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Subject: Leaving Earth, or Kerbal Maths Progame with better graphic design rss

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Boots
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I love space. I will legitimately watch just about any movie about space travel, no matter how awful it is. Apollo 13, Apollo 18, Europa Report, The Martian... it's a long list.

A few years ago I got into Kerbal Space Program in a BIIIIG way and learnt everything that game could teach me about the rocket equation and orbital dynamics - which is, apparently, a lot (though I'm hardly an expert, let's face it).

Anyway, when Leaving Earth came out, I just had to have it - a crunchy, simulationist game about space travel, with awesome graphic design and an eye for history? Count me in!

Plan, research, build, fly
The core of the game is some super neat ('elegant') modelling. It's where the design and play really shines.

The main mechanic is a streamlined version of the rocket equation, which boils down to checking whether the thrust generated by rocket cards that you discard are equal or exceed the mass of the rocket multiplied by a pre-set orbital difficulty.

The core of the game is thus checking how many manuevers the rocket will have to do, and planning out backwards how much thrust each stage will need, with the later stages counting as payload for the earlier ones, and the rocket getting constantly smaller and smaller. This system really neatly models the way rockets get smaller as stages are dropped. By also including automatic "lost" maneuvers that eat spaceships left to their own devices long enough, the board captures the sense of orbital dynamics really well.

Then there's the research system, where each advance gets a tiny deck of outcome cards, and you need to invest more money in a technology after it's been purchased to make sure it can operate without failure. You can, of course, fly without care for catastrophe. Putting a probe on a single Soyuz is low risk - it's easy to replace the payload if the rocket blows up. But, are you willing to put multiple cards and astronauts totalling 20 mass on top of a Saturn V without knowing if it'll just explode in a ball of fire on the launch pad? I thought not. This makes for interesting decisions all the way through the early stages of the game, but it calms down a bit once you've tested out a few advances and can rely on your tech. But given that you get $25m every turn, and testing a single Saturn can cost $25... sometimes it's arduously slow going.

Lastly, there's the objectives, which are the reason to play. Each one has something on it like "man to orbit and back" or "survey moon location," and each one gives the first player to achieve it victory points.

So to play, you choose the objective you want to achieve, look at the string of maneuvers you'll need to do to get there, plan out a rocket that can achieve those maneuvers, and then plot its construction against the constraints of technology, testing, and funding.

there's a little more to it, but that's the core of the game. And it's very good, if what you want is a simulationist game of space travel.

Maths: the Board Game

the problem is that all that planning is really dull the first few times you play it with, or the first time you teach it to newbies. Expect most gamers to take 3-4 plays to really 'grasp' it. During these plays, the game can occasionally devolve into twenty minutes of people doing basic arithmetic before coming out of a zombie-like trance, looking up, and saying "wait... whose turn is it?"

The complexity of planning rockets means managing a lot of tiny cards and a lot of sheets of scratch paper, and it's still possible to make a catastrophic error. I once forgot an entire stage on a Mercury lander - suffice to say, I didn't land on Mercury, and instead, plummeted into a highly elliptical solar orbit, lost forever.

Once you figure out how to do the planning, the game speeds up dramatically - you realise, for example, to plan getting to orbit differently to getting to and from your eventual target, and you start to break up missions into multiple launches if it gets you there faster (it's never cheaper int he long run, but can save you time). It does sometimes make the game a bit of a spreadsheet exercise, and that can be a drag.

Too fiddly, yet not fiddly enough

The biggest drawback of the game, however, is its fiddliness. There are just far too many parts. They are all awfully pretty, with beautiful componentry and graphic design, but there are still way too many bits. In the base game this isn't a huge issue, but add in the expansions and it means 30 mins of setup and teardown time.

The biggest issue is the 'board,' which is made up of cards. I know they did it to cut down on storage space and cards, but it's difficult to set up and easy to mess up during play.

The irony is that for all these miniscule bits and crunchy rules, the game isn't actually that good a simulation! There's no reason at all in the game to take three astronauts to the moon, in fact, it's drastically easier to use a Vostok capsule and do it all with one guy. Then there's the excess capacity/space junk problem. There is an easily-memorised set of payload-to-orbit numbers that dominate mission planning (Atlas/Atlas or Soyuz - 1 to orbit, Saturn = 5 to orbit, Soyuz/Soyuz = 7 to orbit, saturn/saturn = 20 to orbit) and if your mission payload is light, it doesn't get cheaper. So most player fling all sorts of things into earth orbit and just leave them there, waiting to be repurposed. Probes, food, small rockets.

And for all this crunch, it's sadly not very replayable. it's an efficiency game, and there are just 'best' loadouts for each mission. Once you realise what they are, the game gets a bit linear.

These are minor quibbles, and Stations fixes both issues. But it does hamper the game's longevity somewhat, as it can go very quickly from planning nightmare, rife with mistakes, to paint-by-numbers.

Is it really multiplayer?

Probably my last point is that while the game is more fun multiplayer, it's more of a solo-with-friends game. In the early stages, the $10 you get when an opponent completes a mission is really telling, but later on time is the more important resource and you don't always care quite so much.

Given that everything is planned so far in advance, players' turns are often done by rapidly discarding tiny cards from a giant stack, and you end up playing on faith since checking the maths is arduous.

There are some great aspects of the multiplayer game - the sense of trying to disguise which mission you're aiming for, the sense that you're behind when someone else buys a Saturn and you're still using Soyuz, the satisfaction of counting the turns and realising you will now definitely beat your opponent to Mars, etc. In a three player game it's even better, as you can buy and sell space on rockets (alleviating the space junk problem a little), or technology. Solo play is also markedly harder without the $10 cash injections from other players finishing missions.

Conclusion

I really, really like this game, despite the flaws listed above. Yes, it takes too long for what it is, and yes, it's got all sorts of silly little inconsistencies. Yes, it's basically glorified solitaire. Yes, it's a little long and gets a bit old with repeat play once you've read the 'Book of Missions' in the files section here on BGG.

But it's a game with a lot of passion and smarts at its core - Joe Fatula clearly cares about space travel. The core maneuver system is solid as a (space) rock. The graphic design is brilliant, the sense of history atmospheric.

If you like space, or simulation, then you'll easily get past the few clunky points above and love the game. Even then, the expansions tend to fix the worst bits. If not, then the game's length and mathiness means it probably isn't for you anyway.




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Steve
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That's a fair enough review, but I take the opposite stance regarding multiplayer.

In my games there's a huge amount of haggling and negotiation over the technology exchanges
"Who's willing to sell me Saturn tech?"
"I'll give you my no-card Rendezvous for your 2-card Soyuz and 5 cash"
"10 cash for me to share my Venus exploration data"

This interaction adds an extra dynamic to the whole game, adding to the complexity of planning and calculations and also giving something of a catch up mechanic for those behind the leader.
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Paolo Maiello
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Nice review.

Being quite bad/lazy at math myself, I still bought the game for the theme (love space exploration) and the graphic design (the retro look is great, in my opinion).

This game is unlike any other I own and definitely a work of love by the designer.

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Llyranor Ilfarath
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Thanks for the review.
Boots01 wrote:

These are minor quibbles, and Stations fixes both issues. But it does hamper the game's longevity somewhat, as it can go very quickly from planning nightmare, rife with mistakes, to paint-by-numbers.

Can you go a little bit into detail as to how Stations improves this?
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Barry Miller
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A very good review, though I happen to like "fiddly"!

Regardless... to address your experience/fondness with Kerbal Space Program... have you looked at Orbiter Space Flight Simulator?
http://orbit.medphys.ucl.ac.uk/

It doesn't have a build-your-own-rocket feature like KSP, but is more of a simulation than KSP. I have fun with KSP, but when I'm in the mood for something a bit more challenging and realistic, and want to fly the entire Apollo 11 mission for instance (with accurate physics and orbital mechanics), then I turn to Orbiter Space Flight Simulator.

Plus its free, with tons of community-developed free add-ons.

Just something else to play with when not in the mood for taking up the dining room table!

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A P
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I enjoyed leaving earth but fell in love with high frontier 3.
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Boots
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Llyranor wrote:
Thanks for the review.
Boots01 wrote:

These are minor quibbles, and Stations fixes both issues. But it does hamper the game's longevity somewhat, as it can go very quickly from planning nightmare, rife with mistakes, to paint-by-numbers.

Can you go a little bit into detail as to how Stations improves this?


Sure - I will be reviewing Stations separately at some point but here's the basics.

In Stations there are all sorts of random bits, and all sorts of risk mitigation is possible - but not necessary.

For example, you need to survey various kinds of radiation to see whether it will effect probes or humans, and then you need to select appropriate capsules, which have different mass (and thus different implications for planning).

Then there's the various modules for long-term habitation. Should you take food and plan resupplies, or a hydroponics module? If you include a medical module to prevent radiation sickness, should you take one medic or two, and will this require a larger capsule? It just means there's more than one design for any given mission, which I really like.

In terms of simulation, the space madness rules and the specific roles for each astronaut make it worthwhile a) taking larger capsules and b) taking more/different types of astronauts on even basic missions.

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Pawel Garycki
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I am designing a Kerbal-style variant for the Leaving Earth. Stay tuned.
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Pawel Garycki
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improove wrote:
I am designing a Kerbal-style variant for the Leaving Earth. Stay tuned.

The variant contains:
- science points for buying and clearing technologies and making component types available
- science points to be collected from missions, revealing, features, samples and using/testing feature's and location's abilities
- space tourism system and levels of experience available for astronauts
- refreshing of missions and locations
- ability to play longer games
- monatary system based on missions and exploration, putting emphasis on reusable content and minerals industry
- ability to sell components
- fixes to reusable content from Stations
- the goal to explore the whole Solar System
 
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Barry Miller
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improove wrote:
improove wrote:
I am designing a Kerbal-style variant for the Leaving Earth. Stay tuned.

The variant contains:
- science points for buying and clearing technologies and making component types available
- science points to be collected from missions, revealing, features, samples and using/testing feature's and location's abilities
- space tourism system and levels of experience available for astronauts
- refreshing of missions and locations
- ability to play longer games
- monatary system based on missions and exploration, putting emphasis on reusable content and minerals industry
- ability to sell components
- fixes to reusable content from Stations
- the goal to explore the whole Solar System

But...but...but, where are the Kerbals????

 
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Peter Kossits
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Sounds like a brand new game and not a variant. Go for it!

 
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Pawel Garycki
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peterk1 wrote:
Sounds like a brand new game and not a variant. Go for it!

First step is to make a variant rules with no component change but with rules diverting from the standard LE play.
After it is playtested enough, new content (components, Kerbals, Kerbal system bodies, missions) could be designed replacing the Solar System and the archetype components. Is it possible for Lumenaris to get a licence from Take2 and publish a Kerbal LE expansion or a twin game?
I don't know. What I do is that a KSP board game is a nice niche to aim for and LE has the closest ruleset and design to be reused for KSP.

Status report: now working on the experience system. After it's done, alpha rules will be published for initial playtesting (to tune the difficulty level and game's progression).
 
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Pawel Garycki
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improove wrote:
peterk1 wrote:
Sounds like a brand new game and not a variant. Go for it!

First step is to make a variant rules with no component change but with rules diverting from the standard LE play.
After it is playtested enough, new content (components, Kerbals, Kerbal system bodies, missions) could be designed replacing the Solar System and the archetype components. Is it possible for Lumenaris to get a licence from Take2 and publish a Kerbal LE expansion or a twin game?
I don't know. What I do is that a KSP board game is a nice niche to aim for and LE has the closest ruleset and design to be reused for KSP.

Status report: now working on the experience system. After it's done, alpha rules will be published for initial playtesting (to tune the difficulty level and game's progression).


Done:
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1982066/earthbal-space-...


 
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