Review: Jump Drive
|Release Date||May 2017|
Designer: Tom Lehmann
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Category: Card Game, Filler
Player Count: 2-4
Price: $24.99 MSRP
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….
The game is really just a deck of cards, and the pictures on the cards are ships and worlds. Nothing is even exploding!
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.
Thank you to Rio Grande Games for providing a review copy of Jump Drive.
The 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.