Full disclosure: A review copy of The Crew was provided by KOSMOS.
So, I wrote this in a hurry, but … I mean, I’ve been waiting for this game for months and it formally releases next week. I wasn’t going to just sit on my hands and do nothing. And so here I am, moving around my release schedule with the limited number of reviews I have left. I may move down to like, two a week or one a week if I start struggling so that I can still have a consistent stream of content. Being real, a lot’s happening right now, so, I’m not saying this because I want you to go help me out, but if you have a favorite content creator, a lot of folks are struggling due to con cancellations, theater shows stopping, and a generally large amount of enforced isolation. Reach out to them, show your support, etc; a few people have done that for me already and it really means a lot. Somber business aside, let’s talk about The Crew. It’s the latest game from KOSMOS, who also publishes the EXIT games I love so much, so, there’s always something exciting to talk about from their part of town, and I love it. Let’s dive right in and see what’s going on with this one.
In The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, you play an intrepid explorer who seeks to discover something far beyond the stars; a large exoplanet rumored to exist at the boundary of the solar system. You can’t do this alone, though. You’ll need all the help you can get, and you’ve got some of the best astronauts that you can find on your team. Space is going to throw everything it has at you, and even its best tricks can’t phase you if you’re going to really take this adventure to the next level. Be careful, though; not every mission is going to be a cakewalk (some will be a spacewalk). Will you be able to discover this mythical planet? Or will you just end up lost in space?
Not much to do. Shuffle the large cards:
Deal them out as evenly as possible; at three players one player will have one more card than other players. There’s a deck of smaller cards, as well; you’ll want to shuffle those, too:
Those will be relevant to the various Missions you’re going to go on. There are also a variety of tokens:
You might need some of those. Give each player a Moon card as a reminder; set that in front of you:
Give each player a Comm Token, as well, green side up:
You’re basically ready to start! For this review, I’ll be showing the first Mission, which just involves completing one task card. Let’s dive in!
At its core, The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking game.
If you’ve never played a trick-taking game, essentially, it’s played over a series of rounds, called “tricks”. In each trick, a player will play just one card. The first player to play is chosen by a variety of criteria, but they are the “lead” for the trick, and the suit of the card they play is called the “led suit”. If you have that suit in your hand, you must play a card of that suit; that’s known as “following suit”. If you do not have a card of that suit in your hand, you can play whatever card you want. I typically call that “throwing off”; I’m not sure if that’s a standard term. In The Crew, there are four cards of a special suit, called Rockets:
If a Rocket is played in a suit, the highest Rocket played wins the trick, but a Rocket can only be played if a Rocket was led or if the player has no cards of the led suit. Otherwise, the highest card played of the led suit wins the trick. When a trick is won, the player who played the winning card takes the cards played and leads the next trick. In The Crew, only the most-recently played trick may be viewed; the other tricks are kept face-down.
In each Mission (a full hand of cards), you’ll have tasks. Some of these tasks are “take a trick containing the specified card”. Others are “the designated player may not take any tricks” or “at least one trick must be taken with a 1” or something similar. The nice thing about The Crew is that as soon as all Missions are completed or any Mission fails, the game immediately ends.
One thing you can do is use one of your tokens to provide information, once per Mission, between tricks. When you do, play the token on a card from your hand and reveal it, face up (place the Moon Reminder Card in your hand to … remind you). Place the token on the top of the card, the middle of the card, or the bottom of the card to indicate that card is your highest value of that suit, your only value of that suit, or your lowest value of that suit, respectively.
Play until you’ve completed or failed your Mission, and then go again! There are 50 Missions in total; can you complete them all?
Player Count Differences
The game changes a surprising amount as player counts shift. At two, you have to play a variant that involves JARVIS, an AI player, showing half of their hand until you play cards and reveal the other ones. It’s … well, they noted on the box it plays 3 – 5. Take what you will from that. Having tried it, I feel like it’s a bit more of a puzzle game than a cooperative game, at that point, but it can be frustrating if the cards you need are buried under JARVIS’s hand. At the standard player counts, the game changes a lot, since the cards are more distributed at higher player counts. At 5, it’s a very challenging game. So much so, in fact, that after Mission 24 you can start passing a card at the start of the round to help your co-players. That’s saying something. 3 is probably the easiest player count since players have so many cards; it’s unlikely that they’re going to be strong-armed into playing something that they really don’t want to play unless it’s nearing the end of the mission. Be mindful of that, though; it’s still very possible to lose at three. As a result, though, I generally prefer playing at four. It’s a nice balance of challenge and player count. Three is also totally fine, though!
- You’ve got to remember things like task ordering. This is going to become complicated very quickly, for you. Certain tasks must be completed first and second and third, but other tasks just need to be completed before other tasks. Some tasks need to be completed last! One thing you can do to help is flip over your tokens and task cards when they’re done. Another thing is, you’re just gonna have to pay attention to the tokens. You’ll mess it up a couple times, though; it’s fine. That’s part of the game.
- One good trick is to try and drain all the cards of a color so that other players can throw off. When I say “throw off”, I mean the act of playing a card of a suit that’s not the led suit. If you have a card of the led suit, you must play it, but sometimes it’s useful to not have those cards. For instance, if I play the Yellow 1 and I need to win the Green 6, if you know that nobody else has Yellow cards (maybe nobody played Yellow last trick when I played Yellow), you can throw off the Green 6 and I’ll win it. That can be a good way to make sure people get the cards that they need.
- You should assume other players are playing optimally, if they can. Why would someone play the 1 of Rockets? Maybe they want to draw out other rockets, or maybe they have all four Rocket cards. That’s a particularly risky play, so I wouldn’t advise doing it unless you have all four Rockets, but there will be other plays like that from time to time. I might play a card to force another player to play their Rocket so that they win the trick, for instance. If you second-guess other players’ strategies, you might end up playing cards that have an adverse effect on their plans.
- Remember that the Captain got first choice of the task cards. They picked the task card they picked for a reason. Hopefully it’s because they think they can win it. Not because they had no good options and just chose the least-bad of them. This means you can trust them a bit.
- Also remember that the Captain can guarantee that they’ll win one trick. This one’s important. They have the 4 of Rockets, meaning that they have the highest-value trump card in the round. They will almost always win at least one trick (unless it’s a three-player game, they have 14 cards, and that’s the card they get rid of [which is fairly unlikely]). You can use that to your advantage if they seem like they’re not going to win any other tricks.
- When you’re taking a task card, remember that taking a low-value card if it’s in your hand is a challenging move. It usually requires getting rid of all the other cards of that color, which is nontrivially difficult unless everyone knows what you’re doing.
- Give information (or not) to try and help your co-players. Telling people when you have only one card of a color (or when certain cards are your highest or lowest value of that color) can help them know what cards they can play. For instance, if you need to take the Pink 7 and you only have a Pink 1, you might want to indicate that so that they can either force you to play that card (allowing you to potentially play a Rocket later) or they can come up with another idea for getting you the card you need.
- Watch out when making risky plays. They can basically end the round if you’re sloppy. If you don’t know who has certain cards, playing cards that will force that color to be played may do more harm than good. Instead, try to track what’s been played and who has thrown off in the past; this might give you a better picture of what the game’s landscape is.
- Who leads the trick matters a great deal. This person sets the led suit and everyone reacts to their play. Try to set players up so that they can control tricks if they need to get rid of certain colors or if they need to take certain cards. It’s not possible for a player to complete their task card if they don’t take that trick, generally speaking.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- They improved the card thickness from the German release to the English one. The card quality is very nice. I talked with them a bit and there was a real push to try and get the card quality up without pushing the price too high. The old version of the cards was more equivalent to the EXIT series cards. It’s passable, but, that’s also partially that the cards are designed to be cut up, so you won’t miss them. These, these will last longer. And given how much I expect to play this game, that’s good.
- I really like how colorful the cards are. They’re extremely bright and colorful, and that makes the game really shine. If color’s not your thing, the cards do have symbols to differentiate them. It might have been nice to have different art for each suit, though.
- I love many trick-taking games; this is no exception. Honestly, it’s my favorite one. I think normally I like trick-taking games a lot. This one has a few advantages. It’s simple in concept; not a lot of fancy bells and whistles. That goes a long way, I think; it’s easier to learn and easier to play as a result. Add in the cooperative element and you’ve got me super sold on this game. I think every time I’ve had the chance to play it I’ve played it almost 10+ times each session. Really can’t put it down.
- A cooperative variant on trick-taking is refreshing. I previously covered The Fox in the Forest: Duet, but I’d argue this is a more distilled version of the cooperative trick-taking concept. It’s nice to have something that scales to a higher player count, anyways, and I think this one is more traditional. That works for it, though! I like it a lot.
- It’s a great way to learn trick-taking games, as well. Given how nicely the missions ramp upwards in complexity, I think that people can use this to really gently lead their friends into trick-taking games before going into something a bit more complicated like Tricky Tides or Time Chase or Trickster or something
- Also, there are at least 50 missions! That’s so much content. I don’t think I’ve gotten past Mission 10 or 15, and I’ve played 40+ times! It’s ridiculous. I love it. More content than I know what to do with.
- I appreciate the cute in-jokes on the cards. You can see things in reflections and on tablets; it’s very cute.
- Extremely portable. It’s mostly just cards and some tokens. If you don’t want to take the tokens with you, for some reason, you can just instrument this with the missions that don’t require tokens. That also works just fine.
- Plays very quickly. The rounds generally don’t take more than 10 minutes until you start getting into the really tricky ones. It’s short, punchy, and pretty much the perfect length for a quick game.
- I honestly don’t mention this often, but $15 is a fantastic price point for this one. I had thought it was going to end up at $20 and I was really into that, but $15 is unbelievable. I think this and the EXIT series are going to continue to be my go-to gift ideas for the holiday.
- There’s some initial confusion about the distinction between 1 / 2 and < / <<. This is something that I tried to understand from the rules. Eventually, figured it out, but a few more examples might have helped clear that up at the beginning. Then again, I’m also easily confused.
- The two-player variant is a bit underwhelming. To be absolutely fair to them, they only say 3 – 5 players on the box, so, I can’t fault them too much for that. I actually kind of respect that, since they’re not claiming it’s going to be a better player count than it is. A lot of games do that; they’ll say some player count when one of the counts is just a variant.
- Just given the nature of the randomness of tasks, some missions can be underwhelming. I think that’s kind of the nature of randomly distributed missions and random hands of cards. If you particularly want a challenge, it’s probably possible to pick cards such that it’s trickier to do well. Then you just have to worry about the random card ordering. The thing is, even if it goes poorly, it’s … over as soon as you make a mistake. Then you can just pick it up, shuffle, and go for another round.
Overall: 10 / 10
It kind of speaks for itself. I think The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is, bar none, the best trick-taking game I’ve ever played. It’s likely one of the best cooperative games I’ve ever played, as well. There’s always room to improve, but, I mean, I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due. This game consistently blows me away. It’s been top of my mind for months as I’ve been trying to get a copy. I almost made my own, but I’m powerfully lazy. It’s quick, simple, and extremely difficult to put down. I had to end a session I played with my housemates because one was nodding off mid-game but still wanted to keep playing. You don’t get that kind of energy in board games, usually. There’s some interesting musings about giving a “10” rating, since I’ve only given it twice before: Millennium Blades, my favorite game, and Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals, an expansion that I believe to be perfect. I think that a 10 means that, to me, a game is unbelievably good. Flawless? Of course not; every game can improve. The best game in every genre it sits in? Probably not; I mean, thematically, I do love space games, but I think there are cooperative games with themes I like more, like Spirit Island. But the places where it shines are extremely bright spots, and I think that they cement The Crew as the game I’m going to recommend all year. It’s truly an excellent experience. Is every mission going to blow you away? No, the cards are randomized, so bad stuff can still happen. But it’s a fantastic little title and I don’t think I can recommend it enough. If you like trick-taking at all, if you’re looking for the next great cooperative game, or you just want a game that’s going to give you a little randomness, a little challenge, and a lot of mileage, I think The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is far and away one of the best games I’ve played in years. I’d overwhelmingly recommend checking it out! Hell, just ask me if you see me at a convention; I’ll likely have it with me and play it with you. I just, I think it’s just that good.