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The worst thing about 'J.U.M.P. into the unknown' is probably the game's name. The game itself is, however, not nearly as bad as the name suggests.
JUMP is a game of space empire building. Players control one of four alien races that try to expand their galactic empires. All races start with a home world and some build points (money) to spend on fleets and units to put on those fleets. Fleets can move through space to different planets and investigate whether these are willing to join the fleet's empire peacefully. If not, war is also an option.
Almost everything in this game is decided by one or two D6. So if you don't like dice-fests, avoid this game. Luck is important, but you can adopt your strategy to deal with bad luck. More on that below.
The game is played in a number of rounds, which consist of a number of stages. The first round adds a few stages in which the beautifully designed random board is laid out and players pick starting positions. The normal stages are:
(1) determine turn order (each player rolls one D6);
(5) purchase units.
movement and terrain
The board is made up of hexes. Some of these hexes have planets on them, others have gas clouds (nebulas), black holes or asteroids on them and some of them are empty 'deep space'. Every fleet may move up to three hexes in a turn, but must end its movement at any planet not controlled by or allied to their empire. Fleets must always end their movement on a planet hex (or be destroyed).
Fleets cannot navigate through asteroid fields. Fleets can enter into nebulas and black holes. Entering a nebula will affect navigation, hence, a D6 determines were the fleet exits the nebula. If the fleet exits into a asteroid field it is destroyed. If a fleet enters a black hole several things may happen, which is, of course, decided by one D6. The fleet may leave unharmed, be destroyed, loose some units, be lost for a number of turns or jump to another black hole.
alien encounters and diplomacy
Whenever a planet is visited for the first time a two D6 roll determines its technology level, its disposition and the number of build points it produces. There are three possible dispositions: savage, selfish and lawful. Every player chose one of these dispositions at the beginning of the game. The visiting player throws one further D6 to determine the planets reaction to his visit. This reaction is generally more friendly if the planet has the same dispositions as the visiting empire. Visited planets can ally immediately or be neutral, hostile or xenophobic. Xenophobic planets immediately attack the visiting fleet. Hostile worlds visited for the second time immediately turn xenophobic. Neutral worlds can be visited again to check whether their reaction changes.
units and fleets
A fleet cannot move unless there are units in it. Fleets and units must be bought on planets that have the appropriate technology level. Higher tech. levels allow better units. There are three kinds of units: space units; ground units and fortresses. Space units are used for space combat; ground units for ground combat (on the planet's surface); and fortresses, depending on the type, may be used for defence in either space or on the surface. It is impossible to conquer a planet without ground units. (But it in some cases it is possible to conquer one without space units.)
combat and alien strength
Combat proceeds in a number of stages depending on the kinds of units available in the attacking and defending fleets (or planet) beginning with long range space bombardment. Some units can be used in more than one stage, which means that if you loose them in an earlier stage, you'll have problems in a later stage. Of course everything is decided by dice, but in choosing the composition of your fleets and the units you deploy in different stages of the battle players have considerable control. Luck is important, but it is definitely not luck alone that determines battle outcome. Strategy and the wise use of resources / units is at least as important.
As mentioned, combat consists of a number of stage starting with long range space bombardment. In the next stages player can deploy space fighters for precision attacks on opponents units. Next is space close combat; drop bombardment and ground close combat. If a defending planet manages to destroy the ground units of the attacking fleet there will be no ground combat of course.
Especially in the first part of the game, combat will be mostly against alien planets. The military strength of these planets is dependent on their tech. level and a two D6 roll. Planets with the highest tech. level (4) may be very strong and, hence, difficult to conquer. Visiting an alien planet that turns out to have tech. level 4 and is xenophobic will almost certainly result in the loss of your fleet.
If the battle was between an attacking fleet and a defending planet and the attacking fleet won the battle, the conquered planet may become either allied or controlled. This is, of course, determined by one D6. Controlled planets produce only half the build points of allied planets.
Different planets have different tech. levels, which determine what units can be build there. In the purchase stage of the game, tech. levels can be increased although this is rather costly. Even more costly, but sometimes very rewarding, is buying specific technologies. What technology you buy depends on two dice rolls (in real life you cannot predict new technologies either…). New technologies may improve military capabilities, navigation, or other aspects of your fleets or empire.
JUMP is a game of bookkeeping. Every player has a form of approximately A4 / letter size cramped with tables he has to fill in all the time. Planet's production and other characteristics and units in fleets are only recorded by pencil on this form. (As some things change all the time, use a pencil and not a pen!) Considerable part of each round is used in bookkeeping. This may seem to be a bad point about the game, but in fact it isn't. The fast that you have almost all relevant information on a sheet of paper in front of you gives you a rather good idea quickly of the condition of your empire (and fleets) at any point in the game. Moreover, it may sound complicated, but the bookkeeping in JUMP is not that difficult at all. (The only case in which bookkeeping may be a bit of a problem is in combat when fleets are loosing units constantly.)
luck and strategy
As mentioned a few times before, luck is extremely important in this game. However, luck does not determine everything if you adapt your strategy to it. For example, you could use expensive fleets with lots of units to visit new planets and loose these fleets if planets turn out to be xenophobic. This may seriously set you back in the game even resulting in loosing it. You could of course blame bad luck for your loss, but that would not be entirely fair. If you know that there is a change your fleet is destroyed you should not send expensive fleets with many units to visit new planets. Use many cheap fleets with only two units instead. Of course, the chance of loosing these is larger if a planet is xenophobic, but you won't loose much and will be able to return with a specialist fighting force to conquer the xenophobic planet later in the game. In other words, you may have bad luck, but if you let bad luck set you back too much it is your bad strategy you should blame, not luck.
There are two expansions of JUMP available. Both with even sillier names than the base game:
JUMP: Genesis - Die-Cast Messiahs vs. Cannibal Korp; and
JUMP: Genesis - Savage Manakins vs. Micro Titans.
Both expansions can be played independently from the base game as a kind of miniature game. As expansions they can be used to give the four alien races of JUMP specific characteristics and specific units. The units in the expansions are small hexagonal cardboard tiles and are very useful in combat (you can use the tiles to represent the units in your fighting fleets rather than just keep the scores on a peace of paper).
Both expansions contain two alien races (with very stupid names) and as such are very useful for two reasons: (1) they make combat bookkeeping easier; and (2) they add to the game by giving different empires different units, advantages and disadvantages.
JUMP is a relatively complex strategic game in which luck is important. You can however deal with luck by adapting your strategy. The game is beautifully designed and plays reasonably well. There are, however, two point of criticism that I have to make: (1) the name of the game (and its expansions) is that stupid that I'm almost ashamed to confess to my gaming friends that I own and played it; (2) bookkeeping in the game is no problem and even has its advantages except in case of combat when losses may change fleet composition quickly.