When I started playing Haulways Trucking Inc in December, I was interested in how playing as a long haul trucker might be a way for me to reflect on my own sense of isolation, brought on—and this may come as a surprise to many—not by lonesome cross-country drives but by a combination of being disabled and living through a pandemic in a wildly ableist society. My intention going into the game was to draw heavily on this theme, exploring how my character felt about encountering strange and scary things on the road, with nobody else to lean on and only their vehicle as reliable refuge. What I wasn’t expecting was how leaning into the game’s sense of adventure and magic also provided me with a much-needed escape from my real-life loneliness.
Haulways Trucking Inc
November 17, 2021
Haulways Trucking Inc is a solo tabletop game where you create and play a long haul trucker in an America filled with vampires, werewolves, fairies, otherworldly forces, and cosmic beings. The game takes place over several journal entries, each representing a stop on your route. You roll a d100 at each stop and then find the corresponding number in the game’s roll table, which offers a prompt for the entry. Maybe your CB radio starts playing big band hits of its own accord, or you meet a ghost in the parking lot of your favourite local diner. The style, tone, and format of your journal are entirely up to you; I went for a horror-adjacent, Lynch-esque vibe and wrote my journal in the third person, but you could go campy, first-person, or record voice notes instead of writing if that feels more appealing. This flexibility in gameplay is great for adaptability to different play styles and access preferences, and it also provides a high level of replayability. Even if you re-rolled exactly the same way in a second or third playthrough, you’d likely end up with an entirely different story.
The game suggests playing in 15 to 20 minute sessions spread out across several days (or, in my case, months) with each session representing one of your journal entries. In this way, you’re also emulating your trucker’s travel and the empty space between stops. My sessions usually lasted about double the suggested play time, but I appreciated being able to space them out, as a disabled gamer with varying capacity. In fact, my shortest sessions were the first couple, which were character creation and planning your trucking route respectively. You can follow Haulways Trucking Inc‘s straightforward prompts to build your character, fleshing out your answers as much or as little as you like, or craft your trucker by yourself. My trucker, Possum, liked cheese toasties and had a dog back home that they missed. I kept their backstory vague, giving myself lots of flexibility in how they might behave in each scenario. I wanted Possum to be able to react similarly to myself in some situations, so I could write myself into their experiences and poke at my own feelings about solitude. But I also wanted wiggle room to explore the emotional and practical impact of less relatable responses. I found that when I actually started recording entries, Possum became calmer than me, more able to take the weird shit in their stride. Look, I like weird, weird feels like home, but if I saw a man embedded in a tree on my way to work, I don’t think I could just stop, sip a cup of coffee, and then get on with my day. For most of my game, then, Possum became a way to imagine escape: from anxiety, from chronic illness, from feeling static. Despite my intentions when starting the game, and without even realising it, I immediately chose to distance myself from my loneliness, embracing the prospect of adventure instead.
Despite my intentions when starting the game, and without even realising it, I immediately chose to distance myself from my loneliness, embracing the prospect of adventure instead.
After you’ve created your character, it’s time to set your route. The most important aspect of route planning is to understand where your stops will be so that you know when to roll and write your entries. You need a route with at least seven stops, but the rest is up to you. The game comes with an example route through the desert that you can use straight away, but I wanted my route to start in New Jersey because I just really love New Jersey, okay. Where I found the character creation clear-cut, I struggled a little more with designing my route. This wasn’t any fault of the game; the process is explained clearly and you can use the example route as a template. Instead, I struggled with designing a suitable route as a non-American.
Haulways Trucking Inc draws inspiration from contemporary fantasy and science fiction like The X-Files and “roadtrip gothic” media like Alice Isn’t Dead, and it’s steeped in specifically American trucker culture. I’m aware that there are entire trucker and CB radio subcultures in the US, but game creator Jacqueline Bryk does an excellent job of guiding unfamiliar players through that world by providing terminology glossaries, trucker name suggestions, and even highlighting leftist truckers’ long-standing solidarity with workers’ rights across the country. Going into the game with the understanding that I’ve had very little exposure to actual trucking lifestyles, I felt equipped to handle my playthrough with respect. In contrast, I’ve spent my life steeped in North American pop culture and politics, especially from the US, including the media that Haulways Trucking Inc was inspired by. Nonetheless, looking at possible and viable routes that would at least pass through New Jersey, I felt a bit out of my depth.
I considered sticking to an East Coast route but, frankly, Philly to, like, Boston isn’t much of a long haul route. I briefly considered travelling through some portion of the Midwest, but I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about it except Wisconsin is famous for cheese and a lot of hardcore and emo bands have come out of the region. That left me with travelling south which, given the area’s history and its (problematic) representation in contemporary politics, felt fraught as a player with zero lived or historical experience of the region. I did think about adapting the game to set it somewhere closer to home, but fam, I live in the UK. It takes 15 hours to travel from the bottom of this hell island to the top. There’s no such thing as long haul trucking here. A way around this would be to add lots of stops along the route, and I would definitely like to play the game this way one day. We have lots of isolated villages and grey towns that would suit a world filled with supernatural menace and weird encounters, but for my first playthrough, I wanted to, you know, actually play a long haul trucker. Given that I’m even less equipped to navigate a European long haul route than an American one (thank you cultural imperialism), I settled on travelling from Jersey City to Miami. Where better to experience weirdness than Florida, after all? I also chose, as I usually do with TTRPGs, not to deal explicitly with racism and bigotry at all, although I allowed myself the caveat of sinister small town folk with a general dislike for outsiders if that seemed appropriate at any point in my story. Mapping out my route felt exciting, like planning a trip I can’t actually take. Although I was only able to play the game on higher capacity days, I looked forward to my adventures with Possum.
I went into the game planning to focus on Possum’s solitude, but I didn’t actually hone in on this until my final few entries. Instead, I enjoyed creating a sense of unease from the strange things happening around them as well as tapping into aspects I loved about the cities I’ve spent time in. I know a lot of people struggle with feeling lonely in big cities, but I grew up in them and the only times I feel alone is when they’re highly gentrified, catering for people who thrive under capitalism instead of working class communities and weirdos. I liked being able to visualise the exact parking lot Possum was in during my Philadelphia entry, or the music that would be playing on their radio. When I stopped in an unfamiliar town, I used Google Maps to check the local area, either to understand the geography or to find landmarks to include in my entries, and this became one of my favourite aspects of playing the game. The game doesn’t mention incorporating a mechanic like this so you can just invent locations as you go if that works better for you, but I wanted to ground my playthrough in our real world as much as possible. It also led to some cool discoveries. For example, during a stop in Portal, GA (with a name like that, how could I not?), I needed to find a nearby diner to reference. While searching the area, I came across the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center, a museum that used to be the oldest school for Black Americans in the county.
Finding places like this made me feel immersed in the strange journey my character was taking, allowing me to join them on their route at a time when I’m rarely able to leave my home. I was able to travel, but without the stress of managing pain and fatigue. Possum spent most of the route alone, only occasionally encountering other characters, but I found myself vicariously reveling in their autonomy instead of focusing on their solitude. I created a safer world for them—for me—where any sense of threat came from ghosts or aliens instead of systemic oppression. At the end of each session, I returned to my real life, where even writing each entry required a higher level of energy than I have most days. But playing Haulways Trucking Inc made me want to keep trying, at least, to find the weird shit, to go on adventures, to do things I enjoy in whatever ways possible.
Finding places like this made me feel immersed in the strange journey my character was taking, allowing me to join them on their route at a time when I’m rarely able to leave my home.
I re-rolled one prompt in the course of my game, finding myself less inspired by it at the time and within the context of my character and their journey. As a solo game, nobody else is keeping track and it doesn’t impact anyone else if you need to re-roll. Overall, I loved the structure of the prompts, which you can respond to or expand on using whatever tone appeals most to you or suits your story best. In fact, towards the end of the game, as my stops became increasingly rural, I moved away from unease and hurtled headlong into fear, turning the game’s open-ended prompts into outright threats to Possum’s physical and mental wellbeing. This sudden tonal shift was a conscious choice; there wasn’t anything wrong with the way I was playing, but I’d gone into Haulways Trucking Inc wanting to draw comparisons between Possum’s solitude and my own loneliness. I noticed my inadvertent detour into escapism and decided to finish my game by grappling with the topic explicitly, to see what would happen and how it would feel.
In these later entries, I drew heavily on some of my own concerns, drawing stark connections between prolonged isolation and destruction—or self-destruction—which left Possum feeling unsafe even as they stood completely alone beside their truck. I haven’t written horror in a long time, and I appreciated this chance to tap into some themes that make me uncomfortable. It felt almost like fiction journaling, a way to write out my worst and scariest feelings through storytelling. It was cathartic and discomfiting, seeing how easily the writing flowed during these entries and how violent they became. But at the end of it all, Possum survived. There’ll be another job to do, another long stretch of loneliness, but they were able to come out of the fear and the destruction. In my final entry, after a harrowing, reality-bending encounter, they decide to talk to a friend, see their dog, catch their breath before beginning the next route. Real life isn’t so simple, of course, and indefinite isolation is a daily reality that kills many disabled and other marginalised people globally. But dragging Possum through a couple of my worst nightmares, and then bringing them out the other side, made me feel more equipped to deal with my own despair and panic. Playing this game didn’t change my world, and it didn’t make me feel less lonely, but it did remind me of the usefulness of naming difficult emotions, and of the importance of taking breaks—of escaping, occasionally—as we fight for a better reality.
I’ll definitely play Haulways Trucking Inc again, using different routes and vibes, and exploring different themes. It’s a straightforward game to pick up but highly adaptable, allowing the player to make their journal their own. You could traverse an apocalyptic desert route, recording entries as abstract poetry. You could explore an alternate North America, one that isn’t a settler colonial nightmare, or play as a monster hunter trucker who also makes out with vampires. You could play the game over a few long sessions or over several weeks of real-time journaling. I was surprised by the shape that my story ended up taking, but I valued the escapism the game gifted me. I wonder whether I would actually have been able to sit with Possum’s solitude over the entirety of their journey in the way I’d planned going into Haulways Trucking Inc. Thinking about the stress and terror that ramped up towards the end of my game, I wonder if starting with that would have hit too close to home, whether I’d have felt compelled to give Possum a break, to give myself a break, like I inadvertently ended up doing. Maybe next time I’ll see how scary I can make things from the start. Maybe I’ll see where that particular road might take me.
Zainabb Hull is an editor at Sidequest, a freelance writer and videographer, and sort-of artist. They’re also a trans, queer, and disabled brown femme. They tweet into the void at @ZainabbHull.