Full disclosure: A preview copy of Crystallo was provided by Light Heart Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Whew, I don’t normally play a lot of solo games, so it’s nice to get back to it every now and then. I think the last one I Seriously Reviewed was uh, Unbroken? That was half a review lifetime ago, I think; hadn’t even reviewed 200 games by then. Anyways, sometimes the scheduling all works out nicely and I get in a solo-y mood, so here we are. Crystallo is the first from Light Heart Games; let’s dig into it a bit and see what’s going on in this solo card game.
In Crystallo, the fearsome Black Dragon has trapped six magical creatures in his lair with aggressive crystal magic. As a crystal magician (and aspiring treasure hunter; you’re multitalented), you seek to free them and trap the Black Dragon in his own lair with his own magic (showing that you also possess a razor-sharp understanding of irony, which I respect). Along the way, you’ll be able to unlock treasures, improve your magic, and prepare for battle against the mighty dragon, should you get that far. Will you be able to liberate the magical land?
Not much, thankfully. Set out the six magical creatures:
Give them each three of the gems of their color (Unicorn is yellow):
You can set aside the Black Dragon, for now:
Shuffle up the cards; set 9 aside with the Black Dragon:
You might notice that some of these are Treasures; shuffle those into the main deck anyways. More on those later:
Flip one face-up into the center of the table and you should be good to go!
Game’s played a bit similarly to Sprawlopolis or the Nippon Series; you’re going to be putting cards on top of or adjacent to other cards to try and free the trapped creatures. If you can, you may attempt to trap the Black Dragon for even more points!
When you draw a card, place it such that one crystal on the card is adjacent to another crystal on another card; there are many configurations that allow this, but that’s the core of the game. You may stack cards partially on top of other cards, but I am reasonably certain that you can’t completely cover another card. You also may not place a card unless one of its crystals is touching another card’s crystals; none of that orb-to-orb nonsense.
If you have created a Crystal Set around an orb, you may take one of the gems from the corresponding creature card and place it on that orb. You’re one step closer to freeing the creature! But what counts as a Crystal Set? It’s a square containing three crystals and one orb with the following conditions:
- All Crystals are the same color and the same shape, or
- All Crystals are the same color and different shapes, or
- All Crystals are different colors and the same shape, or
- All Crystals are different colors and different shapes.
Those are the only four allowed configurations. So, 1-Orange, 2-Red, and 3-Purple is fine, but 1-Purple, 2-Purple, and 2-Purple is not (a third 2-Purple would be fine, or a 3-Purple instead of the second 2-Purple).
Some cards are Treasures; you must complete both orbs on the card to unlock them. The Riches count as an extra treasure for scoring, the Magic Treasures let you remove a gem from any creature (or add one to the Black Dragon), and the Battle Treasures let you gain an extra card in your fight against the Black Dragon.
Speaking of the Black Dragon, if you manage to free all the creatures, the next phase of the game begins. Any cards left in the deck get added to the 9 you set aside at the start of the game. Clear the play area and shuffle those cards; draw one if you got all three of the Battle Treasures. You may look at all of these at once. Your goal is to trap the Black Dragon; every time you complete an orb in this new area you add an orb to the card and add an orb of the same color to the Black Dragon. If you manage to add all six orbs to the Black Dragon, you have defeated it!
At the end of the game, you earn titles based on your performance:
- Failed to free the Creatures: COMMONER
- Freed the Creatures, but didn’t stop the Dragon: LIBERATOR
- Defeated the Black Dragon: VANQUISHER
- Defeated the Black Dragon with 1 card left: KNIGHT
- Defeated the Black Dragon with 2 cards left: HERO
- Defeated the Black Dragon with 3+ cards left: CHAMPION
You also get to modify your title based on how many treasures you got:
- 0 – 3 Treasures: IMPOVERISHED
- 4 – 6 Treasures: PROSPEROUS
- 7+ Treasures: WEATHLY
Then calculate your score:
The score is more just for you; compare it with other people or something.
Player Count Differences
It’s solo, but this would be a wild two-player game if you had a Tetris Attack-sort of thing going where if I complete a Crystal Set it adds an immovable block to your play area, sort of like a mix of Sweets Stack and Cartographers. I’m actually really into this idea? Reminds me that I need to review Sweets Stack.
- Symmetry doesn’t have to be fearful. Remember that when you create a square, if you do it right, you should be able to gain another orb on one side of the square with only one card. This may even work more than one time, depending on how your squares are set up. This is a great way to quickly unlock orbs on treasures (or just regular orbs.
- Seek out combos. That one I mentioned above is a great one, but also minor tweaks to squares that have already activated orbs can create circumstances where you can unlock other configurations for additional orbs. That’s very helpful, as you might guess.
- Don’t necessarily go deep. You’re not totally sure what cards remain in the deck, so you may have the opportunity to free Creatures later; if you go too deep on one Creature too quickly, you risk getting configurations that would have allowed you to get those Orbs easily and are now going to waste. Playing smart is necessary if you want those points.
- Keep track of what you need. You’re going to have incomplete squares all over your play area; know what cards you’re looking for and have a rough priority list of what squares you want to complete first. Like I said, I usually go after Treasures, myself, especially ones with orbs for Creatures I haven’t made much progress on. You don’t want to waste cards.
- Treasures are very useful. They’re not great for unlocking orbs on their own, but if you can get a set you can bail yourself out pretty nicely (or just … make more money, which is great for your points). Just make sure you don’t get so Treasure-focused that you forget to actually free the creatures and win the game. That’s less good.
- It helps if you spread your cards for the Black Dragon phase. There’s a temptation to play them one-at-a-time similar to the core game, but you are allowed to look at all of them at once and use them to plan. I … have forgotten this at least once, whoops.
- Don’t get discouraged. I played pretty terribly on my first game and now I can consistently get to the Black Dragon, which is very gratifying. It’s not really a strategy thing as much as it is an encouragement thing, but you can do it! It takes a bit of practice to start noticing the patterns required to deliver on certain things, I think.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Not too challenging to learn. I appreciate that, actually. It’s tough to play, not to learn, and that’s about what I want from a solo game.
- Plays pretty quickly, too. I can bust out a game in about 20 – 30 minutes, which, yes, that’s the playtime, I get that, but I appreciate it nonetheless. It’s not something I have to spend all day playing.
- Setup is a breeze. Set out some cards, add some gems, and then shuffle a stack and you’re ready to go. That’s very helpful; it makes the game get played a lot more, honestly.
- I do like the kinda dark / bold color scheme. It’s got a very “crystal mines” feel to it. I’d recommend uh, this song, if you’re looking for a fun pairing. It worked very well for my plays. I mean I generally recommend the Stardew Valley soundtrack when you’re playing games; it works for a lot of them! Especially all the farming ones. Firmament from Gris wouldn’t be too bad, either, now that I think about it. Anyways. The game also look really nice? It’s got a like, reflective mood to it, and I appreciate that in a solo game.
- Well, it’s portable. It can very easily be taken with you on the go, and I appreciate that. It just can’t be played on the go, which is less good, in my mind. That’s a consequence of how much space it occupies, though.
- I’m hoping the gem tokens are a bit more differentiated in the final product. Any players with some sort of color vision deficiency are going to have a rough time with some of them. Clearer icons will help, partially, but ultimately the gems having their own shapes / textures will also help. Plus, it’ll look really nice that way, so, bonus?
- If you’re stuck, you might as well restart. There’s definitely a point in the game where you can tell that you’ve lost, and it might only be halfway depending on how the game’s going for you. It may be worth playing through it to try and learn some more configuration strategies, but it can be a bit irritating to know you’ve lost early on.
- Takes up a lot of space (and it’s hard to plan for that in advance). The game flows where the game flows; this is not a solo game for the airplane or a small tray table. This one’s going to take up half your dining room table or spill out over your photography table if you’re not careful. This is useful to know in advance, but can be a bit frazzling.
- I feel like difficulty levels would go a long way for this game. Maybe you play with fewer Creatures to free? I’m not sure. I just generally expect some kind of difficulty toggle in solo games (including solo video games) and I’m surprised when there isn’t one?
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I pretty solidly like Crystallo! I think what it’s got going for it is a smart choice to design around quick pattern-recognition. It makes it easy for me to figure out what I should be doing and I picked up the game pretty quickly. The kind of games I generally like to play are “easy to learn but hard to do well”, as opposed to the “hard to learn” set that I occasionally get roped into, whoops. That’s not to say I have no feedback for the game, obviously. The game can spiral upwards in space complexity in a way you’re not prepared for just by virtue of how the card placements can explode, which can be a bit frustrating. That’s an easy solve, though; play on a big table or the floor, if you need to. The other one I’d like to see is more well-defined difficulty levels for the game. I think that the game does a good job still rewarding you no matter what level of success you have, but giving players more flexibility in the initial phase I think will lead to more people getting to fight the Black Dragon (and being more excited about it). Personally, I’m all for that, even if it’s just a house ruleset or a score modification or something. That said, what I’ve seen of the game I enjoy a lot, and I’m excited to see what’s next for Crystallo when it lands on Kickstarter! I’ll certainly be playing it more between now and then.