“Ooh, Galaxy Trucker? I don’t know.”
“Yeah, it’s a tough one to get to the table.”
“NO WAY I’m playing Galaxy Trucker. It’s brutal!”
Look, Meeple Mountain has previously acknowledged that Galaxy Trucker IS brutal. And I’ll be honest: one of the quotes above is from someone who works for the game’s publisher, CGE (Adrenaline, Letter Jam, Pulsar 2849). Everyone knows how hard a game Galaxy Trucker is to put on the table, and it’s been that way for years.
Designer Vlaada Chvátil has made, to many, some of the best games of all time: Mage Knight Board Game, Dungeon Petz, Through the Ages, and the Codenames series (such as XXL, Duet, etc.). In the case of Mage Knight and Through the Ages, we just have to agree that a lot of the fun—or “fun” as the case may be—comes from a brutal teach and some brutal gameplay.
Galaxy Trucker was first released in 2007; the game is so tough to get to physical tables that my first experience with it was playing the app on an old Android tablet years ago. I loved it, but I probably loved it because the AI was forgiving and no one else got to watch my garbage spaceships break apart and get sabotaged by pirates throughout each journey. But it is a swift experience; you could play this in 15-20 minutes, especially if you only do one or two rounds of the build a ship/hit the road cycle for each round.
CGE acknowledged the legendary status of the original game by re-releasing Galaxy Trucker to modern audiences this fall. It’s the same game, but with a slick new look, new rulebook (the designer and his rulebooks are legendary for their cynical snark and sense of humor in teaching each game), and better components, all in a package for under $30 MSRP.
Race For the Right to Get Out Into the Galaxy
Galaxy Trucker has an easy concept with a lot of small/minor/fiddly rules. But the core of the game is quite simple: build a spaceship, then take that spaceship into the galaxy to pick up goods, save abandoned vessels, avoid pirates and other nefarious entities and hope for the best when meteor showers appear in your path. If you can make it back to your local spaceport, you’ll receive money for arriving first, selling goods, and having a handsome little spaceship.
Three rounds of Galaxy Trucker can be played by veterans in 30 minutes, easy. That’s because everyone builds their ships from face-down parts in a pile at the center of the table using just one hand, flipping over pieces to see how they will fit on their player board ship outline. You’ll need engines for sure, plus cannons, shields, crew pods, battery pods and maybe even specialized alien crew members to make those guns and engines better. Sometimes, you’ll need junk pieces to help connect pods to engines to guns, especially in the bigger ships.
While you are putting a ship together, a sand timer is slowly running down the clock. You’ll only have a few minutes to put everything together in just the right way; if you finish but then have parts that don’t legally connect to others, parts of your ship might fall off before you even leave the spaceport.
And in Galaxy Trucker, things will only get worse from there.
The Mission is Clear
The magic of Galaxy Trucker is watching players take their (usually) imperfect spacecraft out into the galaxy in the hopes that they can survive all of the things 8-12 mission cards can throw at them. Just when you think you have enough cannons, a meteor shower arrives; thanks to an unlucky dice roll, that shower takes out a column of your ship that didn’t have any guns.
Or, the player that has the fastest, most gun-heavy contraption in history has no cargo bays…and the first 2 mission cards are Planets, which allow you to slow your journey down and pick up valuable goods that will generally help pay for all of the damage you’ll do to your ship.
Galaxy Trucker is so much fun because the order of the mission cards is as clear as mud. Sure, you can peek at some of the mission cards before launching into space while building your ship. But 25% of the cards in a round can’t be viewed before launch, meaning it is guaranteed that you don’t know about all of the bad things about to happen to each player’s ship.
And that means you are going to laugh hard every single time you play.
In a recent game, thanks to meteors that flew in from the side on one of the mission cards, one of the guys at our table lost the bottom third of his ship (it had exposed parts, a no-no in Galaxy Trucker terms) by the third mission card of the second round, taking out all of his engines. Mission aborted for that guy.
I had just enough time to finish laughing until mission card number 7 came out…more meteors. One of the large ones coming down took out a crew pod near the front of my ship, which was the only legal connection point left for the entire left-hand side of my ship, including 2 of my cargo bays and my souped-up engines. Toast. I was still able to limp all the way back home, but I basically had to use all of my cash winnings to pay for the damage to my ship. Net profit: $0.
Another guy on that same journey got hit by pirates or “slavers” or some such nonsense…because he didn’t have enough cannon strength, he lost all 5 of his remaining human crew members.
“Can I still fly the ship with only aliens?” he asked.
I checked the rules. “Nope; looks like that brown alien you’ve got in the crew pod can’t fly this thing after all.”
That guy’s ride was officially over. And for all of us, this was only the second round; lots more pain was going to be coming soon.
An Acquired Taste
If it isn’t already clear, Galaxy Trucker is not for everyone. It’s a game that I advise people to try at conventions or even their local game store, to first see if it is right for them before dropping some coin on the experience.
But I really enjoy Galaxy Trucker because I don’t take my gaming very seriously. I like the timed ship-building rounds, and I like laughing with friends while the mission cards seal our collective fates while out on the road (assuming space travel has roads).
The 2021 version of Galaxy Trucker is a great production, like other CGE games such as Lost Ruins of Arnak, Under Falling Skies and Sanctum. Also, this new version of Galaxy Trucker has a starter/learning mode for rookies, a nice touch to get players into the basic structure of the game.
If you can smile through the madness, Galaxy Trucker is a great time!