Title featured image credit: Mu Yu jiang https://idnomore.artstation.com/
The space industry is developing and delivering benefits that tie into our immediate needs and priorities here on Earth, for example, medical and materials research, and satellite communications.
– Marc Garneau
Last time on High Frontier…
Alright, you’ve spent the first 30 minutes of the game bidding for cards and collecting income. You realize the thruster you got wasn’t good enough, so you sell it. Now you won an auction on another one overpaying by 3 WT because Shimizu is increasing the bid to hold you back. You misread the ISRU on the Robonaut (You need a 2 not a 3!) and go bid for ANOTHER one. You build your rocket and go prospecting. You miscalculated the fuel requirements. Dagnabbit! You make an outpost. Boost the thruster part again. THIS time you add the right amount of fuel. You pick up the robonaut at the outpost. You land on some rock. Fail your prospecting roll. No worries. You refuel for a turn. Now you head for another target. You fail your prospecting roll again and throw the die in the garbage. You lament the fact that you didn’t read Francisco’s guides to prep for this game and the U.N. is laughing at your misfortune (it doesn’t matter though, they botch the aerobrake landing on Mars and the entire rocket explodes, they should have paid FINO). You now head for Hygeia, remember the afterburn rule to get that one extra thrust so you can land and make the prospecting roll! All the sweat, blood and tears have FINALLY paid off. You put your claim marker on the spot.
Ok. Now what?
You send a refinery to your claim, that’s what!
In High Frontier, the refinery is the last major piece required for a factory and the last card forming the major triumvirate of card types. Unlike the thrusters and robonauts, the refinery is usually just a big piece of cargo you need to transport to the claim site. When it comes to the basic game and the basic white side of refineries, there isn’t as much complexity as the robonauts and thrusters. The only operation that directly uses a refinery is INDUSTRIALIZATION. In brief, once you have a refinery and a robonaut together on the same site where you have a claim disk you can build a factory. The cards go back into your hands, they are “used up” to build a generic factory site. You place one of your small cubes on top of the disk. Your cards go back to your hand. Note that in this case the letters of the refinery and robonaut DO NOT MATTER. You can use any of them to build a factory on any claim regardless of that site’s letter.
Your Linchpin in Space: The Factory
What does a factory give you? First of all, victory points. All factories give 1 victory point just by virtue of being placed on the map. In addition, all factories have a type designated by the letter of the site they are built on. In turn, this determines the bonus value of the factory. This value is based on the number of such factories on the map. Basically, the more rare a factory type is in the game the more it’s worth. The first factory built for any type (V, M, C or D) is worth 10 VP. When someone builds a second factory of the same type the value of BOTH factories goes down to 8. When a third of the same type is built then all of them are worth 6 VP. At this point the value stabilizes and there’s no further devaluation.
This means to maximize your factory points you must try to diversify and claim sites with different letters for factory building. Note that the number of factories for determining VP is not per faction but in total counting all players. So if NASA, Shimizu and the U.N. all build a factory on their respective claims, and all these claims are letter C, that’s three C factories for 6 VP each!
The second thing a factory provides you is a production site and access to the E.T. PRODUCTION operation. This allows you to place a card in your hand on the map in a stack at the factory but BLACK SIDE UP. This is the way you get second generation technology on the board.
This card can go into any stack you have available. If there’s a rocket at the factory, you can add it to your ship. Or maybe a rocket is en route, so you put it on an outpost stack. There’s also one more option: the Freighter Stack. Place the card on that stack black side up and put the large 10 mm cube on the map next to the factory site.
Freighters: High Frontier’s Space Junks
In the basic game, the Freighter is another spaceship you can use, represented on the map by the big cube (10 mm vs 8 mm for the factories). But it’s extremely limited. Thematically it’s a giant bag of water with a steam engine. Your factories provide this water which is why freighters can ONLY be created at a factory with an E.T. PRODUCTION operation. For the game’s purposes, this water bag is calibrated to transport the black card item in the stack with great efficiency making the freighter’s fuel effectively limitless. However, the downside is that the steam engine’s thrust is extremely feeble.
In game terms, you can think of the freighter cube as having an implicit 1-0 thruster that you don’t need to track fuel for. Otherwise it operates exactly like a normal rocket. Because a thrust of 1 won’t allow you to make a powered lift off or landing on ANY site, the freighter can only take off or land using FACTORY ASSIST (well, it can also use AEROBREAK). The assist is a mechanism allowing the factory to launch a spacecraft off the site (or provide a soft landing to one with feeble thrusters). As with all complex space maneuvers, this entails risk. That means rolling a die for a possible CRASH HAZARD. As long as you don’t roll a 1 it’s fine. If you do roll a 1…. well you can always use another E.T. PRODUCTION operation the following turn. Alternatively, if you lack skills at avoiding ones while rolling dice, you can always pay 4 WT for FINO.
Considering these severe limitations compared to a regular rocket why would you want to use a freighter? Sometimes your rocket is busy prospecting or industrializing another site, perhaps on the opposite side of the map. In any case, waiting for the rocket and loading up the new component is not convenient so using the freighter stack allows you to move newly produced components to where they need to go, albeit at a more leisurely pace without derailing your current rocket missions.
Space Industry & Markets: Black Side Cards
Get back in there at once and Sell! SELL!
– Randolph Duke
You produced a new black card. Where would this new shiny component go? Maybe you want to add it to your rocket so you plan a rendezvous with your spaceship and freighter at some point on the map. Otherwise you may want to sell the black card via the FREE MARKET operation. In my overview, I briefly discussed doing this and how moving the black card to LEO allows you to reap a number of water tokens equal the letter’s disk on the Resource Exploitation Table.
Since all cards are associated with a letter, you determine the amount of water tokens you gain selling the black card in the same way you determine the VP value of factories. It can be anywhere from 6 to 10 and can be a shot in the arm for your space strategy. Beware of opportunity costs though. It’s one thing to set up a continuous production pipeline of black cards being sent home by freighter (it costs just an action per freighter), make sure it isn’t stopping you from accomplishing your long term goals though.
Assuming the cards produced aren’t sold they will be used as advanced components for your spacecraft and factories. Obviously the primary benefit to using black side cards is two fold: the tech is usually more advanced, but most importantly, you don’t need to boost them from Earth (and spend a lot of wealth in the process). Of course you still need the component in the right place (see: Freighters), but if your factory functions as the way station on your way to future expansion your rockets can just stop, fuel, load advanced components and then continue to their ultimate destinations.
Previous posts discussed potential benefits of black side thrusters and robonauts (essentially more powerful, more efficient versions of their white side counterparts). As for refinery cards, they are all fairly similar so on the surface any white side refinery will generally do since there is little difference. In fact, when compared to thrusters and robonauts, the refineries will seem like they lack variety. This isn’t the case though, there are some important differences at a basic level.
First of all, the CVD Molding and the Carbo-Chlorination are mass 3 in the basic game while every other refinery is mass 4. This crucial point generally means the difference between moving a probe class rocket (+1 thrust, 2-4 thrust) and a scout class one (+0 thrust, 5-8 mass). The Froth Flotation, in addition to mass 4, has a requirement that it can only industrialize very wet sites (4 water drops). This is fine on Mars, Ceres, comets and similar locations but for dryer asteroids this refinery is useless (it’s also the only D type refinery).
The REAL difference however comes in when building the black sides of these refineries. (as usual, check out and read the black side of each white card during the auctions so you know what technology it brings to the table). Each black side refinery can potentially provide a special capability if you use it in future exploitation of sites. Broadly speaking, black side refineries can provide benefits in two ways: either the component itself provides a benefit if it’s part of the stack while executing a particular operation like REFUEL or PROSPECTING or the refinery provides a benefit when used as the refinery component during the INDUSTRIALIZATION operation.
For example, the black side of Froth Flotation is Femtochemistry. This refinery allows you to industralize BUSTED sites of size 2 or greater as long as you use that specific refinery combined with TWO other robonauts. The other refineries providing benefits upon industrialization are: Solar Carbotherm and Ionosphere Lasing.
Solar Carbotherm provides a benefit called Arcology: if you build a factory in the Earth, Venus or Mercury solar zones then you don’t require a robonaut. This saves you a card and probably some actions. The Ionosphere Lasing refinery provides a benefit if used on a site with an atmosphere (like the Venus aerostat site or Mars). First you don’t require generators, but that’s an advanced game component. For basic game purposes we don’t worry about generators (but keep in mind that’s a good thing!). The more important part is the fact that you obtain the POWERSAT faction privilege! You will recall that the green ESA or white India factions have the ability to add thrust to rockets with a proper thruster card that can receive “push” bonuses. Industrializing with this refinery will gain you this privilege. Obviously if your are the ESA or India you won’t care about this, but for other players, depending on their strategy, this bonus may provide a boost to their space missions (and without the need to negotiate for the POWERSAT benefit).
The other black refineries provide a benefit simply by being in the same rocket stack ready to be “turned on” when the proper operation is executed.
The Atmospheric ISRU Scoop is a refinery that increases the hydration of adjacent aerostat sites (check the map key for them, but essentially the floating atmospheric stations in Venus, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) to 2. This allows you to prospect these sites with less capable robonauts (well except for the Neptune site, that one already has two water drops). It also allows you to do the Atmospheric Scoop Refuel Operation (see rule H5, paragraph 3). Essentially if you perform an aerobrake hazard (parachute icon) and remain there for the entire next turn (meaning your spaceship starts your turn on the icon and doesn’t move) you can execute the refuel operation and gain up to 8 WT of fuel!
The other refineries’s black sides benefit prospecting operations. The Carbonyl Volatilization gives a -3 DRM when prospecting S sites, meaning your robonauts will have much higher chances of success (note that a refinery can’t prospect by itself, you still need a robonaut, the refinery just provides a bonus). The Von Neumann Santa Claus Machine is a refinery that improves the ISRU of an accompanying card (whether crew, colonist or robonaut) by 1 which can be crucial in giving access to better sites. The Impact Mold Sinter improves prospecting rolls on any site with a -1 modifier, not much but still pretty good and applies everywhere. The Biophylotitic Algae Farm specializes in D sites, providing a -2 DRM to prospecting rolls.
Note that even if you don’t take advantage of the abilities listed on the cards black side refineries still work like any other refinery, they can industrialize sites normally regardless of any other benefits. The biggest motivation is that they tend to be lower mass or at least you won’t need to spend precious water tokens boosting them to LEO.
While black side technologies are exciting, in the basic game there is a race to complete factories as quickly as possible to end the game, so usually you won’t be able to benefit from every single card’s black side because by the time you produce your second black card there is pressure to end the game with the last factory. Naturally if you collect cards from the same letter and exploit such a site as your first factory you will have easier access to multiple black cards. Unless your opponents are distracted, most players will try to make sure that anyone trying to acquire “sets” of cards of the same letter will have to pay dearly during an auction or prevent it altogether since it can be a great advantage in the mid game.
This concludes our look at the refineries, basic game freighters and black side card technologies. Next time, we’ll examine some of these disparate thrusters, robonauts and refineries. How they can be combined to provide synergy and form the foundation for good game play.