First Contact began life as a push your luck dice adventure game where players start the game with a hero card on the table that they would modify by playing other cards that represent armor and weapons that would all them to roll dice in combat. Then I read a book called Earth Unaware that dealt with asteroid mining and the push your luck dice rolling system I had in mind just meshed well with the idea of mining and a whole new game was born.
First Contact has gone through many iterations. It was my first design and I struggled with finding ways to prototype the game so lots of “playtesting” happened in my head. Not ideal I know, but it was a great learning process for me. Lots of refining happened in the early versions and by the time I made a playable prototype it actually worked quite well for a first play. It has been playtested multiple times now and had many revisions to it. As it sits now it is a worker placements style game where players have limited workers and may take one action on their turns using these workers.
Here is the current background text found in the rules that will give you the theme of the game:
The new space race has launched: deep space exploration. Organizations quickly began working on starships capable of exploring the deep black but found that the sheer quantities of materials needed to build them weren’t easily obtained on Earth. They looked to the asteroid belt.The Asteroid Deed Administration (ADA) was formed during the early days of the asteroid mining gold rush in response to a rash of violence and lives lost over staking and holding claims in The Belt. It has quelled many of the problems but not all.
Reports of pirates making a quick profit from unwary miners still trickle in. The ADA is also not above corruption, allowing some miners to “gently remove” another ship from an asteroid for a small fee. Only prepared miners stand a chance of surviving to bring their mineral hauls to their home base.
Once moderately-safe mining operations were underway an earth-shattering discovery was made: an alien outpost just beyond the edge of our solar system. We are not alone in the universe. First Contact quickly became the highest priority as it held out the opportunity to act as Earth’s ambassadors and a potential wealth in technology.
As the leader of your organization, your job is to utilize your assets efficiently to obtain the resources and technology you need through mining, trade, research, and combat to build and launch a starship that will get you to the alien outpost. First.
These are the core concepts in the game:
Assets – Assets represent the player’s money, equipment, time, and personnel (“Workers”). They are produced through research and the player must immediately decide how to use them: either as new workers to perform future actions or as upgrades. Players usually receive back any Assets used to take actions (Action Assets) at the end of each round but Assets used for upgrades (Upgrade Assets) are permanent once placed.
Tech Chart – This represents the player’s center of research and development. As players research technology they will gain new Assets that will make them more efficient at producing minerals, constructing their starship, or traveling to the alien outpost but not all. Players must decide what direction they want their research to take them and what benefits they get from progressing through tech levels.
Mining – This is the process by which players obtain minerals (Redite, Blutonium, and Greenium) that are used in constructing their Starship and trade. Players will claim Asteroids and mine them by placing Assets on them and making Mining Rolls.
Crew Members – These represent people with different strengths and abilities a player can recruit to be a member of their team. Crew Members offer unique abilities and upgrades and players will decide which to recruit based on their strategic focus.
The Market – This represents the market of going rates for different minerals. Players can use this to trade for minerals that they need. As minerals are traded their respective rates will change which could provide opportunities for players to make very favorable trades.
Starship Construction – A player’s Starship is represented by four parts. Each part costs a different mix of minerals. Some parts offer benefits but will cost more. Players may redesign their ships during the game to focus on benefits or cost. Once all four parts have been completed the player may launch their Starship.
Combat – This can occur in two forms: Player vs player or player vs Pirate. Players can potentially earn minerals and technology by winning or Combat Cards by losing. When a player successfully attacks another player they will earn piracy points which represent their infamy in the Belt and if they get too many they will have to bribe the ADA or pay the consequences.
Travel to the Alien Outpost – After a player has built and launched their Starship they will begin the journey to the Alien Outpost. Travel is represented by a series spaces that show the passage of time. Players will fill one space each turn with an Asset. Players will have to navigate through several events that may delay their travel progress until they can meet its requirements. When a player reaches the last space (which is on the Alien Outpost) they have made first contact and are declared the winner.
I think this last item is the weakest point in the game. I haven’t yet come up with what I think is a good way for this last leg of the game to have the tension I want. This is where my current focus is in the design process.