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Subject: CUBES OF DOOM rss

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Chris Tannhauser
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After a beer and a shot, I think I'm finally ready to write about this. And I was the winner.

It's NASA and Japan and the ESA all vying for a lucrative foothold in the sky, to sell bits of it back to the downlander feebs who bore through Mother Earth's skin and leave trails of shit like scabies, talking, fighting, machine-building scabies...

The ESA leaps outward and lands robots, men and flags on distant rocks; NASA and Japan struggle to put together even the simplest of working rockets. NASA's, particularly, looks like a space-science garage sale, a pig at 14 mass, and she runs hot as hell—having to radiate six (!) therms of heat in all operational configurations. Now granted she'll do it all—flight, prospecting, industrializing—but really, c'mon. Even so, everyone is muscular and steely-eyed, we are the men who stride the void and nothing can stop us.

Fig. 1 — I HUNGER

Except maybe radiation. That must be why there's no pension plan for astronauts. The Japanese hit it first, attempting to pull away from Earth's gravitic embrace, only to get slapped back by the goddamn Van Allen belts and an outrageous radiation roll. NASA points and laughs, as is only right, and then punches it for distant lights—and most of his radiators cook off, too, the dice playing no favorites tonight. They both wallow with outposted hulks, spitting distance from each other, helpless to do anything about it.

Fig. 2 — When you open the Random Van Allen
Belt Radiation Level Box you find that it is not
the cat that is dead—it is your radiators.
And maybe some crew.

Now come the quandaries. Scrap it all and re-boost? Rescue missions? What will the next thirteen turns look like?

Meanwhile, the ESA flies thither and yon, leaving Eurotrash all over the night sky, and triggering a solar flare before retiring his rocket, having founded the world's first space tourism scam. He'll fly billionaires, perhaps to their doom—much to the delight of their heirs—to points as yet untouched by privileged feet, soon to be trod banal by only the wealthiest of scions, wasting enough money to lift nations from squalor on a long, cold trip to vomit in a space helmet.

And so the solar cycle sticks in the red; like a baleful eye the sun adds two to every radiation roll...

NASA and Japan do the space-math. "Hey, it's a 50-50 chance you'll make it through the radiation belts, go for it!" they cajole each other—then delight turns to agony as they are stuck again, radiators hissing, popping, and filling the crew hab with superheated gasses. Again. And again. And... Japan stares at the traitorous die in disbelief. Brute force has broken upon the cruel rocks of God's will and the ranks of dead heroes cry out for the ESA's blood. Something must be done.

There is talk of humiliating rescue missions, the most kludgy agglomerations of rockets to drag spare parts from Low Earth Orbit to the edge of the Van Allen belts where the hulks drift. The cost is prohibitive, the number of wasted turns staggering; NASA and Japan are surely out of the game and fighting over a distant second place like mongrels over a severed arm.

And still, they press on. Japan lashes extra radiators to a solar sail, NASA employs a "mirror steamer" (a celestial whoopee cushion filled with water) to ferry the fragile radiators out to the ship-wrecking shoal of the Van Allen belts... The number of failures shall remain uncounted. It is known only as a bolus of pain wending its way, still, through the psychic bowels of the two players. But especially Japan. He is stoic and pretends at resilience but his samurai's eyes betray a killing rage.

The ESA is uncharacteristically pitying. He slows his roll... and it is the last time he will ever be merciful, as it is his empathy that will cost him the game.

Fig. 3 — Didn't get shot, not on money.
But who else has a motherfucking nuclear rocket?
Yeah, I went there.

Finally, we are free. NASA and Japan burst from the cradle and into the sky where they sniff out likely spots to defile with machines and industrial waste and set to business without delay. Japan builds an ISRU 0 robonaut on a cold, dead rock while NASA unveils the USS Chester A. Arthur, a nuclear salt-water rocket, built suddenly, secretly, in the asteroid belt.

The ESA sits up and blinks. His roll is too slow. He knows he'll be overtaken once the uranium salts flow into a continuous nuclear torch, propelling American astronauts to glory. Like the Chrysler Building riding constant Hiroshimas the skyscraper-sized marvel takes a short jaunt to Earth to pick up some junk and then hops to Mercury on the following turn. There is nothing like it in the solar system. It's noisy, messy and fast. 100% American after all.

Fig. 4 — Enceladus: Another dead world hungry for corpses.

In one God-jaw-dropping turn the Arthur sprints from LEO, slingshots past Luna, streaks straight for Jupiter where it screams through the gravity sling and out toward Saturn, hooking right and burning in for a direct landing on Enceladus.* NASA dodges the crew-killing geysers by paying his last four water for a software upgrade. No matter, he'll have the final, game-winning factory there next turn. Worry is for communists. He sends his robonaut buggy down the ramp to claim his prize.

"Ha! Roll your boxcars," brays the ESA.

Really, NASA thinks. He smirks and picks up the die, rolls it lazily in his hand, drops it. A six. The ESA explodes with laughter. NASA snatches the die from the board. "Wait! I get a re-roll with my buggy," he says.

"So roll your other six," chuckles the ESA helpfully.

NASA does. Son of a fuck-biscuit. This was supposed to be the game-ending, game-winning move, as obvious as a toddler with an ice cream cone, and now he was stuck on someplace unpronounceable with no water and looking down the barrel at God-knows how many turns to get enough to pay for another software upgrade to thread the geysers for liftoff. He turns away from the board, screaming inside.

Fig. 5 — Cryovolcanoes? Why did it have to be cryovolcanoes?

Japan takes his turn. In a beautiful ballet of orbital mechanics, he wings a solar sail with crew and his precious ISRU 0 robonaut out toward Saturn for a breathtaking aerobrake maneuver past the rings and into the very atmosphere of the gas giant itself.

"I hope your shit blows up," says NASA petulantly.

Japan drops the die and it bounces along, faces flashing, needing anything but a one for glory and science—

It's a one.

"Wait!" cries NASA, "I didn't mean it!"

Japan sags back into his chair, utterly defeated. "My whole game," he breathes, "my whole game was for this. All I wanted was to tag Saturn."

His initial, radiation-stalled missions, his breakthrough flight to the asteroids, turns of prospecting, turns spent landing the pieces of a plan, the long game falling into place one bit at a time, the factory on that dark, silent rock, the precious cargo spat by the machines back into the sky, the rendezvous out past Mars, and the final solar shot with crew, robonaut and buckets of hope, all to end the game on his own terms, victorious by his own conditions, all this was reduced to screams and static and lost telemetry...

Did that one touchy radiator not retract far enough? Did it kiss the slipstream and tug the ass-end of the ship into the maelstrom of plasma coursing over the ballutes?

How do you say, "I'm not getting a green light on number four," and "That one never lights—it's good, I can see it on camera," in Japanese? We'll never know. We'll never know.

What I do know is that after tonight I never want to see those damnable black cubes again, those tiny, soul-scouring Lament Configurations that turn the most noble yet primal of pursuits into a cackling ruin. Fuck those dice. Fuck them right in their pips.


Fig. 6 — A High Frontier die blown up like 50 times.
It's getting ready to roll a one, or a six,
whichever would be most disastrous
right now.


*Which auto-corrects to "Enchiladas". Goddamn machines.

Note: This game was played with the Expansion, all rules on, with the Poster Map.
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Mark Casiglio
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Bethany
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Your tale of pain and anguish has moved me. Now I want to play it.
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Don Barree
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Csigs wrote:
Your tale of pain and anguish has moved me. Now I want to play it.


Me too. I have never been able to get this one to the table.
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Chris Tannhauser
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dbarree wrote:
Me too. I have never been able to get this one to the table.

Man, I'm sorry to hear that. The above notwithstanding, after 25+ games of this I have to say that High Frontier is my most favorite game of all time. After more than a year of regular play it has never failed to surprise, delight, and, yes, terrorize. No two games have been alike, even though most of them have been with the same players.

All the seemingly wonky systems—so weird and disjointed when viewed piecemeal—are really part of a brilliant, unified whole; we have only just recently begun to truly grok the initial auctions and economic system. There is dizzying depth there.

Here are my standard recommendations for new players:

- Start with the base game, dealing one of each card type to each player. Play it at least five times before moving to the expansion.

- Play the expansion without Events, Space Government, or Combat. Deal one of each card type (six cards) at the start. This will help familiarize you with the tech, what works together and what works for which missions.

- Only add elements back in as you accrue plays and things start to feel too easy: add Events, then later add Space Government, then later Combat. Finally, do away with the initial card deal and do straight auctions for cards BUT ONLY ONCE EVERYONE IS INTIMATELY FAMILIAR WITH ALL THE TECH.

And the best advice of all: Don't be in a hurry. Take your time & enjoy the process. The game will pay you back thousandfold.

Best of luck to you!
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Don Barree
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Chris,

Thanks for the suggestions. I will try again to get some other players interested in this using your recommendations. Out of curiosity, have you played with the extended map? It looks interesting but unnecessary.
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Chris Tannhauser
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dbarree wrote:
Out of curiosity, have you played with the extended map? It looks interesting but unnecessary.

If you mean the Poster Map, then, yeah, I think it's a must-have. But only if you love the game. Start with the base game map as there's plenty to keep you busy for a while—like how to get anything to Mars, colonizing the asteroids, solar sail missions to Mercury, etc., etc. Again, first five games with the base map works great. After that we added the Expansion map and once I realized this was a keeper, we up-rezzed to the Poster. I can't see playing without it, now, but still, baby steps!
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Victor Caminha
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Rio de Janeiro
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And so it begins...
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A hillarious report, Hivegod, thanks thumbsup

Quote:
If you mean the Poster Map, then, yeah, I think it's a must-have.But only if you love the game


What he said.
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Robb Minneman
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Tacoma
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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How can one not love this game?
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Chris Tannhauser
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robbbbbb wrote:
How can one not love this game?

I know, right?

Unless...

I imagine it would suck pretty hard if you looked at it and said to yourself well, I'm an elite gamer, all my friends are elite gamers; I bet we don't need to stair-step this beast, in fact, I'm pretty sure this game will give up all its secrets in a single play, and then you dive into two hours of rules explanation followed by five hours of useless noodling where everything breaks, it's impossible to get anywhere and much of the map might as well have "Here There Be Dragons" scrawled on it.*

I think I'd hate it if I'd done that.


*Hyperbole? I dunno, read that on a blog just today.
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Nigel Twine
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BRILLIANT after-action-report.

I only have the base game (recently acquired) and am noodling with it solo until I am ready to bring it to my groups table - rules known.

According to SMG`s website we can pre-order "High Frontier: Colonisation" from this October ahead of a (probable) October 2013 release. It will include the original expansion (now impossible to find) plus a whole lot more goodies.





Like the "USS Chester A. Arthur" touch. Geek/Nerd Admission: I think of my spaceship as "The Anastasia". (if you know why without having to look it up then you`re a Geek/Nerd too!)
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Morten Lund
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Århus
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dbarree wrote:
Csigs wrote:
Your tale of pain and anguish has moved me. Now I want to play it.


Me too. I have never been able to get this one to the table.


If you know Vassal, I believe a module has just been posted
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Tod Kuykendall
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As Japan in this game only know have I emerged from my bunker smelling of tears and sake wearing my numerous ribbons of shame. Now that I am weary of demonstrating on dolls what that game did to me I can, perhaps, begin to speak of those events...

Japan jumped to an early lead using solar technology to take a crew of modern day heroes to an important - useless according to the haters - "science" site but after early glory things slowed to a crawl. Suddenly the ESA's shaming of all involved by peeing on enough planets to demonstrate his ability to effectively turn billionaires boyhood fantasies and bank accounts into rocket fuel, private school tuition, super-PAC money, and whore payments the rest of us were stuck on planet under a harsh and judgmental sun raining radiation down on us like the scorn of disappointed parents. The ESA had cash to to - literally - burn and was moving forward with multiple actions throwing the auctions into chaos.

Faced with the undeniable truth if the inadequacy regarding our Japanese rockets I resigned myself to modest goals. A "C" technology planet - derisively known as "craptastic" due to their prevalence - how hard could that be? Having finally mustered enough water to both boost my gangly multi-technology spaceship and supports I glared into the evil radiation of the over-bright sun and dug deep for the courage to fly into it. Consulting the knowledge my dead relatives in the form of a 9' hologram I asked the eternal one we call 'Derrick' I asked "What do you suggest I do?" and the answer came back in form of stinging rebuke:
"I SUGGEST YOU STOP BEING SUCH A PUSSY!!!!!"
followed by the inevitable holographic Patton slap.

SLAP

Trying not rub the spot of the slap - and wondering again how holograms can hurt - I re-enter mission control and utter the fateful words:
"We are 'GO' for launch."
I ignore the startled look of the engineers holding green and white stripped print outs showing the odds of launching into the solar shitstorm we're facing. Inwardly I say "Never tell me the odds, kid." and try to wear my best merch-smirk.

Exactly as intended our rocket move silently and swiftly to LEO and then executes a perfect rotation-burn towards "outerspace". Suddenly all hell breaks loose in the control room. The radiators - spec-ed for normal radiation - have failed in the face of the unexpected solar storm stranding the drive of the entire ship. "Not a problem!" I insist as I boost our replacement radiators and attach them to our solarsail still in orbit from our previous success. It take a year but Japan bravely launches the replacement radiators to the waiting ship and crew. As an entire nation watches the solar sail valiantly tugs its mission sustaining cargo to the stranded crew and ship. The arch of water spraying from the raptured radiators plays nightly on both the news and latenight comedy shows for weeks afterwards.

Another year and another rescue mission.

Eventually it's hard to tell if the shows are playing footage from the second rescue mission or the first one since they are so much alike. In the end it matters little.

After many years of analysis we determine that our plan is unworkable. The solar sail is sent to tug the carcass of the ship - now stuck near the Van Allen belts for 3+ years - back to HEO. The solar sail is then returned to earth for the replacement radiators and sent back to HEO to complete the rocket. The advantage of the 5+ years that have passed in the interim is that the Sun's radiation has receded to the levels the ship was designed for and after a few years the "C" planet is finally mined to excitement of no one.

[Skipping ahead through the production of the amazing space laser allowing the prospecting of any planet or asteroid because Japan's endless floundering has left its space program a distant third to the other industrial powers and no one is paying any attention.]

In a desperate bid to gain something approaching an equal footing with the other powers Japan embarks on risky gambit - to be the first to prospect Saturn. All that's required is a risky space maneuver and an aero-braking procedure but after that all will be in awe of the amazing comeback staged by the forgotten Japanese. Pushed by the schedule of the other powers Japan presses ahead one water short of being able to pay for safe passage in both of these risky spots. The water is expended to pas the dangerous asteroid field but the aero=braking is all up to the crew, but could possibly go wrong? The egg-heads had 7 extra years to prepare for this maneuver. What are the odds?

We waited breathlessly at mission control as our clock showed the aero-breaking procedure starting on Saturn time. Over an hour later the telemetry data started reaching us and we immediately saw there is a problem. Against all odds the angle of the descent can't possibly be correct. Simultaneously several of us reach for the radio control but we are too late and the screams, prayers and final confessions of our valiant crew echoed through mission control until it mercilessly stopped by a roar of unimaginable loudness... and then deafening silence.

As the newbs frantically run around and tried to raise the crew on radio us veterans of this long doomed mission silently gathered our few personal mementos, turn the lights off in our offices and gather at the local bar with no plans of going home.

In a previous time we would have had the out of face-saving suicide, but the modern world is less merciful. But nothing is as un-merciful as space.
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Chris Tannhauser
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Some notes:

After an initial "Eureka bag-tag" by Japan, both NASA & Japan were locked down inside the Van Allen belts long enough for the ESA to score Space Tourism (7VP + two operations per turn). Honestly, we figured the game was lost at that point.

Other than the ESA's pity, his reluctance to just "go for it" and bum-rush the radiation belts with his Metastable Helium thruster ("It has the word 'stable' right in the name!") was a huge factor in allowing us to catch up.

Serendipitous radiators: My awful, hot rocket (five therms of cooling required for flight, six for prospecting) was a source of pain and embarrassment, taking forever to collect an entire mismatched zoo of competing radiator designs and then have them poking out everywhere. BUT—when I industrialized that S asteroid to build the Zubrin thruster I suddenly had a functional nuclear rocket without the usual long, slow freighter trip back to LEO to get fitted for enough radiators to run it. This made a HUGE difference and saved me many wasted turns.

At this point it truly became an all-out foot race. With the time saved popping the insta-Zubrin, could it beat ESA's lead & two operations per turn?

The pivot-point for the win came when Budget Cuts hit—we were all running lean, with exactly the tech we needed, so the loss of a white hand card (a crucial part of our rockets at the time as we'd all just industrialized) crippled everyone. I chose to pitch my reactor as a better one that worked with what I had was on top of the deck. I put it up for auction and ESA had the opportunity to snag it—I did my best puppy-dog eyes and flopped uselessly in my chair for sympathy, pointing out that it was a close race that ESA would probably win anyway without the reactor denial. He teetered, and relented only because we had spent so much of the game wallowing in failure. (I knew it was make-or-break for me; I also had an inkling that with that reactor I had it in the bag.) ESA will never, ever, let me have what I need again, no matter what I say:

I won by a single point.
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Art Brochet
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HiveGod wrote:
robbbbbb wrote:
How can one not love this game?

I know, right?

Unless...

I imagine it would suck pretty hard if you looked at it and said to yourself well, I'm an elite gamer, all my friends are elite gamers; I bet we don't need to stair-step this beast, in fact, I'm pretty sure this game will give up all its secrets in a single play, and then you dive into two hours of rules explanation followed by five hours of useless noodling where everything breaks, it's impossible to get anywhere and much of the map might as well have "Here There Be Dragons" scrawled on it.*

I think I'd hate it if I'd done that.


*Hyperbole? I dunno, read that on a blog just today.


I probably left at least a few people at Dragonflight this weekend dazed and confused by giving into just this sort of "I'm ready for the full enchilada!" hubris. Although I did my best to provide clarity, even stronger heads were spinning...

HF evangelists — heed Chris's advice for indoctrinating even the most promising acolytes.
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Chris Tannhauser
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Fig. Ω — Game designer Phil Eklund selecting an appropriate die Die DIE!!!
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Vaughan Edge
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I have introduced this game to new players going straight into the advanced game and it's been well received. We still don't know what we're doing but have fun making a hash of it. Slowly peeling back the layers but still great fun to go into the advanced game.
 
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