Boxed Worlds: Robinson Crusoe

Fun but challenging adventure unlikely to lose steam

Co-operative games aren’t much fun unless they’re challenging. There’s a mild thrill that comes from saving the world from viral infection or invasion by eldritch gods but when the results are a foregone conclusion it’s hard to feel particularly invested.

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island (Portal Games) seems to understand this. In fact when I’ve talked to people about it those are usually the first two things I mention: It’s co-operative and it’s damned hard. After all the title already tells everything you need to know about the theme and the rest only matters once you know you’re interested.

And you should be interested especially if you’re looking for a game to occupy an unhealthy portion of your spare time. Alone or in a group of up to four Crusoe puts you in the ratty handmade shoes of the survivors of a shipwreck. You’ll have to gather food and wood create tools and build shelter — and regardless of your planning there’s a decent chance you’ll screw up even the most basic tasks. Didn’t get enough food? Someone’s not eating tonight. No shelter? You’re all taking damage from the elements. Even if you do have a shelter you need to hope it holds up against the rain or your stockpile of resources might just disappear. If anyone dies — and they will frequently — everyone loses.

If that’s all you had to deal with Crusoe would still be one of my favourite games of the year. Keep the game’s subtitle in mind though — this isn’t just survival on the Cursed Island; it’s adventure.

Six pre-made scenarios that change the nature of your mission are provided with the game and there is potential to download more. You might be trying to light a signal fire or carrying out an island-sized exorcism while coping with an impenetrable fog or dealing with an onslaught of cannibals. Or in a downloadable mission you might be a documentary crew trying to film King Kong in his natural habit. Still documentary crews have to eat too. The missions add to the challenge but they don’t replace it.

With hundreds of adventure cards and dozens of inventions to spice up the proceedings any of the Crusoe scenarios would work as a complete game on its own. It’s wonderfully built too; the design isn’t exactly elegant but it is attractive and once you figure out how to read it it’s also surprisingly informative.

Crusoe however is also something far more rare: with numerous scenarios it’s a co-op game that seems unlikely to lose steam any time soon. For those who spend most of their gaming time with the same one or two people — or alone for that matter — that kind of replayability makes Crusoe a prime desert island pick.

A word of warning though — at a glance the game can be intimidating and the rules aren’t at all intuitive. If you’re introducing it to a less-than-hardcore gaming group (or if you just want to avoid a few otherwise inevitable mistakes your first time through) watching one of the many YouTube playthroughs isn’t a bad idea.