ESA stake their claim on Mars.
We managed to play another game of High Frontier this past weekend. I was actually only aiming for a trial/tutorial game to showcase it, but in the end we played it the entire way through. I simply didn't want to end it until the game had started clicking for my new players, and this took quite a while...
Our second foray into the solar system was made with four players. Myself playing the People's Republic of China (PRC), Anders as ESA, Claes as the UN and Micke as NASA. It was a new game for Claes and Micke so after a 30 minute rules explanation we began.
Well... you know what the board looks like by now.
Just like last time the first hour of the game went slowly as we all tried to get the patents we wanted. I made a quick mission to asteroid Eureka for the glory points and a few turns later Anders set out for the moon. However he hadn't thought it through entirely so although he managed to land, claim it and take off again the crew found themselves without enough fuel to get back to Earth! Stranded in Lunar orbit the ESA command staff decided to turn the rocket into an outpost (basically leaving the crew and the rocket engine floating in space) while he worked on a new rocket that could be used for a rescue mission.
ESA's claim on the moon (left disc), the outpost in orbit (right disc)
and the rescue rocket being assembled in low Earth orbit.)
Micke as NASA had put together a rocket complete with robonaut and refinery but had trouble with its high mass. The engine he was using had a fuel efficiency of two so he was worried that he wouldn't be able to get anywhere. This is an illusion that is easy to fall prey to when you start playing High Frontier. You calculate your available burns (in Micke's case five I think), then you look at the huge sprawling map of the solar system and you feel like there's no way you'll be able to go anywhere worthwhile! After talking him through it and showing him some available routes though, he realised that he could actually make his way to the Gefion family of asteroids, and Ceres in particular. Sure he'd be bingo fuel at that point, but that would hopefully not be an issue as he was going to build a factory there anyway which would let him refuel quickly. For some reason or other Micke still decided to play it safe (this is space travel after all!) and left his refinery in low earth orbit to be picked up later as he went prospecting with only his crew and robonauts.
The UN building their first ET factory on Hertha.
I had my second mission on the way as well. I had procured a raygun robonaut with an ISRU of 2 (lower is better) which opened up a whole slew of asteroids to me. So I aimed to do basically the same thing as last time and set my goal at the Koronis family of asteroids. By this time Claes had finally got his mission off the ground and headed towards the Nysa asteroid family. He claimed Hertha and built a factory there but his UN crew weren't quite up to the task of prospecting Nysa itself even with the help of his new hi-tech refinery and a re-roll for using a buggy. The Chinese rocket had just reached the sweet spot in the Koronis family and proceeded to prospect five asteroids in one go! Unfortunately I didn't have much luck with the die and only managed to claim a single one. It allowed me to build a factory there and upgrade my robonauts to a respectable ISRU 0 raygun! I had the option of developing the monstruous Salt-Water Zubrin thruster instead, but I had an engine that could so the job decently so opted for the robonauts as they felt more important at this point in the game.
PRC (red) heading towards the Koronis family while NASA and ESA are back in LEO.
By the time NASA had returned to pick up his refinery and fly it back to Ceres I had just returned to LEO where I sold my new fancy hi-tech robonaut for a hefty sum (knowing I could always build more at my asteroid base) and started looking around for a second refinery so I could build that big nasty engine!! Micke got his factory at last, very happy that he could now finally use a much better thruster he noticed that he'd been looking at the wrong asteroid and had thought it was an S(tony) spectral type when in fact it was a C(arbonaceous). Quite a setback when much of his plans had been riding on the new tech.
ESA finally rescued their stranded crew thanks to their new solar sail and Anders started prepping for a new mission... sunwards. He'd been the first on the moon and now his next target was Venus! The solar sail is an interesting thruster as it doesn't use any fuel but it also has a very low thrust. However, the closer you get to the sun the more bonus thrust the sail gains so when nearing Venus and Mercury the ESA spacecraft was zipping along very quickly. There were a couple of sweaty minutes as Anders rolled for the aerobreaking (roll a 1 and your carefully assembled spacecraft becomes so much spacedust!), but he made it successfully and his crew became the first humans on Venus! They were later told that they were the first settlers as well, as their solar sail had been lost during the aerobreak and they had no thruster strong enough to get out of Venus' gravity well. Time for another rescue mission!
ESA, first mission to Venus!
He did make up for this by quickly launching a robotic mission to Mars as well and building a factory there. This was the sixth one with the seventh ending the game. Micke had built his first and Claes had started scouting for a good location for his third among the Jupiter trojans while trying to claim three M-class sites. I managed to plonk my second down before he managed though and the game ended.
The final score was 24 to me (PRC), 16 to Anders (ESA), 14 to Claes (UN) and 7 to Micke (NASA). It might seem like I was way ahead but just like last time that is mostly thanks to the glory points by getting the science and any site awards. Without those I would only have had 18 points - much closer!
Looking at the performance of my three friends I think they did well overall, even though it was a long, slow start. Claes was the slowest by far in the beginning, but at the end of the game he made a lot of smart choices and started to understand how an extra-terrestrial factory really opens up your exploration options! Micke took to the rules reasonably quickly, but had trouble grasping what his overall goal should be - get victory points, yes, but how to go about that. There are a lot of interlocking mechanics in High Frontier, and while the rules themselves actually aren't that complex the different interactions between patents, their hi-tech side and spectral type can be fairly dense. Seeing what needs to be done to achieve your industrial and point scoring goals can be a challenge at first. As far as I could tell Anders didn't have any trouble with the rules (although I think perhaps he thought he did), but he suffered from bad mission planning. Getting stuck in lunar orbit waiting for rescue for 10 years and then getting stuck on Venus wasn't part of the mission statement. If he'd planned ahead a little bit more carefully it would have been a much closer race I think.
What they thought of the game when we were done was that it was fun and interesting once it "clicked" but that that click came fairly late in the game. There were many rounds spent on bidding for patents at the beginning. Probably about an hour of only that! I think it's a part of the game that will become much more exciting once we all become more comfortable with the game and understand the different patents, but at this juncture it just felt long winded and kind of dreary. I think next time we will try the quick-start rules where each player get one random patent from each category.
However, there has been one BIG thing we've played wrong in both these games. Namely that we've played rocket movement as an entire turn in itself! This is way off as you're actually able to do an operation and move your rocket each turn. This error alone probably doubled the length of the game! So things will move a bit quicker next time guys, I promise. :)
Micke and Claes both said that they'd like to try it again fairly soon, while the rules are still fresh in their minds. I think they both saw the potential in the game as first Claes started asteroid hopping and then Micke caught on as well. I'm not sure about Anders as he spent a lot of time this game simply trying to salvage half-failed missions. It might be the importance of planning ahead as he's often been a kind of lets-try-this-out-and-see-what-happens-kind of guy, an approach that rarely pays off in High Frontier. Still, in the end he didn't do badly as he came out second overall. Not to mention the bragging rights of being the first to the moon, Venus and Mars!
I had a blast once again, even though the first third of the game was slow. I'm happy I got a couple more friends to try the game and even happier that they enjoyed it in the end. Will definitely try to schedule another game soon. Next time I think I'm going to explore the use of solar sails properly. I feel there's a lot of untapped potential there! We should also bring out the expansion map at least, so Saturn and Jupiter are available as well.
Until next time fellow kosmonauts!