Robinson Crusoe is not just some licensed board game for the whole family to enjoy. It’s a major player in board game culture. The latest edition’s box is lined with awards the game has won. It currently boasts a ranking of forty-one on BoardGameGeek (that may not sound very high but it is). I am woefully unqualified to wrestle with its axiomatic supremacy among board games. And yet here I am - unqualified AND negative about this exalted game. People are going to be pissed.
There is a chance that someday I will come to love Robinson Crusoe. It would take a gaming session surrounded by folks who are well-versed in the game and its many nuances. I would need to reside within this warm bosom of weathered islanders to even begin enjoying the grueling death march this game offers. Unfortunately, all I had for this review was myself and whatever friends I could trick.
The game is definitely impressive. The sheer number of distinct functioning game pieces alone should clue you in on its complexity, not to mention its forty-page guidebook which you’ll likely need to supplement with an extensive online FAQ. Between reading, watching others on YouTube and the act of learning through hesitant first-hand application, it’s not hyperbole to say Robinson Crusoe will take you hours just to wrap your head around much less learn.
Eventually you do sort of get there, at least in terms of basics. Then you need to teach it. Only then can you really start concentrating on playing effectively and - here comes some crazy talk - winning.
I do recommend the game for those who want something hardcore. The game is extremely well designed and balanced; it's just balanced against you. For $50, you definitely get your money’s worth in terms of production and play value. The game comes with seven different scenarios - each unique enough to effectively offer seven different board games. Given the difficulty of mastering even one, it’s hard to imagine anyone totally exhausting Robinson Crusoe.
But Robinson Crusoe might exhaust them. Essentially, each of the game’s seven scenarios offers players a couple tasks they must perform. They seem easy enough, except basically everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong. Weather, animal attacks, starvation, exhausted resources, injuries… if you can think of a hardship life on a remote island includes, Robinson Crusoe throws it at you. It’s a respectful facsimile of God’s hatred. It’s also demoralizing as all get out. Remember that feeling of slowly losing at Monopoly, having a friend bleed you dry over the course of an hour, kicking down every attempt you make to better your situation? That’s basically the entirety of Robinson Crusoe except in this case everyone’s in the misery together.
Granted, I bet a win feels pretty good. I played one four-player game where I saw a way to victory within two rounds if things went well. The excitement was high and the excitement was real. I planned a strategy and crossed my fingers. As soon as our master plan entered the execution phase a player was eaten by a bear, suddenly ending everything. After the initial wave of disappointment subsided, I looked at it like a mercy.
Having spent over a decade in the trenches of online movie fandom, I can see why people adore this game. It’s an extreme experience that pulls no punches, almost a gatekeeper made to separate the serious from the tourists. That’s fine. I’m willing to stand tall with my basic brethren and claim this game as “Not For Me”.
Having said that, if anyone in the Houston or Austin areas would like to take me under their wing to show me how this game can actually be enjoyed, I am always down for the experience. If you’ll still have me after this blasphemous review, that is.