This might be the best card game we’ve ever played
3 to 5 players (with a 2 player variant)
I thought we already had a ninth planet?! Pluto? Apparently it’s not big enough to count as a planet so we’re back down to eight. But wait a minute, scientists are saying there is a mysterious ninth planet located somewhere at the edge of the Solar System! Time for a space adventure to go and find out if there is truth to this, so buckle up and get ready to join the search for Planet Nine.
I used to play Bridge with my family a lot when I was a young teen (I know, I know, life and soul of the party), and despite its reputation as an old person’s game I always loved the challenge of playing two hands at the same time. The Crew is a lot like Bridge in that it is a trick taking game with elements of working together, trying to give subtle (but legal) hints as to what cards you have and with a common goal. The big difference is that in The Crew you are all working together and in Bridge you play in pairs.
In this wonderfully simple but brilliant game, you and your fellow astronauts must complete various missions in order to voyage through space, venturing further and further from Earth in a bid to find the mysterious Planet Nine.
With each mission the story continues, taking you through an extremely treacherous journey to the outer reaches of the Solar System, which you must work together to navigate by playing cards and gaining tricks in a certain way. Thankfully it’s not completely like space, if you play the wrong card you don’t hurtle endlessly into the eternal abyss that is Outer Space, you just shuffle the cards, bemoan your bad luck (or your Mother-in-law’s lack of regard for the mission objectives) and try again. I’m very glad they deviated from the theme in that sense.
How trick taking games work
Hopefully you’ve come across trick taking games before – if you have just skip ahead to the next paragraph – but if you haven’t then I’ll briefly explain. The deck of cards gets dealt evenly between all players and each “hand” consists of a number of “tricks”, in which each player plays a card. The lead player may play any card, whilst the other players must follow suit if they can, otherwise they can play whatever they want to. The highest card in that lead suit wins the trick and becomes the lead player for the next hand, unless somebody has played a “trump” card, which means they win instead.
Usually trick taking games involve trying to win the most tricks (e.g. Bridge), but in The Crew you’re working together so you don’t necessarily want to win every trick.
How the game works
Each round the deck is dealt evenly between players, which consists of four suits (green, blue, pink, yellow) from 1-9 and a trump (black) suit 1-4. Whoever has the black 4 becomes the Commander. In most missions, there will be a number of objectives to complete which come from a duplicate deck (without the trump cards). Going clockwise from the Commander, each player silently chooses an objective card to complete that round until there are none left, so for example in a 4 player game with 6 objectives, two players would have two objectives and two players would have one objective.
The trick taking then begins, with each player attempting to win the trick that contains their objective card. Basically, if my objective is green 6, I have to win the trick that contains the green 6 or we all lose. We’re working together to try and make sure each person wins the tricks containing their objective cards, so it’s a really interesting puzzle.
Not being able to talk to each other obviously makes things way more difficult, because when you’re taking objectives you don’t know what other people have in their hand. To make things trickier, whoever ends up with the last objective has no say in the matter so may end up needing to win the trick with the blue 9, but have a) no blues and b) no trumps! As soon as all objectives are complete (or are lost), the round ends and you can move on to the next mission or repeat if you failed.
During each mission, each player is allowed to “communicate” one card to the other players. You can either declare this card as the highest, lowest or only card in a particular suit. This communication can be the crucial difference between winning and losing (life and death!), so choose wisely! For example if my objective was to win blue 7, but my highest blue is a 5, I might want to tell everyone that.
Most missions involve the objective cards, others have different requirements which are some of the more interesting and difficult challenges! Some involve completing the objectives in a specific order which really mixes things up. There are 50 missions in total that go from nice and easy (1 objective between all of you) to mind-blowingly impossible (I won’t spoil it for you but mission 50 is a beast), but you can make your own up, play them in any order, repeat them etc. it’s completely up to you.
Everyone I’ve played The Crew with has loved the experience, from the first couple of confused hands where you’re not sure whether you can only pick objectives if you have the same card in your own hand, to taking on 8 objectives in one game and emerging victorious on the last card. It’s so satisfying when you all silently unlock the puzzle in the right order, right at the last minute.
The rulebook seems more intimidating than it is due to the mission pages which take up a decent chunk of it. It also has to explain the concept of trick taking, so don’t be deceived by it, it is really simple. The missions have a paragraph describing what’s going onboard the spaceship and the designer obviously wanted to relate them as much to the gameplay itself (even though you’re just playing cards). For example during one mission you lose communications on board the spaceship meaning no player can use their communication token for that mission. I like how they try and stick as close to the theme as possible despite the gameplay not really being akin to flying in a spaceship, not that I would know.
As I mentioned earlier the fact you can replay the missions as many times as you like is a real winner. The campaign may make you feel like there’s limited plays, but as each hand is different you can spend the entire evening repeating the same mission over and over (we often do) and it doesn’t get boring.
There’s a real knack to being good at The Crew. Especially on the tougher missions it’s really important you don’t just mindlessly throw cards away and try and plan ahead to when you might need to lead. Anyone who’s played Bridge will be used to giving subtle hints as to what your strong and weak suits are through the cards you play in certain situations, so me randomly leading with a green 8 when nobody has any green objectives might look insignificant, but I’m actually telling everyone that I have very few greens left (if any), should you wish to exploit that. That’s where The Crew really comes into its own, you’re not speaking to each other with words but that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate!
My only negative is that sometimes luck will play a part. Sometimes the way the cards have been dealt between players will mean no matter how intricately you play the hand, victory is impossible. But that doesn’t often happen, it’s unavoidable and I can’t see how the game rules could get around it. It also gives you a good excuse should you be responsible for a monumental cock-up (“oh boy I don’t think there’s any way we could have won that”).
It’s just such a simple concept, yet it works so well and I honestly can’t think of a better card game I’ve ever played- it’s easy to learn (and easy to alter the difficulty to accommodate new players), easy to transport, the artwork and theme are great and the gameplay is incredibly tense.
Overall I cannot recommend this game enough. If you like card games, get it. If you like cooperative games, get it. If you like a bit of problem solving, get it. Even if you don’t like space, get it!
Two player variant
A quick word on player count. The box says 3-5 with a 2 player variant, whereas I would have just said its 2-5 players, as the 2 player variant experience is just as good as with more players. With two players, you play with a dummy hand (the ever unreliable Jarvis) where half of his hands are placed facedown, the other half on top of them. The Commander (whoever is dealt the black 4) plays their own hand and Jarvis’s hand but for all other purposes Jarvis is a real player (Jarvis has objectives to win etc.). The only downside compared to 3 or more players is that the facedown cards are inaccessible until the card on top is played, so if a card is required for an objective in a certain order and it is buried somewhere in Jarvis’s hand, you’re going to fail and there’s nothing you can do about it!
That said, most of our plays have been 2 player and we’ve loved it! In fact one could argue Jarvis is a better player than both Jess and I (he’s certainly a better communicator).
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