Duct Tape and a Dream- A Galaxy Trucker 2021 Review and Retrospective

Did you know Galaxy Trucker is 14 years old? It can almost legally operate a vehicle. What’s perhaps more surprising is that despite producing dozens of game since, this is still Vlaada Chvátil’s finest work. It encapsulates his aesthetic, sense of humor, and focus on creative agency in such a succinct and trim framework. This is the heart of Chvátil’s ethos and, aside from fornication, is one of the most superb experiences you can have atop a table.

I’m talking about Galaxy Trucker because it’s still relevant. Sure, the production of a new 2021 edition may be the primary agent of my action, but it’s more of an excuse to share enthusiasm.

This game has players racing to construct jalopy ships crafted of slapped together industrial components. You do this by laying tiles, quickly connecting pipe and ceramic in order to forge this crippled looking thing fit for a junkyard. Then you sit back, flip some cards, and fly them. It’s like racing Le Mans with a beater, through space, while pirates and asteroids try to carve you up.

If that doesn’t sound appealing then you don’t have a pulse.

This is a pretty simple game. I wouldn’t play it with my eight-year-old, but you could certainly present it to a group of hobbyists favoring the lighter end of the spectrum. However, publisher Czech Games Edition disagrees. The box as well as advertisement copy surrounding this release refers to the new edition as a “family game”. It does tick some boxes, such as coming in at an absurdly low price of $30 MSRP. It also pulls a clever trick of presenting a default format of a single race, as opposed to the traditional three race circuit. This cuts the playtime down to less than 30 minutes.

The single race format is actually not too bad. It’s still Galaxy Trucker and you still get a feel for the game, albeit with the arc shortened. You do lose the progression of increasing ship sizes and the ability for dramatic comebacks. Overall though it’s an enjoyable mode of play that you can easily port back to the old edition.

But this doesn’t make it a family game. It can be a cruel thing. You must embrace the lighter cartoon facade and treat your piece of tangled burning steel with irreverence. You should be laughing at your own misfortune just as heartily as you do other’s. This game is absurd.

It’s also stressful without the proper framing. The real-time aspect of slapping together a ship is the soul of Galaxy Trucker, but for a child it can be demanding and function more as a punch to the eye than a warm high-five. It’s not a family game.

I do very much approve of this new edition. Cutting the price point and typical playtime are both enhancements. It offers the full three race option so nothing is lost. This is still a quality product with merely a smaller box and slightly smaller component tiles. The plastic crew and batteries are still cute and it still feels like the game I’m infatuated with. Compared to the price of trendy new releases, the amount of cardboard, plastic, and sheer game you get here is ridiculous.

But it’s really only an asset for newcomers. Those who own the previous edition will have a hard time justifying it. The content is exactly the same save for one element: titles.

Titles replace the old “best looking ship” reward. You see, previously you’d receive bonus cash – Galaxy Trucker’s victory points – for arriving to your destination with the cleanest, most well-constructed ship. Of course, this is after you’ve braved the horrors of the cosmos and been ravaged by interstellar nightmares. But it was an appreciated gain that offered an incentive to build with precision and an engineer’s eye.

Well, now we have multiple rewards. These function as titles you can earn with goals such as possessing the most crew cabins with an outside view to space, or including the most battery powered components in your build.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these. They function as a miniature expansion in their own right, enhancing the game in a noticeable way. These randomized goals influence your building strategy and push you down different strategic paths. They also offer a ton of skrilla.

In addition to earning bonus cash for acquiring titles, you get to hang on to them and defend them if playing the full three run game. They actually grow in power once you’ve defended them, offering higher monetary reward but also enacting a penalty. This is excellent.

The cascading bonus money for maintaining a title pushes players into conflict. You can’t let Ben hang on to that title in the third race because he gets a crazy 12 credits. So you switch it up, now building a ship focused on an obscene amount of cargo. He also is hamstrung, as now he can’t place two cargo containers adjacent to each other in his new ship design. No way you’re letting him scoot off with that bounty.

I don’t plan on hanging on to this new 2021 edition because I’m pleased with my existing Trucker material, including expansion content, but I am absolutely looking for a way to port these titles into the old game. They simply add a dimension to play that feels fresh and well-integrated.

The titles

This is really a classic. If it was a film, it’d be Ghostbusters, The Muppet Movie, or Big.

It’s light yet engaging, with a whimsical real-time component that’s full of subtle strategic decisions. There’s simply a perfect level of investment achieved where players care about their Frankenstein spacecraft without suffering from an attachment that could turn sour.

That sense of mirth is a quality that Chvátil flirts with in his other designs, but it’s often insufficient. Dungeon Lordz for instance has players utilizing a worker placement core system to construct a dungeon which is then beset upon by invading adventurers. It feels much more punitive when your creation gets violated and deconstructed because the effort to build it is much higher and less jubilant. The payout is not commensurate to the labor put in.

Space Alert comes closer, but this brilliant game forces its way into a separate niche, it’s absurdity undercut by the high difficulty and necessary focus required. The playfulness belies the seriousness of the underlaying mechanisms and it can be a jolt. It’s a wonderful game though if you’re keen on what it offers.

Those qualities are non-existent here. When I think of board games that are outright joyful and clever, I think of Galaxy Trucker.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing this beautiful orchestrated mess, this new edition presents the perfect opportunity.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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