Base Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Play Time (Box): 60-120mins
Play Time (Goof): 90-180mins
Producer: Portal Games
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
I really enjoy Robinson Crusoe. I’ve taught it to a bunch more people since I reviewed it, which means I haven’t played past the first scenario yet (except one ill-fated attempt at Scenario 2. It’s hell… almost literally).
But even with playing the first scenario over and over I’m finding new elements I enjoy. Especially with the mini-expansions.
I’ve bought the Herb Garden and Pen, Searching the Beach deck, token bag, Personality Traits, Crewmen, extra scenarios, and the Sailor character. Today we’re focusing on the Herb Garden/Pen and Searching the Beach deck mini-expansions, primarily because I want to get more plays of the others in before I give my views (I don’t know if you know this but Robinson Crusoe is a bit of a beast when you’re trying to analyse individual elements).
Herb Garden and Pen
Take this for a good or a bad (personally I take it as a good) but the Pen allows you to use a couple of your actions a little bit safer. Not a lot, but a little. When you go to get food, you might decide to send one more person to increase the chance everyone’s going to bed with full stomachs. Problem is, if both succeed and you don’t have the pot invention by then, the food spoils and you might as well have failed.
Where I’ve found this base game aspect detracts from the game – you’re more likely to use your action to guarantee someone else’s gather action rather than take a risk (it makes a lot of sense from a strategic perspective). The problem is it reduces the amount of events which come out, and takes away a little bit of the thrill of rolling the dice (which in turn effects use of determination etc).
Adding this means you can do a little extra risk for a lot more reward. Getting two birds which generate one food per day is amazingly helpful. It adds a bit of spice back into the gameplay (and I’m not even talking about the herb garden yet).
I like the benefit of the Herb Garden, but it’s less of an excitement from a gameplay perspective and more from a theme one. 1 health every three turns is beneficial, sure, and I do feel it keeps the game rolling a bit smoother since you’re not necessarily needing to take time out to rest up. But you could also argue this makes the gamer easier overall. Not saying Robinson Crusoe is easy. I just prefer taking the edge off if it which keeps everyone in the game and feeling useful (unless they take a huge hit, which means they need to rest up. But this kinda works for me).
Pros: +Add Excitement, +Game Runs Smoother, +Everyone Feeling Useful
Cons: -Makes Game Slightly Easier
Part of the reason I love tabletop gaming so much is the suspension of reality and throwing myself into a world outside of the normal. Sometimes this means being on a cool space ship, or exploring a dungeon as a badass warrior.
Sometimes it means surviving on an island.
A part of what attracted me to Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island the second part of the title, the feeling of not only surviving the weather, beasts, and whatever scenario came our way – but also the forging of our new home. Creating a base camp we could return to each night and share laughs around the campfire (if we were lucky enough to keep warm and fed on such a night).
The Herb Garden and Pen expansion adds to this. I can see members of our washed up crew tending to a herb garden, or starting to raise wildlife to eat. I’m also glad this doesn’t require additional actions. One thing I’ve come to notice is the care which Portal Games have given to the timing elements of activities. It wouldn’t make much thematic sense if tending to a small herb garden took the same amount of time as searching part of the island or putting a new roof on our shelter.
The small benefits feel very thematic as well. Yeah okay, in real life they wouldn’t probably yield results every day (these birds breed like rabbits) or even every three. But they add up over time. They feel like you’re making steps towards civilisation. And it’s a feeling I appreciate.
I want to touch on the fact the Herb garden doesn’t require you to give up anything (only gather on a grass tile) and the Pen requires you to give up the food you’d have gathered on the bird tile. This is a super clever element to this mini-expansion I love thematically.
With the Herb Garden, you wouldn’t be giving up the day’s food to pick a few extra plants. It makes total sense to me. But with the bird, of course you have to give up eating it in order to get it to breed. It’s clever they didn’t just use the same mechanics but rather made it fit thematically. Oh Portal, you know how to please me.
Pros: ++Flavour, +Doesn’t Require Extra Actions, +Small Steps Towards Civilisation
Robinson Crusoe takes up a lot of space. If you’re not remotely organised as a person you might as well component drop all the pieces on the table for how it ends up. What I really like about these mini-expansions is you can kinda find a spot for them on the board. They don’t take up a whole lot of extra space (I’d argue about another deck combined) and since you don’t ever have to pick them up you don’t need extra space around them or have to worry about them not becoming neat.
I really like the look and how they kept the theme alive in the artwork and look. They feel a lot like the other inventions.
I will say, as simple as the rules are maybe having them on the back wasn’t a great idea. Not the worst, it saved on printing and such I’m sure. But it kinda defeats my “don’t have to pick them up” argument in the paragraph above for people learning them and forgetting how they work from time to time.
Pros: +Fits Nicely, +Artwork
Cons: -Rules on Back
Herb Garden and Pen modifies the base game by:
Searching the Beach
Okay, I’ve actually got some problems with this mini-expansion from a gameplay point of view (we’ll talk theme in the next section).
Four of the nine cards are blank. So while there’s a statistically better than half chance you’re going to pull something fairly useful, most of the time it’s just throwing an action away. And in a game where every action matters so much, I don’t see much of a point in doing this.
The Searching the Beach deck also suffers from the fact some of the cards become a lot less useful as the game goes on (like if you discover the knife, and then find the knife it’s pointless). What I find is there’s no strong strategy for ever going for items from this deck. In the beginning of the game you’ve just got too much to do for it to be worth the risk.
I don’t even think this deck could have benefited from having overpowered cards in it, because then it increases the likelihood of the gaming coming down to the luck of the draw as to whether you win. Honestly I think it should have been mostly tiny rewards (like a single piece of wood, or occasionally two wood), a couple of bigger things, and then a rare chance of finding nothing. At least you wouldn’t be throwing actions away to play a coin toss.
When it comes down to it, the Searching the Beach deck doesn’t get much play. It kinda just clogs up space on an already overcrowded table.
Cons: – – No Gameplay Point
I really like the idea of this deck. The concept of walking to beach to collect goods which may have washed ashore appeals to me. It’s something I’ve considered in my personal musings of “what I’d do if I was ever shipwrecked on an island” (die. The answer is I’d die).
Being able to wander the shoreline and collect some things is excellent. And even having this option open makes the game feel slightly more alive. I’d like to see more implementation of this kind of thing in the future (thematically. Gameplay is a huge miss).
Pros: +Option Feels Thematic
The yellow back really stands out amongst everything else. I actually wonder if they’d just run out of colours or if there was a method to making them so bright. I don’t particularly have anything against this, the yellow sorta fits the fact it’s around the sand, but it would have been better to make a deck more frequently used stand out more.
The cards take up room at an already crowded table. I honestly don’t know if it’s worth it. In a smaller game with less moving parts it might not be such a big deal, but there are tables you can’t play this at properly because it’s so large. Any extra deck without adding a large amount of value to a game isn’t going to come out as a positive.
Pros: +Colour Fits Theme
Cons: – – Clogs Up an Already Crowded Table -Stands Out Too Much For a Non-Important Deck,
Searching the Beach deck modifies the base game by:
Robinson Crusoe is really a game about a lot of little moments, and ideas. It’s story telling is an aspect I absolutely adore. And I couldn’t speak more highly about it as a game. I’d pick up the Herb Garden and Pen without even thinking twice, it’s an excellent addition to the game. As for the Searching the Beach deck… I want to tell you to run out and grab it. I want to tell you to buy everything from this company I enjoy so much and this game I love even more. But unless you’re like me and need every expansion a game comes with, it just doesn’t have the value.
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