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I'll state it up front-
I'm a big fan of Phil Eklund games. They're cinematic- as you play the game, you can imagine your railroads heading off into the Sierra Madre only to be robbed by Bandidos, or visualize yourself as an early hominid, discovering that a bone can be a tool (and a weapon!), or see in your mind's eye your privateer docking in San Juan to schooze with the local Governor.

I love, love, love his games.

Why are they so good?

The reason, simply put, is versimilitude.

(Now, all of you out there saying "How can you use a FIVE syllable word in a 'simple' explanation??" can just shut up and go back to reading your Twitter feeds! We're having a learned discussion here.)

For those of you who are either a product of a public school education, or are too lazy to use Google-

Versimilitude: The quality of appearing to be true or real.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/verisimilitude

What I like about Phil Eklund games is that they are more than just a 'thematic game', whatever that means. They provide an insight into Mr. Eklund's informed opinion about a given subject.

One cannot be impressed not just by the amount of research that obviously goes into an Eklund game, but by how that information flows naturally. One doesn't need to be a historian of Diaz administration in Mexico, or a Paleologist of ancient Man, or a Rocket scientist to enjoy his games. But after playing, you have a better insight into those fields.

That's a game.

Specifically, I think High Frontier is one of Eklund's better games. The rules are actually quite simple. In a turn, one moves his rocket, and then takes one action. For the first part of the game, those actions are either
-Take a Water Token
-Start an Auction for a new card
-Boost a card into LEO
-Sell a card

What is difficult about the game isn't the rules- its the nature of the decisions that one has to make.

Where am I trying to go? How am I going to get there? What pieces of kit do I need to get a mission there? How much should I build? How do I get more money? How do I get more TIME? ARGH, MY BRAIN!!!!

High Frontier, for a game with such easy rules, is quite the brain burner. But there are other games that are brain burners out there.

This is a brain burner that is about something, in a way seldom seen outside of wargames. Most Euros, and even most 'Ameritrash', are primarily about the GAME, not what the game is about. They'll cheerfully abstract something to the point of unrecognizability, all in the name of 'making a good game'.

Not High Frontier. While there aren't the usual panopoly of special rules that can drive a grown man to drink (or, at least, Memoir '44) like a game like Advance Squad Leader, Mr. Eklund manages to keep all the important elements of space travel and 'exoglobalization' in his game. The game, literally, is all about water- and time.

Now, this game isn't for everyone. The Basic Game is only a taste- you're not REALLY playing the game unless your playing the Advanced Game. The game is random- but in a good way. Only the things that are completely out of control of the human players is 'random'- like whether or not there is anything useable on Deimos or not. (prospecting rolls). Everything else that the director of the various space programs could have a say in, is not random. Really, REALLY want the 'Orion Project' reactor, that you KNOW is in the deck? R & D it, baby. Pour money to get the card that you want. Just don't blame me if the ESA beats your ass to Deimos with just a Solar Sail, a light robonaut and some balls.

In other words-
This game is not for wimps. This is not an 'easy' game. This is not a game that you pull out in the holidays and play with your Uncle Tim and Cousin Suzy. Nor is it a game for people who use the word 'elegant' and 'game' in the same sentence.

The closest type of game that this reminds me of are the old classics like Magic Realm or Republic of Rome- games that were an entire 'world' in a box. Self contained worlds, defined by rules, where the player can do ANYTHING inside. And if you don't watch out, you might learn something.

Now, there are some things that I disagree with in High Frontier. Personally, I don't buy that there is anything that can only be made 'in a colony' that can't be made, more efficiently and cheaply, either in LEO or on Earth. The only thing, in my very limited opinion, that would justify the enormous expense that is seen in High Frontier would be alien life- even microbal. A new form of xeno-biochemistry would revolutionize chemistry, and the industrial applications would MORE than justify the expenses.

But thats a nit pick. What's more important is that the game provides the sense of what it would entail for a human effort to industrialize the Solar System. And in promoting that sense of versimilitude, the game succeeds magnificently.

Darilian

Edit-
I'm PURPOSEFULLY keeping my mistake in spelling in the review. The comments afterward are just so much better that way, it would be a shame to change it now!!!!!!!!

Thanks all!
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Darilian wrote:
And if you don't watch out, you might learn something
—before it's done. So let's get ready, okay? Hey, hey hey!

We'll have some fun now,
With Phil and all the gang!
Learnin' from each other,
While we do our THANG!

Na, na, na! Gonna have a good time!

Hey, hey, hey!

Na, na, na! Gonna launch a MISSION!

HEY! HEY! HEY!
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One of these days you'll actually PLAY, Brady......



Darilian
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Darilian wrote:
a FIVE syllable word


This product of a public school education knows how to count to 6. Just sayin'. whistle (I think you misspelled, hence, the lower syllable count. As a terrible speller, I can more than relate.)

But to be serious, I found your review to be an interesting take that touches on some of an unavoidable set of dichotomies in the game design of all (?) simulation games, including the choices of

1). Overall complexity and accuracy of the simulation vs. overall simplicity and elegance
2). Precise quantative simulation and higher score resolution vs. simpler bookkeeping for the players
3). Faithfulness to and smoothness of time and space vs. shorter game length, lower granularity of turns, a board you can fit in your house
4). Real world randomness, uncontrollability vs. players' ability to control the game (= possibility for any strategy)
And others...

It seems that Eklund has chosen to go for more things in the first column for High Frontier, but I'll bet it is a constant battle for game designers of this type of game to find a balance.

(I believe High Frontier began as a theme, and I have a hypothesis that simulation games which start out theme-first tend towards realism and complexity, whereas games which start as an idea for mechanic tend towards abstraction, gameplay elegance, and lack of a well-matched theme, but this is a tangent for another day.)

On one hand, a more complete, realistic, immersive, and educational game can be created. On the other, a more approachable, playable, shorter, more elegant, and controllable game can be created. You seem to highly value the first set. But some people don't, or don't as much... so just how far to the left is this game on the realism seesaw?

You've already given your opinion as to whether the game feels immersive (yes, "verisimilitude"), educational (yes, "after playing, you have a better insight"), approachable (yes, "the rules are actually quite simple"), and elegant (no, "nor is it a game for people who use the word 'elegant'"). So I'd like to know your opinion on these questions:

Does the game have high score resolution (it does a good job of differentiating players of differing skill levels, once they've learned the game, in scoring)?
Does the game have simple/few bookkeeping calculations?
Does the randomness impinge upon a player's ability to carry out long-term plans in the game?

EDIT: I can't believe I forgot to thank you. Thanks for the interesting, funny, and well-written review.
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aglorpoksedna wrote:
I believe High Frontier began as a theme, and I have a hypothesis that simulation games which start out theme-first tend towards realism and complexity

Is there such a thing as a simulation that doesn't start out theme first and tend towards realism?
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Jonathan Pickles
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I agree with the assessment of Eklund's games. They are great treatments of their subjects. They are however games I prefer to read rather than play as they seem to be better models than fun games.

Re versimilitude - I count 5 syllables. Ver sim il it ude, though I think I say ver is im il it ude. Doh! it's a spelling mistake.

I am sure I have a game called Lords of the High Frontier which is presumably this in an earlier iteration.

Regarding theme first or last I would compare Martin Wallace's games to Reiner Knizia's. The former obviously researches his subjects & his games while they often end up abstract usually have a good flavour of their subject & could not be reskinned. Mr Knizia's games almost define pasted on theme & he recycles mechanisms from one to another (Ivanhoe Taj Mahal & the movie one all feeling very similar for example). Both good designers with some great games between them.
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Quote:
(I believe High Frontier began as a theme, and I have a hypothesis that simulation games which start out theme-first tend towards realism and complexity, whereas games which start as an idea for mechanic tend towards abstraction, gameplay elegance, and lack of a well-matched theme, but this is a tangent for another day.)


And I have a theory that all brontosauruses were thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end. This is my theory, and this is the theory which is mine.
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DarrellKH wrote:

And I have a theory that all brontosauruses were thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end. This is my theory, and this is the theory which is mine.


Are you channeling Miss A. Elk? I think she had that theory first.


GREAT Review!! Tip & Thumbs given!
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Quote:
The reason, simply put, is versimilitude.


I'm not sure what that word means, but I gotta tell you the game is bad ass so it must be chock full of it.
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aglorpoksedna wrote:
Darilian wrote:
a FIVE syllable word


This product of a public school education knows how to count to 6. Just sayin'. whistle (I think you misspelled, hence, the lower syllable count. As a terrible speller, I can more than relate.)

But to be serious, I found your review to be an interesting take that touches on some of an unavoidable set of dichotomies in the game design of all (?) simulation games, including the choices of

1). Overall complexity and accuracy of the simulation vs. overall simplicity and elegance
2). Precise quantative simulation and higher score resolution vs. simpler bookkeeping for the players
3). Faithfulness to and smoothness of time and space vs. shorter game length, lower granularity of turns, a board you can fit in your house
4). Real world randomness, uncontrollability vs. players' ability to control the game (= possibility for any strategy)
And others...

It seems that Eklund has chosen to go for more things in the first column for High Frontier, but I'll bet it is a constant battle for game designers of this type of game to find a balance.

(I believe High Frontier began as a theme, and I have a hypothesis that simulation games which start out theme-first tend towards realism and complexity, whereas games which start as an idea for mechanic tend towards abstraction, gameplay elegance, and lack of a well-matched theme, but this is a tangent for another day.)

On one hand, a more complete, realistic, immersive, and educational game can be created. On the other, a more approachable, playable, shorter, more elegant, and controllable game can be created. You seem to highly value the first set. But some people don't, or don't as much... so just how far to the left is this game on the realism seesaw?

You've already given your opinion as to whether the game feels immersive (yes, "verisimilitude"), educational (yes, "after playing, you have a better insight"), approachable (yes, "the rules are actually quite simple"), and elegant (no, "nor is it a game for people who use the word 'elegant'"). So I'd like to know your opinion on these questions:

Does the game have high score resolution (it does a good job of differentiating players of differing skill levels, once they've learned the game, in scoring)?
Does the game have simple/few bookkeeping calculations?
Does the randomness impinge upon a player's ability to carry out long-term plans in the game?


A) yes the game has a good resolution. Last night I played a game, were my ability to put rockets and plans together out of the worst space junk made me king.
B) Simple/few bookkeeping? Actually it does, but those simple/few bookkeeping are SO VITAL to what your doing. It's all mass+fuel available over needed burns * fuel efficiency. This is all worked out in the simple players aid. Heaver you get, less you get for your fuel.
C) Randomness against long term plans? Well, if you want to be careful with aerobraking you can spend 4 extra bucks, which is kinda pricey, but if your whole plan rests on that one areo break sure do it. The prospecting? Well if your going after a bunch of 1's, you plan on most of them being duds. So not really. Aerobreaking/crashing is a big deal however. Unless you got a cheap trick rocket though, you should be paying the 4.
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Sphere wrote:

Is there such a thing as a simulation that doesn't start out theme first and tend towards realism?


I won't say that simulations don't or shouldn't start out theme first and tend towards realism (holy double negative, BATMAN). That seems like the only way a simulation should be developed. But I do think there could be games based upon a mechanic first, which may grow enough in complexity for a realistic theme to be fortuitously applied so that the games are eventually labeled as simulations.

For example, Pandemic could have conceivably begun as an idea for a mechanic to overcome the shortcomings of AI. How does a cooperative board game, which can't think, provide a challenge to people, who can think, who can adapt to any situation? Pandemic might have started out as a brute force type approach. Have a board. Flood it with things every turn that the players have to remove, and make the things replicate in a chain reaction once a critical number is reached to create a run-away scenario that will end the game with the players loosing. The board game doesn't try to out-think the players spatially (if all points on the board are equally accessible, hence the use of research stations in Pandemic), creatively, or otherwise because the pressure comes from balancing the rule-limited players' ability to remove badies with the game's ability to add them. Under constant inability to do more, the players feel tension from the game.

Now what things appear without warning, appear without overarching strategy (i.e. brainlessly), and appear to multiply? Zombies, diseases, vicious vicious rabbits...? Rats in Rattus. I think that the base mechanic of Pandemic (replication, or appearance of it) is so recognizable that appropriate theme choices fit the mechanics very well. (Of course, maybe the designer Matt Leacock had it in mind, and it was a brilliant and deliberate decision on his part instead of a happenstance). In any case, the theme fits well enough for Pandemic to be marketed as a simulation game of a pandemic spreading across the world, but it's possible the game did not start out theme-first.
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DarrellKH wrote:
Quote:
(I believe High Frontier began as a theme, and I have a hypothesis that simulation games which start out theme-first tend towards realism and complexity, whereas games which start as an idea for mechanic tend towards abstraction, gameplay elegance, and lack of a well-matched theme, but this is a tangent for another day.)


And I have a theory that all brontosauruses were thin at one end, much, much thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end. This is my theory, and this is the theory which is mine.


Sorry if this came off as pompous. It was just an idea that popped into my head at the time I wrote my reply which I thought I'd add, and I wanted to phrase it in a personal way (instead of a general or definitive way) to made sure I took the blame for it in case it had been debunked, because I didn't know if the idea had been debated or accepted or rejected somewhere before. If you have a link to an exploration of this idea, I'd love to have it/them. Really though, I didn't mean for it to sound as if I was the only one who had this idea or had exclusive ownership of it. If there's one thing I'm sure of in life, it's that there are so many people in the world I know I've actually never had an original idea. Monty Python's great by the way.
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Ryan M
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Pickles wrote:


Re versimilitude - I count 5 syllables. Ver sim il it ude, though I think I say ver is im il it ude. Doh! it's a spelling mistake.



Yes spelling is key!

Darilian wrote:
Versimilitude: The quality of appearing to be true or real.
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/verisimilitude
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aglorpoksedna wrote:
I won't say that simulations don't or shouldn't start out theme first and tend towards realism (holy double negative, BATMAN). That seems like the only way a simulation should be developed. But I do think there could be games based upon a mechanic first, which may grow enough in complexity for a realistic theme to be fortuitously applied so that the games are eventually labeled as simulations.

For example, Pandemic could have conceivably begun as an idea for a mechanic to overcome the shortcomings of AI.

Here's where we're failing to connect. You're talking about simulations in the context of a Phil Eklund game, and then you use Pandemic as an example. I'm not saying anything against Pandemic, it's a fun game, but I don't see how it even enters the same conversation. You've zoomed out so far to make your point that it evaporates.
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Sphere wrote:

Here's where we're failing to connect. You're talking about simulations in the context of a Phil Eklund game, and then you use Pandemic as an example. I'm not saying anything against Pandemic, it's a fun game, but I don't see how it even enters the same conversation. You've zoomed out so far to make your point that it evaporates.


I'm sorry, I should have put this in the game design forum, so it was in a game design context, not a Phil Eklund context. I'm interested in connections between games of all types. My original reply to the OP's review was mostly about where High Frontier stood on a spectrum, how it could be related to other games, so I could get a feel for it. Perhaps, if I am understanding you correctly, you think that the commonalities that exist between two boardgames on opposite ends of a spectrum are too weak to be helpful, or just nonexistent and invented by human imagination, period? If so, I can certainly respect that, but I guess personally I just see it differently.

I am talking about a trend, so yes, I've zoomed very far out to cover two opposing simulation games on the realism-abstraction axis. If this proposed trend didn't cover a large range, it wouldn't be a useful indicator of global behavior. Sorry, but in my opinion, the level of realism of a simulation game doesn't affect its ability to follow a trend (specifically, that theme-first tend towards realism and complexity, whereas games which start as an idea for mechanic tend towards abstraction). In fact, the differing levels of realism is predicted by this idea: mechanic-first games like Pandemic should be very far from an Eklund game in terms of realism, because mechanic-first games tend towards abstraction, because they begin with an abstract process (like adding cubes every turn to a board), and it could be very difficult to build up nearly real-world behavior from that. I used it as a counterpoint to High Frontier because it was so different.
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I am just glad that someone i out there filling that rarely occupied space which is the complex non-wargame. I enjoy wargames a lot, but sometimes I want to play a complicated game that isn't about war. And Euro games simply don't come close to the level of theme and rules complexity that there is in this game (and ruleswise it's still a piece of piss compared to most wargames). A great subject, and a thoroughly engaging games design. More power to fruit loops like Eklund who make a game that not a lot of people want to play.
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aglorpoksedna wrote:
Perhaps, if I am understanding you correctly, you think that the commonalities that exist between two boardgames on opposite ends of a spectrum are too weak to be helpful, or just nonexistent and invented by human imagination, period? If so, I can certainly respect that, but I guess personally I just see it differently.

Your statements sounded as if you were discussing different approaches to simulations, then segued into comparing simulations with non-simulations. There's nothing wrong with a discussion that compares genres, but that wasn't what your opening statement suggested you were doing.

If you do want to debate the approaches of various genres, I think it would make more sense to do so in the design forum, rather than in a review thread about a particular game.

aglorpoksedna wrote:
I am talking about a trend, so yes, I've zoomed very far out to cover two opposing simulation games on the realism-abstraction axis.

If Pandemic is not a simulation, you're not comparing two simulation games. You're the first person I've ever heard suggest that it is a sim.
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Loved your review.

I think its verisimilitudinous!

Cheers.





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Darilian wrote:
One of these days you'll actually PLAY, Brady......



Darilian


Okay, we did! Six hours we played. I didn't get my mission to Saturn, but by the end of my (first) game I understood perfectly how I could do it. And I did manage to build a nice, full-blown colony on an asteroid (almost two) before the game ended. And if a daring mission to Mercury hadn't gone belly up going through the sun's radiation belts, I mighta won!

I'll say right off that I do not like the 'stack cards. I appreciate the shorthand explanations of what the various elements of a rocket stack really are, but the game information is crammed to the margins of the card and I didn't like leaving my seat to walk around the table every time I wanted to know the stats of a card.

Another friend at the table remarked that we didn't need six hours to get as far was we got in the game. I think this relates to the graphic design of the cards, the board, and the aids. None of us are spaceflight engineers, but we're all college grads (most with post-grad educations) that dabble in the techy and have a genuine fascination and appreciation for the hard science that it takes to send missions through the solar system. What held us up were the components, not the rules or concepts, IMHO.

I appreciate the detail and effort that goes into the Eklunds games but every time I play one, I can't help but think that board information and aids could be handled better. Usually a LOT better. High Frontier is probably their best effort to date, but even so...

Well, I own the game and the expansion so I got no excuse for not knowing now. Next time will be better!
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Very cool game. I've never played an Eklund game before, but I now own High Frontier and the expansion. DEFINITELY not for wimps. This is a big-boy game that requires a lot of patience and planning. Extremely realistic, too. (as far as the theme goes)
There is a lot of luck, but in this game it doesn't bother me, as opposed to Risk or A&A.
The VP system is unique and rewards players for getting out fast. But sometimes fast isn't what you need. Adaptivity is a must. You have to be able to watch other players and decide where to go so as not to be in too much competition. It adds a whole new level of player depth.
Here's a list of Pros and Cons that I've come up with after a few plays:
Pros:
1-Great player interaction. You can use your abilities to help and/or hurt people. (btw does anyone else play with binding verbal agreements?)
2-fast-paced turns. the whole game is pretty slow, but each turn has little downtime,at least until you get the guy that wants to orbit Saturn over a period of 4 turns and has to time it just right.
3-Great 'feel.' One cannot help but feel like a real astronaut when he launches his first rocket.
Cons:
1-I do find the moving system to be a bit frustrating (time-wise) with all the counting and all, but as long as one has the time for it, then it's fine.
2-Crappy player boards. this is my biggest issue and it doesn't have anything to do with the actual experience. However, I would have liked color. They are very boring-looking. But all in all it's not a big deal.
3-There just has to be a better idea than clear money. There has to!
I know, as long as you don't drop it it's fine. But, it makes it unnecessarily difficult to count how much money each player has. However this is easily remedied by using money from virtually any other game.

All in all High Frontier is a very interesting and exciting game. I enjoy it very much, but it can be hard to find enough patient people to play it with. I give it a 7.2, mostly because of the luck, but the experience wins every time.

Great job Phil, and thanks.
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This game can move very fast with experienced players.

It's getting experienced that's the tricky part...
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BAM!!! I'm in...had a left over B&B certificate to use and the order was placed today along with the expansion. thanks for the review!
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Sphere wrote:
Is there such a thing as a simulation that doesn't start out theme first and tend towards realism?
Actually, I's say a lot of wargames start with a known set of mechanisms, into which another theatre/battle is slotted. Especially true in wargame series. Tending towards realism... well, I'm sure that's the intention most of the time... whistle
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Great review and a wonderful summation of why these games are so outstanding.
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