Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Ignacy Trzewiczek


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



Over the last few years author and publisher Ignacy Trzewiczek has made himself a name with sophisticated games which have been designed with loving care and a keen eye for the implementation of the chosen theme. With Stronghold and 51st State he has touched fantasy and science fiction themes, whereas last year's Pret-A-Porter was a strong economic simulation set in the vanity world of fashion design. This year Ignacy has come up with something special once again, and so he has designed a game which takes its inspiration loosely from Daniel Defoe's classic novel Robinson Crusoe. However, instead of sticking too closely to the story, Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island takes up the setting of some player characters having arrived on a lone island, and from this general setting Ignacy releases the players into six different scenarios, putting the players into the roles of castaways, adventurers or even exorcists.

All of these scenarios share the common fact that the players have to face the scenario together, and so Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island falls into the category of cooperative games where the players discuss their actions as a group and then execute the actions with each player's character. The implementation of the actions operates in its core-element on a worker-placement system. So, each day (round) of play each player can place two pawns for his character, thus marking different kinds of actions in which the character will engage during the course of the day. These actions may be the exploration of new island tiles, the gathering of resources, resting or the building of camp improvements, weapons or other items. However, whilst some of these actions can be performed with the placement of just one pawn, other actions allow the placement of an additional pawn. In these cases the placement of two pawns means a guaranteed success of the chosen action, whereas the trying of an understaffed action forces the player to roll a hand of three action dice, with the dice answering the questions whether the action is successful, whether the character gets hurt while performing the action, and whether the character has an adventure while trying to perform the action. All this only can be prevented by the placement of a second pawn.

Quite interesting is the assembling of new items. At the beginning of the game each player character is assigned a specific Invention card of one item, and in addition a handful of other Invention cards is randomly arranged in a common display. The inventions directly available to the characters just need some resources in order to be turned into the desired items, whereas all inventions from the common display first need the discovery of specific types of landscapes in order to become available (e.g. fire needs flint, and flint only can be found in the mountains). Once finished, the new items have various positive effects which may be used in the further course of the game, sometimes going as far as granting the players additional pawns which now may be used in addition to a player pawn when going for specific types of actions (e.g. the additional pawn gained by the construction of a raft may be used for exploration or gathering resources). Thus, by turning more and more inventions into items, the players slowly will enlarge and enhance their scope of actions. However, as the display of available Invention cards is randomly arranged from game to game, no every valid order for the realization of inventions can be found.

Apart from the actions listed so far, further possibilities for the players to spend their day are hunting and the dealing with upcoming threats. The setup of each scenario requires the players to construct a semi-random deck of Event cards, and at the beginning of each round a new event will be revealed. Some of these events then are placed into the so-called "threat" box, listing the event's effect and the measures the players can take to deal with this event. Sometimes the event can be disabled by spending actions and resources, whereas other events also may be positive (like the salvaging of food crates from the shipwreck on the beach). Hunting on the other hand depends on the availability of beasts, and during the course of the game a deck of Hunting cards will be constructed by Beast cards which will be drawn whenever a beast symbol is found on a newly explored island tile. The hunting action itself is successful if the players possess a weapon level high enough to defeat the beast card drawn from the hunting deck.

A tricky element concerning all actions is the fact that the characters are supposed to act simultaneously. This means that no player can draw on the fruits of another player's work from the same day, so that - for example - resources which have been gathered only become available for actions during the following day. This requires the players to think ahead, because otherwise they may loose precious time while the number of rounds for performing their scenario's goal is slowly diminishing.

But let's have a look at the different player characters. Apart from their own specific Invention cards, the player characters also possess different special abilities depending on their profession. The choice of characters consists of an explorer, a carpenter, a cook and a soldier, and each of these characters possesses four different skills which may be used once a day, provided the player can afford to pay a number of Determination tokens as required by the particular skill he wants to use. Once again, Determination tokens may be collected during different occasions, partly depending of the group's current Morale level which may be influenced by certain events (characters getting wounded, etc.). Apart from spending Determination tokens, a character's abilities also can be changed by receiving special wounds to parts of his body, and characters also can loose Life points by these wounds and other events (especially if any demand like daily food resources cannot be met). If a character looses his last Life point he will die and all players will have lost the game.

The playing depth found in Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island is even further enriched by various other factors. One of the most prominent elements here is the weather, and after the action phase each day a number of weather dice has to be consulted in order to see whether the weather conditions hamper the players' efforts even further. As an example, rain means that the characters need to have built a sufficient roof to their shelter, and if the roof is missing the players need to spend food and wood to keep their characters warm and healthy. Likewise, the night phase of each day also requires the players to pay upkeep for their characters, and everybody who has nothing to eat once again is doomed to loose some Life points. However, the biggest source of uncertainty and variety are the different card decks available in the game, and here the card-types vary from Event cards, Wreckage cards or Adventure cards to Mystery cards like Treasures, Traps and Monsters. With this multitude of decks you might get the impression that the game becomes rather arbitrary, but due to card interrelations and some deck construction rules the different card types blend quite well with the other factors in the game. Thus, event cards drawn during certain activities like building or exploring usually just carry some minor negative effects, but the cards will be shuffled into the main event deck from which at least one card is drawn each round, and when such a card reappears as a main event the former minor problem may turn back onto the players. An example here is player getting a hand injury while building the shelter. This means that the player has to place a special injury token onto his character sheet, but if the card re-appears later the injury may fester and force the character to loose many life points. From the first appearance of the card the players know that they need to gather some things in order to prevent such an effect, and so they will need to remember the negative events which may re-appear later in the game. I especially liked this clever way of developing the game and the story hand-in-hand, forcing the players to consider events which had happened earlier in the game.

Overall, the players will quickly discover that the challenges found in the different scenarios of Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island are quite tough. During the first game the players have all hands full with the task of fulfilling their character's basic needs, and so it is sensible to start with the first scenario because the scenarios will get more difficult in ascending order. However, in order to give newcomers and seasoned adventurers suitable challenges, Ignacy has included some recommendations and variants which can be used for adjusting the game's level of difficulty. One possibility is to use the non-player character Friday, and additional character which should be used in two-player games, but he can be used in games with more players as well. Another possibility is to use the dog, and both Friday and the dog will provide the players with additional pawns for their daily actions. Other options include increasing or lowering the number of starting items, or changing the composition of the event deck. All in all, there are plenty of options to adjust the difficulty level to the liking of the players.

As usual for cooperative games, Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island also bears a danger that a predominant player who knows the game better than all others might accroach the decision making process, thus putting the other players into the roles of background actors and henchmen. Some cooperative games have tried to circumvent this issue by introducing special rules (like Space Alert where players sometimes are not allowed to talk to each other), and as it seems Ignacy has tried to give this problem his own two-tier approach. On the one hand, the game offers quite a few more variables and adjustable parameters than an average cooperative game, thus changing the course of a scenario from one game to the next. This variety of possible courses prevents the inevitable Know-it-all from planning too far ahead, since the players have to keep their short-time goals in focus. At the same time, and despite the initial rules hurdle, the game seems to be well accessible. The key for the players seems to be that they have to imagine themselves being in the situation of their characters, and so some decisions and their timing (like the gathering of food, the building of a shelter, going for exploration) come to the players quite naturally by the simple flow of the game. Both of these factors do not really remove the Wisenheimer-problem outlined above because the predominance of one player often just depends on a strong personality, but they still can be seen as a commendable try to lessen its effects. In a constellation where all players are at the same level, the cooperative element in Robinson Crusoe - Adventure on the Cursed Island works amazingly well.

A final note perhaps also should be made on the design of the gameboard. On first glance the board might seem to be a bit unclear, with the map and many cards and scales all being available there. However, playtesting quickly revealed that many factors had to be considered and rememebered by the players, and here the design and arrangement of the different areas on the gameboard cleverly help the players to manage the game!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany