Play Time: 60-120 minutes
Age Recommendation: 14+
Difficulty to Learn: 6.5/10
Mastery Curve: 5/10
Luck Variance: 5/10
Publisher: Portal Games
Theme and Overview
Robinson Crusoe is a cooperative survival and exploration game in which players control characters with asymmetrical powers in order to complete tasks in one of six different scenarios (included in the base game). These characters are each represented by two color-coded Action pawns that can be assigned to different placement locations around the game board during the Action Phase. Typically, the goal of each scenario is to collect a certain amount of resources (such as wood in “Castaways” to build a large bonfire) while fending off storms, attacks, and feeding your survivors.
At the start of each round, the active player will reveal an Event Card. This card often applies some immediate detriment and requires some task to be completed during the round in order to avoid further problems. Players will have to balance between completing their main scenario goal and keeping up with these Event tasks each turn. At times, it may be worth suffering the penalty of an unattended Event so that workers can be used for other tasks so players will have to plan accordingly. After that, the active player will either gain or lose Determination tokens based on the current Morale level of their camp. Next, useful resources such as food and wood are gathered from the team’s current camp location. These will be handy in completing tasks and feeding each character at the turn’s end.
Following that, the Action phase begins. This is where a bulk of the player activity takes place. Actions in Robinson Crusoe include Exploring, Gathering, Building, Hunting, and Arranging Camp. Players must work together to decide how to commit their workers to these action spaces. Teamwork is key in Robinson Crusoe!
The board is divided into two main sections. On one half, player pawns are used to Explore the island by flipping over tiles which represent new areas capable of providing resources (to be gathered in future turns), revealing Discovery tiles, adding Beasts to the Hunting deck, or providing access to new inventions. Exploring, like other actions in the game, is often necessary but dangerous, as using a one worker to Explore a new location will require the player to roll the three associated Action dice.
Action dice involve three different checks:
- Success: On the first of three dice, check to see if you rolled a “check mark”. If so, your action is successful. If not, try again next time but don’t stop there…
- Damage: On the next die you’ll hope to roll a blank. The alternative is a face depicting a ruptured heart which represents a wound (point of damage) to your character endured during the completion of the task. Ouch!
- Adventure cards: On the third die, if you see a question mark face-up, you’ll need to draw an Action card from the corresponding deck. Typically these are not good outcomes, but on occasion, you could find something that might benefit your team. Again, a blank is the preferred outcome but more than half of this die’s faces show a question mark so you’ll really need luck on your side.
Action dice are always rolled during Explore, Gather, and Build actions when using a single worker to complete them (or when an Adventure token has been placed on the deck), however, to avoid this entirely, a second worker can be added to that Action space. Doing so will guarantee that action’s completion and bypass the need to roll the dice. It’s a safe bet but this plan can result in slowed progress towards the main scenario goal so you’ll often need to take some risks to get things done in the allotted amount of time.
On subsequent turns, Action pawns can be assigned to each explored location to gather resources that are showing on each tile. This is done in a similar way, using two workers to ensure that action’s success and avoid the need for a die roll.
The other half of the board is primarily dedicated to the Build action. After building a Shelter, the group is able to use this action to upgrade the Roof and Palisade to protect against storms and attacks which may occur during the Weather Phase each round. Additionally, actions can be taken to improve the group’s Weapon level which will be compared against Beasts when hunting for resources such as food and pelts.
There are a number of face up Item cards that can be built in the same way. Each Item card includes a location icon at the top of the card detailing which type of location must first be explored in order for it to be built. Once it has been explored (revealed during exploration) players can take their Build action to craft that item (and roll the Action dice if they are committing just a single worker to that task).
If Beasts have been added to the Hunting deck during the Explore phase, players will have the option to Hunt by flipping the top card of that deck and comparing its attack value to their Weapon level. This is a great way for the team to acquire food and pelts but can be very dangerous for an underarmed party!
Lastly, the Arrange Camp action will allow players to increase the party’s morale and gain Determination tokens (used to perform character abilities).
Following the Action Phase, players will need to check the round track of their scenario card to determine if any Weather dice need to be rolled. These dice depict rain storms, snow storms, and animal attacks which will damage your characters or deplete their resource supply if their Roof and Palisade level is not sufficient to defend against them.
Finally, players must feed their characters during each night phase or they will receive wounds.
This sequence concludes the round. Each scenario is played over a set number of rounds and the scenario’s goal must be completed in that amount of time for the group to win the game. In some cases, such as the Castaways scenario, a boat is said to be passing during the last three rounds of the scenario so players must assemble their bonfire by that point in order to achieve success.
Robinson Crusoe contains 55 item cards (44 x 68mm) and 220 Action, Treasure, and Event Cards (59 x 92mm)
Board’s Edge Games
We tried out Board’s Edge Games’ rental service in order to play through Robinson Crusoe on a rental basis. Board’s Edge is a wonderful site based in Atlanta that not only sells new copies of games (with an emphasis on charity contributions via those sales) but has recently begun a rent-to-own service with a one-month minimum. You can check out their selection here and use the promo code TRIAL10 for 10% off of your rental.
Corey: This game can be stressful!
If you enjoy lighter cooperative games like Forbidden Island or Horrified and you’re looking to add some variety to your collection, I would suggest looking to other titles first. If you’ve played other cooperative games and you’ve felt like you’re interested in some more depth and challenge, this is likely worth a shot. In your first play-through, you should expect to spend 30 minutes with the set-up and about 40 minutes to learn the rules and mechanics of the game. I’d suggest Watch It Played’s video for both purposes.
That said, this game is a lot of fun. Overcoming the game’s immense difficulty and finding success when taking big risks can result in so many great moments of shared success. We certainly got a little rowdy when we finally beat Castaways for the first time after getting floored by it the first few tries. On the flip side, you’ll also experience moments where things just don’t go your way. Bouts of bad die rolls and unfortunate card draws can turn a few decent rounds into, “holy crap, we are all going to starve to death”. Though this can be frustrating and disheartening at times, it’s what makes it so much sweeter when you finally beat the scenario.
COREY POINTS: 8.5/10
Nikki: To date this is one of the hardest co-op games we have ever played. As someone who is fairly risk averse in real life, I found out rather quickly that if you aren’t willing to task risks that your group will most definitely starve to death on that cursed island because there is just no way at the beginning of the game to get the food and other resources you need to survive. As such, our first play through was not the most enjoyable because we most definitely starved to death, but each play after was more fun as Corey and I worked out a plan to spread out and gain the resources we needed.
One cool aspect of the game is the variants for both solo-play and two-player games. Most of our plays of Robinson Crusoe were only two-players so we got to take advantage of the special character, Friday (the one white action pawn that isn’t used in three- or four-player games). Friday could be used just like player action pawns to complete any of the various actions (Hunt, Build, Explore, Gather, etc). While Friday has much less health than players, the additional action pawn at the beginning of the game can be a huge help in gathering resources, and definitely helped improve our odds of survival.
NIKKI POINTS: 8/10
Corey: In our experiences, it was more common to starve to death, die in a snowstorm, or get killed by a tiger than to actually beat the scenario so the fact that there are just six included in the base game may provide a little more playability than first glance. Whenever we lost, I found myself wanting to boot it back up and try again. The biggest barrier to this was the fact that this game clocks in at over two hours so finding time to ‘try again’ usually involves some more involved scheduling than “should we take another crack at this?”.
As I mentioned in the General Enjoyment section, this game will take some time to learn for your first playthrough. The advantage of it being a cooperative game, however, is that experienced players can help newer players work through it without having to go through all of that. We were able to teach my brother the basic rules in just a few minutes and introduced him to the specifics during the course of the game. Normally, a game of this complexity would be tough to get to the table because new crowds aren’t always up for a lengthy learning session but I think Robinson Crusoe has a leg up here based on that point.
COREY POINTS: 8.5/10
Nikki: During our rental period we only got to try out a couple scenarios out of the six scenarios included in the box and that kept us pretty busy for our month long rental. Each scenario has a different theme, from Swiss Family Robinson to Cannibal Island each with different goals rule sets.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Corey: Having never been trapped on a deserted island (knock on wood…but let me just Gather some first), I only have the movie Castaway and the show Lost to base this feedback on. While I was disappointed that there was no volleyball to befriend in Robinson Crusoe (“Wilsooooon!”), the familiar feelings of stress, despair, and relief certainly play in big time at various moments of this game. The need to take risks and roll dice or draw Action cards causes a lot of those moments of tension that are present in this genre but can also cause some great excitement.
COREY POINTS: 9.5/10
Nikki: Robinson Crusoe does a great job of simulating the stress, tough decision making, and hazards that would come with becoming stranded on a deserted island. The dice rolling when trying to complete a Build, Explore or Gather action also does well thematically to simulate the risk, potential for injury, and chance that an action is successful if the players were really stranded on a deserted island.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Quality of Components
Corey: Robinson Crusoe is packed full of cardboard tokens, cards, and wooden pawns. Most of them are textured and colorfully detailed. While it’s nothing that will wow you, there are certainly no concerns that any of this isn’t sturdy enough to withstand repeated play throughs. I only wish that some sort of box insert was included with the game so that this large variety of stuff could be kept in some sort of order rather than a giant pile of ziplock baggies. I’d highly recommend investing in a Folded Space or E-Raptor insert if you plan on adding this game to your collection.
COREY POINTS: 8/10
Nikki: There are so many components in this game! Upon opening the box for the first time, I was amazed (and overwhelmed) by the sheer number of game pieces. Everything looks good from the wooden action pawns to the morale tokens. All of the tokens are made of thick cardboard with a decorative textured surface. The cards are all nice thick paper with a fantastic texture.
NIKKI POINTS: 8.5/10
Corey: While the art isn’t necessarily the strongest feature of this game, its board and card design was done tastefully and function was clearly prioritized. The board has an awful lot going on and does a fantastic job of using its theme and aesthetic in a very legible and organized format. With much more going on, it would be difficult to find and follow all of the many things happening on the game board and some of this function would surely be sacrificed. I definitely appreciate the concept that the game board is intended to represent a map laid out at the basecamp along with a list of possible inventions and blueprints for Shelter upgrades. I think this is a very cool and unique approach.
COREY POINTS: 8/10
Nikki: Robinson Crusoe features very sparse, sketchy style drawings on mostly pale, parchment colored backgrounds. All of these drawings are wonderfully detailed and look like a sketch of a wild beast, invention or building plans someone stranded on an island might draw (if they have any paper) to document what they have done. For me personally, while the art is cohesive and well thought out, it just seemed to be missing a lot of color that I would expect to see in a game taking place on a deserted island.
NIKKI POINTS: 7.5/10
Our overall score based on the responses of both reviewers in five different categories (10 points possible for each).