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Chris Tannhauser
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San Diego
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Few things in life feel as good as watching NASA's 12-year manned space mission crawl up over the horizon of some God-forsaken rock and right into the targeting reticle of your neutral beam prospecting robonaut. While few things feel quite that good, here are some that are even better:

Watching the lights go green as the acquisition software do-si-dos with incoming radar telemetry and achieves target lock even as it does the math to overlap spool-up time with projected orbital position

Feeling the stutter of the retros putting your nose just a lick ahead of NASA's rising star

Hearing the blowers crank up as the power plant redlines

Tasting their split-second screams as an 800 MeV beam of ionized deuterium lances through the crew hab, straight down the spindle and into the propellant tankage, rupturing the whole shebang from star to starburst, a fireworks show to celebrate the death of Paleoconservatism.


Yes, few things in life are quite that good; it's too bad we'll never know how any of it really feels. This is not that beautiful story. This is the story of our time in the barrel, beholden to a terrible ascendancy.

Fig. 1 — The hole is for, uh, "air".

Once everybody knows the tech, the core of High Frontier is in the economic system: the auctions, hand management, and the marshalling of water. Timing in the auctions is critical; ideally you want something good to come up when everyone else is card-rich or water-poor. There is a nut-clenching amount of space for bluff and rope-a-dope. Does he really want that? Or is he trying to bleed me out and clog my hand to knock me out of the next auction? Overpaying by even a single water can cascade down the turns and end up curbing you in some unforseen dark alley off the branching paths of the labyrinth of time.

We have only recently staggered into that dread maze, sans breadcrumbs, thread-spools or hands joined in merciful cooperation. These days it's every space agency for itself, and if you didn't know that the Cascade Photovoltaic generator was the absolute worst card in the game*, well, then get busy putting the lotion on your skin or get the hose again. "Quarter" means nothing more than getting cut into four pieces, now.

People took water, sandbagging, instead of initiating auctions when the selection got weird (no triple-card takes or "good" tech on the top of the decks). No one was willing to set up the next person in line. It had all the nerve-rattling pleasure of an incipient gunfight. We stood, dusters akimbo, hands hovering over well-worn grips, waiting for that apocalyptic twitch.

When it came we blazed away in a roil of gunsmoke and dust and pink mist; when the last reports dopplered off the thin wooden shacks of mainstreet there was only one cowboy standing. The real McCoy.

Fig. 2 — "Us two cowpokers are totally erect for zee exciting
               gunfight action, no?"

The ESA and the UN lay in the dirt, their bespangled dime-store western dance costumes soiled with blood and death-spasm effluent. NASA was bona fide. He even used real bullets, not pop caps like them foreigners. And though he didn't have to, he put his pointy-toed boots into the corpses a couple times for good measure. NASA took a nice big whiff of the reverberating air. Gunsmoke, blood and shit. That's what Paleoconservatism smells like.

How did it come to this? I blame Providence and those damnable black cubes. Providence because as the Great Machine ticked 'round, NASA's number always seemed to come up; the dice because High Frontier dice are demonstrably, inherently EVIL. (I have it on good authority that they are carved from the bones of burnt witches, the pips dug out with vampire fangs, the paint derived from the blood of fallen Popes. In other words, Grade-A, 100% Pure, Extinction-Event Evil.)

First, those awful auctions. NASA wanted a solar sail, but really that translates to wanting a 6 VP hop right out of the gate, so we made him pay. He wanted the AMTEC generator, arguably one of the best in the game, but I swept the leg and took it from him. He really really wanted the Solar-Pumped MHD Excimer Laser (who wouldn't?) but since you can just strap it—and the radiator it comes with—to a sail and light out for insta-prospecting a full eight turns before anybody else, and because NASA is known for his fetishistic addiction to Space Tourism, it was a big no-no; I took that from him, laughing. Oh, how I laughed...

And somehow, somehow during all of this he managed to acquire and tuck away a massive amount of space junk in LEO. His hand was always clear. His stack of water ever-growing. So when we entered into that dark oubliette at the center of the Venn Diagram of PROVIDENCE, FICKLE DICE and SUPERIOR PLAY he was ready. The solar cycle rolled into the blue and the dice met him there with an Election Auction. He paid one—one!—to slide the wink** toward his governmental sphere and declare War in space. With glee we imagined the Great Adventure that space war would afford us, how exciting it must be for near-future star warriors with suprise decompression events, the random sublimation of you and your ship into an expanding cloud of hot gas for no apparent reason, the months-long dread as you watch a suicide crew angle themselves on an intercept course that more than covers any purturbation you might introduce with your delta-V budget. Truly the stuff that two-fisted tales are made of.

Fig. 3 — "During orbital combat bailout, screaming into comms hurts morale—
               please exhale slowly when breaking the sound barrier."

But it was not to be. The solar cycle clock struck midnight with another Election Auction, finding the ESA and UN woefully understocked on water. NASA paid a shockingly small amount—it may have been zero—to move the wink to Paleoconservatism. There was no tolling bell to sound the End of All Auctions Forever—only a stifling, suffocating silence.

"Huh," said NASA quizzically, "What does 'only white can initiate research' mean?"

"It means," the UN choked, "You're the only one allowed to start auctions."

Everyone glanced at everyone else's cards. There were only two refineries in play. NASA had a middling one. ESA's was semi-crappy. And the UN didn't have one at all.

NASA smiled. "I will never initiate another auction ever again."

Now, in most games this would be a fatal lock-up, the sort of thing that would make forum posters holler about "degenerate play" and the dreaded scarlet letters B-R-O-K-E-N, stuff playtesters should have caught in the two-year playtest cycle that all published games are required to go through by law; at the very least it should have made us quit the game then and there. But this is High Frontier. When your shit glitches you jettison the zero-mass buggy you brought along for just such an occasion; when the guy with the Metastable Helium thruster squats on your landing site you fly pointless clock-spinning missions to roll the solar cycle into the red and trap him there; when space gives you lemons you dump carboys of frozen lemonade into the orbit most likely to intersect his crew hab at 30,000 kph. It was not time to quit—it was time to spoil.

NASA had the only factory on the board; he would need two more to end the game, very likely for the win. The ESA and the UN glared at each other, faces red as if slapped. Both space programs shifted gears and romped on it. So it would be a race for the alternate game-end condition—the first to reach two Space Ventures.

But NASA, apparently not having learned his lesson about roll-slowing, slowed his roll by attempting all future factory missions with the Dirt Rocket, strip-mining the aeon-weathered faces of asteroids for use as propellent out the back of his mass driver.***

The ESA burned for the belt while the UN shot a heavy, one-way mission to Saturn, one of the few places in the solar system where it's possible to bag both Space Tourism and Space Pharmacy in one go. NASA smelled his coffee burning, woke the fuck up and accelerated his roll back to maximum.

If the first half of any game of High Frontier is in the auctions, the last half is pure strap in, burn on, black out. Here, the management of cards, water and opportunity becomes the management of time, water and mass. A single small mistake—the jettisoning of one fuel-step too many or too few, a crucial turn spent on a site refuel, the taking of a sub-optimal path—can remove you not only from the win, but from any sort of contention whatsoever. Do the space math and double-check your numbers, run the mission in sim, find the optimal path in terms of turns, burns, and pit-stops. Or lose to the player who does.

NASA drops another factory; just one to go. The ESA blackens swathes of asteroids, but nails two S-worlds in his quest for Space Pharmacy. The UN arrives at Saturn and finds among the cavalcade of moons two S-worlds and two V-worlds. He aerobrakes his 12-mass rocket into a rough landing on Titan and claims it for the final V: Space Tourism is his. The two operations per turn are going to come in hugely handy, mainly for gathering 2 WT at a time, since NASA shut down the primary money-pump of buying up cards you don't need for cheap and selling them back at a profit. The UN needs just a single S-world and he can end the game, eking out, against all odds, a win.

As NASA grinds to get his last factory up, both the ESA and UN reconstitute their rockets for a final push into the asteroids. There are only so many targets—two-hydration S-rocks—and they both go for 3362 Khufu first, the ESA arriving just ahead of the UN. The sun convulses and launches a massive wave of energized particles to hammer the ships—the UN vessel holds fast, but the ESA's radiator cooks off, stranding his manned mission in orbit above their goal. The UN drops past, wishing he could stop and help, but, you know, he has to—

blacken the site.

Nobody's happy, well, nobody who matters. While the ESA diverts resources to a rescue mission, the UN proceeds to blacken every. Last. Viable. Target in the asteroid belt. Space Pharmacy is a bust; the only remaining option is a harrowing jaunt through Jupiter's manifold radiation belts, to Europa, which while automatic in terms of prospecting, is highly unlikely in terms of having any reasonable rocket (with a rad-hard 0 anything on it) make it through. Also, the Monoliths expressly forbid landing there.

NASA has it in the bag. But rather than just let him walk out the door with it we're going to throw some Karate kicks at his face on the way out. The UN repurposes his asteroid mission for a long-haul cruise to 2060 Chiron in the hopes of scoring the Interstellar Science Site and getting another 10 points so as to go out with more of a bang than a poot. ESA scrambles for whatever points he can muster in this final bone-cracking, sinew-splitting sprint for the finish line...

Just before the UN arrives at Chiron, after a nearly 11-year cruise, another Coronal Mass Ejection slams into his ship and reduces his radiator capacity—it looks like a mission-ender, the kind of rage-quit that involves flying to Australia and blowing up part of the Deep Space Network, but after running the numbers it looks like it'll still work. A single, extraneous fuel step loaded as a rounding error will work nicely for open-cycle cooling out the afterburner. The mission is still a go, if just barely. The UN enters orbit, spools up the Neutral Beam robonaut and—

blackens Chiron all to hell.

The only thing left is to use the water the UN saved from Space Tourism—more than 20—to slap five points out of NASA's mouth in the final Election Auction. Anything to keep him from cresting 40 points.

NASA's busy counting. The ESA and UN are not. "You got 38," says the UN.

NASA sits back, sheepishly victorious. "I'm really sorry, guys."

"No you're not."

The words hang; politeness and good gamesmanship aside, any one of us would have done what he did. And none of us would hesitate to do so again in the future. The Right Stuff is more than being able to withstand nine gees while correcting for a faulty thruster in an uncontrolled spin—it's being able to take your turn in the barrel like a man while making plans for what you'll do when you're the one on the other side of the bunghole.


*Really only good for powering clown ships on pie-throwing missions to circus planets.

**This is the technical industry term for the little disks that come with the game, derived from "tiddlywink".

***The same way you could "drive" through a forest if you had a truck with a tree-throwing robot arm.

Note: This game was played with the Expansion, all rules on, with the Poster Map.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Arcata
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Buh ha ha ha ha ha. All that worrying I did about what you were going to do with that barrel image--totally worth it.
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Ed Bradley
United Kingdom
Haverhill
Suffolk
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The best things in life aren't things.
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Splendid as always
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Astoria
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I love you.
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Ohio
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We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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HiveGod wrote:
Now, in most games this would be a fatal lock-up, the sort of thing that would make forum posters holler about "degenerate play" and the dreaded scarlet letters B-R-O-K-E-N, stuff playtesters should have caught in the two-year playtest cycle that all published games are required to go through by law; at the very least it should have made us quit the game then and there. But this is High Frontier. When your shit glitches you jettison the zero-mass buggy you brought along for just such an occasion; when the guy with the Metastable Helium thruster squats on your landing site you fly pointless clock-spinning missions to roll the solar cycle into the red and trap him there; when space gives you lemons you dump carboys of frozen lemonade into the orbit most likely to intersect his crew hab at 30,000 kph. It was not time to quit—it was time to spoil.


HiveGod shall be bestowed a heroism star.
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Robb Minneman
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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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 the heck has HiveGod never been Geek of the Week? With session reports this good, he has to be.
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Mark Casiglio
United States
Bethany
Connecticut
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ConnCon 2015: March 13, 14, 15 in Stamford, CT
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robbbbbb wrote:
How the heck has HiveGod never been Geek of the Week? With session reports this good, he has to be.


Who said he hasn't? One of my favorite all-time GotW threads
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Victor Caminha
Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
RJ
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Master of Magic rules!
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Brilliant!
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W M Shubert
United States
Lexington
Massachusetts
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KGS is the #1 web site for playing go over the internet. Visit now!
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Yes, I really am that awesome.
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It's session reports like this (and Kuhrusty's with his son) that drove me to order this game yesterday. Even though I have approximately 0% chance of ever getting to play it.
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Calavera Soñando
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Tucson
Arizona
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HiveGod wrote:
The Right Stuff is more than being able to withstand nine gees while correcting for a faulty thruster in an uncontrolled spin—it's being able to take your turn in the barrel like a man while making plans for what you'll do when you're the one on the other side of the bunghole.


...just like PBF #1.

Fabulous write up. Fill the barrel with broken glass and a rabid badger and it's almost acurate. No other game I play is this unforgiving and unbalanced at times, and yet still so much fun to play.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Arcata
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wmshub wrote:
Even though I have approximately 0% chance of ever getting to play it.

Check out his advice for getting into the game in this thread, and cfarrell's advice here.
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