HIGH FRONTIER 4 ALL

Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue

HIGH FRONTIER 4 ALL (Ion Game Design/Sierra Madre Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 30-240 minutes; $69)

 

Since childhood, space travels and stars have fascinated me. When I started to get into board games, those with a space setting always attracted me in a special way. The theme of space travel and colonization of other worlds recurs in many titles. Unlike other titles, High Frontier 4 All deals with space travel in a very strict scientific way. In fact, we talk about the exploration and colonization of our solar system, starting from the Moon and Mars and gradually towards the extern planets and other celestial bodies. Phil Eklund has accustomed us to games in which the aspect of simulation and attention to the historical and scientific element is a central part and actually in this, the fourth edition of this title, the theme of the exploration and colonization of the solar system is approached rigorously with a complete revamping of the rules to make the game more accessible.

High Frontier 4 All has a ruleset in three levels: Space Diamonds (which essentially introduces the system of movement in space and the game map), Race for Glory (which presents different scenarios and introduces most of the rules) and finally the Core Rules (which are the complete game). Then there is the possibility to further enrich the game with additional modules and expansions.

In all versions, the purpose of the game is to get as many victory points as possible in the number of years defined by the scenario. Designing a space trip is a complex thing that takes a lot of time; every game round represents a year. In Space Diamonds, the game ends after 3 years that the first player returned to LEO (Low Earth Orbit); the full game lasts 48 years!

Every player starts the game with a playmat, representing rocket fuel and thrust, some useful info and spaces for rockets, LEO, outpost 1 and 2. During the game, a player can have in play a single rocket and no more than two outposts. Each of these areas (LEO, Rocket and the two outposts) can hold cards and fuel tokens.

The game map represents the solar system divided into 9 heliocentric areas, each identified by a planet (actually the fifth zone, the one between Mars and Jupiter, identifies the asteroid belt between these two planets of which Ceres is the most important). On the map are indicated routes characterized by spaces that are areas where rockets can move and stop. Routes can intersect in special spaces called Lagranges or simply cross in the so-called Hohmans. There are hazardous spaces where something could happen to your rocket including being hit my too much radiation.

The central and characteristic element of this game is movement determined by the propulsion system of a rocket and its mass. The propulsion system determines how much space a rocket can travel in a year (and how much fuel it uses to move). The more fuel the rocket carries, the heavier it will be and the worse its mobility will be. As fuel is consumed, the rocket lightens and gains in mobility. Therefore, organizing space travel requires careful planning to assess which route can be the best to reach your destination, how much fuel is needed to go AND to return to base. The map helps by offering some info about the best route to reach the most important celestial bodies including the number of spaces to travel.

In the introductory game, each player has a vehicle that can proceed without fuel (thanks to solar sails) or with a default rocket at the start of the game. Each player will have two goals to achieve (from a special deck of cards), namely two celestial corners of the solar system to visit. Other markers will also be placed on the map that, if recovered, can provide a bonus or additional win points.

In the full game and in Race for Glory, you get points to be the first to land a human crew in a heliocentric area or building factories in different celestial bodies. Unlike the basic game, each player must design his rocket, “buying” the different components that must then be assembled in space, on LEO, and then taken on a journey and used to build factories and colonies.

Every year, each player can perform an operation and then move his rocket (or move and then perform an operation). Possible actions include the purchase, by auction, of components for the construction of the rocket, the sale of components to obtain fuel, the sending of components on LEO to be assembled, the exploration with your own rocket of the surrounding celestial covers, the construction of a factory or component in space and finally, the transport of components and/or fuel from its own factory to its base.

The different components used to build rockets are represented by cards that indicate their characteristics. These cards are organized in different decks like thrusters, robonauts and refineries. In the complete game, there are also generators, radiators and reactors, All components have mass, which must be added to that of the rocket carrying it, a radiation resistance (used only in the full game) and specific features. The key components are the thrusters that indicate how far a rocket can move and how much fuel it will consume to do so. There is no rocket without a thruster but not all the thrusters needs fuel: there are also solar sails, useful for the journeys in the central part of the solar system.

In the complete game, some components may have some prerequisites in terms of energy and cooling and, in that case, you will also need to mount in your rocket the appropriate generators, radiators and reactors. Your rocket also needs a robonout to analyze and explore celestial bodies before landings and a refinery component if you want to build a factory there. Different robonouts can provide different abilities in exploring celestial bodies including the rover used on the Moon and Mars.

Planning a trip requires not only to calculate the number of spaces to be crossed and the relative fuel consumption, but can also include the crossing of dangerous zones and complex landings. Planets with atmospheres also need very strong propulsion to be abundant while landing on less hospitable asteroids can be easier. Like in real space travel, it can sometimes be useful to provide different thrusters for your rocket to use in take-off and landings and in space travel.

Without entering into the details of this game (the manual is over 40 pages plus a glossary with important information) I want to try to convey the feelings you have playing.

The game consists of identifying a target for your trip and trying to buy materials needed to assemble your rocket before completing the mission. Assuming there are no unforeseen events, there are, in fact, on the map some boxes that can damage the rocket or, in some years, particular events may happen. It is necessary to complete the mission and bring home your rocket and/or crew. The time taken to travel, in term of years (rounds) is such that, in the meantime, you have to start programming the next mission that can only start over the current one because each player can have, at most, one rocket in play.

What celestial bodies to explore, where to build a colony and where a factory, depends both on the material at our disposal and on what your opponents are doing. Every explored and analyzed celestial body, every factory or colony built provides one point in the end of the game. Being the first to land humans in a certain area of the solar system offers additional advantages such as having factories on planets or celestial bodies of different types and colonies.

High Frontier 4 All is, overall, a fantastic game that will stir the passions of those who love simulations and are not afraid to do calculations and projects for much of the game. Interaction with other players is not very high even if there is a certain struggle to grab the best components or to reach certain areas first. The game also works well with two players but becomes more exciting and interactive when you play 3 or 4 even if the times lengthen considerably. – – – – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligabue


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