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Subject: Shame & Terror at 225 Million Klicks rss

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Chris Tannhauser
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When my youngest son—Austin, 16—asked to learn to play High Frontier I immediately broke into a nervous sweat. On the one hand he's a science kid who put in for several internships at local space exploration advocacy groups, on the other he's a modern teenager with the requisite picosecond attention span. If my clumsy rules monologue didn't kill the mood then being whipped by a child at one of my favorite games would.

Now, High Frontier is pretty straightforward once you grok the rules—move your rocket, pick an action and done—but the game presents as awful complicated on either side of that. There's the heady, psychedelic swirl of the map that looks like something Bowman pooped on his way through the monolith at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, clusters of numbers and letters, cards crammed with data, thrust triangles, masses, etc., etc. Once you learn the iconography and how those numbers and letters interact there's the mind-boggling array of synergistic choices that branch into a fuzz of options like grains of sand on a beach. It's a big-ass sandbox on the other side.

Austin took it all in, patiently, as I added a lot of "you'll see how this works later," and "we'll go into more detail when that actually happens." My only worry after the rules was that he'd have the usual first game experience—taking forever to get anything resembling a mission off the ground and then sending astronauts and expensive hardware to their doom; losing and not knowing why. One of us, indeed, would have that experience.

He grabbed NASA while I went ESA. Giant space lasers, yo!

Right off the bat he solar-sails a raygun into Lunar orbit and etches his name on the Moon with a frickin' laser. And I'm just... wow. Okay. Still trying to find a buggy to go to Mars.

For his next mission he drops a crew and factory on Luna, and then gets them back to parades and lucrative MoonPie® endorsement deals. Now I'm getting pissed off. I've only just boosted a hasty (and heavy) Mars mission to LEO and I'm busy with my cardboard "will work for water" sign trying to get the goddamn thing fueled.

He shoots his raygun/thruster combo at Ceres as I finally get my pig of a mission burning for Mars. The pressure he's putting on me by running multiple small, cheap missions forces me to risk the aerobraking maneuver for Mars landing, something I'd rather not do what with the decade-plus it took to gather, build and boost all the parts for an 11-mass rocket plus crew...

Austin watches me roll with obvious interest, a flicker of fiendish hope in his eyes—

—weeping, fillings vibrating out of their heads, my astronauts weather the aerobrake, the ballute jettisons on cue, the landing rockets fire and actually burn long enough to keep them from augering in. Le Pig has landed.

"Nice!" he says with only a tinge of disappointment.

I roll out the space Winnebago and turn the Red Planet green. On following turns I will drop a factory, refuel the newly trim and re-dubbed Le Piglet and launch the crew-return mission to Earth.

Meanwhile, Austin tags Ceres and another asteroid in the cluster and somehow manages to find the time to send a robonaut to Venus, which he lands and decommissions "just to see if I could." Dammit.

I land a second factory on Mars having hit that sweet, sweet spot in High Frontier where you have exactly the tech you need to rev missions bang-bang-bang. Austin sees me prepping a third Martian factory-drop and abandons his inner-planet noodling to launch a factory at Ceres.

One of us will get the game-ending factory—the race is on.

His is another of those damnable cheap, light shots while I'm flying the Pork Chop Express, so no time to grind for the eight water I'd need to set her down without the double hazard rolls...

I get to Mars first—she's coming in hot


Fig. 1 — "Mission Control, we've got a red light on the—PUUUH!*"

*The sound of two lungfuls of air explosively decompressing across a headset mic.

[ESA artist recreation. Image may be blurred due to tears.]


—and I lose telemetry over Hellas Basin. Fifteen years and hundreds of billions of euros to lay a bright streak across the Martian sunset. French expletive.

Through misty eyes I watch him drop the last factory on Ceres, ending the game at 19-16, his favor.

I would like to say I went easy on the kid, that I threw the game to increase his chances for buy-in and further plays. I'd like to say that, but I can't.

Pride and shame, it turns out, can coexist simultaneously.


Note: At some point he built a Von Neumann Santa Claus machine because "that would be cool." I warned him that there was an off chance it could malfunction and turn all his air into cotton candy. He still thought it was cool. And it was. It was very cool. Double-dammit.
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Kevin Eagles
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HiveGod wrote:


I get to Mars first—she's coming in hot


Fig. 1 — "Mission Control, we've got a red light on the—PUUUH!*"

*The sound of two lungfuls of air explosively decompressing across a headset mic.

[ESA artist recreation. Image may be blurred due to tears.]




Complete and side-splitting hilarity! Thanks for the great write up.

Eagles
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Wade Nelson
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I've got this game waiting to ship with a December preorder. I just got a lot less patient. shake

Great report!
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eryn roston
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Revenge for Agincourt!

( http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/139690/agincourt-in-whic... )

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That is a great session report. I also have it on pre-order and am evennow ordering the zazzle map!
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Victor Caminha
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And so it begins...
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A great session report! But the most important question is: did he enjoy enough to play HF again in the future?
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Mark Finch
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Rule changes for tonight's game:-
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Quote:
—and I lose telemetry over Hellas Basin. Fifteen years and hundreds of billions of euros to lay a bright streak across the Martian sunset. French expletive.


Oh, and some crew may have died. WHAT-ever.

Excellent write up. I really must get this to the table...



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Chris Tannhauser
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wykthor wrote:
A great session report! But the most important question is: did he enjoy enough to play HF again in the future?

He absolutely loved it. It wasn't just the win—as I've found with everyone who falls in love with HF he was smitten with the details in the tech and science. It's space-nerdtastic!

And I'm demanding a rematch today.

Speaking of...

I couldn't help but notice, after the fact, the awful similarities between this first-timer session and Scott Muldoon's

Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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excellent report:

Mars is a Harsh Mistress

It was a nearly identical experience (though NASA & the ESA were flipped) with small, cheap missions to asteroids competing with bloated pig-barges to Mars... complete with a final game-losing aerobrake/sandstorm gambit that ended in spectacular failure.

With its atmosphere, gravity and semi-sentient hatred for interlopers, Mars, it would seem, is truly the graveyard of space agencies.
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Mike Clarke
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wadenels wrote:
I've got this game waiting to ship with a December preorder. I just got a lot less patient. shake
Great report!

Hey Wade! I got this game in the very next trade I did after trading for Nemo with you. You won't be disappointed.
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Mike Clarke
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Wonderful report. The stories that you can write and live through playing these games is why I love this hobby.

HiveGod wrote:
Meanwhile, Austin tags Ceres and another asteroid in the cluster and somehow manages to find the time to send a robonaut to Venus, which he lands and decommissions "just to see if I could." Dammit.

Just to clarify. He wasn't doing that simultaneously was he? You can only have ONE rocket stack at a time. He could have also put an outpost on Venus and left his Robonaut in it to await a refinery for his last factory...although that's NOT an easy trip.

Amazing the speed with which he picked up the game and managed to pull off some less than obvious strategies. No wonder you're proud. Let me add my own meagre contribution to the rest of the bullion. The way you're milking the gold out of us with that tale, makes me think you musta been a pirate in a previous life but that's another game and a tale for another time... arrrh
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Chris Tannhauser
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mikecl wrote:
HiveGod wrote:
Meanwhile, Austin tags Ceres and another asteroid in the cluster and somehow manages to find the time to send a robonaut to Venus, which he lands and decommissions "just to see if I could." Dammit.

Just to clarify. He wasn't doing that simultaneously was he? You can only have ONE rocket stack at a time.

Naw, it was all legit. I was spending way too much time grinding through the robonaut deck looking for a buggy and then working for water. He spent that same time touring the solar system...

Glad you enjoyed it & thanks for the tip!
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