Updated: Sep 2
There will come a time, centuries from now, when we'll look back at our exploitation of other planets and our subjugation of alien species with shame, even disgust. For now, however, with a beckoning galaxy, we look on exoplanets and their resources as ripe for the picking. This remains the acceptable face of colonialism.
In Dark Frontier's Amass, 1-6 players are competing with each other and, for two-player and solo play, an AI bot to mine a distant planet for its mineral resources. You'll not just be fighting off the claims of rival prospecting corporations; the planet (termed 'Planet X' - either due to a lapse of imagination or a desire to preserve commercial confidentiality) is not some barren uninhabited world. Planet X has a native population. The natives are sentient. We recognise their nuisance value as they try to sabotage our mining of their planet but we do not recognise them as worthy of any rights.
It's a familiar scenario and there are elements of Richard Davis' game design that you'll recognise as building on established science fiction tropes as well as games that have come before. The novelty in Amass is the fresh way in which it combines familiar mechanics, including hand management, hidden simultaneous worker placement and dice combat, within a coherent theme. And the theme comes through consistently in Amass, despite the design's push to abstraction: it's not just the planet that given a nondescript ID, the resources you are mining are only ever referred to blandly as coloured resource cubes!
Simultaneous worker placement, with each players' choices hidden by their screen, means you don't know whether or not your choice of location will be opposed. Do you focus strength on potentially high-value locations, on the expectation that you'll have to fight for the resources there and may come away empty handed, or do you place workers out instead at less valuable and potentially less contested locations? There are push-your-luck decisions to be made and there's plenty of scope for bluff and counter-bluff table talk.
Player-versus-player combat relies on standard d6 dice rolls with players comparing their highest dice rolls as in Risk (Hasbro) but players' cards may include some that directly affect combat, including cards that completely override dice rolls to deliver an automatic victory. The knowledge that your opponent may be holding such a card in reserve adds an extra frisson to combat; and to tactical considerations of when to strike and in what numbers. Defeated crew members are considered wounded and have to recover before they can be remobilised...
The familiar mechanics make Amass a game that's easy to pick up. There's enough here to fully engage hardened gamers but Dark Frontier have managed the trick here of pulling off a game that can be played and enjoyed equally by pre-teen children.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)