Jump Gate Review – Deep Space In A Small Box

andysmAndrew:  The last time we reviewed a game by Matt Worden, he was accomplishing the impossible – making car-racing a viable, enjoyable bit of dice-rolling excitement in Dicey Curves Deluxe.  This time he takes on the far friendlier challenge of making spaceships fun with Jump Gate.  But can a set-collection game in a tiny box actually deliver a fully-fledged, satisfying experience?  Let’s find out together as we explore Jump Gate!

Small box, big galaxy
Small box, big galaxy

Jump Gate is designed for 2-5 players and to run its course in 30-60 minutes (it is not going to last 60 minutes, believe me).  This set-collection game sees us warping around to different planets, scanning them for resources, and claiming them for ourselves.  Planets start with a single revealed resource, and each planet will need to be scanned several times to uncover all the riches to be gained there.  Once discovered, players will race to acquire precious gems, ineffable fame, life-sustaining water, and…sand?…all of which score points differently at the end of the game.

Set up for 2 players, exploration already in progress
Set up for 2 players, exploration already in progress
A few examples of different resources and how they score.
A few examples of different resources and how they score.

jessmJess:  Awesome tiny spaceships!  But also some really great game design to boot!  I love how each different resource suggests its own strategy, though it’s definitely ‘more is always better’, so nothing ever feels like a waste, either.

andysmAndrew:  For sure.  And when the chance to snag those big-scoring combos, like EnerGel (which scores more points for being gathered in light/dark pairs rather than individually), it’s really fun.  But even the lowly sand becomes a game-crushing 45 points if you can gather, like, a ton of it.

jessmJess:  Yeah, the only thing more valuable than some sand is a whole lot more sand, I guess.

Each turn players can take up to 2 actions.  Traveling to an adjacent planet costs no resources, but every other action, from Scanning to Harvesting to Landing & Claiming, requires that players discard appropriate ‘Nav-Comp’ cards.

The Nav-comp cards are coded with pairs (or in rare cases 3) values, making each one viable for different actions.  For example: JumpGate1New Brykovia here demonstrates the way card-discard mechanics work in Jump Gate.  You could spend a Nav-Comp card with a blue Jump code to travel directly to it, a green Scan code to flip one of its resources face up (not show), or a 1+4 yellow to Land and claim it as your own, though this last one is only possible once all face-down resources have been Scanned.

andysmAndrew:  Ok, so I have an odd thing where I really like it when games use components for multiple purposes because, when done right, it stops you from simply hoarding valuable cards or thinking of certain cards as throwaway.  The way Jump Gate uses its cards to activate three different functions means you always be considering the value of each card you play not just for how you’re using it now, but for how you might have used it in other ways.

jessmJess:  But it’s not so convoluted as to create analysis paralysis.  And the way the game is paced stops someone from bull-rushing the end as soon as they have an advantage, while still encouraging you to explore aggressively.  It’s really nicely balanced!  In higher player-count games it might be a teensie bit slow, but I think Jump Gate makes a fantastic 2-player game.  Somehow casual but also pleasantly engaging.  You know, until the black hole shows up.

andysmAndrew:  Right, that thing.

Oh, don't mind me.  Just getting ready to blow up your game...
Oh, don’t mind me. Just getting ready to blow up your game…

There are three end-game conditions.  The first two trigger when either there are no longer any resources to be gathered on any planet, or when each planet has been claimed by a player, with each condition promising a point-filled end of game.  The third condition is less of a promise and more of a threat.

Each time a player snags a resource with the ‘black hole’ symbol, they must add one of their tokens to the ominously short Black Hole track.  As soon as the last token is placed there, the game immediately ends, presumably in a wave of gravitational violence.

What’s really cool about this mechanic is that, at the beginning of the game, each player is given a few resources which are kept secret from the others.  These resources can suggest a point-strategy from the get-go, helping players prioritize their resource acquisitions for the entire game and making it harder to predict who will win as the game winds down.

Should the black hole trigger the end of the game, though, the player who contributed the most tokens to the black hole track loses these hidden resources.  So all of a sudden, that delicious Fame (worth +5 points) comes with a potential cost.  Sure, you can snag it safely now, but should that black hole trigger, you may be the one to kiss your starting resources goodbye.  This adds just the right amount of tension, making some of the most valuable cards a little intimidating to grab.

Lots and lots of planets to explore!
Lots and lots of planets to explore!

andysmAndrew:  I really like Jump Gate.  It is amazing how much game Matt Worden managed to pack into this little box.  The design is incredibly tight – lots of little tough decisions, without much potential for ‘wasted’ plays or boring downtime.  No matter what you are doing you are likely working towards snagging some points and that always feels incredibly satisfying.

jessmJess:  It’s just really well balanced.  For a game this tiny to encompass the theme of exploration and set collection this well is surprising and awesome!  I think it’s actually a perfect 2-player game, even though the changes in setup are really minor.

andysmAndrew:  My only real criticism is that for a game this good, these basic components feel just a little…I don’t know.  Basic?  Still, better to have simple, very functional bits than an overly fussy game at twice the size and price.

Speaking of price, if Jump Gate sounds like a good time to you, you can snag your copy from the Gamecrafter right here!

(Matt Worden, ever the cool dude, provided us this copy of Jump Gate for review.  As always, our enthusiasm wasn’t influenced by his generosity)

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