Review: High Frontier – ensign, put us back on course, warp 3
Have you ever been in space? Most of you probably responds no. The year is 2012 and you have to wait for regular visits to the space. But a few decades later, the situation will be different. The progress of space travel and trips to orbit, everything will be moved forward especially by rivalry of major powers. They are trying hard to conquer as many planets and moons of the planet, explore them and create a remote station there.
Spacecraft are not built on Earth, but instead are their parts gradually sent up into orbit, where they are compiled by special machines into final form. It’s cheaper and faster, because firing ship of smaller parts is less expensive than overcoming Earth’s gravity with the whole ship. Only those repairs and unforseen events are not that simple to handle.
So a few weeks passed and the ship is finally ready to start. Awaiting its cosmic distance, Lagrange points, and a few moments before its finish line, it will still have to make Hohmans pivot to get to its destination.
W… What? You think, perhaps about the last article. Who is this Lagrange? And while we’re at it .. What was that maneuver again? One could not blame you. A few weeks ago, we would have reacted the same way. But recently we have been through an intensive course of space flight with a strong scientific foundation. Now we can calculate the cost of space trip, and we can deliver cargo to any destination in the entire solar system. Are you interested in this job? The course is called High Frontier. You do not have to travel to NASA and its quite cheap. Sit tight and listen..
Actually, it is not course, rather than board game, but it probably occurred to you, whereas, on what site you are and what article you are reading. High Frontier is a space traveler’s game from a rocket engineer (yes, really!) Phil Eklund. The author has previously won our attention with his excellent game of dinosaur versus mammals fight in sophisticated BIOS: Megafauna (review). And now he has planet a second strike to our newsroom and staff. And that was directly majestic hit, because most of the other reviews had to go sideways for that moment. Interplanetary travel takes time, tranquility and concentration. No one should be troubled by anything else, while doing it.
The game was released in 2010 and immediately won the hearts of all fans of the universe. Like other Eklunds games this is also published by Sierra Madre Games. And is easily available in several specialized stores. But before you make a run for it, stay with us for the next few articles of text, so you know, what will you get.
High Frontier is hidden in the black box, as black asi the universe itself. Illustration of the box is dominated by space machine and within it, there is hidden the most important thing – a huge game board with a map of our entire solar system. While at it, do not look at it too carefully now, because its appearance would easily hypnotize you and you could feel the urge not to read further. Common for all players will be also one small sheet, serve as a placeholder for cards and to monitor players‘ success in conquering planets.
In addition to the map, there is a number of plastic chips in the box, which we know already from the BIOS, a deck of cards and player boards. They actually look too much like some player help sheets, when you are looking at them for the first time, but from the diagram at the bottom, you get probably to understand, that they are here to manipulate the game course. In addition to transparent color chips, there is a pile of cubes in similar colors and above all – rockets! Wow, finally we are getting somewhere! Let’s fly right now..
No, you should wait a moment. The list of game parts is concluded with black and white manual, which stretches to 24 pages. Learning to play the High Frontier is probably the biggest obstacle to you, if you buy this game. Fortunately, there are willing fans and one of them – phirax – set up a really great guide, divided into 8 parts, called High Frontier Walkthrough. It is here for you, to slowly and gradually explain the basic principles, upon which you are really ready to try your first game. Nevertheless, we recommend to take also the rules themselves into your hands and read them, because they are not only rules. They contain impressive amount of scientific information, which lay behind the game mechanics. And if you want to play the High Frontier, I’m sure you will be interested..
We also did a complex learning process and here we are now, knowing it all. Fortunately, once you learn the High Frontier, it simply plays well and is rather easily explained to others. Nevertheless, we will mention the rules and gameplay in this review only marginally and focus on impressions of the game more, than usual on our server. Because if we should dive deeper in the detailed rules, we would only confuse you.
Given the small number of components, which are included in the game box, it is clear, that the preparation is simple. And it really is. Just put your game plan into the center and divide all other pieces into piles. Players will take one player board and the corresponding color segments (rockets, transparent cubes and disks). You put four blue chips in the first field of each column on the placeholder. Divide the cards into three piles, shuffle them and place them right there as offer.
All the fuel consists here of water tanks. Each of your opponents (and you too, of course) will start with three tanks at his disposal, which he places on his game board in round reservoir on player board. Each player also gets a faction card with a nation, for which will he be conquering the universe. All other components remain prepared aside, no rockets and cubes are yet in play.
High Frontier is played in turns, of course. Each player has two actions, when his time comes. First you can move your rocket, if you have any, and then you would select one of eight actions available. The first four of them are LEO operations (low earth orbit) and they will be carried out as a preparation for takeoff. The rest are space operations (ET = extraterrestrial), which relate to situations, when you have successfully landed on some distant planet.
At the beginning of a match, there will always be some auctions waiting for you – for technology. You can and you will collect it also in later stages of the game, but at the beginning, you need it the most, because you have to create your first rocket. You bid with the only currency available represented by water tanks. Auctions include an interesting systém, that favors the active player. If you choose a technology for the auction and somebody else wins it, you will at least get payed – the fee goes into your pocket instead to the bank.
You can then shoot it into the orbit next round, where you will assemble spacefraft from the technology cards. While talking about technologies, you put purchased cards on one side of your board, and when they are fired and make a ship, you move them to different place. The cards hold a lot of important information. When drawing up, your will be particularly interested in weight indicated in the upper left corner as MASS. In addition, some cards also contain symbol of the triangle at the bottom. It states strength and efficiency of their propulsion system.
By combining these two numbers, you get efficiency of the propulsion. Assembling all parts get you with a dry mass number, which means the weight of the ship without fuel. But you have to send not only machine, but also water tanks into orbit, but you have to watch your ship weight, just as you were yours. You will get nowhere without them, but they do weigh some tons. When you add these tanks, you get wet mass of your ship. But this is the time, you will need rocket diagram – according to your dry mass, you select roow and then column for your amount of water tanks. You now know, how many burns will your ships fuel last – number of dots to the left of this position.
The ship moves through the solar system, burning fuel to move. On every burn, you will spend fuel according to your engine diagram on the bottom of used propeller card. This gives strictly your consumption. And now you need to know, how fast your ship is. You will need acceleration track. Basic speed is given by the number on left side of propeller triangle. This number will change based on your ship size – the bigger ship is, the slower it gets. There are other options to adjust speed, but we will not discuss it here.
In space, you encounter not only a dangerous places, but also a kind of cosmic crossroads, where you can turn your ship without need to burn fuel to get on other route. These are called the Lagrange points. If you want to make turn with your vessel in any other place, using the elliptical paths, you must perform a challenging Hohmans pivot maneuver, that costs you two units of fuel per turn.
Finally you get to your destination. There are several routes, you can choose from. Main roads are recommended for beginners are also marked with labels containing the number of burns needed to reach the distant planet. You can land on the planet, but you have to maneuver your ship first into landing position – here your success or failure depends solely on luck, which clearly belongs to the universe. So you have to throw the dice and hope, that you will not roll one meaning, that maneuver failed and you lost the ship.
The planets are hexagonal symbols. After you have landed, you can administer four different operations. You can refuel your water tanks, but only if this place has some. And you have to have robonauts, who find it and dig it for you. You should also prospect the land (yes, with robonauts) for valued materials. You then could build a factory here. And this is moment, when you gain victory points.
The game ends, when the predetermined number of bases is build on space giants. Victory points will determine winner. Players get them for build factories, but also for extraordinary acts, like first landing on Mars. Player with the highest count is the winner. But they all are – they are rich with unforgettable experience.
High Frontier is a game, that is totally faithful to the universe and science. It is clear, that there was an expert involved in its development. Pushing so many ideas into one board game definitely required a lot of sleepless nights and heavy thinking. But the result is worth it, because the knowledge and physical principles blended into game with ease and elegance.
The moment you understand the basic principles of the High Frontier, you have basically won. The game is really not complicated in the end, at least if we look at the basic version of the game, without the extended rules. These add also radiatoin to the struggle for survival, or use of planetary gravity to gain speed, instead of burning fuel. This saves you precious water tanks.
The game provides really an experience. The whole game makes you really feel like you were space explorer, who seeks for new homes for mankind. And as well as in reality, much of the battle is won already at home, in the construction of a spaceship. You better think about what combination of technologies would you like to use in your spacecraft and how heavy should it be. Its speed and reach depend on it and influences the chance on success.
Coincidence will always stay in the universe and space travel, because no matter how good your technique is, it can always get broken. You would hardly find elsewhere so many unknown variables and unexpected events. And so it is perfectly fine, that in some situations, you just have to throw the dice, rely on luck and hope. Just like real astronauts. But the player, who finds luck at the beginning of the game, will ride ahead of less happy others. Fortunately, it is often just a coincidence and can be lost during the conquest of space. All players have a chance to catch up.
Is High Frontier, however, gameplay stays in second place. First is an experience. The experience of something huge. Who would say, that we will calculate consumption for our own spaceship and use gravitational fields of planets to shoot our vessels back to the stars? But luckily, the game still remains a game. You are assured about it with the presence of the auction, which is basically the only player interaction in the game. For the rest of the game, players are selecting a flight and routes for their ships on their own. There is a winner and victory points.
High Frontier uses only the few components, which are all made in solid quality. You will be pleased by rocket miniatures, but most of all that magnificent game plan deserves recognition. It is packed with informations and is itself a small work of art.
When you are dealing with the game for the first time, everything is quite intimidating. Fortunately, there is the above mentioned guide besides official rules in English, which will guide you through the secrets of the game in a better way. In provides description of all the basic principles, while the real rules of the High Frontier are more exact science. Just like the game itself. As with the BIOS, the author publishes constantly updated versions of the rules and thus the High Frontier has its Living Rules.
High Frontier is not a game for cowards. If you are afraid of complicated games and frightened of crowded game board, then go look elsewhere. But if you like games, from which breathes „something more“ and that will absolutely take your breath away, when you play it, you must not miss the High Frontier. Everything in this game is simply appealing to you the more you play. The universe is unpredictable and you will finally land on Venus with your module this time… Go Taikonauts!
Review: High Frontier – ensign, put us back on course, warp 3
High Frontier is something more than a board game. Actually it is a lot more and board game is just a little part of the whole. You will build a rocket ship in this game and you will fly around the solar system. But nothing is simple here, like it would be in a regular game. Here, it is more like the real life. You must first plan carefully and get your components for a lot of money. And the spaceship must not only hold together, but also have a good propulsion system and enough fuel to fly to its destination. There is a real science behind High Frontier and real principles coming out of NASA research. If you want to dive deep into the space, you like physics, thinking and counting, then High Frontier will be a taste of heaven for you. And if you always have dreamt of flying in outer space, you will be most certainly willing to devote some time to learning the more complicated rules. For every experienced gamer with an interest in space travel, High Frontier is great choice.