Crystallo

Every year, Chris Hansen organizes the Solitaire Print and Play Contest, where BoardGameGeek users compete in several categories by entering their own solo games, all free to download, print and play. In 2018, Liberty Kifer made a grand slam with her first design, the abstract card game Crystallo. Kifer and Crystallo won in seven different categories. The most important accolades were probably Best Game and Best New Designer.

During the spring of 2019, Kifer’s start-up Light Heart Games partnered with Zafty Games and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for Crystallo.

Designer:Liberty Kifer
Publisher:Light Heart Games and Zafty Games.
Artist:Liberty Kifer
Rules:Read the rules here.
Watch a tutorial video here.
Solo facilitation:Solitaire only game.
How I obtained my copy of the game:Review copy provided by Zafty Games.

Set-up is quick, as is gameplay. Once you know the rules it should take 30 minutes at the very most. But don’t count on the rule book to get you going; it’s vague in many places, and considering how simple the rules actually are, the small book packs a surprising amount of frustration. Well… Rodney Smith to the rescue!

The game consists of two distinct phases that are variations on a common theme; playing cards onto the table, interconnected in such a way that adjacent symbols form sets, awarding you with crystals. There are 18 crystals, all in all, in six sets of three.

During the first phase you draw cards and place them, one at a time. If you manage to get all of the crystals before you run out of cards in the deck, you advance to the second phase.

Gameplay in the second phase is similar, but this time you’re working with a very limited amount of cards, and instead of drawing them from the top of the deck, you have access to all of them and may pick and choose. Using this limited set of cards, you need to score one crystal of each color.

Gameplay is very puzzly. A card can be placed in a lot of different ways, and figuring out the optimal placement can be frustrating or stimulating, all depending on your approach. The further I get into the game, the more often I question my decisions. After deciding where to place a card it tends to feel like I probably could have put it in an even more beneficial place.

At first, the challenge is to get through the first phase at all. Once I’ve figured out how to do that, though, it turns out that the second phase is a lot less challenging. No matter how you fare, however, you get an end score. Once I get the hang of it, getting through both phases is not particularly hard and the game is no longer about overcoming an obstacle, but rather about beating my previous score.

The game has a loose theme about venturing into a cave to rescue creatures trapped by a dragon who’s shackled them using magical crystals, and then trapping the dragon itself, but at heart it is an abstract game.

In my opinion, Crystallo would benefit from a more full-fledged production with a proper box instead of a bag, more artwork and not just rules-related symbols, a well-written rule book and better card stock. The game has the appearance of a prototype or perhaps something ordered from The Game Crafter, and this detracts a little from the overall impression. Somehow, the game looks booth rather pretty and unfinished at the same time.

Luckily, the video by Watch it Played is more informative than the rule book, and underneath the surface there’s a decent game with sound mechanisms. Crystallo offers a challenge that belies its small package and simple rules, but I’m worried about its staying power.

Figuring out how to solve the puzzle and manage to get to stage two and defeat the dragon has been both interesting and rewarding. But here I use the word solve for a reason; after half a dozen plays, it felt like I had the game figured out to the point where it was just about beating my own score. Still an enjoyable experience, but meditative and relaxing rather than challenging. Now it’s more about getting into the right mindset, enjoying the flow and feeling clever, occasionally.

Another problem with this game is its competition – there are other small, abstract, puzzly, affordable games about symbol matching and spatial orientation. The main contender, Sprawlopolis, manages to do even more with even less, and also offers more variety. Still, Crystallo feels clever and unique, if somewhat half-baked. Considering the low price tag, even if you are done with it after ten or twenty plays it’s probably been worth your money. Just make sure to have ample table space.

I’ve enjoyed Crystallo and there might still be a few hours worth of fun in the bag, but I don’t expect to keep playing it regularly. But don’t take my word for it – go watch Tom Vasels enthusiastic review of the game, or try it for yourself on Tabletop Simulator.

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