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I really like High Frontier, but it takes a long time to get going and can take several hours to play. Does anyone know of any house rules to make the game run faster?

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ire_and_curses edited your title to avoid asking just for house rules - often when you find yourself asking how to change the rules, there's another way to accomplish what you want, without mucking with the balance of the game. Very commonly with play time questions, the best answer is something along the lines of SocioMatt's last suggestion (essentially, figure out how to play faster), and it's good to phrase your question so that you don't exclude that kind of answer. –  Jefromi Apr 9 '13 at 15:55

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I've found a few suggestions on how to speed up this game, both from the living rules and from users on Board Game Geek. I've also found a number of people who believe it is impossible to actually speed up a game of High Frontier. I'll explore each option below, ending with reasons that none of the suggestions may work. If you don't want to wade through the reasoning and arguments, skip right to the conclusion. It's what I think the best way to speed up the game might be.

Straight From the (Living) Rule Book

In the most recent version of the living rules for High Frontier (found here), there is a single rule suggestion for shortening games:

3.3 SET-UP FOR A SHORTER GAME
For a shorter game, after set-up per 3.1 or 3.2, each player draws one card from each deck at random into his hand.

This is meant to speed up the start of the game by allowing players to build rockets earlier.

Adding Extra Water to the Beginning of the Game

A user on BGG doesn't like the Living Rules suggestion because it a.) adds an element of luck to the game based on your initial deal and b.) eliminates early auctioning altogether. His alternative is to give all players extra water at the start of the game, discussed here. Initially he says 13 total for each player, but after some discussion, settles on 9. This takes out the randomness of dealing cards while leaving the initial auctions intact, but with slightly more resources to bid. This would potentially decrease game time because people wouldn't wait around as long before launching their first rocket. This leads another user in the same thread to think this is a bad option:

I think starting with more water is a mistake. It will disturb the [balance] between the strategy of A: "start flying as soon as possible with a tiny rocket" and B: "stay on Earth until you have a monster rocket".
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If everyone starts with 13WT in the beginning, the balance between strategy A and B is disturbed, and it seems to me that pretty much everyone would want to do strategy A (except they would fly a medium rocket). Yes, this would get everyone in space sooner. But, the cost will be fewer paths to victory.

This user is probably correct in noting that this would reduce the number of strategies since everyone would be able to launch bigger rockets earlier, eliminating any attempt to launch a small rocket first to try and outrun the "big rocket" players. So the suggestion of allocating more water at the start is going to be dependent on your group's style. If everyone just wants to make huge rockets, this may be a good option. If there are players that employ a strategy of using smaller rockets, this will significantly impede their ability to do so.

Use a Quick Start

In the same thread, one user mentions that they used a "quick start" during a board game convention. They describe it like this:

I've only tried a "quick" start once, at a convention. We were dealt 6 cards (one of each) for the advanced game, keeping 3 and getting 9 water for the other 3. So we started out with scads of water, and a tech boost. But we did still see one person mounting missions earlier than others, and a fair diversity of destinations. I found it to be a nice way to cut down on the play time.

This is a mix of the above two ideas. Instead of only one card at random from each deck, each player gets two (I'm assuming there was a typo in the original post when they said "6 cards" and "one of each"). Each player can only keep three cards, and must sell the other three for water. This reduces the randomness of getting only three random cards while also increasing the initial starting resources for each player. This technique also falls victim to the critique about adding extra resources, but will give players cards so there isn't a bidding war over valuable ones. Of the suggestions I've seen, this seems like the best way to speed up the game because you get more resources and don't have to use them on bidding for cards.

Enforce Time Limits

In that same thread, a user suggests two things that enforce limits on the amount of time players take to play since a lot of slowdowns happen because of decision making (discussed in the section on why you can't speed High Frontier up). He suggests:

(b) impose a time limit on auctions; (c) have everyone prepare what they want to do during their turn while they wait for their turn, so when their turn comes up, they are all ready to go;

A lot of games slow down when people aren't prepared for their next turn or haven't thought about their potential actions ahead of time. One of my all-time greatest pet peeves in Magic: the Gathering is when a player takes an inordinately long amount of time to make a decision, especially when they decide to either take no action or ultimately don't do anything complicated anyway. The player playing mono-red isn't going to deal with the enchantment that's keeping everybody from attacking; stop wasting everybody's time while you pretend you might have an answer. Tangent aside, the inability for people to make decisions in a timely fashion will cause problems, so try to reinforce the idea that people should have some foresight and have a good idea about their next move. There's another question on B&CG that deals specifically with this problem here.

Limiting auction times will also help, although probably only marginally. It'd be worth doing if you feel like the auctions in your game go on longer than necessary. I would encourage the use of one or both of these with another option, as they don't guarantee a shorter game but may help a little.

Adding Resources Each Turn

A suggestion on a separate BGG thread is that each player receives water at the beginning of each round:

I am thinking about this after last session. At the beginning of each round (including the first round), all players receive an amount of water tanks. I am considering to try 2 WT/round -1 for each factory and Space Venture the player possesses (no negative WT as tax, though)

PROS: It doesn't direct a player's strategy like the default express setup and does not turn the initial players' turn into a spending spree. No book keeping needed beyong giving WTs at the beginning of each round (not each player turn). It benefits players who are behind the factory/venture race.

CONS: This is the slowest express setup.

I think they lay out the pros and cons nicely.

Why It's Possible No Alteration Will Speed Up Your Game

One user argues strongly they don't think a game of High Frontier can be realistically sped up. I've collected some comments below from this thread addressing this.

James Moore: Personally, I don't like any of these variants, and I'm dubious that they really speed up the game in any significant way. The slowdowns we see are when people need to think about what they're doing, and have to take extra time to make a decision. (And don't get me wrong, decisions are what makes a good game - this isn't a criticism.) None of these variants would change that. In fact, I think that having more WT might make the game longer since it's sometimes harder to optimize when you have more resources.
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I think you're mistaking correlation for causation. HF does not have an unreasonably slow game start. HF has a steep learning curve, so it feels like it's got a slow start with inexperienced players.

Conclusion

If I were trying to speed this game up, I'd do the following based on the suggestions I've seen:

  • Give each player six cards at the beginning (two from each pile)
  • Each player may only keep three cards, selling the rest to get 9 water
  • Strongly encourage players to be thinking about their next moves so that decision making time is reduced
  • Start imposing auction time limits if it seems that people are taking too long to make decisions during auctions (find a sand-timer that matches the length of time you want to limit this to)

While none of this necessarily guarantees a faster game, it should help trim a lot. Good luck!

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