Date played: March 18, 2020
Basic details: 1 player, 25 minutes
Gist of the game: You are Robinson Crusoe’s companion Friday. After washing up on your island, Robinson is essentially hapless and incompetent. You presumably want the imperialist gone, and in order to facilitate this, you need to teach him survival skills that will enable him to defeat two pirates at the end of the game. Robinson’s capabilities are represented by a deck of cards. The only good news is that he’s pretty healthy (20 life points), so he may be able to absorb some failures early on if he’s not quite up to snuff yet.
Play occurs across three phases, signified by the colors green (easy), yellow (intermediate), and red (advanced). In each phase, you draw hazard cards two at a time, discarding one, until the pile is down to one card. At that point, you have the option of resolving the hazard or discarding it and starting the next phase.
Each hazard card specifies the number of free fighting cards you can draw. You can additionally sacrifice life points to draw additional fighting cards. So long as you have drawn at least one, you do not have to draw all the free cards allotted to you, which may be to your advantage depending what’s left in your deck. Once you cycle through all your fighting cards, you shuffle in an aging card, most of which will help you, but, as Robinson ages too much, can very much be to your detriment with large negative point values.
To defeat a hazard, the sum of fighting points must equal or exceed the hazard value (the same hazard will have varying hazard values depending on which phase you’re in). If you win a hazard, you discard the fighting cards and the hazard card (which also contains a skill that Robinson can fight with) into your fighting card discard pile.
If you lose to a hazard, you lose the number of life points that stood between you and victory (e.g., if you had 2 fighting points and a hazard value of 3, you lose 1 life point). For life points you lose against a hazard, though, you can destroy face up fighting cards and remove them from the game. One life point destroys a regular knowledge card and two life points destroys an aging card.
Once the hazard pile has been depleted three times, it’s time to fight the pirates. Two pirates are chosen at random from a small selection at the beginning of the game. Chose one pirate and resolve it like a (turbo) hazard. After beating the first pirate, discard all used fighting cards and immediately fight the second pirate. Unlike regular hazards, you cannot lose to the pirates and pay with life points. If there aren’t enough fighting points from the free cards, you must sacrifice life points to draw more cards. You lose if there are no more fighting cards when you need them or if you need to sacrifice a life point and have none left (so you can win the game with zero life points, but not if you would need to go to -1 life points).
Color commentary: Ok, so I took like 3.5 pages of notes on the rules of this game, and spent longer reading the rules and trying to make sense of them than I think I spent playing the game (although I did lose quickly). Once I started playing, game play was extremely straightforward, although it certainly did not seem like that was going to be the case from the rule book. And I think I remembered to do everything, including shuffling in aging cards when I depleted the Robinson/fighting/knowledge deck.
I used a very aggressive initial strategy to defeat hazards, because some of them would have been extremely difficult to defeat in later phases (although, as I think about this hours later, maybe they wouldn’t have been quite as difficult as they seem at first glance because you would have had multiple early rounds to accrue useful knowledge). By losing, I was able to get rid of many useless fighting cards, worth 0 or -1 points, but the life point sacrifice to get rid of those was painful, as I ended up with -3 fighting points on a five point hazard card. Also, depleting the deck quickly means you have to shuffle in aging cards. Most of them will help you, but some of them are painful, worth things like -3 and -5 points. Ultimately, I lost about halfway through the first phase.
Thoughts I think M might have if he had played: The artwork isn’t great. The hazard cards are definitely the best, as they have the most room for whimsy. Then again, Rio Grande in general doesn’t seem to prioritize art — even Power Grid’s design focuses mostly on function rather than form.
The rule book clearly says that being defeated by early hazards that don’t cost a lot of life points may be in your interest. While I appreciate Petra’s aggressive strategy (her loss, not mine, ha), I think a more conservative strategy of choosing easier hazards to lose against and accepting more close defeats that let you destroy unhelpful fighting cards might be better than ending up in eight fighting points down on a single hazard. The difficulty is somewhat customizeable, with the option of including one fewer “advanced” (Petra here: interpret this as “exceedingly negative”) aging card. I have written in my notes that the game can be played with difficulty levels ranging from 1-4, but I neglected to write down what that meant, and now the box is far away. But, it’s nice that even though it’s a one player game, the creators had their eye on replayability.