Radio Review #123 – Jump Drive

 

cover_jumpdrive

(2017 – Rio Grande Games)

 

“Grasp and hold on, we’re dyin’ fast….soon be over, and I will relent….”

 

Race for the Galaxy was one of the first card games I bought after being introduced to the modern-style board gaming hobby. I’ve always been a fan of the 50-70’s sci-fi era. Isaac Asimov’s robot novels, Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama series, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. There was something about the look and feel of Race for the Galaxy that triggered my nostalgia of reading these books for the first time. What I didn’t expect (and probably should have done a bit more research on), was the complexity in learning the game and all the various iconography. It can be a beast to wrap one’s head around at first, and somewhat difficult to teach to new players. Even after you’re familiar with the icons and what they do, learning how to manage and use them efficiently in the game is something that will only come with multiple plays. Fortunately, I was determined to learn it and it’s still a favorite of mine, now 10 years later.

In 2014, designer Tom Lehman and Rio Grande Games released Roll for the Galaxy, a dice-driven version of Race for the Galaxy, that while using the same iconography, streamlined the gameplay in a way that was more intuitive and teachable. Instead of choosing which actions you’ll perform each turn, players used sets of dice accumulated throughout the game which they could roll and mitigate resulting actions with. Roll for the Galaxy wasn’t necessarily a direct reimplementation of Race for the Galaxy. Rather it took the space exploration, engine-building idea of Race and did so with a set of new dice-building mechanics.

This year, Tom Lehman is set to release a new card-driven game in the Race for the Galaxy universe, entitled Jump Drive. However, unlike Roll for the Galaxy, Jump Drive strips away a lot of the iconography and action mechanics found in Race. Instead, it includes a minimal 7 icons throughout the entire game and keeps only the explore, develop, and settlement actions, creating a quick, 15-20 minute filler-style card game. While an entertaining game on its own, Jump Drive is a great entry point for those wanting to eventually step deeper into either Race for the Galaxy, or Roll for the Galaxy.

 

 

 

Components:

– World & Development cards

 

– Survey Teams cards

 

– Explore markers

 

– Victory Point tokens

 

– Summary cards

 

 

 

Setup:

At the beginning of the game, players will place a number of Survey Team cards in the middle of the table, equal to the number of players in the game. Instead of playing cards from their hand, a player can choose to remove a Survey Team card from the center and place it into their tableau. This can help to jumpstart a player’s engine (see what I did there?), by providing some basic icons if the player is not able to play much else from his hand. Especially earlier on in the game. Each player can only use 1 Survey Team card per game.

The remaining cards are then shuffled together to create one large draw deck. Each player will draw 7 cards from this deck, look at their handful of cards, then discard 2 of them. Discarded cards are always placed in a separate stack, facedown. For players new to the game, four preset hands of 5 cards (labeled A, B, C, and D) are included in the game to start with instead. However, if players are not using these starting cards, they’re simply shuffled in with the other cards before players draw their initial 7.

 

Finally, a set of Explore markers and the Victory Point markers are placed into a general supply. Victory Point markers come in values of 1, 5, and 10. Players can use Explore markers in order to draw new cards from the deck, if they’ve chosen not to play cards from their hand on a turn. After setup if complete, the play area should look something like this:

 

 

 

Gameplay:

In Jump Drive, players will attempt to rapidly build up their galactic empire. On their turn, players have the choice of exploring (drawing new cards) or developing (playing a development card) and/or settling (playing a world card). Cards added to a player’s tableau will provide the player with income (ability to draw more cards) and victory points. At the end of the round, if at least one player’s empire has amassed more than 50 victory points, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Unlike both Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy, Jump Drive only contains 7 icons which players will need to be familiar with. Let’s start the with top of each card and work our way downwards. Each card in the game is made up of a technological development (referenced by a diamond icon in the top-left corner) or a world planet (referenced by a circle). Worlds can come in 5 different types; neutral (gray), novelty (blue), rare elements (brown), genetic (green), and alien (yellow). Worlds with a red border around the circle are considered “military” worlds. For instance, taking a look above, Free Trade Association is a development card, Comet Zone is a rare element world, and Pirate Lair is a novelty military world.

The middle part of each card may contain one or more of three different icons. When player’s use the Explore action, they’ll use the “eye” icons on this part of cards in their tableau, along with those found on the Explore marker as a reference to how many cards they’ll draw from the deck. Some cards may contain the “chromosome” icon at the middle section of the card, while others will reward extra victory points and income for each of these chromosomes a player has in their tableau (these are seen at the bottom of a card, as we’ll discuss next). Finally, players will only be able to settle military worlds if they have enough military strength. Some cards will contain a red +1 icon on the middle section of their card. Each of these +1 symbols adds a strength to the player’s overall military. For instance, Survey HQ contains 2 explore icons and adds +1 to the empire’s military strength. The Lost Species Ark World contains a chromosome.

The bottom of each card references victory points that the card earns a player, along with the income it provides. At the end of each round, the player will total all of the victory points awarded by the cards in his tableau, receiving that accumulated amount. Then he’ll total all of the income amounts together provided by cards in his tableau, and draw that many cards from the deck. Some of these victory point and income amounts have certain modifiers that allow for additional victory points and income if the player has certain types of cards and icons in his tableau. For instance, the Deserted Colony provides 4 victory points every round, along with allowing the player to draw 2 cards as income. The Asteroid Belt doesn’t provide any victory points, but does provide 2 cards plus an additional card if the player has the Mining Robots development in his empire. Finally, if the player has the Uplift Researchers development, he’ll score a victory point and gain a card for every chromosome in his empire.

 

 

 

Playing Cards

Each turn, a player has three options to choose from. He can choose to play one card from his hand (a Development or a World card). He can choose to play two cards (1 Development and 1 World card). Or he chose choose to play no cards and explore by drawing new cards instead. When a card is played, it is first played face down until all players are ready to take their action. Then players will reveal their played card and must pay its cost by discarding a number of other cards from their hand, equal to the value printed on the card. However, if a player decides to play one card from his hand, he’s rewarded a bonus. If he only plays a Development card, it’ll cost -1 its printed value. If he only plays a World card, he’ll get to draw a new card immediately. But if he chooses to play both 1 Development and 1 World card at the same time, he’ll need to pay the full cost of both of them, and does not get the card draw bonus.

For instance, the player could choose to play the Drop Ship development by itself by discarding 3 other cards from his hand (its normal cost is 4). Or he could choose to play the Gem World card by itself by discarding 2 other cards, then would immediately draw a new card. Alternatively, he could choose to play both Drop Ship and Gem World from his hand at the same time by discarding a total of 6 cards (4+2). If playing both of these, he wouldn’t get the -1 discount or the extra card draw bonus (but the benefit here being he’d get to place two cards out at once).

 

Each player is allowed to use 1 Survey Team development each game instead of playing a Development card from their hand. If choosing the Survey team, they’ll remove it from the center of the table and place it into their tableau. Played by itself, it would cost 0, but if played with a World card, the player would have to pay its normal cost of 1. Survey Team is an all-round useful card which provides 2 explore icons, 1 military strength, no victory points, and 1 income.

 

 

 

Exploring

If a player chooses not to play a card from his hand on his turn, he can Explore instead. When taking this action, the player will remove an Explore marker from the supply and place it in his play area. Each of these Explore markers contain 3 explore icons on top of the marker. The player will draw 2 cards from the draw deck plus a number of cards equal to the number of explore icons on the marker and those on the cards in his tableau. These cards are added to the players hand, then he’ll discard a number of cards from his hand equal to the total number of explore icons on the marker and in his tableau. The Explore marker is then flipped over to show it’s been used. It sounds a bit confusing, but it’s quite simple.

For instance, the player has chosen to explore by placing an Explore marker in his play area. Next, he’ll draw 2 cards. There are 3 explore icons on the Explore marker, and he currently has 3 explore icons amongst the cards in his tableau. Combined, he has a total explore value of 6. Therefore, he’ll draw another 6 cards from the draw deck and add them to his hand.

After looking at his fun hand of cards, the player will need to discard 6 cards. Essentially, he’s only added 2 cards to his hand by taking the Explore action, but being able to draw so many cards has given him the opportunity to filter through a stack of cards and keep the best 2.

 

 

 

 

Victory Points & Income

Once all players have either played and revealed cards from their hand (or explored), they will next collect Victory Points from all of the cards in their empire. Then they’ll draw a number of new cards equal to their accumulated income. Once players have drawn new cards, they’ll need to discard down to 10 cards before beginning the next round. If you’ll remember, both the victory point and income values are listed on the bottom of each card.

For instance, a player’s current empire consist of Galactic Salon, Space Symbionts, Tourist World, Trade Pact, Survey HQ, and Consumer Markets. He’ll receive a total of 13 Victory Points. Added to his previously accumulated points, his empire now totals 38:

 

– 5 points from Galactic Salon
– 1 point from Space Symbionts
– 1 point from Tourist World
– 1 point from Trade Pact
– 3 points from Survey HQ (1 point for each pair of explore icons)
– 2 points from Consumer Markets (1 point for each novelty world)

 

 

Next, from these cards in his empire, he’ll receive a total of 9 income, meaning he’ll draw 9 new cards:

– 0 income from Galactic Salon
– 1 income from Space Symboints
– 2 income from Tourist World
– 1 income from Trade Pact (1 + 1 for each Trade Pact in an opposing player’s empire)
– 3 income from Survey HQ (1 for each pair of explore icons)
– 2 income from Consumer Markets

 

 

 

End-Game:

After players have collected their Victory Points, if at least one player has eclipsed the 50 point mark, the game immediately ends and the player with the most points wins. If this is not the case, players will then continue with collecting income and start a new Round. Because of the way players accumulate increasing amounts of Victory Points each round, a game of Jump Drive will last between 6-8 rounds.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

There’s two ways to view Jump Drive; first on its own merits as quick, filler-style card game, and secondly as a stepping stone for both Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy. Let’s begin with the latter. Familiarizing yourself with the numerous iconography and various actions in Race of the Galaxy has been a barrier for new players to the game. Roll for the Galaxy helped to streamline some areas, but still includes fairly complex iconography itself. Jump Drive minimizes the amount of icons down to 7, and only uses simplified versions of the explore, settle, and develop actions (consume, trade, and produce actions are not used). Although the game is played differently than its older brothers, the layout of the cards are similar, with the world and development icons placed in the top left corner, the bonuses to military strength and explore icons placed in a column along the left side of the cards, and the income earned at the bottom of the card. Although I already know how to play Race for the Galaxy, I have no doubt in my mind that Jump Drive would have provided me with a better understanding of the game, had it been previously available. Not only will the icons be familiar, but also the way cards are played and used in a player’s tableau to total up bonuses.

While Jump Drive does a great job of easing players into learning Race for the Galaxy, it is a $20 game. So is worth that much just to make it easier for your friends to learn Race? Well, only if Jump Drive itself is the solid filler-style game that it was designed to be. And in this regard, I have to say that it succeeds greatly! I was interested in having Jump Drive on my shelf, because I enjoy Race for the Galaxy an awful lot, but find it incredibly stressful to teach. I figured a few quick games of Jump Drive is all it would take to help my non-Race for the Galaxy friends learn it in a more streamlined way. However, what I found was an amazingly quick filler-game that shines on its own. There’s a great sense of rapid empire building here. While you may only score 1-3 points after the first few rounds, this can quickly escalate to 10-20+ and before you know it, the game’s over. Because there’s a minimal amount of icons, you’ll find there’s a lot of big-scoring combos to be found when amassing your tableau. And because players play simultaneously, the game plays just as find with 4 as it does with 2 (though there’s still something about that direct 1v1 play in a 2-player game that I really enjoy).

Jump Drive is a great little filler, and one that would normally stand on its own. However, it also succeeds in introducing new players to the basic actions, strategies, and iconography found its more complex brothers, Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy. But even if you’re not too interested in ever playing either one of those, Jump Drive serves as a unique and entertaining empire-building card game that can be played in 15-20 minutes.

 

 

If you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.

 

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