And here's to you, Mr Robinson
I'm sharing some thoughts after having completed the campaign of the Mystery Tales expansion to Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island.
Robinson Crusoe is my favourite cooperative game. I haven't included it in my top ten solo list, because I have played -and finished all the scenarios- multiplayer. I assume that Portal Games' motto, 'board games that tell stories', basically refers to this product (and it should be noted that the stories emanate from the gameplay itself, and not from a storybook). All the frustrations of survival in harsh natural conditions are in there. Random events hit you hard, as do the weather conditions, and you have to employ all your worker placement mastery to not let the island kill you.
The expansion introduces a new cast of heroes, and the 'horror mode': you don't just pick a couple of characters and Friday (I play solo double-handed), but also have a whole crew at your disposal, the NPCs. The main characters can take both wounds and sanity damage, while the NPCs take only sanity damage when you make use of their abilities. Each of these characters has their own mini deck of cards. If you let them become insane, they turn into an obstacle: their cards get shuffled into the adventure decks, and they may return to cause you trouble.
This sounds like an interesting idea in theory. I don't know how it feels in practice, because I never got to experience it. The first two campaign scenarios were a bit tough to beat (not too much), but the rest was a cakewalk. And we are talking about Robinson Crusoe, one of the toughest co-ops in the market. Was this done on purpose, because people complained that the game is too hard? I don't know. I checked the reviews on BGG, and it appears that my conclusion is also shared by others. No one turned insane ever. As far as the storyline is concerned, (paragraphs that you read from a journal when you perform certain actions) I found it okay at first but the ending was incoherent and silly. I won't say more so as not to spoil it.
All in all, I was happy that the expansion gave me the chance to revisit the game. Even if the campaign was lackluster, the mechanics are solid, and I always enjoy my sessions. There are two extra scenarios included in the box, perhaps they will be more difficult to go through. The horror mode can be implemented in all the scenarios of the base game too, if you feel like breathing them new life. I'm not particularly taken with the sanity track so far, but I reserve my final judgement for when I finish the extra missions.
Despite my criticism, if you are a Robinson Crusoe fan, I think the expansion is a must play. It explores the potential of the game's mechanisms, and to a certain extent, it succeeds.