Back in 2007, when the original Galaxy Trucker came out, real-time tabletop games were still a novelty. As a result, the novel ship-building system it used where everyone grabbed tiles from the same pile and raced to finish first, made it a big hit.

As time went on, however, the concept proved to have big staying power. While other games explored the real-time design space, Galaxy Trucker carried on selling in droves and received several expansion sets. Now it’s back in stores with a new, tweaked formula to try and appeal to a whole new generation of gamers.

What’s in the Box

While the cartoon art style might not be to everyone’s tastes, there’s no denying it’s a fresh look that suits the game. The bulk of this weighty box is taken up by card punchboards from which you pop the array of ship-building tiles and other tokens. Joining them are a sand timer, some wooden dice and a deck of cards.

But it’s the plastic components that are the star of this show. Some fun little plastic astronaut and alien figures are here, along with lots of marbled plastic cubes to represent cargo. But best of all are the batteries, little tubes of neon plastic that look like they ought to be sour candy. Don’t eat them.

Rules and How to Play

Galaxy Trucker is literally a game of two halves. In the first, everyone takes tiles from a central pile and tries to construct a ship as fast as possible, following a set of connection rules. In the second, players then take those ships and fly them through an intergalactic obstacle course, trying to collect loot and get it across the finish line.

Ship-building is an absolute blast. There’s a dizzying array of ship components you can add: lasers and shields to protect your ship, thrusters to give you speed, batteries to power them. There are also more esoteric elements including life support for alien crew members that can give bonus speed or strength to your ship.

Despite the array of components at your disposal, it’s easy to learn because the building rules make literal and visual sense. Cannons that don’t point outwards and thrusters anywhere other than the rear of your ship aren’t allowed. You can’t connect an edge with two pipes to an edge with a single pipe, and so on. There’s a time limit, applied by the included sand timer.

Ship-building is an absolute blast.

Yet however easy the rules are to follow in theory, following them in the heat of snatching face-down tiles from a pile as fast as possible, discarding those you don’t want, is quite another. Let alone the fact that you’re racing to do it against your opponents. Let alone that you want to discard as few as possible since you do so face-up, gifting them to other players. It’s frantic, frenetic and fun, yet still allows cool heads and clever builders to prevail.

Not only are you being distracted by the race aspect, but you can also spend valuable ship-building time looking at the cards which will constitute the upcoming race. This gives you vital information about how you might want to build your ship. If there are a lot of planets or space stations, for example, you can add extra cargo holds to keep the loot you can find there.

Fast players are also in control of when to flip the sand timer, upping the pressure on the other players. Trying to split your time between tiles, cards, and timer while making the best use of both is information overload of the best kind, mental plate-spinning with discs of fire. It’s this combination that makes Galaxy Trucker still stand out among real-time games after thirteen years. Getting the right balance of speed and information is rewarding in every sense, and very hard to do.

Your reward for finishing your ship first is to start the race in pole position, and each other player queues up behind as they finish. But beware! Before you can launch, the other players get to check that you’ve followed the shipbuilding rules. Failure to do so means you have to remove components until it’s legal. In extreme cases, this can almost cripple your ship if you’ve got a connector wrong in the middle of the structure. Worse, the discarded tiles will count as a penalty once the race is finished.

Racing is where the most changes are in this new edition. It’s nothing major: some encounter cards are less drastic, and you now fly a single, longer race with your ship instead of three different ones with new ships. That decreases downtime, making for a shorter, tighter game. If you want to play in the old style, it’s included as a variant.

However, despite the tweaks, racing is still the poor cousin to the ship-building aspect. You flip the top encounter off the shared deck, and then all the players apply the effect in race order. So if you’re leading the pack, you’ll get the first choice of whether to stop to loot cargo or take on crew, with those who do so losing race position as a result. But you’re also first in line for attacks by smugglers or pirates, although there’s a reward for whoever can see them off.

Despite the tweaks, racing is still the poor cousin to the ship-building aspect.

Despite a good variety in the encounters, from meteor swarms to galactic plague, applying the effects feels static and processional compared to the madcap ship construction. The race leader guides everyone through the appropriate actions such as rolling dice to see what part of the ship a meteor strike hits. Sure there’s some excitement, especially when a roll could split your ship in half. But there’s still a sense you’re watching things happen instead of being directly involved.

For your first few races, it’ll also be tempting to believe that between the dice rolls and cards your construction skills won’t count for much. But this is where getting that balance of checking cards while grabbing parts becomes important. If you know there’s a lot of open space in the deck, you go heavy on engines. If there’s a lot of pirates, be sure to build in guns and shields. You can’t check all the cards, so there’s always some surprises even for the best prepared.

At the end, you get a credit bonus depending on your race position, as does the best-built ship. Then everyone totals their proceeds from the race in terms of selling cargo or bounties from defeated pirates to see who wins. Play length is influenced by your choice of ship size – there are three – but you’ll be done in 30-45 minutes, which is spot on for this relatively lightweight title.

Where to Buy

Galaxy Trucker (2nd edition) is available at a variety of retailers for an MSRP of $29.99.

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