REVIEW – Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

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Robinson Crusoe
Name: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
Publisher: Z-Man
Type: Cooperative game
Players: 1-4
Best with: 1-4
Length of Playtime: 1-2 hours

 

Give It to Me Quick: Robinson Crusoe is a heavy, difficult, thematic cooperative game, with a vibrant castaway theme and many events, mysteries, and survival decisions making it easy to lose (and lose, and lose). But that’s a good thing! You’ll be playing cooperatively, deciding “who will do what” – building shelters, hunting, exploring. You’ll weigh risk vs reward decisions all the time, rolling dice to determine if an Action will be successful, sometimes drawing Mystery cards that come as a result of an Action you took. You’ll have to plan ahead to deal with the later consequences of an Event or Action that you took earlier in the game. You’ll balance health and morale of all players while trying to complete one of several different game scenarios (build a signal fire, rescue a survivor, explore a volcano) to win the game.

 

On an adventure

Let’s go on an adventure!

 

Gameplay Summary

Robinson Crusoe has a lot going on each turn.  This is what will happen:

1. Event – These cards are randomly selected each game from 70 available options. A new card is flipped over each round which determines what new terrible thing will befall your colony. Hurricanes might hit and destroy your shelter, a bear might attack your camp and make off with all the food, or insects might infest your wood supply.

A new surprise every turn

A new surprise every turn

2. Morale – Depending on the state of your team’s morale on each turn, players will lose or gain determination, something needed to use each player’s role’s special actions.
3. Production – Depending on where the players’ camp is currently built, they will gain resources each turn.

You'll need to explore new territory if you want to hunt for food.

You’ll need to explore new territory if you want to hunt for food.

4. Action – You decide collectively with your team what actions you will be taking that round. For some actions, assigning two team members to a task will guarantee that the Action will be completed successfully. If you can’t spare a team member and need to split up to cover more ground, dice are rolled to determine the Action’s success, determine if the player will take any damage from performing the action, and determine if a Mystery event will happen. These Mystery cards are related to the Action performed; a player might explore a new territory and stumble across a fresh grave. This story then gets relayed back to the other survivors, and Morale falls.

What will your decisions bring this turn?

What will your decisions bring this turn?

5. Weather – Depending on the round determined on your Scenario card, each turn ends with the effect of weather on your shipwrecked crew. Having shelter built is extremely important to weather the weather.
6. Night – At night, every player needs to eat. One food per player. If there is not enough food, players must choose who goes hungry that night. That player takes damage.

In addition to the turn phases, players will be hunting Beasts, discovering Treasure, Traps, and Monsters, inventing unique items, building weapons, building stronger shelters, and using special abilities unique to their roles.

At least it wasn't the gorilla this time.

You did remember to fortify your knife last turn, right?

 

How many players is it best with?

Okay, full disclosure. As of the posting of this review, we have only played Robinson Crusoe with two equally proficient, cooperative players. Since there is so much to process on any given turn, two players are welcomed to bounce ideas off each other or argue the benefits of decisions to be made. If you’re playing with someone new, it’s not an easy game for them to jump into and be immediately helpful. The game really shines when all players are familiar with how the game works.

I will update this section when we play with 3 or 4, but I can tell you based on the variants built into the rules and the consistent way that the game plays, that it will cover 1-4 players without an issue. The addition/removal of the esteemed character Friday and a Dog adds or removes difficulty to the game and ensures that the game can remain balanced no matter the number of players.

Four unique roles to choose from

Four unique roles to choose from, each with their own special abilities.

 

Our Positives

For all the little bits and pieces that the game forces you to keep track of and remember, one thing that you will notice is how thematic everything feels. From the hurricane that comes ashore and washes your items away, to the decision to use structurally unsound bamboo to build your hut, every event, hunt, and building task reminds you of how tenuous your hold on resources actually is. Exploring new territory flips over a new Catan-style tile and brings with it new options for resources.

One of the coolest things about this game are how the Event cards work. At the end of every round, an Event card will be flipped, describing what new maleficence will befall the island. Each Event brings a negative consequence that immediately affects the board. However, once an Event card hits, it also offers the players an opportunity to respond in a way that usually helps the state of your settlement. For example, a band of wolves might attack your camp and cause initial damage. If you respond by fighting back, you might recoup some of your losses and kill several for food. If you choose not to respond at all, the wolves could come back later and do further damage to your camp. This is an awesome mechanic.

Negative events  bring opportunities for players to respond positively. If they don't respond at, a negative side effect  hits players one more time. Awesome!

Negative events bring opportunities for players to respond positively. If they don’t respond at, a negative side effect hits players one more time. Awesome design.

These Event –> Response ideas also come into effect when Building things; for example, attempting to build a Roof for your shelter might cue a card detailing the Frustration of your crew in working with hand-made tools. After this occurs, the card is put back into the Event rotation. When it returns several rounds later, your crew might have overcome this difficulty and will then receive a boost in morale due to the satisfaction of overcoming this challenge. Of course, your shelter could also collapse if you decide the quick fix of using bamboo. There are a lot of these effects in the game and it’s fantastic.

robinsoncrusoe_toolbreakdown

Another setback…best to wait this one out.

Robinson Crusoe comes with 6 different scenarios to play; each is wildly different. The “base” scenario has you surviving 12 months while gathering enough wood to build a fire. Another scenario has you saving a stranded shipmate from a nearby island. Another has you destroying cannibals on the island. This game also has a community and designer who keep developing new scenarios that you can print out to play through.

robinsoncrusoe_scenarios

Three of the six available in-box scenarios. Each plays completely different.

After any given game when you’re packing up the box, you’ll be blown away by how much of the game is “left” that you haven’t seen yet. Our first few games we barely touched the Treasure/Trap/Monster deck, of which there are like a hundred cards.  We also only saw a handful of the Mystery cards, of which there are like two hundred cards. You’ll find yourself wanting to draw a Mystery card to see what is the next interesting thing to befall your colony, only to immediately regret the decision once a rogue band of monkeys descends on your camp and destroys your recently repaired roof.

You'll stumble across stuff like this...I wonder if he found the Holy Grail

You’ll stumble across stuff like this…I wonder if he found the Holy Grail

 

Our Negatives

You really do have to play through it once or twice to get a feeling of how everything works. And that could be a 2 1/2 hour debacle where you’re sure you’re forgetting something or doing something wrong.  It’s not that easy to introduce to new players unless you’re willing to play a throwaway game with them, since you can’t really get an idea for the strategy until you play it yourself. The game works when everyone has a grasp of the game, and until then the player with the best understanding of the game will be making all the calls.

The rulebook is unnecessarily confusing. Our first two games we missed a few important rules that made the game too easy, which wasn’t explained well in the rules.  Do a quick search for other player created guides online that do a better job of concisely describing the game. This is kind of a ridiculous thing to fall short in when creating or publishing a game.

There are a lot of pieces, so setup takes a good 10 minutes before you’re even ready to play. The pieces create a lot to keep track of and move around the board on each turn. If you’re not willing to deal with this, it can be frustrating. Even four games in, several times we forgot to restock or missed a question icon on an Event card. We had to grab a few cheap Plano boxes to keep things organized and remove the annoyance of having piles of stuff all over the table.

Much easier this way...

Much easier this way…

 

Accessibility:playbegins_accessibility3

 

 

 

35_party for a Party Nope.
casual Casual This is on the far end of what a cooperative Casual gamer will be willing to try. Difficult.
35_competitive Competitive Nope, it’s a cooperative name, not competitive.
35_strategy Strategic Yes, there are a lot of risk vs. reward decisions to be made. There is also some dice rolling that introduces chance into the mix. It makes a lot of thematic sense though; what would happen if you were exploring an unknown territory? Who knows, and the game has a lot of theme embedded in this.

 

Final Thoughts on Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe feels a little like cooperative Agricola for two reasons: you’ll be assigning your crewmates to different tasks throughout the game (gathering food, hunting, exploring), and there are a TON of cards to introduce all kinds of different events or things that will be happening.

The Event, Action, Response mechanic of a lot of the cards is an awesome concept. It’s great how something that rocks your crew (a monster storm, finding a dead crewmate) and your response to it, will come back to affect you later.

The castaway theme of Robinson Crusoe just permeates the game; for example, all the supporting text on the cards is wonderfully written. However, all the details crammed into the game ensure that each turn is quite complicated and requires a lot of attention to detail with all kinds of pieces moving around the board. It’s a hard game to beat, but it never feels cheap when it takes you down again, and again, and again. If you like cooperative games, and you like games like Agricola, you’ll love this.

Other cooperative games: Pandemic   Forbidden Desert   Forbidden Island

Check out more reviews!

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

8.5

Replayability

75/10

    Engagement

    85/10

      Game Mechanics

      85/10

        Theme/Fun

        95/10

          Likes

          • - Really cool Action/Reaction/Last Chance cards
          • - Strong island survival theme
          • - Satisfyingly difficult to win

          Dislikes

          • - Takes a few playthroughs to even
          • - Lot of little pieces to maintain

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