An alpha experience with zeta components
Late to the party, I tried Terraforming Mars not long ago and found myself instantly in love, regretting I hadn’t played it sooner. From its sci-fi theme, tightly interlaced with simultaneously co-operative and competitive gameplay, to its engine-building element, the pace of which is controlled by the players themselves, Terraforming Mars left me asking for more of the same. Beta Colony answered.
In Beta Colony, the players are similarly improving the viability of a planet by mining its moons for resources and building pods on its surface. The hexagonal tiles used to signify the areas that players control will look familiar to anyone who has tried Terraforming Mars before. Here, however, the similarities in gameplay between the two games end. Beta Colony manages to replicate the theme and some of the feel of Terraforming Mars while also successfully standing apart.
During their turn, players take four coloured dice that determine their choices for that round. One die is used for movement around the action track – represented by your ship orbiting around the planet – while the second determines how well that action is performed.
Based on this alone, there several options to consider. Some spaces earn bonus victory points if they are activated with a particular colour dice; others give bonus resources. When buying pods to populate the planet, the dice value determines from which row the pods can be chosen. However – and this is such a refreshing feeling – rolling a six on a die is not always good. Dice values primarily correspond to different marketplaces that players have access to and, as items in those markets are random, rolling a one can be more worthwhile than a six, depending on what players are looking to do.
Even when rolling a higher number on the dice generates more resources, there are plenty of ways for players to manipulate the dice to avoid the luck of the roll completely defining their choices. Fuel can alter the number of spaces players can move and there are plenty of bonuses to go around if you match the colours correctly.
A twist to the dice-rolling mechanic that I haven’t seen any other games do before is that players use the same combination of dice colour and value during that round. While no two players will ever have the same turn – there are just too many options and goals to aim for! – this still makes the game feel fairer. It is akin to giving every player the same number of resources and letting them spend them as they will. Everyone starts on equal ground and uses their wits to progress further.
Matching colours correctly is definitely the key to doing well in Beta Colony. The colours of dice matter, as do the colours of the pods and the type of the terrain they are placed onto. Given how much planning and colour co-ordination that takes, limiting players to just two actions per round is a great move. There is just enough to plan and think about to tickle the brain, but not enough to overtax players or make rounds confusing.
With its absolutely superb, challenging and even innovative gameplay, the quality of Beta Colony’s components is a real disappointment. While the thin cards and lack of any kind of box insert (or even some extra plastic bags to make setup quicker) can be overlooked, there were just too many chipped wooden tokens to ignore. It feels like the gameplay embraces players, while the component quality pushes them from the game before they get the chance fall in love with how it plays.
There may have been an oversight on quality control, but every other part of Beta Colony is top of the range. It brings bright colours to dark space and finds a way to turn luck into strategy, managing to stay unique and fresh while doing so.
PLAY IT? – YES
Beta Colony only misses being a must-play due to its poor component quality. Otherwise, this is a fantastic game that surprises, challenges and impresses from the first turn.
Designer: Ben Pinchback, Matt Riddle
Artist: James Davis
Time: 30-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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