The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a cooperative trick taking game from publisher Kosmos. Designed by Thomas Sing, the game sees players set out into space, attempting to succeed at 50 increasingly difficult missions. Communication will be limited, cards will be played, tricks will be won and this will see the missions won or lost. Designed for 3 – 5 players the game does come with a 2 player variant. However, is this a mission to play? Let’s find out!
For those unaware of what a “normal” competitive trick taking game is, here’s a quick explanation. With a hand of cards of various suits, similar to Diamonds, Spades, Hearts & Clubs, players play a single card each round. Starting with one player they play a card setting the leading suit for the round. Each subsequent player follows by playing one card from their hand, but they must play one of the lead suit if possible. If unable to any card can be discarded or a trump card can be played. If a trump card has been played the highest trump wins the trick of cards. If no trump cards have been played then the highest valued card of the leading suit (not discarded other suits) wins the trick.
In The Crew things are slightly flipped as it is no longer a competitive game, where players aim to win as many tricks as possible. Players set out on the journey to find a ninth planet, after some training of course. Along the way The Crew must complete missions – of which there are 50 to beat. While players can randomly pick a mission, the logbook section of the rulebook is designed to allow players to work through levels in order. Whether randomly choosing or picking the next unfinished mission players follow the specific setup.
Splitting the large deck of cards amongst the players, each player also obtains a communication token. This is players primary way of giving out a piece of information during the game, with players unable to openly say what cards they have. One player will have the 4 Rocket (the highest trump card) becoming the commander for the round. Starting out simple, mission 1 is all about allowing one player to win a specific card. Shuffling the mission card deck – an identical deck to the main cards without the rockets and smaller in card size – 1 mission card is turned face up. This card is assigned to the commander player.
For the group to win that card must be part of a trick won by the player with the matching mission card – in this case the commander. Therefore, the game is won or lost when the card is played in a trick – depending on whom wins it. To make this possible, using their communication token, players can reveal a card from their hand. They place the communication token on top – indicating if it is their highest, lowest or only card of that suit. Note, if a card doesn’t fit one of those three criteria it cannot be revealed. Any revealed cards are still part of their owners hand, being allowed to be played as normal.
The difficulty of course ramps up from this initial mission. One way this occurs is by simply increasing the number of mission cards in the game, with multiple players having a card or cards they must win as part of a trick. There are plenty of curveballs though, some require mission cards to be won in a specific order and others see a sick crewmate not allowed to win tricks. Individual games can be short but players can then simply reshuffle the cards and play again if they lost or move onto the next challenge.
Trick taking games are normally quite fast paced. Turns are just a case of checking if you have cards of the active suit and determining if your highest number of the suit has a chance to win. These are snap decisions that see the flow only minutely interrupted. The Crew doesn’t have this flowing gameplay, with players slow and methodical in their approach. This is, at the end of the day, a puzzle. One where you can hold all of the physical pieces, the required cards, but still not have the understanding of how to pull off the win.
This slower nature can be turned into a sluggish experience. If one of the players involved has no experience the trick taking genre this will be a rather testing experience. Not wanting to say they’d be a bit of a liability, players without experience will often not see opportunities presented to the team. With limited to no communication allowed this makes the experience hard to teach, or it becomes an alpha gamer situation – having to tell them exactly what to do without even being able to see their cards.
Attempting to put a rough time on how long missions in The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine last is difficult. All missions can be lost in the first round. The initial mission can also be won with the first trick. The first few missions will rarely last more than a couple of minutes. Later missions however will require more thinking, strategic play and have more parts to them – naturally taking much longer. This means if you’re looking for a game you can play a few rounds of in 10 minutes or last a good half an hour The Crew has you covered.
Replaying missions also often reduces the time taken, something to be taken into account, as players will understand a strategy to employ. There is also a learning journey that the game takes players on. Objectives are slowly introduced, such as the order tricks must be won in or greater limitations to communication. Players can therefore apply logic they have picked up from one mission and apply it loosely to another.
Two games are never the same, even when the same mission is replayed. Differing player counts means more or less information to individual players. On top of this, the shuffling and dealing of the deck means in one game the cards everyone needs to win could be in one players hands, the next they are evening distributed. The experience is all about cracking that puzzle that can be different just by re-dealing out the cards.
A 2 player variant is available in the rulebook, using a semi-dummy player. The box does rather honestly say 3 – 5 though, which should give some insight into the 2 player experience. With 2 players a row of 7 face down cards and 7 face up cards is put into play, making sure the 4 rocket isn’t included. Each turn the commander must in order also add a face up card from this “AI” into the tricks, revealing uncovered face down cards. This keeps the challenge element. Alas, whomever is the commander is almost doing 2x the work, with the other player left out of the AI decisions.
Component wise there isn’t much to fault, nor get overly excited about. The four main suits have their own symbols. This is rather helpful as blue and green can be a little close in some lighting – though thankfully not enough to ever be confused so far. The card quality is decent, so the game should be able to withstand plenty of shuffling – of which a lot occurs. The chits to mark the objectives are just cardboard. They do the job well but they could have been upgraded material wise to give the game a more premium feel.
So, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine may not work well with only 2 players. It is not a good entrance point into the genre. This being said, for those whom love trick taking games there are many tense games ahead and puzzles to crack. Combine this with almost infinite replayability, across the 50 unique missions and gamers have plenty of game in this small box. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is perfectly aligned to be one of the “next step” games as soon as someone knows trick taking, just try to have at least 3 players!
(Editor’s Note: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine was provided to us by Kosmos Games for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores.)