Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island Review

 

 
Overview:
The story:
It’s been six months. Six months since I’ve seen my wife, my son. Six months since we washed up on the beach of this wretched island.
I’ve been lying here for hours, staring at the clear blue sky. It’s extremely hot and I’m exhausted. Last night has taken its toll. We had to defend our camp against a hungry leopard. The roof of the tent has been destroyed and I’m not unscathed either. Luckily, the deep gash in my upper leg isn’t the only thing that reminds me of last night’s  events. The delicious smell of roast meat comes to meet me. It’s been a while.
Barnabas, the cook, looks at me from behind his furnace. ‘Get up you lazy bastard! That roof aint gonna fix itself.’ I smile. Sadly enough, he’s right. I try to stand up. My leg is extremely painful. I must ignore the pain. It’s difficult, but I manage, we have been through worse.
What you get for your money:
A big board, 11 island tiles, a first player tile, 73 event cards, 3 wreckage cards, 90 adventure cards, 52 mystery cards, 8 starting item cards, 16 beast cards, 30 invention cards, an ‘arranging the camp’ card, 6 large scenario cards, 4 large character cards, a Friday card, a Dog card, 12 custom dice, lots of tokens, lots of plastic markers, lots of wooden cubes, some pawns and, tadaaa, the rules.
How do you play the game:
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island is a cooperative game. You and your fellow players are stranded on an island. Your first goal is to survive, when one player dies, you all lose. Your second goal depends on the scenario. There are six different ones. In the first scenario you have to prepare for winter on the island and build a pile of wood, set it on fire in order to attract the attention of passing ships. 
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I’m not going to describe you how to play the game, but I will give you an idea of what you might encounter and what can do in the game. 
 
You are a character, a cook or an explorer for instance, with a certain health level, some special abilities and two pawns (workers) to perform actions with. You are stranded on a beach and terrible things will happen. Storms will hit the island, dangerous animals will attack and other events will put you to the test. You have to deal with what the island gives you. Many threats happen during the day-time, but the night-time isn’t pleasant either. Nights are wet and cold. You need fire to warm yourself and food to recuperate. It’s not a vacation. 
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You can prepare yourself for the harsh day and nights by gathering resources, like fish or wood, or by exploring new parts of the island. New island tiles are placed on the board and you might find something useful there. You can also use resources to build a tent, a roof over your head or a palisade to protect you against animals. You also can make weapons to hunt them. When you succeed you might get food or fur or maybe both. You might want to invent or make certain items that will help you throughout the game, like a fire, a rope or a shovel. The items you are able to invent are different every game. 
  
Whether you’re going to explore, build or gather resources you have to choose; do play it safe and put all my energy into one action or do I want to use my energy for more than one task. When you choose the first option your action will automatically succeed. When you choose the latter, you have roll three dice first. These dice tell you whether an action was successful, whether you got hurt and whether you encountered something along the way, or not. The island is dangerous.
 
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You can always choose a safe action, you can rest and heal, or maybe you want to rearrange the camp and increase the morale of the group. Your state of mind is another important factor in this game.
All these thing take place in a certain order. First an event takes place. Then you get a morale bonus or a penalty. Then your campsite tile produces goods. After that you can place your pawns on all the different actions and execute them in a specific order. Then you have to deal with the weather and lastly, the night falls in and you have to deal with that.
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After a couple of rounds, depending on the scenario, the game ends. You survived, but were you able to get off the island? 
  
I would recommend to read the rulebook or watch a video about this game if you want to get a more detailed description. There’s a lot going on and I do not want to copy the rulebook or have a ‘how to play’ section that is just as long.
 
So I’ll continue with the review section and maybe give you some more detailed information there.
Review:
Gameplay
This game is one big adventure. There are so many Event cards, Adventure cards (the cards you draw when you want to explore/ build/ gather with only one pawn), Mystery cards and Inventions that every game feels different and tells a different story. You constantly will be surprised by the things that happen to you and your fellow survivors. There’s so much variation and then I’m not even talking about the fact that there are multiple scenarios. You can already get a lot of enjoyment out of the first scenario, but there are six of them and they, besides the fact that you need to survive, are totally different.  The variability/  replay value is a major selling point of this game.
Another plus, is the story that is being told throughout the game. The flavour text on the cards. You have to read it aloud. It’s essential in my opinion. This game has solid mechanisms, a good set of brains, but the bits on the cards are the heart of the game. It keeps everyone involved. You can be very cold and mechanical when you draw a card (OK, we can choose: discard this card or get a food and put it in the event deck) or you can tell the story (We found a baby birds nest! Ohh, how cute. We can eat them. Eat them!? No! Yeah, we need the food,  but mommy isn’t going to like it).
  
As I already said, the mechanisms are solid. The rulebook is OK, the basic rules are quite simple. It’s a cooperative worker placement game. You just need to go through several phases in a certain order, place pawns, execute actions, quite easy. But it’s the things that characters can do, the Events, the Adventures and additional scenario rules with all these different tokens, the exceptions to the rules that make this game difficult. The story behind these tokens (extra bad weather. You have to send one extra person on an expedition next time. You have a head injury) is interesting, but you have to make sure that you don’t forget stuff or miss anything that’s happening on the board. There’s a lot going on. 
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I really like the ‘push your luck’ element in this game. You can play safe and sent two pawns on a adventure, success guaranteed, but so many things have to be done, so you need to take risks, send only one pawn, and therefore you have to roll the actions dice. You might fail, get wounded or trigger an event (another adventure card) or everything goes well and you end up with a new spear.  
I also like the fact that this game has a memory. Not all the cards have this, but there  are cards, like the’ baby bird’ card mentioned before, where you have a choice: options A or B. Option B gives you something good, but it also has an effect later in the game, mostly bad. There are also cards that have the text: ‘if you have invented object C, then.. Otherwise …’. Everything you do throughout the game, has an immediate effect, but it can also effect you later in the game. That’s cool. 
Most cooperative games are hard. Robinson is no exception. Bad things will happen to you, a lot. So much that at some point you’ll desperately pull out the hairs on you head and think: ‘How are we going to stay alive?’. But then the euphoria is all the greater when you find a wonderful treasure or make it through very bad weather, unharmed, or win in the end.
I have played this game solo, with two and with three players. When you play solo or with two players you get help from Friday, an extra character (from the Robinson story). You can also make the game easier by adding another character, an extra pawn, the dog. He can only be used for hunting and exploring.
When it comes to cooperative games in general, I don’t like to play it with many people. You have to be able to discuss your plans without the game becoming very chaotic. Therefore I like playing this game (and other cooperative games) with three players or less. The solo game works perfectly. You can also play a solo two-player game if you don’t like the official variant.
Summing-up, the game tells a great story if you let it, it’s hard, but surviving together keeps everyone involved until the end. It’s a worker placement game and the basic mechanisms and rules are quite easy to understand, but the many exceptions and alterations make this game fiddly sometimes and more difficult (in terms of the rules). It’s definitely a gamers game. 
Theme
This game is very thematic. You desperately work together, overcome setbacks and celebrate successes. I survival in a box. Every card I’ve encountered makes sense. The story and the mechanisms, the things you have to do, are connected and brought together in a great gaming experience.
Looks
You get a quite beautiful board, it looks old and weathered. The pictures are charcoal drawings and the whole game has a colonial feel to it and that’s very suitable.  
  
The characters are a bit steampunkish, but that’s probably because colonialism and steampunk are (or got inspired by) the same period in history.
Quality of the components
Cardboard pieces: good. Custom dice: good (although I hope to get my replacement die soon). Wooden bits: good. Plastic bits: a bit small, but good. Scenario and character cards: good. Other cards: not line, but good (you don’t shuffle them very much).
Fun
I really like Robinson Crusoe. It’s difficult, tense, you stay involved throughout the game, you tell a great story and every game is going to feel different whether you play a new scenario or not. You can do so much, but you are always short of time and hands.
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Mostly I prefer competitive games over cooperative ones, but the addition of the worker placement mechanism makes it more fun for me, because I really like that mechanism. Then there’s also the fact that every action you take has an impact, now and later. Really fun. 
Robinson can be a bit fiddly (with all the tokens) and the rules might be a bit overwhelming for new players (or non-gamers). I do think, with the help of an experienced Robinson, you can play this game with non-gamers, but you have to be really careful (to many rules, the game takes too long for them and you might become an extreme alpha player).
In conclusion, at this point in time, this game is one of my favourites.
Now back to the table and play: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island!

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