Tabletop Review – Galaxy Trucker
As we so frequently touch upon, there are just way too many games out there to experience them all, but we’re still going to try. In my quest to play everything possible, I have the poor tendency of being guided toward or away from games based on their box art. If it wasn’t for a few exceptionally glowing reviews, I would have missed out on the great commiseration that is Galaxy Trucker.
In Galaxy Trucker you and your friends work for the intergalactic construction company Corporation Incorporated. It’s your task to assemble your spacecraft from the same materials that Corp Inc. is transporting (because cutting overhead costs is great) and deliver them to less developed planets across the galaxy over the course of three rounds.
The first phase of each round is a desperate rush to assemble your ship out of assorted components like engines, cannons, and crew cabins as the clock ticks The hope is that in your haste you’ve constructed a functioning ship, but it never pans out that way. Using only one hand, players reach into a messy stack of face down tiles and blindly grab what they can. Once their hand is away from the pile and above their own area, they can reveal the tile and place it on their ship board so long it’s adjacent to another piece.
Once a component is placed on the board, it can’t be moved, which can be a tremendous problem. Each ship component has a series of connectors that must be linked to adjacent rooms in order to be a legal placement. If a tile is placed illegally, it has to stay on the board and players will pay the consequences later.
As players rapidly pick up tiles and merely glance at them before placement, they must try to recall some of the more nuanced rules:
- Engines are only useful if they are placed on the rear of the ship.
- Cannons are worth half a point if they face sideways or backwards.
- Both cannons and engines need an empty space in the direction they face or they can’t be used.
- If the ship doesn’t have any battery spaces, battery powered shields, cannons, and engines are useless.
- Alien bonuses aren’t given out unless their tiles are adjacent to an astronaut cabin.
It’s a lot to remember and racing against a ninety second hourglass makes speed, not efficiency, the group’s priority. Once time is up, the ships are complete and there’s nothing you can do to fix the pile of junk you’ve patched together.
At this point, everyone check’s each other’s ships to make sure that everything on the board is legal. If it’s not, the illegal pieces get removed and any other parts of the ship no longer connected to the ship go with it.
Congratulations! You’ve built your first questionably flight-worthy space craft and it’s time for takeoff!
The second phase of the round begins and players direct their attention to the flight board. Going in order of who finished construction first, players will put their colored spaceship tokens on the board, starting with the red triangular space working backwards and leaving one space in between each token. The player in front of the other ships is the leader and will be draw the top card of the action deck. When a card is drawn, the event is resolved, the next card is drawn, and so on until the eight card deck is empty. From here on out, players are at the absolute mercy of these destructive cards.
These are the friendliest two cards you’ll encounter. The Planets card lets players land on any one of the planets on the card and take the indicated pieces of valuable cargo, starting with the leader and working back. Like most cards, Planets has a number in the bottom right corner that indicates the number of spaces you have to move back if you used the card. Open Space let’s players count the number of total number of engines on their ship and move forward that many spaces.
What makes movement is Galaxy Trucker so different is the way you count spaces. If you Open Space lets you move forward four spaces, you count each empty spot as one space. Between the use of cards and open space, the leader is constantly shifting, giving everyone a fair chance, so long as they still have an engine.
Now we’ve arrived at the point of no return. Most of the action deck cards, like Combat Zone and Meteoric Swarm, are deadly. Combat Zone punishes the player who has the least of a particular resource. The card above first forces the player with the least crew to move back three spaces. The player with the least engines loses two crewmen, and the person with the least weapons gets shot at. Whenever you’re attacked or get caught in a meteor shower you roll the die. The card will tell you which direction you’re going to get hit from, and the die will tell you where.
Above, I “rolled” a seven and a giant meteor came right down column seven, severing my ship in half. With my ship was in two pieces, I had to choose which half I want. The only way I could have prevented my fate was if I had a cannon in that row facing the correct direction. No matter how beautifully you build your ship, one roll of the die can eliminate your entire crew and leave you floating aimlessly in space.
When you have nothing left, the action deck is empty and your career is effectively ruined, it’s time to tally up some extra credit as the third phase of the round begins. Players turn in any cargo still left on their ship to Corporation Inc. and collect their payout. At this point, money is awarded to the everyone in the fleet in order of position on the board. In the first round, the leader is awarded four credits, second place gets three, and so on.
The last bonus is awarded to to the player who has the least connectors on their ship open and exposed to the elements. If these points were awarded at the beginning of the round, the most effective player would earn the bonus money. But they aren’t. Instead, this award is handed out at the end of the round and more often than not it becomes a consolation prize to the player with the smallest remaining ship. Fewer parts, fewer connectors.
After all those bonuses are handed out, Corp Inc. notices your ship is just a bit smaller now than when you departed. They aren’t happy and they charge you one credit for each lost ship component.
You’ve reached the end of round one, but the game’s not over yet. Once you’ve tallied up all of your earned credits, the boards are cleared, flipped over, and ready for the start of the second of three rounds. For some reason, Corp Inc. hasn’t fired you yet and you’re in for more suffering.
If I’ve learned anything from Galaxy Trucker it’s that the game designer, Vlaada Chvatil, hates you. Yes, you. That beautiful space ship you worked so hard to build was smashed to bits? Mine too, but at least you still have engines and aren’t simply drifting through the vacuum of space.
Collective misery is practically the point of the game, but it’s also one of the reasons it’s so much fun. What misery befalls you is your own fault for not being prepared for the wrath of the action deck. At various points there are opportunities to undermine each other’s efforts, but for the most part, Galaxy Trucker is a game of chance. I’ve mentioned in the past how poorly competitive games go over with my friends. There’s always someone who leaves in a poor mood. But with Galaxy Trucker, no one ever leaves angry. You play the against the cards as effectively as you can and do your best to make strategic decisions that mitigate the damage as best you can.
You have a lot less control over what happens to you, but there still is a decent amount of strategy left after the build phase. The leading player will always have the first choice of whether or not they want to use the drawn action card to gain the its benefits, but it almost means that if Pirates or Slavers are drawn, the leader will be the first one to get attacked. Pursuing the leader bonus at the end of the round means being the first one in the line of fire so if you haven’t seen a Combat Zone in awhile, it might not be a bad idea to start letting your opponents sneak past you and let them take the incoming beating.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of Galaxy Trucker is the artwork. There are a lot of different ship components that players will need to understand how to use and recognize quickly to make snap decisions as they race against the clock in the build phase. Galaxy Trucker effectively uses color coding to make snap decisions. Green tiles are always batteries or spaces that require batteries. White is for crew cabins, purple for cannons, and brown for engines. More powerful cannons and engines require a battery cell to use and will be signified by a green rectangle on each tile.
The distinct and consistent color coded artwork allows players to make the quick decisions that are required to effectively construct a space craft that can endure the dangers of the universe. In our haste, our brain searches for familiar patterns to quickly process information. If Vlaada Chvatil hadn’t designed such a simplistic system of identification, one could argue that Galaxy Trucker wouldn’t have taken off to become so successful.
The one complaint that I have is the format of the event cards. Each type of card has a dedicated section in the rule book to help clarify how they function but otherwise each one is read so differently that it can slow down the pace of the game. Planets, Abandoned Station, Stardust, and Smugglers all have distinctly different ways of portraying instruction. They aren’t difficult to learn, but they also aren’t intuitive. After so many sessions it’s become easier and easier to recognize. It is a minor complaint, but it does make the game a tad less accessible for newcomers.
All-in-all Galaxy Trucker is a surprisingly enjoyable tile placement game. I’m still unable to determine if I enjoy it in spite of, or because of how miserable it makes everyone as their hard work crumbles before their eyes. It’s a quick and affordable game designed for any fan of a good time, if your version of a good time is watching your friends miserably fail to survive the final frontier.
2-4 players, expansions increase to 5.
Easy to learn in pieces. Play simplified version for first round, then introduce full rules for rounds two and three.
Clean illustrations make quick recognition a breeze; a do-or-die in Galaxy Trucker.
Chance and random events make each play different than the last.