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Leaving Earth: Outer Planets» Forums » Sessions

Subject: When time's not on your side - a very hard solo game rss

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Josh Zscheile
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I did my first solo game yesterday, and since I know the base game reasonably well, I figured I'd try a very hard game.

I will not give full detail about every year, since I feel it is tiring to read about every single maneuver and rocket test.

House rules:
- Only one sample sellable. I do not like the economic meta-game that has established over the last months here (I feel it's not the goal of a federal space agency to become self-sustainable, but to explore and develop), so I am allowed to sell at most one sample from each location.
- No rendezvous testing without a goal to do so. That means that I may not detach or attach stuff just to test rendezvous; it has to serve a purpose. In multi player, this might be hard to execute (and I am using a different rule there), but since I'm alone, that's okay.
- If I am fairly certain that there are only successes left (meaning that I never will pay any of them), I may look at all the outcomes left. If there is a failure in there, I lose the game immediately. This is to reduce all the drawing and shuffling.

Missions:
- Sounding Rocket (1)
- Lunar Sample Return (10)
- Venus Survey (6)
- Venus Station (27)

- Enceladus (3), Saturn (6) and Titan (6) Survey
- Io (4) and Jupiter System Survey (5)
- Grand Tour (10)

Since I had to survey every single location in the outer planets, and there would be missions from every one of them (but Neptune and Uranus), I figured getting to know the missions in the Jupiter and Saturn systems was my top priority.

I started off with Saturn and Juno rockets, Ion Thrusters, Rendezvous and Surveying in the first four years (56-60). In 58 I managed to do sounding rocket by bringing up an Ion Thruster, 3 Junos and a probe via a Saturn rocket. I wanted to bring Aurora, my first Surveyer, to Venus by 62, but a failure in one of its Ion Thrusters forced me to halt it for another year, when it started with a slower maneuver to get to Jupiter via Slingshot from Venus two years later (2 years from Earth Orbit to Inner Planets Transfer, 1 year from there to Venus Fly-By).

In the years until 65, when Aurora was due to arrive at Jupiter, I wanted to prepare another probe (Eclipse) for the śurvey of Uranus and Neptune. The plan was to send it from the Outer Planets Transfer in 67 to Uranus over 9 years, and then, in 76, to Neptune. Sadly, two failures in Juno Rockets followed by a failure in Ion Thrusters (which I totally did not see coming, as they had only two outcomes left and had worked perfectly for five tries prior 1/32 chance...) rendered Eclipse I and II debris and lost in space, respectively. Eclipse III would explode when a Saturn failed to launch in 65, so it was an extremely unlucky project, which I left for good afterwards.

In 64, Aurora reached Venus and surveyed it (in 63 there was Ceres survey from IPT, which yielded supplies, but I never managed to utilize them), and Venus turned out to have a negative impact on any spacecraft trying to land there, rendering the Venus Station mission impossible.

I saw my last shot to complete the Grand Tour in launching a probe in 72, which is the only year when a complete tour is possible via slingshots. Sadly, I totally missed that opportunity (I had a break in between 68 and 69, and totally forgot the plan there). In retrospect, I am fairly certain that I should have been able to make it anyway, if I were to get to OPT in 76, surveying Uranus and then maneuvering there in 9 years, then, from Uranus Fly-By, surveying Neptune, which should be allowed, as the maneuver to Neptune Fly-By has the Neptune symbol on it. But I am not 100% certain here.

Anyway, as Aurora was scheduled to use the Slingshot to Saturn in 65, I needed another probe to achieve the Jupiter System Survey. I only revealed Saturn as Aurora was in Fly-By, and it had a radiation risk of 1 vs. probes and 1-3 vs. Astronauts. The Jupiter mission was an orbiting probe, which I would have done regardless. As I had a Galileo probe readily in Earth Orbit already, I wanted it to do the task of scanning Jupiters system, as it had no risk of breaking down due to radiation and there might be an advanced survey mission there. The mission was called Crescent (I had some pieces of paper to aid me in remembering craft names and tasks...) Somehow I thought it would be smart to use the Slingshot from Mars to Jupiter instead of the faster and much cheaper Venus transition (which it is not, unless you have some business on Mars or Phobos). Along with one test conducted by Aerius (the third mission), Crescent at least finished testing Aerobraking, which I mistook as useful for my getting to Jupiter Orbit (there is no time symbol on it, so I had to take the difficult maneuver there instead as I only had Ion Thrusters on Crescent).

Aurora arrived in Saturn Fly-By in 1972. Since I needed to bring it in Saturn Orbit anyway and thus would reveal Saturn soon enough, I figured I should Scan Titan instead. Titan had supplies, and I was to conduct an Explorer mission there. Then Aurora took a three year trip to Saturn.

Due to the long route taken, Crescent arrived at Jupiter Fly-By only in 73, at the same time as a second mission, Aerius, arrived there with two more Ion Thrusters and an Esplorer, expecting to be used in some Jupiter system mission. Together, they would make the trip to Jupiter Orbit in four years, arriving in 77, but not before surveying Europa, which was not landeable and had an Advanced Survey mission I immediately fulfilled.

All the while I would test Landing, which I would need for the Lunar samples and some missions more, took looks at my Life Support (I had an empty Eagle capsule in earth Orbit for years), and purchased the Atlas advancement, as it would not be feasible all the time to use Ion Thrusters, and I felt the Saturn-Atlas-Juno combo was better suited for me than Soyuz-Proton.

As Aurora arrived at Saturn Orbit in 75, I revealed Saturn (just now realizing that I should have revealed it three years prior, at the end of 72, when Aurora was starting to move there), and it gave the Saturn Station mission. Enceladus, which I then surveyed, wanted another Explorer, which made it two in the Saturn system. I then began planning a big mission (named Goliath) to Saturn, deemed to bring two Explorers and an Eagle capsule with a mechanic (Buzz Aldrin) onboard to the system. As Titan had supplies, once Aldrin got there, he would be able to survive until the end of the game. The problems were a) that I miscalculated the thrust needed from Earth Orbit to IPT for all the payload - having Supplies from Ceres in IPT at the right time would have helped, but the Ion Thruster from Aurora, which I wanted to bring back, would not make it in time, and I had no spare one. Problem b) was that all had to start in 1978, as there was no later convenient way to make it to Saturn (1986 would not be enough as Saturn Station needed a full year to score points). Problem c) was that money was so tight that I would not be able to test any of my Atlas rockets before the big launch, which already used three of them (one to bring one payload from Suborbital to Orbit along with a Saturn that carried 20 payload, and two (remember the miscalculation) to bring everything to IPT with the help of three Ion Thrusters).
There would have been another, last opportunity to be in OPT in 1981, which would have granted me two more years to prepare, to be in Saturn Fly-By in 1984, but I did not see that possibility back then (I also was pretty tired as it was midnight at that point).

In 1977, one year before Goliath was scheduled, Crescent arrived at Jupiter and began scanning the system some more. Io gave me extra points, so I began there. Io was nothing special, but the government wanted me to bring a sample back to Earth - at this point only really possible if we brought a scientist there, which was dangerous due to Jupiters radiation (the sun emitted no significant radiation by the way). One year later, Callisto revealed to be the most uninteresting place in the solar system, not spawning a new mission.

More importantly, Goliath was due to launch. Everything arrived in Earth Orbit in good shape (first Atlas showed success), but the burn to IPT did not develop enough thrust to make it in one year, which doomed the mission. I decided to pretend I had calculated correctly, just to see what happened, but the first Atlas exploded and tore the whole huge spacecraft to pieces.

That was when I decided it was too late and I should stop the game. I could not complete the big points of Saturn Station (30 pts), and it would be difficult to bring up the funds for the two Explorers there, as there were two more missions in the Jupiter system to fulfil (the last one would have been a Callisto lander for 16 points).

Missions impossible:
- Venus Station (27)

Missions fulfilled:
- Sounding Rocket (1)
- Venus Survey (6)
- Enceladus (3), Saturn (6) and Titan (6) Survey
- Io (4) and Jupiter System Survey (5)
- Jupiter Orbiter (9)
- Advanced Europa Survey (8)

Sum: 48

Missions not fulfilled:
- Grand Tour (10)
- Saturn Station (30)
- Buzz Aldrin killed (2)

Sum: -42

from these still possibly achievable (but hardly all of them):
- Titan Explorer (22)
- Enceladus Explorer (16)
- Ganymede Lander (16)
- Lunar Sample Return (10)
- Io Sample Return (20)

Sum: -84

I think everything but the Io Sample from the last part should have been still possible in the remaining 8 years. Crescent could have landed on Ganymede, if I supplied it with two Juno rockets (or one Juno and a normal probe, which might have failed, so two Junos would have been safer), and two Explorers along with two Juno rockets could have made it to Saturn at 86. Lunar sample I could have done as the mission for Saturn (which could have dropped off the two Junos for Aurora (Ganymede Lander) on the way) would have been on its way, if I could manage to bring everything needed to Earth Orbit in 1980. Alternatively, the craft for Venus could have waited two more years, so I would have needed at least two Explorers with two Juno rockets and as many Ion Thrusters as possible (supported by rockets; Atlas had another Minor Failure on it which would have been a risk) in two years.

In summary, the game was really great, even though I lost it. I learned a lot, being:

- Aerobraking is mostly not needed if you use Ion Thrusters; only from OPT to Earth Orbit is it useful. It would have served me well in the end though, and as it had had two major failures on it, it could have destroyed crucial equipment in the end, if untested.
- Saturn and Ion Thrusters are not a good combo to start with. Saturns are too expensive to test without a payload for orbit, and Ions are too expensive to be blown up by a Major Failure on Saturn rockets. All in all, I lost three Ion Thrusters in the first 10 years of the game, along with critical delays due to Minor Failures on rockets and Failures on Ion Thrusters. Soyuz might be better purpose rockets for the early game, as you can test them with cheap probes as payload to Earth Orbit, and them being able to bring up 7 payload with two rockets, once they are safe. This is not as cost efficient as Saturns in the long run, but they will not destroy as much value if failing.
- Bring your probes to Jupiter and Saturn as soon as possible. This was what I wanted all the time, but using the Mars maneuver was just wasted time and transport capability. I could have brought more payload and started later via Venus. In connection with the testing of Ion Thrusters (which in my opinion are even more integral for the game now as for the base game), that means starting as soon as possible, even if you do not have the perfect slingshot window. from Earth Orbit to Venus, you have two opportunities to slow down enough to wait for the next slingshot maneuver; use it. Same goes for the was from Earth to OPT, if you need to use its slingshots instead.
- Bring along some Juno rockets, so you can utilize the aerobraking maneuvers and begin scanning faster. This is risky as Junos and Aerobraking should be tested or your long term mission might fail on the last steps, but waiting for three to four years just to get from Fly-By to Orbit to scan for the next mission is painful and inefficient.
- I did not have to, but do not scan locations that are not needed for you to score points. The additional missions might be hard to achieve, so why draw them in the first place? At the same notion, one could consider not fulfilling survey missions and taking the negative points for it instead of revealing an even more punishing, unachievable mission. There is nothing about the solo game in the expansion rules, so one might argue that you have to draw any mission you did not see in the first place at the end of the game and take their values as penalty, but this currently is not part of the rules.
- Think hard about what to scan if you cannot do all scans at once. I found it helpful to know Jupiter had radiation, but since I had a Galileo probe ready to begin with, maybe one of Jupiters moons would have been more efficient on Auroras Fly-By.
- Look hard into alternative opportunities for slingshots you have. I could have completed Grand Tour after 72, but did not realize it. The same goes for the Saturn explorer missions. OPT might be your friend here.
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Larry L
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Dagar wrote:
- I did not have to, but do not scan locations that are not needed for you to score points. The additional missions might be hard to achieve, so why draw them in the first place? At the same notion, one could consider not fulfilling survey missions and taking the negative points for it instead of revealing an even more punishing, unachievable mission. There is nothing about the solo game in the expansion rules, so one might argue that you have to draw any mission you did not see in the first place at the end of the game and take their values as penalty, but this currently is not part of the rules.

You are correct about the rules. There is a discussion about it in the rules forum and Joe confirmed it. That is why I play using a house rule.
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Josh Zscheile
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RingelTree wrote:
You are correct about the rules. There is a discussion about it in the rules forum and Joe confirmed it. That is why I play using a house rule.

Thanks for the clarification! Just now I have set up a game that hopefully will go easier on me - no need to Survey Saturns moons for now.
 
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Joe Fatula
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Just a note: you can't survey Neptune from Uranus Fly-By. The maneuver from Uranus Fly-By to Neptune Fly-By has the Uranus hazard on it, not the Neptune hazard.
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Josh Zscheile
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Ah, thanks Joe. That's rough. The Grand Tour in multi player then should almost always go to the player with the least points trying it, as there is no option to stall at Uranus (compared to Saturn, where you can jump in at the right moment for Slingshot to Uranus from Saturn Orbit).
 
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Matt Watkins
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Dagar wrote:
Ah, thanks Joe. That's rough. The Grand Tour in multi player then should almost always go to the player with the least points trying it, as there is no option to stall at Uranus (compared to Saturn, where you can jump in at the right moment for Slingshot to Uranus from Saturn Orbit).

If you can get a spacecraft to OTP by 1967, you can do the 9 year, difficulty 4 route to Uranus and then fly-by to Neptune in 1980. A similar path is open in 1961 to reach Neptune in 1974, but probably impossible to achieve by then.
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