Monday, 24 November 2008

Galaxy Trucker

After writing about Metropolys, I should write about Galaxy Trucker, since I compared them. When faced with the decision of buying one or the other, I decided to go for Galaxy Trucker because it is unconventional. It has a real-time aspect, where players race to build the best spaceship. The other reason is Vlaada Chvatil, the game designer. Galaxy Trucker was released one year ago, and the novelty factor never really tempted me enough to buy it. Then this year after playing Through the Ages (also by Vlaada Chvatil) and loving it, Galaxy Trucker came back on to my wishlist.

In Galaxy Trucker, you and your opponents build your spaceships, competing in real-time, and then you embark on a trade voyage. There are two very distinct phases. When you build your spaceship, there are many components you can add - cabins, guns, shields, engines, alien life support systems, batteries, and very importantly, storage facilities for goods. Every type of component has its uses, e.g. to defeat enemies, to protect your from meteors, to power up other components, to carry more crew, etc. You try to cram as much good stuff onto your ship as possible, at the same time making sure you follow the rules for ship-building, e.g. components must connect legally using the right connection types, the ship must always be one joined piece, engines must point to the back, guns must not have anything in front.

At any time during ship-building, any player (usually the one who is nearer to completing his ship) can start the countdown timer, an hourglass. After the timer runs out for a number of times (depending on the round number), everyone must stop building and prepare for the voyage.

What happens during the voyage is determined by a random event deck. Some of these event cards can be examined during ship-building, but of course that costs you valuable time which could have been spent on ship-building. The events are a mix of good and bad things, and the flight order of the players plays an important role. Being in front means bigger rewards, but also bigger risks. If the fleet encounters an enemy, e.g. space pirates or slavers, it is the ship in front that gets attacked first. If the first ship does not defeat the enemy (or chooses not to), the enemy then attacks the next ship, and so on. So the first ship is in the most dangerous position. It is also the most profitable position. If a group of planets is encountered, the first ship has first choice to decide where to land to pick up goods. If you survive the trip, you sell your goods, you earn money for sequence of arrival, you lose money for ship components lost (e.g. broken off by a meteor or shot off by an enemy), and you earn a bonus for least exposed connectors. The richest player, after 3 spaceships of increasing size and 3 voyages of increasing difficulty, wins.

I have played 4 voyages, but not a full game yet. Two were tutorial rounds for learning and teaching the game. One was a proper Round 1 (small ship), and the last was a proper Round 2 (medium ship). The ship building reminds me a little of Carcassonne, in the way how the different sides must match. But of course Galaxy Trucker is much more complex. I find it advantageous to scan the table to look for tiles that other players have looked at and returned to the table face-up. It's much easier to find a component that I need, and that has the right connectors that I need. I also prefer to look at the event cards, which help me decide how I should build my ship. Maybe my fellow players and I are still new and still slow in ship-building. Looking at the event cards does not seem to take much time compared to the time needed to build the ship. I quite enjoy the ship-building part of the game.

The voyage part of the game feels more passive, because there are not many big decisions to make. It is mainly things happening to you, and you try to react, if you can. Usually the choice is obvious, or the decisions are very simple. Parts of the voyage phase can feel a little tedious, when ships are being attacked by enemies or meteors. You need to roll two dice to decide where you are being hit, for every attack. Some cards have up to 6 attacks.

This was the third game I played, in Hong Kong, at Ah Chung's home. This was Ben's Class II spaceship. So much space wasted. Needless to say, he came in dead last, and I took this photo just to make fun of him. Hey, he even had an illegal placement, the rightmost engine tile doesn't match up with the central engine tile.

This was my space ship. I built many cabins because I had seen the event cards and many need a big crew.

I think this was Moh Yen's spaceship. I'm not too sure.

This was probably Ah Chung's spaceship.

Galaxy Trucker is an innovative game, and an interesting game. Definitely it is quite different from other games that I have played. I enjoyed it. However I have a nagging feeling that the novelty factor may not last long. Well, I haven't even played one full game, so I may be completely wrong. Maybe one good way to play (instead of the standard Round 1, 2, 3), is to play Rounds 2, 3, 3A (3A uses a big spaceship template which is quite different from 3), or to play just Rounds 3, 3A. Not to say that Galaxy Trucker is not a good game. I so far feel the replayability is not very high. It seems to be a game that you can bring out once in a while, but not too frequently, like Ca$h 'n Gun$. It's fun, it's different, but not meant for very regular play, unlike Through the Ages which I can play quite frequently.

Comparing to Metropolys in my previous post, I find Metropolys to be more intellectually challenging. In Galaxy Trucker, the ship-building is an interesting exercise, but not really too taxing after you get used to it, maybe except for the time pressure if your group plays hurriedly. The voyage part is generally not really all that interesting, except when very bad things happen to your friends, or yourself. Metropolys is simple in terms of rules, but there is more thinking involved, and I find it to be more challenging. I have only had one opportunity to try Metropolys, so my feeling my change after more plays. And I do hope to play it again.

And I do need to play Galaxy Trucker again too. Afterall I have not even played a complete game and it may be too early to pass judgement.

From playing Galaxy Trucker, I became a little conservative about Space Alert, Vlaada Chvatil's latest game this year, which also has a time element, and this one is a cooperative game. This was the only game at the Essen game fair that really interested me, which I would have bought without playing. There were other games that interested me, but this was the only outstanding one. Now I think I will wait-and-see before deciding.


Anonymous said...

Just ordered this, will be reaching in about a fortnight. Sigh, hope I won't regret my decision. The more reviews I read, the more it seems it won't be something with much staying power despite its novelty.


Anonymous said...

I personally found galaxy trucker to be not that great....i agree the ship building (fairly short in relation to the rest of the game) phase the most interesting ....the rest.......meh......kinda automatic and passive ............hmmm....i think kids would like it maybe but its kind of low-thinking and that for me is low fun except for maybe as an introductory play with half-gamers

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hello! I'm pleasantly surprised to see a comment at this post I wrote more than four years ago. :-)

I enjoy the journey phase of the game, although it is mostly passive, because this is the time when you see how well or badly your ship will do upon encountering the various adventures. There's a kind of twisted, masochistic joy to it. It is also exciting, as you cross your fingers and hope your ship can survive in one not-too-small piece. It gives meaning and context to the ship-building in the first half of the game.

I don't think this game is suitable as a children's game. Seeing their own ships being blown to pieces can be upsetting for children. I feel the game may not always work with casual gamers, because it is not exactly light - the players need to have the patience to understand what the various tiles do, how the events are resolved etc. This is no Ticket To Ride or Carcassonne.

It has been a while since I last played Galaxy Trucker. I should bring it out again. :-)