This is, by far, one of my favorite boardgames.
- It’s cooperative.
- It tells a different story every time you play (even when you play the same scenario).
- It’s challenging — the island is cursed after all.
- Your decisions come back to haunt you through a really clever system with the event deck.
- It is the only game I’ve ever chosen to play solo, which is really saying something, because that never happens.
- It feels like an interactive adventure story, a devious puzzle, and a strategy game got caught playing Dungeons & Dragons.
What’s in the booooox!?
It comes with 6 different game scenarios:
- Cursed Island
- Saving Jenny
- Volcano Island
- Cannibal Island
- The Robinson Family
— where each scenario changes the entire plot premise, victory conditions, items, treasure, and conflict of the game. It’s really more of a game system where you can insert a given scenario to change the entire experience. It’s incredible!
The designer, Ignacy Trzewiczek (TREV-ee-chek), even released two more scenarios as free downloads.
Then there is a big box expansion chronicling Charles Darwin’s expedition to the Galapagos Islands researching plant and animals species to inform his theory of evolution across a 5-scenario campaign.
Then there are over 30 fan-made scenarios you can download for free from Boardgame Geek!
And if all of that still isn’t enough, he’s releasing another big box expansion called Robinson Crusoe: Mystery Tales (Q4 2018) that includes:
- 10 new characters!
- New deck of Event cards
- 3 new decks of Adventure cards
- New Beast cards
- New Mystery cards
- A new mechanism of Sanity that you can use in the base game of Robinson Crusoe to change it into a game of dreadful stories!
- And! the expansion includes five missions that form a long and epic campaign: The Lost City of Z that follows another great explorer from history, whose expedition went deep into the Amazon rainforest in the search for a hidden civilization.
How does it play?
This is a game where you can’t play it safe and win the scenario — there just isn’t enough time. The game forces you to spread yourself a little thinner than is comfortable, because it isn’t comfortable when you’re shipwrecked on a deserted and hostile island and you need to find or build shelter, explore new areas, create fire, reach the goal of the scenario, gather enough food, and not get sick or injured in the process. For any task you attempt without 100% of your attention, you have to toss the dice, running the risk of injury, failure, or adventure! — where you draw a card from the Adventure Deck and something happens to you, or you’re given a choice which may or may not have unintended consequences later in the game.
I brought this to Game Night last week because Collin requested a cooperative game and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get this to the table. It’s actually one of the easier games to teach* because I just tell everybody “I’m not going to explain to you how everything works. I’ll run the machine of the game and let you know what your options are or when you have to make a choice of what to do next.” And we just jumped right in.
I had played the first scenario, Castaways, several times already and wanted to see some new content. I hadn’t been able to Save Jenny in any of my solo attempts, so we started there. We were shipwrecked in a storm and poor Jenny is stranded on a rock quite a ways offshore. We need to build a raft, paddle out to rescue her, get back, and heal her wounds while trying to build a lifeboat so we can get off this God-forsaken island before the impending hurricane arrives! And we saved Jenny, thankyouverymuch. It seemed too easy (but we were playing on easy mode with Friday and the dog, so that’s probably why).
So now that everybody understood the flow of the game, we put Friday and the dog back in the box and attempted Volcano Island, where we’re all treasure hunters racing to explore a large area of the map, delve into ancient temples, rob them of their riches, and run for the coast before the lava catches up to us. This one was crazy hard with the increase in difficulty on the exploration action, the urgent need to keep moving, and the still ever-present need for food and shelter. In short: we died.
To my surprise, Collin, Dan and Steve #3 all said “Let’s do it again!” We almost never fit 3 games into a single game night, but if they’re askin’, I’m playin’!
So we loaded up The Robinson Family. We are (you guessed it) shipwrecked on a deserted island, but this time there is no hope of escape. This is our home, for better or for worse, so we might as well make the best of it. Build a shelter, put a roof over our heads, build up a palisade to protect ourselves from the wild beasts of the jungle and storm surges and stormy winds, and start building things. Build like crazy. We’re gonna have 3 babies while we’re here, so there are going to be even more mouths to feed as time goes on.
At one point it became abundantly clear that only taking the safe option of applying 100% of our attention to each task, thus guaranteeing success, wasn’t going to cut it. I realize I already explained that in the first paragraph of this section, but those Adventure Cards are mean! and you lull yourself into thinking maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry? As long as you don’t have to draw one of those cards. Maybe safe will work this time? Nuh uh. We wouldn’t be able to get enough done in time.
Collin and I were contemplating which of the many items we should build this round. He had 100% of his attention focused on digging a pit so we can store extra food and keep it from spoiling, and I had 100% of my attention focused on crafting a spear so we’d stand a better chance against the beasts when we go hunting for food. Dan and Steve #3 were fully committed to the more urgent needs of the moment and their hands were tied.
I looked up and made eye contact with Collin, and he watched as I willfully divided my attention between building two items instead of just one — forcing a toss of the dice for each build action, risking personal injury or even death. If we’re going to get through this, one of us is going to have to make sacrifices. He looked down at what I just did and had a moment of pause. “Hmm…” and then he boldly followed my lead!
We both mimed playing cellos as the Titanic sinks.
It’s the moments like these that are scattered through this game that make it so special. It’s hilarious, disheartening, foreboding, uplifting, dreadful, exhausting, uncertain, and exhilarating. European-style boardgames are often criticized for lacking any sense of theme or story and that they just involve pushing cubes around, converting cubes into money into more cubes for victory points. But this game… man! This is a perfect example of how that is not always the case. This is a real gem of a thematic boardgame. I’ve never played a game that tells as many interesting, entertaining, and emergent stories as this one does (and that factors in Pandemic Legacy Season 1!).
In the end, we were victorious. Our little settlement was up and running, we had a solidly built shelter that was protecting us from the elements, and that freed up some of our time and energy to focus on getting our food supply in order. We gave birth to 2 kids so far, but we aren’t quite sure who the father is among the four of us. What happens on the island, stays on the island?
* What was that asterisk for? You said this is an easy game to teach. Is it or isn’t it?
It is. It’s easy to teach because you don’t actually have to teach all of the game system to the other players. You just need to drive the bus and prompt them when it’s their turn. But it wasn’t an easy game system for me to learn. Writing rulebooks for games is hard. Very few companies do it well, but most (I can’t back that up) are considered better at it than this one.
It took me a couple solo plays to figure this game out, and then a few more games to realize some rules goofs. It’s an adventure, so there are a bunch of niche cases that happen and sometimes it’s unclear what the ruling should be. After a few plays, I began to feel confident that I know what I’m doing and can drive the game without having to consult the rulebook. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a smooth running machine. We played 3 games and I think we encountered one situation where I wasn’t certain of the ruling, so we picked a fork in the road and continued on. This in no way diminished our fun.
The 4th edition (which is the only one available now) has an updated rulebook making it even easier to get up and running. There is an excellent quick start guide a fan posted to BGG that you can download for free that eases you into the first scenario, game setup, and gets you comfortable with the flow of the game. The community of fans for this game is populous, supportive, and enthusiastic. They put together an enormous FAQ and Errata so if you aren’t sure of something, chances are the answer is in there. You’re in good hands and help is there when you need it.
Wrap it up!
I can say without reservation that this game is totally and absolutely worth it! Please don’t hesitate if it sounds fun to you. It is one of the best examples of what a modern boardgame can be, and it will provide you with many fun memories across dozens and dozens of play sessions. Highly Recommended!