Orbit Rocket Race 5000 Review
A game that I first tried at GenCon and enjoyed enough to receive a review copy of is Orbit Rocket Race 5000.
In Orbit Rocket Race, each player is attempting to get rid of all of his cards. In order to do this, he must play a card in the innermost "orbit" that is not full. Every card must be played adjacent to at least one previously played card - but if you play adjacent to two previous cards you can force another player to draw a card or, if you are able to play adjacent to three cards, then you can take another turn. Where the game gets interesting, however, is in the rules about "wormholes." If you are able to setup a situation in which no cards can be legally played (based on the color distribution on cards in the game), then a "wormhole" is created. The person creating the wormhole immediately takes the top card of the deck and places it facedown on the spot, reverses the order of play, and then takes another turn. Finally, some of the cards have special icons on them - robots (his name is "Orbot") allow the player to take another turn, the laser gun forces an opponent to draw two cards, and the satellite lets you pick a card from an opponent's hand and play it facedown (and get any bonuses from playing it just like if you had played it from your hand). Once a player runs out of cards, he wins.
The first thing that I like about Orbit Rocket Race is that it is strategic enough to be worth playing, and simple enough to be social. Orbit is not so deep that you must constantly be focusing on what your next move is (though careful planning and scheming will help you win), and yet it is light enough that you can socialize with friends while playing the game. Especially when it's not your turn. Specifically, when it's not your turn you'll spend a lot of time making fun of your friends for constantly flipping their cards over and over trying to match up colors. Of course, when it is your turn, you will have to ignore them as they make fun of you for doing the exact same thing.
The next thing that I like about Orbit are the wormholes. These are really the most strategic aspect of the game. Setting up a wormhole so that the player after you is able to complete it is actually advantageous - even though it helps them. Since it causes the order of play to be reversed it means that, after your opponent takes his second turn, you will get to go again without waiting on everyone else in the game to play (so you get rid of cards faster - you know, because that's the point of the game). Plus, a careful player may be able to use his cards with Orbot (the robot), or a Satellite on them to setup wormholes and/or take extra turns.
Another pro is that I believe Orbit could easily be played with children. Having no children of my own (and not renting any while playing the game), I can't say for certain what ages could handle Orbit, but I would guess that somewhere around six or older could handle the game. Everything is color and symbol based (no reading required) so it could possibly even be played with a younger group. The only hesitation I have is that the game can take a while to play, so it could lose the interests of the younger children (and your scattered adult friends).
Finally, I like the reversing turn order. This is a neat mechanic - especially since the players are in control of this, and it is not luck based. Play can be reversed in two ways. The first way is by playing a wormhole. The second option is that a player can play his "challenge token." Each player starts the game with a challenge token. Whoever goes first sacrifices his challenge token but has the advantage of both going first and getting to play two cards. All of the other players have the opportunity, once per game, to use their challenge token to reverse the order of play (at which point no other player can re-reverse the order until a card has been played).
One point of note before going to the cons of Orbit - not everyone will like the social aspect that I mentioned. One of the reasons for the social aspect is that the game itself has a laid back feel (to me). I think most people will like this part. Another reason is that there is not too much planning that you can do when it's not your turn. Perhaps this is simply that we aren't good enough at the spatial aspect of the game to plan ahead. However, you will normally be deciding what your best options are based on what the players in front of you have played. The fact that you cannot do much to plan turns before they occur will bother some players - I was fine with this aspect.
The main con that I have in Orbit Rocket Race is the "Orbit" rule. In fact, when I was taught this game by the designers at GenCon, I even told them that I disliked the rule - so it should not surprise them to read it here. Here it is: when you are down to one card, you have the option to say "Orbit". If you don't say "Orbit", and one of your opponents realizes that you only have one card, they can call say it for you and then you have to draw. Sound familiar? Exactly like Uno? Yes, yes it is. I don't understand why a game as different and creative as Orbit Rocket Race 5000 chose to associate itself with Uno. However, I was able to resolve this problem by voting with my fellow gamers to not use the rule before the game started. Feel free to play the game with the rules as they are written (with the "Orbit" rule), or feel free to take my free variant and ignore it.
Another con to Orbit is that with all of the reversing in the game, a player can become a bit bored if he doesn't get a turn for a while. One of the first times that I played the game, I did not feel like I got a turn for the entire first half of it. When the game was over, I actually didn't have many more cards than anyone else because, when I was able to play, I was able to take several turns in a row. However, it was still quite boring until my turns occurred.
Overall, I give Orbit Rocket Race 5000 an 8.0/10. I won't play it every day, but it is a game that I could see myself playing every few months and thoroughly enjoying.
I would like to thank 42 Games for providing me with a review copy of Orbit Rocket Race 5000