Larry Schneider
United States
Connecticut
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This is not intended to be a formal review of the Voyage of the Beagle expansion, but rather, my thoughts and feelings about it after playing through all five scenarios.

First, some background. The games I buy tend to be solo games because I don’t have a regular group of board gaming friends, and my family doesn’t especially...umm...appreciate my passion. I can get my wife and daughter to play the occasional board game (when it’s my birthday, it’s far easier!), and my wife will sit down and play a game now and then, but only as long as (1) it’s not too often, (2) she doesn’t have to think too hard, (3) she doesn’t have to learn new rules, and (4) it’s not too often (did I say that already?).

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is easily my favorite board game by far, and I expect it will hold that title for some time to come. The fact that I devote as much time to the game as I do is the best test of just how much I adore it. (Second place goes to Mage Knight Board Game, but I haven’t played that nearly as much as Robinson Crusoe.)

So it should come as no surprise that I play Robinson Crusoe and the Voyage of the Beagle expansion exclusively solo. Furthermore, not being the type of player who likes to be too hard on himself, I always play as the Carpenter, and now I also include the Boy (and the Horse). That gives me 4 primary pawns to work with (my character pawns, Friday, and Darwin) and 3 additional pawns (the Boy, the Dog—for exploring and hunting, and the Horse—for distance).

In addition, when starting items are available, I prefer to choose rather than draw randomly; my preferred starting items are Hammer and Nails and the Pistol—though this is less of an issue with this expansion which tends to preclude the use of starting items more often than not.

My point is this: I’d rather play the game and have a good time doing it rather than beating myself over the head with it. Therefore, these observations are written from the perspective of someone who would prefer to enjoy a game and not go out of his way to challenge himself to the nth degree.

Also, I won’t comment on the “fiddliness” of the game because that’s not an issue for me either. Though many would consider this blasphemous, I play my board games with a laptop and a program (that I’ve written for the game) that “assists” me in game play and lessens the need for having to push cubes around the board or shuffle deck after deck or remember what I can do and when I can do it. I don’t have the memory I used to, so I love having my laptop there to remind me, for example, when I have to draw an adventure or mystery card or when I can pay 2 determination tokens to reroll a die or when I have to take a wound, for example. Thus, this saves me the trouble of having to worry too much about tokens and counters and board reminders and such.

Finally, I should note that I play with the Z-Man edition of Robinson Crusoe and the Portal edition of Voyage of the Beagle.

All right, so much for background; now on to my thoughts. My first exposure to Voyage of the Beagle was immensely positive. First of all, the game arrived far sooner than I ever anticipated. Usually, I’m counting the hours until a new game arrives at my doorstep, but in the case of Voyage of the Beagle and the fact that it was a Portal edition, I assumed it might take weeks if not months for me to receive it. To the credit of GameSurplus, I had it in my hot little hands within a week of ordering it. I remember my wife yelling to me that a package arrived and it appeared to be a new game, and I thought to myself, “I’m not expecting anything. What could it possibly be?” When I saw GameSurplus in the return address label, I had the wrapping off that package before you could say, “Land ho!”

I remember opening the game box, grabbing a plastic container to organize the counters, and punching out the cardboard. And I was immediately awestruck by the component quality. In the case of Z-Man’s Robinson Crusoe, I recall having to be ever so careful when punching out the island tiles because the first one ripped a little and that left a bad taste in my mouth. Here, the punch outs were clean, crisp, and well made. Kudos to Portal for keeping the component quality top notch. Sure, I don’t play with the tokens as much as the typical player, but game quality is still important to me.

A note to potential buyers: As I’m certain you’re aware, the card size of the Z-Man and Portal editions of the game are a millimeter or so different, which will make shuffling the cards together somewhat more difficult. If you sleeve your cards (or don’t use them as in my case), this will be a non-issue.

Now for the campaign itself. I hadn’t played the Naturalist scenario before delving into Voyage of the Beagle, but I could immediately see how the expansion sprung from the concept of that scenario (so much so that the scenario-specific discovery tokens for the first of the five scenarios were identical to those of The Naturalist, and there are other similarities as well). But that’s not to take anything away from Voyage of the Beagle. These really are two entirely different products, and I’ve seen other users’ posts that claim that playing one takes nothing away from playing the other.

Before ordering the expansion, I had already familiarized myself with the rules. It’s well known that the rules for Robinson Crusoe are far from clear, and the Voyage of the Beagle rulebook was all too similar. Too many unanswered questions and not enough examples to clarify game play (I consider Mage Knight to be one of the gold standards when it comes to rule books). I knew I’d be asking a whole host of questions on BGG before jumping into each scenario, and, I have to say that the responsiveness of the game designers (Maho and Botanybob) and others (like Dumon) has been nothing short of amazing. Bravo to all!

The first scenario, Explore and Collect, is a terrific introduction to the campaign and sets up the requirements quite nicely. It’s also a welcome introduction to some Darwinian history. Your job is fourfold: (1) Collect Rare Beasts, (2) Collect Carnivorous Plants, (3) Collect Fossils, and (4) Collect Unique Resource Sets. The rest of the campaign will focus on protecting the specimens you collect in the first scenario. And the more you collect, the more points you score, and the harder it will be to some extent down the line to keep those specimens safe and intact. As it was the first scenario under a new set of rules, it took me a couple of games to get the hang of what I was doing but once I did, it all came quite easily. In fact, too easily almost! I remember worrying that I was doing something wrong because everything went so well. But that’s by design to some extent (and, of course, it didn’t hurt playing solo with Friday, the dog, and the boy!).

Scenario 2, Repair and Restock is all about repairing the ship (the Beagle) following storm damage, and ensuring that there’s an adequate supply of fresh water onboard to sustain all of the Rare Beasts and Carnivorous Plants you collected in Scenario 1. I liked how you had the option to repair some parts of the ship better than others: For each of six areas of the ship, you have the choice to perform a minor repair or a major repair, which directly impacts your experience with Scenario 3. And here was my first taste of having more work to do, a direct result of my success in Scenario 1. All those beasts and plants I collected now needed water, which meant I had to collect and fill that many more water barrels!

I enjoyed playing the first two scenarios a lot. They weren’t too hard, they worked well within the construct of the base game, and you came away with that same, wonderful feeling (just like Robinson Crusoe) of being able to tell a story to describe your adventure. And, like the base game, they just oozed with theme. There’s very little not to love here.

In Scenario 3, Hydrographic Survey Mission, you find yourself onboard the Beagle itself (not the island), and, as a result, everything changes: The rules, the game play, and just about any connection the scenario has with the standard game. The rules and examples describing this scenario are not surprisingly double the length of the other scenarios since there’s a lot to cover concerning ship movement, ship adventures, fighting beasts, and the like. And after all that investment of time and energy to fully understand how the scenario worked, actually playing it was a huge letdown for me. In my opinion, this is by far the weakest link of the expansion.

In a typical scenario, you’re playing with events and adventures chosen at random from some 169 different cards. Because they didn’t—and, practically speaking, couldn’t—provide a brand new set of shipboard event and adventure decks, the variety here absolutely pales in comparison to the base game. Essentially, there are four different event cards that make up the event deck (turn the ship, lose a resource here or there, and face an additional obstacle) and 18 simplistic “adventures” replacing the three adventure decks. The obstacles, called encounters, add some additional variety, but there are only eleven different types and their effects are also pretty basic. I can certainly understand the designers’ appeal to inject some variety half-way through the campaign, but this didn’t really gel for me.

Next up, you’re visiting Tribal Island, and the goal here is to learn the secrets of the various tribes that inhabit this place. It was great to be back on dry land, and I really like the mechanics introduced in this scenario, but I felt there was a disconnect with the rest of the campaign. Don’t get me wrong; I very much enjoyed playing the scenario, but that was inherently the problem: it felt like just any scenario that was pulled off a shelf and inserted into this campaign. Other than the fact that it’s Scenario 4 of 5 and that your performance here would benefit you in Scenario 5, this scenario didn’t feel very Darwinesque. Did Charles Darwin actually visit an island of this nature in his travels on the Beagle? If so, it didn’t feel like it. A special Darwin-only action might have helped draw me in.

As if to hear my complaint, Scenario 5, Homeward Bound, is absolutely overflowing Darwin. Serving as a perfect bookend to the first adventure of this campaign, Scenario 5 finds Darwin and crew on another deserted island searching for herbs and just about anything else to help keep the specimens from dying off. It’s a real race to the finish, a scenario that requires pitch-perfect planning to make it all go off without a hitch. Yes, it includes an oddly placed mini-game of “Concentration” as one of the actions you can perform, but you can easily ignore that and stick to the game plan at hand.

Honestly, even despite its blemishes, this is truly an outstanding expansion to an outstanding game. Rich in history, well thought out, and nicely executed, the scenarios carry on the tradition of making you feel like a victory is one that you snatched from the jaws of defeat at the very last minute. All of this in a gorgeous, book-like package that sets the bar high for all the Robinson Crusoe expansions yet to come. I heartily recommend that any fan of Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island or the spectacular work of Ignacy Trzewiczek put this one high at the top of their list. It’s an exceptional achievement, anyway you cut it.
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Marion
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Take it easy baby, take it as it comes ... (The Doors)
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Thank you, Larry.
 
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Robert Masson
United States
Yuma
Arizona
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Thank you for such a detailed review. Like a good book, I hope the game openend your mind to a new level of adventure and discovery. I too am a solo gamer and understand your situation completely. You make me want to try out mage knight, ok, you and Ricky Royal make me want to try out mage knight.

I hear you about the rules, we did our best in the 6 month window we had,and working with an english and polish team made for some subtle translation problems. I did lose A LOT of sleep over this projct, but am starting to feel like it was all worth it now, because of great reviews like yours. Anyways, overall I hope the rules were pretty clear, or clear enough anyways.

Glad you really enjoyed the first two scenarios. I hear you regarding third scenario, as ignacy says, "it is a bit rock and roll, no?"
So the fourth scenaro... yes, Darwin actually met with many native tribes, from the 'savages' of Tierra del Fuego to the Argentine indian horsemen and even aboriginal tribesmen of Australia and indigenous tribes of New Guinea. He focused on these visits more (i have heard) in his book Descent of Man. And your remarks about scenario 5 made me say, 'mission accomplished' outloud.

Thank you again for playing this campaign and thank you for documenting your adventure.

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Larry Schneider
United States
Connecticut
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botanybob wrote:
Thank you for such a detailed review. Like a good book, I hope the game openend your mind to a new level of adventure and discovery. I too am a solo gamer and understand your situation completely. You make me want to try out mage knight, ok, you and Ricky Royal make me want to try out mage knight.

I hear you about the rules, we did our best in the 6 month window we had,and working with an english and polish team made for some subtle translation problems. I did lose A LOT of sleep over this projct, but am starting to feel like it was all worth it now, because of great reviews like yours. Anyways, overall I hope the rules were pretty clear, or clear enough anyways.

Glad you really enjoyed the first two scenarios. I hear you regarding third scenario, as ignacy says, "it is a bit rock and roll, no?"
So the fourth scenaro... yes, Darwin actually met with many native tribes, from the 'savages' of Tierra del Fuego to the Argentine indian horsemen and even aboriginal tribesmen of Australia and indigenous tribes of New Guinea. He focused on these visits more (i have heard) in his book Descent of Man. And your remarks about scenario 5 made me say, 'mission accomplished' outloud.

Thank you again for playing this campaign and thank you for documenting your adventure.


Thank YOU, Robert. I can imagine just how much time and effort you put into this. And I know the sort of playtester that Marion must be.

Yeah, it was Rick who convinced me to try out Mage Knight. Definitely worth it...but not quite as good as RC imho even though Rick ranked it first and RC second. :(

And I'm fascinated now about Darwin and all that he did beyond his theories concerning evolution. I think I may delve into this some more...and that's exactly what makes historical campaigns like yours so brilliant. They inspire people to learn! You must have been a Darwinian expert before you even embarked on this, no?

A 6-month time frame? That's absolutely crazy! But such is the biz, I guess. Hopefully, between the rules, the posts in the forum, and some of the files I uploaded, most of the questions will have been answered at this point.

LOL re: Ignacy's rock and roll comment. That really puts a smile on my face. Nice to hear about it from the inside.

Warm regards,

Larry
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Robert Masson
United States
Yuma
Arizona
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Yes, I have been and am now a huge Darwin fan. I work in agricultural research in plant breeding (guided evolution) and think about him every day. I am even listening to an audio lecture series I checked out from the library called 'Darwin, Darwinism, and the Modern World'
His power was in his amazing ability to pay attention to detail and extrapolate big ideas from everyday situations.
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Larry Schneider
United States
Connecticut
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botanybob wrote:
His power was in his amazing ability to pay attention to detail and extrapolate big ideas from everyday situations.

Well said!
 
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Johan Drubbel
Belgium
Aartselaar
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botanybob wrote:
His power was in his amazing ability to pay attention to detail and extrapolate big ideas from everyday situations.

A little bit like Ignacy laugh

Larry, your thoughts are amazing. I have my copy still waiting to be played, but your story just tickles my need to get this on the table ... soon ... very soon!

Great job!
 
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Aleksandar Licul
Austria
Krems an der Donau
Niederösterreich
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So how VotB plays with RC? It is an expansion, right?
I mean are compnents interchangable, like playing RC with new characters, items, events, etc and vice versa, or is VofB self-standing (but than it shouldn't be called an expansion)?
Thanks!
 
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Dirk Diggler
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I’m sold, ordering the base game and expansion now. I was torn, coincidently, between this and Mage Knight. But I am a solo gamer, fueled by an insanely large imagination…. My favorite thing about games is if you can tell a story about your experience afterwards, and this sounds like it fits that bill. Not to mention a change from sci-fi and fantasy sounds refreshing.
 
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