Reviewed by Chris Wray
THE CREW: THE QUEST FOR PLANET 9 [DIE CREW: REIST GEMEINSAM ZUM 9. PLANETEN] (Kosmos/999 Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 20 minutes; 12.99 €)
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a cooperative trick-taking game with 50 different missions. Designed by Thomas Sing, it was released at Essen 2019 under the German name Die Crew. It was a star of the show, earning the highest rating on the FairPlay list, plus a mention on the BGG Geekbuzz list. The Crew has earned considerable acclaim from game critics in the weeks since, and it is surely a leading candidate for the 2020 Spiel des Jahres.
In many ways, The Crew is a standard trick taking game: players must follow suit, there are trump cards (which can only be played if you can’t follow suit), and the highest value of suit led wins unless a trump card is played.
It is the cooperative aspect that makes the game unique. Players are trying to complete a mission, and there are 50 missions in the campaign.
A mission usually has a number of jobs to complete, and a job is represented by a small card that a player has in front of them. The player with that card has to capture the trick in which the matching big card is played. So if you have the small green 5 in front of you, you have to capture the trick in which the big version of that card is played. Sometimes jobs need to be completed in order (and there are tokens to track that), and additional restrictions can be added to a mission, such as “one trick must be won with a 1-value card” and “no trick can be won with a 9.”
That sounds simple, but players generally aren’t allowed to communicate about what cards they have in their hand. A player can share limited information once a mission before a trick starts by putting a card on the table, then placing a token to indicate if it is their only card of that color, the highest card they have of that color, or the lowest card they have of that color. If one of those three things isn’t true about the card, they can’t put it down. Other information can’t be shared. Some cooperative games struggle with communication rules, but the rules are remarkably clear in The Crew.
Despite being a trick taking enthusiast, before playing The Crew, I had only ever played one other cooperative trick taking game — a 2014 release called Familiar’s Trouble — and it was much less dynamic. I’ve played The Crew more than 40 times in recent weeks, and I’m currently working on the missions in the high teens. The missions start out simple enough, almost forming an introductory basis to the game, but after the first dozen they become devilishly tricky (pun intended).
Players need to work together, and one of the beautiful aspects of The Crew not present in other cooperative games is that there can’t be much quarterback-ing, as each player has their own information.
Teaching is straightforward, and even somebody unfamiliar with a trick taking game could learn this in just a few minutes. The game plays quickly — many missions take less than ten minutes — and set up is equally as easy. This is a true family weight game, but I’ve seen many gamers become quickly addicted to it. Given that it plays well with 3-5 players, it is also appropriate to break out in a variety of gaming situations.
My only quibble with the game is the production value: the cards are not of high quality, and my deck is already showing some wear.
Overall, I’m highly impressed, and The Crew: The Quest for Planet 9 made it into my top 5 games of 2019. This will surely be a hit in coming months, and I admire this giant step forward in trick taking game design. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Wray
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