Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft: Jump Gate review

Space! The thrill of exploration! The joy of discovery! The worry of what that clanking was when you took off from that last spaceport! There’s a million games set in the inky void and whatever kind of experience you’re looking for is available. Fancy a bit of pick-up-and-deliver? How about Merchant of Venus? Perhaps you’d prefer combat, in which case Star Trek Fleet Captains is for you. How about a light and straightforward exploration game with just enough strategy to give you a bit of a challenge? You should be pulling a copy of Jump Gate off your shelves.

Self published by designer Matt Worden through his own company (MW Games), Jump Gate is very much The Little Game That Could. Originally only available through The Game Crafter, it’s a game for up to six players that can be completed in about an hour with plenty of opportunity for exploring. Then it actually ended up winning the Traditional Game of the Year award from Games Magazine in the USA. Quite the honour, so what did they see in this small box?

Playing as captains of starships, you compete to discover new planets, claim them for your own glory and collect sets of resources. Eight oversized Planet cards are drawn from a selection of twelve and placed in a circle on the table surrrounding two other boards: the Jump Gate and the Black Hole. Resources are doled out to players (one each) and planets (as equal an amount as you can manage, making sure that only one is face up per planet).

A selection of planets, plus the Black Hole and Jump Gate - complete with game rules!

Players also receive five NavComp cards, the engine behind the game. These allow you perform certain actions depending on the numbered codes that they show. Players take two actions per turn, moving between planets, claiming them for their own, revealing and collecting the resources that show up on the surface. It’s also important to note that scanning planets (revealing a resource) and claiming them (which reveals all of them) get you points at the game’s conclusion.

Resources! Each scores differently but a good rule of thumb is "Get Lots". Also, note the Black Holes!

A lot of the resource cards actually yield nothing, encouraging you to reveal what’s on a planet as quickly as possible – if what you’re looking for isn’t there, move on! This is where the titular Jump Gate comes into play; when you decide that your adjacent planets aren’t good enough to fly to. Add a marker to the Gate tile and you can go to any planet you choose – and it’s also useful, as whoever uses it the most will get a bonus at the end of the game. On the flip side, whoever has the most tokens on the Black Hole – placed there any time a resource is collected with a Black Hole symbol on it – will be punished!

Depending on what you manage to pull together, you’ll also score points at the end. No matter what you’re attempting to collect, a good rule of thumb is “Get As Much Of It As Possible” – you’re encouraged to get multiples to bump up your bonus points. It’s a game that, despite appearing quite simple to begin with, offers you a lot more options than you initially expected – I’ve thrown away many victories by trying to pull off a cunning plan, only to have someone else kill the game a round or two before I manage to sort things out. It’s annoying, but maybe I should be a better player!

This (second) edition comes with cards to represent the ships. You won't get the LMDS one though, that's mine!

I’m a big fan of this little game – Matt Worden has done a cracking job producing this whole thing essentially as a one man operation. A few people I’ve played with have made mention of not being fans of the artwork, but personally I think it’s fine. However, if you’re a fussy bugger, you can always check out the re-implementation of the game now available through Schmidt Spiele, Space Mission. It’s pretty much the same game with a few very minor tweaks, but why not support the little guy? Get the MW Games version!

What we’re essentially looking at here is a set collection game with a bunch of nice extra ideas bolted on. Flying around the planets desperately trying to collect those cards you need can get surprisingly fraught, especially when you know that the game could come to an end any minute. Managing to grab one final resource could well be the difference between winning and losing (generally the latter in my case) – but despite the frequent defeats, I find myself coming back to Jump Gate regularly. Give it a try – I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Jump Gate was designed by Matt Worden and is available from good online stores – you’ll look to pay about $25. Released in 2010, this review is of the Second Edition of the game, which is good for between two and six players and will generally take you about an hour.

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