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The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine (Saturday Review)
Posted On 5 December 2020
Release Date: 2019
Designer: Thomas Sing
Length: 15-30 minutes
Artist: Marco Armbruster
Complexity: 2.0 / 5
Space, the final frontier. We’re on a 50 mission journey to find a new planet in our solar system. We have to work together to seek out new theories, new experiments and new proof. It’s no trick and we have to boldly go, where no scientist has gone before. These are the adventures of The Crew by Kosmos.
After this rather average introduction, it’s time to look at this very much above average trick-taking game, that has taken the hobby by storm – or at least those people who love trick-taking games and want to share their love with people who don’t, or those people who have never played trick-taking games before, but want to learn and find out why this game is hailed as such a success.
Trick-taking is really a mix of several mechanisms and concepts, and it’s something that’s very hard to understand or teach. Trick-taking games have been around for centuries, if not longer and each trick-taking game has developed its own language, which takes years to learn and decades to master. Trick-taking games are all about subtle hints and conveying information through the cards you play. Timing can mean the difference between victory and defeat. These games may often seem to involve a large element of luck and guesswork, but when played by masters, virtually every card is played for a reason and with intent.
Trick-taking games also seem daunting and off-putting and are treated a bit like chess or modern heavy games, like 18xx or similar. People are afraid to learn them, because they don’t want to spend hours learning something that they might not even like.
So for Kosmos to release a trick-taking game into the hobby is daring. Yet, The Crew has achieved something that even Skull King hasn’t quite managed. It’s a trick-taking game that you can learn within a couple of games, each of which will take less than half an hour. So within an hour, you will know how trick-taking works – even if it will take you a lot longer to master it.
Where Skull King assumes that you know how trick-taking works, at least in principle, The Crew assume you know nothing about it. The rules are pretty easy to follow and even if nobody in the group has even heard of trick-taking before, you will be playing a few tricks and starting to understand how it works. Play a couple of games, or missions, as they are called in The Crew, and you will all get it and start to develop strategies.
The real clincher here is, that The Crew is the only trick-taking game, at least that I know of, that is fully co-operative. So even if all of you start from nothing, you will all help each other and you will all learn together, because you all want to succeed and beat the game together. That’s a really amazing achievement and is what makes it possible for you to learn trick-taking without having to watch someone else play and learn from them.
Yet, even though the game is fully co-operative, you will still learn many of the things you would learn in any other trick-taking game. You will learn about suits and trumps, you will realize that emptying your hand of a suit can be beneficial for the team and you will start to learn the language of how playing a specific card at a specific time will tell everyone else something very important.
Speaking of telling others information. The Crew is one of those co-operative games where you can’t communicate, just like in The Mind. However, all of you can share one piece of information during each mission: whether a card is the only one you have of that suit, whether it’s the highest or whether it’s the lowest of that suit. That can be critical sometimes, but sometimes may be better conveyed by learning the language of trick-taking games and playing specific cards at a specific time.
As you can see, I’m enthralled by The Crew. Yet, there is one more thing that is amazing about the game. You can play it 2-player. Now, that is an amazing feat, because most trick-taking games require at least three players, or if you only have two, you rely on a third dummy player, which usually plays their hand randomly and which really spoils the experience.
In The Crew, there is also a dummy player, but this one actually works really well. You basically see half of their hand face-up, while the other half is face-down. That means both of you know some information, but not all of it. One of you controls the dummy player and as you play face-up cards, you then flip over the face-down card underneath it, so that you reveal more information.
The dummy player does create a certain luck element, but because you have some knowledge of their cards, you know enough to be able to deal with the randomness, just as you deal with the randomness of the cards your dealt as a real player.
So The Crew is a really clever game and even though it won’t teach trick-taking everyone, it’s the best game to do so that I have come across. It’s great for someone who knows trick-taking and wants to teach it to others and it’s just as great to learn trick-taking if none of you know anything about it.