The Crusoe Crew (Baïam)

Designer: Shuky
Artist: Gorobei
Publisher: Van Ryder Games (Makaka Editions)
Players: 4
Ages: 7+
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Times Played: 4 with purchased copy

Baïam first crossed my radar while preparing for a trip to Essen in 2017. I’m a fan of the Makaka graphic novel adventures and the prospect of one that could be played by 4 friends simultaneously was enticing –though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s take a step back.

The Crusoe Crew is a sort of multidimensional Choose-Your-Own-Adventure graphic novel –designed so that 4 players each have a book, and while playing mostly in sync, and with books that are largely the same, the players embody specific characters with special abilities: strength, dexterity, animal communication, etc. If there is an element where a character’s special skills come into play, that player will have some extra options in that panel that your fellow adventurers won’t be able to see.

OK, another step back for a moment.

The Crusoe Crew is one of the newest titles in the “Graphic Novel Adventures” series that Van Ryder Games is releasing.  So far, each of these was originally published in French by, Makaka Editions (and if you’re following along very closely, the French edition had a name change to “Kuala” shortly before it was released, so there is no “Baïam” edition; it’s just the first name associated with this game in my head.)

The books are a mixture of a choose your own adventure type book, where you most often will be selecting which path to take, but a series of riddles, puzzles, and hidden pictures might unlock alleyways, wormholes, or secret passages which skirt the more visible routes.

Similar to the titular Choose Your Own Adventure books, these control the navigation through a series of numbers, though here it is panel numbers of a comic book rather than page numbers of a novel.  Much of the time, the navigation will be straight-forward.

Other times there may be numbers subtly disguised in the bark of a tree, the pattern of the clouds, or in a painting. Some panels will give you a feeling that something is suspect.  Look for those covert numbers. The Nina’s in a Hirschfeld.

Some panels provide a different sort of gateway.  You may need a certain item, like a block of cheese, or a grappling hook, to continue via a given path. Others present a riddle, a puzzle, or a brain teaser wherein the answer will clue you in on how to continue.

That’s roughly how the books work.  Each in the series presents you with a different type of victory condition, such as strict binary winning vs. losing or a points based scoring system.

Here, [goes back to check the books] you’re the children of Robinson Crusoe, or something like that, and are off to do his pirate work for the day while he’s sick in bed.  Collect the most loot. You’re looking for rubies, pearls, and statues. There’s a map of the different islands you can explore.

In contrast to the other books in the series, this one is playable by 1, 2, 3, or 4 players.  Each book represents the kids’ adventure through a different one of the siblings, and they each bring different skills to the page.  That is to say, Neta, for instance, has “incredible agility” and so is able to reach things and go places that the others cannot. How this plays out as a mechanism is that the green Neta book may have numbers in a panel that the others do not.  The Neta player can say “Hey, wait a minute, I’m going to reach in between these rocks and see what I can find.” If you’re playing with less than 4, you may not have certain skills in that game, and that’s okay.

As with several other titles in the series, there is a “timer” that paces your adventures, letting you know when to reset and start over. “Days” pass when you see a given symbol in the upper right corner of a panel.  Tick off a day on the tracking sheet –where you’re also marking the loot you’ve obtained and any items that you’ve picked up along the way– and eventually it’s been too many.

Once your days are exhausted and some tabulations are complete, you get a score and earn a certain number of coins which will allow you to visit a shop before your next reboot and may start with some items that you may have found yourself in need of.

I’ve written about this series before, once, twice, three times. It takes me back to a college assignment in a class I took on the Japanese tea ceremony.  The paper was a summary of something we had learned, but it needed to fit on a single page. My first attempt was longer than that (and I was probably writing it in LaTeX or something that had above average margins.)  I struggled in the basement computer lab of the English building to pare it down and reached a point where I decided it wasn’t going to work that way. So I erased it all. Started over.

It didn’t work.  But it was closer.

So I erased it all. Started over.

The third or fourth time it worked. Which is why each time that I sit down to discuss a new release in this series, I type it all again.  This time the description will be a little different. Hopefully a little better.

That’s why I’m going to talk about mazes now.  As I rewrote the post for the first series of books from VRG, and the second time discussing Captive, I realized that I wanted to approach things from the standpoint of mazes the next time.

Speaking of mazes, brb.

Designer: Friedemann Friese
Artist: Harald Lieske
Publisher: 2F Spiele
Players: 1
Availability: BGG Store

Do you remember when Freidemann released his folders?  I had forgotten about these, but Dale let me borrow his recently. I’ll let Rand show you how to play in this video.

It’s a good analogy for what’s going on with The Crusoe Crew and the others in the series. As adults, we think about mazes mostly from a top-down view, but these books are mazes, albeit with checkpoints and secret passages, that you partake in from a first-person vantage.

The rules of the Folders are to trace a path from a starting point (a), to a midway point (b), and then to an end point (c). You may not trace a path which goes over an edge of the paper.  You may fold along the creases in order to make a virtual connection of sorts that you can trace over and then maybe you fold in a different way. Come out somewhere else. (There’s a few times in the video where it looks like he goes over the edge of the paper, but it’s just his path tracing finger getting a head of his folding fingers.)

They’re a fun distraction, and it’s sorta like what you do here. Do we go left or do we go right.  Can you find the hidden number that allows you to fold the paper along this crease such that you can make it to this isolated part of the book’s structure?  We only have a certain amount of instances we can trigger the time mechanism before our run is over, so what’s the path that maximizes our gems collection and minimizes our game-time usage?  (And can we remember what the path is when it is presented in a first-person view –as the rat– with puzzles and riddles and hidden numbers, rather than looking down as the omniscient path tracer.) Do you even know there’s a fold to be made here?

Well, that’s the usual Graphic Novel Adventures/Makaka Editions books.  Here, it’s like that but there’s an extra-dimension, as each book has panels where your adventure may head off in a direction perpendicular to the plane of the maze we’re all in.  Each book. Four parallel but entangled mazes.

How will you explore the maze the first time?  It’s complicated. You can’t employ an “always turn right” type strategy, as you need to deal with the item prerequisites, the riddles, and, well, the other players.  It’s no one’s turn. There are also context clues: what did you think was going to be behind the door with the skull on it? How are you going to decide where to go?

I present you our method.  This clip from “Big City Greens”:

First idea, is the best idea.

If I say “What about 28?” and Ryan says “I wanna go through 49.  I don’t think we’ve been there yet and it looks like I might get to use this key” and Aaron says “I don’t know about 28, it looks like a trap.” and Jason says “Wait, what panel are you guys on?”, then I say “FirstIdeaIsTheBestIdea!!!” and we go to 28.  Next time, someone else will have said something first, and we’ll do that.

Listen, I liked it, but I’m going to mention things I didn’t like for a bit.

The puzzles and riddles are still inconsistent, ranging from nearly trivial to seemingly impossible, and there isn’t a hint system.  That can be frustrating and, in our experience, led to some folks backing out of the puzzle and exploring on their own. “Can they do that?”  I don’t know. There’s a whistle that allows some splitting up and coming back together, but the rules aren’t precise enough that you won’t need to make some judgment calls (FIitBI).  If it’s a puzzle you only got to through a special panel in your book, can the other player’s join you? Uh, sometimes? The language isn’t always precise enough, so sometimes you make some calls.  These issues bother me less in the solo books, as they either don’t exist or answers don’t need negotiated.

For a solo book, I can sit down in an afternoon, in a car, on a plane, and entertain myself with them.  As a group setting, it’s a little different. If we could be playing [_______], are we going to opt for this over that? It’s a lighter experience, but also one that I found I had trouble keeping my group focused on.  None of us have the same attention span when it comes to solving the harder puzzles. Two people distracted is enough of a quorum to start a side conversation and then the whole thing falls off the rails.

Are we going to try it again tonight?  Are we going to try it again next week?  It’s like how my friend Edward describes filler games (though he and I usually differ strongly on what games it applies to): Would you go to a game night specifically to play it? I would do that for this, but I think that view is at odds with what my usual group has come to expect from a weekly game night. For the solo books, I’m playing them several times in immediate succession, and that adds to my joy; here, I’m probably not, because “I” is now 4 people’s time and schedules and prerogatives to balance.

The scoring is gratuitously intricate, with the group needing to decide which of the three types of treasure to focus on at the start –though they still collect each, there are simply different conversion rates at the end– and then throw in handicaps based upon the players’ ages, average those (the handicaps, not the ages), then check for team bonuses and variant multipliers. It didn’t need to be like this.

There continues to be some issues with the bindings, and by the time you’re finished, pages may be falling out.  I feel less confident of what “finished” means here, as the distributed time of our plays and the structure of the maze doesn’t give me the feeling that I’ve “exhausted” all of the panels.  We stopped because we’d had “enough”.

But I like it! It still has all the charm and adventure of the overall series with the art and the path and the puzzles and the adventure. Of the books released so far, this had the highest ratio of puzzle to non-puzzle content, which is a good thing to me.  Some of the asymmetric knowledge of the puzzles harkened back to games like Witness, where one player knows some of the information, another knows a different bit, and without showing each other their books, they must communicate to solve it. I like that.

Overall, I think I prefer the books solo, but I’m glad this exists, and I’m glad to have been able to experience it. Writing it up, proofreading it, proofreading it again… it just brings me to the conclusion that while I could have loved this one more, I still have an appreciable eagerness for the next titles in the series to be released.

James Nathan

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: We only played one adventure. I thought it was cute but not as many puzzles as I hoped.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it!
I like it. James Nathan (The Crusoe Crew, Folders)
Neutral.  Lorna
Not for me…

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