Design by Ignacy Trzewiczek
Published by Wydawnictwo Portal
1 – 4 Players, 2 – 3 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: With the impending release of First Martians, which is based heavily on the system pioneered in Robinson Crusoe, I though another look at the original was in order. This review is of the original First Edition.
As a child, I remember being fascinated by the Robinson Crusoe movie and subsequent British television series. I was horrified over the thought of being stranded on an uncharted island, but at the same time thrilled to the adventures he experienced. It was only recently that I actually read the original novel and didn’t find it nearly as exciting.
Polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek’s cooperative game Robinson Crusoe is an attempt to capture the excitement and life-or-death struggle of being shipwrecked on a hostile island. Unlike the novel, however, this time there are multiple survivors of the shipwreck, and the players must cooperate to survive and hopefully be rescued. It certainly is an intriguing premise and setting.
The action primarily takes place on only a small section of the large board, where terrain (hexagonal tiles) will be uncovered as players explore the island. Tiles may show resources, food or hunting ground, all of which the party needs to survive. The rest of the board is mostly dedicated to turn phase diagrams and for providing space to display the large variety of cards, most of which are items the players can construct when assembling the proper resources.
The game includes six different scenarios, each telling a different story and requiring the player to accomplish various tasks in order to achieve victory. Not all of them result in the players escaping the island, but all do allow the players to survive…provided, of course, they are successful.
The game has an abundance of components and takes a considerable amount of table space. It takes awhile—particularly for one’s first few games—to properly sort and organize everything. After selecting the scenario and preparing the cards and tokens, players will cooperate to plan their actions in pursuit of achieving the scenario’s goals.
Players each begin with a character board which lists their special abilities and tracks their health, which will usually steadily decline as the game progresses. Each player may perform two actions per turn, including hunting, building, gathering resources, exploring, rest, etc. A task can be guaranteed success if two action tokens are assigned to it; otherwise, dice must be rolled and there is a chance of failure and/or injury.
An event occurs each turn that will often force players to adapt to nasty weather or other unforeseen events. These can decrease resource or food yields, intensify the weather, etc. Many events also pose a “threat” that players must confront and overcome over the next two turns. If dealt with the players will either receive a benefit (food, resources, etc.), while failure to do so results in an adverse situation.
Players’ morale will also decrease and sometimes increase during the game. The main reason good morale is important is that the players receive “determination” tokens, which can primarily be used to activate players’ special powers. Low morale forces players to expend these tokens or even lose health.
When placing markers to take actions, players usually need only spend one token per action. However, extra tokens are required if the hex is not adjacent to the party’s camp, which can be moved during the game. Players will be in constant need of food and resources. Resources will be needed to build and improve shelter, improve the group’s weapons level, as well as construct the items needed to meet scenario requirements and make other tasks easier.
When taking certain actions, dice must be rolled to determine success if less than one action token was placed. Building, hunting, exploring—all require dice rolls to determine success. These rolls can result in success or failure, but can also cause wounds and/or require an “adventure” card to be drawn and resolved. Adventures can result in either benefits or harm to the party.
Hunting can only be performed on certain hexes, and players must have the proper weapons level in order to be successful. If successful, players gain the specified quantity of food (more for larger animals), but may also suffer wounds and/or a decrease in their weapons level. Thus, players should concentrate on keeping their weapons level high.
Shelter is another important consideration, as sleeping under the stars can be hazardous, particularly when the weather turns nasty. Weather is rolled each turn, and as the game progresses it tends to get potentially worse and worse. Players can commit actions and resources to improving their shelter, both against the weather and the potential of animal attacks. However, moving one’s shelter means that this process must begin all over again.
As mentioned, players can (and likely will) lose health during the course of the game, sometimes at a frightening rate. This usually occurs due to adventures, weather, hunting and/or lack of food. Some items will allow players to heal some health, as will resting. Players must keep a close eye on their health, as if one player dies, all is lost.
To win, players must accomplish the scenario’s goals within the number of rounds specified. These seem to be fairly well planned so that there is a constant tension present as players struggle to overcome the numerous obstacles and achieve those goals. Since this is a cooperative affair, winning is a shared victory.
Ignacy Trzewiczek is a highly creative designer and he gets high marks for creating great atmosphere here. The game is truly a struggle for survival, and players are faced with many of the same concerns and obstacles that one may encounter if they found themselves stranded on a deserted island, particularly in the 19th century. There is a constant need to find food and resources, and the unpredictable weather can be a true hardship. Unforeseen circumstances arise through the “adventures”, including sickness, wounds and more. A player’s wounds can fester and ultimately cause serious health issues. Hunting is needed to provide larger quantities of food, but the dangers it presents are a real concern, and there is a constant need to repair one’s weapons. All of these help create the atmosphere of a life-or-death struggle in a harsh and often hostile environment.
The game does have important decisions, mainly in terms of prioritizing actions. So many tasks need to be undertaken and situations addressed, but there is a limited number of actions possible. It is vital to prioritize one’s actions, even though the events and adventures will repeatedly cause the group to shift their attention. All of this is necessary to increase the tension and frequent feel of impending doom.
In spite of the rich atmosphere and tension, however, there are some concerns. As with many games where players are assigned a role, they tend to get pigeon-holed into those roles. For example, the Explorer is better at exploring; thus, it is only natural that the player will spend the vast majority of the game doing just that: exploring. Similarly, the Soldier is, as one would expect, an expert at hunting. So, nearly every turn he will be sent on a hunting expedition. While this is logical, it does grow tedious performing the same actions turn-after-turn.
In attempts to create the struggle for survival atmosphere, the game has an abundance of rules that often vary from situation to situation. This causes frequent consultations with the rules throughout the course of the game. Even experienced players will find themselves forced to search the rules for an answer to a particular situation. This has the result of causing unwelcome pauses and results in the game bogging down and taking longer than it should. Unless someone plays the game with great regularity, this is a situation that is likely to persist.
Robinson Crusoe is what has become known within the hobby as an “experience” game. It takes players on an adventure that can change from game-to-game, and is often compared to the experiences found in role-playing games. It is the type of game where the “after action” reports and discussions will usually be lively, and a group will often relive their experiences far into the future. This type of experience often overshadows any flaws or drawbacks a game may have, which is certainly the case for many who play and enjoy Robinson Crusoe. I give high marks to Ignacy Trzewiczek for creating a wonderful and reasonably authentic atmosphere, even though the game system may be a bit clunky.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Simon Neale: This game is full of challenging situations, including the rule book. But once you understand how to play the game, then you are immersed in the theme of survival and have to work together to make it a success. I have enjoyed my plays of this game, even the one that ended in death after a mere 5 turns!
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Simon N.
2 (Neutral): Greg S.
1 (Not for me):
I enjoy the second edition of the game very much (the square box). After sampling first editions of Stronghold, Pret-a-Porter, Robinson Crusoe, etc, I’ve realised that Ignacy Trzewiczek is a highly creative designer that leaves product development as a side project. The number of rules issues I had with all three of those first editions was staggering. I was not alone.
I haven’t seen anything of First Martians, but I fully expect another hot mess. I’m not going anywhere near a first edition :)