Happy July! Let’s kick it off with a review of
Galaxy Trucker was first published in 2007 by Czech Games Edition (Rio Grande published it in the US). The game was designed by Vlaada Chvátil, is for 2-4 players, and takes around an hour or so to play. The idea is that you are a freelance spaceship driver hired by Corporation Incorporated to ship sewer parts across the galaxy. You’ll do this by building your own ship out of these sewer parts. I’m going to start this review with a rundown of how to play, so feel free to skip down a bit if you already know.
The game comes with eight spaceship boards, a flight board, 65 Cosmic credit tokens, 4 number tokens, 144 component tiles, 60 adventure cards, a II/III rules tile, 8 plastic spaceship markers, 40 astronauts, 8 aliens, 36 batteries, 56 goods cubes, 2 dice, and a sandtimer. The component tiles are mixed face down in the center of the table, and each player starts with a spaceship – Class I for the first round, Class II for the second, and Class III or IIIA for the third (IIIA is slightly more advanced).
Each of the three rounds is divided into two halves, the building and the journey. During the building phase, players will simultaneously be drawing tiles from the center and trying to fit them on their ships. There are three types of connectors – single, double, and universal (three prong). Single and double don’t match with each other, but anything can fit with the universal or with its own type. You can’t connect into the blank side of another tile, but connectors can stick out into empty space.
As you draw, you’ll come across a bunch of different components:
- Cabins – Each cabin can hold two human astronauts.
- Life Support – When connected to a cabin, that cabin can hold one pink or brown alien. Humans and aliens don’t share cabins, and you can only have one alien of each color on your ship.
- Cargo Holds – Each box in a cargo hold can hold one goods cube. Blue boxes cannot hold red cubes, but pink boxes can hold anything.
- Engines – Each engine you have makes your ship faster by one. Brown aliens increase your engine strength by two. Engines must face the rear of the ship, and there must be at least one empty space immediately behind it.
- Weapons – Each forward facing weapon you have increases your firepower by one, while each side or rear facing weapon increases your firepower by one half. Pink aliens increase your firepower by two. As with engines, there must be at least one empty space in front of a weapon.
- Double Engines and Weapons – These obviously have double the strength of their single counterparts. However, they only work if you have batteries.
- Batteries – Each battery hold contains 2-3 batteries. Batteries are used to power double engines, double weapons, and shields. They are used every time the item in question is used.
- Shields – Depending on the orientation, shields protect two sides of the ship. If you need to use a shield, you must spend a battery.
- Structural Components – These have no purpose other than to fill in gaps in the ship.
As you build, you can peek at some of the cards coming up for the journey. Also, there’s a timer to help things keep moving. I’m not going to explain these right now. Once you are satisfied with your ship (or, more likely, are completely unsatisfied but can’t do anything else), grab a number tile. This determines your position on the track, which shows how many flight days separate you and the leader. Once everyone is finished, get your astronauts and batteries, and get ready for the second half of the round.
The journey basically consists of flipping up cards and seeing how you fare.
- Open Space – Everyone fires their engines to try to get ahead/close the gap with the leader.
- Planets – In turn order, players can decide to land on a planet and pick up the indicated goods. This will push you back a few flight days.
- Abandoned Ship – If you give up a certain number of astronauts, you’ll get some money. You’ll also lose some flight days. Only one player can take advantage of this.
- Abandoned Station – As long as you have a certain crew strength, you’ll get a reward in cubes. Again, you’ll lose flight days and only one player can do this.
- Meteoric Swarm – You’ll have to fight through some meteors, which will come at you from the front, sides, or rear. If it’s a small meteor, they will just bounce off your ship unless they hit an exposed connector. In that case, you need to use a shield or you’ll lose the struck part. If it’s a large meteor, you’ll have to shoot it, or you’ll lose the struck part – shields can’t stop large meteors.
- Smugglers, Pirates, or Slavers – You need to have a certain cannon strength, or you’ll lose cubes to smugglers, astronauts to slavers, or get shot by pirates. Getting shot is bad – small shots can be blocked by shields, but large shots cannot be blocked. If you do not defeat the enemy, they will move on to the next person in line. If anyone beats the enemy, they get a reward, lose some flight days, and anyone behind them does not have to face the enemy.
- Combat Zone – Several different conditions are shown, and whoever has the least in each suffers some sort of penalty.
- Special Cards – There are three different special cards. Stardust causes each player to lose one flight day per exposed connector. Epidemic makes you lose one occupant from each connected cabin. Sabotage causes one player to lose a random component.
After you’ve gone through all of the cards, the journey ends. Players get rewards based on their order on the track, and the player with the fewest exposed connectors gets a bonus. After selling your cubes and paying for any components you lost, you move on to the next round. If, after three rounds, you’ve made any money, you win! And if you’ve earned more money than anyone else, you’re a little bit more of a winner.
COMPONENTS: This is one of the first games Czech Games Edition published, and the high quality of components has become a hallmark of theirs since then. The tiles are all well illustrated and made of quality cardboard. The player boards are very clear in indicating where tiles can go, and have numbered borders to help you determine where random things happen. The main board has a track for the journey, as well as spots for cards and a guide to how to score at the end of the round. The track is an oval with triangles indicating each space, with no numbers. It’s not a race track with a clear start and beginning, it’s more of an indicator of where everyone is in relation to one another. The guide is preprinted for the first round, and a tile is used to cover it for the second and third rounds.
The game also comes with some very distinctive plastic astronauts that are your humans and eight plastic aliens. The aliens are brown and pink, and you can easily tell which one does what – brown aliens work the engines (which are brown), and pink aliens work the weapons (which are pink). Each player gets two ships, one for the journey track and one for landing on planets. The batteries are translucent green cylinders that kind of look like Tic-Tacs. And the goods are cubes. I guess everything can’t be awesome. The cubes certainly work, just a little bit of a letdown after the cool other pieces.
The three decks of cards are all differentiated by their backs (labeled I, II, and III). They are very easy to understand, and well illustrated. Overall, I think the components in the game are great.
RULES: I have to make a special category for this game to praise the rules. Vlaada’s games usually have very entertaining rule sets, and Galaxy Trucker is no exception. There are snarky comments throughout, and the game does a great job walking you through how to learn the game. There’s no easy reference once you know how it all works, and that’s the biggest drawback of the format. Nevertheless, the rules are awesome.
THEME: On the surface, it may seem that this is just another space game. ˙owever, I find this game to have a certain charm that sets it apart thematically. You are a spaceship driver who is building your ship out of sewer parts. It makes sense that the best way to transport these parts across the universe is to build a ship out of them. And then you fly. The journey is fraught with peril, and you’re going to have a difficult time making it through in one piece. However, there are opportunities to make extra cash on the way to make up for what you lose.
One hallmark of CGE games is their attention to detail in the theme. Everything is explained, everything makes sense. The theme serves the mechanics, but at the same time, the mechanics serve the theme. Galaxy Trucker is a wonderful example of theme integration.
MECHANICS: There are a number of mechanisms in play during Galaxy Trucker. There’s tile placement as you build your ship, and you have to pay attention to connections as well as to have the right distribution of parts to be successful. There’s some pick-up-and-deliver as you are gathering goods along the way. There’s some dice rolling to determine where meteors and gunfire hits. There’s also a kind of time track in play as players are simply marking how far they are behind others. How long it takes to get from one place to another doesn’t matter, only what position you are in when you get there.
The advanced game adds a timing element to the first part of each round (shipbuilding). In the first round, you flip over a sandtimer when the round starts, and when the first player finishes their ship, they flip it again. All other players now have until it runs out to finish their ships. Each subsequent round adds another flip of the sandtimer. This serves both to keep the game moving so some players don’t take forever to finish their ship, but the extra flips keeps someone from putting together a very minimal ship and making everyone else suffer.
The other advanced mechanism is the ability to peek at journey cards. You’ll have eight cards from the current round, as well as four cards from each previous round in your journey deck. Before building, you separate these into four piles. Three of these piles can be peeked at while you are building so you know kind of what to prepare for. However, there’s always an element of unknown because you can’t look at the fourth pile.
As I mentioned before, the mechanics and theme in Galaxy Trucker work very well together. A lot of the mechanics grow right out of the theme, but as opposed to a lot of thematic games, I never feel like they are clunky or weighted towards someone with good luck.
STRATEGY LEVEL: One of the biggest complaints I hear about Galaxy Trucker is that the second half of the game is all luck, and there’s nothing you can do after the initial building phase. It’s pretty much just sitting there and seeing what terrible things happens to you. I couldn’t disagree more. There are plenty of strategic opportunities in the journey – which planets to land on (or whether to land at all), how many engines to fire in open space, whether to use abandoned stations or spaceships, how many guns to fire to increase your cannon strength, and so on.
Clearly, most of your strategy comes in how you build your ship, and yes, there’s a lot of luck in what tiles you find. And it’s also true that there is a lot of luck that can completely undermine your plans. I played a game once where I build a perfect ship on IIIA – no exposed connectors, lots of cannons and engines, lots of cargo holds, plenty of astronauts and batteries…it was glorious. The first card out of the journey was Sabotage, and because I had one less crew than my opponent, he came after me. His first two attempts missed, but the third one took out the one tile in the center that connects the front to the back. I lost all but one of my engines, most of my cargo holds, and both of my shields. I fortunately was able to survive the rest, but kind of limped across the finish line.
This game can be very chaotic. Bad things are going to happen, and there’s not much you can do about it. There are strategic opportunities, but you have to know going in what you’re in for.
ACCESSIBILITY: Galaxy Trucker is not a difficult game to learn – as I said, the rules do a great job of stepping you through how to play – but it is a difficult game to get your head around. I’d put it more in the next step category – probably not something to teach to new gamers, bt maybe something to introduce to people looking for a little bit more from their gaming experiences. Just be mindful that this is a very unforgiving game, and it’s not going to be for everyone.
REPLAYABILITY: Because your ships will always be different and because you can’t predict what’s going to happen on the journey, as well as having three different ship types throughout the game, this game is endlessly replayable. Throw in the expansions, and you’ll have new stuff to play with forever.
SCALABILITY:You can play with 2-4 players, and I think it works well with all numbers. There’s no downtime to worry about, and the only thing that’s more difficult with more players is finding the right parts. The expansions take it up to five players.
FOOTPRINT: This is a big game. You’ll need a lot of table space for the pile of tiles in the middle, as well as space for everyone’s player boards. With the expansions in the box, it can also be pretty heavy – not very portable at all.
LEGACY: Galaxy Trucker is the game that introduced me to the wonderfulness that is Vlaada Chvátil. I still think it’s his best, but it’s also very different from all of his other games. Of course, all of his games are different from one another. I think Galaxy Trucker really brought a fresh perspective to tile laying and pick-up-and-deliver games. It is kind of based on the mechanisms of Factory Fun, which I haven’t played and can’t comment on. I can’t imagine it being as much fun.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. I love Galaxy Trucker, and have loved it since before I ever played. It’s mass chaos, and is an absolute blast. However, it is not a game that will be for everyone. A lot of people won’t really go for the unpredictability of the system, and that’s OK. For me, however, it’s a ton of fun that I highly recommend. Thanks for reading!