I’ve played The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine with four different groups of friends and so far, it’s been the talk of game night, a favorite sure to hit the table often in the future. It’s easy to learn but becomes increasingly challenging the more missions you and your crew take on. The game gives the players full control of how long they want to play, which makes it a pretty flexible game suggestion to start the night. For instance, you can play a couple missions or 20 missions and each mission can last anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes.
In this card game, one follows trick-taking rules much like in Hearts or Spades: a player leads a round by playing one card from their hand and other players in clockwise order play a card from their hand following the suit played. They can also slough off another suited card if they don’t hold that suit. Players also can play the trump suit—the rocket cards numbered 1 to 4—if they don’t have the lead suit therefore winning them the trick. Sounds pretty simple, huh?
That’s where the fun begins. The Crew is collaborative and so all the players work together to accomplish a specific mission. Each round, a task must be accomplished for the round to be a success. Usually, that task comes in the form of a task card: it’s drawn and given to one of the players as a specific goal to win in a hand. Once players accomplish their set task, the round is over and they win. That could be in the first hand or the last; it doesn’t matter. The logbook that comes with the game includes 50 unique missions that grow in complexity. The early missions are easier and then they get more and more complicated as players continue on their quest for Planet Nine. Of course, players can play any mission they want, but the early missions teach new players the structure, iconography, and rules, so I’ve always started with the first mission and proceeded chronologically.
Another helpful mechanism in The Crew is the communications token. Each player has a chit they can use once per round to give information to their fellow players. Because no one is allowed to talk during the round, this communications token can be a valuable tool. Players take one card from their hand and place it in front of them, face up. They can then place this communications token either at the top, the center, or the bottom of the card. The top position means that is that player’s highest value card of that suit. The center position means it’s the player’s only card of that suit. The bottom position means that is the player’s lowest value card of that suit. The communications token has saved my vegan bacon on numerous occasions, so well-planned placement of that chit is something all players should consider each round. That is if radio communications is allowed…
…because sometimes it’s not! Communication is something that can be affected by the mission rules. That totally shakes up the way players strategize to win the task cards that round. There might be a “dead zone” that round in which players play a card down but cannot use their communications chit. Or there might be a “disruption in communications” which prevents use of the information chit for a short period of time. Just when you think you have a handle on this game, the rules adjust to give you a new challenge.
In the beginning of each round, all the playing cards are shuffled and dealt to players so all the cards are in someone’s hand. The cards include four colored suits numbered 1 to 9 as well as four rocket cards (aka trump cards). The player dealt the 4 rocket starts the round and must take one of the mission task cards, which shows what playing card needs to be won by them. These task cards are much smaller than the playing cards but represent the same four numbered suits. If there are multiple task cards, players take them in clockwise order from the starting player.
For example, in the first mission, one task card is randomly drawn and flipped over. The starting player must then win the hand that includes the depicted numbered suit card, whether it comes from their own hand or from another player. Later missions incorporate numbered and chevron chits that require certain tasks to be won in a very specific order, thus making those missions much harder.
Some of the missions might ask players to win hands with suited cards of value 1 or not take any tricks at all. The missions are unique and super dynamic. I think my favorite mission so far requires that a player at the table (not the first player) not take any tricks for the entire round. What makes this super exciting is that the commander must ask the players in turn order, “How do you feel?” Players can only answer with “good” or “bad.” That should indicate what kind of hand players think they have (if they can win a lot of tricks or not), but the first player still must choose a player to take on the task for that mission. And what’s hilarious about this is that the last time I played, all three of us said “bad.” The hardest mission I’ve encountered so far is the one that includes the omega task: that trick must be the last one of the task cards won. It sounds so easy, but for my group, we played that mission 5 times before succeeding. We just couldn’t get it, but eventually the stars aligned and we won!
Lastly, the great thing about this game is that you can immediately replay a mission if you fail it. And you’ll want to replay it because each hand of The Crew is quick to play and the team gets better with more practice. The Logbook gives you a place to track your score (wins and losses), but it’s more fun to play without the pressure of a “score.” The Crew enhances the existing group dynamic and encourages individual personalities to shine. Ultimately, that’s what I appreciate the most about this game: the game becomes a unique experience for each group that plays it. The experience of playing The Crew is lively. One player makes either the winning move or they choose to play a card that is followed by everyone else groaning and slapping their forehead. We just got the Flight to the ISS expansion missions in our Spielbox magazine and I can’t wait to try them out! Those missions sound IMPOSSIBLE.