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Subject: Trash, Noise and Spots: a 10x10 review of Galaxy Trucker rss

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Pete K
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“Every civilization in the technological stage gradually finds itself up to its ears in garbage, which causes tremendous problems, until the dumps are moved out into cosmic space and put – moreover – in a specially designated orbit, to keep them from getting in the way of the astronauts. In this fashion one obtains a growing ring of refuse, and it is precisely its presence that indicates a higher level of development.” – from The Star Diaries, Stanislaw Lem

A 10x10 Review of Galaxy Trucker



Some of the best books that science fiction has had to offer are centered on the endless possibilities of space travel and the inevitably rough learning process that our descendants will go through in exploring the universe. Classic authors like Lem, Mitchison and Aldiss tend to require some concentrated reading but are ultimately very rewarding. Lem’s stories in particular have both dark humor and philosophical elements that survive the translation from Polish to English. Likewise, Vlaada Chvatil’s Galaxy Trucker also combines unusual demands with chaotic scoring to make a unique and entertaining board game.

Galaxy Trucker features three rounds of competitively building spaceships under the pressures of real time, where players fish frantically fish for and arrange tiles before a sand timer runs out. Due to their hasty construction, the ships often end up tenuously connected and unbalanced, one unfortunate laser hit away from running out of cargo space, batteries, lasers or even crew.

These episodes are separated by largely unpredictable scoring sessions that are driven by a small deck of cards. The cards describe good, bad and disastrous events, whose consequences are determined by dice rolling, circumstance and (lastly) player choice. Players get to peek at two or three of the cards during the building, but this takes time and exposes only a fraction of the scoring events.

Galaxy Trucker has enjoyed several years of enduring popularity, with enough support to have a few expansions released as well as a giant big-box edition. This review concerns the base game only, which was the largest board game to be completed as part of my 2014 10x10 challenge. The “10x10” refers to the game being played at least 10 times within the calendar year, enough to review it for two reasons:

1 almost any game’s rules and nuances can be understood in ten plays,
2 there is enough room for players to try not just to have fun, but to compete and get their share of wins

Reviewers seem to be starkly divided regarding Galaxy Trucker, with the negative feedback being almost universally based on having played one or two games. The chaos of the scoring system – dice rolls determine where a meteor might hit your ship, in many cases causing either zero or devastating damage – and a less-than-serious theme might lead many to believe that there is little to be had from trying to get better at the ship-building. However, a lot of points are to be had for being the first to finish the course (helped out by being the first to finish building your ship) as well as not having exposed connectors on the outside. Others may just find real-time elements entirely undesirable in gaming, much like how many people dislike having to memorize discards in many card games or coming up with clever words in Scrabble.

From the beginning, Galaxy Trucker has been a hit with the family, where the kids have a better-than-even chance of winning against me and take bad scores in good humor. One of Lem’s best stories in his collection The Star Diaries, “The Twenty-first Voyage,” makes fun of Asimov by postulating three laws of technologically advanced civilizations: the laws of trash, noise and spots.

mb The Law of Trash mb

Lem’s Law of Trash states that planets with a sufficient degree of technology fill their orbit with obsolete machines and robots, eventuating in large collections of space-trash.

The Galaxy Trucker Law of Trash is that most of the time, your ship will be ugly. This is especially true with four players, where the desirable tiles (batteries) get snatched up in a hurry and there’s always someone bent on flipping over the sand timer before anybody has put half of their ship together. Lucky pull of the first three tiles? Seize the moment and flip the timer! You might force one or two people to go without shields or cargo spaces.

Below is an example of such a hastily assembled ship. Its flaws are numerous.



When populated at the beginning of the journey, we can see that the neat plastic crew and battery components can make even this ship look better:



mb The Law of Noise mb

Lem’s Law of Noise describes the evolution of self-aware space junk made from discarded technology that grows in sophistication as well as size; it jams the signals of its host planet in order to be sent need spare parts and batteries.

People unwind in different ways, and it so happens that my family likes a bit of competition and our game nights are rarely quiet. The Law of Noise for Galaxy Trucker is simple: the game thrives on noise, during both the real-time parts and the card-drawing scoring parts. We’re trading insults during the shipbuilding and cheering the random destruction of each other’s hopes by meteors and pirates. I get shouts of protest when I turn the timer over for the first time.

Coming back from a business trip to Norway, my wife brought back a copy of the game Mondo, which also features a simultaneous race to grab tiles and arrange them for points on a player board. Mondo, which I feel was underrated by video reviewers, is a strong family game in its own right and features a more straightforward Eurogame-style of scoring. Those looking for a more orderly and efficient version of Galaxy Trucker may want to give it a try.

mb The Law of Spots mb

Lem’s Law of Spots refers to a state of despair that the parasitic space junk inevitably falls into, resulting in it hurling large chunks of itself into its local star and creating signature sunspots.

There are some situations, especially in Round 3 (where the deck of event cards is larger) where the luckiest player is merely the last one whose ship gets demolished. More often, the winner of the game does manage to finish all three rounds with a semi-intact spacecraft; this makes the big hull-breaking meteor hits game-changing events when they occur. Thus, the moments of losing your crew to total immolation or being stranded in open space without propulsion systems are game-breaking but common. Bad things happen in every game of Galaxy Trucker, but not in equal measure: you still have winners and losers, and the difference between them is usually not hard to count.

mb The Verdict mb

We obviously like Galaxy Trucker, with its chaos and frequently dark outcomes. It comes from the sillier end of science fiction, where unpredictability and unkindness are central thematic tenets. Most importantly, it’s a game designed around fun, and succeeds convincingly.

mb Also mb

In a nod to BGG expectations, I’ll mention that the components are all of high quality and add to the experience. Cups or bowls are recommended for the smaller pieces, like batteries and goods, so that less of them end up on the floor. Only the tiles, timer, cards and player boards are involved in the frantic building phase, so the problem of spillage is not as bad as one might think. The rulebook is one of the best that I have seen. After 11 plays, it is still fresh and unpredictable, although I do plan on trying out an expansion at some point. mb

Note: This is a "10x10" review, meaning that it was written after being played 10 times inside of a year. For other game reviews written within the 10x10 challenge, see this geeklist. mb
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Pete Martyn
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Very clever review! I'm already a big Galaxy Trucker fan but now I feel like I should be reading Stanislaw Lem.

On behalf of the detail-obsessed, I feel compelled to point out that the two crew in the upper-right crew compartment are going to begin the voyage by immediately falling out of the ship, as their compartment has two illegal connections...
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Pete K
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the pete wrote:
Very clever review! I'm already a big Galaxy Trucker fan but now I feel like I should be reading Stanislaw Lem.

On behalf of the detail-obsessed, I feel compelled to point out that the two crew in the upper-right crew compartment are going to begin the voyage by immediately falling out of the ship, as their compartment has two illegal connections...


You are correct. I guess this means I'm keeping alive my streak of repeatedly playing boardgames with incorrect rules. I must have forgotten that we have been playing a "family variant" that relaxed that rule, and components need only to be legally connected to the rest of the ship (that, and also observing all the engine and gun placement rules). The game might be a little less mean this way, but to be honest I've been benefiting at least much as the kids.
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Paul Grogan
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Yeah, in fact, there is another illegal tile on that ship. The double laser in the top left.

I think when you build an illegal ship, you can choose what to remove. So, for the crew in the top right, you can choose to remove both of the lasers adjacent to it instead. Then it is legal.

When teaching the game to new people, not only do I not use the timer at all, but I also allow them to re-arrange their stage 1 ship after they have finished.

I just say "but if you had put this piece here, and this one here, you'd be ok.

My aim is for people to enjoy the game, whilst also learning the rules. After their first game however, I don't let them do it again, but it has worked just fine for bringing new players to the game.
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the pete wrote:
now I feel like I should be reading Stanislaw Lem.

Yes, you should. Everyone should. He's amazing!
 
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Amid Assaf
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Also when players start getting good, you can do the Team variant - especially the Extreme Team variant.

http://secondlifetruck.com/
 
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