The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

Thomas Sing
2 - 5
10 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

[pullshow/]First of all: the game’s title is wrong. In my heart of hearts, Pluto will always be the ninth planet. So what we’re looking for in The Crew is planet TEN. Come fight me about that, International Astronomical Union!

With that challenge out of the way, welcome to our review of The Crew: The Quest for Planet NineTen. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what you’ll be doing in this game. As a crew of astronauts the players go hunt for Planet NineTen.

More surprising is how you go on that epic quest. Trick taking games are not a traditional medium to tell a story, nor are they commonly cooperative. But I’ve gushed before how incredibly versatile that simple game mechanism is.

Burning up your fuse up there with friends – how to play The Crew

The rocket engine at the core of The Crew is a very basic trick taking game. One player plays a card, the other players then each add one of their cards to the trick. If they can, they have to follow suit, meaning play a card of the same color. The player with the highest value card wins the trick. If a player can not follow suit they may play a card from another suit, in which case they can’t win the trick, or they may play one of the four rocket ship trump cards and they will win the trick.

But how, I ask rhetorically, does winning tricks go with a cooperative game? With missions to complete! That’s how The Crew: The Quest for Planet NineTen manages to tell a story, too. There are a total of fifty missions, and you win a round by completing the mission you’re playing. Missions start super easy. In the first mission the mission commander – also known as the first player – draws one mission card. That card shows the color and value of one of the game cards, and to complete the mission the commander has to take the trick with that card in it. Simple when it’s a high card and the commander holds that game card themselves. Otherwise, you’ll have to use some tricks. For instance, to give a high card to the mission commander the player who holds that card might shed all their cards in another color and then throw the required card into a trick where they can no longer follow suit.

The missions grow harder and more complex with each one you complete. In mission two the second player gets a mission card to complete as well. In mission three you still have two mission cards, but now they have to be completed in the correct order. Later missions get more interesting goals like taking one trick with a one card, or completing mission cards but not taking a single trick with a nine. In the last mission you have a total of ten mission cards, three order markers that say one goal has to be completed before another, and the extra special mission goal: one player has to take the first four tricks, another player has to take the last trick, and both players may not take any tricks beyond those. You’ll take some attempts to get that one right – and I’m not telling if you find Planet NineTen or not.

None of the more complex missions are manageable without good communication. How you can communicate is another part where The Crew shines. Regular readers will know how much I hate the solution many cooperative games have, where you can talk about your cards, but not name specifics. The good old “I have a green card that is high, but not the highest, it’s higher than a medium card but mediumer than a high card, if you know what I mean” pet peeve. Well, The Crew doesn’t do that and decides to be a good game instead. For any given mission, each player may give one clue to their cards. They put one hand card on the table and put their communication marker on top of it. A marker in the middle of the card means that this is their only card in that color, a marker at the top edge means it’s their highest card in that color, bottom edge means lowest. Once a clue is thus given it stays, even if your cards change later and the clue is no longer accurate. It’s not much communication, but if you use it well it’s enough. For added fun, some missions mess with your ability to communicate.

And that’s really all there is.

It’s not the game you think you have at home – our verdict

Ever since year’s Essen fair there’s been a lot of hype for The Crew: The Quest for Planet NineTen. So much hype, in fact, that I was very doubtful if the game could live up to it. Well, sometimes I’m happy to be proven wrong. [pullthis]Any doubt I had about The Crew was misplaced. Except my doubt about the designer’s and publisher’s ability to count planets[/pullthis], but I digress.

The Crew is a very light game. If you know how to play a trick taking game then you don’t have much to learn before you start. Figure out how missions work, and your good to go. And you might breeze through the first few missions, but the difficulty ramps up. It’s not a steep ramp, but steadily the missions get harder. You might win the first few by sheer luck, but soon you’ll have to learn “advanced” techniques like shedding a color so you can discard the card needed into another player’s trick. In fact, learning advanced techniques here might help you improve at other trick taking games.

Like in most good cooperative games, communication is absolutely crucial. The Crew gives you very limited options in this department. One card, one marker, that’s all you get. And more often than not, it’s enough, as long as you remember the other things your fellow players communicate. Think about why they are showing you that one card that is their lowest? What do they want you to do with that information. What are they telling you with the cards they are playing? Are they trying to shed a color? Why? Also, don’t forget that one bit of information you have in every round: the mission commander is the player with the number four rocket, so you always know where that card is. More than once, that last one was what we needed to complete a mission.

Mission details are often random, so you may face the same mission a second time and find it much harder – or simpler – than the first time. But in a game where a round takes five minutes, no one gets upset when they lose to bad luck. Quite the opposite. “Let’s try once more, we almost had it,” is a very frequent phrase.

Maybe that’s all you need to know about The Crew: The Quest for Planet NineTen: we stopped playing it as a nightcap because we always fail at the “calling it a night” part that’s supposed to follow.

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