There's a certain allure to spaceflight, of building one's own starship and braving interstellar perils on the way to fame and fortune. But what if your starship was put together from a bunch of building supplies? And what if chunks of it kept falling off during flight --or before it even launched? This is the world of Galaxy Trucker, a silly, strategic, and very fun game of starship construction and peril from Rio Grande Games.

The premise of Galaxy Trucker is that Corporation Incorporated has decided to save money by having the players build spaceships out of building materials that can be sold at the destination. During each turn (three turns per game), players first build their ship, then they face a number of obstacles (through cards) before arriving at their destination, where they get Cosmic Credits for arriving fastest, selling cargo, and having the best-put-together ship. (They also lose Cosmic Credits for ship pieces that fell off.) Whoever has the most Cosmic Credits at the end of three rounds wins.

Of course, it's not nearly that simple. The ship components include Cannons (for fighting pirates or blasting large meteors), Cabins (to provide crew members), Engines (for flight), Batteries (providing power), Shield Generators (which protect two sides of a ship), Cargo Holds (to store goods), and Structural Modules (to help fit pieces together). There are also Double Cannons and Double Engines, which are twice as powerful as regular ones, but they require power to use. Pieces have from zero to three connectors per side; three-sided ones are universal, but otherwise ones and twos have to match up. To make things harder, the pieces are all face-down in the middle of the players, and after turning a piece over you either have to add it to your ship -- or put it back down face-up, where another player can grab it. The order in which you finish building determines whose ship is first, second, and so on; and before flight the ships are chekced, with any illegal positions resulting in pieces being removed before flight. And if a lost piece means other pieces can't legally fit, those pieces are removed as well.

Things don't get any easier in space. Players go through Adventure Cards, which provide both opportunities (like planets to get resources on) and perils (like Meteor swarms that batter your ship). The player in the lead gets first crack at each adventure card, but some of them require spending days doing something, which drops their ship back and can let someone else take the lead. The dreaded Combat Zones force penalties on the ship with the fewest crew, rockets, or cannons. And, as with ship construction, losing pieces can cost you more chunks of your ship. (Two bad meteor hits once knocked about 25% of my ship off!)

Galaxy Trucker is a wonderful mix of silliness and heavy strategy. Putting a ship together is a very challenging task: You want to finish quickly, to go first in encountering cards, but if you rush you might have illegal connections; you never know if you'll need lots of weapons, engines, storage, or crew; and nothing can ever fully prepare you for the challenges ahead. There's a sense of fun to the game, from the rules (which "helpfully" advise adding as many of each component as possible) to the colorful pieces (including cargo, crew, and even aliens). There's even a nice visual sense to the ships, as a quick look will show which pieces fit together flawlessly -- and which ones don't. Galaxy Trucker is deliberately frustrating in the sense that you'll never get everything you want from your ships. But that's the challenge, and seeing your banged-up vessels limping to their destination and delivering their cargo is quite the reward.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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