The Crew: Mission Deep Sea puts a brilliant cooperative spin on a classic way of playing card games, making it feel both ultra-fresh and yet familiar at the same time – it's absolutely one of the best new board games available this year.
Trick-taking games such as Whist and Hearts are something most people are familiar with, and once you know one, it’s easy to pick up another. The 2019 card game The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine turned the concept on its head by using a custom deck to create a cooperative game where you work together to win tricks to solve objectives, instead of simply competing. It instantly became a hit, landing on our guide to the best board games.
Now the concept is back in a new, watery package with The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, which expands even further with more new spins on the idea, but still in an outrageously affordable package that makes it one of the best cheap board games.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea review: Price and Who It’s For
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is a box of cards with a few tokens so it’s an affordable package that’ll set you back about £13/$15.
What’s more of a surprise is that although it’s an accessible game that’s easy to learn, there’s a surprising amount to chew over. As a result, although younger players may be able to understand the rules, the strategy might elude them. Ten and upwards is probably a fair guide.
It also means that while the cooperative setup and fast play time make it well-suited for family play, you’ll need to enjoy the strategic challenges on offer. Despite the speed, the game punishes bad play: one mistake can mean you’ll fail and need to start over.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea review: How it plays
As in all trick-taking games, you’ll take turns playing cards from your hand, following suit if possible, with the highest value suit card or trump card winning the trick. There are four suits with values 1-9, plus a trump suit that runs 1-4. What’s different is that rather than trying to win tricks yourself, you’ll be trying to satisfy tasks collectively.
At the back of the rules booklet, there’s a list of missions that you’re supposed to undertake in order. Each has a difficulty rating and some have additional special rules to apply. To get your tasks, you deal cards off the relevant deck until their combined difficulty value equals the rating of the mission. Players then decide which of them will take on which tasks.
Many tasks are of the same format as the original game, requiring a player to win a trick containing a card of a given colour and/or number. This might sound easy, but there’s a huge catch: you’re not allowed to tell anyone what cards you’re holding. All you can do is, once per mission, show everyone a card and use a token to let them know if it’s your highest, lowest or only card of that colour.
Without that information, it’s easy to make mistakes. Imagine a player has a task to win a trick with a green four. If you lead with a high green card, and the four is their only card, they’ll be forced to play it while you take the trick, losing your team the mission. That’s just one objective: things get even more tricky when multiple players are managing multiple tasks. The only way through is to plan your cards carefully, watch the cards as they’re taken out of play, and ration your communication tokens like gold dust.
What’s new in this version of The Crew is a hugely expanded range of tasks. You’re no longer limited to challenges involving winning particular cards. Now, tasks can including winning more or fewer tricks than other players, not winning specific colours or numbers, and even having you predicting how many tricks you’re going to win. It’s a superb selection that increases the challenge, variety and fun of the game all at the same time. Indeed, it pretty much makes its predecessor obsolete.
As if that wasn’t enough to keep on your toes, later missions introduce further wrinkles as well as increasing the difficulty of tasks you must undertake. There might be additional limitations on how you communicate, who does what, or the way in which you go about tasks. Like the expanded set of tasks, there’s a lot of imagination on display in mission design.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea review: Verdict
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is a very novel game that does a lot with a simple set of rules and a small deck of cards. There’s lots of content and the difficulty escalates nicely as your group gains experience.
Due to the ban on open communication, it’s a more heads-down, strategic affair than you might expect for a cooperative game. But if you’re up for the challenge, it’ll give you a lot of entertainment for a tiny outlay.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea review: Also consider
If you want a small and inexpensive cooperative game, but would prefer something where you can all talk all the time and plot together, take a look at Pandemic Hot Zone North America – in it, you're all working together to hold back the rise of a number of deadly diseases. Planning your next moves together is absolutely essential there – you can read why in our full Pandemic Hot Zone North America review.