This is a game that accomplishes so much, with such subtlety, that it becomes weirdly ephemeral. It is an elegant Euro-style game of resource management, but it's also all about rolling a bunch of dice. Everything you could do is based on the luck of your roll, yet it doesn't feel random and doesn't have heavy swings of fortune--instead the overall pace is one of tight, rising drama. There is an aspect of strategic engine building and area control and direct player conflict, without any actual battles. The mechanics are so well-thought out and balanced that you would think it'd be dry and without theme, yet instead the game is ricn with a pulpy, sci-fi theme. It holds so many strengths, without being especially strong in any one particular way.
So, ultimately, Alien Frontiers is hard to describe. But I don't mean this in a lazy "I don't wanna spend the time to find the words for it." I mean it in a literal sense. It is the boardgame version of an album heard in your friends car as you fall asleep on some late night road trip, and years later you can remember the tone of the guitar, and the peaceful wonder of that overall moment, but know no other words to help place the artist or the song.
Copycat is an incredibly clever, tactile, and fun game by my absolute favorite designer: Friedemann Friese. It has a great theme, but it mostly implied. This is not a theme-rich game or political simulation. Rather, the joy of Copycat is in appreciating the design and how all the various mechanics interact. The rules can sound baffling when described, but makes absolute intuitive sense within a couple rounds. From that point on, play moves incredibly quickly. I like this game because it balances strategy and tactics well and wakes the brain quite quickly, while still feeling like something you can play casually in the morning on your patio while drinking tea (if you have a large enough patio table. And if you have a patio. And also tea.)
I also like this game because of it's design history: Friedemann is a beautiful art-punk, but specifically within the boardgaming medium. He makes absurd metatextual jokes, maintains a strong personality throughout all his titles, and puts in subversive content within the mechanics of a game itself and not just the theme. He also maintains a reverence to the medium and pushes the boundaries in a way that feels like true idiosyncratic artistry.
Copycat is a great example of this. Friedemann became fascinated with the reusability of mechanics across games, and whether you could use random existing ideas to make something new. So Copycat is literally 4 of 5 different mechanics from other games (that he did not design)lifted whole cloth and arranged to make this new game. There is a brazen lack of originality, he is not pretending to do something new at all with Copycat (and credits the rules and games from the start). And yet the game still feels new and fresh, and unlike any of the games that he stole from. And in doing so, he created a boardgame that is also a loving, post-modern collage. So the history of the game's design feeds directly into its theme of about plagiarism, respect, and shitty politicians. I just love it.
(Side note: Friedemann would continue this exploration of reusable themes within the shifting mechanics of Fabled Fruit. This exploration reached its apex in his MASTERPIECE (and mind boggler) 504.)
Friedemann's first boardgame. You can see how some of the ideas were later refined in Power Grid, and it has a pleasant amount of luck that is rare in a Friese game. I love this one, and the art is incredibly charming.