One of the best games to come out of our experience at BGG Con 2019 was The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine, a cooperative low information trick taking game from designer Thomas Sing and published by KOSMOS. It won tons of awards (including one of our top games of the year for 2020!) and they were all well deserved. If not for a strong showing of a bunch of games that really hit my fancy, it would have won Gumbo Game of the Year, too, which is a prize that is about 6% as important as the Spiel des Jahres! You can check out our full review in a Gumbo Live! chat with Jonny Pac here.
Thomas Sing is back again, this time with an expansion for The Krewe … err … The Crew called Mission Deep Sea. That’s right, another story unfolds where players are banding together on missions to explore the great depths of the ocean. If you’ve played the original, you’ll be up to speed in no time, and we think you will enjoy the changes and twists. Our thanks to KOSMOS for sending us this review copy.
If you are a fan of trick-taking games, you already know how to play The Crew and its expansion. But, both games include a “mission log book” that not only sets the scene for the game, and walks you through the gameplay, but also is a good way to introduce the trick taking mechanic to any new gamer. It takes you step-by-step through all of the parts of winning a trick, one of the essential elements of this game.
The game plays from two to five players, and generally speaking, in each round players will be assigned one or more tasks to complete that have to do with winning ‘tricks’. A trick is basically playing one card out of your hand, and whoever has the top card (either the highest card of the ‘lead’ or first card played, OR one of the trump cards — in this case they are submarines, of course) wins the ‘hand’ or ‘trick’.
If the team fails to complete one of the tasks, then the mission fails, and the team is supposed to redo that task. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea has the same familiar sets of cards, four suits from 1-9 and the submarine super trumps from 1-4. The very first few tasks are a breeze, and if you have played the original version, you might want to jump up a few missions to start the game.
But, the designer has thrown in a few new diving bells to navigate. First, instead of having locked in tasks for each mission (the original game came with 50 different missions), the designer provided a task deck. This is a deck of 96 different goals for a player to win. It could be something as simple as winning the first or last trick, or something more difficult like only winning one trick or winning a trick that has a certain trump card.
As krewes of intrepid future explorers dive into the logbook, the missions get more and more focused on honing our communication skills. Missions might change the amount of communication we make, or change the usefulness of some of the tokens we use, but more importantly, they will slowly ramp up the difficulty of the tasks themselves.
But if they are random, you say, how can that be that the difficulty scales up so? It’s because of an ingenious method of doling out the mission tasks. Depending on the level of the mission, players will have to draw a certain number of tasks and spread them out among the crew members. For instance, spreading out tasks among three or four or five crew members can make the word easier. Many hands make light work, as they say.
But, sometimes a mission will cruelly require ONE player to take on all of the tasks, and that leaves the one negative we have. Sometimes, missions like that can be just plain impossible — for instance, if there are only two tasks, and the mission requires that person to complete in order to move forward, if the two tasks are diametrically opposed in strategy, it will be very shaky. Fortunately, this scenario does not happen that often, and it was easy for us to just draw a few more cards to replace the tasks that are found in front of us.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
I’ve played this with three or four different groups now, all of which love trick-taking games. They have ranged to our hard core Krewe de Gumbo, to just a family night playing games with people more familiar with Hearts and Spades and Bourre’. The universal thought that we have all shared is that this version of The Crew gets something right: people want to dive right into the missions and want the feeling of unscripted, treacherous, and unexpected adventure that comes with the addition of the task deck.
I wholeheartedly agree.
Like No Thanks! or any other short card game, there is a beginning to each session, but there really is no ending (unless you had the time, inclination, and unlimited supply of Mountain Dew Voodoo to play through the whole Mission Log in one session.) Game groups are free to start from Mission number one, and stroll through as many missions as they can handle, or start higher in the mission log if their goal is to complete the entire book over the course of a few (or maybe more realistically for our group, a lot) of game days.
We’ve even experimented a bit, just grabbing three Rolling Dice & Taking Names souvenir six-sided dice, rolling them up, and using that numbered result as the card value count for the tasks. That made for a lot of tough challenges right off the bat as we rolled a lot of 11s and 14s and numbers in that range. I think we lost four times in a row doing it that way, but it created a story for the night that I still remember vividly.
With my family group of gamers, I brought it out along with some adult beverages on a beach trip recently to celebrate the end of the fall season. Relaxing around the table with three other family members who I’ve known for years, there was an easy cadence as we started with Mission 1 and worked our way through the log book. It’s tough to describe all of our experiences without spoiling your own discovery, so I’ll just say that there are a few more twists and turns that Sing has thrown into this box that will make for some pleasant surprises for old hands at trick-taking games.
I especially like the way that Sing has not thrown out the “let’s start with this, and then move on to that” way of introducing the game. I could see my playing partners were visibly relaxed knowing that they just had to remember the basics of any trick-taking game to get started, and that the game would teach itself as we explored the log book.
So the experience with gamers from casual to curmudgeon has been more than pleasant. As the pandemic starts its long slow ebb to endemic status, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea has been a good welcome wagon as we broke out of our shells and started mixing with our friends and gamers again. The Crew is going back on a shelf somewhere, and Mission Deep Sea is going in the game bag’s front pocket, ready to take out when we have three or four people at the end of the game day or late at night at BGG Con when we are just looking for something to play that will stimulate good conversation.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is a keeper for us. And maybe, just maybe, if I keep playing, I’ll get better at other trick-taking games. I can only hope.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
Board Game Gumbo is a proud member of Punchboard Media
Gumbo Live! Tuesdays at 8:30 PM CST / 9:30 PM EST hosted by Board Game Gumbo
@boardgamegumbo on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram and Facebook
http://www.boardgamegumbo.com ← our written reviews, news, and convention recaps