Are you a person that likes when your game makes things hard for you? Are you a gamer that loves worker placement, but yearns for the good old days when worker placement was mean and hard? Do you deplore the mere existence of "point salad" sort of games? Are you one of those that finds the smooth mechanical brilliance of modern euro games sorta boring and samey? Do you wish for your games to have themes so well executed that it will give you nightmares in nights to come? Let me introduce you to.... #Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island.
Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island, henceforth refered to as RC, is a 2012 hit game from Ignacy Trzewiczek and Portal Games that puts the player(s) on a desert island where they must struggle for very survival. This is a game for 1-4 players, and is generally quite well regarded in the solo community. In fact, it seems like it is considered to be one of THE classics of the solo boardgaming community as a whole.
In RC you, as the player, control one of 4 asymmetrical characters, each of which has two character pieces. Though, in solo, you also control two simplified characters to give you a few more options. The basic engine of the game is one of worker placement. You place your character pieces on the actions you want to do, these include such diverse actions as hunting, foraging, exploring the island, resting, building.... And etc. After all your pieces are out, you resolve the various actions. This is where it gets dicey, pun intended. For most of the worker placement spaces, if you place two workers, success is guaranteed. But, if you place only one, you have to roll some dice. This may mean you fail utterly, but most likely you will succeed with some sort of consequence probably, but not necessarily, negative. This is a really challenging decision. Your pieces are limited, and there is so so much that you want/need to do. And, you never have enough pieces to do everything you want/need to do. One must, therefore, carefully judge the risk and reward of spreading one's workers and ensuring, mostly, risk free success. There are other phases of the game, but, it seems to me, that this is the main heart of the game, and the one where most of your time will be spent. There is, however, one other phase of the game that I think deserves some mention.... The weather phase.... During the weather phase, weather dice are rolled. And, by and large, the weather on this paradise is truly next level awful. It's always knocking down your shelter and ruining your night.
So, now I wish to give you some of my history and experience with this game. It's been on my wish list for a very long time. I've heard that it's one of the premier storytelling games, not in the sense that it has an overarching scripted plot, but in the sense that the story beats weave a story around you. However it is a co-op and I tend to steer clear of co-ops. So I never bought it. However, suddenly it was on sale at Gamenerdz for $34, and I happened to have a gift certificate from a BGA contest win.... So I snapped it up.
I have played this game only once, so these are very much first impressions rather than a review. I did play it solo. I played the Castaways scenario. My chosen character was the explorer, and I played with Friday and the dog. I lost spectacularly.
Let's proceed in my typical Brian's Battery style.
The components are, at worst, adequate. I like, as much as anyone, deluxe components. However, I also feel like they are often unnecessary, and sometimes downright unnecessary. The cardboard is a little thin, but it's good. The cards aren't linen finish, and I wish they were, but neither are they bad cards. The resources are customized and nicely colored. The player pieces are very chunky and have nice stickers. The dice feel very good, and they better would when they ruin your plans so often. This is not the first edition of the game, I believe the components were somewhat different in the first edition. But if this game would have come out like this in 2012 with these components it would have been considered a very delux game. In today's market, I think it's merely average, which is actually quite good.
Setup for my first game.
Box/storage solution -
The box is the typical ttr sized box, which is fine, though not my favorite size. But the storage solution is a spectacularly unimaginative cardboard well combined with a bunch of baggies. It works, but setup for this game would be so helped by some sort of functional insert.
I found the setup, and teardown, to be fiddly time-consuming affairs. It's not as fiddly as, for instance, pendragon, but it is a nuisance.
This is Vincent Dutrait at his finest the art is clean and evocative the ui he designed on the board is, at once, thematic and clear. I suppose that some might not like the art, but I loved it.
The theme is beautifully realized. Now, considering that the theme has to do with the trials and tribulations that come as a part of being stranded on a desert island, that may or may not be a good thing. But, I'm my mind, there is no question that it is very clearly and beautifully realized.
Rulebook - -
This isn't what I would consider to be THAT heavy of a game. But this rulebook is a mess, and I don't even know what is wrong with it. For some reason it just didn't jive with me in the least. I'm willing to acknowledge that this may reflect more on me than on the game. But, I do think that rulebook woes do are common complaints with this particular title. So, it's possible that it isn't just me.
This is a superlative story game. There are these story beats that weave a strong narrative thread throughout the game. Let me tell you a few of the things that happened in my game.
I went exploring, and off in the distance I saw a gorilla. Now, at the moment I didn't have the resources to deal with him, and I left well enough alone. And what do ya know, turns out the nasty bugger followed my back to camp and several turns later he walloped hard several times before I was able to kill it. He wounded me grievously, and I had to heal before I could do much else. This is a story that began in one turn and ended several turns later, but it helped tie the story together.
Another example. I needed some shelter, I had had some, but storms had knocked it down while I was wounded. I had the wood I needed to build it, but I needed some hides. So Friday said he'd go hunting for me. He took the dog and my old pistol, for which I had only one shot left. Some time later I heard a shot, but no triumphant Friday emerged with spoils of the chase. Finally the dog appeared but no Friday, I went looking for him, and finally found him, he'd shot a jaguar, but the jaguar had managed to kill his killer. Now Friday was gone, dead. And I was stretched even further than before. I died a few nights later. A snowstorm caused my roof to collapse and I died in the ruin of my hut.
There is a lot of variety in the game. There is a variety of inventions to invent. A lot of different cards. Like 8 different scenarios in the base game + more online + more in expansions. 4 different characters. The variety just goes on and on.
I really don't know what to think of the gameplay. It's a bit of a wierd beast. It's quite procedural in some ways, but then there's also just a lot of really wild, sorta random stuff that comes along to mess up your plans.
All the characters are pretty remarkable line drawings. The lack of a backstory to the characters, combined with a care to avoid interjecting color into the character drawings make this a game that avoids explicit representation while suggesting quite a bit of implicit representation. The characters, even Friday, are defined roughly, in form while allowing a lot of personal imagination in filling out anything from race to creed. This, to me, is the sort of representation I value most, because it permits me to interject myself, with my story, or yourself with your story, into the game. Also, I would like to point out that each player board is double sided. You can play a male carpenter, or a female carpenter and etc...
Male and female side of explorer player boards.
In "the good old days" of medicine it was commonly believed that what didn't kill you made you stronger. Pain needs weren't handed out with great promptness. Today, however, it seems to be generally realized that the effects of pain are terribly damaging. You don't need to be in that much pain to get strong pain pills. Obviously, this can contribute to addiction issues... But that isn't the point in trying to make here. My point is that RC hews to the old school "if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger" philosophy. This is a game that doesn't hesitate to knock you down and then drag you up by your testicles so it can knock you down again. This game isn't worried about fairness, or about giving you a sporting chance. I'm not even convinced that this game is worried about trying to provide a fun experience. But, the thing is, that life is sorta like that as well. Things just happen to us, sometimes nice things, and sometimes really bad things. Sometimes life just sucks. Sometimes, as happened to some friends of mine, the barn does burn down the day after you are robbed. Sometimes you just board that plane, not knowing that it is piloted by terrorists, as happened to so many on 9-11. We all share, in one way or another, this fabric of human suffering, this sense of life sometimes just being random and unfair. The characters in RC share this as well. This makes them seem real in a way that many characters in games don't seem real. You don't get a rich backstory, or even much of an idea of what sort of person they are. But you do get a deep feeling of kinship, of your character being fellow-human. And, you get the feeling, that after all, even if the Island has conquered you, even if your bones lie bleaching in the sun or mouldering in the ruins of your hut, that even then, your spirit hasn't been conquered. In the last extremity, the spirit of man has remained indomitable, even though the flesh withered and rotted away. It seems, to me, to be a deeply positive game, especially for a game that is so unfair. But, more than that, it is a deeply human game, with all the beauties, flaws, strengths, and frailties that that entails. I don't know if I like the game. And, I don't think that it matters if I do. This game merely IS and, in so being, transcends itself. It becomes a testament to the human experience with all its romance and horror. This is a game that will remain on my shelf, and assuming my first impressions are accurate, will be one I will dip into at times. Not to win, or to lose, but to explore the frailty, and the glory of mankind. I will dip into it so that I can practice how I can be set about on every side, even be overthrown, yet remain unconquered.