Patch and I have some very dear, gamer friends. These friends are in possession of, or perhaps possessed by, a very active eleven year old boy.
We adore the whole family, spawn included, but the mixed generations make game selection difficult. Most of the time, game nights are a series of compromises, and we try to fit in something for everyone, and the kid is very good at wandering off when the grown ups decide to play something truely boring.
Just for a change, Patch and I decided to go searching for something that would be perfect for the entire group. Our list of needs was so specific, we knew we would never find something that would hit every point, but there had to be some game which came a little closer.
No direct conflict between players (when families are involved, this can be key, trust me).
Layers of strategy, with just enough elements of chance that players of all levels can still win.
Aliens, but not as bad guys unless the game can be tweaked and played from the alien’s perspective. (This one was quite important for keeping the kid enthralled.)
Rounds that move quickly (no eight hour games).
Art that doesn’t turn Red off.
Amazingly, we found something that fit every criteria. Galaxy Trucker caught my eye first because of the space theme, which I hoped would include aliens, and second because it was put out by Rio Grande Games, who I trust to put out interesting, quality products. (The box art showing a galactic hauler with pudgy pink cannons and batteries strapped on every which way didn’t hurt either — the art carries through to the game with a cute aesthetic which somehow doesn’t take away the sensation of being a tough, inter-space trader one bit.)
The game play is broken up into three (four for experienced players) rounds, each one lasting half an hour or so. The first half of each round is spent building the player’s ships. For those of you familiar with Carcasonne, this section of the game is rather like a mutual solitaire version of that — mutual solitaire because all the players are building their own ships at the same time, with very little interaction, other than chatter and a non-intrusive bit of competition introduced by way of an incentive to finish first and/or tidiest.
The second half of each round involves all the ships flying through space and meeting up with various obstacles and bonuses. There is no direct competition, but you are trying to get the most bonuses and come home with the most cargo aboard your ship.
Because you are privy to some of the challanges that will come up on the flight (pay attention to those radio broadcasts as you outfit your ship, Captain) there is strategy to how you build your ship — will guns or engines be more important this flight? Will there be lots of cargo to stow, or am I better off putting in shields? On the flight its self there is also strategy, whoever is in the lead at the end of the round gets a bonus, but if you are in the lead when pirates hit, watch out! Yet bad luck can make even the most careful of planning go awry, and that clunker that didn’t look like it would make it out of dock can swoop in and make ridiculous amounts of space credits, winning the round.
And of course, there are aliens. Friendly, helpful aliens that you can build life support systems for, and who use their mad technical skills to get more power out of your guns and engines.
All in all, it was the perfect game for that little group, and I suspect it will play well with most of our gaming friends. It even plays well two player, so Patch and I can get a game in before bed. Absolutely delightful, and highly recommended.