Robinson Crusoe: Escape from Despair Island [Brief Kickstarter Preview & Review]

If you were marooned on an uninhabited desert island, which games would you wish you had with you to ease the hardship of loneliness and difficulty of survival? Would you play Chess with a volleyball named Wilson, enjoy a sprawling solo campaign of Gloomhaven, or have the ultimate meta gaming experience and play the latest small-box game on Kickstarter, Robinson Crusoe: Escape from Despair Island?

Robinson Crusoe: Escape From Despair Island Box

Robinson Crusoe: Escape from Despair Island designed by Niko Huttu and published by Old Novel Games is a light push-your-luck game with a bit of deck building. The game consists of 160 multi-use cards of various types, takes about 25-60 minutes to play, and accommodates 1-4 brave adventurers.

How to Play

The entire 160 card deck is shuffled together and placed face down. Five cards are taken from the top and given to each player (also face down) to represent their food supply.

Explore Phase

Discard one card from your food supply to initiate your turn and explore. The explore phase is the heart of the game, the push-your-luck mechanic.

A player takes a card from the top of the deck and turns it over, one at a time, until either 10 cards have been drawn, the player purchases a card, or two threat cards have been turned over and the worse of the two cannot be defended against.

drawing cards from the deck

Over time you will purchase cards that enable you to more easily acquire food, enhance your character in order to aid in escape, obtain resources that help build and fortify your camp, and evade disasters.

When the second threat is revealed, you no longer have the opportunity to purchase a card, and you forfeit the food you’ve spent. This negative effect can be avoided if you’ve the sufficient cards in your camp needed to satisfy the more severe of the threats.

threat cards

Market Phase

If you didn’t succumb to a threat, than your opponents have the opportunity to purchase a card that you didn’t. If they choose to purchase a card, they must pay you one food plus the cost depicted on the card in order to do so.

End of Game

The game ends if either a player has fulfilled a victory card, or you’ve gone through the entire deck of cards twice. If at any point a player starves, they lose. It’s really easy to starve.

Special Win Conditions: Victory Cards

There several victory cards which enable you win, but alas, they are very difficult to achieve.

  1. Beacon Campfire
  2. Escape the Island
  3. Wise Man
  4. Man of God

Each of these victory cards require prerequisites such as having found Friday, having a certain number of victory points, having enhanced your character, owning a boat, etc. And many of these prerequisites, themselves have prerequisites.

Victory Points

If none of the players escaped the island, and the deck has been burned through twice, the player with the most victory points wins.


The first thing you’ll likely notice upon opening the game is how gorgeous it is. Each card is filled with vivid, colorful cartoon art. The iconography is clear and simple to understand, readability unobfuscated by the artwork.

various cards in Robinson Crusoe

In terms of form factor, you can’t do much better with a small box game. The components consists of 160 cards and nothing more. The box that was chosen to hold those cards is a perfect fit. Far too often I get a small box game and it’s a bizarre size and shape, with unnecessary gaps inside. There’s not a single gap to found in this box. It snugly holds the rulebook and the cards in a single stack.

I particularly enjoy how the game cards serve more than one purpose. I’m a big fan of such designs, with games like Alexander Pfister’s Port Royal or Oh My Goods! and Jon Mietling’s recent Palm Island serving a/ shining examples, albeit more complex ones. Every card can either be food or it can be the item you need to survive. You get to point in the game where you need a good food supply but question whether it is worth it to take food as it may cause a necessary card to be removed from the deck. This adds some interesting decisions to the game that aren’t immediately apparent from reading the rulebook.

The game is highly thematic, capturing both the theme and emotions of the eponymous novel by Daniel Defoe.

The game is highly thematic, capturing both the theme and emotions of the eponymous novel by Daniel Defoe.

The island’s ill will toward you, the desperation, and the challenge of surviving in an unwelcoming environment, is by and large the most prevalent feeling in your card draws. After all, 50 of the cards are threats. 3 are bad luck. Only 16 get you food, and many of those have prerequisites you won’t be able to satisfy. But just when things are at their worst, you find salvation, a bit of good luck, and a friend. Robinson Crusoe: Escape from Despair Island will take you on an wild adventure in a deck of cards.

Check out Robinson Crusoe: Escape from Despair Island on Kickstarter

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