Crusoe Crew Review

We did a review of this cool “choose your own adventure” game on our podcast, too! Check it out!

The Setup

Every Wednesday, we have a small community group meeting from our church at our house. For a few hours, we all get together, eat some food, and talk about life. Some of our families have children, and so some of the adults break off each week and hang out with them. 

Since I have a giant collection of board games and little else that would entertain a child, the kids will often ask to play a game, and I generally help them pick one out and teach them how to play. Well, one week I grabbed The Crusoe Crew from Van Ryder Games off the shelf. I had demoed it at Origins a few months prior, and while I enjoyed the game with two other adults, I wasn’t sure how well it would go over with kids.

So We Begin

The game is like a “choose your own adventure” in which four kids are on a hunt for treasure around a bunch of different islands. What sets this game apart, though, is that each player takes on a unique role and is given a unique graphic novel filled with the panels that will tell the story. While most of the panels are the same, about 20% of them are different, meaning that each player will have something special to contribute to the team.

I was playing the game with an 11-year old boy and a 13-year old girl. They were not your typical board gamers – it took quite a bit of convincing to get the boy off of his iPad – and they were initially not very excited to play the game. However, when the boy saw that there was a character he could select that would blow stuff up, he was all about it. The girl, on other hand, picked one of the female characters who had a bunch of animals on the front of her book. Later she found out that this character could talk to animals, a skill that would frequently come in handy.

How It All Works

The game starts off with a basic introduction in which we are introduced to the characters and to the way that the game works. Instead of progressing panel to panel, players look for numbers that are written in the panel. Some of the numbers are obvious and out in the open, while others may be hidden. One of the ways in which the books differ is that some of the hidden numbers only appear in one character’s book. An animal may be saying the number for the previously mentioned character, or maybe it’s high in the top of a tree and only the tallest character can see it.

The kids quickly learned how these numbers worked, then followed the introductory story of a pirate tasking our father with finding treasure, but all of the kids taking his place because dad is sick. We then heard about a few islands and what sorts of treasures we could expect there.

At this point, we also decided what kind of treasure we wanted to search for, which serves as the difficulty level of the game. Those who want an easier run-through can just find pearls, while those wanting more of a challenge can search for rubies or statues. You’ll run across all three in your adventure, and any of the other types of treasure you find may serve as bonus points.

Once we selected the treasure, we looked at a map of islands and selected where we wanted to go. We turned our books to the panel with the number matching the island and started our game.

A Slow Start

Now the game has several panels in the books, and some of them are large setpieces that provide you with many paths that you could follow towards different locations. At different locations, you may have to solve a puzzle, make a decision, or just learn a little more about your quest.

Between these setpieces and locations, though, are a few panels that show your movement from one place to another. These panels may just be sections of a beach or a long stretch of tunnel, generally decorated with just two numbers – where you came from and where you’re going. I usually enjoyed these panels, as it makes it feel like you’re moving a distance from one place to another. However, there were times when there would be 3 or 4 of these somewhat useless panels in a row. When you’re having to physically turn the page between each panel and search for the right spot, this can start to get annoying.

Picking Up the Pace

Eventually, though, we got into the heart of the adventure. We were finding secret numbers, following diverse paths, and picking up treasure. We eventually ran into a few puzzles, and while we were able to solve a few of them, others proved to be very challenging and we had to just move on.

Puzzles were also where the illusion of us each having our own unique perspective was broken. The kids were often very confused about the puzzles and how to proceed, so they would have to show me their books so that I could explain what was going on. However, I’m not sure what would be the solution to this problem. I like that some of the puzzles are a little vague, and I like that many are challenging for adults. Perhaps a hint book or something that younger players could use would’ve been a nice inclusion so that they could feel more self-reliant as they do in the rest of the game.

Coming to the End

Eventually, the kids and I reached the end of our five-day journey and we totaled up our points. We had done very well, and the kids were quickly reflecting on the best parts of the game experience. Their dad joined us, and the 11-year old boy was showing him the book and explaining how the game worked in detail. He was asking how soon they could play the game again and whether or not they could take that copy home with them. The dad was shocked, as he had never seen his kids this excited about something not on their phones or video games in a long time.

So with that, I would say that Crusoe Crew is a gaming experience unlike any other that I’ve had. It sucks you in and takes you on a trip that you’ll want to revisit very soon. While it’s not a perfect experience and there are changes that I think could be made, it is something that I would recommend to many families to get the kids away from screens and around the table for a little while.

You can get your own copy of Crusoe Crew through Van Ryder Games.

Disclaimer: Van Ryder Games provided us with a review copy of this game which had some manufacturing issues that caused the pages to fall out of the book. We were sent a second review copy, and this issue was resolved in that copy of the game.

Highs

  • A unique gaming experience for the whole family
  • Great art
  • Decent replayability for this type of game

Lows