Your Daily High Frontier

Your Daily High Frontier


I’m now so obsessed with this ridiculous thing that I’m playing hardcore hooky from my adult responsibilities just to play it more. Yesterday’s doomed RPG day started at 10 am with my unemployed friend coming over to tackle the last big spicy meatball of High Frontier: the Endgame module.

The Endgame module introduces Futures, these elaborate sets of conditions you fulfill to earn both a really huge windfall of points and bring the game to an end. With the Endgame module in play, the game cannot end until at least players-1 Futures have been fulfilled.

High Frontier is an entirely different game when you’re chasing Futures. They’re on the “promoted” backs of freighter, colonist, and gigawatt thruster cards. You “promote” you cards to their purple backs by bringing them to Labs. A Lab is an industrialized site with a little microscope, either built on a trans-Neptunian object (way way the hell out in the deepest reaches of spaaaaace) or serving as a dirtside facility for your Bernal space station in orbit overhead. Bring the card to a lab, spend an action, flip it to its purple side. Badass!

This now requires that, as you shop your cards, you have to take their purple backs into consideration as well. The fronts might actually be useless to you, but get ’em promoted and now you’re chasing big, big goals.

The Future I was pursuing was the New Venus Future: I brought my Calypso Society hippie explorers to my space lab and promoted them. Surprise, hippies! Now you’re artificially intelligent nanobots, you little fuckers. And they want to terraform Venus into a new Earth. Well to do that I need to haul a terawatt thruster (which is the promoted side of a gigawatt thruster) out to a synodic comet — which, by the way, is only even reachable on the map one-third of the time — and decommission it there. Then in 12 years, that decommissioned ultrathruster will drive the comet into Venus and, voila, Venus now has shittons of water.

Just to be clear here! Without the Endgame module, the game is over when you’ve built a total of players x 2 factories. Just the two of us so four factories, whatevs. We had that shit built under 2 hours. We then spent the next five hours pursuing our Futures. Me, I had to first fabricate my gigawatt thruster, which meant building a factory at a “D” spectral class body (D for “Dark,” not really sure what the real-world factors are… oh wait, Wikipedia to the rescue! Okay anyway. To do: get a factory built on a D body, which are uniformly super-tiny and hard to prospect in the first place.

Well so I’ve got the Calypso Society, and they give me a bonus for prospecting Ds. And I’ve got an awesome refinery I can fabricate at a V factory, which will give me another bonus for prospecting Ds. Fine fine, I’ll prospect and industrialize a V. Then I haul that refinery (some kind of algae farm that digests regolith, I shit you not) and my colonists out to a D, which is also a synodic comet because I’m already thinking literally 50 years ahead, set up shop, and fabricate my gigawatt thruster. Oh and it just so happens that the Calypso Society makes my D factories labs. Fucking sweet, let’s promote that thruster into its terawatt version, then convert the hippies into nanobots.

All that up there represents about 25 turns/years and maybe 4 hours of play.

Meanwhile, my opponent is busy industrializing asteroids in both the Greek and Trojan camps of the Jovian Trojans. Once he has that, he’ll fulfill the SETI Future, which is setting up deep-space telescopes. I wasn’t even paying attention to what it took to get that easy-ass Future but I know he had to promote his colonists to get it. And he did that by pretty much heading straight to fucking Jupiter and industrializing Ganymede and Europa, which are rich in science sites. Bold, bold move and he never bothered going back to Earth.

We were both pretty content to just bop along for a while until we had Futures in hand that we could actually execute. It took much, much longer to piece together a game plan to get those Futures to become achievable than we expected, much like the basics of setting up just dumb prospecting missions. Those are pretty easy now, and thank goodness because it’s gonna be a while, I think, before we even know what’s possible in terms of pursuing Futures.

We both kind of had our lightbulb moments around how to build our Futures at the same time, and the game returned to race mode. Very stressful! And my early inefficiencies meant I was probably a decade behind my opponent in pursuing my goals. I was two years away from reassembling a mission with everything in hand to shoot a different synodic comet into Venus. Meanwhile, he actually pulled the trigger in two Futures as well as grabbed a Glory card and wrested political power for the European Space Agency. I got smoked so so bad.

The other thing we did was to flip our normal Glory (goal) cards from their basic side to their Colonization side. Guess I didn’t notice that that was a thing when we started adding Colonization modules. Well jeez, those are pretty neat as well, and give you some very cool bennies in addition to victory points. For example, you can build a space elevator from Mars to Phobos whaaaat? There’s a bunch of those.

Winning the game in a purposeful way is still beyond my grasp. I get how to get a business up and running in space. I get how to put together missions on the map. I’m even feeling out some themes among certain rocket builds and their limitations. But it’s just too many moving parts, balancing your map work with chasing Glory and Future cards. It feels more grab-ass than I have to imagine actual space exploration and exoglobalization would be, but maybe not! Maybe the opportunism of the game is exactly right.

10 thoughts on “Your Daily High Frontier”

  1. Maybe if you hired dozens of really smart assistants, each one keeping track of one subsystem, it would feel more intentional. I mean, space exploration isn’t a solo enterprise.

  2. You could totally play this game by committee, co-op style, with each player really focusing on their thing and coming together for regular meetings.

  3. Truth be told we do play about 90% in cooperative mode. We’ll help each other plot out missions or figure out rocket builds. The real help comes in talking each other down off the ledge when something super fucked-up happens and you need to plan a rescue mission.

    Mine: I had just promoted my gigawatt thruster at the lab on the comet (read that sentence again but slowly!) but I couldn’t run the thruster without a generator. Which I could not fabricate in the asteroid belt, because I didn’t have an M factory anywhere and had to decommission my working gennie when I industrialized the comet in the first place.

    Soooo I broke up my stack and left the thruster and some other junk back at the lab and built a working tug out of the remaining parts. I flew that tug to my Bernal in the middle of the asteroid belt, turned it all into cargo, and then built a new rocket back at my ersatz Bernal in HEO over Earth to fucking haul a fucking working generator from fucking Earth.

    Then we rolled for events. We rolled Glitch. That means you decommission the heaviest card in every stack where there are no humans present. Humans (and emancipated robots!) make a stack glitch-proof.

    Hey so remember that lab I left behind? Yeahhhh, no human there. I’d brought my nanobots with me to protect the generator, forgetting the Bernal itself would protect me from glitches (being crewed by humans after all). Awful, just godawful.

    It took us a solid 20 minutes to work out a rescue mission, which involved using the comet’s factory to rail-gun all our shit out into space (being a synodic comet, you can only land there 1/3 of the time BUT you can leave whenever you want), building not one but two rescue missions, and juggling outposts and rockets juuuust so to get a working ship built around that terawatt thruster.

    Honestly, when you take away the fancy technical talk, the game is probably 90% puzzle solving. Figure out how to get from X to Y with these particular bits.

  4. This 3rd edition was a Kickstarter right? any possibility of it ever seeing a re-release production run? I refuse to give the aftermarket $250 for it.

  5. Jeff Blackmar yeah, and the publisher (OSS) I believe sold out the last of their stock.

    If there’s a 4th edition it won’t be for 3 or 4 years. There’s apparently some legal disagreements and badness happening behind the scenes.

    Pro-tip though: FInd 2nd edition and get the 3rd edition PDFs off the OSS website.

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