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also known as Martian Disaster.
Played my first game of Very Hard today, also attempting my first set of manned missions.
The layout had 4 Mars missions (Mars Lander, Mars Sample Return, Man on Mars, and Mars Station), and with these accounting for over half of the mission points I decided to have a go at completing these.
It did not go well at all. For all three attempts.
The first was due to lack of general planning, and by the time I started seriously thinking about doing the missions, and way too little time left.
So I sat down and put together a plan of what would be required in order to complete the missions (tacking on the mercury one as well in the initial list due to spare payload), and with a requirement of seven years it seemed doable enough. Except that it also requires 9 techs, and for guaranteed success a whole lot of testing – more than I seem to be able to achieve in a game.
Insert mission plan
Spoiler (click to reveal)
In reverse order:
* Sample return from Mars Orbit --> Earth Orbit (Diff 5) – Sample (1) *2, Ion Thruster (1).
Taking 3 years, Ion produces 15 thrust, which is enough to get them back to earth exactly.
* Astronaut return from Mars Orbit --> Earth Orbit (Diff 5) – Eagle (1). Supplies (3) + Ion (1) *2.
Taking 3 years, Ion produces 15 each, for a total of 30, which is exactly what is needed (weight 6* diff 5)
Once in Earth orbit, both can be dropped back to Earth easily enough, assuming no issues with tech.
Note that the extra sample is taken as the payload is available and spare in all cases.
Leaving the Surface of Mars
Vostok (2), Sample (1) * 2 (could be 3); diff 3.
An Atlas is enough for this, so the Vostok capsule and an Atlas need to be dropped on to Mars.
The direct difficulty 5 route (Earth Orbit --> Mars Orbit) seems to work out the best again for this mission.
Eagle (1), Vostok (2), Supplies (1) *4, Ion (1) *2, Atlas (4). Total payload is 13. The trip takes 3 years, so powering both Ions gives 30 thrust. Adding a Soyuz to transport the payload takes the total weight to 22 and with difficulty of 5 that gives required thrust of 110. As a Soyuz produces 80, combined with the Ion thrust it works out perfectly.
However, the mission requires 7 food, and the main ship only carries 4. It also needs 1 more Ion thruster for the return trip. These are taken on a probe mission that is sent out earlier, and goes via Mars Flyby then to Mars Orbit. Consisting of Probe (1), Ion Thruster (1) and supplies (1) *3, the thruster is enough to power both segments of the trip if they take 3 years each. The probe can then survey Mars, or be dropped onto Mars, to discover the location, and the Ion left in orbit for the return trip.
When the main ship arrives, the Atlas, Vostok, and 1x Supply are dropped down to the planet. The rest are left in space for the return trip.
This method requires 9 techs, and the following payload to end up in orbit:
1 x Soyuz
1 x Atlas
3 x Ion
7 x Supplies
1 x Vostok
For a total weight of 27. This is launched up via 4 Saturns (one 2 stage launch using 2 Saturns that can take a total payload of 20, and two direct launches of 5 payload each), and leaves enough payload for a few testing components or the needed parts for the Mercury run (Juno, Probe, Ion).
Cost wise, it is huge. Especially as the Atlas and Soyuz are only needed once each, and a major failure with them cripples the game as well.
Both of the following games also ended in disaster. I never had enough time to fully test everything, and as luck would have it, the techs that I didn’t fully test ended up costing me too much time and components/money, with them all hiding major failures in their piles. The probe crashing into Mars is annoying but not fatal to the plan; on the other hand the critical payload of components on 2 Saturns blowing up at launch is. Ditto for the Soyuz failing at first use to move the ship to Inner Transfer.
I know that managing risk is part of the core of this game, but it seems that for this particular mission plan a lot of luck is needed as well. With successes in the right places, the mission plan would success without any issues, but a failure of two and it becomes near impossible And full testing looks to be impossible. It’s a bit frustrating to be honest, and I really like this game.
You had the right idea just focusing on the Mars missions with all your effort. I would have scrapped the ion thrusters idea and just used good old fashioned rockets for the mission. You don't have to fuss with inner planet transfer to get there, and it removes another tech to research and test which lets you divert resources into proving the tech you are using.
I think your mission layout is well doable since you essentially only need to visit Mars. The game can be very much harder on you in this regard.
Three things you should always think about:
- Survey locations before committing multiple years' budgets to get there with humans. If Mars destroys your craft, you need the flexibility to do something else fast. For this Ions come in very handy, since you can repurpose them on new missions and use your surveyor crafts as landers for additional points, maybe even bringing back the Thrusters (e.g. Ceres).
- Categorize your techs right. You will want to have some without outcomes. Saturn and Life Support come to mind. Then there are others where you want to only pay to remove failures. To test Saturn, to me it proved best to send a single one with useful, but cheap payload (e.g. probes, supply, Juno rockets, capsules) to Orbit and buy off the outcome no matter what. That way, you get to test your rocket and still do something useful if it works.
- You can test Life Support with empty capsules in e.g. Earth Orbit. Multiple capsules mean faster testing. You could e.g. send three Vostoks up, keep a whole years' budget and test it from three cards to perfect. Then you could, if desired, test Re-Entry by dropping them down one by one next year.