NOT a review of High Frontier by Sierra madre Games – I can’t play this game!

NOT a review of High Frontier by Sierra Madre Games – I can’t play this game!

This is a very frustrating comment piece to write so I will keep it short and sweet. This is NOT a review… Why? because High Frontier, from Sierra Madre Games, is just simply beyond my comprehension which makes it completely unplayable, at least for me, and so it seems for others…

As you can tell from other reviews on Boardgames in Blighty, I have been able to understand and play the games. In this case, sadly and frustratingly, I just can’t do it. I have had this game, which designer of Phil Eklund Sierra Madre Games kindly provided for a review, since last October and for the life of me, I just can’t figure it out.

Basically, High Frontier, is Phil Eklund’s baby. You see, he is an honest to goodness Rocket Scientist! And, you guessed it, this game is all about building rockets and space travel.

A further description from the BoardgameGeek website –

In the near future, nanofacturing techniques will allow incredible new materials to be built atom by atom. But they can only be built in the zero-gravity and high-vacuum conditions in space. Various private and government enterprises race to establish a buckytube mechanosynthesis factory on a suitable carbonaceous asteroid. To do so, they accumulate tanks of water in orbiting fuel depots, to be used as rocket propellant. Also needed are remote-controlled robonauts to do the grunt work.

The key to success is water in LEO (low Earth orbit). At first, water will be expensively upported out of the deep gravity well of Earth. But for a third the fuel and energy, water can be supplied from Luna, the moons of Mars, or other nearby hydrated objects. Extracting resources at the work site is called In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). Whoever develops ISRU technology able to glean water from space rather than Earth will gain the strategic high ground to make money through exoglobalization.


Well, ok, I was willing to have a go. After all, its a game about space and cool stuff like that.

The components were reasonably basic, except the map which I think is really quite nice although it appears quite daunting.

See? Not overwhelming and it is clear that the lines are for travel but as you can see, there is a lot of information to take in.

But then came the rules…

They are NOT user friendly in the slightest. There is a lot of technical jargon and the complexity is indeed, overwhelming, at least for those of us who don’t have a pretty good knowledge of the science involved.Try as I might, I just can’t figure them out. On the one hand, you can tell that this is a labour of love by Phil Eklund as he has worked to create a simulation, at least a simulation at some level. And maybe, this could be a really useful tool in the university classroom fo budding Rocket Scientists.

I even went onto to read through a user guide created by a devoted fan and although humourous, still didn’t make things much clearer. In fact, if a game needs user/dummy guides, there is clearly a problem.

Other than that, the rules are basically indecipherable and that, in my book anyway, does not a board game make. To me, board games should be reasonable to understand and fun to play. That may be the case for those gamers who understand the science and there are clearly some out there. But for the average board gamer, this game will be a non-starter so be warned!

Mr. Eklund’s mistake, again, at least for me, was to cater for a very limited, highly intelligent audience and not for the rest of us mere mortals.

Clearly, this is a game that will be absolutely loved by those who get the science and that is great. In fact, I commend Mr. Eklund for designing such a complex game that has gained fans in this group of gamers. I can only imagine the work that went into designing it.

But, at the end of the day, I just can’t give High Frontier a review which disappoints me but there you are.

If you are a rocket scientist or rocket geek, and want to know more, go to –


13 thoughts on “NOT a review of High Frontier by Sierra madre Games – I can’t play this game!”

  1. Same effect on me… but.. more than the selective target gamers population is really about how the Rules are organized and written. Such complex games need clear flow charts and rules already aligned with the sequence of play, not a list of scientific description of objects, actions, concepts that you will understand where to locate/use only and if you will ever start to play it long enough. And also the graphic of the rules booklet does not help at all.


  2. I think the game is much easier to play than it seems – the rules are just horribly organized. I found it best to work backwards, as illogical as that sounds – start with how can I get victory points? – build ET factories – ok how do I build ET factories – decommission a robonaut and a refinery at a site hex – ok, what are robonauts, refineries and site hexes…. Maybe I should write my own quickstart.


  3. Played for the first time yesterday. All you wrote above is correct, with one exeption: the game is awesome. 🙂
    The rules are indeed hard to understand at first but there is a new (and much better) rulebook available at BGG now!


    1. Glad to hear it and glad you enjoyed it and there are plenty of people who do as well. The beauty of our hobby is that games of all kinds generally find an audience of some sort which will love them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s