Beta Colony

Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Designers: Ben Pinchback & Matt Riddle

Ages: 14+

Players: 2-4

Duration: 40-80 mins

You escaped… you and a crew from the tyrants that took control of Earth, and just barely. Aboard the Class II Jumpship, The Ridback, you travel across the galaxy, and you have finally found it. A planet… one that looks inhabitable. You’ve established a few colonies, but the real task is to establish a bigger colony: a Beta Colony. And the person who establishes the most confidence will be crowned the leader of this planet: the one we have chosen to call Victus: Latin for “way of life”.

Beta Colony is a area control/tile placement game that uses a rondel mechanic, but with a twist: it uses dice for the rondel movement and action selection, and they call it a “roll-dell”. It’s a clever twist on the mechanic, and make for very interesting gameplay. But is that enough to make it stand out and lift off to new heights?

What’s in the box?

Inside the box there is a board, a starter player marker and a round marker, 72 resources, 40 colonization tiles, 5 player mats, 30 fuel tokens, 16 artifact tokens, 16 player markers (4 for each player), 4 spaceships (1 per player), 60 crew members (15 per player), 16 dice (4 per player), 8 cultural tokens and matching cards and 9 cycle cards.

Look at all those wooden pieces… so many wooden pieces…

The components are solid, with nice wooden pieces and thick cardboard. The cards don’t feel like cards, more like thin tiles. The player boards are the same, and while they are thinner than mot games (they’re about the same as Castles of Burgundy), they work. The art, while its well done and the graphic design is excellent, the rest of the art just feels a little generic. Not even like modern generic… like 1990’s generic. It’s well done and all, but so many of these science fiction games look the same, and it doesn’t make it stand out too much, which is a shame. The wooden spaceships however are large and really stand out on the board. Overall, the components are great and while the art could be better, it still works well and has a excellent layout.

So how do you play?

To set up the game, place the game board out and shuffle all the colonization tiles, and draw 8 to fill the spaces on the game board. Draw one of the 3 cycle card for each cycle and place it on its spot on the board. Sort the fuel, artifacts and resources into 3 piles, and place the round marker on round 1. Then place out all 4 statue cards and the stack of 4 building cards with one card face up, and the cultural achievement tiles beside it. After the board is set up randomly choose a starting player and give them the start player marker. Each player takes a player mat (in reverse turn order), and their ship, crew and 4 markers, placing one before each of the 4 tracks. Each player also receives 1 die of each colour, a fuel, and 2 randomly selected materials. In reverse turn order, each player places their ship on a spot on one of the 7 locations: no 2 ships may be placed on the same spot. Now it’s time to start the game.

Beta Colony is played over 3 cycles, with 3 rounds per cycle making it 9 total rounds. Each round, the starting player will roll all 4 of their dice, and all the other players will change their dice to match their roll. Now, you will use 2 dice per turn to perform an action: one of the die will be used to move your ship to a new location, and the second die will be used to perform the action on that space. I’ll explain all the action spaces in more detail:

  • Gan De: use a die number 1-4 to receive a steel or organic resource, or 5-6 to receive 2 of the above resources (1 of each or 2 of 1 kind). Using the green die here will also give you an extra point.
  • Jyo: use a die number 1-4 to receive a food or palladium resource, or 5-6 to receive 2 of the above resources (1 of each or 2 of 1 kind). Using the blue die here will also give you an extra point.
  • Nebra: use a die number 1-4 to receive a water or polymer resource, or 5-6 to receive 2 of the above resources (1 of each or 2 of 1 kind). Using the red die here will also give you an extra point.
  • The Ridback: Use a 1-2 die to get 1 fuel, 3-4 die to get 2 fuel or 5-6 die to get 3 fuel
  • Azophi Nexus: Use any number die to take any resource of your choice and a fuel, OR build a cultural achievement. Using the black die here will also
  • Manufactory (2x): Build a pod by using the number to die to buy a tile on the row corresponding to die you are using: pay the matching resource, and then also pay the matching resource on the spot on which you are building the tile.
This is where you will be taking the actions for the game… the mighty rondel!

That’s a simple overview, but lets talk about movement and fuel: you use the first dice to move, and must move clockwise as many spots as there are numbers on the dice. Fuel is a modifier: it allows you to change your die value up or down for each fuel, and there is no limit to the amount of fuel that can be used per turn, and it can be used for movement and actions. If you choose not to take an action, move any 2 dice and gain a fuel: you are docked for that turn.

So while most of the actions are simple, let’s focus on the 2 that are more complicated: the Manufactory and Azophi Nexus. When you build a tile with the Manufactory, you may place it anywhere on the 3 colonies (as long as you have the resource required). When you do, you will place a crew member on the pod (or 2 on some special pods, or none on some), and then take any bonuses depicted on the tile. There is also a number printed on the tile: you will move up that many spaces on the track for that colony, and if you place it next to the colony center or next to a match colour pod, you will gain a bonus movement on the track. Collect any bonuses you land or pass on the track. The crew members will count for scoring at the end of the game for each colony.

So you bought the blue tile and want to put it on Cuzco… best bet would be use the blue cube and put it on the water tile next to the other blue tile, and score an extra influence

Azophi Nexus lets you build cultural achievements: pay its cost (buildings require materials while statues require artifacts), and place its marker on a colony by paying the resource of the colour you are placing it on, and place a crew member there. The cards will provide points at the end of the game, and you may build a maximum of 2 in the game.

After you take an action, the next player will take their actions and it goes around until each player has taken 2 actions. Then the round maker moves down one spot, the first player token is passed and the the new starting player rolls their dice and the new round begins.

These are the cultural achievements and tiles… but remember, you may only build 2!

As I mentioned before, there are 3 cycles of 3 rounds. when each cycle starts, there will either be a bonus for the beginning of the cycle (like all players move up a spot on one track, or gain a bonus resource from a location for that cycle), and a ability to get points at the end of that cycle (that can be from having crew in certain areas, or having a set number of artifacts or so on). when the last round of the cycle ends, evaluate the card and move your score marker accordingly.

After the 9th round, score any points from cultural achievements you got during the game, and score the 3 colonies: how scoring works is different than a lot of area control games, as you will look at who has the least amount of crew in that colony and all other players will count how many more than that they have, and get points. For example, black and white have 2, blue has 4 and purple has 6. For each crew member above 2, you get 1 point for the 1st, 2 for the 2nd, 3 for the 3rd, 4 for the 4th and 5 for the 5th for a maximum 15 points. So blue would get 3 points (1+2) and purple would get 10 (1+2+3+4). Score all 3 colonies, and any leftover artifacts are one point each. Whoever has the highest total points is the winner!

End game scoring! The lower it black, so they get no points. Purple and white have 3 each, so they score 1 point each, Blue has 5, so they can score 3 of their crew (5 minus 2). First crew is 1 point, second is 2 and third is 3, for a total of 6 points.

Also important to note, each player board has 2 player powers: one is always gaining a extra resource at a location, and the other is a special one (one makes the black die be a 6 when collection resources with it, one allows you to move counterclockwise, etc). Also, you may only have a maximum of 10 resources at once on your board.

Is it any good?

When I first saw Beta Colony, I was intrigued but at the same time, I wasn’t as drawn to it as much because of the art. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi themes, but this one didn’t call to me instantly… and then I played it…

And when I played Beta Colony, I instantly fell in love. The game looked heavier than it is, and I was surprised at how simple the mechanics actually were, and that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying theres no strategy, because there a lot. It’s just that you don’t have to overthink your moves, and you only get 4 dice and have to use 2 of them per round, so your options are limited per round (unless you have fuel). But the best part is that everyone starts with the same dice every round, and that makes the game extremely balanced. No one is gonna be like “Crap, I got all 1’s and they have all 6’s” because if 1’s are rolled… EVERYONE gets 1’s.

Here are 2 player board, and remember that everyone follows the starting player’s dice!

The rondel mechanic is really great, and using it for actions works great. It’s nice to have 4 dice, because it does give you some variety to start. It’s also nice having 2 Manufactory spots, because building is so essential and you’re gonna be doing it a lot, and they’re right across from each other. The building and scoring is also great, as you can get some nice bonuses from the tracks and score some good points. I also really love the scoring for the colonies. Unlike most area control games, this really works for 2 players, because even if you’re not gonna win the area you can add crew there to keep your opponent from getting more points. The endgame scoring is one of the best parts of this game.

The game plays well at all player counts, and is really fast with 2 and 3 for the kind of game it is. 4 is also great, but I feel it can kind of drag out a little. 3 is my favourite so far, but I would play it at any player count. It’s tight and concise, and has a good balance between on the fly tactics and long term strategy.

There’s one rule that just kinda didn’t work for me… and it’s actually one I missed in the book, and just assumed it was like most games. I assumed the fuel would modify the dice from a 6 to a 1 and vice-versa, similar to games like Castles of Burgundy. The rulebook says it can go up or down, but allows you to move it past the maximum value of the dice. With only 7 spaces on the location board, having a maximum of 6 available movements means you can’t take the same location twice in one round. It makes total sense from a design perspective to allow a 6 to become a 1 and vice-versa. After discovering my mistake, I played it how the instructions are written and it just seemed wrong to me… I don’t always house-rule games, but in this case I will. Call it a variant, but I much prefer it that way and it makes a lot more sense to me.

The only real negative thing that I see in this game is the art… and it’s a shame. Even the box art looks generic… and we know that Rio Grande has made amazing box covers like Roll for the Galaxy. It’s too bad, because it makes a great game like this seem almost lost in a sea of games, when it could have stood out more. I said it looks like something out of the 1990’s… to the point like the graphics even look like they belong in a 90’s tv show or game. It just doesn’t stand out.  That being said… the board is huge, and the layout and graphical layout makes it very easy to navigate, and nothing gets lost on the board. I wish more games made big boards like this… but with better art. I really like the graphic layout and how well everything is done and accessible. Just feels like they went out all function without style. But it does function really well.

You’ll want to run to your ship and go for another round around the rondel… it’s a great game.

All in all, I’m glad I was able to dive deep and see what an amazing game this is. Beta Colony is one of the best rondel mechanics in any game, mixes mechanics seamlessly and is a great experience. It could have looked better while doing it, but that doesn’t stop it from being very enjoyable. I highly recommend this game, especially as it seems to be overlooked and a hidden gem. So go settle some colonies, you’ll be glad you did. I know I was, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Pros:

  • Looks complex and heavy, but is actually very simple and runs very smoothly.
  • Limited actions (only 18 the whole game) make the game feel tight.
  • Game is quick (at least for 2 and 3 players) and has a great mix of strategy and tactics.
  • Every player having the same dice values makes the game very balanced.

Cons:

  • Art is good, but feels a little generic and dated for a sci-fi game.
  • 4 player game can drag a little and get chaotic.

*Thank you to Rio Grande Games for supplying a copy of Beta Colony for this review. You can find out more about them and their amazing games by clicking here *

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