High Frontier

High Frontier

It’s been sitting on my shelf for months, and it was a late Kickstarter before then and now I have no memory of why I was so hot and bothered to get High Frontier. But I shanghai’ed a friend into deciphering it with me yesterday.

I think under the impenetrable rulebook and the brutally ugly player materials (except for that epic map, which I suspect was the real reason I backed it in the first place) there’s a decent playable game.

We figured out the “basic game” and there’s not much to it: spend turns taking money/water (WT = “water tank,” it’s the same resource as you use to propel your rocket as well) or bidding on a variety of rocket parts (thrusters, robonauts and refineries in the basic game, other bits and bobs later), launching them into LEO for assembly, plotting out your journey on that epic map, and eventually setting up a refinery to make shit that can only be manufactured in space. Which helps you get deeper into space to achieve goals worth VPs or just scatter your claim markers all over the solar system.

The designer set the game up to be learned in small steps, which is good but also boring early on because it’s just not that interesting to take money, give money back, and work out movement. The later game adds colonies and technologies that allow for much more interesting deep-space expeditions.

One of the most interesting bits of the game for me, on the most cursory review, is that there are quite a few ways to collaborate and negotiate. Some of the space-faring organizations (governments, NGOs and corporations) have ongoing benefits that can be useful to anyone. The WT economy is totally fungible, as are I believe the patent cards, even the facilities you set up around space can be borrowed.

The advanced-advanced game adds a political layer to the game, where the general sentiment can make your efforts harder or easier, more or less profitable, and so on.

Can we talk about the immeasurable harm the game has taken from its graphic design choices, though? The actual patent cards are quite easy to use and there’s not even much information on them: mass, stats, icons for special effects. But it’s all obfuscated by elaborate illustrations of actual inventions and the template is hard to suss out.

Other player tools are either poorly designed or don’t exist. There are a zillion “free actions” as well as “operations” (you can do 1x) and of course actually moving your rocket. And those things are, well…they’re just not very user-friendly. Hopefully someone has put together good player resources at boardgamegeek.com. I mean the COIN games aren’t especially attractive but their player resources are top-notch.

I have no idea if I can recommend this monster to anyone other than hardcore space science nerds and maybe gamer fans of The Expanse. It really is rocket science.

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6 thoughts on “High Frontier”

  1. The map and the science are the real draws. The opacity of the basic mechanisms of play worked for us, making those first successful missions actually feel like achievements!

  2. Diving into the forums now that I have the gist of how it all works is fascinating. Folks proposing these uh…very outside-the-box solutions for getting places, earning points, all that.

    I’m pretty sure it won’t be a game that I’ll play weekly or anything (which is what Terraforming Mars has turned out to be for us).

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