Alone Time: Robin Crusoe

HELP IT'S ME DAN I'M TRAPPED IN AN ALT TEXT

Ahoy there! I’m filling in for Dan today. He told me that this “Alone Time” thing is a series about boardgames you can play by yourself, and there’s none better qualified to tell you about the solitary life than I, Robin Crusoe, of York, mariner, who lived one and ten days, all alone on an uninhabited island on the coast of America, near the mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by shipwreck, wherein all the men perished (ha!), with an account how I was at last strangely delivered by pirates. It’s pretty damn gripping, really.

Before we begin my amazing tale, Dan left me some notes to share with you. Let’s see here… something about an Ignacy Trzewiczek, who made a game about a convoy that Dan liked… best cooperative and solo game of the year… something like that. Sorry, the ink got damp on my last adventure. Sounds like it was boring anyway.

With that dull stuff out of the way, let’s talk about my adventure!

I've discovered the way out. I have to explain the game while Robin tells her story. The rules of the alt-text world are weird like that.

Me (Robin), my dog, and my savage buddy.

Let Me Introduce Myself

As I already said, I’m Robin Crusoe (originally Kreutznaer). I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen who settled first at Hull. I could go on about my situation and station in life, telling you of how I set sail from Hull against the wishes of my parents, who wanted me to pursue a career in law, but Dan extracted my promise that I would try to keep this under ten thousand words, staggering though the prospect of recording the entirety of my undertaking in so short a span may be. Nonetheless, a Kreutznaer keeps her word, no matter how ill-wrought it was at the time.

Long years and poor circumstance saw my passage aboard a pirate ship, in the enslavement of a Moop — or was it a Moor? I never could keep them straight. At any rate, in my servitude, I learned the carpenter’s trade, mending masts and other whatnot aboard the Salé vessel, though my troubled fortunes came to an end when a storm put us to land rather forcibly. I was left with nothing and no-one but myself and the captain’s dog, though a short time afterwards I met the sole resident of this mysterious island. As it was a bright clear Friday morning, and as I found him handsome in a rough and uncivilised manner, I named him Friday. He agreed, by his guttural tongue and crass gestures, to assist me in surviving this ordeal.

Winter bore hard from the south and east, and I knew my sister piratical vessel was trailing in our wake by little more than a week. Were I to attract the attention of this vessel and escape my fate, trading a destiny of privation and an eventual state of freezing for a state of captivity and future escape, I would need to create such a bonfire as to light the heavens. Matters were not so simple as that, for the stretch of beach I found myself stranded upon had some wood, though not nearly enough to provide both shelter from the elements and provide for such a crimson roar.

My adventure had begun.

Unfortunately, there isn't much to explain yet.

The beach, safe for the time being.

The First Day

With the scant basics of life scooped from the shoreline, and a tidy pile of fish and timber laid up for that day’s exertions, I set about the task of surviving the coming days and preparing a great fire. I immediately ordered Friday to fashion me a house so that the night air would not affect my rest, though the savage seemed confused (likely he had never seen a house, the poor beast) and upon my return to camp had utterly failed to accomplish anything more significant than making himself feel helpful. I resolved to sketch crude outlines in the sand in the future.

For my part, I first fashioned a shovel from stone, branch, and vine. Or rather I should say I attempted this, as the vines were unaccountably sharp and lashed my hand badly. Determined not to waste the day completely, I took my captain’s dog and explored the terrain a short ways to the southeast of the shore, measuring distance, time, and direction by the position and coloration of the sun. There I discovered a comely expanse of hills, rich with clay. I discovered a small flask of oil, and this occurred to me to be providence, for it would ignite the flames of my future signal fire to even greater heights.

The night was long, the humors of the outdoors doing little good for my civilised lungs, and a meal of cold fish doing little more than fill my belly. I curled against my dog and cursed Friday as I fought to sleep.

Robinson Crusoe has a few brilliant mechanics chugging away beneath the surface. The first is that you select your actions with one of your two "pawns," representing your time and attention. So long as you dedicate two pawns to certain actions (building, gathering, exploring), you'll be automatically successful — but if you only assign one pawn, you'll have to roll some dice that reveal whether you encounter complications, injuries, or even if you complete the action at all. It's a clever and harsh mechanic that formalizes the need to cut corners in order to survive.

My first failed attempt at bringing civilisation to this godless land.

The Second Day

Slumber I did not, as my rest was plagued with horrible visions of the days to come. So exhausted was I that I determined it unsafe to work on constructing a house that day, so instead I ordered Friday to try again. He was successful in stacking together a meager hovel, the bare specter of what would become my fortress in days to come.

Meanwhile, I hauled clay from the nearby hills and crafted a handy pot, inside of which I stored food throughout the day. It seemed slightly fresher this way, and the pot’s ability to bring fresh water from the nearby spring was a blessing to my constitution.

I spent the afternoon wandering to the east of the shore, discovering more hills. I wondered privately, as to not upset the dog, whether this entire blasted island was hills. I would have more appreciated some mountains filled with sharp stones and flint, or a river teeming with fish, or even open grasslands. Anything would have been an improvement on the monotonous rolling ups and downs of these damnable hills! At least my evening, sheltered in Friday’s hovel, was better than the previous night.

The Third Day

Remembering my training as a carpenter at a vital moment, I taught Friday some of my skills of handymandery. He succeeded where I had failed but two days past, lashing together a shovel with his long and agile fingers. Meanwhile, I put my skills of economical architecture to use, using scraps of wood to strengthen the roof of my hovel, though I badly scraped my arm in the process and was made to look foolish in my profession, though naturally Friday knew nothing about my past life and that alleviated the barest fraction of my shame.

Continuing our usual ritual, I again took Dog exploring. This time, traveling far north and east of our camp, I happened upon an endless field of grass, as well as some sharpened bits of bone that I figured would do nicely as weapons in the event of some dangerous animal happening into our camp. As I feasted on pot-cured fish that evening, I prayed to my adopted piratical deity that I would be spared any such beastly visits.

Hunting is a dangerous action that gives unprepared adventurers a whole bunch of wounds, and may break some of your weapons.

Tyger!

The Fourth Day

Piratical deities are tricksters, and are not to be trusted. The very next morning, as soon as my prayer for safety from the creatures of the jungle had reached the pirate god’s ears, he cursed me with all manner of prowling creatures. First a jaguar rambled into camp, undoubtedly tempted by the smell of my fish-pot, forcing us to hide atop some high stones and the hovel itself. The prospect of undertaking any projects in camp was therefore undermined, and this in addition to my continual fatigue gave me an ill temper for the duration of that day. Worse still, as soon as the jaguar had wandered off to parts unknown, Dog and I began a hunt in the grasslands, where we had spotted animal droppings the day before. Fortune shat on our heads when it revealed that the droppings belonged to an orange striped tiger, who tore at my flesh mightily before falling to Dog’s teeth and my bone knives, though both broke in the battle. Still, I returned to camp with a significant catch, and we stripped it of much meat and fur.

Despite the danger presented by the prowling jaguar from earlier that day, Friday strengthened our roof, and I dug a cool cellar in the ground to store our meat in, meaning for once it wouldn’t spoil in the nighttime. Unfortunately, all the various goods I had collected meant our camp was quickly outgrowing itself, and we would soon have to move to a better position. Still, we were warm that night in spite of a light drizzle of rain, the first dire sign of the approaching winter storms.

Another clever mechanic is that events often come back to haunt you later, shuffling into your event deck and bringing dire consequences when they get drawn later. You can often nullify the negative effects of these events when they reappear. Here, for instance, the event that made a crevasse between two locations would stick around for a while, giving us the opportunity to build a bridge. However, waiting too long would close our window of opportunity.

Blasted hurricanes!

The Fifth Day

As we slept, the drizzle of rain grew into a torrent that slashed across the landscape, causing a landslide that left a crevasse between our camp and the grasslands to the east. As it was time to move our camp to safer climes inland, and as I’d been planning on moving to the very hill that was now separated by a deep hole, I taught Friday how to build a bridge with what was left of our wood while I wove a basket so that I carry more back to camp when I went out on excursions to gather necessities. That night we moved our camp, hauling the hovel across the bridge and losing much of our work in the process. Still, we were now in a safer spot. In honor of Friday’s building a bridge and bringing a little bright spot of civilisation to this otherwise desolate isle, I named it Robin’s Bridge.

The Sixth Day

It seems tasking my meager pot with double duty as both cook-pot and chamber-pot had done little good for my stomach, leaving me poisoned and in no state for real exertions that day. So while I gathered wood for my eventual bonfire, using my basket to carry twice what I could normally haul with just my arms, Friday used some of our tiger furs to strengthen the hovel roof.

I later took a leisurely stroll with Dog up to the mountains near our new home. I discovered a skeleton holding a book, undoubtedly a previous castaway who had lacked my fortitude and insights into the arts of survival, and I took the book with a determination to read it at some future date. A little civilisation could do me good, I figured.

Finally, at my direction, Friday hauled much of the stored wood down to the beach and created a great pile that heaped together all my hopes and fears with our few sticks and twigs. I hoped I would be able to signal the pirate ship in time, for the weather was growing steadily cooler with each passing evening.

There are often way too many things to do, forcing you to take risks dividing your time if you want to get anything done. All at once, you'll likely have threats to resolve, animals to hunt, buildings to build, inventions to invent, resources to gather, new terrain to explore, and wounds that need rest in order to heal. There's always something else you could be doing, and visibly optimal moves are rare.

The new camp on the far side of Robin’s Bridge.

The Seventh Day

The jaguar that had entered our camp some days ago returned that morning, obviously hungry from the cooler weather. Although we prevailed in killing the creature, its sudden and terrifying appearance soured the mood that had been so high the night before when we piled our timber. I spent a few moments in quiet contemplation, smoking the pipe I had been fortunate to hold onto when I fell into the sea a week prior, though the matches had failed to ignite any fire larger than the sprigs of tobacco that had survived till now. This calmed my nerves somewhat after that morning’s surprise jaguar attack, enough to construct a knife with some flint I had discovered in the mountain, which further made me feel secure in the face of such savage dangers.

Friday hurt himself carrying wood back to camp, and this angered me greatly. I was grateful he had not damaged the basket I lent him. In anger, I returned to the gentlewoman’s hobby of exploring daunting isles, and found more grasslands to the east of camp, and a spear abandoned with its point in the ground so that it stuck up like a great pillar.

That night, the weather was worse than ever. The cold cracked some of our stored timber, making it useless for construction, and the rain was so dense and so frigid that it dripped through our roof, and hungry animals came into camp to steal scraps of food.

Winter clouds crack your wood stockpiles, while all clouds compare to your roof level. Any unblocked weather causes you to lose more resourcses.

Horrible weather destroys much of my wood stockpile.

The Eighth Day

To stave off the cold that would undoubtedly continue, Friday patched our roof with more tiger fur, and I finally got around to inventing the most basic invention of human civilisation: fire. Its light would keep the timider animals away from camp at night, at the very least.

Despite the rain, I gathered more wood, though I was much concerned by signs of a large predator’s passing. I had little time to worry, however, for that night’s storm rivaled even the previous evening’s in intensity, shaking our shack and pouring water through the cracks onto our heads.

The Ninth Day

The day began with a fight between myself and Friday. The latter was clearly displeased about something, muttering such incomprehensible terms as oom-grate-phool and taynk’less, and gesturing with a pointing finger aimed at my chest. I reasoned that the savage was upset that I had not fully disclosed the secrets of English civilisation, so I showed him how to smoke the last of my tobacco, though of course I did not waste any of my precious leaves on the unappreciative creature.

Not wanting to further aggravate my murmuring companion, I left camp with Dog to hunt. We found a fox and pursued him to his den, and used some of his fur to patch the roof upon our return.

Tragedy struck when Friday returned from gathering wood. I hoped to talk to him about our previous disagreement, but it was soon apparent that he had cut himself once again, this time far more deeply than during his previous bumblings. He died later that evening, and I buried him in the sand and added his meat and furs to our cellar — I jest! It is a fact universally acknowledged that nine days upon the face of an abandoned island will give a person the blackest of humors.

Friday is helpful, though you only use him in the solo game or as an "easy" variant. He doesn't eat food, require shelter, or take damage from the elements. Instead, he gets killed really easily when you make him work on his own.

RIP Friday.

The Tenth Day

Work was harder without Friday to assist me, though our wood pile was nearing completion. I brought much wood back throughout the day. I also finally read the book I had found on the skeleton earlier. It was a rather depressing novel, and it made me miss Friday all the more.

I had the good fortune to stumble upon an abandoned pirate chest while I was out gathering wood. It was filled with a beautiful amulet and a hatchet. I wished more than anything that I had found it earlier so that we could have cut branches without Friday hurting himself.

The mystery deck is also filled with deadly traps and dangerous creatures. But for the first scenario, you'll likely only find treasures.

Thank goodness for practical pirate treasures.

The Eleventh Day

This was the day of my rescue. With little else to do, I hauled the rest of my stored timber to the beach, ignited it with fire and oil, and watched as the blaze brought the pirate vessel ever closer. It arrived in due time, and that night I was warm and well-fed once more.

I AM FREE! Also, I wonder whether these are useful. I find that most people don't read alt-texts. Oh well, too bad.

Being rescued is almost a relief. Almost.

And so ends my tale, though it’s not nearly the true end. I could tell you of the pirate curse, how my newly-discovered amulet dispelled it, and how I became a pirate queen for a time, before going into a career of textile shipping. Still, my promise to Dan holds true, and so my tale ends with the conclusion of my adventure on the cursed island.

Best cooperative and solo game of the year. —Dan

Posted on August 22, 2013, in Board Game and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Excellent Seinfeld reference. Good article too, but the Seinfeld line wins.

  2. Thank you for this session! Great reading!

  3. That was amazing!

  4. Somerset Winters

    My favorite picture in this review is of Friday with the determination “coins” on his eyes… Poor Friday, he never could get the hang of the hammer and nails. I have enjoyed the times I’ve played this game and it reminded me strongly of all the good (read: non-boring) parts of the book of the same title by Daniel Defoe. You have setbacks and successes and it’s all very exciting and realistic to figure out how to survive on this inhospitable island!

  5. What a brilliant way to put together a review. Quiet possible the best review of any sorts I have ever read. Well done good sir.

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