Game Night Verdicts #31 – The Crew

Die Crew – Reist gemeinsam zum 9. Planeten (or The Quest for Planet Nine in English) is a basically a straight-forward trick-taking game. If this description is already throwing you, just skip it or wait for some patient players, familiar with these types of games, to take you under their wing and help you along. But I‘m getting ahead of myself… let‘s get back to the description.

The Crew follows in the footsteps of games like Spades and manages to squeeze some life out of this well-ploughed genre. A mainstay in pubs everywhere, these kind of games have been evening entertainment for generations of people. It‘s this familiarity that The Crew is build on, presenting you with a fully cooperative game with a whopping 50 (five-o!) missions to play.

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A task (left), a typical hand of cards (right)… checkmate in three turns

Admittedly these missions read more like a collection of 50 house rules, which is easily the number that most gaming clubs are accustomed to. It should satisfy most hobbyists‘ obsession with variability, though. Even the addition of a storyline, that is included with small narrative texts at the start of each mission, has as much an impact on the experience as my neighbour‘s choice in wallpaper does. The story is a pleasant, if irrelevant addition to the game. It‘s not bad, but very rarely the reason to play another game.

This is a cooperative deduction game and puzzle. Each game you‘re trying to win tricks, but not without fulfilling specific requirements. A player gets a task naming a specific card they have to win in a trick. This basic idea is run through all kinds of permutations throughout the 50 missions of the game. Sometimes a number of players get one or more those tasks. Or a player may only win a certain number of tricks. Or they have to be won in a certain order. And so on and so forth. Each mission is its own challenging puzzle, that you need to solve using your hand of cards and the cooperation of your fellow astronauts.

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The panicked look of a Commander as they face another mission with three tasks

Veteran card player will likely know the core moves and strategies of these games. Every one else is very much welcome to sink or swim. Because while The Crew knows how to entice and thrill veteran and expert players, it also expects everybody else to acquire the basic trick-taking competency all on their own. Ironically, while the booklet is very careful to explain trick-taking, following suit and trumps (you know, the non-fascist kind), it doesn‘t talk about, say, how or why to get a certain suit out of somebody else‘s hand. It‘s like trying to teach chess by only explaining movement rules, while never mentioning gambits, blockades or sacrifices. As long as you are well-versed in card games – which most reviewers and veteran gamers likely are – this is not going to be an issue. But if you ended up grabbing this game due to positive word of mouth alone, you will soon find yourself deep in the weeds.

The Crew simply assumes that you already bring the necessary tactical and strategic know-how to the table, when you play. If you do, you will find here the German answer to Hanabi. With sufficient mental acrobatics and some strategic coordination you will be able to pull off some amazing moves. Entire hands of cards that seem to play out like a well-rehearsed dance. And much like in Hanabi, the more ambitious you become the less you want to talk or express any kind of sentiment during play. After all, you don‘t want to cheapen your success by communicating more about your hand of cards, than the rules actually allow.

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This is about 80% of what you’re allowed to communicate

As an expert game The Crew is very solid. It delivers the kind of depth that other designers need multiple point tracks, six types of resources and a game length of at least 90 minutes for. But after a few games, you might miss talking, laughing and whining with your friends. Instead you might be hunched over your hand of cards and trying to compute all the moves you need to win this mission.

The Crew is a trick-taking game, for people who love to really think their way through a challenge. It‘s a game for people who don‘t play to relax, but to really sink their teeth into something. It‘s a game for people who‘ve mastered the trick-taking game and are looking for something new. In other words, The Crew is a game that knows how to really pull you in, provided that you‘re already there.

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