Game Reviews

Galaxy Trucker

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| Galaxy Trucker
Galaxy Trucker
| Galaxy Trucker

Vlaada Chvatil is one of the most creative boardgame designers. His hallmarks are interdependent mechanics and real-time elements. The latter makes some of his titles feel a bit like video games.

So it was only a matter of time before someone ported one to iOS. Galaxy Trucker is one of his earliest, simplest designs. It's also one of the most fun.

This adaptation keeps all that entertainment intact. Yet it utilises the digital platform to shovel even more on top.

Real time

Each session has two parts. In the first, players build spaceships in real-time against the clock. Everyone grabs component tiles from a face-down stack and tries to arrange them into a ship according to certain rules. Connector types have to match, you can't put anything in front of a gun or behind an engine, and so forth.

Time pressure transforms applying these simple dictums into what feels like a MENSA-grade task. Once components are face up, they have to go on your ship or back on the pile. So it's a race to make sure your ship has a spot for the most valuable tiles before anyone else's does

You can also pause from tile-grabbing to peek at the random selection of cards that forms the second stage of the game. It gives an idea of whether you need more guns or more cargo-holds in your current design, adding some light strategy.

Real digital

In the tabletop version, it's a mad, panicked scrabble to try and do a hundred things at once while failing at all of them. It's simultaneously exhilarating, challenging, and terrifying.

I was sceptical than an app could deliver the same experience. But it manages to do it, minus the threat of being stabbed by a badly-trimmed fingernail.

The second phase sees you turning over that selection of event cards and applying the effects to all the players. This is another race: your start position is determined by how fast you finished the ship. Coming in first nets you a nice cash bonus.

There are many sorts of event, most of them highly destructive. Meteors will rain down on your ship, and you better have canons or shields else they'll blow bits off your structure.

You can loot planets or abandoned spacecraft if you have enough time, crew, and cargo holds. Then pirates or slavers can come along and steal it all off you.

There's plenty of other things that can happen, and it's a wild rollercoaster ride.

In the physical game the time needed to apply these different events tended to slow things into an anticlimax. The app has no such problems, and keeps up a breakneck pace, streaming chaos into a wildly entertaining experience.

Real players

That alone would be enough to earn a recommendation. Yet it goes further, adding the critical element that's often missing from board game adaptations - a quality single player game.

Most apps earn a pass mark with an option for custom games against a challenging AI. Galaxy Trucker has that, but it also has a campaign mode.

This sees you exploring the galactic map, running errands for human and alien employers. Each mission is a game, and the money you earn (or lose) gets rolled into a running total.

The idea is to try and maintain a profit. But what makes it special is the narrative that it wraps around your games. It's no longer about one-off sessions but about you.

Your ship, your pilots, your money. It's an amazing hook to keep you playing, and a wicked sense of humour makes it impossible to resist.

Real good

You're still going to want to play online of course, and you can. Given the real-time elements I'd assumed this would be real-time play only.

Yet in another example of going beyond the brief, the app has a timer-based system for asynchronous or hotseat play. It keeps much of the frantic fun of ship-building while still allowing you to game in bite-size chunks.

There's almost nothing negative to add. The graphics and sound are a little weak, but they fit in with the zany theme. It's not heavy on strategy, but there's definite skill, and who cares when it's such incredible fun?

Galaxy Trucker is hands-down the best adaptation of a board game to the digital format yet seen. The fact that it was done with a title that many thought would prove resistant to translation is nothing short of astonishing.

Galaxy Trucker

Takes a good board game and uses all the digital tricks to make a truly great app
Matt Thrower
Matt Thrower
Matt is a freelance arranger of words concerning boardgames and video games. He's appeared on IGN, PC Gamer, Gamezebo, and others.