There's nothing quite like having Deep Purple's 'Space Trucking' booming through the speakers while you are building your Space Truck, readying for the adventures of your intergalactic life in Vlaada Chvátil's GALAXY TRUCKER.
Relaunched (from 2007) in Spring 2021 with some new artwork - at least the front box cover is different - this has the look of a game that is aged 14 years and yet plays like a current style euro tile-laying game.
I can remember seeing the original version, I may have played it, possibly even reviewed it back then - I have reviewed a few thousand games and honestly cannot remember them all, plus opinions change over time and when new players make up your gaming groups - things just mentally change. A game loved 20+ years ago, brought out from the dark depths of the games closet, may not be as good as you remember it. Similarly a game disliked way back when may offer a different perspective when played now.
One thing that hasn't changed is player's humour. You can see from the photo (found on BGG and copyrighted to its owner) that the plain white globular (should that be global-uar?) astronauts can be painted to add visual fun to the game, I'm sure Vlaada Chvátil would agree, though I don't know if he envisaged them as mini-models for artists.
If you look online, on BGG in particular, you can see many player's efforts on 'upgrading' the spacemen. Once I finish this review of the game my paints are going to make an appearance. As far as painting the astronauts, only my imagination can stop me - so perhaps I'd best leave them as indiscreet, plain, white counters.
GALAXY TRUCKER has three phases, each gaining in difficulty, and each similar, but with enough differences so that every game is different. Build fast and canny! It is not intended that you play each phase one after the other, at least not to begin with; that is called the Transgalactic Trek and is the ultimate way to play.
You should start with Level I and play it several times until you are au fait with the mechanics and the positioning of the tiles before moving onto Level II. You can/should always change the Adventure card deck from the cards marked 'I' rather than 'L'. This way you will learn how to create the perfect Spaceship from sewer pipes, space junk and second-hand, modules. Plus you'll discover more of the dangers and experiences that await for you in space. You'll need a craft that can move fast, fight, defend itself against, and be prepared for, everything that space can throw at it, and often with enough defence to deal with more than one possible disaster.
The rules booklet is filled with illustrations and enhanced with game-play rules. There are oodles of components, amonst which are means of attack, defence, power, storage, generators, shields and housing pods etc. There is a helpful "Helpful Component Overview" on Rules page 3 (why is it that Page 3s always have the good stuff?) that shows the designs and has a good analysis of each. A page all players should have knowledge of and availability to.
Your Spaceship/Truck is created from components welded together in such a way that each part connects by one or the other connector pipe-types (one pipe or two pipes). Some connector tiles have both types and are therefore called universal. All tile components must connect with other tiles at these connector points - blank sides may be next to other blank sites as long as all tiles have a connector that connects - you cannot build a blank wall against a blank wall and hope to join the connector later. If a tile has connector/s they must join to the connector/s of another part of the ship. They can leave an open end (or several open ends) but each of these causes your spaceship major problems.
Each game phase is a race. Not a race of length or speed but a race against time. Once one player is happy with their build they turn over the space-egg-timer and the other players continue building until the sands of time expire.
You need to ensure that you have as many as possible of each component to ensure your craft the best chance of success. Note that when I say 'ensure' I mean 'hope'.
So how do you get the tiles to build your Rocket? Unlike many games you don't have to bid for them or pay for them, and that's because they are considered junk and have been thrown aside unwanted and unused.
The tiles are thoroughly shuffled/mixed face down on the table, then on the word 'go' all players simultaneously, and at the same time, each uses just one hand only, picks up a tile and regards it. If they think it is what they need, and can immediately place, they take it and place it on their ship shape, ensuring that it is legally positioned adjacent to another previously placed tile and connected by the correct piping. Tiles not wanted are left face up on the table and can be collected later if you then find you need them and they are still there. Face up tiles are fair game for all players.
Your basic needs:
Cabins; for additional crew/astronauts
Engines & Double-Engines; for movement.
Cannons and Double-Cannons; extra attack/defence.
Shield Generators; placed strategically around the ship.
Batteries; provide energy for doubled components.
Cargo Holds, Special (Pink) Cargo Holds, and Cargo.
There are also pipeworks, odd bits and pieces, that may be out-of-this-world artifacts.
One of the player's 2 plastic Rockets moves around the eliptical space track which serves as a reference chart as well as to determine the turn sequence. The other Rocket sits on the player's board, top corner, ready for when needed. Adventures are played using a prepared, but shuffled, Adventure Decks are made up according to the level of play, so level I, II or III components, dependent on the chosen phase. The cards in the deck in use are flipped over, one at a time, and independently resolved; one result may be in you losing your position on the Turn Order Track - this is not always so disastrous as the game balances out well.
As I have been speaking of components I should mention a little about their quality. The ship component tiles are fairly strong and press from the die-cut sheet without tearing. The other pieces, the resource goods, the fuel cells etc are general plastic, colourful, with the only sharp edges are the pointy ends of the spaceship-shaped dobbers. I've already mentioned the astronauts, and the fun you can have with them.
The Key to a good spaceship is ensuring that all components that need power or assistance from other components gets what it needs. Aliens can be useful to you or antagonistic towards you. An Alien takes up the space of two human astronauts (and of course space is premium on a tightly built craft). A Purple Alien adds +2 to your cannon strength (as long as the cannon isn't down to zero strength) the Brown aliens are mechanics so they add +2 to engine strength, of course, only if it's not already at zero.
Some Aliens are Pirates and a roll of two dice determines the row and column (each player board is of each shot at you. Shields will prevent damage from Light cannon fire and small meteors, and cannons can blow large meteors to smithereens, any component that is doubled has to be battery powered. Heavy cannon fire is not diverted or absorbed by Shields or Cannons - it's going to hurt! Ship modules that are hit are destroyed - removed - which can cause a knock-on effect to other ship parts.
Some cards enable you to load goods into your ship's cargo holds. Grey holds can carry Yellow, Green and Blue goods (valued 3, 2 and 1) but Red cubes/goods, valued at 4) can only be carried in special Pink cargo holds. Any connectors that aren't connected are exposed and thus more liable to be damaged. The pressure of building against a timer really brings out the panic in even seasoned players.
Adventure cards can be very good for you, extra cargo holds for example, and Planet cards usually allow you to pick up goods (to put in cargo holds) and if you find an Abandoned Ship then you are truly lucky. An Abandoned Space Station will need plenty of crewmen to explore it, but again it's usually worthwhile. Then there are Smugglers, Meteor Swarms and the ultimate test - the Combat Zone. These are just a few of the fun adventures Space has waiting for you.
All the various Adventure cards are fully explained in the rules booklet, an extra copy of these pages or a reference sheet would be great, if for nothing else than to save the wear and tear on the Rules booklet. It is a good idea to always have the Rules booklet to hand and, as there are no secret cards, having one person read out aloud the explanation of each card when required lessens the possibility of booklet damage from passing it around.
Building the Rockets is always fun, whatever Adventure you are on. It may be accomplished in the same way each time - drawing cards from the mix - but every game brings out different advantages, problems and possibilities. To try to find a perfect build takes either a great deal of luck or much longer, time-wise, than you have. You may be that lucky once in many games, but you cannot guarantee a winning build, there is no 'one way', no 'game-buster'. Even experienced players make rookie mistakes.
There are many ways Rockets can be damaged. In the early games this is usually by the positioning of component tiles behind engines or in front of cannons, but as the game goes on, Adventure cards and dice rolls are the main adversaries. Damage usually causes the loss or use of a specific component or an astronaut or two, and because the Rockets are jerry-built the domino effect can be disastrous - one piece lost detaches its connection/s from another piece and that is now disconnected as are possibly others. One piece lost from the right (actually that for you, would be wrong) area can completely decimate a Rocket.
There are some 'double' tiles, such as Engines and Cannons, which need batteries. Using batteries means removing and discarding battery packs (small green tablet/capsule shaped pieces) not removing the tile/s. The tiles are useless once you have used all the battery power, but they remain in place on the Rocket and therefore they do not break any contacts and thus the ship stays intact; but a hit on it after all batteries have been discarded does destroy it.
It's fast, it's fun, it's a who cares who wins, because it's so enjoyable, and it's inexpensive. The UK based online stores offer it up for sale from just over £21.00 to just over £30.00 which makes it a heck of a lot of game (and fun) for a very low financial output. With the quality of the components, the 'three-sided-board' and the additional fun in painting the astronauts the lower end of the pricing is excellent, the top end is still very good value; I would have expected at least £40.00 on todays board game prices. It's always good to receive parcels, even when expected I get a tingle of excitement when the postie calls, but if you can you should try your Local Games Store first.
The idea of the game is to be the winniest winner amongst the players. Throughout your flights you have hopefully been collecting Cosmic Credits. If you have collected one or more you are a winner (you have survived). Of course if another player has more Cosmic Credits than you have, they win also and may also become 'legendary', but you still win too. Although GALAXY TRUCKER seems to be simply playing tiles onto a board in a hap-hazard fashion, there is much more to it. The tiles have to be placed correctly, they cannot be moved once placed and you have touched another tile, they must be thoughtfully placed and the Rocket must be sensibly built. It's a complex game, simple but complex!