Dominion is beautiful like the inner workings of a pocket watch. The teeth of its precisely-engineered gears mesh together to create something intricate but perfectly comprehensible if you’re willing to study it close enough. I totally get why some people find it a bit cold and sterile but for me that’s part of its charm. It’s incredibly clever and it makes me feel clever when I play it well.
Galaxy Trucker is beautiful like a fireworks display in a poster-paint factory. It’s chaotic and confusing and largely out of your control. It’s three-parts bonkers and you feel stupid for being caught in the middle of it.
In Galaxy Trucker you are a trucker. In the galaxy. It’s your job to build yourself a galaxy truck then truck across the galaxy as part of a convoy of other galaxy trucks piloted by other galaxy truckers. During the course of your truck you’re likely to come across planets where you can pick up cargo to sell once you’ve reached the other side of the galaxy. You’re more likely to come across terrible things that will do terrible things to your galaxy truck, such as destroying the cargo holds you just filled with cargo. Once you’re done trucking you sell whatever you might happen to still have on board, score points depending on how quickly you made the trek across the stars (no, that’s something else – Ed.) and pay a fine for whatever bits of your truck have been left scattered across the spacelanes of the galaxy. You then repeat this for two more trucks across the galaxy, each time facing more and more risk with bigger and bigger trucks for greater and greater potential reward. Whoever’s got the most cash after you’ve trucked across the galaxy three times is the best galaxy trucker.
By the by, I really like the name “Galaxy Trucker”.
Here’s the thing with Galaxy Trucker, and one of the big reasons it won’t work for everyone – it’s a machine that’s been deliberately built to produce screwups. Every piece you add to your ship has to connect to the central cabin and can’t be rotated or moved once they’re placed so the amount of advance planning you’re able to do is basically zero, so you’ll make decisions in the moment that will become stupid almost immediately. There aren’t enough spaces on your ship for it to have all the capabilities it will need to reliably complete its journey, so you’re forced to make stupid compromises all the way through the building process, and if that’s not enough you’re competing with everyone at the table to find and grab the most useful components and being forced to do it under time pressure. That’s ridiculous. You’re going to make stupid mistakes. It’s practically inevitable. You’re going to have double-lasers and double-engines and forget to add any batteries to power the bloody things. You’re going to get the connectors wrong and be forced to remove a vital piece that results in the half of the ship that’s got all the shields being left on the launch pad. You’re going to have an entire wing of the ship that’s only attached to the rest by a single vulnerable bit that appears to have been constructed out of bloody asteroid-magnets. You have to go with it. You have to accept from the off that you’re not going to be able to create a perfectly-optimised machine and learn to love the misshapen evidence of your incompetence that’s squatting in front of you. It’s not a coincidence that both the expansions for the game seem to have been made with the express purpose of making it even more complicated and even more difficult and even easier for you to hug the space-pooch. If you’re a bit of a neat-freak Galaxy Trucker will eat you alive.
Of course, once you start off on your truck across the galaxy even your least-awfully-laid schemes will gang aft agley. You can build the best ship that circumstances will allow. You can even look down the road to see most of what trouble might be coming (if you’re willing to spend time during the building phase looking at the encounter cards – time that might otherwise be spent finding the last shield tile before some other hugger nicks it). But at the end of the day you can and will still be lifted up to glory or cast down to humiliating failure by the stark vicissitudes of fate. Again, I totally get why this sticks in the craw of some people. To me though, the truth of it is in the bit of the Galaxy Trucker rulebook that says that any player who makes it to the end is the winner, it’s just that the person who made the most money is slightly more the winner than anyone else.
Galaxy Trucker is all over the place. It’s tense. It’s brutally unfair at times. It’s a game about making decisions based on the imperfect information you had at the time, then learning to live with the inevitable consequences.
It might be the most perfect metaphor for the human condition in all of boardgaming.