Galaxy Trucker Review
It’s the distant future. Mankind has achieved the miraculous feat of interstellar travel, and the fantasies of man about a spacefaring destiny have come true. What do you want to be? A Jedi Knight? A captain of a Starfleet ship? An intergalactic bounty hunter? An alien’s best friend? Well, sorry bub, the future ain’t that bright. Sure, there are cool things in space, but let’s not forget that our everyday needs still need to be met, and as such, there are certain, well, mundane jobs that need to be fulfilled.
Enter Galaxy Trucker. That’s right, space goods don’t just ship themselves, you know. Even the open galactic expanse needs truckers, and that’s where you come in. Galaxy Trucker, designed by Vlaada Chvatil (Through the Ages, Codenames) and published by Czech Games Edition in 2007, is a game that puts you in the driver’s seat of a galactic shipping business, and it’s up to you to make sure that your corporation is the most profitable at the end of the day.
Galaxy Trucker is a two to four player game where players build ships, and then send them into the wild frontier of outer space. In this barbaric journey, only the best of ships will survive. It’s up to you to build a ship that will endure extraterrestrial threats, asteroid barrages, and even war-torn combat zones. Will your ship fall apart and float back home as a pathetic shell of what it once was, or will you experience a triumphal return and become the wealthiest man in space? In Galaxy Trucker, all of that is up to you.
In Galaxy Trucker, you’ll be doing two things–building your ships, and sending them into space to watch their intergalactic journey play out. This is quite literally divided into two different phases: the building phase, and the flight phase. In the building phase, you will, well, build your ships, and in the flight phase, these ships are sent out, and cards are drawn that will determine their fate. These cards contain different events that your ships must be prepared for–poorly built ships will fall apart when exposed to asteroids, while poorly armed ships could get raided or blasted apart by space pirates. Ships have to have room for goods to be sold at the end of the round, but also must accommodate a sufficient crew. But wait, you’ll also need shields if you want to play it safe, and batteries to power those shields! Your ship may either return flawlessly, or return home in a wreck. Depending on how the flight went, each player will receive a certain amount of “galactic credits” (AKA money, AKA points), and then this process will repeat itself twice more. The game spans a total of three rounds, and whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins.
The Building Phase – Simultaneous Gameplay
The building phase is, without a doubt, what gives Galaxy Trucker its own unique identity. The goal of the game is to build the best ship possible, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. First off, all the tiles you can draw are face-down, so you can’t just find the best parts from the get-go. Second, all players build their ships simultaneously, which means that everyone is pulling from the same pile. Third and finally, the building phase is timed, so you’ll be in a frantic rush more often than not.
The timing aspect is the most important thing to focus on here. Players don’t have all day to build their ships–what would be the fun in that? Instead, players have to build according to the beat of an included hourglass timer. It’s not as simple as it sounds, though; the timer goes through multiple stops until the time ends, and it’s up to the players themselves to advance the time. For example, the timer begins on the “1” space on the first round. After running out, players can continue to build indefinitely, until someone decides to flip it over again and move it to the next spot, which in this case would be the “start” spot. Once the timer runs out on the “start” spot, ALL players must stop building. It’s also worth noting that, while any player can advance the timer on the “1, 2, 3” spaces, you can only advance the timer to the final spot if you’ve already completed your ship. This means that each build phase is a wild race to finish first, and the onus is on each player to put on the pressure for their opponents.
As far as the actual building goes, there are a few stipulations. Each piece has certain connectors on it that must match with their connecting tiles. You must attach pieces to currently existing parts on your board, and you can’t make any changes once you’ve placed. Also, while you’re drawing from a big central pile, you can choose to not play the tile you draw, in which case you put it back into the pile face-up. This means that, as the round goes on, more and more juicy tiles reveal themselves.
Once every player has finished building (or when the time runs out), the building phase ends and it’s time to move on to where this all matters: the flight phase.
The Right Parts for the Job
Building your ship right is incredibly important, because it determines how your ship will fare against certain events later on. In the next phase, the Flight Phase, you’ll be drawing cards that contain certain events and ordeals that your ship must pass through. Equipping your ship with the necessary parts is instrumental to your success in Galaxy Trucker. In the flight phase (which we’ll get to in just a moment), cards will be drawn that determine what kinds of events happen to our interstellar truckers. These cards react differently to different parts on your ship, and some of the relationships can be described as follows:
Cabins can hold crew members, which can raid Abandoned Stations or take off on Abandoned Ships. The former typically gives you goods, while the latter gives you money (the idea being that your crew members pay you to take off with the abandoned ship you find floating around in space). Furthermore, you have to have crew members to finish the flight, so you generally want to have as many of these as you can.
Storage Containers hold goods, which can be sold at the end of the run for cold, sweet cash. You can run into Planets, which allow you to land and stock up on goods, or you might find them on Abandoned Stations or as loot from defeating Enemies. You can only carry as many goods as you have room for, so you generally want to have as many of these as you can.
Cannons generate firepower for your ship, and are useful for blasting away Meteors (which appear on the Meteoric Swarm cards) and Enemies. If you can’t blast away a meteor, it will destroy whatever ship component it hits, while enemies (smugglers, space pirates, etc) might rob you of goods or crew if you can’t surpass their firepower. On the plus side, you gain some goodies whenever you can beat enemies, so, all in all, you’ll generally want to have as many of these as you can.
Engines are, well, engines. The more of these you’ve got, the faster you can travel. This is useful for Open Space cards, which allow each player to move forward on the racetrack as many spaces as their engine count allows. This means that you can boost ahead and take the coveted “leader” position if you’re able to oust your opponents on engine count. It’s good to be first, so you’ll generally want to have as many of these as you can. See a pattern here?
The parts mentioned above give your ship its functionality, but there are also a few tiles that can enhance your ship’s performance in certain areas.
Shields can protect you from laser blasts or small meteors, and one shield will protect two sides of your ship. So, unlike all of the other aforementioned parts, you only need two shields to fully protect your ship. What a nice surprise.
Batteries power said shields–every time you want to activate one to protect your ship, it costs exactly one battery. Batteries also power double cannon and double engine tiles, which deliver double the payload of their normal counterparts, but again, at the cost of one battery. You only need as many batteries as can supply your parts; too many is a waste of space, and having too few can spell doom for you later on.
Alien life support pods can be built next to cabins, and allow you to place one alien, pink or brown in color (according to its respective pod) in the cabin instead of crew members. A pink alien adds +2 to your cannon count, while a brown one adds +2 to your engine count. Useful for saving cannon/engine space, but having too many aliens also reduces the amount of crew members you’re capable of having.
Oh, and did I mention Combat Zones? These lovely little cards punish players who didn’t build their ship up to par; you’ll lose ship components, crew, and other valuable things if you have the least amount of engines, crew members, or cannons. Youch!
The Flight Phase
So, your ships are all ready to go. It’s time to start the flight phase! While most of the actual gameplay occurs during the building phase, this is where you get to see the fruits of your labors. The ships all get placed on a “racetrack” on the central board, in order of completion time in the building phase (if time runs out while building, it’s a free-for-all where players grab the 2nd/3rd/4th place tokens), the fastest-built ship being in first place. The player in first is the “leader,” and they’re the ones that will be drawing cards out of the ominous “Adventure deck.”
The flight phase in of itself is very simple–the leader draws cards from the adventure deck, and the effects of these cards are resolved, one by one, until all cards run out. What’s not as simple is what’s on the cards; there are eight different types of adventure cards, and each one has its own unique resolution. The effects of the adventure cards are conditional upon how you built your ship, so every player will react differently to the cards. This is where Galaxy Trucker’s strategic value lies. You’ll have to prep your ship to deal with a variety of circumstances, but there’s only so much room on your ship to do it. Every building part gives you something that will help you out, so you’ve gotta make the tough choices as to what you’ll find room for and what you’ll leave behind.
The other tricky part is that the adventure deck highly favors the leader. There are several cards that pass through the leader first, and if they’re not resolved by him/her, they pass on to the next player down the line. Leaders get first dibs on Abandoned Ships/Stations/Planets, which are often stacked with money and goods, but they’re also attacked first by enemies. This, however, isn’t even a bad thing if you’re equipped enough to overpower them; if you defeat any given enemy, you’ll gain precious goods. This naturally means that, once again, the players behind you get nothing. As if that wasn’t enough, there are bonus points at the end for whichever rank you finished in. Don’t be worried though–leaders don’t get to sit in front the whole time. Every time they cash out on some sweet card, they’ll move back a space or two or three on the racetrack, potentially allowing other players to jump ahead. Leaders can also change from the Open Space cards, which allow all ships to move forward according to their engine count.
Once your journey has finally ended (as in, once all the cards have been drawn and resolved), points are calculated for that round. You’ll get bonus points for whatever rank you finished in the race, as well as all the cash from the goods you brought home. The “sturdiest” ship (the ship with the least amount of exposed connectors) also gets some bonus points, and then everybody has to pay up for any goods they may have lost on the journey.
Once this is all said and done, you rinse and repeat; the process will continue twice more, only with each round, your ships will get bigger, and so will the adventure deck. The third round sports massive ships and terrifying events, giving the game a nice little sense of progression. Once all three rounds have ended, you count up everyone’s money, and whoever earned the most wins the game!
You could do a lot worse than Galaxy Trucker when it comes to setup. There’s no board to arrange here, just a giant pile of overturned tiles. This is probably the most annoying part of the game’s setup, as there are hundreds of tiles and they’ve all got to be face-down when the game starts. It’s a little tedious, but nothing terrible, and it won’t take more than a few minutes
Other than the tiles, you simply have to deal out the player boards, and make piles for the extra components (batteries, crew members, etc), as well as place the central board in the middle. If you hate games that have long and complicated setup procedures, you’ll be relieved to know that Galaxy Trucker is very modest in this department.
I’d say the average game of Galaxy Trucker clocks in at about forty-five minutes to an hour. Due to the simultaneous building mechanic and the timed nature of the building phase, it’s impossible for the ship-building to ever last very long. After that, you’ve just got the Flight Phase, which doesn’t take that long either. Each card can take up to thirty seconds to a minute to resolve, but a lot of them don’t even take that long. One thing to note is that the adventure deck increases in size each round, from eight cards, up to twelve, and finally to sixteen on the third round. Ultimately, Galaxy Trucker is not a game that takes very long to play, so it might be easier to bring to the table than other offerings.
See, there’s a certain kind of competitive energy in Trucker that works so much better when there are more players involved. If there was one word I’d use to describe Galaxy Trucker, it’d be…chaotic. Oh, but I mean that in a good way! The entire point of Galaxy Trucker is taking that chaos, and organizing it into something functional under the pressures of competition and a dwindling time limit. More players equal more chaos, ergo, the game feels like a slight step under its best for every player that you take out of the count.
I’d also like to mention that one of the best parts about Galaxy Trucker is just watching stuff happen to everyone’s ship. Let’s get one thing clear: this game is not one you play solely for its brilliant strategic depth. It’s chaotic. It’s silly. It’s a little random. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should you. Don’t be alarmed–there IS a lot of strategic value in this game (more on that later), but it’s best enjoyed when you can kick back and enjoy the ride. Getting back to the point, that’s another reason why the game suffers at a reduced player count. There’s just less stuff that happens. It’s fun watching an unlucky meteor hit the exact right spot on your (or your opponent’s) vessel, and see half the ship break off. It’s fun seeing the last place player miraculously slingshot ahead after the other players suffer a series of unfortunate events. It’s fun seeing a Combat Zone rip three different players to shreds. In short, it’s just fun watching all the cards play out, and reducing the player count simply reduces the amount of possibilities that can happen.
“So, the two-player game doesn’t work as well as with four players, but does it work at all?” Good question! I’ve found that two-player Galaxy Trucker DOES work, but it really needs to be competitive. While this is true at every player count, it feels especially palpable with two: Galaxy Trucker is at its best when it’s played quickly. I’ve found that it’s pretty easy, with two players, to both build a perfect ship, which doesn’t make the game very exciting. You’ll want to flip those timers and finish your ship as quickly as humanly possible to put the heat on your opponent. THAT makes two player Galaxy Trucker into a great game, and I encourage anyone reading this to be as competitive as possible should they play the game.
To sum things up, play Galaxy Trucker with four players if possible. If you can’t, just make sure you’re making the game highly competitive, and that will make up for the shortcomings that are a result of reduced players.
I have a batch of Czech Games Edition games that I’ve been playing, and despite each of them being wildly different games, there’s a consistent common denominator: their rulebooks freaking rock–but before I get to that, let’s address the elephant in the room:
Galaxy Trucker has a weird problem. The problem is that, for new players, none of the things they do have relevance until later in the game. This means that it’s easy to understand the WHAT of ship-building, but not the WHY. While the second and third rounds are cake, pretty much everything you’re doing the first time around has no meaning. Since explaining concepts that aren’t yet relevant to the game is one of the cardinal sins of board game teaching (http://www.boardgameresource.com/teach-board-games-10-tips/), this makes Galaxy Trucker a weird game to teach. It’s not hard to understand, but you can’t really teach everything on the spot, you kind of just have to jump in and play.
Thankfully, Czech Games Edition was very well aware of this. The rulebook elegantly addresses the difficulties that first-time players have learning the game, and presents a solution that minimizes confusion and makes everything easy to understand.
If I had to paraphrase, the rulebook would say something like this: “If you’re new to this game, a lot of it won’t make sense the first time you play. That’s okay! We have a special ‘first time play’ for you that will help you to understand how the game works; anyone who plays the game for the first time should play like this before jumping into the full game.” The rulebook then proceeds to lay out the basic concepts, and slowly spills everything out in order of relevance and importance.
The rulebook teaches you the basic building rules, and it tells you the basic functions of every ship part, but it’s clear in saying that you won’t fully understand how the pieces work until later, and that’s okay. Instead, it goes with a more broad approach, saying “you should try to place as many of these _____ pieces as possible, but you’ll only need a few of these _____ pieces.”
Once you get to the Flight phase, the game makes sure that you’ll learn everything you need to learn by giving you a special “first-time deck” for the first flight. Remember how I said there are eight different types of adventure cards? The first-time deck sends you through all eight of them, guaranteeing that you’ll experience every single concept in the game. As you go through each obstacle, you’ll say, “Ohhhhh, so THAT’S why ____ piece is important,” and then in the next round, you’ll have an understanding as to what kind of context your ship pieces will be used in.
From the second and third round on, the game is a piece of cake. By taking the guided tour through the first round, you’ll have learned everything you need to know about the rest of the game. There are a couple of extra rules that are added, but once you’ve learned the basics, they’re child’s play.
Aside from its astounding clarity, the rulebook is a pleasure to look at visually, and is filled with witty levity. Trucker’s rulebook was just fun to read, and you know what? I think that helped me understand the nature of the game. See, Galaxy Trucker is a chaotic, crazy game. Yes, there is strategy (plenty of it), but it’s not the type of game you get into if you’re wanting to min-max and assert your strategic genius. It’s a game you play to just have some lighthearted fun, and by setting a comical tone, the game communicates right away that it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. It doesn’t even take itself seriously, so why should anyone else? Admittedly, my least favorite games of Trucker have been when there’s a competitive player that gets frustrated when things don’t go their way. I digress, but it suffices to say that the rulebook excels in both teaching the game, and establishing the ideal mood that should pervade the table.
Teaching the game to others
Learning from people and learning from a rulebook are often a very different experience, which is why I usually have two different sections in the review to address that. Galaxy Trucker is, however, one of those rare games where it’s actually more cumbersome NOT to follow the rulebook’s structure. You’ll want to read that book, and teach new players exactly as you learned. Tell them how much they should try to use each part. Tell them the general functions, and that they’ll learn later on exactly how things go down, but not to worry about it all right now. Use the starting deck that pits them through every adventure, oh, and one more thing, don’t impose a time limit on their first building phase. Pretty much all of this is verbatim from the rules, and I haven’t yet found a formula that works better.
I once played a game where I figured, “hey, the rulebook is to teach first-timers. I know the game now, so I can do a better job.” I didn’t do the whole hand-holding “first time” formula, and it was far and away a worse experience than what came before. Stick to the structure, guys. You’ll be happier for it.
The problem is that Galaxy Trucker’s strategic choices have to be made in real-time, against a clock, and you don’t get to see the consequences of those choices pan out until later. This makes it easier to write off important strategy and chalk things up to luck, but trust me, it matters. The reality is that the way you build your ship is everything in Galaxy Trucker, and I don’t just mean the tiles that you use. For example, the timer–a big part of Galaxy Trucker is tactically advancing the timer to put pressure on other players. If you feel like you’re doing well with your ship, it’s a good idea to push it forward to make your opponents sweat. Also, the Flight Phase highly favors the leader, so making sure you’re in front of other players is an extremely important strategy.
This opens up more choices–it’s not just “build faster than everyone,” it’s leveraging your options and tactically deciding if it’s WORTH finishing your ship early to get those bonuses, because quite often (more often than not), your ship won’t be adequately finished before everyone else’s. Oftentimes, taking the “1st” marker means that you’ll be sacrificing a potentially better ship in favor of getting leader bonuses and timing-out the other players. This in itself requires strategy, as you’ll have to be aware of what the other players’ ships look like. Timing them out when they’re not close to complete can be a devious and effective strategy.
And then, of course, there’s the importance of just playing the right tiles. Something important that I haven’t mentioned yet is that you’re allowed to peek at 75% of the cards in the given round’s adventure deck during the building phase. This is important because it allows players to anticipate what’s coming. The drawback, of course, is that peeking at those cards will cost you precious time. However, if you decided to peek, and found out that you’ll need 12 cannons to deal with some nasty pirates, you’ll be feeling a lot less sorry than your opponent who winged it when they end up getting torn apart in the flight phase. In EVERY game I’ve won, I’ve peeked at the cards and it’s helped out immensely; those who complain about the randomness of the adventure cards must not make very good use of this tactic.
The WAY you build your ship is important too. Generally, people just want to connect as many pieces as possible, but this can come back to bite you in your interstellar butt if you weren’t paying enough attention to your connections. What happens if half of your entire ship is connected by one piece, and you end up getting hit there? Goodbye, half of your ship! A well-built ship will ensure that you’ll never lose much if you’re hit by misfortune, and it does take some tactical decision-making to make that a reality.
While building is where the bulk of the strategy lies, it’d be unfair to say that the Flight Phase doesn’t also gives its fair share of choices. They’re usually not that compelling, but they can make a difference. For instance, you might have a ship with eight crew members on it, and the first card that’s drawn is an “abandoned ship” card that will reward you nicely if you ditch six crew members. This seems like an obvious choice, until you remember that you lose the round if you lose all of your crew members. Do you want to risk having only two guys the entire rest of the round? This can be especially dangerous in the second and third rounds. What if some pirates come along and kill your crew? What if you get hit by a combat zone and you lose your guys in one fell swoop? Considering the variety of ill fates that could await you, you might make the prudent decision to skip that card’s benefits, trusting that it’ll come back to benefit you later on.
Finally, there’s the leader. You want to be the leader. There’s four out of eight cards that benefit the leader first out of anyone (and three out of these four cards can ONLY benefit the leader, should they accept), so being the leader is kind of a big deal. Sometimes, you’ll have to make sacrifices to get ahead in the race, or maintain your lead. Many beneficial cards set you back a few spots on the racetrack, and while it’s usually worth it, sometimes it’s better to forego a reward to not give up your spot. Alternatively, you might be far behind and choose to use up most of your batteries to power your engines when “Open Space” cards are drawn (allowing you to potentially pass other players on the board). These are batteries you may have saved for shields or cannons, but hey, maybe getting in the lead will be worth it. You always have to think about opportunity costs in Galaxy Trucker.
There is PLENTY of strategy in this game, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not the most strategic game in the world, sure, but certainly enough to scratch that itch.
So, yeah. There’s luck. I’ve found that most of the luck can be mitigated or avoided, but there are some things you simply can’t escape.
First off, the adventure deck. This is the big one. The cards in that deck will seal your fate, and they’re different every game. If they just happen to clash against everything you put on your ship, you’re going to have a bad time. But hey, remember what I said earlier? You can look at these cards when you build. Generally, if you take five seconds to take a peek during the building phase, you have no business complaining that these cards are too random…unless they happen to be among the 25% of unrevealed cards. No matter the round, exactly one fourth of the deck will be hidden, not to be revealed until the flight phase, and admittedly, you can get screwed over by these cards that you had no way of anticipating.
“Contamination” is a good example. For first time players, this one can be dirty–it causes you to lose one crew member for each pod that’s adjacent to another one. If this wasn’t in the peekable cards, it can be a nasty surprise when you suddenly have to lose half your crew because you were unaware of said card’s existence. This is less of a problem for players who have a general idea of what’s in each deck, but that won’t happen for a few plays at least. It’s worth noting that most ships that are built well should be able to weather most challenges, but there are undeniably (un)lucky swings that can occur from the hidden cards.
Dice also have a presence in Galaxy Trucker. On every ship board, there’s a grid of numbers; sometimes you’ll get cards that send meteors or laser blasts your way, and you’ll have to roll to see which section of your ship it hits. It’s possible to miss the ship entirely, or the damage might go straight to the ONE exposed part of your ship, you know, the one that you absolutely couldn’t afford to lose. You never know, but that kind of also makes it fun–you have to prepare for the worst when you’re building.
Honestly, despite its chaotic nature, I think that there is more strategy than luck in Galaxy Trucker, though both camps get healthy representation.
Galaxy Trucker is, again, a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that is evident in the aesthetics and overall presentation. It’s obviously up to you to decide if you like the artwork, but I’m not sure exactly where I stand. I like the junky, scrappy look of everything, but I feel like some of the pieces look kind of…tacky? It’s probably the 3D rendering that serves at artwork–I don’t know, and either way, it’s not really a big deal. I have no problems with Trucker’s aesthetics, but they’re not something that jump out at me as a selling-point. They work well for what the game is, but don’t go above and beyond.
There are also visual elements that have grown on me, such as the “truckers” in this universe being tiny cherubic, baby-faced cartoon men. I expected them to look a little more…rough around the edges, but what we get is perfectly acceptable and perfectly silly.
Galaxy Trucker gets good marks for component quality. Like most typical modern board games, Trucker doesn’t stand out on either side of the spectrum–its components are neither poorly made nor noticeably high quality. They’re right in the middle, and I have no concerns about the game getting damaged. It’s got tons and tons of tiles, all of which are made with reasonably thick cardboard, and all of its pieces are solid too. It uses little wooden blocks for goods, and matte sculpted pieces for other uses, such as aliens, crew members, and ship tokens.
You could do a lot worse than Galaxy Trucker with plastic pieces. All of the plastic stuff in here has a nice finish, and doesn’t feel cheap. Overall, Trucker’s build quality is just fine, and not a cause of concern for prospective buyers.
This feels like a game where the gameplay concept came first, and then substance was added on top of it later. The theme isn’t remarkably deep, but it works well enough for what it represents. There’s not much more to say except that each player represents a corporation trying to cut costs and increase profits. If you start thinking about it really hard, you’ll start to see how this doesn’t make a lot of sense when compared with gameplay options, but then, you’re not really supposed to think about it that hard.
The one thing I appreciate about Trucker’s theme is that it allows for levity. This easily could have been a sci-fi game about creating warships or fighterships, and sending them out into battle against aliens. It would have worked, and it would have been painfully unoriginal. I appreciate that they took this overused concept of spaceships, and turned it into a galactic trucking game. It’s silly, it’s unique, and it gives the game its own standout identity. In fact, I was always curious about what kind of game Galaxy Trucker was ever since I heard its name. It just kind of stands out and makes the game just a little more attractive than it would have been with something more generic.
There are a total of four expansions for Galaxy Trucker, though I’ve unfortunately only had the opportunity to play one of them.
Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion adds pieces to increase the player count to five, as well as new adventure cards, a new alien species, and new ship pieces/classes.
Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion adds more goodies, such as more ship pieces and classes, as well as special actions for your crew.
Galaxy Trucker: Latest Models adds a big batch of new ships to play with, such as unique 2-in-1 ships that have spaces that are blocked out in certain rounds.
Finally, Galaxy Trucker: Missions adds objective-based gameplay into the mix, as well as a batch of “supercards” in the adventure deck that are particularly nasty. In Missions, players can draw one out of many missions, which has its own unique rules that apply for the following flight.
Overall, the first two are sure to add plenty of variety to your gameplay, while Latest Models will expand your options if you’re tired of the same ol’ ships. Missions is a great choice if you crave longevity/replayability, and want to have something to work towards instead of just building your ship in chaos.
There’s also an app version of Galaxy Trucker on Google Play, App Store, and (*gasp*) Windows Phone, and it’s supposedly pretty well-made. Galaxy Trucker doesn’t leave you wanting in the expansion department, so if you’re looking for a game that will last a long time, this one’s a good contender.
Simultaneous Gameplay Boosts Interaction and Reduces Downtime
One of my favorite things, if not my MOST favorite thing about Galaxy Trucker is its simultaneous gameplay mechanic. Have you ever had that player that just sits around on their damned phone and is only half-involved unless it’s their turn? How about the player who really wants to like the game, but gets bored and dejected when everyone takes thirty minutes to take their turn? What about THAT guy, the one that IS taking those thirty minute turns? http://www.boardgameresource.com/analysis-paralysis/ We all know all of these people, and they can turn games into a drag.
In Galaxy Trucker, however, most of these problems don’t exist. Why? Because all players must be invested at all times. The build phase is simultaneous and demands all of your attention. After that, most of the cards that get drawn during the race are universal to everyone on the board, so it requires investment from everyone at the table. There are no “turns” in this game, because everyone is doing almost everything together.
Let me tell you, this is SO refreshing for me. I love my gaming group, but let’s just say that a lot of the games we play don’t go by very fast. I’ve gotten used to immense amounts of downtime, and have just come to accept that it’s an inevitability in any game if you’re playing with the right (wrong?) folks; how wondrous it was, then, when I pulled out Galaxy Trucker and none of those problems existed! I had never played a game like Galaxy Trucker before, but I immediately realized that it would be a hit for this very reason. My sister hardly plays games with us anymore because of how much downtime there is that plagues every session. Guess who loved Galaxy Trucker? If you consistently play with someone who significantly slows down your games, I would strongly consider looking at this one. Simultaneous gameplay is still a relatively rare concept in games, and simultaneous gameplay done well is even rarer still. For that reason alone, Galaxy Trucker is a treasure.
Building Your Ship is a Fun Puzzle
I love every session of Galaxy Trucker because I always end up with a different ship. I don’t know why, but putting your ship together is just fun. I’m not sure if EVERYONE will feel the same, but the challenge of drawing a piece, finding the right connector for it on your board, and placing it in the ideal spot just works. You never know exactly what you’re going to get, and you kind of just have to make ends meet on the fly. Some might think it stressful, but I love the pressure of just slapping something down in good faith that I’ll make it work somehow, because doing so would be a better use of time than putting it back and searching for a new piece. It’s wonderfully challenging trying to make your best ship against a time limit.
Speaking of the time limit, it’s the key to everything, and the reason why I think the game is so much fun. Honestly, building a perfect ship isn’t hard. Like, if you draw enough pieces, it’s going to happen. What IS hard is building an awesome ship when you’re under pressure from the time, and competing for tiles with opponents. What should have been easy turns into a terrific challenge, and I liked the thrill of having to make snap decisions and compromises in order to finish my ship against the clock.
Watching Your Flight Is Like Watching a Suspenseful Movie
For all intents and purposes, I consider the building phase to be the “game” of Galaxy Trucker. You DO have actions in the flight phase, even important actions, but at the end of the day the flight phase really is just the result of everything you did in the phase before, and isn’t really what I think of when I think of meaningful gameplay actions.
It’s a lot more fun when you think of the flight phase differently.
When you think of the flight phase as, say, a fun little movie, it’s quite entertaining to sit there and watch everything unfold. This is the game playing itself for you, punishing you or rewarding you for the quality of your build, and I quite enjoyed leaving my ship to the hands of fate and hoping with fingers crossed that it won’t all go to hell. I might even cook popcorn if it lasted a little longer!
It’s just that anything can happen in the flight phase, and if you consider it as more of a spectacle rather than part of your strategic gameplay, it’s pretty great. Once, my pristine and perfect ship got blasted apart real bad until I no longer had crew to man it. Another time, someone’s ship lost literally everything except for five vertical tiles in the middle. Your shoddy piece of crap ship might miraculously slip its way out of trouble and return home without a scratch. The point is, you never know, and it’s much more fun to sit back and laugh at what happens, rather than whine about how the game is being unfair.
Galaxy Trucker isn’t a super long game, but it packs a punch in terms of meaningful, strategic gameplay. I’m always on the lookout for games that feel deep enough to be satisfying, but can also clock in at an hour and a half or less. Most brilliant, strategic games last from an hour and a half up to three, maybe even more, so a shorter game that’s not just filler party material will always be welcome in my collection. Galaxy Trucker is strategic enough to satisfy gaming veterans, while wacky and chaotic enough to please more casual players. So please, next time you’re looking for an hour of board games, consider Galaxy Trucker. It won’t wear out its welcome.
Awkward Learning Curve
I didn’t want to say “hard learning curve,” because Galaxy Trucker isn’t really hard to learn. It’s just, I don’t know, it’s awkward. Like I said above, none of the stuff that you DO in your first round has relevance until later. While the rulebook does an exceptional job at providing a formula for new players to go through, one problem that’s hard to get around is that new players are severely disadvantaged to experienced ones. I mean, it might not be a problem after your first game or two, but it’s still a flag of caution that you’ll want to heed when you teach to new players. Due to knowing how the adventure cards work, experienced players will likely knock the ball out of the court when it comes to points, leaving new players far behind in their spacedust. This can be helped if you just follow the rulebook’s formula, but long story short, if you’re teaching Galaxy Trucker to a new player, make sure they know that things won’t be in their favor the first time. This problem isn’t a huge one if you teach the game right, so make sure you do, because new players can often be discouraged from playing a game again when they feel like they’re too outclassed.
It’s Just Not as Good With Less Players
Galaxy Trucker is an awesome game. Like, it’s really good, and even at two or three players, it’s a load of fun. But man, it’s just better with four players. Galaxy Trucker thrives on chaos, and there’s simply not as much of that the less players you have. The two player game, for example, feels decidedly more strategic and focused than the four player game, where things get a lot more ballistic and crazy. And I mean, that’s good, but if you want a focused strategy game for two players, there are plenty of other choices that probably do it better than this one. You’re meant to experience chaos and pressure in this game; if you’re not, you’re simply not getting as much out of the game as you could. Don’t dismiss Trucker as a non-viable 2p/3p game, but if you ever CAN get four players to join in, then do that. You won’t regret it.
It’s possible (and easy) to play the game “Wrong”
The idea of “how” to play a game is somewhat of a controversial topic–after all, shouldn’t everyone just play games how they want? Well, yes. Notwithstanding, some games just work better when they’re played a certain way, and Trucker is one of those games. To cut to the chase, Galaxy Trucker is so, so much better when it’s played with a rushed timer. Are there people who will disagree with this? Yes. And hey, if so, that’s fine, go play it your way! That’s the beauty of board games. Yet, I suspect -most- people would agree with me when I say that Galaxy Trucker should be played under pressure, and the game certainly feels like it’s designed with that intent.
So why is it an issue? It’s because players are the ones that advance the timer. On the furthermost spot, once the timer runs down for the first time, the onus is on the players to reset it and move it forward. That might not happen. A tamer group of players might tick away at their ships, loading them with perfect connections and stacks of cannons and shields and engines to meet all of their needs, only to advance the timer when they’re positive their ship will be near-flawless. Sure, there will be ONE player who eventually pushes it to the “start” spot, forcing players to stop once it runs out there, but if that player has already built a perfect ship by then, it’s likely the other players have gotten pretty close.
Perfect ships make for boring flights. That’s just the way it is. If every ship can weather every challenge, the game is just not very interesting and it becomes an dull point-scooping game. Now, the reason I put this in the “dislike” section is that it can blow the game for new players. I’m not denying that some may be perfectly content being able to take the time to build pristine and perfect vessels, but I think it would be very easy to find Galaxy Trucker a bore if nothing interesting ever happened. If your new players fall into the latter camp, they could easily be turned off by Galaxy Trucker if it’s not played “right.”
In the end, everyone should play games how they want, but with Galaxy Trucker, I think most people will find that it’s better as it gets more chaotic, and unfortunately, the game gives you plenty of opportunity to completely avoid that.
Slow and Steady…Loses the Race
While I have advocated through this whole review that chaos is what makes Galaxy Trucker delicious, it does have somewhat of a lagging loser problem (that’s the best term I can think of to describe the opposite of a runaway winner). In other words, if you get too far behind in the race, it can be hard or impossible to catch up.
Being the leader in the race is great, but it’s easy to lose that spot. You may drift around to second place or even third, but you’ll likely generally keep up with your opponents. Unfortunately, in most of the games I’ve played (this is mainly in reference to four player games), the poor last player just didn’t have a chance. The game spaces you out in such a way where you’re pretty far from first place, and closing that gap is not easy unless you have lots of engines (more than your opponents) and lots of open space cards. I’ve found that, while last place might be able to get ahead one or two players sometimes, they’re generally too far back to make any real gain throughout the race, meaning they get jipped with planet goodies, and they get the worst ending bonuses, along with almost never getting the rewards from a “pass it down” card, which cards disappear once they’ve been fulfilled by a player.
This, obviously, is great incentive for players to build faster and to encourage more aggressive competition, but even in a game as silly and chaotic as Galaxy Trucker, it can be a drag being in dead last and feeling like you can’t do anything about it. I suppose this just goes to show how important doing well in the building phase is.
Galaxy Trucker is one of my new favorite games, in my top ten for sure. I didn’t know that much about the game until I bought it, I had only heard bits and pieces here and there. What I found when I opened up the box was something entirely unique and fresh, and I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. Galaxy Trucker really amazed me with its brilliant simultaneous gameplay mechanics, chaotic craziness (that still allows for good strategy), silly and witty theme, and reasonable play time. Everything about this game just feels so original–its mechanics were something I had never seen before, its theme is a comical spin-off of an otherwise overdone genre, and its looneyness is so finely tuned that it walks a near-perfect line right between randomness and strategy, offering neither in excess, nor depriving us of one or the other.
Galaxy Trucker, with its short play time, is easy to bring to the table, though it’s an awkward game for newcomers to learn, and they might feel unfairly disadvantaged their first time through. The game is also meant to be chaotic, but allows players to bypass that element completely, which is unfortunately a very easy thing to do. Furthermore, the game works much better at four players than with two or three, though it’s still viable at the latter count.
Despite any difficulties you might have in warming up new players to the game, or pushing your group to be competitive, when Galaxy Trucker works, it really works, and let me tell you that it works just about all of the time. If Galaxy Trucker sounds like something you haven’t yet experienced in your collection, I urge you to give it a try. It is fiercely unique and original, and with so much expansionary content and a reasonable fan following, it’s a game that’s likely to stay young for years to come. This is my second game from designer Vlaada Chvatil, and I’ve been made a believer. I can’t wait to dig into another one of his games, and I hope you will too.
YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You crave simultaneous gameplay
- You enjoy building things
- You don’t completely lose your mind under pressure
- Enjoy chaos in your games but still want enough strategic depth to keep you satisfied
- You learn your games from the rulebook
- Want a game that’s satisfying in weight but can be finished in an hour or less
- You like having plenty of expansionary content
- Your dream job is being a trucker and you’ve been waiting your whole life for a board game to address the profession
YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…
- You like to spend large quantities of time on your phone when you play games
- You lose your mind when you’re not able to take your time
- Routinely introduce new players to your sessions
- You like to feel like you’re in control of everything that happens to you in games
- You don’t feel like you’ll ever be able to get four players together
- You appreciate a mature, serious theme
- You’re easily frustrated by misfortune
About the Author
Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he's not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, or spending time with his lovely wife. Zach is currently studying for a degree in Business Management. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his gallery here, or follow him on Instagram at @artworkbyzach!