The Crew has gotten lots of hype which usually happens for the first of its kind: Co-op trick-taking. There are trick-taking partnerships like Tichu, Frank’s Zoo and others, but nothing like a full co-op. Lots of folks have jumped on the band wagon, particularly the fans but also casual players of the trick-taking genre which I am part of the latter. I believe the 2019 Essen buzz was strong and that was why the game was out of print for at least 6 months.
What’s unique about The Crew will also be its biggest Achilles heel: the game is all about trick-taking and if you are not a fan of the trick-taking, then steer clear. If you are ambivalent like I am, then it might be worth a try if you enjoy co-op game. The co-op feature here is extremely strong and is essential for winning the missions. So, if you like working with others but aren’t sure about trick-taking, I think you may eventually embrace the game. For fans of trick taking, this will be a thrilling variation that is certainly worth exploring.
The Crew features 50 trick-taking “missions” where a group of 3-5 players try to accomplish the requirements for each mission to advance the story. I must admit, the story is tacky but actually works for me. I am looking forward to reading the blurb for each mission and seeing how far the group can go. Without the mission story line, it’s fine as well, but the flavor text actually feels relatively coherent for me. Perhaps part of the reason lies in the relative inexperience of our group in trick-taking. In mission #2 felt like a challenge.
In The Crew, cards from four different suits with values of 1-9 are evenly dealt out to all players. In addition, there are four trump “rocket” cards with values of 1-4 that will win all tricks. Once cards are dealt, players play a very traditional trick taking round where tricks are won by playing a card of the highest value that matches the leading suit. Of course, since this is a co-op, winning a trick may not actually accomplish a mission and can be detrimental to the common cause. In fact, tricks have to be won by certain players as designated, otherwise the mission is lost. At the beginning of each mission, a card or cards have to be flipped over from a smaller mission deck. This smaller deck is an identical duplicate of the larger deck of cards that form the player’s hand. This mission card will indicate which player must win the trick that contains a particular card. The game immediately ends in victory if that requirement is met. Conversely, the mission is immediately lost if any other player, except the designated player wins a trick containing the mission card. As missions become more advance, more cards are flipped over and more requirements must be met. For example, some missions will require that tricks be won in a specific order (i.e. player 1 must win at trick containing red 7 followed by player B with green 2, etc.). There are other specific mission requirements which we have yet to go through since I do not want to spoil the surprise.
Another aspect of The Crew is that any communication between players is limited to using a communication token. You are not allowed to talk about your cards other than using the token once per game to denote whether a single card in your hand is the only card, the highest card of that suit or lowest. Since the token can be played at any time between tricks, it is useful to coordinate and reveal what you have (or don’t have) in order to win tricks. It is clever. The way the game is structured, there is no way for an alpha player to emerge which is a common problem with co-ops.
I half-expected to enjoy The Crew and I was right. It is easy to like this game because the basic rules are simple and failure is not a big blow since you can shuffle and just replay the mission. Each mission takes minutes to complete and the missions seems varied enough, I think. We haven’t gone far enough to know. I actually love the theme for this game and found it probably more engrossing than most people. The quality of the components are pretty decent and the linen cards are great. It’s really just a box of cards the same size as the Kosmos EXIT series.
Personally, I have come around to trick-taking a lot more due to my group and I definitely think that The Crew is the most unique and fun of the lot. I feel part of the fun is figuring out how to work cooperatively and because our skill levels are about similar, the cooperative nature works well. I could also imagine an unbalanced group where newbie errors could easily frustrate an old hand. I have seen stats out there where good players can complete the missions with minimal attempts. I wonder if the game might be too simple for expert folks and perhaps the game won’t be as fun. In a way, I think that The Crew almost feels like a step-by-step tutorial for how to think about the nuances and subtleties of trick-taking. I think playing The Crew can make me even more competitive for games like Tichu. Ultimately, whether one loves the game depends on how much you tolerate trick-taking. I see this game as an ultimate filler where we can pull it out and try to complete a few missions as a night cap but unlikely to be an epic all-nighter. I’d say overall, the hype matches my expectation and Kosmos as hit another home run.
03/2020: The 2p version actually is decent. It’s not nearly as good as 3+ players but if you desperate to play a co-op trick taking, it works. The revealed cards from the neutral player helps to make the game easier. Overall a decent game for two. I’d recommend it if you enjoy the genre, but there are better 2p competitive trick taking game out there like Haggis.
08/2021: The 2p version remains reasonable though there are better two player games out there. However, what The Crew brings to the table are the scenarios. It gives the game a really different feel every time you have different mission. Unlike Fox in the Forest Duet which just ramps up the difficulty, the variable missions bumps this game up by a notch. For more than 2 players, The Crew remains a delight. There is no doubt there are some combination of cards that make specific missions easier and so even if you fail repeatedly, don’t give up. It’s possible for your the overcome the challenges with some persistence. Even after multiple scenarios, we are still learning as a group.
Initial impressions: Great