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Subject: 21 years on Mars, a tragedy in three parts. rss

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Rusty McFisticuffs
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ESA Mars Base II, Hellas Basin. Outside, the dying sunlight retreats across the blackened crater left by the ill-fated ESA Mars Base I.

"Sir, I was just running these figures, and... not to detract from the brilliance of the initial mission plan at all, sir, but it is not physically possible for us to get back home in our present configuration."

"What!? Don't be absurd, man. We land, our Kuck Mosquito sucks up as much water as we need, and then we fly back home for the glory. Simplicity itself!"

"Ah, yes, sir, quite right. But the, uhh, I found that the model gives significantly different results when you account for the mass of the fuel."

"Egads. The fuel..."

"Right. It's the De Laval Nozzle, sir. With it, the Mosquito, and us, that's a mass of 6. The Kuck Mosquito has a thrust of 9, plus open cycle cooling and our beamed power, sir, that's 11. But minus two for the fuel..."

"You mean..."

"Right, we have to drop ten steps of lander fuel, so we can't even make it to Deimos. Just a moment, sir, we're receiving an emergency transmission from NASA... `Ha ha,' end transmission, sir."

"God damn it! I knew this would happen when they put an 11-year-old boy in charge. They've ruined space. Well, we will not be beaten by this child. We will not go home in an escape pod, is that clear?"

"Yes sir! Actually, sir, there may be one way."

"Go on..."

"It's... it's not pretty, sir. We need the De Laval Nozzle to get home, and we need the Kuck Mosquito for refuelling on Deimos. The only nonessential piece of mission equipment, sir, is... well..."

"Us."

"Precisely. But, sir, when the ship comes back, it can bring a refinery. Four years to extract enough fuel to get to Deimos, one year to get there and start refuelling, another year of refuelling, two more years to get back to Earth..."

"Yes, yes... a factory on Mars, that would put us ahead all right! Oh, make sure to have them send the new Race for the Galaxy expansion, too."

Eight years later.

"Sir! Our ship has arrived back in low Earth orbit. Also, there's a communication from NASA, sir. In light of our present circumstances, they propose to give us their Hall Effect thruster in LEO, and lend us a team of NASA astronauts for the rescue mission, if we'll let them borrow our Kuck Mosquito."

"Their Hall Effect thruster? By God, that's the only currently viable technology we could develop further with a factory here, isn't it. How long until we could have something of our own in LEO?"

"At least three years, sir, if we're lucky with the research."

"Three more years... good Christ. Let's see, their astronauts have a thrust of 9, plus open cycle cooling and our beamed power... that'll do it. All right, have our people draw up the contract. Now get me that refinery!"

Two years later.

"Sir! Sir, the relief mission is here! It's the Americans, flying under ESA colors! We're saved!"

"Oh, thank the... What the hell--are those chimps? They sent a rescue team of chimps!?"

"Children, sir. NASA was doing so well with that boy at the helm, they decided children were as competent as--sir! Might I suggest your medication, sir."

"Right... right. Well, at least they brought the refinery. Our highest priority now is to decommission it and the Kuck Mosquito to build a factory, produce an Ion Drive, do factory refuelling, and get the hell--"

"Ah, sir. We, err... the Americans have the Kuck Mosquito, sir; they're flying it out to Ceres. Remember? We let them borrow it in exchange for the Hall Effect thruster and the team of astronauts who... appear to be fighting over who gets to go down the ladder first."

"But... that means... we have to make another trip to build our factory? What a disaster. At least we're finally getting off this accursed rock."

"Actually, sir, now that you mention it... I was just running these figures, and... not to detract from the brilliance of the revised mission plan, sir, but I didn't quite see where you had, ahh, accounted for the mass of the fuel, sir."

"The... fuel..."

"Even with the Hall Effect thruster's reduced mass, sir, the mass of the fuel will prevent us from lifting off with open-cycle cooling alone. Which means dumping ten steps of lander fuel..."

"Oh good Christ no. No! We're stuck here... for another ten years... with the Americans!?"

"It... err, it may be a bit worse than that, sir. Remember how, last time, we were able to collect two tanks of water per year on Mars, and refuel on Deimos?"

"Because... we had... the Kuck Mosquito..."

"Right. Now we can only collect one tank per year on Mars, and we can't refuel on the way home. Just a moment, sir, incoming emergency transmission from NASA. It's... a picture of a kitten. The legend reads--"

"Stop. I don't care. I just don't. Hey, have you seen my Officer's Guide to Felonious Actions? I need to check on something."

"Wait a minute, sir, let's think about this. The Hall Effect thruster is only mass 2... We could gather fuel for eight years, leave the refinery here, fly home with both crews, and send back robonauts to build the factory. Another option... one which, ahh, minimizes our... cohabitation with the Americans, is to gather fuel for seven years... and then send one crew home."

"Yes, I see. That choice is a heavy burden for one man to--one moment. YOU THERE! DO NOT THROW ROCKS AT THE PV ARRAY! Now then, where were we? Ah yes. Minimizing our cohabitation with the Americans."

Final score: NASA 28, ESA 15.

A major mistake--I mean after landing on Mars without a way to leave--was flying the De Laval Nozzle and Kuck Mosquito home from Mars rather than just decommissioning them, especially as I didn't even want the thruster anymore. (I was just so fixated on the idea of getting my crew home that it didn't occur to me how colossally stupid it was to leave them waving to the ship as it left without them.) To get my guys off Mars, I needed a less massive thruster; the next available thruster patent was the Mass Driver, which was even worse with a mass of 5, but at least that could have refuelled on Deimos, so that might have been a better bet, at least for dropping off the refinery. (Oh, but the cost of boosting a new one into LEO makes it too painful for one-way trips.)

Having two crews stranded on Mars at once may have been entertaining for some players, particularly those with juvenile & unrefined senses of humor.

I did eventually get the borrowed NASA astronauts back to LEO to claim the first-manned-safe-return Mars mission for the ESA, but by that point it seemed like a cruel joke to refer to those VP as representing "glory."

NASA ended the game by building their third factory on Mercury. They flew there on an electric sail & used my borrowed Kuck Mosquito to land with a refinery using only the afterburner fuel. (Early in the game they had traded me something in exchange for a promise to give them beamed power the next time they asked for it; that wound up being their game-winning Mercury landing.)

Now, granted, I've only played the basic game twice, but people who say this game is too hard to learn need to be beaten down by a 5th-grader a couple times. In my opinion, that shows it to be a little too easy to learn.
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Scott Henshaw
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Great read!
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Chris Tannhauser
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The Solar Times-Picayune 2033 wrote:
...when the rescue crew finally arrived they found only two astronauts remaining -- "Bitey" and "Hidey".
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Jonathan Kinney
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Nice read, Rusty.

I've played the game simulation three times now - once basic and twice advanced. I didn't find it difficult, per se, but I have found the experience frustrating.

I equate it to something like mowing the lawn. It doesn't matter whether you go with the skookum riding mower or the human powered grass cutter. If you need to put the damn thing together each time you want to use it, it takes the fun out of it. And then, if you imagine that there are optimal ways of tricking out your lawnmower so that you can beat your neighbour...but if you both start the process of tricking out your mowers on Saturday morning, you're probably not going to be able to start mowing until Tuesday...I mean, COME ON!

The fact that in all three games simulations it took at least an hour (probably closer to 90 minutes) for anyone to get out of LEO was excruciating. But I think the other huge problem is that you can easily knock yourself out of contention very early in this game simulation by making the wrong choices regarding equipment. Usually people get mesmerized by the hardware without thinking about mass...and the result is they don't have enough fuel to go anywhere.

Personally, I think the best thing that happened for our crew was to get stranded on Mars...at least then they could spend their free time playing other games.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Reading this account, the boy thought I shouldn't have left out the part where two of my Mars missions bit the dust. (Both times, I rolled a 4 for aerobraking, and then a 1 in the dust storm.) Nobody likes to see a grown man cry, so he offered to let me reroll the second time.

(I crashed two missions into Mars in our first game, too.)

We played again today, and this time it was the boy who stranded a crew on Mars. As he was planning how much thrust he'd need to get off the surface, I was laughing at him. "Are you sure? All right, if you say so..." "What's so funny?" "You're making the same mistake I kept making yesterday!" He waved me away.

Then his two factories (yeah, two factories on Mars, whatever) built Nanobots and a Mag Sail; using factory refuelling, he grabbed the 16 fuel steps he needed for lander fuel + one burn with his astronauts, and then sailed the rest of the way home.

Punk.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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jonocop wrote:
The fact that in all three games simulations it took at least an hour (probably closer to 90 minutes) for anyone to get out of LEO was excruciating.

That does sound pretty painful for a learning game. We use the shorter-game setup, where we start with one of each kind of patent. (As a bit of a handicap, I deal two of each to him, and let him pick how to divide them between us. But based on how our first three games have gone, I think next time I get to choose!)

jonocop wrote:
But I think the other huge problem is that you can easily knock yourself out of contention very early in this game simulation by making the wrong choices regarding equipment. Usually people get mesmerized by the hardware without thinking about mass...and the result is they don't have enough fuel to go anywhere.

I found cfarrell's hints for new players really helpful. His main points are, play the basic game; use the shorter-game setup; and make your first mission small, light, & cheap.

Regarding early wrong choices... in today's game, early on, I was clobbering the boy. (There was even one turn where he launched a rocket into Earth HEO, then realized he couldn't do what he wanted, and turned around and flew back to LEO the next turn. And his departure used one of the promised ESA beamed power turns he'd bought from me, which made me cackle evilly. But not out loud, of course.) But mid-game, while I was building a heavy factory ship for my return to Ceres, he was dropping factory pieces onto Mars with one-way trips: he sticks a kite on a refinery or robonaut and sends it off; the kite shreds in aerobraking while the factory piece drops onto his outpost; back on Earth, he boosts a new kite into LEO and sends off the next piece.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, early wrong choices are easily surmountable; all you need are sufficiently inept opponents.
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Paul Brillantes
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I gotta say Rusty, leave Mars be for a little while. Get your bearings and come back to it a couple of games from now.
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Gary Libby
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That was awesome!
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Billy McBoatface
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Excellent session report.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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kuhrusty wrote:
Having two crews stranded on Mars at once may have been entertaining for some players, particularly those with juvenile & unrefined senses of humor.

Yes, I can say for a fact it would be.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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pmbrill77 wrote:
I gotta say Rusty, leave Mars be for a little while. Get your bearings and come back to it a couple of games from now.

This goddamn game is broken!! I'm now 0 and 4 against a child. (And this time neither one of us went to Mars.) Stupid glory VPs! I'm never going after them again!

After the game, the boy told me the reason he keeps winning is that I keep selling him ESA beamed power. That may be true... late in the game, when the price had gone up ("I'll give you this 4-mass refinery from my hand, you give it back to me in LEO, and I'll give you one turn of beamed power"--asymmetrical white hand-card trades allowed by house rule), I was thinking NASA's special power was pretty lame compared to ESA's, because NASA's power had given him something like 6 WT from the bank, whereas I'd gotten ~9 WT from his supply. But on the other hand, his factories were on Luna, Mercury, and Venus, and most of them were made possible by my beamed power, so he may have a point. (He would plan a mission in his head, and then say "how much for two turns of beamed power?")

I told him next time I'm going to be PRC, and I'm just going to follow him around, burning down everything he builds.

My favorite move of the game was when I had two M-class claims (Olijato and Psyche), and we both knew I was looking around the map for a third so that I could become a space-elevatin' badass. I'd already busted Hertha, and the game would be over before I would have the technology to prospect Nysa, so Cruithne was the only remaining option. So he launches some monster ship to Cruithne. It's hopeless; I'm on the other side of the solar system, he's going to claim or bust Cruithne before I can get there, so I give up on that dream, silently wipe away a tear, and manfully launch in the opposite direction.

The moment I do that, he turns right and heads for Venus. He'd been lying about going to Cruithne!

Devious little bastard. I need opponents capable of playing at my own level.
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Ben Vincent
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When should I come over?
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Jeff Wiles
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This is neither a theme I like, nor the sort of game I enjoy*.

Stop making me want to play this!


*Not a 100% true statement
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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THE REIGN OF TERROR HAS ENDED

I finally got him, 30 to 29. (Hey, I'll take whatever I can get!) Got my super-sweet space elevator this time, too. And no glory VPs, although he ended the game one turn before I would have scored 6 VPs for bringing a crew back from a science site.

jeffwiles wrote:
Stop making me want to play this!

Blame HiveGod, who gets more done with one paragraph than most people do all day.
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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kuhrusty wrote:
THE REIGN OF TERROR HAS ENDED


Today's game: me, ESA, 12 points. Him, NASA, 36 points. I didn't know such a humiliating beating was even possible.

I was stomping him early on--he was preparing to go to Mercury, so I zipped over there with a solar sail + ESA beamed power and prospected from orbit. (I wanted to get Space Tourism this time--neither of us has done that yet--so my plan was to get claims on three vestoid sites without actually landing on them, and then enjoy a hearty laugh.) Then, it looked like he was going to Mars, so just for fun, I swung by LEO, swapped out my raygun for a buggy, zipped over to Mars, and claimed the whole thing. (That took a few turns, but he was still boosting monstrous chunks of equipment into orbit and loading up on fuel.)

But. Since I already had robonauts on Mars, I figured I might as well build a factory there; that would let me build a better solar sail which would enable me to grab Vesta with no fuel. In the space of a few turns, the following happened:
- my refinery spontaneously disassembled during aerobraking. As an aside, frankly I'm a little irritated that Sierra Madre Games padded their profit margin by including some cheap, poorly manufactured die; the goddamn thing is obviously defective, because during hazard checks, it comes up 1 four times out of six. If they had any sort of quality assurance process, the game never would have shipped this way.
- the boy lands his monster ship on Luna. (He lands dry, but he's got everything he needs for building a factory, so fuel won't be a problem.) His landing is done without lander fuel--he uses the one point of ESA beamed power I sold him all game. I wasn't going to sell him any--"look, son, you told me I keep losing because I sell you beamed power, so forget it!"--but the money he was offering would put me a couple turns ahead, and I didn't know what he was going to use it for...
- I let the boy buy the mirror steamer. He's already got more efficient thrusters, so I figure he's just going to turn around and sell it. (Even though he had just muttered something about not having an S product.) He had more money than I did, so it probably wouldn't have mattered, but I should have bid everything to keep him from getting this: a turn or two later, he flips it over to reveal that his moon base now produces the stupendous salt-water Zubrin thruster, thrust 15, fuel consumption 1/2. (This was the moment I realized I'd lost.)

So now the situation is, he's got a factory and a ridiculous ET technology; I've got half a factory and several years of building up the money to boost a new heliogyro & refinery back into LEO. At this point, let me quote myself from earlier in this thread, just as he did:

Quote:
Stupid glory VPs! I'm never going after them again!

While I was limping back to Mars to build a factory, and then drifting slowly through the asteroid belt, here's a rough outline of the turns he was taking with his insane thruster:

- factory refuel.
- pop back to Earth to get glory for a manned return trip, pick up some fuel and a crazy ISRU 1 robonaut already in LEO.
- zoom out to some science site, ISRU refuel.
- zoom over to one of my claims on Mars, ISRU refuel.
- zoom over to my claim on Mercury, ISRU refuel. (Lift off Mars, land on Mercury in the same turn! Who does that!?)
- zoom back to LEO to claim all the glory.

The little punk was taking victory laps around the solar system, scoring a pile of points using an approach I had dismissed as stupid.

I did get Vesta, but he built a second & third factory to bring the game to a merciful end several turns before I would have had a chance at a third vestoid claim and space tourism.
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Jeff Chamberlain
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I believe that in general, choosing your missions to intentionally thwart your opponent is a losing strategy. If you do get an opportunity to obstruct the opponent without distracting away from your own plan then do it. but if you are spending time flying to mercury and mars just to spite your opponent you are shooting yourself in the foot in the process; probably hurting yourself more than him, especially since it will be so obvious to him what you are doing that he can plan around it. That wastes a lot of your actions and moves, and winning at this game is primarily about

1) maximizing the economy of the limited operations that the game gives you
2) luck (unlucky random events can ruin even the best laid plans)

As for Space Tourism: i've seen space tourism achieved multiple times. And I've only seen the player who got space tourism lose once. That bonus operation is very powerful.

I've never seen anyone do space tourism though without going to the moons of Saturn for at least 1, if not 2 of the V sites (Rhea and/or Dione usually). Easiest way to do it is to setup a gas station somewhere out in the Jupiter or Ceres zone (hertha is a good site for this), and then use that as a jump off point for a Saturn insertion. It doesn't even have to be a factory if you have a ISRU low enough that you can refuel reasonably fast even on a busted claim, but a factory makes it easier.

Once you are moving around Saturn and have a decent ISRU/Thrust, it is quite easy to get Space Tourism because there are so many medium-high sized V sites there, and lots of 4 hydration sites so it is easy to refuel without a factory in the area. If you have one V already before you get there, you just need Rhea and Dione, but even with 0 V's you can just go: Dione -> Rhea -> aerobrake down to Titan. You need a thrust >=7 though, but there are lots of ways to achieve that. Of course when you are done, you might find yourself stuck on Titan if you took that last route... I prefer to hit Calisto first, and then just go to Rhea/Dione for the other two. But that takes a thrust 10 rocket (thrust 9 if you are using the updated poster map).
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Jean-Luc Simard
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kuhrusty wrote:
"God damn it! I knew this would happen when they put an 11-year-old boy in charge. They've ruined space. Well, we will not be beaten by this child. We will not go home in an escape pod, is that clear?"

"Yes sir! Actually, sir, there may be one way."

"Go on..."

"It's... it's not pretty, sir. We need the De Laval Nozzle to get home, and we need the Kuck Mosquito for refuelling on Deimos. The only nonessential piece of mission equipment, sir, is... well..."

"Us."

"Precisely. But, sir, when the ship comes back, it can bring a refinery. Four years to extract enough fuel to get to Deimos, one year to get there and start refuelling, another year of refuelling, two more years to get back to Earth..."


I finally played my first game of this yesterday. Just to make sure I understand the rules right, the easiest way to get the crew home from Mars would have been to decommission both thrusters, and put the crew in a freigther which would have been back in LEO later, right?

Could you also have put the crew in a freigther once it was alone on its Mars outpost if you really wanted to fly the thrusters back home?

The reason not to do this was the forfeit of the Glory points (3, 6 if no one else had a crewed mission back from anywhere yet) for the Mars flight, correct?
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Rusty McFisticuffs
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Jaels wrote:
Just to make sure I understand the rules right, the easiest way to get the crew home from Mars would have been to decommission both thrusters, and put the crew in a freigther which would have been back in LEO later, right?

Could you also have put the crew in a freigther once it was alone on its Mars outpost if you really wanted to fly the thrusters back home?

The reason not to do this was the forfeit of the Glory points (3, 6 if no one else had a crewed mission back from anywhere yet) for the Mars flight, correct?

Yes, I believe that's all correct. But, if you're using the living rules, note that the escape pod/crew-in-a-freighter rule has been removed. (We were playing with the rules which came in the box, though.)

Another way to go is, you can decommission a crew at a factory, which turns them into a colony (6.7 B). So I could have left my crew there until my factory pieces arrived, built my factory, and then decommissioned them there for 1VP instead of 3-6 for Glory. But I may not have read that rule (or read it to my opponent) at that point, and I probably would have been too stubborn to do that anyway.
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Francisco Colmenares
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I am patiently waiting for the next chapter of the Rusty vs Boy Wonder saga. (You let him buy the Mirror Steamer? an S product? With a Factory on the Moon? Man you got to hit the books on what products each card can be converted into. Although to be fair the Stupendous Thruster loses most of its charm in the advanced game due to the high level of cooling that thing requires)
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Another apparently very interesting game that I missed at Essen SPIEL...
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A skinned math nerd wrote:
Another apparently very interesting game that I missed at Essen SPIEL...
I will have some High Frontier 2nd ed. at booth 9-31 at Essen 2012.
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