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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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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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.
If I were trying to speed this game up, I'd do the following based on the suggestions I've seen:
While none of this necessarily guarantees a faster game, it should help trim a lot. Good luck!
The 3rd edition is coming soon... The new fuel strip will make the game much faster with very intuitive and straightforward fuel calculations, the main game stopper. And what about Colonization and Exomigration/Exploration/Simulation (incl. Bernals start on the ground) on top? And a multiplayer Interstellar afterwards? This game is like a mini campaign. The replayability using all the advanced and expert scenarios is tremendous. Divide your game into multiple sessions with the following checkpoints:
The new Exomigration rules are making politics much more interesting. The new Exploration rules give a deep theme to Glories and Ventures with likely different paths each time.
You may also borrow the mechanics of Rebalance (from PC verison of Voyage of the BSM Pandora) and after a play, reduce VPs for successful Glories, Ventures and Futures and increase VPs for the rest of the Glories, Ventures and Futures. Remembering each games' achievments and adjusting the yet-unconquered ones will guarantee that your gamers group will eventually explore all the possible paths to victory like in a typical Legacy multi-game campaign.
Another rebalance possibility comes from factions - choose new factions each new game and mix the radical and standard ones with one another. If a specific faction wins a game, adjust a handicup for all the factions (reduce the starting WT for winners, increase for losers). After several plays things will settle on optimized, if not balanced in your group due to a lack of knowledge of how to play a specific faciton.
If you are advanced in algorithms, you can also balance not a single faction this way, but spread the balance into two domains: the colour of the player and the ability of the player so that if e.g. NASA wins, NASA will lose 2WT, ISRO will lose 1WT and SpaceX 1WT, while others will randomly share the increase of the lost 4WT to balance the overall amount of water to 0.