Boardtalk Empire - Galaxy Trucker

Galaxy Trucker is an absolutely fantastic game designed by the evil genius of board games, Vlaada Chvatil. Vlaada also designed the incredible Space Alert, and his games tend towards the… how do I put this delicately.

They're bastards.

Each game Vlaada creates is an absolute bastard. They effectively take a premise that should be an utter delight, and strip it down to the barest, most antagonistic and gaunt visage of that might have been. Space Alert, for example, puts five people into a six room spaceship, has those people (nine times out of ten) scream at each other for several frantic minutes, then die horribly, then argue over just who was responsible. You see? The marvellous wonder of space distilled to a few angry jerks in a craft which, if put next to the U.S.S. Enterprise, would look like the Chrysler Building next to a vaguely building-shaped piece of poo.

Incidentally, Vlaada is a Czech board game designer, and his worldview becomes apparent throughout his game. So much so that whenever something painfully, needlessly tragic happens in any board game, I've begun exclaiming 'I just got Vlaada'd!' and pulling a cheeky grin. People usually aren't in the mood to respond with mirth. 

There he is. Just casually destroying someone's dream. Oh, I'm sorry. 'Vlaada'ing' them.

Anyway, Galaxy Trucker is also set in space, but it's unlike any other game I've played, especially Space Alert. Galaxy Trucker is, in effect, a game during which you build a ship under extreme duress, then race through various sectors of space trying to grab at cargo and NOT get blown up. If you survive, you sell the cargo, make a scant profit, then make an even bigger ship. Classic Vlaada!

The actual shipbuilding part is what makes the game unique. Your ship, before being built, is a ship-shaped grid on your own individual board. Ships are built from tiles with various pieces on them, which can only connect to adjacent pieces with the relevant number of connectors. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece containing a ship component - engines, guns, batteries, cargo holds, etc. - only they're simple squares. Turned upside-down, with black undersides facing up. In a huge, chaotic pile in the centre of the table. Just like real spacedocks! 

Then, you keep one hand behind your back, and the first person to yell 'go' begins the building race. You grab a tile at a time, and can't reveal it until it's actually over your ship. However, you have to build from the centre outwards, meaning if you're working your way towards a gun placement on the outside of the ship several tiles from the centre, you have to put the weapon you drew back, face up, where it can be snatched by another trucker. There are various other brutal rules here; if a circuit on a tile is jutting into another tile that doesn't fit, a fellow trucker can dispose of it. Guns and engines have to be on the outside of the ship, or they need an empty tile between them and anything else. This particular rule bit me in the ass when I had a placement of guns all pointing uselessly at my crew quarters. When the crew quarters were destroyed later, the guns suddenly became useful again. For protecting my suddenly unmanned ship.

The leader of the space convoy is the person who finished their ship first. This gives them a distinct advantage in many ways, but it also means they probably had to rush their ship. Also, whilst building you're allowed to peek at the cards which will be drawn over the next hour, dictating the hazards ahead. This will allow for necessary preparations (if there are few bad guys coming up, putting in extra engines would be smart, for example), but it also takes away from valuable and frantic tile placement time. Once you're all finished, the leader places the ships (each game the ship gets bigger, mind you, and the bigger the ship, the further apart each ship is placed) and begins drawing cards. Meteors will pummel you, destroying bits of your ship if you have left a circuit exposed. Slavers will kill your crew, unless you possess the required firepower. And most importantly, each trucker will gobble up cargo, then probably lose that cargo when a crucial tile connecting the bulk of their ship to an entire wing of vital stuff gets hit, forcing that player to angrily jettison every tile relying on that connector. Whoops. Just got Vlaada'd.

Vlaada makes party games, for parties where people want to feel righteous anger coursing through them. Galaxy Trucker, however, does feel far more casual and fun than his other uniformly excellent creations. It takes less time to learn, less time to play, and even has a creepy dwarfish cartoon aesthetic to take the sting out of losing. Grab three friends and play it.

I was going to say 'Czech it out' but I'm not that guy.

profile of Paul Verhoeven