Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Galaxy Trucker: A Different Sort of Game Entirely

And now for a horse of an entirely different color. The horse refers to board games. And the color, of course, is Galaxy Trucker. What a way to screw up a metaphor. And a Wizard of Oz reference.

With Galaxy Trucker, you get 2 games in 1. How fortuitous! The first half of the game players are madly trying to assemble their space ships from a communal pile of parts in the middle of the table. Eventually, if you are really lucky, you might end up with something like THIS.

Believe it or not, this is a spaceship.

And everyone looks at each other's ships and tries to nitpick any illegal tile placements. It pays to be fastiduous. If a faulty connection has been made, the usually result is pieces falling off the affected ship during launch, hurting them from the get-go. You always want to do that.

Here is the central board, which exists merely to keep track of everyone's order in line. This is not actually a race track. You might be startled at first when everyone starts flying backwards, but this is a normal occurence. All of the events you draw use up time and cause your ship to go backwards. Unless your adventure comes up with the "Open Space" result, there is very little opportunity to advance. If you manage to lap anyone, they are immediately removed from the game, which sounds awesome but I have yet to see happen.

Galaxy Truckin'

The cards are divided into hazards. You might encounter pirates. You might fly through a meteor shower. Your ship might become infected by disease. These hazards will hamper your ability to take advantage of the occasional good result…the abandoned space station or the rich planet you might be able to trade with.

Flying through space is solitary.

The competition in this game really happens at the start with assembly. You are constantly hunting through the stacks for just the right piece while your eyes dart furitively around looking for an already-turned-up piece you can snipe from out of your opponent's clutches.

When you get to the flying stage, it's basically time to kick back and let whatever happens, happen.

Do not skimp on lasers.

Do not skimp on shields.

But if you do, you are better off skimping on engines as well and building just a big solid block of cargo bays and crew compartments. Because the last thing you ever what to be is unprepared and rocketing towards the front of the line.

The guy in front is going to catch all the crap first.

If you are lazy enough, and hang far enough behind, dangers have a way of being taken care of before they get to you. Pirates are defeated. Smugglers are shot. All you need to do is put up a strong defense against the meteor showers and hopefully have enough cargo space to loot the leftovers your companions leave in front of you.

My son actually uses this strategy successfully all the time. His ships tend to be art projects rather than successful pirate-fighting designs. He loves batteries, but sometimes forgets to include anything that uses them. But he is getting better. And he still almost always wins because my ship gets torn apart in hails of laser fire.

The other way to succeed at Galaxy Trucker is the route my wife chooses. Technical Perfection.

Build your ship with the maximum laser capacity allowed in the front. Build your ship with the maximum engine capacity allowed in the rear. Add 1 purple alien. Add 1 brown alien. Maximize your crew and cargo carrying capacity.

When my wife is bored, she plays the type of "casual" games you used to see on Facebook but now come in a broad range of delivery systems generally attached to mobile platforms. She plays these games with a religious fervor. She stacks blocks and rescues pets and rotates patterns and what have you.

As far as I can tell, they have all trained her to be a living DEMON during the Galaxy Trucker assembly phase. A place for everything. A thing in every place. And the first place token, thank you very much. A demon of perfection and grace.

My only way to challenge this technique so far is try to talk her up to some of the more difficult ships, notably good old IIIA.

There are a number of bottlenecks on the IIIA you never want to see hit by anything. If a meteor or laser should strike just the right location, the ship can easily snap in half, forcing you to choose which broken twisted pile of metal you want to continue piloting to your destination.

Otherwise it's hard not to despair when her credit totals come back and leapfrog past mine by a magnitude.

If you decide to get Galaxy Trucker for your own collection, know that this game goes well with a New Year's or other holiday celebration. When you are slightly inebriated, the ship designs really "click" together in a satisfactory way, even if the end result offers less than ideal performance in space.

Kids really like building ships too, and will give you a run for your money even if its not the technically best ship because of the benefits described earlier to hiding in the last place position.

And the rounds go by quick enough you never become overly disgusted, even when your ship blows up and you are left rocking a big zero at the end. 10 minutes later you are going to be building a new ship anyway.

I've been talking about interactivity and good game design lately, and Galaxy Trucker seems to throw all my points and suggestions out the window. I love playing it, and it has almost no identifiable attribute I would promote in another game. Something to think about…if you can't do it the conventionally right way, do it in a way that makes your game difficult to measure by the normal standards. And people may love it anyway!

Because Galaxy Trucker's going to be on my shelf for a long time.

EDIT: for a quick review of some of the expansion tiles, check out here.

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