High Frontier

High Frontier

Glutton for Punishment

This damned game has been nagging at the back of my mind all day, so I carved out a little time and set up a solitaire game. I discovered there’s a smaller, less-epic version of the board that’s about half the size, which is nice when it’s just me.

I’m still fumbling along with the basic game (just thruster, robonaut and refinery cards), but this time I set myself a goal of industrializing out there to fabricate me one of the awesome advanced techs.

So basically, when you get your cards, the backsides have “ET” versions of the same technologies. The solitaire rules are kind of iffy because it’s a race game, but I did try to play by their rules, which includes either spending lots on the tech cards you can see on the tops of the three decks, or spending a little to draw blind from the bottom. I did the blind draw thing and ended up with two of my three cards requiring “D” (dark) type bodies. There are five and I can’t remember them all, but it’s something like C(arbon), D(ark), M(etallic), S(tone) and…one other one. Oh well. It’s the main designation on all the big hexes that indicate where you can land, along with how big the place is and how hard it’ll be to get back off the surface. The size also says what you have to roll to prospect it without coming up bust (i.e. it’s basically out of the game other than whatever water you might mine off it for fuel later).

I lucked into a buggy-type robonaut, which gives me a reroll on every prospect, so I felt comfortable heading out to the asteroids in hopes of stumbling into one that would let me build my D-flavored upgrade.

I really don’t understand the hardcore science/technology behind how and why it works this way, but basically to set up a factory, you decommission your robonaut and a refinery, and those become black-backed inventions available in your hand to build back at Earth LEO. So I did that, fueled up on the plentiful water, then decided to jaunt around a little in the asteroids looking for more good prospects.

One of your actions in the basic game is to fabricate one of those black cards. That thing ends up becoming a “freighter,” which is just a big cube that you push back out into space and send back to Earth. Eventually, I guess, your crew goes back to Earth as well and then you re-configure your rocket with the fancy new gizmo. (Amusing political side note: you’re not allowed to decommission your own crew unless you’re PRC. Yikes! So everyone else has to slog home).

Penciling out a profitable mission plan is definitely the hardest part of the game for me, and it reminds me a lot of Merchant of Venus in that regard. There are target-rich areas of the map you want to aim for, where you can prospect, refill, prospect, repeat until your new tech is shipped back to Earth and you can go upgrade. But the map is many orders of magnitude more elaborate than Merchant of Venus, and you have to go into it expecting to make a few pit stops along the way to refuel. Interesting challenge.

But this is just the basic game! Apparently, later you’ll have colonists that represent various factions and they’ll provide you the opportunity to carry out other actions simultaneously. Right now, it’s basically a choice of “do I care to draw and bid on new patents?” or “should my factory make my new solar sails?” Moving always happens, it’s not an action per se, but I could foresee many turns going by where you’re toodling out to Neptune or whatever and have nothing else to do but draw 2 water/money tokens.

There’s definitely something there that’s really intriguing. I’d hate to have my ap-prone players freeze up when faced with mission planning, though. 

14 thoughts on “High Frontier”

  1. You know what the game reminds me a lot of? Magic Realm. It’s a whole school of design that I think is probably going to be a niche thing forever. It’s also kind of like how Paradox approaches its big sandbox videogames: there’s so much emergent complexity and so much simulational freedom that really interesting…I dunno, narrative is probably as good a word as any…that really interesting narrative is the end product.

    I’m sure there are hardass HF supernerds who play competitively but that’s gotta be a dozen plays into it.

  2. Paul Beakley sure the Epstein Drive is outrageous, but if you recall it revolutionized space colonization and industrialization when it was introduced.

    More to the point, even in the TV show, most ships do not use it because it is freaking expensive.

    So it can be in High Frontier but be very hard to obtain.

  3. Paolo Greco slow and dated. Radically asymmetrical. Excellent sandbox with wide-open rules about helping and hindering each other. I’ve played quite a bit of it online, which is really the way to go because the fighting and magic stuff is super fussy. But very interesting! I built a PnP version, which might have been more expensive than just buying an old edition of it.

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