Full disclosure: Zafty Games provided me with a review copy of Crystallo.
What is this game about?
Crystallo is an abstract solitaire card game divided into two parts. In the first, you rescue six mythical creatures by drawing and placing your cards in ways that activate orbs required to free them. In the second, you will trap the evil Black Dragon who captured those creatures in the first place. To do it, you will have a hand of cards that you arrange using the same orb-activating principles. If you run out of cards in the first part of the game, you lose. If you fail to arrange your cards successfully when going up against the Black Dragon, you also lose.
Each card you draw in Crystallo will contain a different combination of orbs and crystals. The orbs will be different colors, depending on which sort of creature they are able to set free. The crystals can be one of three possible colors, as well as one of three possible shapes. To activate an orb, you will need to surround it with one of the accepted combinations of crystals—all the same shape or color, or all different shapes and colors. Beyond that, you have a lot of freedom when it comes to card placement—cards can be adjacent to each other, they can overlap, and they can be placed horizontally or vertically.
Orbs will be your priority in this game, but there are also treasures to distract you. If you collect sets of different types of treasures, you will get a cool bonus. But at what cost?
How does it play solo?
Crystallo is a solo game. Woohoo!
Overall, Crystallo is a charming solo puzzle that I enjoy. It is not necessarily one for the ages, but it's a nice quick game to add to the work night rotation.
First, the good. Crystallo is a fun puzzle, and one that takes a bit of getting used to. It's not uncommon to have to play it a few times before getting past the first part of the game and getting a chance to confront the Black Dragon. There are fun decisions to make when it comes to how to place each card, which treasure sets to pursue, and which cards it is safe to cover up as you attempt to activate the correct orbs.
I also liked that the game takes place in two phases, especially because the second phase plays with the mechanisms of the first in fun ways. While the first phase of the game is very tactical because you draw and place one card at a time, the second phase uses the same placement concepts you've learned, but allows you to see and arrange the cards in advance. It's a fun way to push skills that you've already developed in earlier turns of the game.
However, Crystallo is not a perfect game. Once you grow accustomed to how it works, you'll find that you usually win, and that the puzzle is no longer quite as satisfying. It might be fun to pull the game back out after I've let it cool off for a while, but I haven't gotten to that point yet. I also have some quibbles with the components. Crystallo comes in a bag that initially looks luxurious, but is made of a fuzzy fabric that is wearing quickly. My tuck box and cards have also been very quick to show wear. The symbols on the cards themselves are pleasingly colorful, and the crystals you place to activate the orbs are enticingly shiny, which somehow makes the production seem both striking and a little underdone.
Crystallo is also in competition with other small-box games, and there are some tremendous ones on the market these days. My favorite small game is still Sprawlopolis, but I am also very fond of Orchard, as well as other solo games that made a splash on the print-and-play circuit such as Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden. Crystallo is good fun, but it isn't best in class. Not only does the gameplay wear out a little too quickly, but Crystallo is not as efficient as a small box or backpack game. Its packaging is compact, but once you get it out, the game is a huge table hog, which is a real threat to its portability.
Do I recommend it?
If you're looking for another solo game in a small package for your rotation, then yes. Crystallo might be for you. This is especially true if you like PnP games, because you can download and build this one yourself.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars – I love it!
4 stars – I really like it.
3 stars – I like it.
2 stars – It's okay.
1 star – Meh.