I have written before about the current re-emergence of dice games in gaming. It's an interesting shift, since for the longest time luck was frowned upon by "real gamers." They would turn their noses up at games with anything more random than a deck of cards, and looked for games that limited the effect luck could have on your strategy. This led to some really great games, many of which I quite like. It also led to Puerto Rico (the apotheosis of this movement) which I find boring and programmatic (although, I am definitely in the minority there..) Today's game, Galaxy Truckers, is the antithesis of that idea, and I love it.
Galaxy Truckers is a game with two distinct phases of gameplay – building your ship and racing to the planet. One is played in real time, the other is turn based. Both phases rely on a great deal of luck and randomness (although construction less so..) The game is for 2-4 players and plays in about an hour (faster once you get the hang of it..)
To start, you are given a board that has a small outline of your empty ship. You will draw tiles (with various connections ala Waterworks) that will give you components to your ship. Everyone is drawing blindly from the same pool of tiles, and there is a time limit. If you draw a component that does not work for your ship, you can return the tile face up, and draw another. Once one player has finished their ship, the timer is flipped, and all the other players have until then to finish their ships.
The components will give your ship various capabilties in the second phase of the game. Lasers will help you fight pirates, shields can protect you from asteroids, batteries can power shields, alien life support can give you alien crew, bulkheads (or ablative armor as I like to call them) offer lots of possible connections) and storage space will let you pick up goods along the way. Each component will also have a number of orthogonal connectors. There are three types of connectors, and you must correctly match them up for a legal connection. If at any time after construction, an illegal tile is found, it is immediately removed, often with far reaching results..)
So, the first phase of the game is an enjoyable and slightly frenetic puzzle game. Try to match connectors while also building a space ship that can survive the voyage. It's the second part of the game that drives many "real gamers" batty. Here comes chaos!
The second phase consists of 8 cards that make up your voyage. Depending on how you built your ship, you may be better able to respond to the challenges ahead, of course you have very little idea what they are. It's also a race, and bypassing that goods rich planet might let you reach the finish first, which gets you more money (although, it is almost always better to pick up goods if you have the storage space..)
The 8 cards are mostly bad things, with the highlights being pirates and asteroids. A Pirates or asteroids card will detail from which direction the ensuing attacks are coming. Then you roll two dice. Each ship board is also a grid numbered acordingly, and the die roll determines which row or column the attack will hit. If it's a small asteroid or laser you can use strategically placed shields or lasers to avoid damager, but the larger versions are going to take a chunk out of your ship if they hit. Ouch!
Damage removes the tile hit, often with comical results. It's amazing how often one tile that is holding most of your ship together gets hit, and you watch the left wing of your ship slip off into space. You can't prepare or control what will happen, so it's better just to laugh, and enjoy the game (I think you can see how this would bother many of the grognards out there.)
Each ship that makes it to the finish gets paid based on the order they arrived, and then you can sell any goods you picked up along the way. Then you clear your ship, turn your board over to find a second larger grid, and do it all over again with a different (and even meaner) 8 cards. As a special treat, the final round has an optional ship that bears a striking resemblance to a certain Federation starship. It always makes me happy to be able to use the term nacelle!
I really like Galaxy Trucker. It has got a lot of play on Tuesdays, and has held up for multiple play throughs. It's definitely silly, and should not be taken seriously but it's also just fun. It's in a weird middle ground though, the luck in phase two makes it not a very heavy game, but the first phase can be a brain burner. It's not quite a light game, and certainly not a heavy one. Still, in our group we really enjoy it, and I recommend the game!
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