A few months ago, we posted a review of a German card game that had taken our group by storm… The original review will be republished below. But, since you’ve probably already heard about the game, let me talk about the important changes to the new English version
1] It’s all in English! Finally – we have a copy of the rules and missions in our own language. As opposed to some of the other Kosmos translations (Andor… I’m looking at you!) – this one seems to be well done with very few areas of concern.
2] The cards are a much higher quality. The cards in this second edition are much thicker with a linen-ish finish to them. This is a huge step up from the thin, easily bent cards from the original version.
3] This one is actually not a difference, but a comment about constancy – the box size and other components are the same… It’s still a great game in a small package
Though the availability of an English version probably doesn’t mean much to the Spiel des Jahres jury, I would suspect that the availability of a version with more professional feeling and more durable cards will raise the game in their estimation. Though I’m giving away my vote for a later OG article, The Crew is now the frontrunner for my picks for the 2020 SdJ!
The game should be hitting shelves just about now, so if you had been waiting – now is the time to get a copy. Sure, you likely can’t play it with your game group just yet, but you’ll be ready when the era of social distancing ends…. And, in the meantime, you can slake your thirst for the game at Brettspielwelt and/or Tabletop Simulator…
And now.. for the original review (again)
Posted on December 24, 2019
Die Crew: Reist gemeinsam zum 9. Planeten
Review by Eric Edens
- Designer: Thomas Sing
- Publisher: KOSMOS
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 10+
- Time: 5-20 min per mission
As I write this I am still seeing the cards in my head from the nearly 15 hours I played of this game in a less than 40 hour span. Frankly, I was a bit obsessed with the game and so was my group but you’ll have to read on to see if I was playing because I liked the game or if I was playing because I just couldn’t figure it out.
I’ll let fellow Opinionated Gamer Chris Wray explain the rules.
Die Crew is a cooperative trick-taking game with 50 different missions. In many ways, it is a standard trick taking game: players must follow suit, there are trump cards (which can only be played if you can’t follow suit), and the highest value of suit led wins unless there is a trump card.
Players are trying to complete the mission, and there are 50 missions in the campaign. A mission usually has a number of jobs to complete, and a job is represented by a small card that a player has in front of them. The player with that card has to capture the trick in which the matching big card is played. So if you have the small green 5 in front of you, you have to capture the trick in which the big blue 3 is played. Sometimes jobs need to be completed in order (and there are tokens to track that). Additional restrictions can be added to a mission, such as “one trick must be won with a 1-value card” and “no trick can be won with a 9.”
As you can see the game is pretty simple from a rules perspective. It’s trick taking in a cooperative setting. That’s it. If you know what trick taking is and you understand that games can be played without competitive rules, you know how to play the game. Everything else is in the missions. There are fifty of them. Yes fifty. Of course I had the thought of naming this review “fifty shades of …” but I didn’t. Why? Well I would like to say I am far too mature to write such a silly joke but honestly I just couldn’t figure out the best execution of the joke.
So let’s talk about whether or not I even liked this crazy game I spent most of my waking hours over the course of 2 days on. Or I can just think of more jokes. Maybe I could have said fifty shades of spades? Yeah, now you see why I didn’t go with the joke.
Die Crew is perfect. The game is perfect. For me. Ok, yes I started with some hyperbole there but hear me out. The rules are simple. The game is simple. The theme is easy to grasp. And the mechanics are all self explanatory. I never had to think about why the game made a certain design choice. I didn’t have to talk myself into a mechanic being thematic. And I never once thought that the game was bad. To me that is a perfect game. So there are probably a lot of perfect games out there. But this one was also perfect for me. It did what I love most in board gaming. It took a simple game style that has existed probably ever since a deck of 52 cards existed and put a twist on it that I have never seen. It allowed my friends and I to have a shared experience which elevated the time we spent together. It also made me think. Not just a little but a lot. I was really using every bit of my brain for far too long. It also made me scream out when we did well and when we did poorly. It even made me apologize to my friends for messing up and costing us the game on more than one occasion. It also made me feel like a super hero when I made the right call and we won at the last moment.
This made the 15 hours I spent with it perfect. I didn’t want it to end. Eventually it had to end and when it did I was satisfied instead of wishing for more. I get to come back to it. I can play with other friends and at other moments. This is my perfect game.
And it has flaws…
For some strange reason the box doesn’t say “for four players only”. It should. Like, it really should. I will never play it again with anything other than 4. I have played it with 3, 4, and 5. In my experience the game is far too simple and lacks fun for at least the first 20 scenarios with 3 players. With 5, it was like pulling teeth to beat even mission 15. With 4, we had fun, were challenged, and were able to win. It really is a four player game and that’s ok.
The game is also dependent on your group. With anyone in the group not having the same fun as the rest, the game will fail miserably. Imagine playing Hanabi with someone who is constantly on their phone and not paying attention. You would hate that play of Hanabi. Same thing here. Wrong group and you will think all my praise is idiotic.
That’s about it. The theme is perfect for the game. The art is hilarious on the cards if you take the time to look closely. The components are exactly as they should be to both fit in a small box and be reasonably priced. But I will warn you to sleeve the cards if you plan to play for 15 hours. I love this game.
If Hanabi can win the Spiels Des Jahres, Die Crew will win without question. I am willing to stand my reviewing career on this game winning the award in a landslide. And by career I mean posting on this site once every three years for no pay and never once being sent free games. So you can see I have a lot riding on that prediction.
Die Crew is not my favorite game of all time but I wouldn’t complain if it was the only game I was able to play for the rest of all time. Provided I don’t play with the wrong group…
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (1 play, 2 missions): I actually liked Die Crew well enough when I played it. But when a discussion about the game turned into a discussion of the legality of unspoken conventions – being a Bridge player, I naturally play cards in a particular manner – I came to realize – Die Crew is _not_, generally, a game I should play. With the right folks all would be fine – but in the course of the conversation it became clear that some would consider even unspoken conventions to be outside the scope of the game. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem most of the time – but knowing it _could_ be an issue makes the game of significantly less interest to me.
Larry (1 play): I wasn’t sure this would really work for me, but so far, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. Now, I’ve only played the first 6 missions, and only with 3 players, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It gives you a very interesting challenge from familiar rules, which is quite an achievement. I look forward to trying out the more difficult missions, particularly at higher player counts.
Dale (4 sessions, about 30 missions) – Like Eric, I agree that the game has a different feel based on the player count. When you have fewer players, the missions seem easier. There is a scaling rule with 5p where one Mission card can change hands prior to cards being played; and this helps mitigate the increased difficulty somewhat. Unlike Eric, I would probably say that I would play with all player counts, though I prefer 4 and 5 as I like the added challenge that comes with higher player counts. For me, the limited communication rules are perfect. The game tells you exactly what you can say and how to say it. This makes any outside conventions (like those in Hanabi, etc) as distinctly verboten, and that makes me happy. There is plenty of room for clever card play, and astute players will be able to give/gain information based on cards that are played, but NOT with shenanigans such as the physical location of where a card is played to the table, or how my fingers are placed on the remaining cards in my hand or how I orient the goal tile in front of me. For now, this is my front runner for Spiel des Jahres as well. It’s engaging, easily accessible, comes from an established German publishing house and has plenty of opportunity for expansion. Oh, and it’s a great game.
Mario (4 plays – 15 missions): I love trick-taking, I love co-op … so this one had to be perfect for me. Turns out the assumption was correct. I only played with 5 players so far and I guess Eric is correct that it is much harder the higher the player count gets, but that’s fine. Unfortunately I’m not so confident about the SdJ list since Die Crew is ‘only’ a trick taking game, but I sincerely hope Eric is correct with his prediction.
Patrick Brennan (10+ plays with various groups, each play between 5 and 10 missions): I like how it makes you re-address the usual norms of how to play tricks in order to engineer situations so that a mission can be won. I was thinking it might not have legs, but it’s sociable and likeable and provides an ever-changing but quickly played joint challenge. I’m upping my rating to a 9.
Melissa (8 plays, up to about mission 10, with 3-5 players): I love trick taking games, am lukewarm on co-op games, but really enjoy this. As an ex-Bridge player, I do naturally signal, which might technically be out of order (I think signalling isn’t out of line but maybe acting on it is?) – but it’s very wishful thinking. I’m keen to play more (and more) of this. I think I enjoy it most with more players, even though it’s quite chaotic.
Tery (10 plays, unsure of what mission we stopped on). I love, love, love trick taking games. I especially love them if they reward skilled play without having to use a lot of conventions. I mean, I enjoy Bridge, but I don’t play it enough to remember all of the conventions and if I did want a game with a lot of conventions, well, I’d play Bridge. Die Crew fills that niche nicely without hours of learning or player aids. I immediately bought a copy and can’t wait to play it again.
Mark J (3 plays, no farther than mission 6 with 4 & 5 players): First, I enjoyed my experiences with the game. Second, I can see where it would completely break down with an unhappy individual (I am that guy in Eric’s Hanabi illustration, btw.) Third, I share Joe’s concern about conventions and developing signals completely sucking the joy out of what is a fun little cooperative game. That said, I think it would work well with my local group and am considering picking up a copy.
Simon W (4 plays, about 30 missions total) I love this game, I think because its almost like a living tutorial on how not to mess up in trick-taking games. It’s a lot of fun, and while it can be frustrating with the wrong players, at least they are learning! It would be great to play with teens who need to learn the basics of trick-taking games too. I tend to agree that this will win SdJ. As regards conventions, “the house shall decide” – but it never came up in my plays.
Brandon K (5 plays, first 4 missions, 3 players) I am using this as a Trick Taking Training game for my family and so far, it’s been interesting to say the least. We’ve only gotten through four missions in five plays so far. It took my daughter and wife a couple games to kind of grasp the fact that there should be zero communication outside of the signal, but we kept at it and just called those first couple missions learning experiences. We ultimately failed the third on our first try and then passed it to get to Mission Four which ended up being a fantastic finish and a tough one at that, so it felt really good to see that in such a short amount of time, they were kind of learning the importance of timing in taking tricks, also a bit of card counting as we our mission being two nines(each of us had the other players nine) and a one. Fantastic game and I can’t wait to play it more. I can see that sometimes will not be in your favor, making it nearly impossible to pull off, but when you do? Watch out.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Eric E., Mario P., Patrick Brennan, Melissa, Tery, Dale Y, Simon W, James Nathan, Brandon K
- I like it. Larry, Mark J
- Not for me… Joe H.