If you are looking for a game that will crush your soul and make you miserable, in a good way, look no further than Robinson Crusoe. It is dripping with so much theme that you feel as though you really are stranded on a deserted island, fighting for your very survival. If you think you are going to survive Swiss Family Robinson style, then boy are you in for a dose of reality. Every decision you make is critical to the outcome of the game, and it forces you to make some extremely tough choices regarding your options as it is impossible to do them all. Sacrifices must be made to ensure that you make it off that island in…relatively…one piece.
How it Plays
Robinson Crusoe is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, each game begins with the players choosing one of the six provided scenarios. This scenario will detail any specific rules, set up instructions and the victory condition. Each scenario has to be completed during a set amount of turns and then each turn is played out over a series of phases that are as follows:
- Event Phase – Draw the top card of the event deck and resolve the upper section. The card then gets placed into the rightmost space of the Threat action field. Events can be positive or negative, such as gaining extra food or needing to discard resources and taking wounds.
- Morale Phase – Check the morale level and the first player either discards or gains determination tokens. If the player cannot discard, they gain a wound. Determination tokens help you by allowing you to use your special skills and improve your odds of survival.
- Production Phase – Gain all resources available on the tile that contains your camp.
- Action Phase – This is the phase where you place your pawns on what they will be accomplishing this turn. If only one pawn is placed on the field, then the corresponding action dice must be rolled and resolved. The outcome will determine if the action was successful, if you have to resolve an action card, and if you gain a wound or determination tokens. If two pawns are placed, then the action is automatically successful. Actions that can be taken during this phase include:
- Resolving a threat lets you deal with imminent problems.. Some threats may involve missing your next production phase, adding a weather die to the weather space or even re-rolling successes. You must determine if it’s worth the risk to let a threat resolve so you can use your action elsewhere.
- Hunting gives you food and sometimes furs. Beware, some beasts may be too much for you to handle if your weapon skill isn’t high enough. Hunt with caution.
- Building. You can create useful things like weapons and tools to help you out around the camp.
- Gathering resources allows you to get additional food and wood that will be helpful for the next two phases of the turn and in the future for building.
- Exploring takes you around the Island (by revealing tiles) and gives you more options for gathering and building. It is sometimes necessary to explore for the particular scenario.
- Arranging your camp increases your morale, so that you don’t lose anything (or at least lessens the blow) during your morale phase.
- Resting heals, but it takes up a much needed action. How far are you willing to push yourself closer to death in order to complete your task?
- Weather Phase – Roll any weather die that is described in the scenario or was placed in the weather space by random events. An unpleasant snow storm may hinder you or force you to use up valuable resources.
- Night Phase – The players must discard one food or else gain two wounds. Each player also receives a wound if there is no shelter built. All remaining non-perishable food is then discarded.
The turn then ends and the first player token is passed beginning the next turn.
A win is achieved if the victory condition in the scenario is met before no more turns remain.
Calm Waters or Stormy Sea?
Robinson Crusoe tells a tale of exhilarating triumphs and crushing defeats, mixed with realistic and interesting complications which can arise. You find yourself in a constant state of anxiety as you worry about feeding everyone, keeping warm through the night, hoping your shelter holds up against the weather (once you are actually able to build one) and how much time you have remaining to complete your objective – not to mention the wild beasts that roam the island. It supplies such a rich and fulfilling experience that even throughout as you are battling against the game, you feel as though you are accomplishing something. Even if I lose, I always get excited at how far I made it during this particular play through, or how I can’t believe we all survived that alligator attack. Only one of us got maimed! Everything you do gives you some feeling of meaning in the grand scheme of things. It also makes you want to play it again, to get better and do things differently to ensure any random events won’t affect you too much.
There are multiple scenarios that come with the base game, but with the introduction of random events, character selection and even player personality, no two games will be the same, and this adds to the fantastic replay value of the game. I’ve found that I can have had endless amounts of fun even playing through scenarios that I have already played multiple times. I try to improve with each one and even choose different characters that may be better suited to that particular story.
Once we had an issue feeding ourselves. No problem, the next time we played the scenario we chose the cook as one of our characters! We still didn’t make it through to the end, but we got farther than we had previously. Add to that, that the event deck is made up of different event cards each time you set the game up, so you will never play the same set of events in any particular scenario. You are kept on your toes, as you are never going to be sure what terrible thing will pop up to ruin your day.
Player personality also features into the replay value of this game. Since it is co-operative and everyone has to work together, the choices you make add to the story. By playing with different people, it can change your experience.
Being co-operative can also lead to veteran gamers “taking over” your game play by telling everyone what to do, but this is a problem with most co-operative games. As long as no one does this in your group it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. When played as intended, everyone has to work together and coordinate their special abilities in order to survive.
Worker placement is the base mechanism of the game, but gameplay also involves resource management, ongoing card effects, and a tech tree of sorts with different inventions you can “discover”. I find that the added randomness of dice rolling and card effects blends seamlessly with the theme, as it reinforces the overall survival experience. You have your carefully laid out plans to make it through the night somewhat unharmed, but a freak storm or an unexpected animal attack can make them all come crashing down around you. No matter how well thought out your strategy may be, it can all be gone in a blink of an eye. Just like on a real deserted island!
The rulebook takes a bit of effort to comprehend-it isn’t written that well-but once you get the general idea, the game becomes very intuitive. It definitely isn’t for someone new to games, and you will need an above average level of game knowledge to plan effectively. You will probably have to play more than a few times before you actually pull off a victory!
Artwork for this game is minimalistic, but beautiful to look at and is appropriate for the theme. The drawings look as though they came out of an explorer’s journal, and the board is covered with little notations and water colour pictures. The board is laid out as such that you can follow the chain of events as they are supposed to occur.
Everything is exceptionally well made, and I can’t see anything getting bent or broken easily.
One really nice feature is that the character cards that come with the game are double sided with a male and female side. Allowing you to choose your gender of your player is always a nice touch and helps with immersion in the game. It makes it easier for me to believe I am a character in this story!
All the tokens that come with the game are on the plain side. The food, furs, and wood are all just coloured cubes, and your player tokens are just wooden disks. It does take a bit of imagination to get past that, but it also allows you to the opportunity to customize your game, and make or buy pieces that give you a bit more of a feel of actual goods.
Robinson Crusoe is an amazingly thematic, complex game. It will have you on the edge of your seat wondering if you will make it through the night, let alone to the end of the scenario. The feel of the game is also backed up by great mechanisms that create the tension you may find if actually stranded and fighting for your survival. If you can get past the difficult rule book, this is a game that will give you a truly wonderful experience time and time again!