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Subject: Impressions of the HF cards (expansion rules) rss

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Victor Caminha
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And so it begins...
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Since I begin to play HF, I wondered about the best card configurations in a rocket stack and how well they could interact with each other. After 10+ plays, one might identify all-time favorites, conditionally used and downright underdogs. So, I decided to put some thoughts below about each card in the game. The list below considers you already play the game with all the rules, with the cards being organized by type. I will use a 5-star rating by category, from the most useful card to the less attractive.

Disclaimer: the subject of the topic means exactly that: impressions. I don't think I've played enough to have a definitive opinion about them, not to mention my personal preferences in play:

- With the exception of solar sails, I dislike anything sun-powered.
- I also tend to be overly cautious about crossing radiation belts and surviving solar flares. So adding radiators or anything with too little rad-hard are considered risky maneuvers.
- I am overly fond of missions towards the outer solar system.
- I tend to prefer a slightly less optimized rocket with fewer cards than a perfect one needing three or four specific cards.
- Beyond the basic map, I can live with an ISRU:3 robonaut without much fuss, unless I am seeking Space Ventures using a Raygun and need them fast.
- The first industry a player builds is the most important for his game. As it will be around longer and can optimize your rocket for harder missions. When industrializing for the first time, consider making your rocket lighter or faster, burn fuel more economically or claim sites with less dificulty.
- Combat is a rare event which hasn't appeared in my sessions yet, so for now I can't properly judge its impact on the cards.

Note: For those interested in a deeper analysis of the text below, I recommend having the cards at hand.

A) Crew/Space Agency Cards: While they all the crew cards have that crappy ISRU:4, it still worthwhile to put them in a rocket for the purposes of glory, colonization, avoiding the "Glitch" event or just by
making use of its high thruster, when available. The most important aspect of them, though, is the special faction benefit they confer to each player.

- ESA : Unless you have a Salt-Water Zubrin or a Project Orion + Kuck Mosquito/De Laval Nozzle, you will always want more thrust. And if you like solar sails, this one lets you go as far as into Ceres Helio Zone (and into Jupiter's if you are using a black sail card!). Afraid for your rocket components when passing through a radiation belt? This +1 thrust modifier can be a life-saver. Finally, this card comes which a missile robonaut that is effective as powerful as PRC's and NASA's, an important addition when you consider landing on bigger sites.

- ONU : I really like ONU for the fact you don't need to worry about Earth's radiation belt, making this agency a great candidate for early glory VP and forming an excellent combo with radiators and that Rad-Hard:0 Metastable Helium thruster. However, outside Earth and during Solar Flares you are on your own. While this crew card is excellent for being Mass:0, it has the lowest rad-hardness of all agencies, so watch out.The free WT given when anyone claims sites or industrializes is nice, but it's a minor benefit (and easily forgetable, damnit!) when compared to NASA. The buggy robonaut may be useful in the early game for claiming two of three sites of Mars in a single operation or, if you are feeling lucky, risk claiming a comet or two (mind the hazards!). For the mid-to-later game, this crew card works great in missions for the outer solar system, as hydration:4 sites abound and every point of mass you save is important.

- NASA : There is no such thing as too many water tanks. This is my favorite crew card for newbies, because it helps them a lot with those free WT per boost operation made by ANY player. With a game so unforgiving towards poor-planned trips, this advantage helps covering costs, specially with four or five players. The 9*6 missile robonaut with an excellent rad-hardness is a great addition, too.

- PRC : While the 9*6 missile robonaut is a good one, the benefit the agency it confers will depend upon the oportunities you will have to screw your oponents. Want to save time to prospect and there is a claim disk nearby? Get it. Is the politics set to anarchy and a layer's heavy rocket in on its way to industrialize a moon of Saturn? Change the politics to war and bring it down if you want, but make sure you can afford to face a counter-attack at your factories. While these benefits are situational, the freedom you have to decommission your crew anytime makes it easier when landing on larger sites. Want to make two trips to Callisto ? Travel with your crew, use its powerful thruster to land without penalty, decommision it and then travel again. The other space agencies lack this luxury (outside anarchy/war, at least) for they would have to stick with the crew at the site as an outpost after landing for the first time.

- Shimizu : This card lacks a thruster, has Mass:1 and an ISRU:4 raygun that is really useful only on larger non-atmospheric sites (e.g. Jupiter's moons) or for missions aiming distant interstellar sites (like those beyond Neptune). The space agency's benefit will vary, specially depending on the setup. If you start with just the 4 WT, it will be easier to get free cards after the first auctions, when the players will be counting their meager disks and may be relutant to boost their cards just to free space from their hands (unless their cards have little mass). If you use the express setup, I think it will give an unfair advantage to Shimizu. And when I say "unfair", It's not that Shimizu is overpowered in this situation, but it will force players to boost their cards as their first operation
in the first turn. When starting with 6 cards, you will need to boost at least three cards to have the right to participate in the auctions, for otherwise Shimizu will win them for free. This situation is aggravated if Shimizu is the first player, for he will automatically win the auction in the first round, before anyone having the chance to boost. I recently tried a variant express setup with 16 WT and no cards. It worked great for the game, but it weakened Shimizu since the budget is much more confortable. I am thinking about a house rule in this setup, with Shimizu starting with less water tanks (perhaps 8-10 WT) but with a free research, choosing the top card of one of the decks, plus its supports.


B) Refineries: With the exception of two refineries, they all need a generator to use on its white side, and no support card affects their eficiency. That said, they are easier to avaliate independently.

- CVD Molding (M) : This refinery works without support cards, being useful for any rocket configuration created for industrialization. Its black side, Carbonyl Volatilization, is a great helper to prospect "S" sites and claim the Space Pharmacy venture. The only downside it's a M product, the hardest to industrialize.

- Basalt Fiber Spinning (S) : The only refinery that requires a reactor instead of a generator. Generators tend to be heavy, sun-powered and/or easily overheated. If you manage to build a rocket using only a reactor (and perhaps one radiator), you can work a fine and efficient rocket. Its black side, Von Neumann Santa Claus Machine (the most colorful project name in the game) is useful too, though I usually reserve my "S" factories to improve thrusters.

- Carbo-Chlorination (V) : The lightest refinery in the game, the only one whose white side has Mass:2 instead of Mass:3. In a game where lighter is better you can't go wrong with this one. A pity its black side, Solar Carbotherm, seems so weak. You only gain its benefit in your second industrialization when you decommission this refinery to gain a victory point (i.e an extra factory cube). Even that, you need to industrialize in the +2 to +0 Helio Zones, whose low-hydration sites make this endeavour a hard one. Please correct me if I got wrong about gaining the benefit of the black card.

Note: From now on, all the remaining refineries need a generator, have the same Mass, average rad-hardness (3-4) and function identically on its white side. So I will stick my impressions to their black side to evaluate their usefulness.

- ISRU Sabatier (V) : The difference in the initial Mass is the only reason I rate this card lower than Carbo-Chlorination. That's because the black refinery, Biophytolitic Algae Farm, is excellent! With -2 to prospect any "D" site, an exclusive 8 VP Factory becomes much easier to achieve. The cometary science sites are also a great option. And if you have a buggy robonaut, consider a trip to the Halley Comet.

- Fluidized Bed (V) : The Atmosphere ISRU Scoop black refinery is both a great and tricky improvement. First, don't be too happy with its Mass: 1 , because it requires a generator (the only black refinery which demands that). Second, the ability to ignore aerobrake hazards works great but it's the possibility of refueling on them that requires some caution. That's because if you stop your movement to refuel you may lose the opportunity to land without worry with lander fuel penalties (Like Mars, Venus, Titan). However, if your modified thrust is huge, knock yourself out with the refuel operation, unless time's an issue. Most importantly, please note there are some aerobrake routes which exist right after a slingshot. If you stop to refuel, you will lose those juicy free burns! In this case, you may have to check out the fuel consumption of your rocket in order to decide which maneuver (refuel or slingshot) is more advantageous.

Example 1: Consider that +4 slingshot from Jupiter, which allows you to reach Callisto. Would you abdicate of these 4 free burns? In this case, I would consider refuelling if my rocket consumes 1 or lower fuel/burn and I am either on a mission for raygun claiming around the jovian moons or I would need that extra fuel to land (besides having to pay for the burns which I could have skipped).

Example 2: Your rocket embarks on a mission towards Neptune and beyond and you decide to speed things up by burning extra fuel to make aditional turns on that long zigzag route. When you arrive on the rings of Neptune, that aerobrake is a great boon to refuel your rocket.

- Electroforming (M) : The black refinery, Impact Mold Sinter, is useful enough, granting -1 on prospection rolls at any site. However, you will need a "M" or "D" site to industrialize. This means you will need a bit of luck to have this card as early as possible (in order to maximize its benefits).

- Magma Electrolysis (V) : This card functions like Carbo-chlorination: you only get the benefit of its black side after you use it to industrialize (again, please correct me if I got wrong about it). That means you only reap the benefit after you build your second factory at least! This black refinery gives the same, non-cumulative, benefit of ESA but I feel it comes too late in the game. At least the Solar Carbotherm (reverse side of Carbo-Chlorination) gives you VP. And if Mars is one of the busted mines at setup, this card use becomes even more difficult, as you will need to industrialize either Venus, Saturn or Titan to gain that ESA privilege.


C) Radiators: Although radiators don't require any support cards, they have two sides and the need of therm cooling depends on the rest of the rocket configuration. These points make an isolated analysis of each radiator unreliable at best. So, I rated the radiators based upon their rad-hardness, their mass/therm-cooling ratio and at last, their respective black cards.

A higher rad-hardness is always desirable, specially in the case of the fragile radiators. If your rocket has a high thrust modifier you may not worry about radiation belts but you still have to worry about solar flares, which are devastating to radiators. As a security measure and at the cost of dry mass, you can equip a radiator on its heavy side (assuming the light side was enough for cooling) in order to avoid decomission when passing through a flare or radiation belt.

The other factor is the relation of mass and therm cooling. Ideally speaking, you will want that each point of radiator mass will provide cooling for one therm. This ration can be achieved reasonably if you need just one or two therms too cool, but when you either need more cooling or more radiators, this ratio worses by one or (at worst) two points. However, sometimes is more advantageous to have a single radiator with high mass but high rad-hardness than a couple of light radiators with rad-hard of 0/1.

Finally, the black side of each radiator card can be a factor for their worth, but I consider it less important than the previous two points because radiators are not my first choice of ET production. However, if your rocket always travels with a risk of being reduced to an outpost at the first radiation belt or solar flare roll, consider an upgrade.

Note: IIRC, if a rocket needs to cool therms during movement and during a prospect operation, the rule states you don't stack the therms of both phases. So a rocket needing to cool one therm when using its thruster and another one when using a raygun will require just a radiator with the capacity of cooling just one one therm. I am also considering the afterburner cooling does NOT apply for the operation phase (so, you can't cool your buggy just because you travelled faster this round).

- Bubble Membrane (C) : With a mass of 0/1 (light/heavy side) , this radiator is the darling of those wanting a light cooler for their rockets. However, it's fragile. If your rocket requires just one therm cooling, is not too heavy (Mass < 12) and has a fuel consumption of 2 or less, It would not be a bad idea to equip it on its heavier side just in case of a solar flare (have I told you how paranoid am I of that red sector? ). It's black side, Electrostatic Membrane, is also nice. As a "C" card, you may consider this product for an early industrialization if you wish a light and more protected radiator.

- ETHER Charged Dust (M) : This one is what I called a versatile radiator. Both sides have a 1:1 Mass/therm-cooling ratio and you can use it easily on several rocket configurations. It works great with the D-T Fusion Tokamak Reactor and the Solar-Pumped Laser robonaut, for example. However, it's fragile. It's black side, Curie Point, is the best radiator of the game, IMHO. Unfortunately it's a "M" product, being harder to industrialize. Now is a good time to say how amazing is the information described on 9.4 Patent Descriptions. For example, I was totally ignorant about the concept of the Curie Point and its effect on ferromagnetism. Thanks, Mr. Eklund.

- Salt-cooled Reflux Tube (C) : Yes, it has a mass of 3/4 (light/heavy side) with a therm cooling of 2/3 (light side/heavy side), but it also has an uniform rad-hard of 4. This make this radiator a good choice for "hot" rockets with extended trips which risk exposure of solar flares or pass through multiple radiation belts (hello, Jupiter). In essence, you are transferring your worries of radiation decomissioning to mass logistics. While its black version, Buckytube Filament, reduces the radiator's mass it also lowers the rad-hard of its heavy side to 3. That wouldn't bother me if the light side hadn't a therm-cooling of 1. If you previously used the Salt-Cooled Reflux Tube, chances are you will still need two therms of cooling in your rocket configuration. Thus, a solar flare/radiation belt hitting this heavy radiator with lower rad-hard may turn the now-light radiator useless in your rocket.

- Microtube Array (C) : The Microtube Array is also directed for rockets needing a higher cooling, but while this radiator is a bit lighter than the Salt-cooled Reflux Tube, it is fragile. It can work safely though, specially for shorter missions. The black product, Marangoni Flow, is still fragile but its low mass and slightly higher rad-hardness may justify an ET production on ocasion.

- Mo/Li Heat Pipe (M) : I treat this one as a poor man's ETHER Charged Dust. With the exception of its higher rad-hardness on the light side, every other aspect of this radiator (including it's black version, Tin Droplet, when compared to Curie Point) is inferior to ETHER. It's not a bad choice if you just need to cool one therm, though.

- SS/NaK Pumped Loop (M) : This radiator can be compared to the Microtube Array, though slightly inferior on the heavier side. However, if you can keep a rocket working on its light side, it is ok. And if you build a "M" factory, this radiator's upgrade (Hula-Hoop) is the second best in the game. It's light and has an extraordinary rad-hardness of 6 on both sides.

- Ti/K Heat Pipe (M) : Ugh, its light side has Mass:2 and Rad-Hard:3, while its heavier side has Mass:4 with just two therms of cooling. That's not my idea of fun. The black version, Flux-Pinned Superthermal, has a worse Mass/Therm-cooling ration compared to other black radiators, but at least it has a high rad-hardness.


D) Reactors: There are three types of radiators: neutronic (n), exotic catalysts (X) and burst plasma (bomb icon). Generally speaking, I prefer burst plasma reactors, followed by neutronic. Of course, this
will depends on your rocket configuration. The Project Orion does you no good if its mass becomes too much of a burden, for example. The neutronic reactors are ok, but have the downside of none of them being able to directly support any robonauts. The white-sided exotic reactors kill the thrust of your rockets, but they pay off when you produce their black versions.

- Project Orion (S) : Having this baby may be the best chance for a mission on Mercury or one of Jupiter's Moons. Come on, a +8 thrust bonus?! Carl Sagan would be proud of this card. The only downside is its Mass:4 and the need to cool one therm (roughly bumping the total mass to 5). I don't like its upgraded version, H-B Fusion Reciprocating Plasmoid. It may have a mass of zero, but now needs THREE therms of cooling, making it aproximately two points of mass lighter than Project Orion with just a +4 thrust modifier. However, if the +8 bonus was overkill and you can deal with the need of extra reactors, this upgrade may be useful.

- Penning Trap (S) : Another favorite. It's light, it doesn't change your Metastable Helium thruster into a turtle (at least when you leave LEO) and it serves as an exotic and plasma reactor. It has only two downsides: first, you will need to think an alternative if you wish to stray too far from the Sun and second, it's black version reactor (3He-D Fusion Mirror Cell) is burst plasma ONLY. Pay attention to that if your rocket thruster's powered by exotic energy. If you can use the Mirror Cell, it is a great upgrade, forgoing the need for sunlight and saves fuel consumption to 1/4 of its standard rate.

- Dual-Mode Fission (S) : Yeah, the +1 thrust is nothing to write home about but this reactor is very light and doesn't need cooling. This can be a great boon when you have a rocket with a generator that requires a neutronic (or any) reactor, for it truly saves mass. Its black side is even better, costing no mass and adding +2 thrust, but I wouldn't consider this upgrade an absolute necessity.

- Peeble Bed Fission (S) : This one grants twice the thrust modifier of the Dual-Mode Fission at the cost of one therm, thus theoretically requiring additional mass. I don't think this exchange is a good thing because the only thruster to directly use a neutronic reactor is the Cermet NERVA, which already has a high thrust modifier along with an awful fuel-consumption of 4, so you will want to priorize less mass instead of higher thrust. And if you have a thruster that requires a pulsed -||- generator, which in turn needs this kind of reactor, you will need to be careful as the need of therm cooling can easily escalate, increasing mass snd needing a more specific card combination. In sum, it has its uses but watch the heat. Its upgrade, VCR Light Bulb Fission, is a good choice, as 1/2 fuel consumption never hurts.

- Lyman Alpha Trap (S) : A -2 thrust modifier? Do I really need to use that? If you just need the reactor for prospecting, you won't need to worry about it. If not, well, at least it allows a rocket to go further into the outer system than that sun-powered Penning Trap. Also, an ESA player may consider this card with less reserve. Consider building a "S" factory ASAP so you can ET produce the Free Radical Hydrogen Trap, exchanging the -2 thruster penalty to a 1/2 fuel consumption (never mind the one therm cooling).

- D-T Fusion Tokamak (S) : Don't get too greedy because of its 1/2 fuel consumption. Its Mass:3 and the need to cool two therms make this reactor at least as heavy as Project Orion. And if you can't apply it directly to a thruster and need a generator to do that, this extra mass can become prohibitive, probably needing two radiator cards. However, If you do have the thruster Cermet NERVA (the only one who
accepts a neutronic reactor directly), it is actually helful, making that thruster now a respectable 7*2. Its black version, that cool Antimatter Bottle, is a terrific addition. Granted, you will have to take good care of your radiators with that three therm requirement, but a Mass:0 reactor that gives 1/4 fuel consumption is really neat.

- Mini-Mag RF Paul Trap (C) : If you use this card just to power your Basalt Fiber Spinning Refinery , fine. If that Cat Fusion Z-Pinch Torch buggy robonaut needs any exotic reactor and you have this one, that's okay. If your rocket is equipped with a Brayton Turbine Generator that needs any reactor and you are stuck with this AND that generator doesn't have anything to do with your rocket propulsion, go ahead. But never use this thing on a thruster unless you want to feel the sensation of drifting in space with a -3 thrust modifier. Besides its use for non-thrust requirements, it has two redeeming qualities: its low mass and the fact it's ET production is made at the easy "C" sites. That means you can quickly get rid of this reactor and get the Ultracold Neutrons, which grant a +1 thrust modifier.


E) Generators: I usually consider generators one of the main reasons of a rocket's inefficiency. It's not unusual for a generator and its supports add 4 to your rocket's mass just to get that damn thing working. Needing a more than a radiator card because of the excessive heat? Check your generator, specially if it needs a reactor, which may be a secondary source of therms. All generator cards have the
electricity icon (e) and a few of them also are of the pulsed -||- type, which are specifically needed for two thrusters and two raygun robonauts. I tend to prefer the pulsed generators to the strict (e), because the later are sun-powered (with one exception). Also, pulsed generators may actually improve your thruster by linking it with the right reactor, but you will need a sequence of supports.

- AMTEC Thermoelectric (C) : This pulsed generator needs just one therm to cool, plus any extra from the neutronic reactor it requires, but is still easy to manage. Overall, it brings less mass than other generators and may boost a thruster with a reactor. However it can be a tricky thing to have all the right supports. While it can be ET produced at "C" sites, its upgraded version, JTEC H2 Thermoelectric, is sun-powered, has Mass:1 and doesn't give any bonus. I don't consider this a good upgrade.

- Flywheel Compulsator, AKA "The Cheese" (M) : Choosing this generator seems contradictory from what I described above, because "The Cheese" (just check its illustration) is both heavy and sun-powered. However, when you build a rocket using pulsed generators you can easily become hostage of its requirements. Excepting "The Cheese", all the others need a reactor (which may be of a specific type) and one or more therms to cool (needing a radiator if you need to prospect or move without afterburning). If you have this generator, consider seriously a prospecting mission to Hertha, Luthetia or other "M" sites, because its upgraded version, Superconducting Adductor, is great! Albeit this black-sided generator doesn't confer any bonuses to your thrust or reduces fuel consumption, it's a pulsed generator with Mass:1 without being sun-powered, giving the opportunity to create a very light rocket able to industrialize with little mass, specially if you have Mass:0 robonaut that requires a generator.

- Photon Tether Rectenna (V) : You won't find a lighter generator than this one. However, it has a has a lousy rad-hardness and worse yet, it's a -1 AND sun powered thruster modifier. If this generator affects your thruster, don't pass through radiation belts unless you have a strong thrust modifier or a death wish (and forget travelling beyond Ceres). Its black-sided generator, Palmer LSP Aerosol Lens, is a light and more resistant upgrade, useful if you don't plan to go beyond Jupiter Helio Zone.

- Rankine MHD (M) : The next three generators can create an extreme need for therm-cooling if they are supported by hot reactors. The Rankine is the most valuable of the trio because it is the only non-pulsed generator that is not sun-powered AND can link a reactor to boost your thruster, if possible. The black version, MHD Open-cycle, is a good choice as it gives you a +1 thrust and no longer overheats. However, it now requires a burst plasma reactor ONLY, no longer accepting a neutronic one.

- Brayton Turbine (C) : Besides a two therm-cooling need, this card requires any kind of reactor to function. I find this intriguing when I compare it with the Rankine MHD and the In-core Thermionic (see below) generators, which only allow neutronic and burst plasma reactors. That's because the only reactor that does not support these last two generators is that "awesome" Mini-Mag RF Paul Trap. Yeah, the one which has a -3 thrust modifier. I wonder if there were more pure exotic catalysts (X) reactors during playtests. As it is, the white side of this card justs stands as a heavier version of Rankine MHD. Its upgrade, O' Meara LSP Paralens, is easy to produce at "C" sites and is a Mass:0, sun-powered, no support neeeded generator. If you plan to confine your rocket to the inner solar system, this card is a good choice (though its rad-hard could be better).

- In-core Thermionic (S) : Trying to fit this support in your rocket is a major headache. Besides demanding THREE therms of cooling by itself, you may need even more because it requires a neutronic or burst plasma reactor. The heavens protect you if you add the D-T Fusion Tokamak reactor, totalling a five therm need; a rocket so hot it makes Scarlett Johansson look frigid in comparison. However, if you are able to cope with this extra mass, the vulnerability of radiators and the need of a good configuration of cards, you may try to hold into this card until you ET produce its much better upgrade, Z-Pinch Microfission. This black generator requires just one therm of cooling, doesn't need any other support card and gives a whooping +4 thrust at the cost of Mass:2.

- H2-O2 Fuel Cell, AKA " The Cube" (C) : I really want to like this card. I mean, the concept of a vast cube with cyanobacteria producing hydrogen is neat, while the black contrapart is even more interesting, producing energy through the action of hectares of bacteria (that NAD-NADH reaction reminds me of the Krebs Cycle). Unfortunately, it's heavy, doesn't give a chance to add a reactor and it's sun-powered. Compared with the Flywheel compulsator, "The Cube" has the same stats but is a pure (e) generator, while "The Cheese" is a pulsed generator that doesn't need anything else (in contrast with
others of its kind). The upgrade of "The Cube", Microbial Fuel Cell, grants +1 sun-powered thrust and has Mass:2. It's really a heavier version of the Palmer Aerosol Lens, described above. While it can be
produced at "C" sites, instead of the harder "V" of the Palmer Aerosol, this black generator doesn't appeal to me.

- Stirling Engine (C) : In game mechanics, there isn't much to talk about this one, as it functions just like "The Cube", trading off a point of Mass with the need of one therm-cooling (a bad exchange, IMO). The black generator, Thermo-photovoltaic, functions just like the Microbial Fuel Cell but with a rad-hardness of four, instead of five.

- Cascade Photovoltaic (C) : I consider this one the worst card of the game. It has the same function and mass of the previous two generators but has a wimpy Rad-Hardness of one. And its upgrade, Buckyball C60 Photovoltaic, is another +1 sun-powered generator, but with a rad-hardness of three. No, thanks. Unless I can't wait for another research operation to pick a better generator, this one is readily sold to the market.


F) Thrusters: The most important trait about thrusters is their fuel comsumption, followed by initial thrust. However, depending on the situation, you will need to make a trade-off, choosing a a slightly less economic thruster but with a more desirable thrust, specially when thinking about radiation belts and landing on bigger sites. Pay attention to the rad-hardness of the thruster used and the other components of the rocket, to check if the modified thrust will be enough to lessen the risk of radiation. This is specially true when using a thruster that can't afterburn (Mass Driver, Hall Effect), when using a Space Agency that lacks a Thruster Crew Card (ONU, Shimizu) or when your thruster has a negative modifier (for being sun-powered or because equipped reactors or generators reduce its thrust).

Solar Sails (Photon Kite Sail and Photon Heliogyro) (C) : I include both solar sails under the same category because I don't think their differences merit a distinct grade. Sails are useful for the early game. They are great for those wanting an easy and quick glory (Eureka, anyone?). They also help those
who don't mind making multiple trips and confine their journey up to the Mars Helio Zone (okay, Ceres Zone for ESA players). Both upgrades, Mag Sail (former Photon Kite Sail) and Electric Sail (former Photon Heliogyro) are "C" products that can be industrialized fairly quickly and give more autonomy for the player who still wants to sail away. While the Mag Sail gives tempting free slingshots when entering a radiation belt, be sure the rest of your rocket can handle all that radiation as an initial thrust of 2 gives little protection if the rest of your stack is crammed with radiators. The Electric Sail don't confer these free burns, but it has Mass:0, a good benefit when you need always the lightest rocket possible when sailing.

De Laval Nozzle (M) : Remember what I said earlier about balancing Thrust and Fuel consumption? This thruster may spend twice as much fuel per burn when compared with Ponderomotive Vasimir (3*1 thruster) and Metastable Helium (5*1 thruster), but it has two benefits. First, it needs just a burst plasma reactor instead of an exotic catalyst (X) or a pulsed -||- generator, adding less mass and less therm-cooling (excepting Project Orion, but then it is totally worth it). Second, it is less choosy with supports and has a high rad-hardness. The metastable helium is begging to be decomissioned on radiation belts because of its low modified thrust after equipping it with most X reactors. The Ponderomotive will need a good combination of generator/reactor/radiator to work well. So, while in theory it seems a less-efficient thruster, it's easier to create a good rocket. Its reverse side, Magnet Nozzle, reduces its fuel consumption to 1/burn, making it a natural upgrade.

Ponderomotive Vasimir (V) : This one can be a great thruster, assuming you can manage its mass requirements. While the Ponderomotive only adds 1 to the total mass, the need of a pulsed generator means you will need extra mass, possibly with radiators. And beware if your support is sun-powered, because the its modified thrust may limit your trips up to the Mars Helio Zone only. I don't like its upgrade, Pulsed Plasmoid. True, it releases you from support cards and lets you refuel with regolith, but one of the nicest aspect of dirt propelling is the fact you can instantly fuel all your tanks with just one operation. Having a -1 or -2 wet mass modifier to a rocket whose thrusters is 3*1 AND sun-powered seems...counterproductive.

Metastable Helium (S) ; if you are ONU : This high autonomy thruster can easily fall apart with a sneeze. With a Rad-hard of zero and the choice of reactors that will either reduce your much needed thrust against radiation rolls by -2, -3 or by Helio zone (in the case of Penning Trap), this thruster is not so easy as it seems. The most crucial moment is when you leave Earth's radiation belt. You may consider stop a turn and use your crew's thruster (if you are NASA, ESA or PRC) or use the afterburn (mandatory if you are Shimizu). If you are ONU, the value of this thruster swells considerably, as you don't have to worry when entering that nasty Val-Hallen belt. In any event, when
using the Metastable, I'd RUN for its upgrade, n-6Li Microfission. It has a Rad-hard of 7 (though it still requires a radiator) and has a fuel consumption of 1/3. The soonest you get it before the first
solar flare, the better.

Hall Effect (C) : The Hall Effect is what I consider a standard thruster. It has an average-to-good fuel consumption, but needs any generator. It lacks an afterburner, which may hurt your trips if you are using sun power. It has an okay mass, but the rad-hard is 3, so it can be tricky. It's upgrade, Ion Drive, is easy to produce ("C" site), but has a very low thrust, so you will need to check your generator configuration to see if it will be workable.

Mass Driver (M) : I call the Mass Driver the "chicken flight" thruster. It travels two or three burns, stops, refuels at any site, travels again for two or so burns and so on. A favorite route of mine, either when going for Glory or simply travelling to the asteroid belt and beyond, is to take that suggested purple route, first entering two burns + radiation belt, then moon slingshot, detour at L4 SOl-Mars Lagrange to refuel at Dydimos or Dydimos Moonlet, then continue your journey. The Mass Driver is heavy and very dependent on the pulsed generator you choose, but it can work fine if you take your trip in small doses. The black thruster, MPD T-Wave, has the low-thrust regolith refuel problem I mentioned at the Ponderomotive Vasimir entry, so I would only consider it if its supports add to its thrust.

Mirror Steamer (S) : I only considered this card superior to Cermet Nerva because the later one doesn't have a big thruster upgrade as the Mirror Steamer's Salt-water Zubrin. The Mirror Steamer's only redeeming quality is the fact it doesn't require any support and has a mass of zero. I mean, a 3*4 sun-powered thruster? You'd better grab a better thruster or use it for nearby missions. The Moon, if available, is a mandatory site for ET production. The Salt-water Zubrin speaks for itself, but note it needs FIVE Therms of cooling. You will need at least two radiators for make it workable and will need to be specially cautious when the sunspot cycle approaches a red zone or if the exoglobal politics is set to War (or anarchy if there's a PRC player) - the idea of crippling the SWZ by targetting its fragile radiators is sweet indeed.

Cermet NERVA (S) * : Another fuel-thirsty thruster, the Cermet Nerva does actually work well if you reduce its fuel-consumption with the D-T Fusion Tokamak or just stick a low-mass reactor like the Dual-Mode Fission to make it as light as possible. It's just a pity there are no robonauts that require a neutronic reactor like Cermet NERVA does. Its black reator, Vortex Confined, reduces its fuel consumption but it is still mediocre compared to other upgrades.


G) Robonauts: I cannot overstress the importance of robonauts. Along with thrusters they will be essential for deciding your strategy. Do you want to speed claim sites, go for ventures? The rayguns are made for it, even letting you claim large non-atmospheric sites from space without worrying about lander fuel. If you want to claim riskier sites (size 3 or less) or even covet those size:1 cometary science sites, the buggys are your best friend. The idea of claiming sites like Titan and Jupiter's moons with a single operation are attractive too. Finally, do you lack a high thruster in your rocket for landing? The missile robonauts are there, being specially recommended if you are playing with crew cards that don't have a thruster (ONU and Shimizu).

Note: With the exception of the Solar-pumped MHD Excimer Laser, all other robonauts require either a generator or a reactor (burst plasma or exotic catalyst only, no neutronic!) to function.

Explosive Gas Dynamic Laser (S) : I really like rayguns and though this one requires one therm to cool, it is light and requires a burst plasma reactor, which tends to add little mass to your rocket, Project Orion excepted (but unless you are using a thruster that requires such a reactor, employing it just to empower a raygun is a waste of mass). Its upgrade, He-Ar Nuclear Pumped Laser, one of the two ISRU:0 rayguns of High Frontier, is a good choice if you don't need a more economic thruster (since most of them are "S" products and you already built an "S" factory to produce this upgraded raygun). This black robonaut is also great if you are interested in claiming the "S" space venture through a trip to those Koronis family of asteroids or if you just want to claim valuable dry sites like Io or the aerostats (remember you will need to land on Venus to use this robonaut).

Kuck Mosquito (V) : Unless you already have a high thruster like Cermet NERVA or PRC/ESA/NASA crew cards this one is a must if you don't want to bother with lander fuel penalties and can actually be your ticket to bring a colony to Mercury or Jupiter's moons. Its upgrade, Ablative Laser, is a fully independent, sun-powered, Mass:0, 3*1 thruster/ISRU 2 missile robonaut. Is this a worthy upgrade? It will depend on your strategy. If you ET produce it, you must change your target sites to smaller ones, nearer the Solar System. Think well if you are done with your high-thrust claim strategy before adopting this black card.

Flywheel Tractor (M) : If you are going to industrialize, chances are you will need a generator for your refinery (if you don't already use one for the thruster). This robonaut has Mass:0 and requires nothing beyond one generator, which is perfect for high-mass rockets (like the ones which require a pulsed generator). Besides, the common sun-powered generators won't affect the performance of this buggy, like it does with the MET Steamer and Tungsten Resistojet missile robonauts. Its Rad-Hard:5 is also a nice bonus. However, I am not overly excited with its upgrade, Eletrophoretic Sandworm (sorry, Frank Herbert). While it has ISRU:1 and no longer requires a generator, chances are you will still need one for the refinery/thruster AND this black robonaut has Mass:1.

Neutral Beam (S) Having Mass:2 and requiring a pulsed generator to work makes this raygun robonaut either a great choice or unnecessarily heavy on your rocket, depending how well it synergizes with the support cards in the stack. Generally speaking, if you need a pulsed generator just to make the Neutral Beam work, I'd prefer instead a lighter robonaut needing any kind of generator. However, if you already needs a pulsed generator for your thruster (like the Ponderomotive Vasimir), this raygun is an excellent addiction. The black side, D-D Fusion Inertial still requires that generator AND requires a cooling of two therms. While it is an ISRU 1 missile with 3*1/2 thruster, I'd rather look to upgrade something else unless I really need a more economic rocket.

Solar-pumped MHD Excimer Laser (C) : This raygun robonaut is heavy, sure, and the fact it needs two therms to cool means you will have an aproximate Mass:5 to add to your rocket, but it doesn't need a reactor nor a generator to work. Ihis card is a good candidate for early industrialization as a "C" product. Its black side, Quantum Cascade Laser is the other ISRU:0 Raygun of the game. Just keep in mind this upgrade needs a generator so you may actually end with a heavier robonaut than you originally planned.

Cat Fusion Z-Pinch Torch (S) : While I like a buggy robonaut, this one has two problems. First, it has low rad-hardness and requires a radiator. so you must be be extra careful when travelling through radiation belts and flares. Second, its support cards, the radiator and the exotic catalyst reactor, will add about three points of mass to your stack. Whether this will be acceptable or not will depend on the rest of your configuration. It is interesting to note this is a situation that Mini-Mag Paul Trap (the -3 eXotic reactor) can be beneficial if used only as robonaut support, due to its low mass. The upgrade of this buggy is the H-B Cat Inertial, a 4*1/3 ISRU:0 missile robonaut which is a great card, but deserves special attention because of its low Rad-Hard, the need of a radiator and an exotic catalyst reactor that will probably reduce its thrust. Just don't pass through any radiation belts and your rocket should be fine.

Tungsten Resistojet (M) : A Mass:0 missile robonaut, its main advantage is its lightness. The reason I consider it a less useful robonaut is its dependancy on generators, which are often sun-powered and can seriously cripple the main ability of missile robonauts - a high thrust - if you go beyond Mars Helio Zone. Its upgrade, the Arcjet, exchanges thrust for less fuel comsumption and ISRU 1. So, unless you need a more economic rocket and can work around this diminished thrust while still requiring a generator, I wouldn't bother with it.

MET Steamer (C) : On its white side, this card is essentially a Tungsten Resistojet that is heavier and with less rad-hardness at the exchange for being ISRU 2. As I prefer less mass to lower ISRU, I can't recommend this one. Its upgrade, the Nanobot, is a Mass:0 buggy without support requirement. Its better than Eletrophoretic Sandworm and is easier to produce.

Free Electron Laser (S) : "What? Are you crazy? Giving this crappy evaluation for the only white ISRU:1 in the game?" . Well, yes. Since the expansion (not to even mention the extended map), you can base your claims on Hydration:3 sites without much trouble. Having an ISRU:2 robonaut helps, but you don't need to go out of your way to get them unless you have a particular site in mind (like Luna or Vesta). This robonaut combines the worst requirements of the two previous rayguns: a pulse generator, one therm to cool and mass:2. Honestly, I prefer to look further into the map for wetter locations. Perhaps I'm being overly harsh here, as it certainly has its uses for early space venture claiming if you risk, but I prefer the certainty of less mass and less support requirements. Its upgrade, Wakefield e-beam, is a fair one, however. While it requires a pulsed generator, this ISRU:1 regolith refueler 4*2 thruster is more useful than the Arc Jet.

That's it. Comments?
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Jeff Chamberlain
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A lot of words there. In general, I try not to over think the cards. It is good to know, if a card has a specific support, how many cards there are that can potentially supply it and what their mass and rad-hardnesses will be, but in general, the value of a card is relative and it doesn't matter if you have the most optimal card of its type. In my experience, the best way to play this game is to work with what you have. Don't spend too much time fishing for the optimal card combos. The game will frequently be over before you even get started if you do too much of that. Especially if you are playing against me and I am Shimuzu. If I see you trying to finesse the cards too much, I will make heavy use of Shimuzu's strength to make it hell for you to buy the things you are looking for (since it ain't hard to figure out what that is).



Regarding the generators: a lot of them do suck at face value. But even so, I'll readily use one of the 4 mass generators even though I know there is a 2 mass alternative that is better in every way on its white side, if my other cards are light enough that the extra 2 mass is manageable, I'd rather get going quickly.


You are right that fuel efficiency and low mass is important of course, but I think you undervalue the degree to which efficiency is a function of mass. That mirror streamer for example seems innefficient. You rightfully point out that it has a low mass, but the thing you don't mention is that the mirror streamer can easily give you quite a lot of burns for just a few tanks of water. And under those circumstances, the thruster is more efficient than the heavier thrusters that have 1 fuel efficiency. Yes, it is solar powered, and that limits it some. But every card has limitations. Stuff that requires radiators for example, needs to avoid the radiation belts usually, and a lot of the rockets that are more powerful on paper, end up falling into that "needs radiators to function" category unless you get lucky with your card selection. Rocket's that don't require radiators, can usually afford to take the routes that pass through those radiation belts.

On another side note, I suspect you haven't fully utilized that Mag sail in game based on your comments about it. That thing, properly equipped and properly timed can get you all the way to Saturn's moons.
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Victor Caminha
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Quote:
in general, the value of a card is relative and it doesn't matter if you have the most optimal card of its type. In my experience, the best way to play this game is to work with what you have. Don't spend too much time fishing for the optimal card combos.


I fully agree with that. I don't want to pass the impression that the goal of the topic is "wait forever for the right cards", but more of "hey, this card you can auction right now can be a nice combination with the others you have, and don't let this other one be sold easily to that player, as it has more worth than you suspect"

Quote:
Especially if you are playing against me and I am Shimuzu. If I see you trying to finesse the cards too much, I will make heavy use of Shimuzu's strength to make it hell for you to buy the things you are looking for (since it ain't hard to figure out what that is).


And damn right you are

Quote:
You are right that fuel efficiency and low mass is important of course, but I think you undervalue the degree to which efficiency is a function of mass. That mirror streamer for example seems innefficient. You rightfully point out that it has a low mass, but the thing you don't mention is that the mirror streamer can easily give you quite a lot of burns for just a few tanks of water. And under those circumstances, the thruster is more efficient than the heavier thrusters that have 1 fuel efficiency.


This is one habit in HF that I haven't overcome: I hate doing multiple trips with rockets, preferring to either concentrate on claim missions or building a rocket with robonaut + refineries. So, I can see that a rocket with 2-3 mass have a good autonomy even at fuel consumption:4 , but I tend to stick with heavier ones. Strategically, I may be wrong and perhaps in the next game I may force myself to do just what you suggest.

Quote:
On another side note, I suspect you haven't fully utilized that Mag sail in game based on your comments about it. That thing, properly equipped and properly timed can get you all the way to Saturn's moons.


You are correct . For the last four games or so, I am wanting to industrialize the Mag Sail but either it didn't show in the auctions (unfortunately my sessions tend to be 2-player games) or I have other priorities when choosing which kind of site I want to industrialize. Thanks for the feedback!
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Geoffrey Ulman
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Informative and interesting read! Thanks for taking the time to share your insights.
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David
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Excellent and interesting post.
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leonardo regis
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Very good tactical analysis, but since i dont have the game i cant argue that much about some aspects of it :-)
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Phil Eklund
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Victor, I agree with your evaluations, but remember that a skilled player can use your lower-rated components to great advantage. My opponent flabbergasted me (and won) by getting his mirror steamship all the way to Saturn, first with a robonaut, then with a CVD molding refinery. Of course, he kept his ship light and had European support. Rayguns and dirt rockets also require skill to use well, but are devastating when so used.
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Victor Caminha
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Wow, MS up to Saturn?! That's quite an accomplishment. I agree that a player's skill can make up for the inherent/apparent inefficiency of a card. Last game, a player did very well with the Mass Driver. In fact, the responses to this thread encourage me to focus on less economic thrusters (Cermet NERVA and Mirror Steamer, or perhaps Tungsten Resistojet) and low mass rockets in the next game.
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Mark L
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wykthor wrote:
In fact, the responses to this thread encourage me to focus on less economic thrusters (Cermet NERVA and Mirror Steamer, or perhaps Tungsten Resistojet) and low mass rockets in the next game.

I've just started playing HF. I've found it quite interesting and entertaining to just play solo, with just a single faction and the quick start, and taking a research op only if it's necessary. Then I just figure out what I can do with what I've got.

I keep coming back to this thread to read your comments. Thanks!
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Victor Caminha
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Thank you for the kind words. Just please don't consider what I've written above as reliable analysis, because it tends to be more like hunches and personal card preferences
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Harris Enniss
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Some thoughts on the four new support cards, since many people will probably include them in legacy games...

Catalyzed Fission Scintillator (D): An excellent generator (better than AMTEC, even)... if you have an exotic reactor. With all the electric rockets being fairly low thrust already, this will probably restricted to powering robonauts and refineries most of the time. The black side, the Diamonoid Electrodynamic Tether, is strictly worse than the Superconducting Adductor, and seems likely to provide only marginal improvement in most rockets already using the CFS, besides requiring a D site to produce.

Marx Capacitor Bank (D): An interesting card, but it seems very hard to use. There are only four white cards requiring a pulsed generator. The two thrusters have low base thrust, so you'll probably need the Rankine MHD for this to work well with them. The other option is a solar powered raygun -- either use the Photon Tether Rectenna, or be prepared to haul 7+ mass points of generators, radiators, and robonaut. The black side, Rankine Multiphase, is one of only two black generators to require a reactor, and is hard to produce.

X-ray Hard Dielectric Mirror (D): Mass 4/5, and not enough cooling to justify it. Maybe an option if you can't get anything else and are dead set on a Jupiter flyby. It's primary use is probably in Colonization games, to cool Martian bernals. The black side, Graphene Crystal X-Ray Mirror, fixes the mass issues and makes for a very nice light, durable radiator.

Magnetocaloric Refrigerator (S): This seems like a good way to make some of the hotter generators useful. When paired with the In-core Thermonic, for instance, they becomes a mass 2 pulsed generator needing only a neutral or burst reactor, without the fragile radiators which would usually accompany the ICT. The black side, Nuclear Fuel Spin Polarizer, is the only S radiator available.
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John Smith
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Thanks for the overview of the different cards. I will be reading this more closely later on.

 
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Tom W -
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disagree! Shimizu is the king.

Reactors are so much easier to get working out in the outer sunlight zones, and the ability to hoard al the patent cards is killer. Pretty soon other players are begging you for cards and you can sell them off for 10+ water tanks each.

 
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