Full disclosure: A review copy of Deckscape Crew vs Crew: The Pirates’ Island was provided by dV Giochi.
I’d been meaning to get to this since Decktective: Bloody-Red Roses, but hadn’t had the chance until now. Funny how that all works. But here we are! We’ve been solving mysteries for a few weeks with various EXIT games (and other mystery boxes that I’ve finally gotten to write up), so we’re heading back to the Deckscape series, in which players go through an entire deck of cards to try and complete a puzzle! Let’s see how this one works.
In Deckscape Crew vs Crew: The Pirates’ Island, players take on a new challenge: instead of cooperatively solving an escape room-style set of puzzles, they play as rival pirate crews trying to claim the treasure for themselves! Split up into the red and blue crew to steal a map, steal a ship, and maybe even steal a legendary treasure if you’re lucky. Solve puzzles, get into fights, and also maybe get a cursed glove? Anything can happen on the open sea! Will your crew prove to be the legendary pirates that deserve such an incredible treasure?
None! Divide players into two teams, take the deck, and you should be ready to start!
This one’s not too complex to explain. Essentially, you’re going to go through the deck, one card at a time, following the instructions. You should be in two teams of players of equal size / skill; if not, there’s a balancing card that the smaller team gets. As you progress through the deck, you’ll be given clues and asked to solve puzzles! Once both teams understand the premise of the puzzle, you work to solve it in real-time. The first team that thinks they have it says “STOP” and checks the solution! If they’re right, they earn the Victory card; if they’re wrong, their opponents get it. If neither team thinks they can solve the puzzle, they can agree to skip it, and nobody gets the Victory card.
Play continues until the entire deck is completed. Once that happens, the team with more coins wins!
Player Count Differences
I don’t think I’d recommend Deckscape Crew vs Crew: The Pirates’ Island at two players. With two, you pretty much are on your own for every challenge, which means if you’re stuck or confused, the only player you can ask for help is … your opponent. That doesn’t really work, as you might guess. There’s a fairly good point that the game makes that having more players allows you to have in-team conversations, which will give you a chance to overhear what secret chatter your opponents are having. For odd numbers of players, you can give the smaller team an extra four coins to start to try and balance things out. Does that help that much? … It’s fairly unclear. Depends on your group, I suppose. With two, we just felt like there wasn’t really enough interaction to make things fun (though the few team vs. team interactions were very fun, so, some high points). We kind of wish we had had more players. As a result, I’d probably recommend sticking to four or six players.
This one’s a bit tough to write strategy for, since it’s not entirely an escape room game; it’s a head-to-head puzzle challenge. Thinking of how to approach the strategy without explicitly telling you what to do is tough! It’s designed to be tricky on purpose and to get you to quickly arrive at the wrong answer so that you end up accidentally giving points to your opponent. So the best advice I can give is a much-abridged version of this section. Please enjoy.
- Don’t let the time pressure get to your head. This is where the mistakes happen! If you get too stressed out by the time pressure, you’re going to start making mistakes, reading hastily, or jumping to non-optimal conclusions. Just take a breather and try to solve the puzzle as best as you can.
- If you’re genuinely confused, it might be worth waiting out your opponent. If you don’t know and are just going to guess, well, you may just want to wait and hope that your opponent will guess instead. Best case: they get it wrong, and you get the coins. Middle case: you and your opponent agree it’s impossible to solve this puzzle and nobody gets anything. Worst case: your opponent guesses and gets it right, and they get the coins. At least, here, you’re not giving the coins away by getting the answer wrong.
- Again, remember, tricky on purpose. A few of these puzzles will attempt to frustrate you on purpose by providing an answer that looks right, but isn’t. Make sure your answer is actually correct.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do love a pirate-themed game. They’re just generally fun themes! You’ve got puzzles and ships and doubloons and cannons and the occasional parrot; what’s not to like? Plus, for some reason, I don’t really get to play that many pirate-themed games, these days. I’ve been trying to make a point of trying more.
- There are two team vs. team “games” that aren’t really escape room-style puzzles, but they are both very fun. I really liked both of them! I lost one and won the other, but the games are a nice break from all the puzzling and they give you a bit of action to go with all the clues and such. Honestly, very much my favorite part of the game. I’d like to play both of them again, really.
- I do like these escape room games that are reusable. It makes me feel a bit less bad about throwing away an entire game after one play. These I can at least pass around through my various social networks so that they can get a taste of puzzling, which is always nice.
- It’s also nice how portable these are; you can take multiple Deckscape / Decktective titles at once with you without using a ton of space. I really value portability in games, partially because so much of my house, at this point, is board games; it’s nice to have a lot of games in a smaller, less aggressive space. I should probably downsize a bit before I move, but … I probably won’t. In the meantime, having small, portable games makes for a very easy carry-on suitcase when I do my traveling.
- I really like how the core gameplay concepts are taught by doing; keeps the barrier to entry low and then you can just kind of launch into it. I really enjoy no-rulebook games. This, in particular, introduces concepts and puzzles as you go through, and then tasks you with solving them. I think I’d like it more if there weren’t the time pressure of having to solve this while your opponent is also solving it, but them’s the breaks, I suppose. The all-in-one compactness of it all is nice, though.
- I don’t think that two players is the right player count for this one. I just would have preferred having more people to talk and puzzle with, rather than just doing everything in my head. I’m not sure that four coins makes up for being down a player, either, so I’d probably just stick to four or six players. Unfortunately, I remember the puzzles pretty well, so no luck on replaying.
- The speed aspect of the game doesn’t lend itself well to comprehension; if you’re confused, you can’t do much, and that doesn’t feel great. There’s not really anything to do about this, either. If you let players sit for a bit with the puzzle’s concept, they might end up solving it even if you haven’t formally said “time starts now”. It just means that the overarching rule of the game rewards speed over understanding, which doesn’t really work for this type of puzzle-solving game. I think lower-complexity logic puzzle games like The Key series tend to do a better job showing how to marry real-time gameplay and puzzle-solving without frustrating players.
- It feels like the limited space available on the cards meant that a lot of helpful context ended up getting lost; we struggled with both problems and solutions from time to time. There isn’t a ton of space on the cards given to text and images that are puzzle-relevant, which can be a frustrating thing to notice when you get a puzzle wrong. Even then, some of the puzzles play with mirrored images and require some extra context, so the solutions don’t always naturally follow, which frustrated us. We found a couple of the puzzles were just … needlessly confusing, as well. Not all of them, but enough that we discussed it after we played.
- I don’t think the competitive aspect of this game really landed. This is kind of the major problem I had with the game; the competitive nature of the game meant that it didn’t feel as fun thinking through and solving puzzles; it mostly just felt like powering through and guessing the correct answer and hoping you were right? This was, granted, made worse by having nobody else to collaborate with. For me, the fun of an escape room is going through with friends and figuring it out together. This just didn’t capture the same energy, for me.
- We didn’t love how arbitrary the coins for winning / not losing felt. Some of the coin payouts made sense, in that finding treasure earned you a lot of coins, but others felt weirdly low or weirdly high for no particular reason? It would have influenced our decision-making if we had known how many coins a puzzle was worth, granted, but I’d rather know I’m up for four coins than find out that I lost a huge potential windfall because I missed something in the image.
Overall: 3.75 / 10
Overall, I didn’t really care for Deckscape Crew vs. Crew: The Pirates’ Island. I think that, critically, the Crew vs. Crew framework takes away from what I enjoy most about escape rooms and escape room games. I really want to sit down, talk with friends, and collaboratively figure things out. Instead, we largely played in silence, had some bad puzzle experiences, and mostly finished up frustrated. The zero-sum game of it all means that if you move too quickly and make a mistake, your opponent gets all the points. This means they don’t solve the puzzle and still gain the benefit, which feels unsatisfying for both parties. At two, I think the game is weakest; there’s almost no conversation between players. We mostly only talked to each other to try and figure out the sometimes-obtuse solutions to the puzzles or to both express our frustration at what was happening. This isn’t to say it was all bad; there are some genuinely entertaining puzzles and challenges in the game. It’s just that the two funnest parts of the game were outweighed by equally-frustrating puzzles, and the points system for determining how valuable a puzzle was felt almost entirely arbitrary. It made some sense when certain puzzles were worth a lot of points, but the low-value puzzles made significantly less sense. This all left kind of a sour taste in our mouths as we played, as it seemed like the game missed the point of what I found fun about escape room games. Instead, we were rushing puzzles, making a ton of errors, and honestly giving away almost as many points as we earned. That doesn’t feel like it appropriately captures the spirit of the game. I can imagine folks who really like competitive puzzles enjoying Deckscape Crew vs. Crew: The Pirates’ Island, but if you’re like me and enjoy more collaborative puzzle solving, I’d definitely recommend checking out other games.
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