Game designers are everywhere, both professional and amateur. If you have an idea for a game, there are places you can go to see your idea made into reality. One such site is TheGameCrafter.com, and in 2010 that site was the only place you could find the title that GAMES Magazine voted its Game of the Year: the Matt Warden-designed Jump Gate.
In Jump Gate, from two to six players are trying to accumulate Resource cards while exploring deep space and discovering new worlds. The Resources deck include three kinds of precious gems, light and dark varieties of EnerGel (a binary fuel compound), water, famous finds, and a dozen non-scoring cards that represent nothing. Each player is dealt one Resource card to begin the game, returning Nothing and Famous Finds back to the deck for another card instead, and the rest are allotted amongst a ring of eight planets (randomly selected from twelve available) that encircle the titular Jump Gate board, as well as a black hole. One Resource of each planet is face-up, the rest remain a mystery.
Each player is dealt a starting hand of five NavComp cards. These cards have two numbers on them, representing three different actions; some also have optional special abilities. On a player’s turn, (s)he takes two actions, which may be the same action twice. Some actions, like jumping to a distant world, scanning a world, landing on and claiming a world, or executing a special action require the corresponding card (or cards, in the case of landing); others are easier, like flying to an adjacent world, harvesting a resource from a claimed planet, or researching (discarding as many cards as you wish and drawing back up to five). Note that Research is the only way to refill your hand, other than one specific special action. Scanning a world reveals an additional face-down Resource; claiming a world reveals all remaining Resources (discarding any Nothings) and gives the claimer first pick of them, with everyone who scanned that planet also receiving a piece of the action, if any remain.
Some Resource cards bear a black hole symbol. Collecting these cards cause a player to place one of their tokens on the Black Hole board. If the Black Hole ever has nine tokens on it at the end of a player’s turn, the game ends; in this case, whoever has the most tokens on the Black Hole randomly loses a number of Resource cards (based on the number of players) before scoring, which can be a punishing penalty since almost all of the scoring depends on sets of Resource cards. Gems score the total number of gems you have collected times the highest number of your largest set, water scores as indicated on the cards, and EnerGel are worth two points individually but seven for every light/dark pair; Famous Finds are always worth a flat five points each, but each one also bears a black hole symbol. The game will also end when all planets are claimed and all remaining face-up Resource cards bear the black hole symbol; ending the game in this way carries no penalty. Other sources of points are scanning a world (one point per scan), claiming a world (three points each), and using the Jump Gate; each Jump action allows a player to put a token on the Jump Gate, and whoever has the most at the end of the game receives five bonus points. All collected Resource cards are kept face-up. This allows players to interfere with the plans of opponents, both by taking desired Resources and by accelerating the game’s end via the Black Hole — especially if doing so will inflict the penalty on one or more of them.
A game of Jump Gate can take up to an hour, although that is dependent on how many players are involved and how aggressively planets are claimed. Several variants are also included to provide additional play options. The first edition (from TheGameCrafter.com) costs $30 and includes the various boards, cards, color rules, tokens, and rocket pawns for each player. Unfortunately what it does not include is a suitably-sized box to contain it; the box it ships in is way too large to be practical. A second limited edition, published by Funagain Games (funagain.com), will correct this problem once it is released some time in the near future. Jump Gate is an independent design and it shows, especially in its print-on-demand format, but it offers a solid gaming experience filled with strategic decisions, hand management, and set collecting. Is it Game of the Year material? Perhaps. But it is definitely worth a couple of plays to determine this for yourself.