Jumpin Review

At GenCon 2011, I purchased a box of 3M titles at the auction. Honestly, I knew nothing about them and only bought them because I was interested in Feudal. Knowing that I might as well try them out, one of the other titles made me Jump (hehe)! Jumpin was a spatial reasoning game! Excellent.

In Jumpin, each player controls a set of 12 pawns (lined up in two rows of six) that they are trying to move across the board into their opponent's starting zone. The twist to the game is that pieces may only move by jumping. They are allowed to jump over any number of pieces, can jump horizontally or vertically, can jump over any player's pieces, and they can "multi-jump" from one empty space to the next, as long as there remain pieces to jump over. The only thing that they cannot do is move a single space without jumping (or jump over multiple empty spaces). Players take turns selecting and jumping with a piece until one person has successfully moved all of his pieces across the board. Whoever successfully does this is declared the winner.

The first thing that I like about Jumpin is that it is an abstract reasoning game, but it is unlike any of the other ones that I have played. (Yes, I have heard analogies to Chinese Checkers, but I believe that the inability to move a single piece truly sets Jumpin apart from even Chinese Checkers.) Moreover, if I played games that were similar to Jumpin, it would probably be because they borrowed mechanics from Jumpin, not the other way around (the copyright on the one I bought is 1964). My favorite element of all abstract reasoning games is that they challenge me to think in new and different ways, and the fact that Jumpin is so unlike anything that I have played is wonderful.

The next thing that I like about Jumpin is the challenge that each player faces in navigating his pieces into his opponent's starting position. If there were simply a line that the pieces had to cross, and then they were removed from the board, then the game would be completely changed (and I think it would be much worse). However, once a player starts getting some of his pieces into his opponent's starting zone he is forced to pay attention to how he will successfully navigate his other pieces into the zone. Normally, the "easy" path that he has created will get blocked because of pieces that have already crossed - therefore, he will be forced to repeatedly readjust where his pieces are, thus costing extra moves. Whoever is able to anticipate this and plan accordingly will have a distinct advantage.

One element of Jumpin that I haven't decided if I like is the fact that you can strand a pawn. If you jump away from a pawn, thus leaving it completely by itself, there is no way of moving that pawn unless you backtrack to it's location on a future turn, or if your opponent is kind (foolish) enough to move adjacent to it. For the most part, I have been able to avoid stranding pieces, as this was a trap that I very quickly noticed. The few times that I did strand a piece, I found it to be incredibly frustrating. And, the game is unforgiving enough that stranding a piece will most likely cost you the game against a good opponent.

A pawn's eye view
An unpleasant element that I noticed about Jumpin that I do not recall experiencing in other spatial reasoning games is that there feels like a lot of down time. The game starts off fairly slowly as each player is simply jumping over one or two pieces. After a little while, the game really starts to get exciting as players will be able to jump their pawns across the entire game board in one or two moves. After this exciting phase, the game slows down again as the players are attempting to finalize their navigation into their victory area. I wish the game did not have these "slow" phases, but was able to maintain the feeling of excitement that it had in the middle of the game.

My next con for Jumpin is that it feels much more like a race than a challenge against an opponent. In most spatial reasoning games, you are constantly facing decisions of whether to move in a way that benefits yourself, or move in a way that blocks your opponents. I think the best example of this is Abalone in which you feel like two sumo wrestlers attempting to move each other. However, in Jumpin, I rarely felt like what I did affected my opponent. Yes, he was able to jump over any of my pawns that I moved, so I would occasionally have to make sure that I did not help him with my movement. A few times I could even block a move that he was planning to make. For the most part, though, you will only be jumping over your own pieces, he will jump over his, and you will see who managed to race to the finish line faster.

Overall, I give Jumpin a 7.5/10. It was quite a pleasant surprise to me that I had received a spatial reasoning game, and I enjoyed playing it.  The slow parts of the game and the fact that I don't really feel like I'm challenging my opponent keep it out of my upper tier of spatial reasoning games, though. (And, it doesn't help that I feel like I get worse at the game the more I play it. I can't really understand what's going on with that element of it.)

If Jumpin sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Pentago, Ingenious, and Stratum.

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