Every once in a while a game comes along that make me think, “Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this before? It’s such an obvious game design.” The most recent game to make me ask myself this question just so happens to be the winner of this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur’s Game of the Year) award. Having played all 3 of this year’s nominees, it would have also been my pick as well. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine deserves every ounce of praise that it has received. But what makes the game so special? Let me explain.
I remember many holidays at my grandmother’s house where all the older adults, my grandmother and great-grandmother included, would sit around playing game after game of Pinochle. While I had no clue what the game entailed, I knew they loved it despite it just being a game played with nothing more than boring old regular decks of cards. After getting into the hobby, when I first heard about “trick-taking” games I immediately thought of the many late nights my grandparents spent playing their boring looking card games. It was not difficult for me to completely ignore these types of games in pursuit of bigger, more exciting games. Eventually I got roped into playing one these “simple” card games, and that’s all it took, I was hooked.
Each game usually consists of a deck of cards made up of a number of suits, with each suit containing numbered cards. The game is played over a series of ‘hands’, in which the cards are shuffled and dealt out evenly to all players. One player will start by playing a card and in order all other players must play a card matching the suit of the first card. After all players have played a card the player who played the highest value card wins the “trick” and will play first for the next round. If a player doesn’t have a card matching the lead suit, then they are free to play any card. There will also sometimes be a trump suit that can win a trick regardless of what others have played. After players have played all cards in their hand, there is usually some sort of scoring done based on the number or types of cards won by each player. The premise of the game is simple, but with each game adding its own twist to the genre.
While the complexity within the rules may seem simple, there is still a large amount of strategy and decision making that needs to be done to play competitively. This combination may make these types of games less appealing from the get-go, but extremely addicting in the long run. I can safely say that The Crew definitely fits this description. When I first heard about the game I thought, “Well, that could be fun, but I’m not sure it will really appeal to many people.” In the end, all it took was for me, and apparently many other gamers, to play it once and we were hooked. So what exactly does The Crew do differently or add to this classic genre of games? Believe it or not, but it is actually a cooperative game.
The main trick taking formula in the game remains unchanged. There is a 40 card deck, with four main suits containing numbered cards from 1-9 and trump suit of numbers 1-4. The biggest difference is rather than tallying players individual scores at the end of a hand, you check to see if your mission was successful or not. How many different missions can you expect in such a simple game? A lot, actually. Each hand represents one of fifty missions from the included logbook. These contain a variety of tasks that not only get more complex as you progress, but also more difficult, so it is recommended you play them in order, kind of like a campaign.
The main type of task revolves around an additional, smaller set of cards. Depending on the mission, certain players will receive one or more of these matching cards. This player is now responsible to win this particular numbered suit card during this hand in order for the group to be successful. When multiple players have these objective cards there may even be a particular order in which they have to be won. This may not sound too difficult, but I’ll be the first to tell you it can get quite tricky. The main reason for that is probably the last and final rule. There is absolutely no verbal communication. Yeah, you heard me right. Each player does get the opportunity to share one small piece of information each hand though. Before any trick begins a player may place one card from their hand face-up on the table with a token to indicate whether it is their highest, lowest, or only card of that given suit.
This game is just phenomenal. I already loved the subtle strategies present in most trick-taking games. Each mission presents a completely different puzzle that players must work together to solve with extremely limited information. Due to the nature of the way cards are dealt out randomly, many of these missions will continue to present challenges based on card distribution, even after players have cracked solved that mission’s puzzle. When and what you communicate each hand is an agonizing decision that can make or break the group’s ability to silently put together a plan. But even then, your plan may be different than that of the the player to your right, and so you both will need to be ready to pivot and adjust the in-game timer ticks down one card at a time.
Those, like me, that adore trick-taking games will love this as it adds a new and interesting take on the genre. And those that aren’t huge fans of, or hate never tried, trick-taking games will surely find the cooperative puzzle fun, viewing this as an upgrade from simpler games like The Mind or Hanabi. My biggest regret is that I wasn’t the one who designed the game. It feels like something that should have been released years ago, already with a number of rethemes and implementations. I have very few 10 rated games, and most tend to be bigger box games, but The Crew is one of two 10 rated games that can fit in my pocket, with the other be High Society. In my mind, for $15 there is no better game on the market…period. The sheer amount of enjoyment and memorable moments is right up there with the best of the best cooperative games. What are you waiting for, get this game into your collection now and then thank me later.
It is also worth mentioning that Thames and Kosmos has been releasing some additional digital content for the game like many other publishers for those of us stuck at home or maybe a little tight on funds. These are an additional 15 missions broken out into 5 separate Daimos Adventures. These are also great and make for a quick and dirty run at some of the tougher types of missions that the game can provide. I’ve added a link to the content below.