“Bring ‘er around! Swing those cannons to starboard! Put everything you’ve got into those guns and fire on that ship!”
At some point in everyone’s life they dream about being an airship captain. The rushing wind, the beautiful landscape below, and the sense of adventure is enough to send anyone to the skies with ambition. There’s a wild journey waiting out there, but be warned: you’re not the only one searching for it. You’ll encounter others in the deep blue skies that will seek to stake their own claim on the Earth below. That’s the idea with Fantasy Frontier by Gamelyn Games. It’s time to don your airship garb, load your cannons, and get ready to head to the surface below to collect resources and build your own townships in a fantastic world of adventure!
Inside the box for Fantasy Frontier you’ll find:
- 4 Airship Player Boards
- 4 Airships
- 12 Townships
- 20 Airship Damage Markers
- 20 Workers
- 8 Combat Victory Point Markers
- 48 Resource Tokens
- 35 Research Cards
- 80 Terrain Tiles
- 1 Combat Die
- 3 Resource Dice
- 1 Draw Bag
- 1 Rulebook
Flying Across the Frontier (How It Plays)
In Fantasy Frontier players choose from one of four different factions, each with their own unique airship and strengths. The goal of the game is to be the first player to score 40 Victory Points, which can be achieved by establishing Townships, claiming Research cards, and successfully engaging in combat with other players. At its heart, Fantasy Frontier is a worker placement game. Each turn players will place their workers on different locations on their airship and perform various tasks.
At the beginning of the game players choose their faction and take its matching airship, workers, and Township pieces. They then draw 1 map card from the Research deck to start the game with. These map cards show a set of tiles arranged in a certain way that can be claimed for Victory Points during the game. Finally, each player draws 2 Terrain tiles. Once this preparation is complete the board will be set.
The starting player, determined by a dice roll, will place their 2 Terrain tiles on the table to start forming the game board. These tiles can be placed in any arrangement the player wishes, as long as the tiles are adjacent to one another. The second player follows suit, though her tiles do not have to be adjacent to one another as long as they are adjacent to an already existing tile. The final players will continue this until all players have placed their Terrain tiles. This will create the game board, or the “surface below” as I like to call it.
Each Terrain tile has a specific type of terrain printed on it: plains, forest, mountains, and water. The type of terrain on the tile will determine what sort of resources it produces, which comes in handy later. With the game board set, it’s time to get these airships up into the sky!
Fantasy Frontier is played out in a series of turns, during which a player will assign all five of their workers to different tasks on the airship. Only one worker may be assigned to a task at a time, though there are multiple locations for the same type of task. Once a player assigns all of his workers, the tasks are carried out according to which phase they are a part of. Here’s a breakdown:
- Phase 1 (Single Dot) – The following are completed in any order: Place Terrain Tiles, Pilot, Blast Ground, Attack, Repair, Consume Food, Play a Development Card
- Phase 2 (Double Dot) – The following are completed in any order: Exit (gather resources and/or build a Township), Consume Food, Play a Development Card
- Phase 3 (Triple Dot) – The following are completed in any order: Research, Scout
Phase 1 tasks all happen before Phase 2 tasks, and so on. After a player has resolved the tasks of all assigned workers, his turn is finished and play passes to the left. Assigning your workers basically determines what you get to do in a turn. Placing Terrain tiles will help you satisfy map cards, but you can also Blast Ground to blow up a Terrain tile that is in the way. Exiting allows the workers placed in that task area to jump down to the surface and gather resources, which are used to build Townships. You’ll roll the resource die of the Terrain tile your worker is on and whatever you roll you gain in resources.
While searching for resources it’s very likely you’ll pick up some food. Fish and Turkey Legs are quite useful while on an expedition way up in the clouds, as it turns out. Consuming food tokens on your turn allows for some different boons: Fish allow you to perform an additional task with an already spent worker, and Turkey Legs allow you to re-roll die rolls (attack or resource), discard Terrain tiles and replace them, or discard Research cards and replace them.
Piloting your airship lets you travel to different tiles, the main idea being that you’ll be in a better spot down the road to gather resources when needed. You can also assign workers to man your airship’s cannons and attack your opponents that are in range. Attacking successfully (a combat die roll resulting in a higher number than your opponent’s airship’s defense) will earn you a Victory Point, and it will damage your opponent’s airship. Damaged locations can’t be used until they are repaired. You can also choose to attack your opponent’s cargo, resulting in being able to steal resources from them.
On your turn you can also perform Research, which allows you to draw a card from the Research deck. These cards will either be map cards that you can claim for Victory Points, or development cards that add special abilities to your airship. During the first two phases of resolving worker tasks you can play development cards to bolster your airship in a myriad of ways, from buffing your attack and defense to being able to move further when Piloting.
Players will be flying about the board, gathering resources, and shooting their cannons until someone has amassed 40 Victory Points, at which point the game immediately ends and that player is the winner!
Is This a Fantasy or Never-Ending Story?
Fantasy Frontier is a game that I, though I try not to, judged by its cover. The artwork is flashy and a bit over-the-top, which really set my mind on a path to Nofunsville. Once I got the game to the table, however, I was really surprised with just how fun it is. I’ve never been good with worker placement games, but Fantasy Frontier makes it easy to decide how you want to play.
Want to go all aggro on your opponents and shoot everything in sight? Go for it. Thinking about staying on the fringe and researching all sorts of cool stuff? Read on, player! Are you determined to build Townships and expand your airship family across the world? Go ahead and get your spread on, fam!
Each faction has its own perks that make it good ad doing something specific. For example:
- The Royal Vanguard (Blue) – Lowers the cost of resources to build a Township to 6 of any resource combination (instead of 2 gold, 2 stone, and 2 wood).
- The Academy (Green) – Increases the hand size of the player from 3 Research cards to 4.
- The Juggernaut (Red) – The airship has +1 defense.
- The Skyflower (Yellow) – The player may move the airship 1 free space, in addition to, or without having to assign a Pilot.
With these perks you can decide to play on a strategy each time you’re flying. What’s even more is that you can dish out airships randomly to each player instead of choosing them, which really spices up the game. The ability to consume food adds more flair to gameplay as well with being able to reassign workers as needed. This helps ease a bit of the pain of worker placement as well as offering a way for players to catch up if they’re behind or their game plan just isn’t working out.
Most of the time I just run The Juggernaut and plan to blow everything out of the sky. With the right development cards I can get my airship to +2 defense and +1 attack, all while being able to shoot farther away than normal (it’s usually adjacent). Then I fly around the board waiting to decimate anything that flies in my path. Even with this simple strategy the game is a ton of fun.
Of course there are other strategies as well, like I mentioned above. It’s just as fun to try and score map tiles by placing Terrain tiles and blowing others up. It’s also fun to drop your workers down to build Townships, which net you 10 Victory Points on their own, a piece. You can even blend it all together and do what works for you on the fly, all with the game remaining enjoyable throughout your play.
I find Fantasy Frontier the most fun as a head-to-head game with 2 players, but adding more doesn’t take the feel away. When it’s played as a 2-player skirmish the game is more about which strategy tops which and less about luck of the draw or being in the moment with the right pieces. I mean, there is a bit of luck involved with the game after all. Rolling the resource dice can be tricky and sometimes downright upsetting. To counter-balance this issue, however, you can always shoot your opponents and steal resources from their cargo holds!
With a high replay value, plenty of options to keep you entertained, and a stylized theme, Fantasy Frontier ended up being a happy surprise for me. It’s a great strategy game that does worker placement right. If you’re looking for a game more infused with luck and less about deciding which play style to go with, this might not be the title for you. Rather if you’re searching for adventure, the thrill of assigning workers to tasks on your airship, and the opportunity to shoot some cannons into the clouds, I definitely think you should give Fantasy Frontier a shot!
Thanks to Game Salute for providing a review copy of Fantasy Frontier for review!
- great quality components
- charming artwork that fulfills the theme
- lots of opportunity to play your way
- plenty of replayability
- heavy on worker placement, but offers ways to circumvent mistakes (food tokens)
- worker placement means high level of strategy
- little luck involved may turn some “lighter” players away
- definitely not a light game, will require some time dedication
- possible to pick a strategy and run with it each game if no randomness is involved (randomly selecting factions)