Most modern board games have such ambitious or grandiose titles that it's hard to imagine Galaxy Trucker as anything other than a parody. To some extent this first impression is correct but Galaxy Trucker still has lots to offer, especially to players looking for a less than serious game.
The premise behind the game is that the players must build a space truck and use it to haul sewer construction materials across the galaxy. If they can successfully evade a variety of dangers then they collect cosmic credits and become rich ex-truckers. Play begins in a construction phase. This is the player's chance to build the space truck of their dreams. The game uses a tile system for truck building. You have access to a variety of cardboard tiles with cargo holds, batteries, engines, lasers, and other space truck gear printed upon them. You place the tiles on a grid and piece by piece "build" a ship. You may choose to have more crew spaces, more lasers, more engines, or who knows what. Other players will probably build different trucks based on what they think will work best.
The construction phase in this game is interesting. All tiles start out face down. When the phase begins players simply grab a tile, bring it to their truck and flip it over. If they want it then they keep it, otherwise it goes back in the pile face up. face up tiles may be grabbed quickly by people looking for that particular component. As one could image the truck building phase is pretty frantic with people grabbing tiles and then going back for more. There is a reward for finishing faster so while the phase isn't timed per se the players are motivated to make some quick decisions.
After all the players have built their ships the game moves on the the actual space journey. This phase of the game uses a pile of randomly drawn event cards. Events can be helpful or dangerous. You may encounter vast stretches of empty space to speed across. You may find an abandoned ship which can be sold for more cosmic credits. Or you may encounter pirates and have to defeat them with your lasers and shields. The space truck's design is likely to determine how it fares in the encounter phase. Lots of crew allow you to grab abandoned items. Lots of weapons and shields make you more effective in combat.
Once the encounters are complete the players tally up money made by successfully transporting their cargo, assuming it hasn't been destroyed by asteroids or taken by pirates. Then the space trucks are returned to the warehouse and construction begins again on a larger truck. Players will then have a chance to haul cargo and deal with more space encounters.
Galaxy Trucker has received both praise and criticism. The game writers go to some length to suggest that players should expect more disasters than successes. Trucks are likely to be blown up, taken by pirates, lost in space or somehow destroyed (the rules also state clearly that all crew members survive all these incidents). This sense of impending disaster will be frustrating to competitive players who simply want to win. At the same time it should be a laugh riot to casual players who like surprises and pratfalls. Remember that the premise is hauling sewer parts through space. Not to discount the vital role both sewers and trucks play in real life but this is intended as a game with some humor.
I like Galaxy Trucker for a number of reasons. I enjoy tile games and I like the idea of building a spaceship. Further, I'm not a fan of hard core competition and the random nature of some of the game's encounters lightens up the experience a bit. I could see how this game could be tough for a younger player however. The ship construction is done under some time pressure and some young people may not find that fun. Further, seeing your truck collide with an asteroid may be tough to swallow for a competitive preteen. I see this as being a game for older players with a light approach.
Pros: Light, fun, you build a space truck!
Cons: events may be fairly random, expect more disaster than success, kind of pricey for a light game
Beyond the Basics: this seems like a light game, there is an expansion planned however.