Saturday, May 1, 2010

Board Game Review - Jump Gate

Publishing your own game is really hard. First you have to get past your biggest hurdle - your game probably sucks. Then, assuming your game does not suck (or you decide to publish it anyway, because you lack sense) you have to figure out how you're going to produce it. You can try to sell it, but that's an incredibly difficult proposition because there are literally thousands of other people doing the same thing. Or you can try to make it yourself, which should only cost you about half of what you would make in a year at a normal job, and then you fill up your garage with the 19,990 copies leftover after your distributor backs out and you sell a copy to all your friends.

Which brings us to The Game Crafter. This company will take your designs and turn them into a game, then sell them direct. You won't make as much money as if you manage to sell a couple thousand copies to a distributor, but by the same token, you don't have to take out a second mortgage just to choke up a landfill six months later when it turns out that your game does, in fact, suck.

Jump Gate is one of the games you could buy if you decide to shop at The Game Crafter. It's a micro-press board game of planetary exploration, sort of. Mostly it's a quick-playing set-collection game with neat art and crappy components, but there is a bit of a theme, and it's not completely wasted.

Players in Jump Gate play NavComp cards to move around and claim planets. There are codes on the cards for jumps, scans and claims, and these are really where you see the beginning of the smart play. You might use one card to jump, then two more to claim a planet and snatch up resources. Or you could use a special card for a long-range scan that you know an opponent is going to claim, entitling you to a share of the spoils. You might just keep your cards and travel around really slow while everyone else is jumping around like frogs on a hotplate.

The main object is to collect resources. Every planet has some resources cards, and different types of resource get different scores. Like if you collect three water cards, you get nine points, and if you can gather four blue gems and two red, you'll have twenty-four. Every resource type scores differently, but it's not hard to figure out, and it is written on the card, so that helps.

The whole shebang comes to an end after about twenty minutes, and then you count up your score and add points for stuff like jumping a lot and claiming planets, and maybe lose some cards to the black hole. Scores tend to be pretty close, so even if you don't win, you probably won't feel too bad, unless you did very poorly, and then you will feel pretty stupid.

The pure game part of Jump Gate works pretty well, which is impressive considering how intensely small the game really is. It's fast, easy to learn, and over before anyone can get bored. In fact, we played it several times in one night, because it's fast and fun. You might find yourself paralyzed by the agony of the decisions in front of you, or you may just go, 'I'll take these two cards here,' and end your turn before anyone knows it started. There are some tricky decisions based on the cards you have in your hand, and if you plan a turn ahead, you can stay one step ahead of your opponents and grab the stuff you need the most.

So the game is fun... but that's not the end of the review. Because while there are a lot of things done right in Jump Gate, there are also a ton of things done wrong. For starters, while the game is light and fun, there is almost no chance at all to set up a long-term strategy. You play the cards you have, then you draw more, and there's not much opportunity to think in terms of the end game. You can decide to collect specific resources, and beyond that, you just sort of work with what you have when you have it. This isn't a huge failing - Jump Gate is a light game with some nifty card play, so it's forgivable that it doesn't especially tax your brain.

What is less forgivable is the part that the game's creator could not possibly control - the production. He made some nice graphics, and he laid out the rules very well, then he passed the whole thing to The Game Crafter, who shall hereafter be known as The Game Crapper. It took work to take a game with this much family appeal and turn it into a sloppy mess, but The Game Crapper was up to the task.

The pages in the rule book are not in order. Your colored markers are tiny plastic poker chips. The planet cards were already scuffed when I opened the box. The playing cards have raised spots where the ink went on too thick, and they won't shuffle for a damn. The game's designer did a remarkable job, but a complete butchery on the part of The Game Crapper brought the whole thing way, way down.

However, if you can get past the fact that the production on Jump Gate appears to have been completed with the spare change I lose under my car seat, it's a fun, light-hearted game that nearly anyone can enjoy, as long as they're not too snooty. I hope the game's creator makes more games, and I really hope he sells them to actual publishers, because in this case, the game is fine, but The Game Crapper stinks.


Light and easy
Fast and fun
Appealing design that's easy to read
Some good chances to make tricky decisions

Not much opportunity for long-term planning
Components are horrid, and The Game Crapper should be ashamed

If you like easy family games, you might enjoy Jump Gate - I did. Unfortunately, the only way to get it is from The Game Crapper, but it's worth checking out anyway:


Anonymous said...

I have been very interesting in whow the GC games where, nice to get a honest view point we can trust - now I am bummed cause I figured they where an OK company?

A very quick game, I like that a lot!

How much is it from the GC?


Anonymous said...

Great review, nice to get an honest view point on the GC work, I was hoping they did OK work, but it sounds like it might be a bit less then OK?

A short game, that is perfect for me, this one sounds ok - How much is it at the GC?

Matt Worden said...

Hi Hendel ... If you click on the link that Matt listed at the bottom of his review, you'll find the purchase page for Jump Gate at TGC -- it's $29.

Thanks again, Matt, for trying out the game and writing up your review of it. I think you nailed the game-play quite well. It's not a grand strategy -- It is a tactical, do-your-best-with-what-you-have game that gives some ah-ha moments here and there. It allows you to build your own mini-empire while allowing for a little opponent-screwage in the end game as well.

I think you were overly harsh on The Game Crafter (of course, I didn't see your set -- so you may have gotten a bad production). Not sure what you have against the mini poker chips (here's a pic for others to see: -- they seem to do exactly the job they need to. They don't really seem cheap to me -- just plain.

I also am usually pleased with their cards. I like their color and their weight, compared to other digital-press, on-demand custom card shops. They do start out stiff, which makes it hard for shuffling ... but some break-in shuffling usually softens them up.

In any case, I too have some gripes with parts of TGC's service, but on the whole I am happy to have them around to publish my games through. I posted my more detailed thoughts about TGC on my website:

-Matt Worden
(designer of Jump Gate)

Peter Thompson said...

It is nice to finally know how this all works. My daughter is ten and she asked me if she could invent a phone app or a game. I said sure but when she asked me how the whole processed worked I was totally stumped. I didn't know if it cost ten dollars to make a game or ten thousand dollars to make a game. Thanks for the info!

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