Your Daily High Frontier

Your Daily High Frontier

Played the solitaire “Hermes Falls” scenario a couple times over lunch today. It’s a really nice little setup that, unfortunately, you can ultimately solve and then it’s no longer really that fun. Which is fine, because now I’m looking at the ultra-sandboxy “CEO” scenario next. Training wheels off.

The setup for Hermes Falls is: Hermes is gonna plow into Earth and destroy everyone! You have two complete “cycles” (12 turns) to get to the asteroid Hermes and, once there, decommission a refinery card there representing a big ass mass driver. You need to do it twice so it’s steerable; there’s an A and B side to Hermes. Setup requires only the Supports module from Colonization. That just requires you build a more elaborate little jigsaw puzzle of a ship than the basic game.

(Actual science behind Hermes: https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2003/31oct_hermes)

My first go ended in near disaster, because I spent a hell of a lot of time trying to cook up a more complex solution than the scenario requires. There were juicy robonauts available! I could go build a factory and upgrade my thruster and get a better reactor and and…well, no. 23 total turns is not nearly enough time for any of that. I had researched a zillion patent cards (which, come to think of it, is illegal-ish because your hand size is only 3 cards and I was squatting on lots of cards at once…hmm… no hand limits in solitaire! Just re-re-re-reread the roolz), so I just sold all but the barest essentials to build a fast little refinery-carrying shuttle and juuuust enough gas to get to Hermes. Slid in on the 23rd turn.

The answer is that, as I expected, a huge part of mastering this game is learning what’s possible on the map. All my first attempts just to get to fucking Hermes involved so, so much reaction mass. Well, if you have any interest at all in space travel shit, you probably know that the whole game comes down to mass and speed. And in this game, reaction mass (water) is also money.

I finally stumbled into a very tricksy pathway between LEO, across most of the lagrange points, and then a slingshot around Earth and the Moon that gets me out to Hermes with hardly any fuel at all. Feeling very clever, I decide to reset the scenario, mix up the patent decks, and concentrate instead on drilling down into a really good ship design as fast as I can.

Well, so. First mission goes off without a hitch and in far less than 12 complete turns — more like 8 or so. Easy peasy. I decommission everything so I can just rebuild the whole kit back at Earth. Then the game’s random events started hammering me.

First there were budget cuts, and I lost the ability to design my nice radiator card (which the reactor needs, which is required by my generator etc etc). So jeez, instead of just sitting around patiently collecting 2 water a turn and relaunching the whole kit, now I need to start the research cycle all over again!

Okay, no problem, don’t panic. Get another, similar radiator that’ll work with the rest of my ship. Get it boosted to LEO, begin my journey. The clever low-fuel slingshot path I figured out requires I sit in space for 1 year — it takes 2 years (turns) to get to Hermes, but no big deal, the second year is a no-fuel affair. Well yeah, so while I’m sitting out in deep space lining up my Earth-Luna slingshot, my generator glitches out. Which means I can’t run the refinery, which is the whole fuckin’ point of going.

With seven years left before my extinction-level event, I now have to slap together the smallest possible little ferry to haul a new refinery out to the mission ship. The game gets very interesting at this point! Terrified of future glitches, now I have my human crew babysit the equipment at every opportunity. They can’t babysit the whole way, they’re too heavy, but at least it takes just the year to get from deep space, down the slingshot, and back out to Hermes.

Now the game becomes a mad dash of dumping the mission stack into an “outpost” (a marker on the board showing that you own shit but you’re not using it), boosting a new thruster and all its supports — a different generator, another reactor, another radiator — into orbit, fueling as little as possible, juicing the thrust to get through the Van Allen belt without frying my rescue mission, and reassembling my mission ship out of bits and bobs of my current ship and the outposted junk floating out there.

With the final year remaining, the unfueled mission rocket drops into the slingshot, whizzes out to the asteroid belt, and yay! Safely delivers the second refinery to Hermes.

It’s funny.

Really, once you’ve solved the routefinding problem — the 3-burn, 2-year pathway out to Hermes — the entire game comes down to dealing with the threat of one specific event every 2 turns. Five of six times, the event doesn’t hurt the mission. But glitches are 1 in 6 and Murphy tells us that your save-the-world mission will totally glitch out and kill the whole planet. I know it sounds fantastically awful to boil the game down to “you lose if you roll a 1” but gosh, that one roll is so tense!

Liked it? Take a second to support The Indie Game Reading Club on Patreon!

5 thoughts on “Your Daily High Frontier”

  1. Oh I would looove to see an Expanse hack/skin/expansion. Every location mentioned in the books, except the , is on the map. You can kinda-sorta get there via the promoted Bernals and colonists, but it takes a long fuckin’ time to get to that point. :-/

  2. This is all very cruel and unusual torture for us – have you seen the price curve for this game on BGG in the last 3 months? (My one solace is your mention of multi-player solitaire in a previous post that seriously degrades my interest, kinda).

  3. Rob Brennan I haven’t. OSS or Ares Magazine or whoever the hell was in charge of the Kickstarter fucked things up so, so bad. My understanding is that you can’t even get it right now. Probably there’ll need to be a 4E printing.

    Multiplayer solitaire: only until everyone knows how to plan a mission, then it’s a very tight negotiating/semi-cooperative game. But that’s gonna be several parallel solitaire games to get there, I think. That said! Our first game was 3 player, probably 5 of the 8 hours we were just nose-down in our mission planning, and then all the sudden I’m like “who wants to buy this card? Offer me more than 5 water otherwise I’m selling it back to the bank.” Because operations (actions) come so dear, free pseudo-operations like gaining cards or water from another player are hugely useful.

  4. Reading this reminded me of the novel SevenEves by Neal Stephenson. I’ve never heard of this game and that means I will have to seek it out and play it!

Leave a Reply