The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
It’s an adventure into outer space!
There seems to be a planet at the edge of our solar system. Can you and your fellow astronauts complete the missions ahead of you to unlock the mystery of planet nine? The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine blends loose story-telling with truly inventive cooperative trick-taking while limiting players’ ability to communicate. The result is a tense collaborative experience, completely flipping decades-old trick taking mechanics on their head.
The Crew was created by Thomas Sing and published by KOSMOS. It’s best for 3-4 players, but can support as few as two or as many as five. Players age 10 and up can play a few rounds in 20 minutes.
The Crew is for people who enjoy classic trick-taking games like Euchre or Hearts but who are looking for something with more theme and less competition. It’s also for people who are terrible at trick-taking games and want to learn how to be more effective in their play.
How to Play
The Crew is played as a series of “missions”, each one with a specific objective required to win.
Shuffle the deck of 40 playing cards and distribute them equally among all players. Whoever gets the rank 4 rocket will be the commander for this mission.
Review your task(s) for this mission – most missions use randomly-drawn task cards to show which cards to win in the round along with tokens that will indicate the order in which tricks must be won.
Starting with the commander, each player chooses a task card. Once the task cards are assigned the Commander starts the first trick.
The Crew plays like any other trick-taking game: someone plays a card to “lead” which sets the suit for the trick. Each other player in turn must play a card of the same suit if possible; the highest value wins the trick. Rockets are trump (wild) and will always win a trick – but you can only play a rocket if you do not have the color suit currently in play.
But now you’re all working together. Everyone WANTS Claire to win the blue 7 first. After that, Mom has to win the blue 4. Finally, to complete the mission, Dad must win the trick that contains the yellow 5. These don’t have to be in three back-to-back tricks, but the sequence must be respected.
A mission ends when you’ve completed all the tasks, or as soon as you fail a task.
If you were successful, record how many tries it took (per astronaut). Move on to the next mission in the logbook.
Your crew is limited in how they can communicate with each other during a mission, which makes teamwork critical. You’re not allowed to communicate (even in limited fashion) until distributing all of the task cards.
Unless the mission states otherwise, you’ve got one communication trick up your sleeve: the radio communication token. Once per mission, each of you may put one of your color cards face UP on the table and put the radio communication token on it to show everyone what you’ve got. You can even put the token in different places: put it at the top, middle, or bottom of the card to show it’s the highest, only, or lowest card of that color in your hand, respectively.
You can’t move the token after you’ve placed it, even if its status changes. Make sure to use it wisely!
Space, though mostly merciless, offers some small respite in the form of the Distress signal. If it seems like a mission is going to be too hard, use the distress signal! Allows all players to pass one non-rocket card after the task cards are distributed but before any other communication.
Warming Up the Kids
The Family Gamers started out slow with The Crew. The adults caught on quickly and really enjoyed the puzzle of collaborative trick-taking, but the kids took a little longer to dig in. We think this is because trick-taking games usually appeal to an older demographic, even though they are mechanically simple.
Plus, it’s definitely a very different experience collaboratively steering the wins and losses of tricks to seal up mission victory. It feels foreign to deliberately lose without communicating how or why you’re doing it, but it’s critical to the game. As alluded to earlier, this method of directing the collective success of the group yields strategic benefits. The Crew is like training for other trick-taking games!
We found when we sat down to play The Crew, the team needed a few rounds to get into the flow. Because we were always playing with children, this often led to frustration and a need to pause and regroup. This isn’t bad, but shows it’s important to underscore the need to feel the flow of the game, something that is also necessary in games like The Mind or Quirky Circuits.
We were able to get around this by playing a few “primer” rounds each game session with a single mission card before diving into the logbook/story missions.
Nevertheless, this mechanic plays well at all ages, though the youngest will struggle with the strategy of navigating through winning and losing on purpose. The Crew will help get your kids playing games with their oldest relatives, as trick-taking has been around for generations.
Cleverly Planned Components
It’s remarkable how much Sing was able to pack into this game with just a few cardboard chits. There are ten varied task tokens in the box along with the deck of task cards. Combined with the instructions in the logbook, no two missions feel the same. The distress and communications tokens allow players to ask for help when needed.
At its core, The Crew is a fairly abstract trick-taking game with clever cooperative mechanics. Although the theme is pasted on, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s typically a loose connection between the mission objectives and the events of the mission at hand, and it’s just enough to mix it up between rounds.
KOSMOS kept the game nice and compact, in the half-size boxes the EXIT and Adventure series are well known for. They combined the log book (missions) and rulebook into a single double-sided book. This keeps the price low, at under $15.
Many times, I’ve witnessed an unsuspecting group pick up The Crew to give it a try. Hours later, they’re still working their way through the missions. There are 50 missions in the log book and it is right in gamers’ wheelhouse to try to beat them all.
Each mission provides a fresh take on what is otherwise a relatively mundane core mechanic in trick-taking, and it’s absolutely worthy of its Kennerspiel des Jahres victory earlier this year.
Simply put, it’s crazy that you can pick up such a wonderful game in such a small package for less than the cost of a sit-down meal. Skip your next date night and invest in a copy of The Crew for your crew, and you won’t regret hunting after the mystery of planet nine.
Get The Crew from Amazon or ask for it at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine from KOSMOS for this review.
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Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2-5
Playtime: 5-15 minutes per mission