Board Game Review: Jump Gate

Jump Gate is a sci-fi themed, 2-6 player game. From Matt Worden Games it revolves around space exploration and gathering of resources. I managed to pick it up from Fun Again Games which released their own version of the game with a bound color rulebook and a larger box for all the components.

The objective of the game is to claim resource cards in various sets. As players explore and claim cards, some resource cards are linked with a black hole. When these cards are claimed, a player drops one of his tokens onto the black hole tile. When a total of nine tokens are collected on the black hole tile the game ends.

It can also end when all the planets are claimed and the only unclaimed resource cards have black hole icons on them. Having a low amount of tokens on the black hole tile is important, as the player with the highest amount of chips there gets a large penalty to their final score. This adds an interesting twist to the game, as players might have to balance out picking up a specific resource to fill out a set, potentially getting a lot of points, while at the same time contributing to ending the game and possibly having too many markers on the black hole tile.

Players travel around different planets moving around in a circle in either direction. Additionally they have a set of navcomp cards. These cards do a lot of game functions. They allow a player to utilize the jump gate and travel to a planet of their choosing. They also allow a player to scan and claim a planet, all of which is done by matching up the symbols and numbers on the planet with the proper navcomp cards. Additionally, many navcomp cards can also allow the player to have special actions (basically allowing them to conduct game actions without paying required navcomp cards).

Each planet starts with most resource cards hidden. As players travel around the planets, they can scan them, adding a player token to the planet tile. When the planet is finally claimed, each scanning token allows them a choice of the revealed resource cards. This becomes an important strategy as players race around the table trying to scan planets, allowing them to gain resources later in the game. Bonus points are also awarded to players that scan or claim planets.

Once a planet is claimed (and after others that scanned the planet have claimed their choice of resources) the remaining resources are up for grabs. Anyone that orbits the planet has a chance to pick up a card with no restrictions. Again this adds an interesting choice for players. Discarding specific navcomp cards, if a player scans a planet they can ‘stake a claim’ on future resources and gain extra points, however to get these resources someone must also later claim the planet. At the same time, once the planet is claimed then anyone can swoop in to take up the remaining resources freely without having to use navcomp cards.

At the end of the game players score points for claiming and scanning planets. Also the player that has the most tokens on the jump gate tile get a bonus. However, most of the victory points are earned for collecting recourse cards in various sets. The meat and potatoes of these points are from gem resources. Not only do you want to claim a lot gem resource cards, but also try and focus on having one color to make up your total. Additionally many other resource cards offer more points making a pair (dark and white energy) or forming up a large set (water), while others just offer a high point bonus. As all this is being tallied, the player with the most tokens on the black hole tile gets a penalty to their score.

This scoring can make for some interesting gameplay. To get a lot of points you need to focus on specific card sets. Meanwhile you want to claim resource cards to prevent your opponents from doing the same. This sort of makes for some cut throat play as players race from planet to planet scanning and carefully picking up select resources, all the while watching your opponents and trying to see what resources they are trying to collect. If players are going for the same resource, this can be a a little hectic trying to pick up the right cards that will offer a large point bonus at the end of the game.

Recently Jump Gate has been picked up by a larger publisher and will be released as Space Mission. The German release offers much nicer components and the rules have been worked over a bit for more streamlined play. There is no black hole tile in the German Version, and play ends when a certain number of special resource cards are discovered. Another tweak is with the scanning action. In Space Mission, players can look through resource cards and actually ‘claim’ a resource that will be picked up later once the planet is developed. It’ll be interesting to see how folks enjoy the different games. I might even consider trying out the Space Mission rules with my version of Jump Gate (it’ll require modifying the resource cards though).

The Good – Jump Gate is a pretty fun set building game. It captures the theme pretty well as players try an race around the board scanning and claiming planets at the right time. There isn’t much direct interaction with other players, but picking up certain resources and claiming planets can impact other players. Additionally there are more planet tiles than what is used to play, allowing for a slightly random layout of worlds each game.

The Bad – There seems to be a scoring dump when the game ends. You have to parse out a lot of resource cards into various sets, and it can be a little difficult to know exactly how many points you have as you are playing (unless you take the time to re-tally your score each turn by yourself). Also as strategy goes, it really seems that players need to rush in and scan as many planets as possible initially. Even though there are other options, it seems to push players onto one strategy track if they want to score a lot of points. Also I will say the components are a bit spartan and simple, even with my boxed edition that is supposed to be the more ‘upscale’ version. However, it’s hard to knock the game for that given it is from a smaller publisher.

The Verdict – Overall I enjoy Jump Gate and found it much more engaging with more than 2 players. While direct player interaction is limited, you do get a feel that you are at times in a frantic exploration race with other players. Getting to scan worlds before your opponents allows an opportunity to get choice resources when it is claimed later, and also allows you to plan out what resources to collect. While this at times seems to be the best strategy, having other players in the mix can muck up things quite a bit, so you have to be flexible with your plans.

I feel adding up victory points at the very end can be a little convoluted to tally. This also means it’s somewhat nebulous to gauge how well certain players are doing during the game. The components are a tad simplistic and low quality, but I bought my copy for about $15 USD and consider it a bargain for the game inside. I think Jump Gate captures that feel of space exploration very well and makes for a fun game.

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