With all the excitement around Portal's new edition of Robinson Crusoe on Gamefound I decided to find out what I had been missing all these years. So on Friday night we shelved Lord of the Rings to see if we couldn't find a different way to die horribly and die we surely did, more on that later.
However, after we played I couldn't stop thinking about the game and what we could have done differently? So much so that when the Saturday night crew turned up I insisted that we must, once again, head back to the Cursed Island but this time we were going to survive…
Our first time on the island, the doomed expedition, was a two player affair. I took the role of the Explorer while my friend, Dave, took on the role of the carpenter. Fortunately we also found an island native who was sympathetic to our plight, our Man Friday. Initially things went well, we were able to find a steady supply of food and managed to explore our local area without too much bad luck.
However as the game progressed we started to run into trouble. An unexpected landslide, followed by a forest fire cut us off from any access to wood and severely limited our ability to gather food. Then came the rain. The wood we had managed to gather, that had not been eaten by termites, was drenched, rendering it useless, not only that but our supplies were waterlogged.
Cold and hungry we struggled on, knowing that any wood we found would likely be ruined before we could turn it into a shelter. We changed tack and went looking for hides with the hunting action. We found an iguana, yay we can eat, but no hide for our roof. After another night of drizzle things were looking desperate. We turned our attention to the hunt again, this time we were assured of finding a bear or a even some goats… but no, stupid feckin’ birds!
With little shelter and snow clouds on the horizon we entered round seven with only a single measly wood on the pile for our signal fire. As night drew in we burned our wood for warmth, but the torrential downpour and animal attacks meant that our intrepid adventurers perished in a water logged hut with no roof, overrun with hungry howler monkeys…
But, like I said in the intro, I couldn’t stop thinking about our play. Initially I dived into the rulebook to see if we were playing anything wrong, I know Robinson has a reputation for being difficult to grok and perhaps I had been overly punishing when applying the unfulfilled demand rule. But no, so far as I could see the only rule I had overlooked was the “if necessary” rule which had cost us a wound each at most.
So armed with the knowledge that our deaths on the island were indeed legitimate I began to think about how we might approach our survival differently. Our problems began when we became stranded on the beach. Moving our camp in land would have given us more options for exploring and when events shut down our production or gathering options we could have found more.
However the thing that killed us was our lack of foresight regarding the weather. A single rain cloud when you have no roof and no resources will cause 4 wounds, two each and by round 7 you can be facing 4 rain clouds a turn. Therefore, building a roof early, in preparation for the weather was high on my list of priorities.
Lastly, although I was concerned with our ultimate demise, the truth was that we were never going to be rescued because we simply hadn’t gathered enough wood. We built the hatchet to give ourselves an increase in wood production, but we largely ignored the gather action, because we were trapped on the beach with no nearby wood sources that weren’t on fire and I foolishly didn’t build the map or the shortcut both of which could have helped us generate more wood and find better places to gather.
So, I had a plan. We were settling down to a three player game this time and I was taking the role of the Cook. To make things a little easier we also added the dog as our companion as we wouldn’t have access to Friday’s actions. And... I’m still here to tell the tale.
Our carpenter still managed to hit his thumb more often than he hit the nail but our Explorer was able to scout out much of the island without incident, using her map and the dog for company. By exploring and moving our camp in land I was able to more efficiently gather wood and food and support our carpenter to guarantee build actions, such as erecting new and improved roofs. Our exploration also gave us access to more inventions and more importantly a bucket load of discovery tokens including some precious and valuable gold that is completely useless on an island devoid of any form of economy!
It was not all plain sailing though, our carpenter took a rather nasty spider bite to the head and I was making homebrewed hooch on more occasions than was probably strictly healthy to ward off the effects of the weather dice. Still, as we hit round 9, we had all the wood and fire we needed to be rescued and could use our last round on the island gathering items to ensure we could survive until the morning when rescue would inevitably arrive.
Robinson then lived up to its legend of being a game of deadly consequences, but also of one that tells stories. There is so much to see and do in the game that I can see myself returning to the cursed island for many more adventures in the future.
From the Other Side of the Table
I've found that the game benefits from 3 key pieces of knowledge.
a) Prepare to survive, then prepare to win.
b) Most hunt animals are either very dangerous or near useless to you. Don't hunt unless you have to.
c) Rolling dice like a numpty can be very, very bad!