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Rocket Jockey

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Mayfair Games/FunFair, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 30-60 minutes; $15)

 

Rocket Jockey Lid 060411.inddPick up and deliver games are a well received genre in gaming. Basically, they are what they sound like. You pick up a cargo in one place (whatever it may be from wherever it may be) and deliver it someplace else. Usually, the idea is to get the stuff to where it’s going as fast as you can. In Rocket Jockey, designed by James Spurry, that’s almost right. Sure, you have to deliver the stuff from Point A to Point B – but if you stop at Points C, D and E along the way, that’s even better! In Rocket Jockey, players are hot shot rocket pilots, seemingly more concerned with showing off their skills than delivering the goods to the planets in the Solar System.

This is a card game and, to start, the 9 Destination cards, depicting the 9 planets in the Solar System, appropriately numbered from their distance to the Sun (Earth is number 3) are placed in a line (and yes, in this game, Pluto is still a planet). Cargo cards are placed below the planets. Each Cargo card displays a number which indicates where that cargo must be delivered. (No Cargo card placed may have the same number of the planet it is below.) The Maneuver cards are shuffled and each player dealt a starting hand of two and, once done, three Maneuver cards are placed face up next to the Maneuver card draw deck. Each player also gets his own set of four Co-Pilot cards.

Maneuver cards are what is used to get cargo to its destination. Each Maneuver card shows two numbers (e.g. 2-4 or 5-6). The numbers indicate the two planets that, by playing that card, a rocket ship can travel. The 2-4 card, for example, allows a rocket to travel from planet 2 (Venus) to planet 4 (Mars) or from Mars to Venus. It can NOT make any stops in the middle. (No stopping at planet 3 – Earth – with that card.)

A player begins his turn by drawing a Maneuver card (either from the three exposed cards or as a blind draw from the deck). He may then draw a second card OR deliver goods.

If delivering goods, a player takes the small orange rocket marker of the game and places it on the planet where the cargo is located. He then plays as many cards as he wants so that the cargo ends up at the right planet. For example…

rocketjock1If there is a cargo at Mars (planet 4) that needs to get to Venus (planet 2), a player may play a 2-4 card and deliver the goods. That does the job but it doesn’t score a lot of points because the more cards you use, the more points you score. So, if possible, a player might conceivably play a 4-6 card, then a 6-7, then a 4-7 (remember, you can jump from either number to the other) and then a 2-4 and get the cargo to Venus. The more direct route (by playing one card) only scores 1 point. But by using FOUR cards instead of one, that player will score 10 points instead! Some Cargo is “regular” and will not affect scoring but some Cargo is “Express” and that adds 1 to the number of cards used. So, in our example, if a player delivered Express cargo using four cards, it would score as if he used five cards and he would get 15 points! When cargo is delivered, another Cargo card is placed under the planet so there are always 9 cargoes to deliver when each player starts his turn.

It can be a bit challenging to set up these card runs. To make things a bit easier, each player has four Co-Pilot cards. Co-Pilot cards have multiple uses. First, you can play one of these to modify ONE number on a Maneuver card (say, change a 2-4 card to a 2-5 card). This can make those convoluted card plays simpler to manage. But once played like this, the Co-Pilot card is discarded. Another benefit of the Co-Pilot card is that it can “reserve” a Cargo for that player. By playing it on a particular Cargo, no other player may deliver it. However, when it comes to your next turn, you MUST deliver it. If you can successfully do so, then you score the delivery as normal AND get the card back for future use. Fail to deliver and you lose the card. At game end, Co-Pilot cards in your possession are worth 3 Victory Points each.

Score is kept (you have to provide you own paper and pencil for that) as deliveries are made. But when the Cargo deck is exhausted for the first time, a planet scoring occurs.

Players now see how many planets they have delivered cargo to (each Cargo card names a specific planet). The more DIFFERENT planets you have delivered to, the higher you score, from 1 point for only delivering to 1 planet to 35 points if you have delivered to all 9. With the planet scoring done, all Cargo cards are collected and the game re-seeded as before but with a difference. Now aliens come into play.

There are two Alien cards. The first one is mixed in with the last 4 cards of the Cargo deck. Cargoes get replaced as in the first round of play, but when this Alien cards appears, it triggers the endgame. Now, the second Alien card is placed, just past Pluto (in effect, in orbit 10). This Alien card is considered another cargo with its destination Earth (planet 3). At the end of each player’s turn, the Alien card MOVES down an orbit. If a player can deliver the Aliens to Earth, it counts as a regular delivery except it is scored a a DOUBLE Express (worth 2 additional cards) when scoring. If the Aliens don’t get delivered, they deliver themselves when they move into Earth’s orbit thereby ending the game. Now, there is one final planet scoring. The player with the most points (including any remaining Co-Pilot cards) wins!

Rocket Jockey uses essentially two different card decks in the game (Maneuver and Cargo) and, although card quality is good, these decks have, surprisingly, the same backs! This is a curious design decision (error?) which makes set up a little annoying. This game must have been in development for quite some time (how else to explain Pluto still being the ninth planet?) which precluded reducing planets to 8 and messing up play balance.

Hard core gamers will tie themselves up in knots trying to maximize card play on every single turn, a task that can be more difficult than expected since Cargo cards get taken and replaced very often, often several times before your next turn. It’s hard to make the most of your turn when the card you’ve been eyeing is no longer available. This can stop the game in its tracks, the gaming equivalent of one of those rocket jockeys crashing and burning! What Rocket Jockey is, however, is a game of relatively simple game mechanics with a fun theme and quick playing time, totally in line with the target audience for FunFair – younger and less competitive gamers. Those are the players who will most enjoy this game. The lesson here? Know your audience for with the right table of game players, Rocket Jockey will soar.

 


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