Review: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

This is the fourth time I have played Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island  in 2 days, which suggests I must like it a fair bit. The first game was a story about a shipwrecked carpenter who did not survive. For the second game it was a story about a brave soldier banishing the demons of a cursed isle. But he failed too. On my third play I finally had some success; a bold explorer managed to escape the desert island after being shipwrecked. Now I want to see if I can even up the scoreboard a little!

Developer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Publisher: Portal Games
Publisher: My table
Number of Players: 1-4 Players
Playing Time: 45 minutes – 2 hours

BRB-Score-5

Robinson Crusoe is a co-operative adventure game about trying to survive on a desert island and; create the means of your escape, lift a curse, grab some treasure or one of several other classic deserted island stories, depending on which scenario you play. Oh, and it’s hard, chances are you’re going to die on that island.

It is also a game with a lot of pieces. But despite that, setting a game up takes me slightly under 10 minutes, and then I am ready to play. This time I will take Sally the cook’s survival into my own hands and see if she can escape from being shipwrecked on that deserted island that has already claimed the lives of two good men.

Sally the cook

I am playing this game with a single character, but you can play with up to four characters so the game works with 1-4 players. The number of characters you play with can change the difficulty of the game slightly, but mostly it affects how valuable the various actions of hunting, building, gathering resources and exploring are during the game. For example; with a single character I should be able to provide enough food from around the camp and not need to spend time gathering food so that action will be less useful to me, and hunting will be less useful as it will typically provide me with more food than Sally could eat before it spoils.

Sally’s exile on the deserted island starts well; in my previous games my strategy has been to rush straight out and explore as much of the island as possible, a bit like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. But it obviously hasn’t led me to success so far. For this adventure I plan to take things slow and steady in the hope that will win the race and so invest in the future by building an item that will come in handy later. I follow that up with a bit of light exploration, Sally finds a grassy plain and stumbles over some candles and oil, very handy. But she also finds the tracks of some fierce beast, so the morning spent whittling sharp sticks seems especially prudent now.

inventions

Each game round in Robinson Crusoe plays out with you deciding what tasks you want your character to perform in the morning and the afternoon. Once you’ve committed to a plan you then roll dice to see whether you have succeeded at the task, whether you have hurt yourself or had some sort of adventure. If you don’t want to take that risk you can choose to spend all day, i.e. both of your actions, on just one task, which guarantees success (with none of the unfortunate side effects you sometimes encounter). However that limits how much you can achieve, and you cannot afford to play it safe all the time. By forcing you to take risks, but allowing you to choose which ones, the game makes you responsible for the consequences of those risks. If an action doesn’t succeed it’s because of you choose to risk it, not bad luck.

On the second day Sally pushes further inland finding a shrine in the mountains with a coil of rope that will be very useful back at camp. This is one of the very effective narrative elements of Robinson Crusoe. When exploring I had to draw an adventure card that gave me a choice; I can take the rope now saving me from having to build it myself, and risk the ghosts of the shrine haunting Sally later,  or I can leave the rope to ensure I don’t have to worry about the ghosts later. In this case the rope is too valuable right now, so Sally grabs it and considers this a lucky day.

the island

The next few days bring more success. Sally is able to construct a few more key tools for her survival but uses up the last of the candles she found on the first day. The candles give you extra actions you can spend on building by allowing you to work later into the evening. Unfortunately at this point the weather takes a turn for the worse. At the end of each round you roll special dice that determine the weather for that night, and you need to have built a sufficiently sturdy shelter to protect your character. In this case I haven’t, the rain ruins some of Sally’s food and she goes to sleep hungry.

Having survived the first few days I have a key choice to make. The worsening weather threatens snow so Sally needs extra wood to keep the fire burning throughout the night, but I also need that wood to add to the bonfire so that Sally can signal to a passing ship and escape the island. I choose the bonfire and that night the weather really starts to hit home, Sally can make a special hooch but not even that can keep her warm during the rainstorm.

On night 7, Sally has nightmares of the dead people in the shrine she found a few days ago, causing Sally’s morale to drop. This is the result of choosing to take the rope earlier in the game. I gambled on not drawing the card a second time when I took the rope but now that I have, I must deal with the consequences.

Day 9 and Sally’s situation looks bad. I know a ship will be sailing past the island for the next three days, and I need to signal to it for Sally to escape – but right now there’s just not enough wood in the bonfire. To make matters worse a raging river coming down the mountains stops Sally gathering the wood she normally would in the morning so I’m short of the wood I need. But I have a plan. Sally can chop up the mast from the wrecked ship and that will give me most of the wood I need to build up the rest of the bonfire, but if Sally spends all day, and both actions, chopping up the mast I will still need to find food for her. Time to go hunting!

Hunting is a blind draw from a deck of cards representing the animal tracks Sally has discovered whilst exploring, so I really have no idea what she might find…

…It is a terrifying fox. That’s a bit of a let-down, Sally went loaded for bear but only found fox. At least it will make stew for tonight, and provide use with a furry neck warmer!

hunting

That night my plan falls to pieces. A massive snowfall forces me to burn most of the wood from the mast just to keep Sally warm, so I am still short of wood for the bonfire. I was counting on getting lucky when rolling the weather dice that night, but no such luck.

Day 11, two days left and this is the day Sally is going to get off this island! Except nothing goes to plan. The river has cut Sally off from her supplies around the camp once again, so there’s still not enough wood to finish building the bonfire. I really should have seen that coming and taken steps to deal with it, but I missed it. Each round a new event happens creating a new threat to deal with, but each event stays on the board for two more rounds until it is pushed off by new events and when an event gets pushed off something worse tends to happen. You have the chance to do something to stop disaster happening, but at the expense of achieving something else that day.

weather dice

So plan B; 1- Stay alive today, 2- Get more wood for the bonfire, 3- Survive tomorrow…it should be doable.

Day 12 Sally’s final chance, and there’s a landslide! This forces Sally to flee the camp and abandon the shelter she has built, which means a night out in the open. I’ve finally got enough wood to light the bonfire but Sally still needs to survive until the ship can get here and in the end it all came down to the last roll of the weather dice. Finally I have some luck; it looks like the storm is finally easing off, a little snow, some light rain, but survivable and Sally can signal to the ship just before it goes over the horizon.

Robinson Crusoe plays like an adventure. The moving parts all come together to let you weave a rich story between the events and that makes this a really satisfying game to play. It’s not just about moving cubes around on the board, your actions have meaning, and more importantly your actions have consequences. Robinson Crusoe does a wonderful job of letting you know what (most of) the stakes are, and then lets you decide where to take risks.

This does make it a stressful game at times. You can’t possibly deal with every threat the game throws at you each round and just have to make the best of a bad situation. This makes the game hard, with little margin for error; make a few too bad gambles and your character will die, bringing the adventure to an end. Despite this I enjoy the sense of importance it gives the decisions you make each round, without the risk the choices you make could feel pointless.

The game is also complex. To create the wonderful narrative of the game it needs a lot of moving parts. Lots of wooden cubes, lots of tokens and lots of dice to move about each round, and you need to keep track of it all. A few times I forgot to move the round marker on at the end of the day, so I completed a few days twice, but after four games I think I have pretty much got all the rules sorted.

A really thematic game
 The decisions you make matter 
The decisions you make are deep and satisfying 
It is hard, and you will lose a lot
 Keeping track of everything can be fiddly 

I suspect it is obvious that I have really enjoyed my four plays of Robinson Crusoe so far. If you want a challenging co-operative game that tells a fantastic story of survival and adventure, I suspect you might too.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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