Robinson Crusoe 2nd Edition
The Nuts and Bolts
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Publisher: Portal Games (previous edition was Z-Man games)
Robinson Crusoe is a 1 to 4 player coop strategy game
The box says 90 to 180 minutes and I find that’s a pretty good guess for time. Setup goes pretty smoothly if you have all the tokens and resources sorted prior to game time.
I promised myself I wouldn’t write this review until I won a game…but I do have time restraints. Robinson Crusoe is a very thematic strategy game where you work cooperatively to complete the various scenarios. The game is always working against you, and at times you may have to make some decisions that hurt you more in the long term to hurt you less in the short term.
Robinson Crusoe has a beautiful fold out board, with spots for all the decks of cards you’ll need during your game. There are hex tiles that represent the island you will explore, various invention cards that will help you, and the adventure cards that…well…they just plain contain nasty things. Adding to the fun are a deck of beasts to hunt, treasure cards, and a set of weather dice that will cause havoc with your island shelter.
There are a number of scenarios in the game box and each will give setup instructions depending on what game you are playing. They vary from the first scenario, Castaways to the King Kong scenario. Each presents its own set of challenges and difficulty.
Each player chooses their character card and reviews their special abilities, and the fight for survival is on.
In the Castaways scenario, your objective is to make and light a large fire so that a passing ship sees and rescues you off the island. Sounds simple, but you only have 12 rounds to gather 15 pieces of wood and to invent fire on your dangerous island. You’ll also need to build a shelter to withstand the weather and to make sure you have enough food to survive.
Players take turns placing their pawns on the board to select the actions they’d like to do. While you may want to do multiple actions on your turn, you only have 2 action pawns. Using your pawns, you can place both at one action spot and guarantee your success, or you can place one pawn and roll the dice…literally. For any of the 3 actions where you placed only one pawn: Build, Explore, and Gather, there are 3 dice you’ll need to roll. The dice offer the chance for success, but also could wound your character or worse. You will need to take these risks, or you will have no chance of winning. If you roll a “?” you will need to draw an adventure card and resolve the top portion of it. Most of the time, that card gets shuffled into the event deck.
Each turn an Event card is flipped over. This card will dictate how the current and future rounds will be shaped. You will have two turns to deal with that event before it disappears and you will face the consequences of not resolving it. For instance: a beast appears in the camp. Everyone takes one wound. Now, do you spend an action to fight the animal or wait 2 turns and take another wound? These choices can really make or break your game.
Now here’s where Robinson Crusoe shines: those adventure cards return as events, most of the time causing more problems. This unique mechanic adds to the theme and really pulls the players into the adventure.
One example: While exploring, my character found a wild animal. I could have ended my turn and slept outside the camp, incurring penalties but defeating the threat, or shuffle that card into the event deck and face a powerful animal in the future.
Each of these adventure cards is unique and adds to the story of your castaways. There is a good amount of them, so there is plenty of replayability without seeing the same cards over and over.
Aside from their life totals, the track that all the players will be focusing on is the morale track. It starts at 0, but you’ll be lucky to keep it there. As the game plays out, players will need to feed themselves, spend resources, and even lose resources. If a card forces the players to lose something they don’t have, they’ll take a wound. Enough wounds, and the morale drops. At the end of your turn, you’ll need to be sleeping in a shelter to protect you from the weather or else you take a wound. Don’t forget food, you need to eat or you take 2 wounds. Are you seeing how quickly the game can spiral out of control?
The game ends when a character dies, time runs out, or you complete the objective of the scenario.
It’s hard. Obviously a cooperative game needs to be difficult, and Robinson Crusoe is no different. You are rarely rewarded for making the right decision, and you are absolutely punished for making the wrong one.
There’s a sense of randomness with the dice rolling and card draws. Some event and adventure cards can be downright crippling. You may feel like they are almost unfair. There are times where you can play a flawless game, but still lose and that can be a frustrating feeling.
It’s hard. Who wants to play an easy coop game? Your group will really have a sense of accomplishment if you win. I still remember the first time my group won, the rush of knowing you’ll win as you are looking over the board is a memorable feeling.
I can’t mention theme enough. I love the theme and this game is successful at delivering it. You will feel like you are trapped on an island, scrounging for anything that can help you. You will feel tense. You will feel hopeless at times. Love it. Also, read the flavor text on all the cards. The game tells a story and you can immerse yourself in it.
Robinson Crusoe is a highly thematic game that will have you thinking about it constantly. I think of my last play and what I could have done differently. Should I have hunted an animal to get a skin instead of using wood to build my shelter? What if I had defeated that event sooner? Should I move my camp?
I love this game and its difficulty level, but I’m sure some don’t, so this game may not be for your group. The rule book does offer some tips to tweak the difficulty if you think that will improve its chances of getting to the table. If you ever attend a game day and someone offers this up, absolutely play and experience it. It is a unique experience and I’m sure you won’t regret it.