15 May 2017
Does this fast-paced introduction to the Race for the Galaxy universe live up to its legacy?
Jump Drive may be an entirely separate game to Tom Lehmann’s beloved magnum opus Race for the Galaxy, but from the very outset it bills itself as an introductory companion piece designed to teach newcomers the ropes to its older sibling’s often overwhelming iconography and concepts.
In essence, Jump Drive is a condensed version of Race, doing away with more complicated actions from the larger title such as settle, produce and consume to stick with just two: explore and develop. Players draw cards in line with their growing ‘income’ and reveal up to two they wish to play simultaneously, paying for new constructions with the resources provided by previously-laid developments and worlds.
At the end of each round, victory points and fresh cards are gathered from each growing civilisation. Once a player passes 50 VP – a feat that takes around seven rounds or 20 minutes of play – the game ends. Simple as that.
One nice touch – as in Race – is the use of pre-made starter hands for new players, which allow them to get the engine running without needing to account for the luck of the draw. Similarly, a central survey team card is available for each player to draw once per game; the card offers a spread of income, military power (required to play specific defense worlds) and explore resource to push along the central mechanics.
Jump Drive may be less complicated than Race for the Galaxy, but it’s still a far sight heavier than many comparable filler titles, with plenty of different symbols to decode turn-to-turn in order to calculate points and income. Oddly enough, this makes it less approachable to complete strangers to Lehmann’s Galaxy series and more of a portable Race for existing diehards.
The core engine ticks along nicely, with a satisfying variety of interlocking concepts to track while also keeping an eye on rival players’ own growing collections of planets and technology.
As points are accumulated by the same cards (plus one or two additions) each round, the total earned can end up snowballing with the right combinations, leading to an unstoppable lead for one player.
Few cards offer interaction between players, making it hard to combat such an occurrence, while the strong presence of luck in drawing cards (even if the explore token’s optional ability to draw as many cards as visible explore icons attempts to counteract this weakness) can lead to frustrating situations. With a relatively short length for each match, this doesn’t last long enough to become a major upset, but it can still be irritating to see other players pull ahead – and stay ahead – almost solely by chance.
The cards themselves are disappointingly thin and flimsy, while the artwork will be familiar to those who have at least seen Race or Roll – I can’t honestly say I’m overly enamoured by the 1970s-esque sci-fi aesthetic, but it’s at least well implemented. The cardboard VP tokens are smartly designed but, despite their differing sizes, the more abstract use of lines to denote value can lead to less experienced players becoming a little confused while totting up, slowing the otherwise speedy experience down.
Jump Drive is clearly a well-designed, well-constructed game that thematically and mechanically slots comfortably within the Race for the Galaxy universe. The problem is that its open billing as a beginner-friendly introduction seems ill-fitting, with too many remnants of the deeper title remaining to truly make it the easy pick up and play gateway it aspires to be. It’s hard to imagine anyone but existing Race for the Galaxy fans choosing to invest their time in this rather than stepping straight up to the full-fat original or opting to spend 20 minutes with a standalone title such as Sushi Go or 7 Wonders Duel. For those already invested in Lehmann’s universe, though, it’s a worthwhile quick detour between games of Race and Roll.
It doesn’t quite manage to become the ‘My First Race for the Galaxy’ gateway title it tries to be, but Jump Drive is nevertheless a neatly-condensed version of Tom Lehmann’s sci-fi hit. It’s hard to recommend to Race newcomers over other filler games, but existing fans will find enough of what they love delivered in a tighter package.
Publisher: Rio Grande
Genre: Hand management
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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