So... Space. It's been done before. Lots of times. Probably the biggest names in terms of Sci-Fi space are Star Wars and Star Trek, but there are Thousands of different fictional realities that have a space setting in modern media. Just like most any other setting, all the most basic story plots have just been done before, so making yourself stand out among the multitudes as far as board games goes can be difficult. Just about every mechanic has been done before. Just about every theme has been done before too. So how is Space Frontier unique? Well like many before us, John and I have taken elements from things we liked and tried to discard what we didn't. Plus, some little spins of our own.
The first thing John and I decided was that we didn't want our game to be about epic space battles between epic space empires within the endless epicness of space. Not only has that been done to death, but we wanted to tone down to a smaller scale. But not the smallest scale. Many Sci-fi games that aren't about space empires tend to be about a singular ship and customizing it. but John and I actually wanted something in the middle between those 2 extremes that seem to be popular but also overplayed.
Space Frontier takes place within a single solar system rather than a galaxy. While each player controls their own faction, it's not an entire space empire. What the player controls is a command ship, which is their home base and contruction yard, with the exception that since it is also a space ship, it can move around the board just like any vessel. Instead of making singular ships that fly around the map, different ship types are combined into fleets that consist of 1-4 different ships. We found that with less pieces on the board, things were much less cluttered and it also allowed for strategy of fleet composition.
The story has the players very much not in control of their own destiny. An overarching empire controls their every move and constantly pushes "requests" down their throat that have to be completed in a timely fashion. Players want to help each other out to avoid mutual punishment, but they don't want anyone to get too powerful too fast and push themselves out of the running for first. That "just trying to survive in a harsh world" kind of feeling is something that we'd like to push for in the game. That's a lot easier to relate to as a theme than "trying to conquer the universe." Each faction has it's own reasons for being sent here and different motivations with what they want to do if they win over the Empire's favor and eliminate the other players. Of course, the Empire has its own plans.
The despot is a would-be conqueror who considers himself destined to rule... except there's nothing within the Empire that is up for grabs. His only options within the core worlds of humanity are to be a lackey and comply, or be squashed. In this fringe and uncharted galaxy, his potential and opportunities to rule are as good as they're going to get. The despot's ships are bristling with guns and his command ship is just as much a warship as it is a construction yard and harvesting center.
A disgraced General from the Empire, the Militant is unhappy to be sent to this backwater solar system but still grateful for this small chance at redemption. His personal honor has been tarnished and he won't let anyone get in his way to reclaiming his previous rank. The Militant's ships are very basic with little strengths or weaknesses, but they take advantage of superior tactics and complicated formations to win their combats.
The Gatherer just wants to make a profit through efficiency and trade. Unable to seek proper entrepreneurship within the empire, the Gatherer has fled to the fringes of space where dealings are as good as you can make them for yourself and laws are lax or non-existent. The Gatherer's ships are fairly weak in combat but their efficient assembly lines and superior resource harvesting and processing abilities allow them to produce ships at far faster rates than the other factions.
A nomadic people who no longer have a homeworld, the Itinerant have been living in the void of space for generations. They see this new solar system as a chance to free themselves from the oppressive Empire that took their world from them and fled to this place under false oaths of fealty. Their true hope is that they can establish a new home for themselves so far away from the Empire that they can perpetually avoid the full strength of its reach. The Itinerant ships are a mishmash of different designs due to their scavenging and nomadic nature. They are fast, maneuverable, and tricky to pin down, but also have much less hull strength then the other factions.