- 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 my number 2 favourite game of all time. My top games list is a constant state of flux, but from the very first time I played Galaxy Trucker, it has enjoyed the prestige of being seated firmly at the top or penultimate spot. Spoilers for the end of the review, but Galaxy Trucker has more nuance that is worth discussing. The very reasons that make me love Galaxy Trucker could be the reasons you should stay away.
How to Play
In Galaxy Trucker, players have been hired by Corporation Incorporated to ship pipes across the galaxy. Of course everyone knows it’s terribly inefficient to build a whole spaceship and then put the pipes onto the spaceship. The obvious solution is to build a rickety, barely functioning spaceship out of pipes and fling said pipeship across the galaxy to deliver the product.
Galaxy Trucker is played over three rounds. each round players build a bigger ship and go on longer trips. Each round begins with each player having a blueprint of a spaceship and a shared pile of black tiles in the centre of the table. The bravest soul shouts “Start” then everyone begins snapping up starship components. One at a time, they bring the tile over their ship’s blueprint, flip it over, 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. The crew cabins hold people, who are necessary to fly your ship. 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 must 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 edges of the tile. Every adjacent tile needs to match connectors where they exist (don’t worry, the 3 connectors are wilds, they can connect to single and double connectors).
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 token and look over their ship. Usually followed with anguished exclamations of an entire set of components that they’ve forgotten to add, or an illegal connector that will need to be made right before the ship can legally 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.
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 everyone has collected their credits, you move onto the next round. After round three, everyone counts up how many credits they’ve earned over the course of the game. Anyone who has earned 1 credit or more is a winner! After all, your goal was to make money. Of course, the player who earned the most credits is just a bit more of a winner than everyone else.
Galaxy Trucker is a game played in two parts, and like most games that feature two separate and distinct sides to the game, you really need to understand both before you can play either. The rulebook suggests a specific subset of cards to play on your first game that will gently introduce you to the mechanics of Galaxy Trucker so players can focus on building their first ship with little consequences. Speaking of the rulebook, this one is funny. There’s plenty of jokes spread throughout the book giving humour and charm to the theme.
In a perfect world, your spaceship will be a thing of beauty. Engines all the way along the back, guns every three rows along 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 you’re actually confronted with playing this damned game you’ll find yourself obsessively searching a very specific part, like an engine that has a one connector coming in from the top and a two connector going to the right. You’ll flip over tile after tile passing over everything that isn’t the exact component that you’re currently searching for. Eventually you’ll find the right component… already placed on someone else’s ship. So you lower your standards and keep searching for an engine, this time settling on one that has a connecter from the top and both sides. The left side will be pointing to the outside of your ship, which is ugly and dangerous, but it’s better than having no engines. Now that you’ve finally found the engine you were looking for you’ll look around and realize that in the time it took for you to find this one piece, everyone is almost done! You’re at least 9 tiles behind and the endless pile of components has dwindled down to nearly nothing. All the rest of the are gone now so you have to make do with the single one you agonized over. You’ll rush to catch up with your opponents and before you know it you’ve accidentally built a ship with 6 battery compartments and not a single component that needs a battery!
Galaxy Trucker is absolute chaos, but in the best kind of way. I’ve built shining ships that crumbled at the first sign of trouble. I’ve built ramshackle and misshapen boats that shouldn’t have made it out of port, but come out the other side in first place hauling a horde of goods. I’ve also had more than one experience where I made a catastrophic error by illegally placing tiles and needing to cleave off half my ship before the game even starts.
Board Game Geek defines a ’10’ rating as a game as “Outstanding – will always enjoy playing”. Within that definition, Galaxy Trucker is an easy 10 out of 10 for me. But a perfect game is still not above criticism. If you’re someone who enjoys the feeling of control over your experience, Galaxy Trucker is not for you. If you’re particularly sensitive when a game punishes you for being in last place, Galaxy Trucker is not for you. It is absolutely infuriating when your population gets crushed by an epidemic card which manages to wipe out both of your aliens, then a sabotage card (that only affects the person with the lowest population) blows off a critical part of your ship apart forcing you to lose an entire wing of your ship (including all of your engines and most of your guns), then you get fired on by slavers because you happened to be the first player in the line, reducing your ship to rubble. 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. It’s also frustrating when the game continues to beat down the player who is already in last place. On the plus side, each round is a hard reset; the sins of your past are forgotten and while you’ll have less money than everyone else, you aren’t saddled with the debts of a failed mission.
But perhaps the childlike glee I feel when I see a ship get separate cleanly into two halves like an onion 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 will be a tale of success while other rounds will make me hang my head in shame.
After playing the physical version a dozen times I bought 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 less than me.
I also picked up The Big Expansion which adds more components, more ship varieties, 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 and destruction 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 components makes it a bear to teach new players as it almost doubles the number of components types available. 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 advanced ships otherwise they end up head and shoulders above the rest of the pack.
I understand that Galaxy Trucker is a divisive game, it seems that people either love it or hate it. I find that the better I do in a round, the less fun I have. It’s not interesting when my ship successfully dodges every asteroid or repels every invasion. On paper, pulling into port carrying huge amounts of goods and a perfect ship sounds like the ideal situation, but it’s just boring. Galaxy Trucker is at it’s best and most fun when your plans have a wrench thrown into them and you’re forced to make decisions and concessions. You have one battery left, and an asteroid is coming for you. If it hits, you’ll lose two pieces, a small price to pay. But then four more pieces will be exposed to danger. Do you spend the battery now to protect against this small threat, or do you save the battery in case something much more damaging is just around the corner? I’m having the most fun when I’m confronted with these choices. If you’re able to enjoy the chaos of real-time ship building, then relinquish control of your ship as it gets pummeled by the terrors of space, Galaxy Trucker is an experience worth seeking out.