Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
It’s impossible for me to think of crab fishing without the Bon Jovi song “Wanted Dead or Alive” running through my head. This is, of course, because it is the theme song for the hit TV show Deadliest Catch. If you have never seen the show, it’s about crab fishing in the Bering Sea. While that may sound boring, it’s anything but.
Regardless, feel free to hum along as we dive into Crabs!, a new set collection game from publisher Daily Magic Games (Villages of Valeria, Quests of Valeria), that has you catching crabs in a much less hostile environment. Crabs! is
coming to now on Kickstarter, so let’s dive in and see what makes it tick.
The goal of Crabs! is to earn the most points by catching, raising, and selling crabs. The game is setup by shuffling all the crab cards and dealing ten face-up into a crab pool. The vendor cards are sorted by type, with the top card of each stack turned face up. Finally, the gear cards are laid out in a line.
Beginning with the start player, each player performs one action on their turn.
- Upgrade Gear: Gear cards make it easier for a player to catch higher value crabs. Gear can be upgraded by discarding the appropriate amount of cards for the next gear in line.
- Grab Crabs: Draw two crab cards from either the deck or the face crab pool.
- Trade Crabs: Trade any quantity of crab cards from your hand and take an equal amount from the crab pool.
- Raise Crabs: Trade any total value of crab cards from your hand to the crab pool and draw back an equal value of cards.
- Catch Crabs: This is how players get crab cards into their scoring tableau. First, a player must play a card face down as a rope card. Then, they may play one or more crab cards face up onto the rope. After totaling the value of all cards played (and their gear bonus), they consult the fishing chart. The chart will tell them what value of crab card can be kept in their tableau. A higher value card can be kept by stressing it (turning it 90 degrees). The rest of cards played go to the crab pool.
- Relax Crabs: Choose up to three stressed crab cards in your tableau and rotate them to be unstressed.
After a player has taken their action, they may also take one scoring action. Each vendor card wants one or more specific value of crab cards. If a player has the matching values of relaxed crabs in their tableau, they can discard them to take the vendor card.
The game ends once a player has reached 25 victory points. The round is finished and the player with the most points wins. Points comes from Vendor cards, premium crabs sold to vendors, and upgraded gear cards.
Crabs is one of the more unique set collection games I have played in a while. I think that is due to the large variety of actions a player can take on their turn. The end goal is, of course, to get the right number of crab cards into your tableau to claim a vendor card. And of course, the more lucrative the vendor, the most cards it needs. So the key is how you actually get there.
If you’ll recall from above, there are six different actions you can take on your turn, all of which are useful in some manner. And that’s where your personal strategy comes in. The easiest thing to do is just draw the cards you need from the crab pool. While simple, that action can also be quite slow. By using the other actions though, you can sometimes be much more efficient.
That’s where the raising and trading crabs comes in. I was skeptical at how useful those actions would be at first, but I quickly learned different. For example, instead of drawing cards to upgrade my gear, I can take the “raise crabs action” and swap one value “5” card from my hand for 5 value “1” cards (assuming they are there). That quickly gets me enough cards to do a few upgrades.
Players have to not only think about what cards are in their hand and the pool, but the best way to maximize them. As this is a race to 25, speed can be key. While there isn’t a ton of player interaction in Crabs!, you do have to be aware of what your opponent is doing. If you see them slowly building up their tableau to the 16 point vendor card, perhaps you need to try and rush to some lower point cards which can be done much quicker.
Overall crab is a light game that should be fairly easy to teach/learn. However one area where it stumbles a little is with catching crabs. The rules here are as simple as the rest of the game, as players need to consult a chart to see what they can actually catch. I have flashbacks to playing Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition when looking at this chart (THAC0 anyone?). It makes sense once you understand everything, it’s just that catching crabs doesn’t feel very intuitive.
Once you can wrap your head around all the actions (and the best way to use them); you can have a lot of fun with Crabs. While it’s defiantly on the lighter/filler side of the spectrum, it actually hides a decent amount of depth. This is due to the nice variety of actions and the many paths players can take to get where they need to be. That’s what I enjoyed most about played Crabs!, it holds quite a bit of variety for such a small and simple game.
If you are a fan of set collection games and are looking for a light game that can be played by almost anyone, then be sure to check out their upcoming Kickstarter next week. We’ll update the article with links to the campaign once it launches.
Update 7/25: Crabs! has launched on Kickstarter. You can find out more information or become a backer here.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.