"You will gain access to prefabricated spaceship components cleverly made from sewer pipes. Can you build a space ship durable enough to weather storms of meteors? Armed enough to defend against pirates? Big enough to carry a large crew and valuable cargo? Fast enough to get there first? Of course you can. Become a Galaxy Trucker. It's loads of fun."
Galaxy Trucker is a 2007 science fiction board game by Vlaada Chvatil, a popular Czech game designer best known for Space Alert and Through the Ages, among other titles. In Galaxy Trucker, you play as a trucker who has to design their own ship and then race against other truckers to deliver your goods and earn as much money as possible. The game is divided into three rounds of two phases each: a build phase and a flight phase. As the game progresses, the ships get bigger, the adventures get harder, and the payouts become larger.
Players build their ships in real time, pulling components from a communal pile and then adding them to their ship or tossing them back into the pile if they don't want it. The components includes things like engines, weapons, crew quarters, and cargo bays with each part being represented by a cardboard tile with a picture on the front. Each tile also has has several connectors which determine how you can connect to other pieces. Because of this, building ships is a sort of competitive puzzle, as all the players are racing against each other to find the components they need before time runs out. In addition, there are only a limited number of some important parts (like shield generators) so the first player to get them will have an edge.
Once time runs out, players proceed to the flight phase. Each flight consists of several adventure cards, each of which present different challenges and rewards. Slavers can attack your ship and steal your crew, or a meteor swarm pummels your ship. Open space allows you to race in front of the other players while stardust forces you to slow down and clean your ship. There are also planets and abandoned space stations which can be visited to collect cargo and credits. Over the course of the flight, many of your components
can will be destroyed. Because all parts need to be connected to each other, losing a key component can destroy large portions of your ship if they become cut off. This means that a single meteor that makes it through your defenses can literally tear off half your ship at once.
If players survive the adventure (which isn't a foregone conclusion) they can sell their cargo for cash. Players are given a reward for finishing depending on what position they took in the race. There is also a 'prettiest ship' award, which generally goes to the person whose ship was the least beaten up by asteroids and pirates.
Is it any good?
Oh my, yes.
But first, an important clarification. Despite the 'race' aspect and the 'adventure' cards, this game IS the building phase: the flight phase is just an elaborate scoring system. You build the best ship you can and then release it into the wild to see how well it does. This is reflected by the fact that the majority of the strategic decisions of the game take place during ship design rather than the flight phase.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing but it does mean that Galaxy Trucker appeals only to certain personalities. I love building ships to see just how badly they fail and find that the modularity of the building mechanic means that I'll never build the same ship twice. This gives it a lot of replay value and also allows me to learn from my mistakes through multiple plays. On the other hand, it also demands an ethos of 'losing is fun' which is difficult for many people.
Which brings me to the main point of this review: whether or not you enjoy Galaxy Trucker is much more dependent on your attitude than anything else. I've had tons of fun playing it with a large group, poking fun at each other as we're all blown apart one by one. If taken with a positive attitude, there's a ton of fun and comradery in the mutual suffering this game provides. On the other hand, those with a negative attitude tend to feel like the game is intentionally grinding them down and they will take it personally. I do not recommend playing this game with hyper-competitive types for exactly that reason. Even a single whiff of 'losing' will set these people into a sour mood for the duration which ruins a lot of the fun.
The build quality of the game pieces is quite good. All of the tiles are made out of nice, solid cardboard with quality printing. The artwork is lovely and rather whimsical which I believe sets the right tone for the game, and the game pieces, while nothing special, are robust and serve their purpose well. The only downside is that the quality of the pieces also makes the game more expensive. Well, that and that there are literally hundreds of separate pieces so special care should be taken to make sure you keep everything together. I suggest plastic baggies for ALL the things.
As with most tabletop games that cater to the hobbyist audience, Galaxy Trucker has several expansions which can be purchased separately to add to gameplay. There is also an Anniversary Edition which includes all but the Latest Models expansion. The expansions are:
- The Big Expansion (2008) adds alternate ship hulls, new components with special abilities, Rough Roads cards (which add special rules to each round, adding difficulty and variation), and a new alien race to help crew your ships. It also adds materials for a 5th player and two 'bonus' adventure cards originally offered as a pre-purchase bonus for the original game.
- Another Big Expansion (2012) adds a fourth round, more ship hulls, and a boarding mechanic which includes new ship components like ship Armories and Security Stations.
- Even-Steven Cards (2012) Add five cards that give players certain advantages or disadvantages. These are intended to be used in order to level the playing field between more and less experienced players.
- Latest Models (2013) adds even more hulls.
I've only played with The Big Expansion and find that it adds a lot to the game. The new parts add more strategy to building and the ability to have more players is definitely useful (at least with my group). We have the Even-Steven cards but have never used them since all of us generally are at the same skill level. I can definitely see them being useful for teaching the game to beginners without the other players having to sandbag and could also level the field between adults and kids. I haven't played with Another Big Expansion yet but our group does have it and I'm excited to try it out and report back.
The game can be played with only 2 players but I imagine that's relatively dull. After all, most of the fun is in watching each other fail spectacularly. Instead I recommend you play with as many people as you can manage. The whimsy and lightheartedness of the game make it appropriate for children and though I don't have any experience playing this with kids, the suggested age range of 10 and up sounds about right. The lack of truly direct conflict also makes it more of a 'harmonious' game than many more traditional 'family games'. Obviously your mileage may vary but I know that I would've loved to have this game as a kid.
So if you can set aside winning and just accept that your goal is to have fun, I think you'll enjoy the hell out of this game. I know I do.