The Heavy Falcon launch made me want to go to space. That, and during lunch coworkers have been discussing how low the chance of death would have to be for them to agree to go to the Moon. So I’ve setup Leaving Earth with all the expansions with a Very Hard set of missions. Let’s see how much we can accomplish in 31 years.
(I don’t think many people have played Leaving Earth, since it’s only sold through the manufacturer’s website, unlike most retail games. I’m going to try to explain what I’m thinking so people can get a feel for what it’s like to play the game. If anyone has questions, feel free to ask.)
Arguably the best part of Leaving Earth is the board. Missions at the bottom. Sorry about the glare.
The missions at the start of the game are clustered, which is handy. Surveying all of the Jupiter system will net us 17 points from 4 objectives. We’ll also want to do a Grand Tour of the outer planets which, together with the Neptune Survey, will give us 20 points. What intimidates me is the 32-point Man on Venus mission; I haven’t had much experience with manned missions.
Furthermore, the Outer Planets expansion has explorable missions: when a Jupiter or Saturn location is surveyed, a new mission is revealed there. So our first objective will be to survey those bodies so we can plan ahead. As long as we launch the Grand Tour by 1972, we should be good. A manned mission to Venus can take 4 years, so we could push it as late as 1982; the hard part is saving enough funding to fly the mission.
1956: We’ll start by opening the Soyuz Rocket program. There are two good ways to lift spacecraft into Earth Orbit: Soyuz and Saturn. A 2-stage Saturn rocket can lift 20 mass into Earth Orbit for $30. A 2-stage Soyuz rocket can lift 7 mass into Earth Orbit for $16. In a pinch, a 1-stage Soyuz can lift 1 mass into orbit. (If you want to plan space missions, I hope you like arithmetic.) For any really big missions later, we’ll probably want Saturn rockets, but to survey Jupiter and Saturn as fast as possible, we’ll use Soyuz to get up and running.
Every year, our space program has a budget of $25. With the remaining budget, I open the Ion Thruster program and buy 2 probes and let the remaining $1 go to waste. I’ll try not bore you with bookkeeping; this was just a comment on how to work around the use-it-or-lose-it way funding works in this game, by buying things you might not need right now but can stash in a warehouse until you need them later.
1957: Okay, one more bookkeeping comment: Soyuz rockets are annoyingly priced at $8. Buying 2 in a turn leaves $9 to spend, which is an awkward amount since many things are priced $5 or $10. I especially want $10 to cover testing. Buying 1 or 3 Soyuz is fine though. We spend our entire turn buying 3 Soyuz and wasting the leftover $1.
1958: Time to start testing. We strap a probe on the tip of a Soyuz and… Minor Failure! Exclamation point because this is, ironically, the best possible result. See, when we open a program, it comes with 3 outcome cards (exception: Surveying). Every time we use the program – in this case, by firing the Soyuz rocket – we draw an outcome card. What we don’t want to happen is draw a Major Failure on a rocket on a big manned mission, killing astronauts and blowing up many years’ worth of budget. Whatever outcome occurs, we can pay money to analyze the data and improve the design (read: remove the card). If all cards are removed, the project works flawlessly from then on (this design is a game first, simulation second). A Minor Failure allows us to buy off a card for a cheap $5. Even better, the damaged rocket stays on Earth, where engineers will repair it for use next year.
The next Soyuz successfully launches. That Soyuz rocket is consumed and will have to be replaced. But we put a probe in space. Space!
The one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism: space!
Of course, the Russians had put Sputnik in orbit last year.
The harder question is whether to pay the $10 to buy off this outcome card. You may ask why buy off successful outcome. We are choosing between two scenarios:
(a) We buy off the card, leaving one left on the program. The next time we fire a Soyuz, we either buy it off the last card if it’s a failure or leave it if it’s a success. Either way, Soyuz rockets work perfectly from now on.
(b) We leave the card, saving the $10, but leaving two cards on the program. The next time we fire a Soyuz, we shuffle the outcomes and draw one. Say we draw a success. Maybe both cards are successes, in which case we save $10. But maybe we drew the same success again, and there’s a major failure lurking in that stack, waiting for our next big launch before blowing up. As long as there are at least 2 cards in the stack, we can’t be sure the component will work when we need it.
I pay the $10. We will be using Soyuz for a while, and I don’t want them blowing up on the launchpad. With our last $10, I buy an ion thruster for next year.