I’ve heard nothing but good things about the cooperative trick-taking game The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine. Everyone seems to love this card game. Today I’m going to let you know if, for us, it lives up to the hype.
The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking card game from Kosmos that features a fifty scenario campaign arc of increasingly difficult challenges.
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What is the cooperative card game The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine all about?
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine was designed by Thomas Sing and features rather evocative artwork by Marco Armbruster. Here in North America, it was published by KOSMOS in 2019. This is a cooperative trick-taking card game for two to five players where each round of the game takes anywhere from five minutes to around half an hour depending on the scenario you are playing and how quickly you win or fail.
The Crew has won a number of awards and accolades including the Spellenprijs Best Advanced Game, the Guldbrikken Best Adult Game, the Deutscher Spiele Preis Best Family/Adult Game, the Meeples Choice, the Golden Geek Best Cooperative Game and the prestigious 2020 Kennerspiel des Jahres.
There are a number of components that come with this card game besides cards and for a good look at those you should check out our The Crew unboxing video on YouTube.
In addition to the main deck of cards, which is split over four suits with cards numbered one to nine and four rockets numbered one to four, you also get a smaller deck of task cards matching these (excluding the rockets).
There are also a number of tokens, including task tokens, communication tokens, a commander standee and a distress signal token.
The component quality is excellent, especially for the cards themselves which feature some great panorama style artwork and easy to distinguish symbology to help with any colour blindness issues.
How do you play The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine?
For what’s really an abstract strategy game, The Crew features a significant amount of background and story. In this game, you are playing astronauts about to leave earth on a quest to find Planet Nine. You do this by playing through fifty unique scenarios each of which progresses the story and increases the difficulty and complexity of the game. The scenarios start off as training missions and are very simple but do a great job of teaching you how to play.
To start a game of The Crew you pick one of these missions to play, normally starting at mission one and moving on one at a time. Each of these missions will set the goal for the current game which always involves some type of rule for who you want at the table to take specific tricks. Usually, this involves one or more players having to take a trick featuring a specific numbered card in a specific suit. Sometimes, when more than one player needs to take a specific trick, they need to get these cards in a specific order. There are also missions where specific players need to take a set number of tricks or take no tricks at all. In essence, this game is all about the right players winning the right tricks at the right time.
When figuring out which cards need to be won for a scenario, you use the small deck of cards to determine exactly which cards those are. Due to this, every single mission in the game is completely replayable. There are thirty-six different possible versions of just mission number one.
Once you get up to mission two and are now trying to complete two tasks, you are up to one thousand two hundred and sixty possible card combinations (and these numbers aren’t accounting for different player counts or the fact that who is playing the commander and who will want to take those tricks will change every round).
Along with the task cards, there are a number of tokens to indicate when certain cards need to be taken first, second, third, before or after another card, etc.
At the start of each round, you will place the task cards with their tokens in the centre of the table and deal out the full deck of large size cards. Whoever has the number four rocket card becomes the commander and takes the standee to indicate this. The commander will then choose one of the tasks that they think they can complete and place it in front of them so that everyone can see it. Then the player on their left will take the next task, and so on until all tasks for the current mission are assigned. Note some players may have multiple tasks to complete.
Tasks are completed when the player who has the task in front of them wins a trick containing the card matching one or more of their task cards. The task card is flipped over when this happens. If all players are able to flip all of their tasks over the players complete that mission and should move on to the next one for their next play. If at any point a task cannot be completed, usually due to someone else winning a trick containing another player’s task card, but also due to other factors like completing tasks in the wrong order, the players fail the mission and should re-try the same mission before moving on.
When playing a round of The Crew standard trick-taking rules apply. The commander starts off with the lead and chooses any of their cards to play. Subsequent players must follow the lead and play a card from their hand from the same suit. If a player doesn’t have any cards in the suit that was led, they can play any card. The trick is won by the player who played the highest number card of the lead suit. Each suit has one each of cards numbered one to nine, and there are four suits overall in The Crew.
In addition, there are four rocket cards, these cards act as trump. A trump card will take any trick it is played on regardless of what suit was initially lead. When more than one trump card is played in a single trick, the highest trump card wins that hand.
Now all of this sounds pretty simple and easy, and that’s where the communication rules come in. What makes The Crew a challenge is that during the game you cannot talk about your hand of cards at all. You can’t mention which suits you have, any card numbers or whether or not you have rockets. There’s no table talk allowed during a round of The Crew.
What every player does have though is a communication token. Once per game, at the very start of a trick before any cards are played, you can use your communication token. To do this you place one card from your hand on the table in front of you and place your token on it. Where you place your token indicates one of three things. Placed at the top of a card it means that this is your highest card in that suit. Placed in the middle of the card it means that it’s the only card you have of that suit and placed at the bottom of the card it means that it’s the lowest card you have in that suit.
In addition to this, some missions may have other restrictions on communication. The unique set up for each mission can also mess with other aspects of the standard gameplay, including who gets to take task tokens, special rules for tricks just for that mission (example: 1 card must take a trick), passing or drawing cards from another player’s hand, and more.
If your group is having a hard time with a specific mission you also have the option at the very start of the round, once cards are dealt but before anyone has discussed strategy or taken any tasks, to use your Distress Signal. When you do so you flip the distress signal token over and then all players must pass one non-rocket card to an adjacent player. The group decides if this passing goes to the left or right and all players must follow the same direction.
While there’s no in-game penalty for using the distress signal it does impact your overall mission score, which is something I haven’t mentioned yet. At the end of each mission, you are meant to record in the provided mission logbook (or on a printed-out logbook that can be easily found online) how you did, including how many attempts it took for your group to complete the mission and whether or not you used the distress signal. Once you have completed all fifty missions you are meant to add up these scores to see how well your crew scored in The Crew.
Once you’ve finished the fifty missions in the core game you can always go back and start over or replay any of your favourite missions. In addition to this, there are a number of official and fan-created missions to be found online.
In addition to these rules, The Crew also has a set of special rules for playing with only two players. This is done through a ghost player AI called Jarvis. When setting up each round you deal out a special hand on the table for Jarvis. This consists of seven face-down cards that are covered by seven face-up cards. When playing through a mission, the commander controls Jarvis who acts like any other player. Jarvis is assigned tasks and takes turns in clockwise order as normal, with the commander choosing which cards Jarvis plays. When a Jarvis card is played the card under it is revealed and can then be used.
Does The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine live up to the hype?
While I have found over the years that games with lots of hype that have won a number of awards don’t necessarily live up to expectations, that’s not at all the case with The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine.
This is a fantastic cooperative card game that rightfully deserves every honour heaped upon it.
The Crew is an expertly designed and balanced game. It takes traditional trick-taking mechanics and does something completely new with it. That alone is worthy of note.
This great new use of an old mechanic is combined with very engaging gameplay that is great for players familiar with trick-taking games in general as well as being very accessible to newcomers to that mechanic through the slow addition of rules and limitations in the mission system.
Along with all of this, I was also very pleased to find an interesting story. I can’t really think of any other traditional-style card game that tells such an epic adventure. Sure games like The Fox in the Forest have a story behind them, but it’s all background.
In The Crew, the story is baked into the mechanics. There’s a mission where one of the crew members is tasked with doing some repairs so during that mission that player can’t use their communication token. In another mission, one of the crew members is sick so you have to make sure they don’t take any tricks.
I do have to say that The Crew can feel quite a bit fiddly at the start of the round. Dealing out all of the cards, then having to look up the next mission in a book, then using the info there to set out the tasks, which possibly includes having to find and lay out the right tokens. That’s quite a bit of time and set up for what may end up being a round of a game that is over after just one trick. If you fail a mission and decide to try again, you have to do the setup portion all over again, you don’t keep the same tasks as they are randomized every hand.
Playing with only two players exacerbates this fiddliness as there’s a lot more shuffling as you have to first deal out Jarvis’ hand, then reshuffle the deck and deal cards to the players. That’s a lot of shuffling for what ends up being very quick rounds, even if you win.
We found this clunkiness very obvious after having played The Crew online through Board Game Arena. On BGA the software handles all of that fiddliness, doing all the shuffling, token placing, tracking of communication tokens, etc. While I love the feel of real cards in my hand and much prefer playing games face to face, there are times when I actually prefer to play The Crew online.
Getting back to the two-player game, we found that while the two-player game works, and works rather well, it definitely isn’t as enjoyable as playing with more players. While I would agree to play The Crew with two players, if I have the choice to pick out a two-player trick-taking game myself I will be reaching for The Fox in the Forest or The Fox in the Forest Duet.
What isn’t really evident when hearing about this game, and even when playing the first couple of missions, is just how hard it can be to play a trick-taking game where specific people need to win specific tricks. It sounds so easy saying that but it’s way harder than you would think. The randomness of the task deck can impact this as well.
While I’m almost certain that every possible combination of cards is winnable during a given round of The Crew, managing some cards is definitely easier than others. For example, trying to take a 1 in a trick when you are the player holding the 1 card can be very hard, on the opposite side having to take a 9 in a trick when you hold that 9 is dead simple. While I guess it’s possible some players may be turned off by this randomness, this is a card game after all and randomness is always a factor when it comes to cards, especially in trick-taking games.
Overall The Crew is one of the best trick-taking games I’ve ever played and I’m a long-time fan of this style of game. It takes a tried and true mechanic and does something new and cool with it. Added to that The Crew is also one of the best cooperative games I own. The restrictions on communication effectively eliminate any quarterbacking which can sometimes be an issue with cooperative games, yet despite the lack of communications players definitely need to learn to work together in order to win a round of The Crew. I really appreciate the theme and story presented by The Crew and I’m impressed by the way it is actually tied into the mechanics through the various missions. While I do admit that the setup for each hand of The Crew can be fiddly, this fiddliness is worth it. Every round I’ve played of The Crew is engaging and fun, even when we lose.
If you like trick-taking games at all, just go buy The Crew The Quest for Planet Nine right now. If you like cooperative games, that’s another reason to grab The Crew. If you aren’t familiar with trick-taking playing The Crew is kind of like diving into the deep end, but with floaties in the form of the slow progression and onboarding of the early missions. If you aren’t a fan of trick-taking card games I would still suggest giving The Crew a shot, it does something very different and new with the mechanic that might just win you over. The same goes for players who generally don’t like cooperative games. The Crew does things differently and feels very different from traditional co-op games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island, and due to that, I think it’s probably worth your time to give it a try.
The Crew is one of those games that I almost want to say should be in everyone’s collection. I do know there are people out there though that despise the randomness in any card game, absolutely hate trick-taking or refuse to play cooperative games. Personally, I think those players are missing out, but to each their own. Not every game is for everyone and that’s a beautiful thing.
If you enjoy trick-taking games as much as I do, be sure to also check out my review of The Fox in the Forest, my The Fox in the Forest Duet review, my review of Gorus Maximus, and my preview of Macaron.
What are some of your favourite trick-taking games? Let us know in the comments below!