If you were to peruse my extensive collection of board games, there is one designer name that you would find more frequently than any other, and that would Vlaada Chvatil. The Czech board game designer has been a fixture of the community mostly for Through The Ages: A Story of Civilization which has consistently sat in the top 10 games on Boardgamegeek.com since its release. He is also well known for several other titles ranging from deep, epic experiences such as Mage Knight, to party games such as Codenames. His design philosophy of tightly marrying mechanics with the theme is evident in even the simplest of his games and has informed my preferences in game design. My first exposure to Vlaada’s work, however, was through another game, Galaxy Trucker, that remains my favourite and most played of his games to this day.
The concept of Galaxy Trucker is brilliant in its utter ridiculousness. An interstellar development company has grown tired of the expense of shipping their building materials across the galaxy through the most dangerous parts of space. To reduce costs, they offer the craziest of pilots the opportunity to build ships out of the construction materials and race them recklessly to their destination offering bonuses for expediency with insurance covering the most of the missing components. Each player takes on the role of one of those pilots and will play through three rounds of increasing difficulty, each round being split into a building phase and a flight phase.
In the building phase, players start off with an empty spaceship template and a pile of face down ship components including things like engines, laser guns, and crew cabins, as well as connector pieces. Once you start the timer, all the players will use this pool of components to build their ships simultaneously. They can only take one piece at a time and must either use it on their ship or return it to the supply face up before taking another. Once a piece has been placed on the ship it is fixed permanently so careful placement is necessary. The player who finishes building first can grab a token indicating their starting position in the race and wait for everyone else to finish and do the same. Once time is up, ships have to be checked for specific criteria to make sure they are legal. For example, they must be all in one, connected piece, have no lasers or engines with components in front or behind them respectively. If the ship is found to be deficient, the builder needs to remove pieces until it conforms to the standards for a legal ship.
In the next phase, all ships take flight for their race across space. Before the start of the round, a specific number of stacks of encounter cards are laid out, each with varying difficulties. Once the flight phase begins the stacks are shuffled, and then each card will be drawn and resolved one after the other until the deck is exhausted. All the pilots will encounter the effects of the card starting with the ship that is in the lead.
Some cards have negative consequences like asteroids fields and pirate attacks that can result in losing pieces from your ship, or even just space dust which will slow you down if you were sloppy when you made your ship and left a large number of open connectors.
Other encounter cards can provide you with rewards like money or goods that your ship can take on as cargo and sell at the end of the flight. These bonuses usually cost either time lost, moving your ship’s placement back on the track, or lost crew members, whose cabins you can add during construction but someone has to be left to pilot the ship.
After resolving every encounter card, the flight is over. Players get rewards for their placement in the race, the goods transported, and even for the player with the nicest ship, which has the least open connectors and penalised for having lost too many components.
Every new flight has a larger and more elaborate spaceship template, and the building process begins a new, with a longer and more challenging selection of encounter cards laid out for the race ahead. Once all three flights have completed everyone counts up their money and the pilot with the most wins!
Galaxy Tucker’s two phases are both unique and incredible amounts of chaotic fun. The building phase is hectic as you try to beat the clock and your opponents while still making a functional ship. During the round, the timer is flipped three times by whichever player notices or wants to flip it. This can be used to set the tempo and adds to the frantic feel. I do recommend that if you have first-time players that this rule is not aggressively followed to give them time to get used to the different ship parts.
The component tiles have clear and distinct images that make it easy to identify which part you have picked up. At first, though the different component types may need some explanation and some players might be overwhelmed by them. In particular, the relationship between the double engine and laser tiles with the battery tiles may take one flight before it becomes apparent because their use is specific to some encounter cards. Thankfully most of the components and the rules associated make sense in the context of the theme so it should not take too long to get the hang of the greater part of the inventory.
All of the other pieces are of uniformly good quality, and the art theme is the same consistent cartoony style throughout. I like how you can recognise the individual components on the ship depicted on the box and other places inside the manual. The ship boards are nice and thick with a laid out grid indicating where pieces are with easy to read coordinates used to determine where effects happen.
It can be difficult to find room to fit everything on the table when all the tiles are spread out during the building phase especially when building the larger, double-sized, ship templates. Moving all the unused tiles out of the way to move the race board into place in smaller game spaces is also a bit of a pain. Also, some of the smaller components, especially the batteries, can easily be lost if they roll off the table. A warning for players with small children around; everything is super swallowable.
The flight phases’ greatest moments come when the design of your ship is put to the test against the random encounters, potentially exposing minor weaknesses that you did not think of during construction. Dice rolls resolve most of the ship damaging effects, determining what coordinates the effect takes place. While this may seem unfair, it will also occasionally mean the hazards completely miss your ship as well.
During the building phase, you have the opportunity to temporarily stop building to preview the encounter cards before they are shuffled to prepare for the race. Even with preparation, you will have to accept a certain amount of catharsis, especially when a single meteor hit causes half your ship to fly away because you failed to notice that it was held together by one tile. It hits a very Zen like button in some players though others may find it frustrating and hinders gameplay. Best to warn new players that their beautiful ship will not be so pretty at the end of the race.
While it might seem like the flight phase is a ‘wait and see’ experience there are a few decisions that make a significant difference to the result of the game. The encounters that ask you to choose to give up placement for a reward is an interesting mechanic since sometimes being in the lead presents you with a much higher risk but much richer spoils. Battery management also comes into play when choosing to use double lasers and double engines for attacking or to increase your speed for Open Space cards that could allow you to move up in position. In the base set, these are one shot use items so they cannot be used frivolously.
Beyond the base game, there is a wealth of additional content, even in the main box that touts added features and part of the full game. Two optional aliens are available to add which can boost engine or laser efficiency which are coincidentally colour coded to each. They have their own life support module tiles that have to be carefully placed in your ship to have them aboard.
Also available are two full box expansions with new tiles and challenges as well as smaller add-ons with more ship types. The content with everything included is quite overwhelming so make sure to introduce new players to a bit at a time, possibly just one or 2 new components. For those on the go, there is a version of the game on iOS and Android platforms that are most or less perfect recreations of the tabletop experience.
I cannot finish this review without mentioning the incredibly funny manual that comes with this games. Along with Space Alert, which is technically in the same universe, it is one of the most amusing reads I have ever come across and is a manual that I will pick up and read just for the fun of it.
Galaxy Truck is a ridiculous amount of chaotic fun. The silly setup is unique and very engaging while the design emphasises Vlaada’s core concept that mechanics and theme should be tied closely together. You truly do feel like you have constructed your own ship and raced across space with it. If you have got the right group of players that don’t mind watching their perfect creations explode in front of their eyes, and you are prepared for a bit of fiddliness between rounds you cannot take a wrong turn with Galaxy Trucker.
- Frantic and creative fun
- The chaos can be amusing for the right players
- Tight relationship between mechanics and theme
- Hillarious manual
- Lots of additional content
- Excellent digital version is available
- Can takes up a lot of space
- Switching between phases can be awkward
- Tiny components that can be easily lost or swallowed
- The easily frustrated won’t find it as zen as others