Full disclosure: A review copy of The Crew: Mission Deep Sea was provided by KOSMOS.
Finally. I’ve been waiting to play this for like, a year? Maybe longer? I have no idea what time is, anymore. Regardless, a big box of games from KOSMOS arrived a bit ago, and among them was The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, the much-anticipated sequel to the American Tabletop Award-winning The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, one of my few 10/10 games from whenever I wrote about it. Trick-taking. Cooperation. Incredible stuff. Now, I’m in an uncomfortable spot because I have to compare a game I truly love to its sequel, and we’ll just see how that goes. Let’s get to it.
In The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, you’re on a new mission to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe you’ll find a lost city or Atlantis or some really ugly fish. Honestly, the latter is the dream. You’ll need your wits about you as a team if you want to navigate the many different dangers that exist as you descend further and further beneath the waves. Complete tasks to keep the ship together, but make sure you don’t fail! Will you be able to handle what lies in the deepest parts of the oceans? Or will you just end up sunk?
So this is going to depend a bit more on your individual missions, but functionally you’re going to start by shuffling up the various cards:
Most missions involve taking a certain number of Task Cards, which are individually rated by difficult with a number usually between 1 and 5. Shuffle the Task Cards and take from the top until you exactly match the difficulty required by your mission.
Give each player a Communication Token (green), setting the Distress Signal aside for later:
Give each player a gray reminder card, and the player with the 4 of Submarines is the new Captain! They get the Captain token and you should be ready to start!
I keep redefining trick-taking games, but what can you do? Eventually I’ll just write pages like “What’s a Trick-Taking Game?” and “What’s a Deckbuilding Game?” (not relevant here) and link to them. That’s … honestly not a bad idea. So much so that I’ve probably had it before. Oh well.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is a cooperative trick-taking game, so let’s go through a trick-taking game, first. From my Pompiers review:
If you haven’t played a trick-taking game before, every player plays a card from their hand, and the highest card of the “led” suit wins (the led suit being whatever suit the start player for that trick played). If you have a card of that color, you must play it. If you don’t, you can play whatever color you want. One exception to this rule is that if a trump suit card is played (a card whose color matches the trump suit color), then the highest card of the trump suit wins, instead.
After all cards have been played for a trick, determine the trick winner, who takes the cards from the trick and places them above or below the corresponding trick counter token on their side of the play area. They lead the next trick!
We’ve done it. Moving on. The key insight here is that each game of The Crew: Mission Deep Sea has specified Task Cards that are taken by some or all players (depending on the mission instructions). Usually, the Captain chooses the first Task Card, and the next player, and so on. If there are fewer Task Cards than players, then a player may opt to skip taking a Task Card, but all Task Cards must be taken before they get back around to the Captain. This means that if you pass on one, you’re forcing later players to likely take one. Different tasks have different requirements; some want players to take certain tricks (or certain numbers of tricks), others want players to take certain cards, and some even want players to never lead tricks with certain colors. There’s a wide variety of options! Based on your mission, some combinations of Task Cards might be incompatible; if that happens and the mission can’t be completed successfully, just re-deal the Task Cards.
During the round but before a trick is played, a player may opt to communicate something about their hand by placing a card from their hand face-up and placing their Information Token either at the top, in the middle, or on the bottom of the card. That means that the particular card is the highest, the only, or the lowest card you have of that color. You cannot use submarine cards for communicating, though! After communicating, place the gray reminder card in your hand so that you remember you’ve communicated. You can still play the card you used to communicate!
You can optionally use a Distress Signal (the blue token) at the start of the round to allow players to pass one card to the left or the right. If you do, circle the Distress Signal symbol in the Logbook to indicate that you did!
Beyond that, play tricks as normal until the round is over. If all Task Cards are completed, you win! You can play again by attempting the next mission in the logbook. If you fail a Task Card, you lose the game! Reshuffle the cards and try again, but you can keep the same Task Cards for the next game, if you want.
Player Count Differences
There are a few. For one, the difficulty of certain tasks varies a fair amount based on player count, so much so that individual Task Cards are rated differently for different player counts. Some are given the same rating across player counts, others … not. As your player count changes, the number of tasks you may have to take on will change based on both luck of the draw and how many players you’ve got. That’s interesting! I generally found the original Crew to be increasingly challenging as player count increased, but I don’t notice that, as much, here. Which is good! That’s a nice thing to iterate on from the previous versions. Beyond that, there’s the same 2P variant as there is in the previous game. It’s pretty good! It works well, and I appreciate the discovery mechanism of having to search through their face-up cards to figure out if they have the cards that you need (or to try and make sure that their face-down cards aren’t going to mess you up down the line). For the original game, I gently pushed back on that 5P player count, but frankly, since the Task Cards scale with player count, it’s not quite as complicated. I rarely hit 5P player counts in my current lifestyle, but I don’t know if I’d lean as hard away from it as I used to. That said, I still prefer 2 – 4 players, but that’s likely just me biasing towards what I can actually get played.
Like the other sections, this is essentially an enhancement of my original strategy writeup for The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, with a few more plays between both.
- Assume your co-players are trying to play optimally. It’s a cooperative game, so people aren’t out here to mess you up or mess your team up. They’re playing to some strategy, and while it may be opaque to you, they’re trying to help. If you make that assumption, you’ll have a better shot at meshing with their strategy instead of accidentally pushing against it. Communication and collaboration are key!
- Passing on a Task card communicates a lot of information, so look to see what players are taking and not taking. You can say a lot about the current Tasks if you choose to take none of them. You can’t necessarily read into players picking one Task over another, but if they don’t take any, then it’s decently likely that your inferences about their hands are correct.
- Similarly, look at how players are choosing to communicate information and what that both says and implies. We had one round where a player needed to take the Green 9 with a Submarine, per a Task. One player informed the group that they had the Green 9, and it was their highest card. The Captain took this as a signal that they could lead with the Submarine 4, allowing them to draw out every player’s submarines. The player with the Green 9 did not have a Submarine card, so they played the Green 9 and we completed the task handily. If they hadn’t done that, it would have been reasonable to assume that they might have a Submarine card, so playing the 4 would be inadvisable at that time. The timing of when information is given is, itself, information, so make sure you’re paying close attention to it.
- Knowing how to win and how to lose tricks on purpose is pretty critical. It’s not just about having the high card, at times; it’s sometimes “I want to set myself up to win later tricks, so I need to lose this one with my lowest card” or “I want to be completely out of a color so that I can throw off on later tricks, so I’ll play my last pink card since I don’t have any more blues anyways”. Your goal is to have control over what you play so that you can either help your partners accomplish their goals or to accomplish yours.
- Given the new types of Tasks, it’s also important to know when you need to clear an entire color out of your hand and how to do that easily. As I mentioned, a lot of trick-taking games try to lead you to a point where you can actively control what cards you’re playing, but since you’re locked into following suit, ditching cards of colors you don’t want to win can be a useful way to free yourself up to play a Submarine and take the one trick you absolutely must take. These Tasks are trickier, though, so you may also want to get rid of your pink and green cards so you’re never in a place where you accidentally lead with them.
- Often, leading with the Submarine 4 might not be the best starting move. Leading with the 4 drains almost all Submarine cards from every player’s hand. If someone took a Task Card because they were hoping to win a specific trick, you’ve now made that a lot more difficult for them. This goes back to assuming everyone else is trying to play optimally. Let them do what they need to do with their cards, and assume they’ll do the same for you.
- Players’ last few cards can matter a great deal, depending on who’s leading the last few tricks. If everyone’s used up all of their submarines, then you’re just down to whoever has the right color cards. It’s totally possible that someone has all the high-value blue cards, but the player who’s leading the trick has only pink and green, then, those cards will likely not get played. That trick ordering can really matter, and that’s not necessarily something new players think about (or even experienced players!).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Having fewer tokens is a blessing. One of the (admittedly few and mild) complaints I had about The Crew’s predecessor is that there were just a bundle of tokens and explaining the differences between them was occasionally difficult or frustrating. They’ve offloaded a lot of that work onto the Task Cards specifically, so now there aren’t as many tokens. That’s good! Streamlines the footprint of the game, as well.
- The new Task types are a very nice change from the “win specific cards in specific orderings” missions that were the large majority of Quest for Planet Nine’s fare. If they weren’t, it would be hard to justify this game as much more than a reskin. Thankfully, that’s not the case; there’s just another 32 missions available for players who liked the first game a lot.
- I also like the box art and the sometimes-quirky card art. The deep ocean is an exciting and interesting place. Never been. Probably wouldn’t enjoy going. But I like the idea of it, and seeing it so beautifully illustrated on the cards and box is fun. I particularly like the 9s of each suit, but that’s just because they’re a little weird.
- Adding timed missions is a genuinely messed-up thing to do, and I love it. I understand that you can take on other tasks to avoid the timed mission aspect, but they’re truly diabolical and mildly cruel. Huge fan.
- It’s still a very portable game, and you could likely fit both iterations of The Crew into the same box, especially if you only take one deck. You don’t actually need the new cards when you’re traveling with The Crews; you just need the Task Card sets (and the tokens from the first game). I’m positive both games would easily fit into one box.
- At its core, this is a sequel that essentially says “do you want more of the things you liked about the base game?” and then delivers on that with an entirely new type of Task card that’s scaled in difficulty for player count and a whole new Logbook of Mission configurations. I don’t see a ton of direct sequels to board games; they more often than not make expansions or more or less complex versions of the game (or spinoffs, like Castles of Mad King Ludwig is to Suburbia, for instance). This is very much just a sequel game that’s a good companion to the first game but has no interleaving parts or anything, and I like that.
- I appreciate that the card quality is pretty nice, despite the game still being $15. The improved card quality means that the game will last longer, and that’s something that I appreciate. Plus, the cards feel nicer when they’re being played, and I’m just into games with nicer-quality cards. It’s a preference.
- See, I appreciate that the game indicates “3 – 5 players (with two-player variant)”. It tempers my expectations. That said, I have grown to appreciate the two-player variant more than I originally did with Quest for Planet Nine. I don’t when a game says it supports a player count and then bait-and-switches you with the variant play support. The Crew fundamentally plays 3 – 5 players; at two, you’re using a dummy player controlled by the Captain. And that’s fine; it just is a two-player variant. I actually like the variant more than I used to; I played a lot of The Crew on Tabletop Simulator and that certainly helped, early in the pandemic. It has a nice discovery mechanic to it where you both suspect that the AI has the card buried somewhere and then you need to play the right cards so that you can find it. I think that’s fun.
- The Crew is just a tough act to follow, I think. It’s not that this game is bad in the slightest; I’m just not wowed like I was with the original game, likely because now I have something to compare it to. That said, I think this game is quite excellent; I’m just not blown away like I was the first time we played The Crew. Of course, our first game of Mission Deep Sea, we ended up playing 25 more times, so, who’s to say? I think our group was still very taken with it.
- I very rarely get even close to the end of the Logbook, so this isn’t a problem for me personally, but I can imagine folks being irritated that there are “only” 32 explicit Missions in Mission Deep Sea’s Logbook, as opposed to Quest for Planet Nine’s 50. This is where I kind of wave my hands and talk more about how the ethos of What’s Eric Playing? isn’t really to assign “worth” or “value” to games. It seems weird to tell you a game I didn’t pay for is “worth” a certain amount of money, given that I know nothing about design, manufacturing, or shipping board games, so, I don’t. I’ll just acknowledge that I expect some players to be frustrated that there are technically “fewer” missions in this version. That said, the game offers a way to keep going past Mission 32, so, I think it balances out the concern.
- While I like the new Task types, the occasional mandatory reshuffle because you have mutually exclusive mission types or an impossible combination of Tasks is gently annoying. This is probably, for context, my biggest issue with Mission Deep Sea. It’s a small issue. This should tell you something. But effectively, it’s annoying that it is possible to get a situation in which you absolutely cannot succeed, based on how the cards were dealt or the requirements of the mission. For instance, it is possible to have a player who has all the submarines and a Task Card that requires that one player take a certain card with a submarine. If that player has the card in question, the Task Card cannot be completed. Similarly, we have rounds where one player must complete all the Task Cards, but some are mutually exclusive (win with a 9; don’t take any 9s). There’s not much to be done about it, but it’s a bit annoying.
- Similarly, lots of new symbols slows down the round-to-round play, since you’re often looking up what Task Cards mean and what the other symbols in the logbook correspond to. This problem goes away eventually, but it does slow down your first few plays. I still get Currents and Rapture of the Deep confused, and I’m not always sure what the actual Task Cards are telling me to do, at times. They’re generally pretty good; we just struggled to understand the occasional ones.
Overall: 9.5 / 10
Overall, I think The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is also pretty excellent! The main places where it doesn’t quite rise to the same level as the original The Crew are twofold. One, it’s just hard to recapture the zeitgeist of a novel game when the follow-up is the same genre and format. People will still enjoy it, but it won’t challenge them and throw them like the original did. Not really anyone’s fault, just a consequence of taking this direction. Two, while I love the new Task Cards and how interesting (and sometimes wildly challenging) they are, the fact that you can have mutually exclusive Task Cards on some missions and essentially have to immediately re-deal is just a little annoying. Not anywhere close to a dealbreaker, but it’s less smooth in those cases than the original. That said, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea has basically everything you could want from a sequel, which is a lot more of what you liked about the original with a few new twists to keep you on your toes. The new missions are interesting, the new Task Cards are compelling, and the theme is fun and nautical. I like it all. Thankfully, I think I can pretty easily fit both in a Quiver or in the original box, so I fully expect to take these with me on my (hopefully numerous) upcoming adventures. And I’m excited about that! I love The Crew, and I love Mission Deep Sea as well. If you’re a fan of The Crew, I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed, and I can’t wait to play The Crew: Mission Deep Sea again soon! It’s a great entry in a (hopefully ongoing) series!
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