Review – The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

pic5078567

 

Designer Thomas Sing

Artist Marco Armbruster

Publisher KOSMOS

Category Trick-Taking

Length 15 minutes per scenario

Release Date 2019 (English version in 2020)

Player Count 3-5

Trick-taking games don’t get enough love. When I was just a wee gamer, I cut my teeth on the classic Euchre, and later fell in love with games like The Dwarf King and Wizard. By its very nature, trick-taking is psychological and cutthroat, so a cooperative game in this genre caught me by surprise.

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine takes a traditional, “old-school” mechanism and turns it on its head. The game is scenario-driven, with each challenge presenting a new, increasingly difficult puzzle for players to solve together.

This game does not have a single, universal goal, but rather, the objectives vary from scenario to scenario. That said, they always involve some form of the following goal:

Make sure that player                  wins the trick containing card                 .

The primary game components are two decks of cards, one large and one small (the small ones are called “task cards”). The decks are mostly the same, containing the numbers 1-9 in 4 colors, but the deck of larger cards also has 4 “rocket” cards not found in the task deck.

At the start of every round, the entire deck of large game cards is dealt out among the players. Each scenario has a particular setup and objective, which players can find in the rulebook. For the first scenario (shown below, basically the introductory round), the setup merely involves drawing 1 task card.

The first player is always the person who was dealt the “4” rocket card, and he/she selects a task card first. (Since there is only 1 task in the first round, the starting player just takes it.) Task cards are placed in front of their owners, visible to all, and they determine the group’s win condition.

In the example above, to win the scenario, the player with the task card must win the trick containing the green 7. Here’s how a trick actually works:

First, the starting player plays any card from his/her hand face-up on the table. In turn order, each other player must play a card of this suit, if they are able.

In this example, the starting player led with a yellow card. Each subsequent player had at least 1 yellow card in their hand, so they had to follow suit. If a player is unable to follow suit because he/she has no cards of that color, he/she may play any card.

Once everyone has played, the person with the highest card of the starting suit wins the trick and takes all the cards. (In the example above, the player who played the yellow 9 would win the trick. Because the green 7 was not involved, and therefore players neither won nor lost, the game would continue on with another trick.)

Rocket cards act as a trump suit. Any rocket card beats any non-rocket, but like any other card, they may only be played by a player who cannot follow the led suit.

The player who wins a trick starts the next trick, and so on and so on until either 1) players accomplish their objective(s) and win, or 2) they run out of cards and lose.

In later rounds, multiple tasks are assigned, and players take turns drafting them one at a time. Often, they will come with special requirements, like this:

Here, the tasks must be completed in order, meaning the yellow 3 must be claimed first, followed by the pink 6, etc.

It’s important to note that players may not talk about the cards in their hands. However, they each have a communication token, with which they can give their teammates information non-verbally.

To use a token, a player chooses a card from his/her hand and places it face-up on the table. His/her communication token is then placed on the card, either at the top, at the bottom, or in the middle.

  • A token at the top means “This is the highest card I have in this color.”
  • A token at the bottom means “This is the lowest card I have in this color.”
  • A token in the middle means, “This is the only card I have in this color.”

Cards used to communicate are still considered to be in players’ hands, and can therefore be used in tricks.


Wow, this game is good.

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine somehow manages to feel both very familiar and very new. To my knowledge, trick-taking has never been used the way this game uses it, and it works so, so well.

The Crew has all the hallmarks of trick-taking classics like Euchre trying to infer things based on what others play, trying to flush out certain cards from their hands, etc. – but by putting it in a cooperative context, the entire vibe changes. Rather than thinking, “How can I mess with you and force you to discard all your good cards?,” players find themselves asking, “How can we work together to prepare for that one, critical trick that’s going to decide the game?” It’s fascinating.

This game feels like a cross between Wizard and Hanabi. It has the former’s aspects of “sluffing off” cards and often trying to avoid winning tricks, as well as the latter’s notion of giving vague information for others to read into.

Since the rounds are so lightning fast, players will always want to play multiple scenarios in a single gaming session. I brought this to my weekly lunchtime game group and we played 5 or 6 rounds in a single hour!

The Crew is yet another home run from KOSMOS; I would be astounded if it didn’t get a Spiel des Jahres nod. With a mere $15 price point, this is simply a no-brainer; there is way more than $15 worth of “game” in this box.

Don’t sleep on this one, folks. The Crew is something really special.

A review copy was provided by KOSMOS.

The Bottom Line

The Crew is one of my favorite games in recent memory. A brilliant spin on tried-and-true game systems which yields something entirely new.

 

9.5

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.