The Alpha
The Alpha Board Game

Lead your wolf pack on a hunt to become “The Alpha” pack in this light strategy game from Bicycle Games.

The Alpha is a new board game for 3-6 players, ages 10 and up.  Game time is about 45 minutes.  “In the Alpha, players control a wolf pack, leading wolves on a search for food. The Near Forest includes easier to catch, but lower value prey. The Far Forest has larger prey that are more difficult to attack, but if successful can result in great reward.  Players send their wolves to hunt in various regions of the forest and outnumber rival packs to become dominant in the area. Roll the dice for the region to determine the success of the hunt. But beware, if a rival pack is in the region you must decide to fight or share the food.”

The Alpha – Components

What’s in the box?

The box is a typical sized board game box (8″W x 10″H x 2.5″D). The components are excellent, and include a plethora of wooden wolf tokens.  The game board is approximately 25″ wide and 8″ tall when unfolded.

Beautiful Wood Wolf Meeples

Game Contents:

  • 36 Beta Wolves – wooden wolf tokens in six different colors
  • 6 Alpha Pairs – wooden tokens as well
  • 11 Region Tiles – Bison, Moose, Elk, Caribou, Deer, Beaver, Fish, Hare, Livestock and Scavenge (2)
  • 9 Dice
  • 6 Conflict Tokens
  • 6 Den Boards
  • 1 Food Track
  • 1 Weeks Left Token
  • 1 Alpha Token
  • 1 Instruction Booklet

How to play The Alpha:

The Alpha is played over 5 rounds.  You win by collecting the most food at the end of the 5 rounds.  

The-Alpha-Board
The Alpha – Board Game Setup for 4 players

All players start with 6 wolf tokens.  One of your tokens is an an Alpha Pair, which counts as 2 wolves when played.

The Alpha Wolves - There are 6 different colors for 6 players
The green Alpha Wolves on their Den Board   – There are 6 different colors for up to 6 players

You lead your wolves through four stages of the hunt:

1. STALK – Send your wolves to hunt in various regions of the forest and outnumber rival packs to become dominant in the area.  Players take turns playing one wolf at a time on the various Region Tiles (Bison, Elk, Hare, etc.) in play.  After all players have played all their wolves, they begin the Chase.

2. CHASE – Players roll the dice for every region to determine the success of the hunt.  Each region has its own unique die.  

3. RESOLVE – If the hunt is successful, meat is distributed.  The players enter conflict and decide whether to fight or share the food with other packs in the region.

  • The pack with most wolf meeples on a region wins all the meat from a successful hunt.  
  • If two or more packs are tied for the most wolves, they are all considered Dominant Packs, and the other smaller wolf packs are considered Scavenger Packs.  There is now a Conflict with a resolution.

     CONFLICT

This is where the meat of the game really is (pun intended).  The game uses the Prisoner’s Dilemma mechanic to resolve the conflict.  If you have never heard of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, you can read more about it here.  

Dominant Packs in conflict will choose whether to fight for their food or share it. 

  • Each player in conflict will secretly choose FIGHT or SHARE on their Conflict Token.  Then all players reveal the tokens simultaneously.
  • If all packs chose SHARE, then the food is distributed evenly.
  • If all packs chose FIGHT, then one wolf from each pack is injured and cannot hunt in the next round.
  • If only one pack chooses FIGHT, that pack receives all the food.  
  • If two or more packs choose FIGHT, then one wolf from each FIGHT pack is wounded and cannot hunt in the next round.  The food is then distributed evenly amongst the Scavenger Packs.  

Here is an example of Conflict:

The Alpha – Red and Green are in a Conflict. Blue is a Scavenger.

Looking at the image above, let’s say we have a successful hunt for an Elk as we rolled a “9”.  Red and Green are the Dominant Packs and Blue is the Scavenger Pack.  There is 9 food at stake. 

  • If Red and Green both choose SHARE, they will share the 9 meat.
  • If only one of them chooses FIGHT, the Fighter will get all the meat.
  • If they both choose FIGHT, then Red and Green both place a wolf on the Injured Wolf Space, and they get no food.  And Blue sneaks away with all 9 food while Red and Green are busy fighting.  (This is all very clearly spelled out for players on their Den Boards).  

Every region tile has its successful dice rolls clearly printed on it.  The Bison above has its own six-sided die to roll. You can roll: 20, C11, C11, X, X, or X.  

  • Roll 20 – There is a 1:6 (17%) chance you take down the bison for 20 meat.  
  • Roll C11 – There is a 2:6 (33%) chance you will get 11 meat today, and the Bison will be Carrion tomorrow.  When you roll the C11, you flip the card over at the end of the round. Carrion will be there still tomorrow for wolves to come back and fight over.  
  • Roll X – There is a 3:6 chance (50%) you will get nothing.

4. ADVANCE – Move your wolf on the food track to indicate the amount of food secured during the hunt.

At the end of 5 weeks (rounds), the wolf pack with the most food will be declared The Alpha.  You win by collecting the most food at the end of 5 rounds to become … The Alpha

The Alpha gameplay on a Pojo game night

Likes, Dislikes, and Final Thoughts

Likes: 

I think the theme in The Alpha is great, and it makes sense.  The components are of nice quality. The wooden wolf tokens are awesome.  And the artwork is pleasant and stands out.  Reportedly, the art is painted by a park ranger, but I don’t see credit to the painter on the packaging or Instruction Guide.  

This is a very simple game to teach and learn.  You can teach this game to someone is 5 minutes, and everyone will be ready to go.

The conflict of secretly deciding whether to SHARE or FIGHT for the meat can get your heart pumping.  Should you Fight for the meat?  Not only can you lose all the meat, but is it worth risking injuring a wolf?  But if you choose SHARE, and your opponent picks FIGHT, you lose all the meat.  Argh!

The dice are very cool.  There are different colored dice for every region, with different results particular to that region.  The dice are easy to find because the die colors are printed right on the cards.  

The Instruction Guide is very well written.  The game is explained well.  The guide is in full color and is 8 pages long.  

This game plays well at all player counts, but I prefer the game with 5 to 6 players, as there seems to be more chances for conflict.

I have always loved game boxes that are well designed to hold the game’s components.  The Alpha has a cool nested design, and everything goes back in the box nicely.  

The Alpha - Layer 1
The Alpha – Layer 1
The Alpha – Layer 2
The Alpha – Layer 3
The-Alpha-Box-Layer-4
The Alpha – Final Layer

Dislikes

This will not be a game for everyone.  Conflict is not for all gamers.  If you don’t like the Prisoner’s Dilemma conflict mechanism, you may not like this game.  There can be something downright mean to one person choosing to share the meat, and the other person choosing to fight for it.  You will just have to know your playgroup, and if they can handle the psychological side of the game.  

Luck definitely comes into play in The Alpha, as it does with any game involving dice rolls.  You can have bad luck ruin your strategy.  You might have 4 wolves on a Caribou, and the meat will be yours.  But you might roll an “X”, and the prey gets aways.  Man, that’s a bad beat!  One game, I had a single Hare get away from me 3 times in a row.  There is only a 17% chance of rolling an “X”, and I rolled an “X” 3 times in a row.  

There is no two-player option.  You need 3 or more players to play this game.  

This is definitely not a travel game.  You will need at least 3 feet of gaming space on the long side of the table. 

Final Thoughts

The Alpha is a very fun game.  I love board games that go up to 6 players, and this is one of the better ones.  I like that The Alpha is easy to teach new players.  It’s a good game to break out when you don’t want to explain a game to new players for 1/2 an hour.  You just set up, explain a bit, and you are out hunting in no time.  

I enjoy how the Prisoner’s Dilemma mechanism is use to decide the results of conflicts. You can choose to Share a lot.  Or you can choose to Fight a lot.  Or you can choose to load up your wolfpack in a region away from others to avoid conflict.  Or you can try to scavenge your way to victory.  Which is the path to victory?  Dunno?  It depends on you and your opponents.  

The game has a good mix of Worker Placement and Area Control that changes every round.  There are some Regions that offer a very high risk to reward ratio, like Bison, Moose and the Livestock.  You can go after some Livestock for a lot of meat, but your wolf meeple might get shot by a farmer, and removed from the game.  Ouch!

If players don’t like conflict, it is possible to avoid it for an entire game.  Players can put wolf meeples in regions that no one is hunting in.  

Carrion meat is guaranteed … if you can dominate it.

Carrion meat requires no dice rolls.  Players tend to really go after this guaranteed meat when it’s available.  

The Alpha has good replayability.  The game will change every time, as you don’t use all the Region Tiles in every game.  The Region Tiles can be randomized before every game.  

The MSRP is $29.99 and that seems fair for the quality and quantity of components inside the box.  I’m hoping for some expansions that offer more game regions, and more dice.  

The Official Release Date is 6/16/2020.