I’ve been wanting to play Robinson Crusoe for quite a while now, and I’ve recently had a couple of opportunities to try the game out. I’ve had two goes at it, and have yet to reach the end, so a lot remains unknown. But I can say pretty confidently that this game is a lot of fun, and ticks a lot of boxes for me.
Robinson Crusoe is a co-op game for one to four players that tells the story of some people (and maybe a dog) stranded on an island, trying to survive. The game is essentially a worker-placement game, but there’s a lot going on besides sending people out to do stuff. For one thing, there’s a modular board that has you building your island Catan-style with a series of hexagonal tiles. There are resources to collect and manage. There are several decks of cards that dictate a variety of random events, most of which will harm you in some way. There are multiple sets of dice to be rolled at various points. And there is a ton of room for player choice.
One of the game’s best features is the balance between risk and reward. There are a lot of situations where you have to choose between a high-risk/high-reward option and a low-risk/low-reward option. For example, when placing your workers, (of which everyone gets two), you usually have the choice to place both on a single objective, guaranteeing success, or place a single worker on an objective, determining the outcome with dice rolls. Throughout the game, you’ll need to do both of these things. If you always take the safe route, you’ll never accomplish enough to win the game; if you always take the risk, you’ll sometimes fail to accomplish a critical goal, wounding yourself and triggering potentially disastrous events in the process. Wound yourself enough, and your team’s morale will drop, causing you to lose critical resources and, eventually, more life, until someone dies and the game ends.
If my brief description and the fact that I haven’t yet completed a single game in two attempts didn’t make it clear, let me say it outright: this game is complicated. There is, as I said, a lot going on. There are a lot of different elements to keep track of on every turn. There are objectives that need to be completed each round, objectives that need to be completed to finish the game, and countless tiered objectives where you need to do A so you can do B so you can do C so you can do D. This gives you a lot of opportunity to craft your strategy, but it also requires a lot of planning, and makes it easy to get lost in the morass of cards and tokens on the table. The rulebook, while pretty detailed and well organized, can also be a bit unclear at times. The game could have really benefited from an even thicker, no-question-left-unanswered rulebook paired with a one- or two-page round summary.
The core game comes with six different scenarios, each of which provides its own set of starting conditions, objectives, and special rules. Additionally, there is an expansion that offers five narratively linked scenarios, and there are a few more standalone scenarios and other tiny add-ons. So far I’ve played only the first scenario, and never to completion. I’ll want to get through three or four of the scenarios at least once before I offer a full review. But, to reiterate, the game is (so far) a lot of fun and hits all of my sweet spots.
Thematically, the game is very strong. I’m a sucker for stranded-on-an-island-and-trying-to-survive stories, from Lost to Swiss Family Robinson, so the game wins points for theme right off the bat. But, more importantly, the game also marries its theme well to its mechanics. The tension and mystery of exploration, the constant struggle to survive, the balancing of priorities, the need for a comprehensive survival strategy, the ever-present potential for something disastrous to happen – the game mechanics capture all of this brilliantly, immersing you in the story. And the game combines so many of my favorite elements: cards, dice, worker placement, variety, and expandability.
When I first heard about Robinson Crusoe, I assumed that designer Ignacy Trzewiczek had plucked the game straight from my dreams, so perfectly was it tailored to my tastes. I had high hopes, but, of course, an idea is not enough to make a great game. Now that I’ve played it, though, I can attest that it is quite fun, it delivers on that promise, and I can’t wait to play more.
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