Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island
Overview (Be afraid…)
In this cooperative game of survival, players find themselves stranded on a mysterious island. They must coordinate their efforts and actions to accomplish the goal of a specific scenario. To do so, players make their way through six different phases to hunt, build items, gather resources, explore the island or simply rest to regain strength and health. Finding food is a necessity. Events on the island will present threats and challenge player morale. Weather will threaten their wellbeing and when night comes, players must have shelter. If too many things go against the players, morale will drop and affect everyone’s ability to succeed. It’s the ultimate cooperative experience because the loss of any single player will end the game for everyone.
Set up (Welcome to the Island)
Note: There are 20 steps to the setup of this expansive game. This section has been abbreviated for your reading pleasure.
One main set up requirement for Robinson Crusoe is choosing the scenario. The Scenario card lists the number of rounds played, the weather conditions and several other aspects of the scenario, but most importantly it lists the scenario objective. Each scenario also may have its own specific set up. Once chosen, there are some common steps to take.
Players draw a random character card and take that character’s starting invention card. Players also take two matching action tokens of any color they wish and a red wound marker which is placed on the leftmost space on the character’s health track. The Morale for the group begins at 0 on the game board and 14 Invention cards are randomly placed face up on the game board. The Island tile marked with the number “8” is placed face up in the left most hex on the game board and the remaining tiles are shuffled and placed nearby. In addition, various other decks are shuffled and placed in their respective spaces. Other tokens, cubes, markers and dice required to play are placed nearby. The youngest player goes first.
Gameplay (What could possibly go wrong?)
The game objective is quite simple: survive long enough to complete the scenario objective. The game is played over a number of rounds determined by the scenario card. Each round is divided into six phases that must occur in order
1. Event Phase
Draw the top card from the Event deck and resolve the card’s Event effect, then place it on the right space of the Threat Action field on the board. If there is already a card there, slide that card to the left. If there is an Event card on the left space, this card slides off the board and is discarded resulting in the Threat Effect occurring…bad.
During the course of the game, Adventure cards may be shuffled into the Event deck. The text on these cards must be resolved, then a new card is drawn until an Event card is found.
2. Morale Phase
Look at the Morale level on the main board. The first player may have to lose or gain Determination tokens depending on the current level.
3. Production Phase
Players now take the resources depicted on the Island tile where their camp is located. These will either be Food (yellow tokens) or Wood (brown tokens). Resources are placed in the available resources space on the main board and are available for immediate use.
4. Action Phase
There are 7 different actions players may take. This is signified by players placing their pawns on the appropriate spaces on the board as listed below. Each action has a specific benefit:
- Threat Action: By placing a pawn on the Event card, players attempt to avoid the effect of the Threat (Usually by discarding resources). After which, a benefit is often gained. The Event card is then discarded.
- Hunting: If there are any Hunting Cards in the Hunting Deck on the main board, the top Beast card is revealed and must be fought by comparing the strength of the beast to that player’s weapon level. The beast may cause multiple levels of detrimental effects (mainly wounds!), then the card is discarded.
- Building: One of the key aspects in surviving the island is building things. Mainly a Shelter, Roof, Palisade, Weapons which are located on the main board and Items which may be on the main board, Scenario card or on a player’s character board. Items built are either marked with a black token or placed in the Future Resources space on the main board. Most won’t be available to the player until the Weather Phase. Nearly all of these items give bonuses or protect the players from the elements of the island. Weapons help players Hunt; gaining them food to survive. A Shelter, Roof and Palisade will protect against the Weather.
- Gathering Resources: Placing a pawn on the Island tile above a specific resource will give the players that resource for later use. Place that resource token, (Food or Wood) on the Future Resources space on the main board.
- Exploration: By placing Action pawns in empty Island tile spaces adjacent or one tile away from the current camp, a new Island tile is drawn and explored. This may provide the players with new resources, perhaps a shelter (naturally occurring like a cave), Discoveries and Mysteries. It will also be of a specific Terrain Type that will allow players to “unlock” certain items.
- Arranging the Camp: A Player that chooses to place their action pawn here, cleans up around the camp, gains 2 Determination tokens and raising the group’s Mora by 1.
- Rest: Placing an Action pawn here will heal 1 of that player’s wounds.
After all actions have been resolved, the pawns are returned to their players and all resources are moved to the “Available Resources” space.
5. Weather Phase
During the Weather phase, first it is determined if there is any weather that will occur on the island, then those affects are applied.
To see if any adverse weather conditions occur, the Scenario card may dictate a number of Weather dice that must be rolled depending on what turn it is. Weather dice have two specific results: Rainy Clouds and Snowy clouds. If rolled, matching tokens are placed on the Weather space on the main board. Then the weather affects are suffered. Depending on the player’s levels of preparedness, they may lose food, wood as well as receive wounds. Hungry Animals and Storms may also occur, each reducing the players’ resources and protection.
6. Night Phase
Five specific things happen in the Night phase:
- During the Night phase, all players will have to consume 1 food resource. Those that do not receive 2 wounds.
- If the players do not have shelter, they each receive 1 wound for sleeping out in the elements.
- Players may choose to move their camp to an adjacent tile.
- All perishable food rots, and must be discarded.
- The Round marker is then moved on the Scenario card and the player to the left becomes the First player.
Because of the many effects from Event cards, Threats, Island tiles, Items, Weather, as well as each players individual character card, many, many different effects can occur in a single Action step. The rules covering these different effects are expansive and specific and too numerous to include here. But Players can avoid these detrimental effects generally by communicating, planning and gathering and using resources to build and protect themselves from the various threats the island will hurl at them. Coordination is the key.
Tempting Fate (Are you kidding?)
Many actions don’t occur automatically. To make matters worse, Action dice must be rolled to see if that action is successful. But that’s not all. There are three different dice (Success, Wound and Adventure) for each of the three actions; Building (brown) Gathering (blue) and Exploring (green). When an action is called for a player rolls the three dice and reveals what their effort has wrought. Since each die has symbols specific to its type, it is possible to roll a success (on the success die) yet receive a wound (on the wound die) and receive and adventure (on the adventure die) – and of course, any combination thereof. Here all of the player’s careful planning can go quickly awry.
Winning or (probably) Losing
All players will win the game if they fulfill the goal of the scenario within the allotted number rounds. If not, the game results in a loss for everyone. The game also ends in a loss immediately when one character dies from their wounds. Thank you for playing.
As with many Z-man games, the production quality on the game is excellent. Strong thick tokens, vibrant colors, durable cards. The art and graphics on the game are wonderful thanks to a team of 5 talented artists. The antique fonts, the 19th century look and feel and the “explorer’s notebook” style art, gives the game an immersive, thematic environment perfect for the subject. The rule book could have been better however, with mediocre formatting that made navigating the first game a bit like a exploring a cursed island.
Ouch. This game has a lot going on. And due to the less than intuitive rule book, learning the game is almost as difficult as winning it. Once played however and mistakes made, the turns and game play become easier allowing players to become more proactive than reactive as they learn the games timing. Allow several reads and game sessions till you really get it.
Who would enjoy this game?
Cooperative games have become a staple in the hobby games industry. From true co-op to semi co-op to a traitor mechanic. Their key attraction is offering a shared experience. Another attribute is that certain themes truly come alive through cooperative gameplay. So it is with Robinson Crusoe. This game brings together a few elements that make the game a unique experience when compared to other cooperative games. The first and most obvious of these is a creative blend of the co-op with the resource management and worker placement mechanics. But let’s dig deeper.
The next difference are the scenarios. Each of the 6 different scenarios have their own special set of circumstances for setting up the game and achieving victory. Most importantly, they set the tone for the entire play experience. From building a signal fire in Scenario 1 ”Castaways” to rescuing a hapless shipmate named Jenny from the rising tide in scenario 3, to surviving the attack of “Cannibal Island” in scenario 5, the level of difficulty increases as the players’ ability to problem solve and master the mechanics increases. Each scenario also provides key game effect explanations for some of the icons used in the game. For example, when exploring the island, the icon of a Totem may appear. In Scenario 1 these have no effect. (lucky you!) But in scenario 4 “Volcano Island,” each encountered hex with a Totem icon has a different discovery. (A small temple or a hidden cave!) In some scenarios, they are nothing but bad news. This is a brilliant design. Instead of playing the same existing set of circumstances, and attempting to achieve one specific goal, (which may result in a dominant strategy) the “goalposts” keep moving. One can almost certainly imagine player-made scenarios and expansions which use the base mechanics and create an entirely new tale. Like a stage awaiting new scenery, lights, plot and script to create an entirely new theatrical experience.
The game also has its own “tech tree” to a degree. Items are key to survival, and many items require other items to build. All items are keyed to a certain land type depicted on the Island tiles. This forces you to expand and explore hoping find what you need. But more important are the two major threats in the game. No, not Bears and Tapirs; Hunger and Weather.
Ignacy has used these very simple concepts to provide a sense of dread as each day comes to a close. First, as the weather worsens, your shelter, roof and palisade had better be built up otherwise your wood and food will disappear as your characters struggle to keep warm and healthy. As night falls, if you don’t have food for everyone and at least some sort of shelter, characters will take up to 3 wounds. It is harsh (hey it’s a CURSED island!), but what this does is provide a huge sense of urgency during the first 4 game phases. It’s a great technique to achieve an emotional response.
The unique way in which Adventure cards are shuffled into the Event deck is inspired. Events happen and produce threats that must be attended to or dire consequences occur. But, in the course of the game, if an Adventure card is drawn as a result if a die roll, the card is shuffled into the event deck. You know it’s in there, you know what it is. You just don’t know when it will occur. Sometimes the Adventure card even dares you to put it in the Event deck. Cursed island!
Besides all the great mechanics, the flow of the game, the astounding number of random elements that come together and the truly well written thematic flavor text, the real success of this design is that this game simply creeps you out. It’s as if the game wants you to start off feeling completely doomed then teases and prods you along with small glimmers of hope. The game produces a dramatic response like a well written thriller. Then the game, like the island in Defoe’s novel, starts to breathe and threaten and take on a life of its own. Every player will then find themselves whispering to themselves the words Robinson Crusoe stated: ‘I am cast upon a horrible desolate Island, void of all hope of Recovery. But I am alive, and not drown’d as all my Ship’d Company was.”
It’s good to have a positive attitude.
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