is a new tactical card game by James Spurny, published by Mayfair Games.
Playing Time: 30-60 minutes
Summary of the Components
Rocket Jockey comes with a deck of 92 cards (mainly featuring planets, cargo, and maneuvers) and a plastic rocket piece.
Quality: The cards are glossy and medium weight. The tiny plastic rocket is a solid piece of plastic. 4 out of 5.
Beauty: The cartoony art on the cards is attractive, but fairly minimalistic. As a result, the maneuver cards all look pretty plain. 3 out of 5.
Usability: Good use was made of numbers on all the planets, so you could link cargos and maneuvers to the destinations. Everything else is pretty simple and thus doesn't require a lot of usability. The game could have benefited from a scorepad of some type so you didn't have to provide your own. 4 out of 5.
Theming: The object of the game is to transfer cargo between the planets as inefficiently as possible. Several of my players found this hard to grasp (though it's a basis for a lot of railroad games too). Nonetheless, the general consensus was that the theme didn't come across well. 2 out of 5.
Overall, Rocket Jockey is an OK production that's pretty easy to use and relatively good quality, but it also has some theming issues. I've given it a high "3" out of "5" for Style: slightly above average.
Summary of the Gameplay
The object of Rocket Jockey is to deliver the most valuable cargos from the most different planets, while using the most maneuvers to do so.
Setup: The nine planets are laid out (Pluto having been reclassified as a planet in this science-fiction universe) and a cargo is placed under each. Each player is given a set of co-pilot cards and a couple of maneuver cards. A few other maneuver cards are laid out face-up, to be drafted from.
Taking a Turn: On his turn a player draws a maneuver card, then either draws a second maneuver card or else moves cargos.
You move cargo by playing one or more maneuver cards which together bring a cargo from its starting planet (which is where it currently is) to its destination (which is labeled on the cargo card). For example, if you were trying to move a cargo from Mars (4) to Uranus (7), you could do so by playing a 4-7 Maneuver card. Alternatively, you could do so with a 4-5 card, then a 5-6, then a 6-8, then an 8-7. You get progressively more points for using more cards as part of a cargo delivery. That 1-card delivery would be worth just 1 point, while that 4-card delivery would be worth 10 points.
Express Cargo. Some cargo counts as if it were +1 jump when you move it.
Moving Additional Cargo. You can choose to move additional cargo on the same turn. Usually you just move other cargo, scoring for those too. However, if you can pick up cargo at the same planet that you dropped off the previous cargo, you can count it as part of the same "maneuver chain" (meaning that you get to add up the sum total count of cards before scoring, which results in more points).
Co-Pilots. Each player also has four co-pilot cards which can be used to help out in maneuvering. If you play a co-pilot card, you can change one of the planet numbers on a maneuver card by 1 (e.g. a 4-7 maneuver could become 4-8).
Reserving Cargo: At the end of a turn you can also use a co-pilot to reserve a cargo -- keeping anyone else from taking it. You'll even get this co-pilot card back if you actually deliver the good you reserved on your next turn.
Scoring Sets of Deliveries: You'll keep the cargo cards as you deliver them. Twice in the game -- once at mid-game and once at the end of the game -- you'll earn additional points based on how many different planets you've delivered to.
Ending the Game: After playing through the cargo deck twice, aliens appear. They'll slowly move closer to Earth. They act pretty much as extra-valuable cargo. The game ends either when they reach Earth on their own or when someone delivers them. That's when the second scoring of sets occurs. Unused co-pilots are also worth a few points. The player with the most points wins.
Relationships to Other Games
Rocket Jockey is a very tactical game that offers a somewhat unusual combination of card management and (constrained) pickup & delivery.
The Game Design
Rocket Jockey is a game that depends on intricate tactical calculations, as you simultaneously try to determine which card or cards to draw and how to use those cards to produce an inefficient trip for one or more cargos on the board. This calculation is complicated by considerations of express cargo, by trying to make complete sets of planets before the next scoring round, and (especially) by considering how your co-pilots could be used to manipulate the maneuver cards. There are a lot of options at any one time!
Hand-in-hand with those intense calculations is a risk/reward system, where you try and guess cargo that you could ship in future rounds, if you could just get the cards that you need. If you guess right, you might have a nicely lucrative turn, but if you guess wrong, you'll lose a co-pilot.
The result of these elements is a filler game that has a surprising amount of depth. The flipside of that is that turns can be agonizingly long, as players don't have a lot of option to plan ahead (because things change a lot from turn to turn) and there's a very high number of possibilities when you're trying to calculate the options.
Because of the complex calculations required by Rocket Jockey, it's very much not going to be a game for everyone. It's pretty much the opposite of casual play. However, if you really like the challenge of complex tactical puzzles, then it's probably a game for you.
Overall, I've opted to give Rocket Jockey an average "3" out of "5" for Substance.
Rocket Jockey is a relatively short game with quite a bit of depth. It will absolutely not appeal to casual players, but players looking for complex tactical puzzles that require some real thought will probably enjoy it.