Final Thoughts (for now)
I think this last 10-ish hour game of High Frontier has left everyone in a state of prolonged satisfaction and/or profound burnout. I’m shelving it for a while! Maybe a month. Then I’ll probably start hustling for more
suckers victims converts.
The process has been interesting and frustrating and deeply satisfying for me in several ways. It kind of reminds me of the process of really mastering Burning Wheel back in the day. Some thoughts in no particular order:
* The early game is both the slowest and most interesting part of the game, and it doesn’t even really require the map (other than to provide you goals for ship building). The non-quickstart version of the game starts you with four bucks and literally nothing but your crew (and Bernal). It is slow! Probably added an hour, maybe even two, to the game. We all felt it. But it’s also very tactical and, like the rest of the game, utterly unforgiving. I think probably the next stage of our committed players’ (me and one or maybe two others) development is speeding the early game way way up. Nailing down some kind of mission to start running as early as possible. We’re all still in the mode of curating a perfect first mission, so there’s no pressure to speed that up.
* The midgame is, for me, the most fun: you’ve got some kind of janky ship cobbled together and you need to hustle and balance and work out clever solutions. This is the part where you build a ship, fly it, do an operation, maybe outpost the bits for later, build a second ship, get factories going, and so on. It’s the most dynamic but it took us close to three hours before that part started happening. And early bad rolls can really eff up your plans, which maybe you can blame on bad planning — a “good” plan in High Frontier probably needs a couple backups — but mostly just generates a lot of frustration. Three+ hours into your game, if you’re not playing with perfect Zen serenity, makes your bad rolls feel even worse.
* This was, I think, the first time I’ve ever really deeply experienced the true endgame. I was chasing Futures, one of my players dropped out, and the last one to stick it out starting sniping the various Glory and Venture opportunities. And that is, I think, my only legit gripe about the game: if it’s taken you 7-8 hours to get to the endgame, it’s not unreasonable to be impatient to wrap it up. And the game kind of feeds that impatience! By then you’ve refined down to your final hand of stuff you can ET produce and/or have lab-promoted. That part of the game is over/solved, and now it becomes a pure efficiency race: can I earn my points faster than my opponents? And since it’s Futures that bring the endgame about, and they’re so darned hard to complete, it seems kind of like you’re either just handing the game to the player avoiding the hard work, or you’re playing chicken with who can complete their Futures first while you both compete for other VPs on the board. Which means you’re accepting the game is gonna run a couple more hours.
I don’t see any solution to the endgame other than extreme and prolonged experience on the part of all the players. If you have one uncertain player, that functionally triples the play time. Orrr they’re making random-ish choices and getting nowhere, because every mistake is suffered tenfold. And who wants to put up with that, just for the vague promise of maybe someday getting better at it?
The investment required to play the game at the level it needs to be played “well” is like nothing I’ve ever attempted. I feel like I’m now, basically, competent. It would probably take 8-10 more plays of 8-10 hours each before I felt like I could play “well.” There are whole realms of play I’ve never even experimented with: felonies, combat, freighters, robot colonists. And now that I’ve seen the endgame up close and personal, I feel like I need to revisit my entire early game approach so that I’m steadily pursuing as many different kinds of VPs as possible. The Futures feel like they should be a race, not a grenade for one poor sap to throw themselves on.
Goodbye High Frontier! For now! I’m sure the bug will not leave my system entirely.