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GALAXY TRUCKER

Reviewed by Joe Huber

Czech Games Edition/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; $74.95  

With the release of Through the Ages, (featured in the Fall 2007 GA REPORT), the arrival of Czech games and designer Vlaada Chvatil onto the scene was underway.   While a few Czech games, such as Course de la Paix, had received some attention previously, and Chvatil’s own Prophecy (also featured this issue) was fairly well received, it took the Sid Meier’s Civilization-inspired Through the Ages for Czech boardgame design to really take off. As a result, there was significant interest in the 2007 releases of both Czech Games Edition and Czech Board Games, but most particularly in Chvatil’s latest offering, Galaxy Trucker.galaxytruckerbox

   But there was also some trepidation when descriptions of the game started to come out; it sounded like a far lighter game than Through the Ages and incorporated simultaneous play, not the most popular of mechanisms. Further, initial reports were definitely mixed. Still, given the popularity of Through the Ages, I was happy to order it sight unseen. So just what did I get?

Galaxy Trucker contains a plethora of components: 8 player boards (for up to four players – each player uses one board for the first two rounds, and a different board for the third round), nice plastic astronauts, aliens, batteries, and ships, wood cubes to represent the goods, and thick cardboard tiles for the spaceship components and money. The basic game is fairly straight forward: all players simultaneously build their spaceships for the round, drawing from a common pile of crew modules, laser cannons, engines, shields, batteries (to power the shields and the better cannons and engines), storage nodules, connectors, and other components. Once the first player completes her ship, other players have a fixed amount of time to complete their ships, and then the adventure begins.

Between 8 and 16 adventure cards, depending upon the round, are revealed and dealt with one at a time. These can be positive events, such as a planet with lots of goods to pick up for delivery, or negative events, such as pirates or meteor storms. Sometimes there is just open space to blast through.   Many events can cause damage to spaceships, sometimes even destroying them entirely. Players who survive the adventure receive full payment for any goods they deliver as well as various bonuses. Galactic credits are the measure of each player; the player with the greatest balance after the third round wins.

Many people have compared Galaxy Trucker to Factory Fun (Summer 2007 GA REPORT) and with some reason; both games involve the rapid selection of tiles and provide a puzzle element in the proper connection of the tiles. However, there the similarities end; Factory Fun is primarily a multi-player solitaire game where most of the game is played without time pressure where Galaxy Trucker is primarily a multiplayer space adventure and race game with more than half of the game played in a rush. Furthermore, a significant portion of Galaxy Trucker’s appeal is the experience provided. The adventures definitely favor the well prepared but a lot of the fun is in watching ships fall apart – or come close to doing so. Because of the nature of the negative events, once a ship starts to sustain damage, it’s more susceptible to future damage. It’s not uncommon, particularly with players new to the game, for ships not to finish the adventure.

And frankly, this is FUN. The game definitely gives players the desire to do better the next time – always a good feature – but the wild, sometime out-of-control nature of the adventure is ideal for helping players enjoy themselves, regardless of the outcome.galaxytruckerpcs

The sense of fun is further amplified by the rules.   Most rule books – OK, most good rule books – clearly describe the game in such a manner as a new player can learn to play. The rules for Galaxy Trucker do this and far more. In addition to being well organized, the rules are full of game-related jokes.   In addition, the rules are set up to teach the game in stages, often a useful method for learning a game if the players aren’t too picky about not understanding everything from the start. As a result of these two factors, Galaxy Trucker is the only game I know well that I teach by reading the rules to the new players.

One issue with the game is that with experience, players tend to get better and better at building ships, often resulting in the adventures being less damaging and, unfortunately, detracting from the fun as a result. To counter this, Czech Games Edition released a free print-and-play expansion on their web site, which adds additional elements to each adventure. Some of these are reasonably easy to deal with (faulty batteries, for example, simply require bringing extra batteries or minimizing items using them) but, in combination, the events often lead to deadly or near-deadly adventures, bringing the uncertainty back in to the game.

Galaxy Trucker is not an inexpensive game but the components are nice enough as to take some of the sting out of the price. But it’s a surprising next step for Chvatil after the success of Through the Ages.   While a designer’s games usually tend to cover different ground, there usually is some common thread among the games but Through the Ages is a long, complex economic game while Galaxy Trucker is a turnless, light romp. From my perspective, this is a good thing. It’s refreshing to see a designer make such a radical departure from success and thrilling to see him succeed.

Galaxy Trucker has reached a dozen plays for me which has relieved one of my biggest concerns about the game: replayability.   Even after a dozen plays, the game still feels fresh and the expansion helps to add back in the sense of recklessness, regardless of the level of experience of the players. But it’s definitely not a game for everyone.

There are two main, legitimate objections I’ve heard to the game. The first is from those who dislike the frantic ship building. This definitely isn’t for everyone; there are few games with a really comparable experience, though the rush for tiles in Factory Fun gives a very limited taste of the same feel. The other primary reservation voiced about the game is the lack of strategic options during the adventure. There is truth to this. There are decisions around the use of batteries and when to pass on goods in order to take the lead but the game is not rich with strategic choices.  Still, a number of people who don’t like experience games (and presumably wouldn’t care for Galaxy Trucker, as a result) are fond of it and some fans of experience games don’t care for it, again making it difficult to judge whether or not this is likely to be an issue without trying the game. Given the price, trying Galaxy Trucker before buying it is a reasonable choice in any event.   It’s definitely best to play with a full complement of four players so that there’s real competition for the tiles. And it’s definitely worth sticking through. I didn’t think much of the game after the first round of my first game and was still undecided through the second round.   After the third round, however, I was sold. – – – – –  Joe Huber


 

Spring 2008 Gamers Alliance Report

 

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