Quick Look: Galaxy Trucker
Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Artists: Tomáš Kučerovský
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Year Published: 2021
In the fast and goofy family game Galaxy Trucker, players begin by simultaneously rummaging through the common warehouse, frantically trying to grab the most useful component tiles to build their spaceship — all in real-time.
Once the ships are launched, players encounter dangerous situations while vying for financial opportunities, each hoping to gain the most valuable cargo and finish with as much of their ship still intact as possible. Of course, that’s easier said than done since many hazards will send pieces of your ship, your cargo, and your crew hurling into the depths of space.
The goal is to survive the trek — hopefully with at least some of your crew and ship intact — and have at least one credit by the end of the game. (Profit, yay!) Players earn credits by delivering goods, defeating pirates, having the best-looking ship, and reaching their destination before the others.
This version of Galaxy Trucker is a relaunch of the original 2007 release by Vlaada Chvátil that features new art, more ship tiles, tweaked card effects, and streamlined gameplay that consists of only a single flight through space. That said, should you want a longer, more challenging experience, you can play a three-flight game known as the “Transgalactic Trek”.
Vlaada Chvátil established himself as one of my favorite game designers early on in my entrance to board gaming with his expertly-crafted Mage Knight. However I must culpably admit that until now I have been unable to try any of his other games. I have been aware of his other big hit with Code Names for a long time, but party games are the one classification of game I usually avoid at all costs, so I have been hard-pressed to find an opportunity to see if his other games are up to the standard he set with Mage Knight ; are his other offerings equally masterful, or do they slip through the cracks into mediocrity? The time to test this question is finally at hand for me!
For today is the day I review the latest edition of Galaxy Trucker , which pits 2-4 players against each other in a cosmic race to ship and sell valuable (and sometimes highly volatile and illegal!) goods.
There are many, many good things that stand out about the game immediately. The box art and manual are playfully vibrant and colorful, and there is no shortage of humor in the contents that lie therein. In fact, I must say that as of yet, this was the funniest instruction manual I have come across in a long time, and it’s not cheesy or corny at all, it’s genuinely well crafted to elicit laughs. This is a big plus in my book, because I can be rather difficult to impress with such theatrics given my normal propensity for more wry and dry humor.
The components are all of exceptional quality, most notably the card stock. There are tons of tiles (156 to be precise) representing various pieces of what will eventually become each player’s ship and plastic pieces galore—more than the medium-smallish box might suggest.
Overall the presentation and sense of aesthetics is superb, but one thing is clear right away ; Galaxy Trucker will NOT be like Mage Knight at all in its gameplay.
However, if there is any evidence of this game being the brainchild of the designer of Mage Knight, it would definitely be in the learning curve and inclusion of a preparatory “introduction” phase to playing the game in a sort of “beginner” mode first prior to playing the “real way”. The mandatory inclusion of such a way to begin your galactic adventures indeed hearkens back to my first games of Mage Knight in which it truly was necessary to have an intro level crash course before getting into the real substance of the game—it would seem that this would most definitely be Vlaada’s personal signature on both of these games.
And it is indeed a sharp learning curve (more on this later) especially given how “simple” the game looks when just looking at the tiles and components. I expected something that would be on the supremely facile scale of things when it came to learning, and this was not the case at all! While in the end it is not nearly the beast that Mage Knight was to learn, it nevertheless defied my expectations as I had been studying the rules a few nights prior to actually playing the game. And it is not that the rules are incredibly difficult , nor was the manual a cryptic mess to decipher—far from it. Rather, it is the fact that there are many small little details and idiosyncrasies you have to get “just right” if you want to play correctly from the get-go.
However, once you go beyond the learning curve you will find that there is deep substance lying within the frantic nature of the game and its theme.
“And frenzied, the game play is” Master Yoda would say.
The game starts off by having you place all of the games tiles upside down, and then setting an hourglass-type timer. Then the panic attack starts, as players have that much time (or perhaps more, if certain circumstances allow the timer to be flipped again) to assemble their ship on their player boards by randomly drawing tiles from the table.
And there are not only a wide variety of components such as lasers, shields, cabins with human personnel, cabins for aliens, cargo holds, rockets and battery compartments—there are also very strict rules that govern the placement of such tiles and interconnecting them to other rooms on the ship. So not only do you have to choose and choose wisely, you must make your ship Street (ahem, Space) Legal.
The first player to construct their ship to their satisfaction places one of their two ship player markers on a Space Track, on the Number One spot on the track. And because they were first this means they get a head start, potentially being a day or two ahead of the next player to finish building their ship, who will also be a day or two ahead of the next player and so on. All remaining tiles are put away in the box.
Once this has been done , players will check their and other player boards for erroneous placements. If any pieces are placed illegally, those spaces on their board need to be removed from their ship to the side of their board—these pieces will be counted against their income at the end of the game since it represents a wasted resource. In addition, the removal of just “one” illegal piece may also have a chain reaction type of effect that requires you to remove other pieces that were dependent on that particular tile for their connecting pathways, so you really do need to take care when building your ship.
Which is much, much easier said than done. Because you need to focus on not only where to place certain items like rockets and lasers, but also which direction you place them.
In a nutshell it is a chaotic mess trying to build your ship before time runs out!
And there likely will be no player with a “perfect ship”, which may pose a problem for those with OCD!
From here on, your “real” journey begins. The Lead Player (the person farthest along on the space track) will always be the person that draws from the randomized deck of game cards that come with this game. These cards can represent things that affect all players simultaneously, or all players in order of their relative position to each other. Usually (but not always), it is advantageous to be in the front of the pack since getting to a planet means you can pick up more valuable cargo first before other players can. Then again, it might mean you are the first to run into an antagonistic Slave Trader ship that hijacks your crew or meteor shower that threatens to destroy your ship piece by piece until it can no longer operate. Some of these cards have the benefit of giving more goods or cargo to pick up (which means more cash needed to win the game), but these often have the detriment of causing you to lose days on the flight tracker board , potentially letting another player into the Lead spot.
If something attacks your ship , it can be from any direction. The area of your ship that is targeted is determined by rolling dice to assign damage to a particular numbered row or column of your board. There is a chance that you can be protected losing a portion of your ship by using batteries to power shields (if you happen to have both), having “smooth sides”/a well constructed ship, or having cannons of your own. Or in the case of being assaulted by heavy cannon fire you can only pray that you have zero ship parts in the row or column that was rolled, because nothing protects against it!
Play continues with the lead player drawing cards and all players resolving these until the deck is exhausted.
The player with the most cash (called Credits) acquired at the end of the game wins. Usually , the best Credits are obtained by bringing aboard certain illegal / volatile substances (that require Red Cargo holds), but these can also be gained through bringing numerous other colored goods that are worth incrementally less (Yellow, Green and Blue goods). But sometimes you might also acquire these precious commodities by defeating a team of space raiders in battle and plundering their previous plunder.
You then proceed to Unload and sell goods you may have acquired. And if any of your ship pieces were destroyed (or removed as a result of illegal placement of your pieces at the beginning of the game), these will be subtracted from your Credits.
This is the game in a nutshell.
Other bits of interest :
You can “lose” but still win. As weird as this sounds, this can happen. Ordinarily I would find this sort of approach to gaming reprehensible and vile, but believe it or not , I find it works thematically very well for this game. And while it is hard to get into the mechanics that “let” this sort of thing happen, let me just say that it really makes sense given the silly theme and nature of this particular game. In fact, this particular mechanic actually adds to the strategy of gameplay even more.
Instant “Give Up”—some situations (such as losing all of your crew members, or not having any rocket power at all during a card phase called “Open Space” where all other ships presumably enter light speed and leave you behind to eat their space dust) will knock you out of the game. Unfair? Perhaps. But still fun. However, this is part of the mechanic mentioned above that allows for you to win while still “losing”. In such an instance of “Giving Up”, your ship still manages to dock at the closest space port available and sell all of your cargo at half of its normal value—which just might be enough for you to win the game if other players suffer horrible misfortunes of having their ship blown to pieces or cargo stolen by pirates.
Final Thoughts :
Given what I stated about the “complexity” of the game earlier, one might expect me to say that this is an incredibly difficult game to play. Rest assured, it is not, and is surprisingly fast and easy once the grown ups learn the rules. When it came time to finally to put this Galaxy Trucker to the test, it matched its quoted metrics almost to the letter, with its play time indeed being consistently under 30 minutes.
Most times when a game states that it is for 8 or 9 year olds, I can sneak my 5 or 6 year old into the game with zero trouble. Not so with Galaxy Trucker. We find that there are too many minutiae regarding the rules for orientation of pieces for 5-6 year old to enjoy this game. So for once, I would have to suggest that the stated age range for the game is quite accurate in expecting it to be for those at least 8 years of age.
Now is this game another Mage Knight? Well, I mean, this isn’t exactly an Apples to Apples type of situation, the games are entirely different. But it does show Vlaada’s mastery of multiple styles and that he cannot be confined or locked in to just one genre. He clearly knows how to be versatile in development, and it shows when contrasting Galaxy Trucker to Mage Knight.
This game excels at creating a fast-paced, frenzied setup that then quickly puts your ship to the test to see how well it holds up in space. The fun resides in doing the best you can in the measly amount of time you are given. Perfectionists probably won’t enjoy this game as a result, because virtually nothing will end up being ideal in your ship design. You are probably going to be lacking at least 1 feature and will almost never fill up every space on your ship board. But that’s okay! Once the game gets started, it is a blast!
In fact, I would say that one of the main (if not the main) selling point of this game is that there is near zero down time for players since most of the game actions are taken or resolved simultaneously. And the game sets up and ends so quickly that even if you lose, there is no time to be a sore loser, because you could easily be up and running again in a mere minute or two. Not every game can do that.
Some may not like the randomness, as much of the outcomes are either determined by die rolls or who gets to a location first, but really, this is not what I would call a “Dice Chucker” by any means if that is the type of game you usually avoid.
For those who are not faint hearted, there are multiple styles of ship boards and tiers of difficulty, even a progressively scaling series of 3 Galactic Truck Runs to see who can haul the most loot across the vast reaches of space, with grand titles to be earned (and defended!).
All in all, I think this game is great, and we may have just found the best 4 player “quickie” game in our collection.
Final Score 8.2
Find out more at BGG.
Do you find that you’re missing too many reviews as we drop them? Provide your name and email below and we’ll keep you in the know of what we reviewed that week as well as other hot news!!!!!
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer