R0land's Rambling Reviews: High Frontier 4 All

It's been a while since I've uploaded a review and oooooooboy did I pick a big one to get back in to the swing of things.  Consider this to be a preview/light review as going in depth in to this game 

#High Frontier has been around since 2010, however, I have personally only heard of it in whispered tones since getting back in to the hobby.  "It's big.  It's complex. It takes a ton of commitment to get in to it."  

Those still apply to the latest version although it has done its best to help gamers to ease in to it.

Let's take a look.

Gameplay Overview

Look at that map.  Just look at it.

Ok, now that you've looked at it do you want to a) Run away screaming or b) dive in deep to figure out all the nooks and crannies of the solar system.  

If your answer is b then this game might be the one for you.  If your answer is a then that's perfectly sensible as well. ;)

The map for High Frontier represents distances between planets from an energy perspective rather than actual distance.  

On the map you'll find Hohmann's, Lagrange points, burns, hazards, radiation zones, comets, asteroids, moons, and of course planets.  

For the core game you will be auctioning off plans for various rocket/factory parts, boosting those parts to low earth orbit, fueling your rocket, travelling to sites for glory and also to where you can claim it and eventually build factories and colonies. 

Core elements plus supports.

Those colonies will be able to build ET (extra terrestrial) versions of your plans that typically are much better and can be sold for a lot of aqua back at LEO (low earth orbit).  (Aqua is both currency and used to fuel the rockets.

Many components require a type of support to work.  A big part of the game is to get a useful set of components together with the capabilities you need and with a mass that's low enough to go where you want.  (And return...maybe.)

In order to achieve your goals and victory points you have to consider:

  • The mass of your rocket components.
  • The location where your components can be upgraded.
  • Do you have an exploration module that is good enough to explore the location you want to go to?
  • Can your rocket land where you want?
  • Can your rocket take off from where you want to land it?
  • How much fuel do you take?  Can you refuel on the way?
  • What are the other players doing?

Vesta seemed pretty cool but that half burn getting off the planet was a problem when I was trying to use my freighter later.

There are a variety of expansions which add in modules to make things more exciting such as:

  • Politics: Play your delegates to change the game rules as you go including opening up the ability to commit felonies.
  • Freighters: Slow moving ships that can move your ET produced elements back to earth for some big bucks.
  • Bernals: Space stations where the humans will live and remote operate machinery down on the planets.  These allow you to avoid earth's gravity well along with other benefits.
  • Gigawatt & Terrawatt thrusters: Necessary to make it to the farther reaches of the solar system in any reasonable amount of time.
  • Colonists: Live on Bernals but can travel around the solar system giving you extra benefits.
  • Conflict: Rules for faction fighting (think the Expanse TV show).  Not reviewed here as they aren't solo compatible.

This game is hard to play but not THAT hard to play if you already play heavy games.  However, there is a TREMENDOUS amount to think about.  The trick is that you have to be able to react tactically to the cards you get and what other players do while still being able to have a long term strategic plan. 

And the more modules you add in the more steps to that long term planning you have to consider.  Building a factory is great but if you add in freighters you need to make sure the freighter will work for that factory if you are planning on using it to ship ET items back to earth.  Can the bernal plan you purchase upgrade with that factory you just created?

Add on to that there is a luck element to the game.  Some of it can be avoided by paying extra costs but sometimes you will have to decide to take your chances rather than waiting more turns to keep things safe. 

If you brave the danger spots and radiation belts and are successful you can get well ahead of those who play it safe.  But you could also blow up and lose your rocket and all your progress in one shot too.

So this game is not for everyone.  It's an experience game where the fun comes from doing your best, laughing at mistakes and misfortunes, and creating a story of industrializing the solar system.

There's a reason why players get to vote on these special VP awards to give to other players for memorable events.

Rules & Learning Recommendations

The core game comes with 5 different manuals.  The manuals lay out a learning plan that can help brand new players get in to the game in smaller steps before playing the full game.  

Space Diamonds is a family friendly weight game which is pretty cool but I would recommend Race to Mars as a starting point as it has a nice walkthrough in the manual and covers a fair amount from the full game.  

If you play a lot of heavy games though I feel like you can start with the core game without any extra modules.  

However, I found it REALLY useful to watch the various Heavy Cardboards playthroughs:

Core rules only:

How to Play only - High Frontier How to Play by Heavy Cardboard - YouTube

Core rules and playthrough:

High Frontier 4th Edition 3p Teaching & Play-through by Heavy Cardboard - YouTube

Teach and playthrough of core rules, module 0, 1, & 2:

Epic High Frontier 4 All with Modules 0, 1, & 2 EVENT- 3p Teaching & Play-through by Heavy Cardboard - YouTube

Yes, these are long but the teach at the beginning is the key part to play the game.  Watching their play through is really helpful with WHAT you should do rather than how to do it.

The player aid that comes with the game is excellent and includes rules for modules 1 and 2 right off the bat.

Components

The board, as I said earlier, is just awesome.  It's an incredible achievement of form and function.  It contains a lot of information and a lot of nodes and sites.  On first glance it is overwhelming true but once you learn the game a bit it is obvious that a ton of thought was put in to it and in fact it has a ton of function while still looking amazing!

The cards that come with the game are fine.  The plastic rockets are neat.

The player boards are a bit thin and the wet/dry markers are just small cardboard chits.  They get the job done but won't blow you away.

You mark busted sites using red tokens.  If you are of a certain age you will know those as bingo chips.  It's not that they are bad but I just found it interesting.

One functional issue is that once you cover a location with your claim token you can't see the sites size, hydration, or type.  Playing solo I found myself having to constantly look under the token to remind myself of the nature of a particular site.  There are upgraded cubes you can buy with the different site types on them but that's an extra cost.

Overall the components are great (the board) to good (the rocket miniatures) to good enough (everything else).  However, this does not take away from the game play except in that one case I mentioned above.  This just isn't that type of game.

Solo

This game is good for solo players.  While the auction is missing, and for some people will be a big hole in the game play, and the politics module is likely not really worth using, the rest of the play is still there.  You still only have access to certain components.  You still have to decide how you will make the most out of the cards you have.  There is still the decision around paying or waiting to keep things safer or just going for it and taking your chances.

In my first game I creating factories and colonies on Vesta, karin b, and Ganymede scoring 45 points in a 60 year game.  Victory was 60+ points so I didn't "win" as such but I had a great time and will be heading back to space soon.

In general I feel like this would be more fun to play with other players in some ways but on the other hand the ability to quietly think for a while to come up with a plan is nice too.

Expansions

Module 0: Included in the base game this adds politics to the game.  Players can put delegates in to the political arena to change the rules of the game or give themselves temporary extra abilitiies.  I think this is likely a must in multiplayer games.

Module 1: Terrawatt & Futures.  Adds in gigawatt and terawatt rockets.  (Humankind has about 14.5 terrawatts of power in all of our generators to give you a sense of scale of these things.)  WIthout these rockets it would be very difficult to get out to uranus or neptune in the time frame of the game.   

Freighters are also included in the game and they give you the ability to carry your ET produced goods back to earth rather than obsfucating it in the base game.  I really enjoy the extra thought I had to have around site planning once freighters were taken in to consideration.

Futures add in longer term goals and expand the game out to 84 years long.  They can get you big points but are hard and dangerous to achieve. 

I think this is a must buy module.

Module 2: Colonization: Adds in Bernals and colonists.  Bernals are space ports that can either be in "home" spaces or attached to a dirt side site.  They allow the player to avoid earth's gravity well for easier transport.  You can sell items at a home bernal, boost automatically to your home bernal and you get special abilities on top of that.  Colonists live in the Bernals and can be moved around the solar system to help you out with their special abilities in a variety of ways.

This is another must buy module in my opinion.  The Bernals add a ton of depth to the strategy and really flesh out the game play even further.  Now you aren't just going out and creating factories but you have this great new option to make things a lot more efficient...if you can get it up and running in a good spot, if this, if that.  Just great!

Module 3: Conflict: This one is not solo compatible.  However, after reading the rules I am not sure if I would recommend this one unless you play multiplayer a lot and really want to spice up the game.  I am a bit of a completionist for certain games and this one I wanted to have.  If you and your friends wanted to create your own version of the conflicts you get in The Expanse then this is the module for you!  A war to control the destiny of the colonies can occur during the game.  Players may attack each other with ships, drop rocks on inner system targets and fight for political as well as military control  The eventual winner determines several scoring elements in the game.  

I wouldn't call this a must have unless you are a completionist like me.  I have heard there might be solo rules coming for this module though which could change things.

Modul 4: Exodus is in the works and I could see a lot more being added to teh game potentially.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoy this game.  It's definitely an experience game rather than a tight euro but it really forces you to both plan ahead and be tactical.  It will have you making mistakes but then making the most of them.  You are in control of industrializing the solar system but space is hard!

The dreaded red one.  If you see this at the wrong time something important just blew up!

I have just touched on the game briefly here and in fact I didn't cover a lot of rules around how space ships are built, the math involved around weight, burns and fuel consumption, how you industrialize, colonize, etc.  It is thinky but not necessarily overly complicated.  But since one thing tends to chain in to the next it is easy to get caught out on a step and realize you just industrialized using the reactor your rocket needs to fly.  It's all fixable but it takes time.

To summarize, I think this is an excellent game that does exactly what it says: Makes you feel like you are exploring, industrializing, and colonizing space in the near future with all of the difficulties, imaginative solutions, and  triumphs & tragedies that will entail.



Please log in or make an account to post a comment.

Premium User56 days ago

Great review! That board looks very busy and is super overwhelming lol. Might not be one for me though I'm glad you've enjoyed your plays.

Premium User56 days ago

Thanks!  I think this is one of those games that if you like it you really like it but it's not for everyone.  Even for myself I can see there will be times when I will enjoy just diving deep in to a quiet thinky solo experience and other times where it's a bit much to tackle.

However, I definitely felt like it was indeed a great experience playing it and I love space and science so it was right up my alley.

Linked Games
High Frontier 4 All: Module 2 – Colonization
High Frontier 4 All
High Frontier 4 All: Module 3 – Conflict
High Frontier 4 All: Module 1 – Terawatt & Futures