Full disclosure: A review copy of Junk Orbit was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Renegade’s got a bunch of cool games coming out for Origins, and I’m gonna do my best to talk about a few of them (and maybe more later; we’ll see). This week, we’ll be talking about Junk Orbit and next week I’ll have more information on The Tea Dragon Society.
In Junk Orbit, well, you managed to fill space with garbage. Nice work. Now, you and others work as salvagers, taking fancy junk and returning it to certain destinations for fun and profit. Thanks to your intuitive understanding of gravity and physics, you’ve learned how to ride the orbits to claim the scrap that you want, but you need to be wary that your opponents don’t have their eyes on that prize, as well. Will you be able to shoot for the moon? Or will you just end up lost in space?
Setup isn’t actually too bad (though placing some things can take a hot minute). First, set out the planets:
If you’d like, you can also use some of the Night side of the planets, which add additional scoring / play rules:
If you’re not playing with 5 players, remove the Deimos moon (the triangle); if you’re not playing with 4 or more, remove the Phobos moon (the square). Place junk around the planets, one on each space:
You’ll also want to remove any 4+ or 5+ junk in each stack (they’ll have destinations that aren’t in the game) if you’re not playing with 4+ or 5 players. The junk’s back is what planet it starts on (commonly referred to as its SOURCE) and the banner / title of the junk’s front is its destination.
Once you’ve done that, give each player a ship:
Each ship has a variety of abilities. Some are general gameplay changes (Side A), while others offer more player interaction and take-that for the aggressive yet discerning gamer:
Give each player some of the Starter Junk (black backs) to put in their Cargo: a 2 and two 1’s. Also, give each player 1 random junk from the Earth, Moon, and Mars piles. All junk in the cargo is kept face-up. Place everyone’s ship on Kepler. Once you’ve done that, you are all ready to start!
A game of Junk Orbit is played until any one pile is depleted and you cannot fill an empty spot in a planet’s orbit.
On your turn, you will potentially do three things: Launch, Move, and Collect. I’ll cover each in turn.
You’re kind of frugal, so you really don’t want to spend a lot of fuel throwing garbage around in space. You do, however, know some physics, so you figure you might be able to hit two birds with one junk. On your turn, you may eject junk either clockwise or counterclockwise from your ship. When you do, move it a number of spaces away equal to the number on the junk. When you hit a junction point between two bodies (Bradbury, Hellas, Olympus, Kilimanjaro), you may switch orbits. If you do, the junk you fired will now move in the opposite direction around that body (as you might expect from orbits).
When it stops moving, add it to the space that it landed on. If that space matches the space on the junk (they share the same name), you’ve done what’s called a Remote Delivery. The people rejoice as trash lands on them from space, and you may add the junk to your Deliveries, face-down. Nice work!
If you uh, “miscalculate” and the junk you launch lands on the same space as another player, you hit them. They must immediately discard a junk from their cargo to the space that they’re on. If you launch junk such that it lands on your own space, well, first off, nice, but also, you are not hit; you know where the junk was coming from, so you know how to avoid it.
Alright, now, according to Newton’s Third Law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You just launched some junk a distance X, so now you must move X spaces in the opposite direction. That’s just good physics. When you hit a junction point between two bodies, you, too, may switch orbits, just like the junk. If you do, you also move in the opposite direction (counterclockwise -> clockwise, for instance).
If you happen to land on a space that matches the destination of junk in your cargo bay, you may immediately move all of the matching junk to your Deliveries section, face-down. This is known as a Direct Delivery. As you might guess from the ordering, you must launch and move before delivering, so even if you start with Kepler-bound junk on your first turn, you need to move first.
When you finish moving and resolving any deliveries, you collect. Take all of the junk at the location you’re on and place it in your cargo bay. That’s yours, now. Refill the location by taking a junk tile from the appropriate stack for that planet and adding it to that location.
End of Game
The game continues until you need to refill a location and cannot, as the relevant pile is empty. Every other player gets another turn, and then the game ends.
Sum up the values on all your delivered junk, and the player with the most points wins! Your undelivered cargo is worthless; sorry.
So, for more excitement, you can flip the planet tiles over to the Night Side. These add additional rules changes and some new scoring mechanics:
- Earth: You just wanna leave. Gain +1 point for each SOURCE: Earth tile you deliver to a Moon location, and +2 points for each SOURCE: Earth tile you deliver to a Mars location.
- Moon: Every set of 3 SOURCE: Moon tiles you deliver earns you an extra +3 points.
- Mars: You’re shooting for Martian variety, here. Each different destination on Mars (or its moons, Phobos and Deimos) you deliver junk to will earn you bonus points:
- 3 different destinations: +2 points
- 4 different destinations: +4 points
- 5 different destinations: +8 points
- 6 different destinations: +9 points
- 7 different destinations: +10 pointsAnd so on. Each location after 5 earns an additional +1 points.
- Phobos: When you pick up junk at a Martian location (including Phobos or Deimos), you may instead choose to take the top tile of the Mars stack. You only get one, though, no matter how many junk is on the location.
- Deimos: When you launch and move from a Martian location (including Phobos or Deimos), you may move 1 space further or 1 fewer space. (+1 or -1). Your ship and the launched junk tile must move the same distance, however.
You can also use the B-Side Ship Powers:
Those are more for a take-that experience, though.
Player Count Differences
The major difference is that you add extra locations and tiles to the game, otherwise you’d run out the stack at higher player counts. That said, you don’t add any extra Moon tiles, so be careful nobody gets too hasty and runs out the Moon’s relatively-low-value tiles for some reason. There’s a slightly higher chance of you getting hit at 5 players, I suppose, since everyone’s flinging junk everywhere, and the game’s a bit sparser at two, but I don’t really mind either of those situations. I’d happily play this at any player count, which is fun.
- You really need to be either moving and remote delivering each turn or saving up for a big turn. Honestly, if you’re spending a number of turns just getting junk (or getting relatively low-value junk) you’re probably going to have some trouble winning the game. Naturally, in a game, you need to score points to win, sure, but there’s definitely a temptation to keep picking up junk while lining up for a shot or something.
- Use your ability. You need to be making good use of your ability if you want to win. Some abilities make it easier to target your shots (by changing the junk you can pick up or the distance you move), while others make it easier to deliver (by changing your movement style or where you can deliver to). If you’re not building your strategy around that ability, you’re going to have trouble going up against players who are.
- For the Puddle Jumper, it often makes more sense to try and get a lot of junk that’s at each location. You’re going to struggle a bit against other players with more long-distance techniques. To that end, try to get a series of adjacent junk so that you can just pop forward one space each turn and keep picking up new junk and delivering old stuff. If you do that and use longer-range stuff to move between series, you’ll probably do just fine.
- It’s usually helpful to keep some of the starter junk around in case you get hit. You don’t want to drop anything particularly valuable, especially if your strategy revolves around getting everything in your cargo delivered. To that end, keep a few less useful pieces of junk around so that you can drop those in the event that you need to.
- Longer shots are useful, especially for getting yourself out of certain orbits. It hurts to throw away high-scoring junk, sure, but if it gets you a lot of future deliveries, it might be worth it. Plus, I usually just chuck it to the far side of one of the Martian moons; ain’t nobody going there anytime soon. Especially if it’s an Earth delivery.
- Watch your momentum. Again, this is part of keeping a synchronization between the junk you pull in and the junk you deliver. This is a big problem for the Space Cowboy, as they can deliver a bunch of stuff pretty quickly, but they lack a lot of good opportunities to pull in junk. If you run out of cargo too quickly, well, then you’re stuck with what you can pull in.
- I haven’t found a ton of value in hitting other players, for like, strategy reasons. It’s kind of aggressive and mean, which isn’t my personal forte, to be honest. That said, I don’t think that it gets you a lot, strategically, to actually try to hit other players. If you manage to hit them on accident, well, you say, they should have stayed out of your way.
- The Kilimanjaro and Olympus orbit spots are great. They’re essentially Moon spots, but you can get lucky and nab some high-scoring junk if you can swing it. This is especially true of the Century Fly, since it can take junk from adjacent spaces, allowing you to reach a bit deeper into Earth’s orbit. It lets you get points without a lot of effort.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is really good. Like it’s bright and colorful and fun and still space-y. I really, really like it. I think the game is kind of whimsical and theme-y already, and the art is kind of joyful and revels in the idea of just launching trash all over space. It’s definitely a good match.
- The game plays pretty fast. I was surprised! With teach it usually only takes us like, 45 minutes, tops. You can adjust that a bit if you mostly end up circling one planet and taking all of its junk.
- The movement mechanic is super fun. Guess what? I love games where you move in circles. Turns out this still qualifies because you’re gently and peacefully orbiting between planets. It’s a very soothing motion and it reminds me (positively) of Sol: Last Days of a Star.
- The components are pretty nice! The tiles have a good thickness, they’re well-sized, the whole thing is really nice.
- I like that the aggressive player powers are not mandatory. I won’t play with the aggressive ones, but I appreciate that the option is available for players who like that sort of thing.
- I will say I’m not the biggest fan of the take-that “hitting other players with junk” mechanic. It’s one of the only things I don’t love about this game, but it’ll be well-received by some players. The nice thing is that if you do like it, the opposite side of the player cards lean into it aggressively, so you can have all the player interaction you want.
- It’s not a box; it’s an aggressive cylinder from my nightmares. I literally have to keep this game on top of a shelf because it won’t fit anywhere on my shelves, at all. Yes, I understand that uniquely-sized game boxes are more eye-catching and therefore will likely see a higher ROI at market, but, the question I’m really asking, is why do board game companies not design, produce, and create stuff that caters to my personal desires and whims? This is a real problem I have. For real, though, the Junk Orbit cylinder is a pain to store. Currently it just sits on top of one of my shelves; probably will stay that way.
- The sheer amount of math in this game can occasionally lead to some aggressive analysis paralysis. Thankfully, the game’s design shines in that even though there can still be analysis paralysis, there’s not enough that it grinds the game to a halt. If anything, it just gives other players more time to plan out their turns, which in turn makes the game progress a bit faster on subsequent turns. The system works, friends.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, Junk Orbit is superb! I really enjoyed it when I first got the chance to play it at BGG.CON (when it was still pretty early) and I was super excited to hear that Renegade picked it up and were pushing it out at Origins. I love the movement mechanics and the whole game seems to know exactly what it’s trying to be and revels in it. I love it when you can feel a game’s enthusiasm for itself while you play, and I think Junk Orbit has that in spades. It’s whimsical and bright and colorful and all-around delightful. It’s also flexible, allowing players to play with advanced planets or more aggressive player powers to let players customize their game experience to fit their needs, and I think that’s a bit of wise design, there. Regardless, I’m a huge fan of it, and if you’re looking for something new to try at Origins (or after), I’d say Junk Orbit is out of this world!