[Boardgames] High Frontier – first session report!

High Frontier is a realistic “science-adventure boardgame” where you play the role of space agencies who research technologies, launch them on rockets into the solar system to exploit the resources out there, and build extraterrestrial factories that in turn can build new fancier technologies. These give you victory points, and once you’ve built a certain number of factories, the game ends and you count up the VPs. It’s a little intimidating at first, but between a good walkthrough and the High Frontier yahoo group I managed to figure it out enough to give it a shot. The game itself does have a lot of science in it (the map does look a bit terrifying, but it’s actually very realistic in terms of energy requirements), but once you look at the actual gameplay it’s actually not that hard to understand what’s going on.

If you don’t know about the High Frontier board game then its BoardGameGeek page has lots of info. It’s available from most board game stores or directly from Sierra Madre Games – there’s one expansion out already that covers the outer solar system (the rules for the expansion are already in the base game), and there’s a new High Frontier: Colonization expansion coming out soon that extends the map further into the outer Kuiper belt and adds new rules for colonies (you can preorder that from SMG too).

So here’s a little session report that I wrote of our first attempt at playing it over the weekend. We do plan to play again so hopefully I’ll be able to take some pictures of the action next time, and I’ll write up a proper review of the game after a few more playthroughs. Meanwhile, enjoy the action :).


I finally managed to play High Frontier for the first time last night after spending all week poring over the rules… AND IT WAS AWESOME! :).

I played with two gaming buddies – I picked ESA, one picked NASA, and the third picked China. We played using only the basic rules and we started off with just the basic map, but we brought in the expanded map (out to Saturn) later on for more targets. We had a spot of bother straight away because the first thruster that was picked was a 1-0 solar sail and we were trying to figure out how it worked, but we solved that and got going.

NASA was first into LEO and decided to head off to asteroid Phaeton on its solar sail and with an ISRU 4 robonaut just so we could get a rocket going somewhere to see how that all worked. They took a few turns to get there, landed, and (unsurprisingly) failed the prospect roll. Then they decomissioned the rocket, started up a new one at LEO and headed off to the main belt.

China was in the air next with the other robonaut/solar sail combo, headed off to asteroid Khufu and actually managed to prospect there successfully to get a claim! But they didn’t have a refinery with them so they decommissioned and sent up another rocket there with a robonaut/refinery combo so they could set up a factory later.

ESA (that’s me!) took its sweet time building its rocket (everything in ESA is built by committee, you know). However, we were ambitious from the start and went for a full three-stage (robonaut-refinery-thruster) rocket setup for our first launch – we weren’t having any of this namby-pamby hippy solar sail crap! 🙂 We built a MAN’S rocket – a Ponderomotive VASIMR! But that meant we had a rocket that was about twice as heavy as the others to launch (mass 9 vs mass 4 and 5) so we had to spend more time building up fuel. Eventually ESA got into LEO though, to much cheering from mission control :), and decided its mission target was asteroid Minerva in the Gefion family.

Unfortunately by this time the pesky Americans had managed to launch their new rocket from LEO with a better thruster, and had beaten ESA to the asteroid belt, where they started their nefarious goal of blackening the asteroid belt by zapping as many of them as possible from orbit! There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at ESA as we watched Minerva and the other small rocks of the Gefion family being mercilessly blackened by NASA’s rayguns – particularly as the ESA rocket was already enroute just past the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange. NASA at least managed to prospect Ceres successfully but only because they couldn’t really fail that!

So Plan B was hastily assembled at ESA mission control, and we decided to try our luck at asteroid Hertha in the Nysa family, where our ISRU 2 raygun would be useful too. [I was going for size 3 worlds because I could land/take off from them without needing lander fuel – I had thrust 3, -1 for wet mass, +1 for beamed power, and I could use the afterburner to get another +1 for a total of 4 thrust. Also, size 3 is a 50:50 chance of actually getting a claim, which is better than 1 in 6 or 1 in 3].

Naturally, the universe continued to mock ESA as we also managed to completely blacken the Nysa family once we got there :(. But at least we could refuel on Hertha, and Plan C was formulated after all the players agreed to use the Expanded Map to find more targets (otherwise I was kinda screwed, since there aren’t any other size 3 hydrated bodies on the basic map). With new vistas of space open to us, ESA decided to head off to asteroid Lutetia to see if we could stake a claim there.

Meanwhile, the Chinese had managed to get their factory set up at Khufu, and managed to develop the Zubrin thruster there (uh-oh…), and promptly decided to use that to conquer the solar system by sending it back to Earth and loading up another robot/refinery package on it to build another factory elsewhere. Since the Zubrin drive basically allows them to go anywhere in one turn (15 thrust – 1/3 fuel/burn), they promptly set up shop on Jupiter’s outermost Galilean satellite Callisto.

While this was happening, NASA had been happily turning the Koronis cluster in the asteroid belt into a blackened wasteland, and had moved on to the Vesta cluster where they finally managed to get claims on Vesta, Unitas and Eichsfeldia. They built a factory on Eichsfeldia, refuelled there, launched again to plunder more asteroids, and promptly turned themselves into a new crater on asteroid Ida [they failed the ‘rapid rotation” crash hazard roll], thus ending their asteroid-killing spree. Fortunately their new factory was nearby so they sent up a freighter with a new instance of their black (robonaut?) card to pick that up with an earthbound rocket later (they didn’t really get a chance to do much after that).

ESA’s mission to Lutetia was also a disaster (the dice really hated me!), but at least we managed to refuel on its now scorched, blackened surface. ESA obviously had the utmost trust in their equipment by having so many backup plans, but at this point we were getting a bit desperate. That said, I guess it was testimony to our spacecraft that it had survived for so long and visited so many targets (there really should be some kind of VP reward for doing that with a single ship…). So, while the Chinese were busy zipping around the solar system and setting up their new base in Asgard’s ice spires on Callisto, we made a last-ditch effort to stake a claim on asteroid Hygiea.

Hygiea’s ‘siblings’ Badenia and Friederike turned out to be a bust, but FINALLY ESA got lucky on Hygiea itself and managed to stake a claim and build a factory there (we landed on fumes!)! Cue much raucous celebration at ESA Mission Control!!

ESA didn’t have much of a plan after that, but we noticed that we could actually get to Ganymede and at least claim that. Armed with our newly-minted Nanobot robonaut (black, ISRU 1, buggy) the refuelled ESA rocket managed to land on Memphis Facula and claim both Ganymede locations (no factory though since I didn’t have a refinery)! [this was particularly cool moment for me, since I’d spent a good chunk of my PhD studying Ganymede, so it was only fair that I claim it! :)]. ESA and China now both had claims in the Galileans and were eyeing eachother warily over the gap – fortunately the Chinese didn’t try to jump ESA’s Ganymede claims though.

Having accomplished ESA’s main mission – and being quite tired by this point since it was now the wee hours of the morning – I wasn’t actually sure what to do next so I ended up turning my rocket into an outpost on Ganymede and attempted to start a new rocket at LEO to find a new target. China had meanwhile turned its greedy eyes on NASA’s Vesta claim, claim jumped it and built a factory on it for good measure. I’d just managed to boost my rocket into orbit and was considering a trip to Mars, but the Chinese managed to get Space Tourism (Space Venture) and then paid the 5 WT to end the game since they had three ET factories (Khufu, Callisto, and Vesta).

So the Chinese won by miles (I think they ended up with 24 VP, and ESA and NASA both had 9 VP), but despite the length of the game and our initial trouble we all agreed that it’d be fun to try it again now that we had some idea what we were doing, so I consider that mission accomplished! 🙂

I think we did everything correctly, but being our first game I’m sure we probably slipped up in a few places (and we’re still not sure what the general strategy should be). But I’ll ask questions on the HF Yahoo Group and hopefully get those sorted out by the next time we play! (and next time, I’ll take photos 😉 ).

2 Responses to “[Boardgames] High Frontier – first session report!”

  • Reading this review makes me wish that I hadn’t prevaricated purchasing it when High Frontier was readily available.

    • If you’re interested in it and can find it (I think you can still order it from Sierra Madre Games), I’d recommend just sticking with the base game. The new Colonization expansion is too much effort I think.

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