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Race, Roll or… – Jump Drive Review

Jump Drive Card Game

Looks decent enough from the outside.

Race For The Galaxy is my most played game, an epic and constantly changing experience of tableau building that rewards those who stick with its slightly prickly iconography with a design of such subtlety and flexibility that it still takes my breath away after over two hundred plays.  Tom Lehmann, I salute you!  I, ahem, jumped at the opportunity to review Jump Drive, the entry level version of Race (“Baby Race” we call it), not just because it is a scaled down version of a genuine classic, but also because that short but meaty card game slot could always do with the likes of Lehmann having a go.  As it happens, Jump Drive is a reworking of The City, which is not a game I know, but players who know Race will feel right at home here.  Not only are the tokens and icons identical to those in the big brother version (with a neat reworking of the planet icon to make things easier for colour blind players) but several of the cards reappear here with barely a change.  If you know the Brian Sewell look-a-like Contact Specialist from Race For The Galaxy then you will hardly bat an eyelid as he turns up again in Jump Drive, and the same is true for many other cards as well.

Jump to the top?  Or bottom of the barrel?

Jump Drive comes in an identically sized box to the earlier game and its expansions, and is clearly designed to form part of the same gaming family.  The instructions consist of a single double-sided sheet, much of which is given over to examples, and that means that the rules for the game are simple to get across in a very short time.  Players already acquainted with developments and planets from playing Race will simply do a little rejigging of the old grey cells to accommodate the niceties of this game and will be playing in very short order, while those who are new to this galaxy should encounter very few difficulties in getting to grips with the symbols and what they represent.

The central mechanism of Jump Drive is simplicity itself – you can build a development, settle a planet or do both.  Simple as that!  The brilliantly elegant and elegantly simple touch is that choosing developing or settling will get you a discount, while electing to do both will cost you full whack.  Want to outgrow your opponent?  Ok, but it will cost you.  Actually, there is one more option, and that is to explore, drawing cards and then discarding some of them, but the basic choices really are that clear cut.

Jump Drive Card Game

Explore, Develop or Settle. Simple as.

Want multiple actions?  It’ll cost you!

Just as in Race the icons you acquire will have an ongoing effect when they are placed in your tableau, and this is most evident in Jump Drive at the end of a round when points are awarded and cards dished out based on what each player has in front of them, and the first to 50 points at the end of a round wins.  While some cards are kind enough to offer you these bonuses without any further complications, others will reward you according to certain conditions, such as the strength of your military or the number of Alien planets you have colonised, or the number of Uplift worlds an opponent controls.  Yes, opponents really do matter in this game, and that oft-levelled (and, in my view, incorrect) criticism of Race that it lacks interaction is addressed here through the interplay of cards.

Jump Drive Card Game

There is interaction in Jump Drive.

Players already acquainted with the Space Symbionts or the Pirate World (aaaaar!) will feel at home here pretty much straight away, and will have very few problems in dealing either with the iconography or with the timing of the game, so much a stumbling block to introducing people to Race.  In fact, the only real rules difference between this game and Race For The Galaxy is that Jump Drive allows its players to have multiple copies of the same card in their tableau.  There are two exceptions to this rule (marked on the cards concerned), but in the case of the Galactic Trendsetters at least multiple cards are positively encouraged as when these guys get together to set trends it all kicks off in the biggest of ways – get all 6 of these cards in your tableau and they will earn you a massive 72 points per round!  Remember, you only need 50 to win.

Jump Drive Card Game

These guys can score massive points, but it’s difficult to achieve.

Combos are always with reach!  And they can hurt!

Once players are happy with the order of things and get to grips with the notion that placed cards become active immediately then all sorts of monstrous combos become possible and give even the least optimistic player a chance of pulling off a last minute victory.  In only our third game my opponent’s devastating combo meant that they scored a huge 48 points in the final round, grabbing the win despite having been behind for the whole game up to that point.  It hurt a lot, but demonstrated that, just as in its older brother, there is usually a way out of a tricky situation if you can work out how to achieve it.

Jump Drive Card Game

My opponent’s devastating combo (tears not shown)…

As with Race the game gets stronger and more involving when players really know what is in the deck, and the Explore action gains real power at that point, even though it takes up a whole turn, but even new players can be excited at the synergies between different cards and the different routes they can take through the game.  While I am still some way short of knowing it as well as I know its big brother, I am already convinced that this one will grow and grow, and I suspect very strongly that expansions will be needed somewhere along the line.

Going on about the icons?  Better than text!

The negatives of Jump Drive are few.  The iconography on the Explore token took a couple of goes to understand, although it is clear enough once players get their head around what it is trying to say, and the victory point tokens, while useful in emphasising that this belongs to same family as Race, are surplus to requirements.  I would go even further, actually, and say that it is easier to keep track of the cumulative scores in Jump Drive with trusty old pencil and paper, but tokens are tokens, and you can always keep them as spares for the bigger game.  Given also that this is a game when decisions are supposed to be taken simultaneously and that therefore players are meant to be in the dark about what their opponent is about to do, I am surprised that the Explore action is not on a card rather than a token, as it could then be placed face down on the table and look the same as a development or world.  It is hardly a game breaker though.

Jump Drive Card Game

Plays up to four, but eight Explore tokens? Expansions on the way?

On to the good stuff – what is so deeply impressive about Jump Drive is that it feels as close and tightly fought as a good game of Race For The Galaxy, yet it rarely takes more then seven rounds and twenty minutes to play.  Given how disappointingly light most games of this length tend to be, including many I have reviewed here, Jump Drive provides a really engrossing and enjoyable experience, even if it does occasionally come to a complete stop at the end of a round in the late game as a player draws fifteen or so cards and then needs to discard down to ten.

Jump Drive Card Game

Duplicates are allowed in this game, but exceptions are clearly marked.

Space is large, but is there room for Jump Drive in your galaxy?

The question that is going to be asked of Jump Drive time and time again is whether you need it in your collection if you already own and enjoy Race For The Galaxy, and I’ll put you out of your misery by saying that the answer to that is a resounding yes.  Jump Drive does a really impressive job of providing the thrills and tense decisions of its bigger brother in only twenty minutes, but still providing a similar degree of satisfaction, and that’s no mean feat.  Players will still try to anticipate what their opponent will choose to do, although I do miss the a little of the elegance of the bluff and double-bluff the shared actions can lead to in Race, and the game still has a multitude of different ways it can play out.  Its placement in the Race For The Galaxy universe means that on the plus side, this game will gain a whole settled world of exposure it might not otherwise have had.  On the minus side, it will be compared until the inevitable heat death of its components with the supernova that is Race.  My partner, who loves Race probably more than any other game, and will happily play it multiple times on a nightly basis (lucky me!) gave this a near instant 10 out of 10, so make of that what you will.  For comparisons with Roll For The Galaxy, though, you will have to make your own way, as I am afraid that this reviewer has never played that particular iteration of the RFTG juggernaut.

Jump Drive Card Game

Clear links to Race and Roll, although we’ve never used these tokens.

Jumping for joy?  Or dumped in despair?

Let’s cut to the chase here.  Even after over two hundred physical plays of Race For The Galaxy I am still finding new ways to get my tableau together, and that happens almost every single time I play it.  Some people say it is not interactive, but I agree with Tom Lehmann who has said that interaction is not necessarily the same as interference.  Anyway, the bottom line is that I almost always come away from Race thinking that Tom’s design is one of the very finest out there, the apex predator of what a card game can offer from simple choices and oh-so-elegant timing.  Jump Drive, miraculously, encapsulates that beauty and elegance and those constantly changing routes through the game in a way that is profoundly and deeply impressive.  You could well say that I come to this game with Race in my veins, and therefore positively disposed towards it, and you would be right, but this game is being touted as part of that universe so it is being aimed at players exactly like me.  The best bit is that I do not miss the whole Consume and Production thing from Race – Jump Drive feels complete in and of itself, and I always have Race for the full-on experience.

Jump Drive Card Game

Iconography is clear once you know it and much better than reams of text. Stop grumbling!

Well, I love Jump Drive, my partner loves Jump Drive, and everybody I have played it with, whether seasoned gamer or not, loves Jump Drive.  As a weighty twenty minute card game for the serious gamer Jump Drive is definitely worth investigation, as a pared-down version of Race For The Galaxy it is definitely worth investigation, and as a demonstration to new players of what card games can offer…well, you can guess the rest.  I positively leapt on the chance to review this game and am relieved and delighted with what Tom Lehmann has produced.  Jump Drive simultaneously manages to be faithful to Race For The Galaxy, a welcoming refuge for its players, while being very much its own game, and it is certainly worthy of sitting beside its bigger brother and those three expansion arcs on any fan’s shelf.  The only thing seriously wrong with it is that it’s not Race, but you can’t have everything.  Well, to be fair, if you own Race you can have everything.  I’m giving Jump Drive a 9 out of 10, but only because I need to explore it much, much more.  Buy it, folks!

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.

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