Games of the Year 2020: Johnny on The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
More like cloud nine.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine was the first game we played while attending PAX Unplugged 2019 and, as far as I was concerned, we could have just packed up and gone home straight after that. Job done, great trip everybody.
The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking game for three or more players. You deal out a deck of four coloured suits numbered one to nine and one special suit of rocket cards numbered one to four. Players look at their cards and then take it in turns to claim objective cards - these are miniature versions of cards from the deck and, in taking one, that player commits to winning the trick in which that card is played.
For example, if I took the pink 7 it would be my job to make sure that, when that card gets played, I win the trick and thereby complete my objective. The mission is completed when all players have fulfilled their objective cards. There are 50 missions in all, each with varying objectives and special conditions as you, the titular crew, head out in search of a fabled ninth planet far beyond the reaches of Pluto.
So far, you might think The Crew is so straightforward as to be nigh-on pointless. Playing cards in the same order, easy. But here’s the thing: during a mission, you aren’t allowed to talk. At all. You also need to be careful not to give too much away with gestures or facial expressions. In a standard mission in The Crew, you get one chance to communicate and one chance only. You do this by putting a card from your hand face-up in front of you and then placing your communication token down. If it’s on the top of your card, that means it’s the highest-value card of that suit in your hand. If it’s on the bottom of your card, that’s the lowest-value card of that suit in your hand. If you put it in the middle, it’s the only card of that suit in your hand.
Players can use their token to communicate before any trick; choosing when to reveal information to the other players is vitally important, as it may make the difference between success and failure. This is where The Crew truly shines - it’s a co-op game in which everyone needs to be watching, waiting and thinking ahead at all times. In space, no-one can hear you table captain.
The tension that builds as missions get longer and the special parameters get more challenging is absolutely wonderful and, given this game is really, really easy to teach to others, the excitement is truly infectious.
Having played it for just half an hour at PAX, in fact, I pre-ordered it twice. I knew I was going to be telling anyone who’d listen about this game for months to come and, while I’d undoubtedly want to lend it to people, I never wanted to be without a copy. I actually ended up giving a copy away entirely, so I did the only sensible thing and bought it a third time.
Quite frankly, a trick-taking game has no business being this good and, should we ever meet, I will happily tell you more about it. Just don’t ask to borrow it off me, lest I bankrupt myself.