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Subject: Geeks Under Grace Reviews: Jump Drive rss

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Derek Thompson
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INTRODUCTION

I have always loved fast, complex card games. I cut my teeth on Magic: the Gathering many years ago, played Dominion all throughout graduate school, and my current favorite game is Star Realms. And for several years before Dominion arrived, Race for the Galaxy was considered the pinnacle of that genre by many.

I still remember the first time I played Race for the Galaxy. A friend and I were at Gen Con in the Rio Grande room and we decided to just try and read the rules and go for it since we’d heard it was so good. I have a Ph.D. in mathematics, and that game had more hieroglyphics than my dissertation. We gave up pretty quick.

For whatever reason, I kept trying to learn the game. Eventually I practiced against Keldon’s AI over and over until I at least understood the game. Now, I enjoy the game quite a bit, but I have no one to play it with since no one else understands the game. Enter Jump Drive….

REVIEW


Jump Drive exists as a “beginner course” for people interested in Race for the Galaxy. For those familiar with Race, this game eliminates shipping and producing, many icons, and in the biggest change there are no longer phases at all, and therefore even less interaction than usual.

Instead, players simultaneously choose some cards to play each round, and hop right to it. You can play 1 Development at one less cost, one World and draw a card afterwards, or play 1 Development and 1 World with no bonuses. Alternatively, you can Explore to draw two cards by doing some heavy filtering (e.g. draw 9, discard 7). Cards are paid for by discarding other cards, but the engine-building escalates quickly. Each card in the game generates victory points, more cards (income), or both each round, so the game crescendos exponentially until it ends with someone breaking 50 points. Some ideas are kept from Race: there are military worlds, eyeball icons for Exploring, super-expensive Developments, a few cards that play off each other, different color worlds (which just matter for certain other cards), and so on.

These extra ideas I just mentioned are a piece of cake for Race experts. But if you’re starting from the ground up, they’re no small task. So it’s extremely unfortunate that the rulebook to Jump Drive is incredibly small and terse, devoid of examples, and its companion reminder cards are full of iconography. After reading the rulebook several times, I still didn’t fully understand how Explore tiles work (Is there a common pool? Do they run out?) and had to turn to BoardGameGeek for a fundamental rule of the game. This is especially obnoxious in a game meant to be a simpler stepping stone. I do think someone can buy this blind without playing Race, figure it out, and have a great time, but it’s not as easy as it should be. On the other hand, the actual game and component design really speak to that “stepping stone” idea. The icons on the cards are for the most part directly from Race and the ideas in this game are totally transferrable to players who later try to learn Jump Drive‘s bigger brother. Many of the card names and the excellent artwork are also pulled straight from Race.

However, Jump Drive survives its frustrating rulebook to be a really fun, quick game. It’s a lot simpler than Race, and it’s about as close to multiplayer solitaire as you can get without actually being there. Some cards check against your neighbors’ abilities or icons, but mostly you are just trying to keep an eye on your opponents’ rhythms. Are they generating more VPs than you each turn? Then you probably need to play a high-scoring card to catch up. On the other hand, if they are drawing more cards than you, you need to catch up before your engine slows down. It’s also far easier to understand how the cards interact and to evaluate them. While that makes the game very fast and nowhere near as deep, it makes for a very satisfying snack when you aren’t awake enough for the full meal. And like good snacks, it’s really easy to go for another round, again and again.

But I’m usually pretty hungry, and Jump Drive mostly makes me just want to play Race for the Galaxy. Yet I’m rarely able to actually play Race for the Galaxy because it’s so hard to teach. I can teach Jump Drive to just about anyone (now that I’ve parsed the rules), and quickly. It makes a fantastic lunch-time game for when you’ve already committed the heavy mental energy required for Race to work and want something lighter (though the box could be far more portable). I’d be up for a game of Jump Drive at any time. It really is an excellent segue to Race and a very fun, light game in its own right.

POSITIVES

+ Considerably easier to play than Race for the Galaxy
+ Maintaining same icons and components make it a good segue
+ Stands on its own as an enjoyable, quick game
+ Great art
+ Solid price

NEGATIVES


- Simpler game means fewer strategies
- Self-defeating rulebook and reminder cards (terse, uninformative)
- I'd rather play Race for the Galaxy
- Box is a little too big, would prefer travel size

BOTTOM LINE


Despite the weak rulebook, Jump Drive is an excellent segue to Race for the Galaxy, and a great game in and of itself.
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Nick Shaw
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Agreed on all points. The "Self-defeating rulebook and reminder cards (terse, uninformative)" is the most frustrating part, as I've found it hard to answer other players' questions when I'm teaching it, though that's also exacerbated by the simultaneous play; I will often get new players to play in rounds instead of simultaneously, so they can see everything that's going on. But that also lengthens gameplay somewhat...

I find questions like "discount on building Alien planets? Which are those? The yellow ones?" the most troublesome. There's no definition of what an "Alien" planet is in the rulebook, so people tend to assume it's the Alien Tech (yellow) planets. Took quite some time to realise that actually some cards are CALLED "Alien xxx". It's only obvious to new players if you have such a card in your hand at the time, otherwise you're scouring the rulebook and not finding what you need to know.

So rule of thumb: If something's not in the rulebook, assume it's written ON one ore more cards somewhere.
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Martin G
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All the yellow planets have 'alien' in their name.
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Nick Shaw
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qwertymartin wrote:
All the yellow planets have 'alien' in their name.


Ah, so all the yellow planets are all "Alien" planets? No others? I got really confused at one point, as it was clear that some of the planets you can "uplift" clearly had non-human species on, so I wondered if those would be classed as alien too, until I found in a rules query on the forums somewhere the designer confirming it was just cards that said "Alien" in the title.
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Martin G
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Yep, just the yellow worlds.
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Nick Bolton
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aldaryn wrote:
Yet I’m rarely able to actually play Race for the Galaxy because it’s so hard to teach.


I'm always surprised when I read this. Fortunately I've never had a problem introducing new players to Race, even those who don't usually play card games. After a couple of games people seem to get it. The last people I taught went home and bought the game for themselves.

I thought it was an easy game to teach and the symbols made things so much easier than text on the cards, until I started reading BGG.
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Tom Lehmann
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njshaw2 wrote:
I find questions like "discount on building Alien planets? Which are those? The yellow ones?" the most troublesome.

The power that gives discounts for building Alien planets -- on Alien Technology Institute and Rosetta Stone World -- doesn't actually mention "Alien", it instead shows *the yellow world symbol*. So, yeah, these discounts apply to *yellow worlds*, just as the power indicates.

Quote:
There's no definition of what an "Alien" planet is in the rulebook

Incorrect. This is defined on page 1, Cards, second paragraph, which discusses the color of worlds and refers the reader to the sidebar where there is a picture of the yellow world symbol labeled "alien technology".

Quote:
people tend to assume it's the Alien Tech (yellow) planets.

Correct, because that's the icon this power actually uses!

Quote:
Took quite some time to realise that actually some cards are CALLED "Alien xxx".

This is mostly redundancy.

However, because one card, the Contact Specialist, refers to "non-Alien worlds" and there's no easy icon for "all military worlds except yellow ones", we were careful to provide two ways for players to realize that any military world that either was yellow (working from the definition of yellow worlds as alien) or had "Alien" in its title (working from the actual word "Alien") couldn't be placed by the Contact Specialist. Close inspection will reveal that these two sets are identical, but that deck knowledge is not needed to decide whether or not a given military world can be placed using Contact Specialist.
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Nick Shaw
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Quote:
There's no definition of what an "Alien" planet is in the rulebook

Incorrect. This is defined on page 1, Cards, second paragraph, which discusses the color of worlds and refers the reader to the sidebar where there is a picture of the yellow world symbol labeled "alien technology".


I think that was my confusion. I didn't know if an "alien" planet and an "alien tech" planet were the same thing. In my mind, "alien tech" is a technology built by aliens, "alien" is a species.

Tom Lehmann wrote:
However, because one card, the Contact Specialist, refers to "non-Alien worlds" and there's no easy icon for "all military worlds except yellow ones", we were careful to provide two ways for players to realize that any military world that either was yellow (working from the definition of yellow worlds as alien) or had "Alien" in its title (working from the actual word "Alien") couldn't be placed by the Contact Specialist. Close inspection will reveal that these two sets are identical, but that deck knowledge is not needed to decide whether or not a given military world can be placed using Contact Specialist.


That's the card I was confused about, I realise now - mentioning "non-Alien worlds", which made me immediately look up what an "alien world" was, and couldn't find it (as I had figured "alien tech" worlds were different). I see that having an unambiguous icon for "all military except yellow" would indeed be pretty hard to create.

I'm glad they are in fact all the yellow planets; will make things easier to explain.

Thanks Tom for the responses, great to hear the info direct from the designer!
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Карл ДеВос
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aldaryn wrote:
Yet I’m rarely able to actually play Race for the Galaxy because it’s so hard to teach.


You could always start with San Juan, which is a simplified version of RftG...

I find Jump Drive a bit annoying as you need to count the scores each turn.
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Tom Lehmann
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cdevos wrote:
I find Jump Drive a bit annoying as you need to count the scores each turn.

Did you try the "delta" scoring suggested in the rules?
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