- Number of Plays: 14 (Mostly 3 – 4 players, a few 2 and 5 player games)
- Game Length: 90 minutes – 120 minutes
- Mechanics: Real Time, Tile Placement, Chaos
- Release Year: 2007
- Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
- Artist: Tomáš KuYoučerovský, Radim Pech
- Publisher: CGE
Galaxy trucker has the prestige of being in my top 2 games of all time. My top games list is a constant state of flux, but from the first time I played Galaxy trucker this game has been seated firmly at the top or penultimate spot.
In Galaxy Trucker, players have been hired by corporation incorporated to ship pipes across the galaxy. Now it’s inefficient to build a spaceship and then put the pipes into said spaceship. The best solution actually is to build the spaceship out of pipes and fling said pipeship across the galaxy to deliver the product.
The game begins with each person having a blueprint of a spaceship and a large pile of black squares in the centre of the table. When the bravest soul shouts first everyone will snatch spaceship components one at a time, bring it over their blueprint, briefly judge it, and either affix it to their hot mess of a space boat or cast it back into the endless void from whence it came.
I firmly believe the rule book explains each of the components best. You have lasers for blasting asteroids and space pirates and you want as many of those as possible. You have engines for moving faster through open space and you want as many of those as possible. You have cargo space for picking up valuable packages from each of the alien planets you pass on your way. You want as many of those as possible. You have crew cabins that hold people to fly your ship, and you want as many of those as possible. You have battery compartments which give energy to the special double strength lasers and engines, so you want as many of those as possible. You may sense a pattern forming here.
Each component has a number of connections branching off from it. You need to start building from the centre of your ship and each subsequent part needs to connect correctly to an adjacent piece. Every connector has one two or three connections jutting out to the edge of the tile. Every adjacent tile needs to match connectors where they exist (don’t worry, the 3 connectiors
with added security if you have redundant connections to multiple components. There are three different kinds of connectors (one, two, or three connection). One connectors need to attach to one connectors and two connectors need to attach to two connectors. Three connectors are (thankfully) wild and can connect to one two or three.
In a perfect world, your spaceship will be a thing of beauty, engines all the way along the back, guns every three rows on each side and all the way along the front, ample storage space, batteries to support all of your modules, plenty of crew, a pair of visiting aliens, shields covering every direction and every part connected to at least two other parts. When actually confronted with playing this damned game you find yourself obsessively searching for the engine part that has a one connector coming in from the top and a two connector going to the right, and you find the right part but then you notice it has a two connector coming in from the top and that’s won’t work, and then you find the right part again, but it has a connector going left too, and it you put a connector pointing to the outside of your ship it will be marked against you later in the game and makes the part susceptible to getting knocked off and by the time you make a decision and look around the table everyone else already has half a dozen parts down and the endless pile of components has dwindled down to nearly nothing. All the engines are gone now so you have to make do with the single one you decided on and before you know it you’ve accidentally built a ship with 6 battery compartments and not a single component that uses batteries!
The first person to finish building their ship flips a sand timer telling the rest of the table to get their affairs in order. They take a #1 bit and looks over their ship. Usually followed with anguished exclamations of an entire set up components that they’ve forgotten, or an illegal move that will need to be made right before the ship can fly.
Once the ships are lined up on the track and everyone has filled their boats with people, guest aliens and batteries, the event deck is handed to the person in first place and the race begins. Each card has an event that needs to be dealt with. You could be confronted to with open space, which allows each player to fire up their engines and overtake that sucker who finished building their ship first, but only managed to get one engine on. You might come across an alien planet with goods you can pick up and sell at the end of your race for a bit of extra cash, but if you chose to stop you go back a couple of spots on the track and someone might pass you.
If you’re in first place you get first pick at each of the events. At a planet you get first choice which could be important if you want either the most valuable collection of goods, or the collection of goods that will actually fit in your ship. On the flip side if marauding pirates show up you need to take them out first! If you do manage to squash them, you get a reward, but if you fail, they go along to the next ship in the line until they are defeated or everyone suffers casualties.
Once the players make it through the deck, they are rewarded for making safely at their destination in order of arrival. First place gets the most, with second third and fourth getting increasingly less. The player with the least amount of open connectors also gets a bonus for the ‘prettiest ship’.
After that every player sells the goods they collected, and once everyone has their money the player boards are wiped and you flip it over to reveal a larger ship. You reset the game and do it twice more.
This game is absolute chaos. I’ve built ships that should have crumbled at the first sign of trouble but come out the other side in first place with a horde of goods onboard. And I’ve built ships that had one terrible event after another, each catastrophe compounding on each other and reduced my ship to ashes. I’ve also had more than one experience where I made a catastrophic error and got dragged through the mud because of it.
If you’re someone who enjoys the feeling of control over your experience this game might not be for you. If you’re someone who is particularly sensitive to a game punishing the person in last place, this game might not be for you. It is absolutely infuriating when your population gets crushed by an epidemic card which wipes out both of your aliens, then a sabatoge card (that only affects the person with the lowest population) blows a critical part of your ship apart forcing you to lose a handful of components (including all of your engine and most of your guns), then get fired on by slavers because you were the first one in the line. I can understand and empathize with the frustration that some people feel when they get punished over and over with no opportunity to fix the mistakes or react to the sequence of events that are making a mockery of their finely tuned specimen of engineering.
But perhaps the childlike glee I feel when I see my opponents ships separate cleanly into two halves like an onion and the despair wash over their face immunes me from disliking this game. I’ve absolutely vehemently hated on other games that take away my control, or punish me for making a bad decision, but in the case of Galaxy Trucker I’ve accepted the element of chaos and internalized that some runs are going to be a tale of success I’ll tell my grandkids about and other runs make me hang my head in shame.
After playing the physical version a dozen times I ended up buying the digital version on my phone. The app did a very good job of making me feel like was getting the Galaxy Trucker experience. I ended up playing through the full campaign, but at the end I found myself missing the raucous laughter that accompanies the perfect large laser blast that explodes a ship into a dozen pieces leaving their captain with his head in his hands. A by-product of playing the app however, is that I’m now very familiar with the components and have a vague idea of how many parts have what kind of connections I’m looking for. This absolutely gives me an edge when playing the game with people who have played 5 times or less.
I picked up The Big Expansion which adds more components, more ship blueprints, a 5th player and two more decks of cards that turn the randomness up to 11. Now that I’ve become a more competent ship builder than most of my local game group I almost require the extra cards and the more difficult ships to keep me from having a perfect run every single game. As much fun as it is to win, the challenge is what keeps me coming back to Galaxy Trucker. Building up a ship and subjecting it to everything space has to throw my way is exactly how I want to spend my Friday night.
I will admit that adding the expansion makes it just a bit of a bear to teach new players, as it almost doubles the number of components. I’ve found success with leaving the back page of the expansion rulebook open near the new players so they can quickly reference the pieces with that book and they manage to make it through the ship building process without too much trouble. Inevitably they tend to ignore the expansion bits, but to be fair, so do I. I’ve also found that experienced players need to play with the uninsured ships otherwise they end up head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.