Deckscape: Crew v Crew
Confession time. I have never been in a real escape room. Yes, I can hear the boos and the catcalls all the way from Centre Court, but it’s just something I haven’t had the fortune of trying. Yet.
On the other hand, my family and friends enjoy playing the myriad of escape-room-in-a-box puzzle games that seem to be picking up steam lately.
That would not be me, of course. That would probably be Allison V or Kevin Konovitch.
But in all of our experiences before, the conceit of these escape room games has been that we are working together to solve the puzzles, sometimes as fast as we can. I like cooperation as much as the next gamer. Sometimes, though, I want a little spice in my game night, a little competitive fire.
Lucky for me and for you dear reader, too, the folks at dV Giochi sent us a review copy of their latest Deckscape game to check out. Deckscape Crew v Crew: The Pirate’s Island pits two teams of friends on a competitive quest to …. That’s the thing, these escape room games are hard to review without spoiling anything. And since I refuse to do spoilers, we’ll have to make some adjustments on the fly.
So back to the game. It’s safe to talk about the back of the box, right? Two teams of pirates will compete to find Blackbeard’s treasure, following maps to distant islands filled with GUNPOWDER! PUZZLES! and ADVENTURE!
The Pirate’s Island was designed by Martino Chiacchiera and Silvano Sorrentino with art by Alberto Bontempi (which would be close to “good times!” in Cajun French) and published by dV Chiochi this year in 2021. The recommended game group is two to six people broken up into two teams, and the adventure takes right about an hour to play.
Like most games in its genre, The Pirate’s Island fits into your shirt pocket. It’s a small box game (think No Thanks or Dealt! size) with a pack of cards inside. The cards are arranged in numerical order, and all of the instructions are on the first card.
Good quality cards, they are, and setup takes just under 1.8 seconds. Without giving away anything, I will just say that I enjoyed the art inside.
If you have ever played an escape-room-in-a-box game, you already know how to play The Pirate’s Island, with just one major twist. If not, it is dirt simple. Players will open up the box, crack open the cards, and start with card number one. That one gives you a quick one minute tutorial on how the game is going to played, and frankly, those first few cards do an excellent job of explaining what is happening in the game.
Just based on the box, and without giving away any spoilers, you already know your job. Inspire your team to solve puzzles in the form of cards that drive the story forward. An example not in the game would be if the two teams had a box of Meche’s donuts each, and the famed pirate captain wanted one but doesn’t like cinnamon unless it has chocolate on it. The two teams would have to stare at their cards containing the sweet goodness to find something that matches the puzzle. First one to get it…hmmm….let’s leave that for your experience, shall we?
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
I never really had an interest in escape room style games, until I played my first on a Scout canoe trip / board game night in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I grabbed a couple of the adult leaders, and while the scouts played The Great Dalmuti, we tried to find our way out of some mad man’s traps. Or something like that. The details are pretty hazy this far out.
That’s the best thing I can say right off the bat about The Pirate’s Island. The story was engaging, and the puzzles were definitely memorable. There were one, arguably two, that were a little too picky for our taste. It’s hard to say anything without spoiling, so I’ll just say that what the designers were looking for wasn’t exactly what we thought they were looking for.
But I thought the rest of the puzzles ranged from the interesting to the Hey That Was Cool. In particular, there were two puzzles that I greatly admired the technique in designing them.
But you probably want to know what I think about the two team competition. First, from a thematic standpoint, the competition between the two crews worked surprisingly well. The idea of two rival pirate crews competing for treasure as they race around the Caribbean? Well, that’s not a stretch at all.
And of course, the competition serves other purposes. For instance, one thing that I do not enjoy in escape room games is the dreaded timer. Don’t misunderstand me; I know why the timer is there. It is one way to rate the outcome or have a way to compete against yourself, or any other reason used to show that one experience is better than another. But it feels artificially laid over the construct of the game.
The competition in The Pirate’s Island is the opposite. The decision to turn the pirate puzzles into competitions between two crews is brilliant. Not only does it make sense that the pirate crews would compete on the challenges, it makes sense that they would not work cooperatively to find Captain Blackbeard’s treasure. One fully expects that two crews searching for the same thing would never trust each other to do the expected thing every time you think they should. They are pirates, after all! Why use a timer when the competition between the two crews can drive the narrative elements of the story forward instead?
I would play a competitive escape room game like this before I play a non-competitive escape room game, any day of the week. If you are like me, and you like the idea of teams competing against each other to solve puzzles, and your job is to contribute whenever you can, then you should definitely check out The Pirate’s Island.
Does the game get rid of the dreaded quarterbacking problem? Nope, and I don’t think the Deckscape series is designed toward fixing that problem. Instead, find a group of like minded gamers that recognize that the goal of the game is not just winning, it is providing everyone at the table with a good time.
Or, just be a true pirate and play to win all the treasure!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo