On the front of The Alpha box, it plainly states that it is“A Light Strategy Game.” I found this bit of information of particular import as I kept referring back to it as I considered the game.
The Alpha is a worker (wolf) placement game with exactly one resource: Food. And even Food is not truly a resource. The members of the pack rarely consume the food, so you just add it to your stash. (Psst, Wade, it is “A Light Strategy Game” so just roll with it, okay?) And food also acts as the measure of who wins the game, with the pack/player with the most total food winning.
Adding to the Worker Placement aspect is Majority Control. As you place members of your pack on the board, the pack with the most wolves on a specific prey/location will roll the (prey specific) die and receive that result in Food. If the pack's present in a specific area “tie” for control, that is when the game breaks out it's Prisoner's Dilemma. Using the included tokens, the players tied for control of the prey secretly either choose Fight or Share. If both choose fight, then one wolf from each pack is wounded and basically is benched the next round (Who knew that Wolf Packs used roller hockey rules for fighting). If one player chooses Fight and the second player chooses Share, the Fight pack takes ALL of the food. If both packs choose share, they split the food equally.
Of course, the titular Alpha pair comes into play. Counting as two wolves (and sporting a unique meeple), you have some interesting moments of deciding when and where to place them. For instance, the larger prey, such as a Bison, are located in the “Deep Forest” and placing a wolf in this location will cost you a food (one assumes you had to stop on the way for snacks). The cost to play your alpha pair in these locations is still only a single food, so you get more bang for your buck if you choose to put them in the Deep Forest. Of course, there are other locations that offer a non-interaction (if you place a wolf at some locations, no other wolves can be added to it). The pay-off is meager but the lack of risk is it's own reward. On the other end of the scale is the Livestock location where you can meet the TRUE Alpha of the game, a Projectile weapon carrying human. Unguarded livestock are an easy means to a feast of mutton but a bad die roll can leave you with a Wolf Death, crushingly reducing your pack by one for the entirety of the game. Please sir, if you have any issues with this, see the front of the box, this is “A Light Strategy Game.”
With each prey using one of the different D6 dice included, you can try to calculate the reward for taking control of a specific area. Sometimes a hotly-contested prey can come up with a big, fat X on the dice, giving you no food for your effort. Or you can be hit with Carrion result on the dice (a C with a smaller number next to it). This means the prey is wounded and will become carrion next round (you flip the prey card over to it's opposite side) and an immediate conflict for the smaller number of food next to the C is executed. Fighting for what turns out to be nothing or, as occasionally happens, going head to head to be a dominant pack with another player only to have the third place scavenger pack receive the contested food because both dominant packs end up with a wounded wolf, can be annoying. But, hey, it is a “A Light Strategy Game”
It took me a long time to finish this review because, even working with my “bubble” players (which consists of an almost unheard of six players due to my kids and extended family residing with me), I didn't feel it was getting a proper chance. All of the parts were, theoretically, there but they didn't click for us. Running larger player counts helped because of the additional contention for limited prey spaces. In the end, agreeing it was “A Light Strategy Game” that could live or die by dice rolls was the result. It never really achieved what I, personally, wanted from it but it did deliver on it's promise of “A Light Strategy Game.” One that can be “Pretty Cool” if you simply take it for what it is.