The Alpha is a game by Ralph Rosario, published by Bicycle. It is for 3-6 players. In this game, players will take on the role of a pack of hungry wolves as they attempt to hunt and scavenge for food. Of course some times, that’ll mean coming into conflict with other wolf packs where a player’s wolves can become injured and need to rest and heal. In the end, the player that can best unleash their wild side and gain the most food by the end of the game will be declared the winner.
To begin, the Food Tracker board is placed in the middle of the play area. Each player is given a Den board, Alpha Pair, 6 Beta Wolves and a Conflict token of the same color. Each player places one of their Beta Wolves on the grey stone 5 space on the board. They will place the remaining Beta Wolves, along with their Alpha Pair onto their Den Board which is placed in front of themself. The Weeks Left token is placed on the yellow 5 space in the upper right corner of the board. The Region tiles are placed next to the board based on the number of players. Large and Medium Region tiles are placed above the board beside the Deep Forest area, while Small, Scavenge and Livestock Region tiles are placed below the board beside the Near Forest area. The Region Dice that match the colors of the Region tiles are placed next to them. The first player is chosen and is given the Conflict token, play now begins.
The game is played over several rounds. Each round is broken up into 5 phases. The first phase is the Stalk phase. In this phase, players will place their wolves on Region tiles to establish dominance. Starting with the first player, each player will place either a beta wolf or an alpha pair from their Den board onto one of the region tiles. This continues in turn order until each player has placed all of their wolves from their den. It should be noted that beta wolves count as 1 and an alpha pair counts as 2 when it comes to region control. There are a couple of other things of note. When a player places either a beta wolf or alpha pair onto a region tile in the Deep Forest, they must pay 1 food by moving their wolf down one space on the Food track. If a player is at 0 food, they can not place a wolf into the Deep Forest. Only 1 wolf per pack may be placed on each of the Scavenge regions. The large region tiles require 5 wolves in order to roll the dice for food in those regions. These 5 wolves may come from multiple packs in order to meet the requirements. The Livestock tile may only contain 1 wolf total. Finally any wolves that are healing from injuries may not be placed onto a region.
This brings us to the next phase, establishing dominance. In this phase, each player will count up the number of wolves they have on each Region tile, making sure to count the alpha pair as 2. The pack that has the most wolves on a tile, is considered the Dominant Pack. In cases of a tie, they’re both considered dominant. The other wolves on the region are now considered Scavenger Packs.
The third phase is the chase phase. In this phase the Dominant Pack for each region will roll the die that matches the color of that particular region. If multiple packs are dominant, then the dominant player closest to the player with the Alpha token will roll. The die roll will result in 1 of 4 outcomes. These are explained in more detail in the rulebook, along with a visual aid. Just in brief, a die roll can result in a number of food becoming available. It can mean that the prey escaped and no food is gained. It can mean that the region’s prey was wounded and will become Carrion in the next round, resulting in a Conflict between wolves on that region. Finally it can mean that a wolf in the region has died and is removed from the game. Once the die is rolled, it placed on the region tile for the next phase.
The next phase is the resolve phase. In this phase each Region tile is resolved starting with the smallest Region and ending with the largest one. To resolve the tile, if there are no wolves on the Region, then players move on to the next Region. If the hunt was successful and there is only 1 Dominant Pack, then that player advances their wolf on the Food Tracker a number of spaces equal to the number shown on the Region Dice. If there multiple Dominant Packs in a Region, then those packs will have a Conflict. When a Conflict happens, players must determine whether they will fight for the food or share it. They start by determining how much food is at stake. That amount is equal to the number on the Region die. If a C is rolled on the die, then the small number by the C is the amount. Players will then secretly choose whether to fight or share using their Conflict tokens. They will then simultaneously reveal their tokens. If all packs share, then food is distributed one at a time starting with the player closest to the Alpha and continuing in turn order. If only one pack chose to fight, then that pack receives all the food. If two or more packs chose to fight, then one wolf from each fight pack is wounded, placing them on the Injured Wolf space on the Food Track. Neither of these packs will receive food. Food is distributed evenly between any Dominant Packs that chose to share. If all packs chose fight, then all the food is lost. One thing of note, if gaining food puts a pack above 30 food, then that player places their wolf marker back on the 1 space, laying it down on it’s side to indicate that they are over 30 food. One more thing to note, if all other Dominant packs are injured in a fight, then the Scavenger packs will divide the food evenly between themselves. If at any time the food does not divide evenly, then the leftover food is given one at a time to any pack that received food in the Region, starting with the Alpha and moving forward in turn order.
The final phase is the advance phase. In this phase, all wolves remaining on the Region tiles are returned to their player’s Den boards. Any wolves in the Healing Wolves space are returned back to their den. Any wolves in the Injured Wolves space are moved to the Healing Wolves space. The Weeks Left Token is then moved 1 space down on the Weeks Left portion of the board. The Alpha token is then passed to the player with the most food. If there is a tie, then it goes to the player closest to the Alpha in turn order. A new round will then begin.
The game continues until the Weeks Left token reaches zero. Players will then check the Food Tracker and the player with the most food is the winner.
This game has some really nice looking pieces to it. First there are all the region and conflict tokens. The region tokens are good sized, some of which are a good bit larger than the others. Each one has a great image of an animal that the wolf packs will be hunting, such as a moose, deer or hare. These tiles are double sided so on the back side there is a dead carcass for carrion. Livestock and Scavenge tiles are only single sided. The back sides of these are just plain white. The Alpha and Weeks Left tokens are also cardboard and are round just like the conflict tokens. The conflict tokens are color coordinated with the player’s wolves. Speaking of which, another great set of pieces that comes with this game are the wolf meeples. There are two types of these, the regular wolves and the alpha pairs. These are all color coordinated in 6 different player colors. The wolves look like little wolves, while the alpha pair are two wolves sitting and howling at the moon together. These are absolutely awesome looking and are my absolute favorite parts of the game. The game also comes with some colored dice that appear to be screen printed. Not sure how long the printing on these will last, but so far I haven’t had any problems. I really would have preferred etched dice so that the images wouldn’t go away with time. Hopefully these will last and be really good. Next there are the Den boards that each player starts the game off with. I kind of think with all the great artwork on the other pieces of the game, that these could have used a bit more color and life to them as well. Unfortunately I feel that they sort of missed the mark just a bit. They’re good quality and quite thick but could have used a dash more color than just the drab browns that they received. Finally there’s the board. This folds out into 4 sections and the artwork looks quite nice on it. There are all these wolf prints for keeping track of the food and sections for injured wolves and those that are healing, as well as spots for the weeks left in the hunt. The board is really well done and I like the design for it. One last thing I should mention is that inside the box, this games has a really nicely designed insert that holds everything together in a very organized way. There are slots for each player’s wolf meeples and other places for the different tokens. The board even fits into a specific slot to hold it all together. Overall I’m really amazed at how nice this game looks and the quality of the different pieces that are included. This one, for the most part, has surprised me. I think the quality is excellent and the game is pretty well designed. There’s not much that I can say negative about it.
8 out of 10
The rulebook for this game is only 8 pages long. It’s not that big and is easy and quick to read through. The book has a few smaller pictures inside it, as well as a couple of examples of gameplay. The rules aren’t all that difficult to understand and are presented in a step by step process that’s fairly easy to follow. The one thing that I really wish had been included was a reference card or sheet or even something on the back of the rulebook for the explanation of the die results, just to be able to remind you of what each symbol means. Another thing that I wish had been included is rules for 2 players and for solo play. Sometimes I just want to play something by myself or with just my daughter. For those instances, a game like this would be fun if it included rules for those player counts. As it is, I think the book does a good job with the presentation. Overall it gets the job done in a quick and concise way.
8 out of 10
When I think of area control games, I think of all those so called, Dudes on a Map games, full of lots of miniatures. While this game is not full of miniatures, it is full of fun. Knowing when and where to place your wolves is a lot of what this game is about. However it’s also about taking risks to fight for dominance and knowing when it’s the right time to take that risk. While sharing food can earn you lots of food, being the only one to fight can earn big rewards. Strategy is the key. That said, this game does involve a bit of luck too. The roll of the dice can go your way and provide plenty of food, or it can mean that your wolves go hungry this round. In this game you simply place your wolves, figure out who has the majority in a spot and then roll the die for the area. If there is more than one dominant pack then you can choose to fight or share. Depending on what each player chose, determines who gets food and who doesn’t. After that it’s simply clean up, heal your injured wolves and start a new round. That’s a pretty simple summary, but there’s not much more to it than that. That’s one thing that I like about this game, it’s very simplistic in it’s design. I also like the theme. While it’s not overly heavy, it has a nice feel to it. Granted, this game could have been pretty much about anything. It could have been about soldiers taking over different strategic positions or it could have been about food trucks choosing the best locations to serve their customers. Either of these I think would have been fun ideas, however I really like the idea of playing as a pack of wolves. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s hyped up on the theme of this one. The artwork and the meeples help to bring this game to life in a wonderful way. While area control isn’t one of my favorite game mechanics, this is a game that I’ve come to enjoy. I do think that area control fans will enjoy this one quite a bit, especially those animal lovers of the group. This is one that I would recommend. It’s an excellent game that friends and families can enjoy together, without taking too much time to play. Overall, I quite like the game and look forward to unleashing my inner wolf again.
8 out of 10
The Alpha is a light weight game of area control that will unleash your inner wolf. The game doesn’t take a very long time to play. Most game sessions last around 30-45 minutes. The artwork and wolf meeples look great and are a lot of fun to play with. The rulebook also looks good and is easy to read through and understand. The game itself is full of fun and does a great job of introducing the area control mechanic to new players. The game isn’t overly complex so players of all ages should have no trouble with this one. This is a great family game that I think fans of area control will really enjoy. This is one that I would recommend. It’s a really good game that will have you howling with delight.
8 out of 10
For more information about this and other great games, please check out Bicycle at their site.