Editorial | 2/27/2014 at 11:56 AM

Tabletop Co-Op: Robinson Crusoe

Adventure on the Cursed Island

The game under discussion today is one of the best we’ve ever covered here on Tabletop Co-Op. It was released in 2012, and has been getting rave reviews ever since. The game has been hard to find until very recently, and I was gleefully able to pick up my copy a few weeks ago. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is both highly thematic and elegantly designed, and is an immersive, fully cooperative experience that board game fans don’t want to miss.

Generally speaking, there are two types of board games. One type, commonly known as “Euro style”, emphasize strategy, indirect conflict, and a low level of randomness. The second type, not-so-affectionately called “Ameritrash”, are generally more tactical, with direct player conflict and lots of randomness. Euros are typically light on theme, while Ameritrash games are dripping with it. Of the games we’ve discussed on Tabletop Co-Op before, I would suggest Pandemic as an example of a Eurogame, while Zombicide would be a definitive Ameritrash game.

What does all this have to do with the game we are talking about today? Robinson Crusoe takes the best of both types of game, and blends them together into something truly special. Mechanics feel organic and highly thematic, and it all flows together beautifully. This marriage of solid mechanics and a thrilling emotional response is something quite unique.

But first, a step backward to the basics of the game. Players take on the roles of shipwreck survivors who wash up on a mysterious island. The core mechanic is worker placement, with each player thematically choosing which tasks to perform on a day, including hunting, building, or simply resting to recover from wounds. Players must construct a shelter, improve its roof and defenses, as well as find enough food to eat and wood to burn to keep warm. The end goal varies depending on which of the six included scenarios you are playing; the first, for example, requires players to build an enormous fire to signal for help in the allotted time period.

Another, particularly thematic mechanic is the two-part Adventure card system. When players take the build, gather, or explore actions, dice are rolled to determine success, but also wounds suffered, and whether an Adventure card must be drawn and resolved. Adventure cards have two effects, the first of which happens immediately. This card is then shuffled into the Event deck, and the second effect of the card is resolved when it is drawn later on in the game. For example, you might draw a card that represents finding a nest of young birds while exploring. The birds can be used as food immediately, but when the card is drawn from the Event deck later, the angry mother appears and damages your camp. This mechanic adds a tremendous degree of narrative continuity to the game, and it feels more like a story than a collection of random events.

Special abilities for each player is something I always really enjoy, and Robinson Crusoe includes such roles as the Cook, Soldier, Carpenter, and Explorer. Each role has several abilities that can be activated each turn. The Cook’s specialties can be used to keep morale high, or to promote healing. The Soldier is well suited to hunting. These abilities add character to the game, and also enhance replayability.

And the replayability doesn’t stop there. There are six scenarios included in the box, plus an additional official scenario available at the Z-Man games website, and many fan-made offerings as well. Unlike those in many games, these scenarios totally change the way the game is played. Instead of merely surviving long enough to signal a passing ship, players might have to rescue a missing little girl, fight against tribes of cannibals, or escape the furious path of an erupting volcano. The basic mechanics stay the same, but the play experience is totally different with each scenario. You can play dozens of times before the game feels repetitive at all, which can often be a problem in other cooperative board games.

I have been throughly pleased with Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. The coupling of the slick Euro mechanics with the more highly thematic feel of Ameritrash makes the game something special. It scales well anywhere from one to four players, and takes about 90 minutes to play. If you were going to pick one board game to take with you if you were stranded on a desert island, Robinson Crusoe would be a fantastic choice.