by Mr Saint
As the latest independent contractor of Corporations Incorporated, you can choose a life of adventure! You, brave soul that you are, can decide to cut out the middleman on your path to fame and fortune, and we here at Corp Inc. are here for you. We’ll provide you with only the best builder-grade material for transport and sale to the far reaches of the galaxy. In fact, due to recent technological advances, you’ll be able to build your spaceship out of the very same material! Talk about efficiency! The opportunity of a lifetime awaits!*
*Corporations Incorporated is not responsible for injury to individuals, damage to property, or monetary losses due to meteor swarms, space pirates, slavers, sabotage, epidemics, or any other events, foreseeable or otherwise. Flight through active combat zones is strictly prohibited. Contractor is solely responsible for the cost of any and all materials in their possession during space flight and shall reimburse Corp Inc for any lost material prior to delivery.
A game of Galaxy Trucker is played over three rounds. In each round, players will need to use the prefabricated components in the Corp Inc. warehouse to build a spaceship. Players will take from the randomized assortment of facedown tiles, trying to find all the necessary pieces for their ship for a safe and successful journey. A good ship will need engines, you won’t get far without those. And laser cannons. Space is a dangerous place after all. Some shields wouldn’t hurt either. Of course, then you’ll need batteries to power those shields (batteries are also needed for the powerful double cannon and double engine components). You could probably do with a few more crew and cargo holds as well.
But wait! Is that the competition leaving the warehouse already? Better get trucking! Don’t worry about those exposed connectors, the fact that you only have one engine or that the cannons aren’t correctly aligned, you need to get going before your rivals beat you to all the lucrative contracts. The shipbuilding phase in Galaxy Trucker is timed, with players who finish completing their ship first being granted better starting positions for the following flight phase, so players are incentivized to build quickly rather than precisely.
Once time runs out in the build phase, it’s time to put your ship to the test! The flight phase consists of a series of Adventure cards. The cards are technically randomly selected prior to the build phase and players can theoretically look at a majority of them prior to the build phase’s completion. I personally have never had the time in the build phase to make use of this option, so the first time I see them is usually during the flight. The leader (the player furthest ahead on the flight board) reveals each Adventure card and resolves any effects the card has.
If you’re lucky, the Adventure cards will offer up opportunities. Like the chance to trade some flight days for precious cargo by visiting a planet's surface. Or stumbling upon an abandoned ship, and selling the salvage rights to some of your crew in exchange for some cosmic credits.
If you’re less lucky, you might find yourself in a meteor swarm, which will bombard your ship from various directions, with the precise place impacted determined by a roll of the dice. If a small meteor hits an exposed connector or a large meteor isn’t met with a hail of cannon fire, they’ll send pieces of your ship tumbling through the vacuum of space.
And if you’re having a really bad day, you might encounter slavers or pirates. These enemies can pepper you with cannon fire, steal your goods, or abduct your crew. Of course, if your ship is suitably equipped with enough firepower, you can take the fight to them and claim a reward for their defeat. Space is dangerous to friend and foe alike, after all!
As the rounds progress, both the ship size you’ll build and the intensity of the Adventure cards will increase. A meteor swarm card in round 1 might include a couple of small meteors and a large meteor. By round 3, that same type of card could include as many as three large meteors and three or four small meteors!
At the end of each round, players are rewarded cosmic credits for their relative order on the flight board. There’s also a handful of credits awarded to whichever player has the best looking ship at the end of a flight (determined by having the least exposed connectors by the flight’s end). Players will also be able to sell any goods they’ve managed to acquire during the journey for additional credits. Finally, you’ll have to pay one cosmic credit for each component that you lost along the way (to a maximum determined by the class of ship you were piloting for that specific flight, think of it like paying a deductible on an insurance claim). If at the end of the third round you’ve made money, you’re a winner! Of course, if you’ve made the most money, you might be a bit more of a winner than everyone else, but try not to rub it in.
What really impressed me about Galaxy Trucker initially are all of the things that it isn’t. This is not a highly complex game with lots of moving parts. There are no really clever mechanisms to analyze and pontificate over. Rather than offer strategic decision making, fully half of the game is responding to things as they happen to you, with limited ability to mitigate the events. There can be more than one winner, yet Galaxy Trucker isn’t a cooperative game. It’s like designer Vlaada Chvátil looked at a list of common expectations for hobby board games and said, “Nah, we’re not doing any of that.”
Take Galaxy Trucker’s timer, used during the shipbuilding portion of the game. We’re no strangers to real time elements in games (one of our favorite games, Millennium Blades, uses a timer to great effect). With most games, use of a timer means there is a static amount of time all players are working with and everyone is under the same constraint. Galaxy Trucker subverts this expectation by giving the players complete control over the amount of time the shipbuilding phase is going to last. When the sand timer runs out, it's up to the players to decide when to flip it to progress the phase. If everyone is lost in their own little world, frantically slotting components onto their player board, the shipbuilding phase could theoretically last until all players have fully populated their ships.
Alternatively, a brazen player might flip the timer as soon as it runs out every single time, significantly shortening the amount of time players have to build. And because the player who flips the timer to the “Start” circle can no longer add additional components to their ship, that last flip presents a very interesting question. You know you’re the best trucker, but are you so much better than everyone else at the table that you’ll give them that little bit of extra time while denying yourself the same just to end the phase? Better check your ship’s construction just one more time.
Because of the way in which Galaxy Trucker plays with gamers’ expectations, some people will bounce off of it harder than a small meteor bounces off a well built ship. There’s no denying that Galaxy Trucker is a random game. It almost revels in that classification. Even with the ability to look at most of the Adventure Cards during the shipbuilding phase (assuming the other players aren’t aggressively pushing the phase’s timer), a fourth of the cards will remain a mystery. What’s more, because of the input randomness of which components you pull from the warehouse, foreknowledge of the threats you face may be insufficient to protect you. During the flights themselves, players are constantly bombarded by output randomness in the form of dice rolls to determine where particular hazards hit their ships.
People also might reject Galaxy Trucker because it includes a form of player elimination. If you lose all of your human crew, end up in open space without engines, or get lapped on the flight board, your journey is over for that round. While this is a temporary setback, as you will be able to participate in subsequent flights, there’s no denying that it can be a bit of a feel-bad moment. Becoming a spectator in a game as exciting as Galaxy Trucker, especially if it happens early in a flight, will definitely rub some people the wrong way. This is something that people thinking of purchasing Galaxy Trucker should be aware of, and something that you might want to house rule out if you’re planning on playing the game with children.
If the last two paragraphs sound like a nightmare, I’d recommend you steer clear of Galaxy Trucker. For everyone that’s still with us, let's talk a little bit more about what Galaxy Trucker is. More than any other quality, the thing I value most about Galaxy Trucker is the memorable stories it creates. Like the time I rolled mostly sevens during a flight and my ship got sawed in half by a combination of meteors and cannon fire. Or the time Mrs. Saint built a ship protected by shields on all sides, fully armed with no less than six double cannons and four double engines, but then managed to pull only two battery tiles from the warehouse. Or the time I decided to fly an uninsured ship and proceeded to lose twenty six component tiles over the course of the journey (uninsured ships have no maximum liability cap for credit penalty due to lost components).
We still joke about a game we played a couple months ago, where the Adventure Cards were particularly brutal. I limped my way through the last flight, with a ship consisting of a single engine, composed of only six remaining tiles by the time I finished. While all the other players’ ships were significantly more intact than mine, I still managed to somehow win the best-looking ship award due to having the least number of exposed connectors. There wasn’t much of the ship left to look at, but what remained sure was pretty!
Galaxy Trucker feels remarkably approachable. Anyone who has successfully managed to assemble Ikea furniture should have no problems understanding how to build a ship. What rules grit that exists is paired with thematic rationales that appeal to common sense. I love when designers do this. People have an easier time remembering little exceptions such as “laser cannons only protect you from meteors for the column they occupy from the front or back but if a meteor would hit you from the side a cannon will protect the row it’s in and both adjacent rows” if the rationale for that rule is that your ship can de/accelerate to line up the cannon just enough to shoot the potentially side-impacting meteor. We haven’t had a chance to try Galaxy Trucker with a diverse weight of gamers due to COVID lockdowns, but I’ll be bringing it along when we go to visit my (non-gamer) parents later this year because I think it’s something we’ll all enjoy playing.
Originally published in 2007, Galaxy Trucker is a game that stands the test of time. It’s a game that allows you to exult in the bad fortune delivered to your rivals and commiserate with friends over your lot when the tables inevitably turn. It’s the kind of game that certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. Galaxy Trucker packs a lot of excitement into a relatively short play time with minimal rules overhead, which makes it something that can be enjoyed by veterans and people new to hobby board gaming alike.