geeks were simply unmoved. In the end, the game’s worth is going to be dependent on three important things, in my opinion.
First, the game’s theme. Fantasy Frontier is set in a fantasy world, but the world and its people never play a big role. It’s simply a setting that hangs in the background and is further supported by wonderful artwork, but never jumps to the forefront. Some will dislike that because they want a game that has a deep theme and narrative that is part of the players’ experience. Especially when the game is suggesting it’s in a fantasy world. No dragons, wizards, or witches live in Fantasy Frontier. Lots of turkeys, apparently, but not the talking or the magical kind. Some players simply won’t care and are more concerned with the game play rather than its theme or narrative.
Second, the game’s use of solid and well-used game rules. Not a single gear, knob, switch, or bit in this game is brand new. Everything is based off of previously seen and very well development game mechanisms. The game benefits from this by being able to provide solid game play right out of the box. Believe me when I say the Gamer Geeks attempted to break the game. They couldn’t. The game rules are exceptionally tight, and other than a few rule clarifications in the rule book, there is nothing negative about it. For the more elitist gamer, lack of bringing anything new to the table will make the game seem somewhat unnecessary or worse yet, boring. Of course, if the player likes all the rules in Fantasy Frontier, they are going to have a great time with the game.
Third, the game can feel a bit repetitive after a few plays. The world itself always looks different thanks to the random Terrain tiles, but the way you interact with the Terrain tiles and how you score victory points never changes. Essentially, it’s like always performing the same dance with a slightly different song. There is not enough randomization in the game to suggest that each game playing experience will be “uniquely” unique. I personally don’t see this as a problem as the average game took about an hour to complete. I don’t tend to play games that take that long more than once or twice a month. If the game is only being played that often, then I don’t think any of this will be a concern. If a player has a very active gaming group and this game makes it to the table a lot, it’ll quickly be seen as repetitive.
Given all this, what are my personal feelings on Fantasy Frontier? Simply put, I enjoyed it. I’m not overly thrilled by it, but I have yet to have anything less than a good time when I put it on the table. Very telling when you consider that the version of the game I am playing is a prototype with game components that are in no way close to what the final game will look like. The provided artwork is stunning and what is planned to be included in the box is going to make your eyes water with tears of joy. I look forward to seeing this game being made and placed in front of our groups in its final fully published glory. It provided solid game play and its fantasy’ish Euro-style feel appealed to many in our groups, appealed to me, and I bet it’ll appeal to you, too.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.