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Review: Jump Drive

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Being a galactic ruler is hard work. Every decision you make involves a compromise. The good is the enemy of the best, so they say, and it’s up to you to determine what that best is.

But just because ruling the galaxy is hard work doesn’t mean it has to take a long time. With the newly discovered jump drive, you’ve found a way to expedite the process, making your plans of domination and the execution of those plans nearly simultaneous. But can you make your move quickly enough to head off the competition? Find out in the real space race, Jump Drive.

How It Works

Jump Drive is a hand-management card game for two to four players set in the Race for the Galaxy universe. Players are expanding their space empires through researching technologies and colonizing (or conquering) worlds. The player with the most points wins.

Jump drive set up for three players.

To begin, each player receives a hand of seven cards and discards two. One Survey Team card for each player is placed in the center of the table. Play is simultaneous.

Each round, players may either build or explore. If they build, they may play one development and/or one world. If a player plays only one card, the player also receives some kind of bonus (either a discount or a free card draw). If a player explores, the player draws a number of cards from the deck, takes them in hand, and discards one card for each card drawn (minus two).

The game comes with a player aid for each player. These describe the game on one side and offer a sample turn on the other.

Once players have completed their build or explore actions, each card in their empires scores victory points and income, as indicated on the cards.

The game ends once at least one player has 50 points or more. The player with the most points wins.

A Leap Forward?

Jump Drive shares artwork, setting, designer, and publisher with Race for the Galaxy–and this is one of its greatest strengths. It is familiar even if it’s new, and it has the pedigree to show that this is a game worthy of paying attention to. It is also, without a doubt, its greatest weakness, because try as you might, if you or someone you introduce Jump Drive to has played Race for the Galaxy, it’s hard to view Jump Drive on its own merits.

But Jump Drive does have merits–they’re just different from what you might expect from playing Race for the Galaxy.

Explore tokens allow players to look deeper in the deck, hopefully finding the card they need to perfectly complement their strategy (at the expense of being able to build anything this turn).

What I like about Jump Drive is how addictive it is to play. It falls in the zone of being simple to teach, interesting to play, and short enough that there’s usually time for one more game. The gameplay is straightforward in that the rules are easy to digest, even for new players, but the decisions are by no means easy.

Ah, here’s a card that can complement a strategy…

The reason is that in Jump Drive, as in Race for the Galaxy, every card you play is at the expense of several other cards. The best cards can cost your entire hand to play–your entire hand of other possibilities that you might also want to play. Of course, in any game, to make a decision for something is to make a decision against something else, but here, as your options dwindle with each card played, the trade-off is at the fore.

The high-cost developments usually require most (or all) of a hand of cards to be discarded, but they can provide huge gains if the tableau is right.

And this trade-off is brilliant. It forces players to commit to a strategy, and it forces them before they may have all the pieces in place to see that strategy come to fruition. Yes, you can take a wait-and-see approach, slowly gathering strength to make sure that each cog in your engine is well placed, but with games usually lasting just seven rounds or so, there’s not a lot of time to dawdle. Exploring can be helpful, as it allows you to see lots of options and make a formidable plan, but you still need cards to pay for the ones you need to play, and you’ve just sacrificed a card-playing turn to improve your lot. The pace of the game drives players ever onward, and players have to weigh when it’s best to pause, when it’s best to play fewer cards to earn bonuses, and when it’s best to sacrifice everything for a big play.

Galactic Trendsetters cards stack and give huge amounts of points the more of them you have.

Jump Drive is the kind of game that gets better the more that you play it. No matter how many times I explain to new players that Galactic Trendsetters stack, it often takes seeing the massive points they can generate for this to kick in. Similarly, some of the higher-cost developments might seem to a new player to be overpowered at first, but it takes several games to see just what sacrifices are necessary to get them into play (including, perhaps, spending a turn exploring just to get one in hand). I like that the game is simple enough that new players can follow the rules and participate but that there’s enough depth in the game for players who move past their initial forays.

Trade Pact is one card that interacts with other players’ tableaus. If anyone else establishes a trade pact, it makes your own a little more powerful.

I mentioned that the game is addictive, and I think the reason for this is the instant gratification of scoring every round. In some ways you can (and will want to) set up combos that pay off in later turns, but you can also enjoy the fruit of your labor immediately in card powers, points, and income. Players will need to balance some combination of the three, but it’s easy to feel like a high-roller in one of the areas, even if you don’t win. And that makes you want to come back for one more game.

Survey Teams are available from the start of the game, one per player. These are a quick and easy way to get started down the military path if you need it.

I don’t want to oversell Jump Drive. It’s a short filler game, and while there are interesting decisions to be made, it’s more reliant on luck than a longer, fuller strategy game would be. It also has a tendency to reach its completion right when you feel like the game is ramping up. (You can adjust the end-game threshold if need be, I would imagine.) To me, these things are forgivable quibbles compared to the rest of what the package has to offer.

The game comes with an ample supply of victory points. You need a lot of them, too, since each card scores at the end of each round.

But there are a few things that might be harder to swallow, depending on your likes and predilections.

One thing some players might not like about Jump Drive is its solitary nature. The game is a race, so players should have some idea of what other players are doing, especially as some strategies move faster than others, but there aren’t really ways to head off another player who is doing well or even to interact with the other players at all. There are some cards that score you points for what other players are doing, and War Propaganda can move around the table depending on who has the most military, but for the most part, the game is in trying to be faster and better than your competitors simply by building a better empire. That’s fine for what it is, and it’s still satisfying to me, but some players I’ve played against prefer more in-your-face interaction than Jump Drive provides.

War Propaganda offers a big reward–3 VPs and a military strength!–at the cost of it potentially moving to another player’s tableau. Is it too risky to play? That’s up to you.

The biggest problem I have with Jump Drive is simply positioning. While it shares some similarities with Race for the Galaxy, Jump Drive isn’t really a training game for Race. You could introduce Jump Drive to someone and then teach them Race, but the foundation from Jump Drive doesn’t get at the heart of what makes Race for the Galaxy a difficult game to learn in the first place (icons, role selection bonuses, producing/consuming). Jump Drive is a filler game, but for many, Race for the Galaxy is already a short game. While a three- or four-player game of Race for the Galaxy usually takes my lunch group around 45 minutes to complete, a two-player game (and even larger games for other, more experienced groups) finishes in a satisfying 20-30 minutes. It’s true that Jump Drive is shorter (usually in the 15- to 25-minute range), but it’s not so much shorter that it clearly wins the vote if you’re in a time crunch. I guess what I’m saying is it’s not similar enough to Race for the Galaxy to act as a training tool, yet the decisions it offers and its short time frame seem to be in close competition for Race for the Galaxy.

You can place military worlds without paying cards from your hand–IF you have the strength to conquer them.

That being said, I’m not of the opinion that there’s no reason to own Jump Drive if you already have Race for the Galaxy; it’s just that you have to go into it with the right expectations. While Jump Drive does share some things in common with Race for the Galaxy (paying for cards by discarding other cards; building developments and worlds), it is really its own game with its own rhythm. It is hard to overstate what a difference scoring points and income each round makes, and I don’t think I’ve yet seen a game that lasts longer than seven rounds. Even though Jump Drive’s decisions are still difficult to make, it doesn’t require the brain space that Race for the Galaxy does, and I do like that the Jump Drive rules questions stop after the second or third round (whereas I feel like I still field questions about the Consume-Trading role card in Race, even from veteran players).

The box is the same size as an expansion box for Race for the Galaxy, which is bigger than what the game needs. I downsized to this clear case, which fits perfectly.

Despite the odd positioning, I think Jump Drive is an excellent game. For a game that lasts 30 minutes at the most (and probably only during a training game), it packs a lot of interesting decisions in. It’s easy to learn, and it’s satisfying to build a points-and-income engine by the end of the game, even if you don’t win. While if I’m forced to choose between them, I would pick Race for the Galaxy over Jump Drive, I think they’re different enough to merit owning both, even with an audience that’s familiar with Race for the Galaxy. Jump Drive is a lot of fun in its own right, and when I’m in the mood for a fast and fun filler that still offers some meaty decisions, it is a perfect fit.

Hyperspace Indeed

  • Rating 9.0
  • User Ratings (1 Votes) 8
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Summary

Pros:

Simple rules allow even new players to participate
Offers tough decisions in a short time frame
Excellent artwork culled from many Race for the Galaxy-franchise games

Cons:

It can be hard to sell the game on a group that already loves Race for the Galaxy
It occupies a strange niche: just a hair shorter than Race for the Galaxy and not enough shared foundation to act as Race for the Galaxy training wheels

9.0 Excellent

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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