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Junk Orbit Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Daniel Solis

Artist:  Csaba Bernáth, Michelle Garrett, Eric Hibbeler, Jeanne Torres
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios

Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 30-40 min.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com.


TL;DR: I’m going to try approaching reviews differently. You can read more about that here (coming soon...). If you want to read about my experience with the game, read on as normal. If you want a brief rundown of gameplay and mechanics, skip to the bulleted items towards the end. Overall, Junk Orbit is a simple, yet fun pick-up and deliver game that manages to keep your attention on the table for the duration of play. 

Let’s Play Junk Orbit
If you looked closely, you could see each of the players doing it. Their hands in some way above the tiles, either perched under their chin or extended slightly in front of their torsos, with a finger gently bobbing up and down in an orbital pattern. 

“For a turn-based game, it feels like simultaneous play…” quipped one of the players. 

And she was right. They would take their turns, and immediately start mapping out the next, fingers subtly tracing invisible figure eights in the air. 

“…I like it.”

Junk Orbit is a pick-up and deliver game where players assume the role of a captain of a scavenger ship transporting cargo between cities on Earth, the moon, and Mars. The successful delivery of the cargo result in victory points, but launching the cargo is also the source of propulsion that dictates a player’s ship around the celestial bodies.

Random junk orbiting around the Earth and Moon.
“I’m launching the broken Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and will move to directly deliver Mega Man’s Blaster to Cairo.”

The player placed the Monolith-homage tile four spaces away from his wooden spaceship marker, and moved their piece four spaces in the opposite direction, stopping on Cairo. The Mega-Man inspired tile was placed opposite of their cargo, set aside for end-game scoring, and then picked up the piece in front of Cairo. It was a space cat. The newly empty location was then filled by a tile from Earth tile stack. 

“It looks like the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver.”

And as soon as the play was over, as if influenced by some Pavlovian conditioning, her finger came back up, counting the spaces and preparing for their next turn.

The art appears to be an homage to the sci-fi genre including 2001: Space Odyssey, Back to the Future, and Mega Man.
And this continued through the game. Bobbing fingers up to their turn. Players launching their acquired cargo in an attempt to have it land on the listed city for an indirect delivery, then moving their ship in the opposite direction of the launch in attempt to stop on a city that matched their cargo’s destination for a direct delivery. Any cargo that was delivered either via launch (remote delivery) or ship movement (direct delivery) were moved away from the cargo and placed face-down. Lastly, players picked-up the cargo in the current city, and prepared their counting finger. 

If the three steps (launch, move, pickup) seem simple enough to understand, it is due to Solis and rulebook editor, Dustin Schwartz. The rules were clear, and in the cases that they weren’t crystal, the FAQ section relieved any discrepancy in interpretation. After two turns, they were moving through play at warp speed. Flying to the moon and back, dropping off the sci-fi inspired cargo, counting the spaces for their next moves. 

For a game boasting a 30-40 minute play time, it was spot on. The first play through at the FLGS went from teaching to completion in 49 minutes. The second game only 32. 

But it wasn’t the accuracy of the time frame that was impressive. No, what was impressive was the way that time passed. 

A good game can make you feel like time is passing faster, but a special game can achieve this while also keeping the players engaged throughout the experience. The most special thing about Junk Orbit was what it didn’t do. 

Of all the plays, I never saw a phone on the table. 

Think about it. When is the last time you played a game without someone reaching for their phone? I do it all the time. I take my turn, and then grab my phone. I’m not stand-offish from the other players, and I do engage in other conversation, but it is most often about something tied to what we are seeing on our phones. That wasn’t the case with Junk Orbit

Even between turns they were engaged with the game, tracing out their next moves in the air with their fingers. Even when one of the players had analysis paralysis and took a little longer to make their move, the other players didn’t notice. The best thing I can say about Junk Orbit is that it is a game that keeps your focus and keeps you entertained from beginning to end. 

At the conclusion of the game, I asked the participants their thoughts, and overall it was positive. They liked the changing figure-eight flight patterns, the art, the subtle take-that component of hitting an opponent with launched junk. One of the female players was ready to purchase it right then (I had to tell her that it wasn’t in stores until June 27, but she was in the right place to make a request for a copy). 

But the best praise came when the feedback stopped. 

Can we play it again?

They all wanted to play again. And so we did, but this time we played with the planets and moons on the “night sides” – this was essentially the same game but gave additional victory points for meeting certain delivery conditions. If the base game was too simple, this essentially offers a greater opportunity for strategic play. Think going from a 10+ age for the game to a 13+.

The night side of Mars, the moon, and Earth. This side adds additional end-game scoring for a greater challenge.
But even with the praise of the game, and their desire to play again, I still had to ask – was there anything that they didn’t like it? One of the participants quickly referenced the cylinder-shaped elephant in the room. 

The box is bright and eye-catching, but I can’t put that game on my shelf. Not because I don’t want to, but because it would have to go on top of the shelf, which would require some redecorating on my part, or I would have to remove some games from a shelf to make it fit.”

This was my first-world-problem-inspired initial impression of Junk Orbit as well. The game looks great and the unique shape of the box does draws your attention, but from a practical standpoint, it is a space-eater on your shelf. I think the game could have achieved the same attractiveness within a traditional-shaped box.

And let that sink in for a moment as we arrive at the conclusion of this review. The biggest negative that any of us could come up with is that we didn’t like the box.
We’re talking about a box

A. Box.

I’ll avoid going full-on Allen Iverson practice speech-mode, but the sentiment remains the same. Of all the things that a reviewer can critique about a game – mechanics, balance, theme, etc. – the main thing the players pointed out as being a negative about the game was the container in which it is held.

Eye-catching? Yes. Shelf-friendly? Not really.
But Junk Orbit is much more than the box or its mechanics. Yes, it is a simple game – players launch junk, move and deliver junk, and pick-up junk. But in its simplicity is a beautiful magnetism, a gravitational pull if you will, that attracts the attention of its players and keeps it there. And if you peer through the simple mechanics, it’s easy to see why. The familiarity of the sci-fi inspired art. The feel of simultaneous play that makes a turn feel like it never ends. The “Eureka” moments when players start to map out their movements over the next series of turns and see that the strategy will work. The dash of take-that and pinch of luck. 

I liked Junk Orbit and if you like pick-up and deliver games, I think you will too. 


Bulleted Overview
I know that some of you have grown accustomed to the usual format, and as promised above, here is a high-level, bulleted version of the above information for easy digestion.

  • 128 Junk tiles (15 starter, 37 Earth, 29 Moon, and 47 Mars)
  • 5 double-sided location tiles (Earth, Moon, Mars, Phobos, Deimos). Phobos and Deimos are used in 4 and 5 player games, respectively.
  • 5 ship tokens
  • 5 double-sided ship cards 
Players can can choose between five ships - each with unique special abilities that influence game play.
Set Up, Rules, and Game Play
The official Junk Orbit Rulebook can be found here. It explains set up, rules, and game play better than I ever could. But, here is a brief overview of a turn. Each turn, players will launch junk, move their ship, and pick-up junk.

The rulebook is great. It is clear and concise, and the FAQ is a good refresher - it is also filled with humor.
  • Launch junk: Players choose one junk tile from their cargo and move it away from their ship token - either clockwise or counterclockwise. Players must move the junk the same number of city spaces as the value on the junk. If the junk comes to a stop at its destination city, it is considered a remote delivery and it is placed face down in a player’s “deliveries” area. If junk stops at a city that is not its destination city, the junk tile stays there. If launched junk stops on a city with an opponent’s ship, the ship is considered hit, and your opponent must place a junk tile from their cargo at their ship’s current city. 
  • Move ship: After launching junk, the ship must move an equal number of spaces at the value of the launched junk, but in the opposite direction. If a player’s ship stops on a city listed on any junk tiles in their cargo, it is considered a direct delivery. The junk is moved from the cargo area to the deliveries area.
  • Pick up junk: After moving your ship, take all the junk tiles at that city and add them to your cargo. Add one junk tile to the now empty city from the top of the junk stack. Empty Earth spots are refilled from the Earth stack, Moon from the Moon stack, Mars from Mars. 
Mechanics Recipe
  • One pound: Pick-up and Deliver
  • One Cup: Point to Point Movement
  •  One Ounce: Variable Play Powers
  •  Dash of take-that
  • Pinch of Press Your Luck 
Junk orbiting Mars.
Theme and Artwork
  • Science fiction theme works really well with the orbital figure eight movements around celestial bodies. 
  • The artwork is bright, and the sci-fi inspired junk will be recognizable to most fans for the genre. 
Each junk includes a value and destination city. The junk value is used for determining launch and movement, or if delivered, end-game scoring.
The Good
Junk Orbit grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Even though you are waiting between turns, players can still actively map out their next series of moves. It’s a turned-based game that somehow feels like simultaneous play. The ability to flip the location tiles over for a more advance game may relieve those who consider the basic game play to simple.

The Bad
The cylinder-shaped box is a shelf-space hog.

Final Thoughts
I liked Junk Orbit, and if you like space-themed transportation-type pick-up and deliver games, I think you will too.

For Players That Like: The Ticket to Ride series, Forbidden Island/Desert, sci-fi inspired games.

Check out Junk Orbit on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/247360/junk-orbit   https://www.renegadegamestudios.com/products/junk-orbit   https://www.facebook.com/PlayRGS/   https://twitter.com/PlayRenegade?lang=en   https://www.instagram.com/renegade_game_studios/   https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKwDYsOyitZAQFS76KBj1vQ   https://www.amazon.com/stores/node/12706860011?_encoding=UTF8&field-lbr_brands_browse-bin=Renegade%20Game%20Studios&ref_=bl_dp_s_web_12706860011

About the Author:

Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees.
Junk Orbit Review Junk Orbit Review Reviewed by Nick Shipley on June 29, 2018 Rating: 5

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