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Crystallo Review

Review of: Crystallo
Board Game Review by::
Jason Kelm

Reviewed by:
On Feb 21, 2024
Last modified:Feb 21, 2024


We review Crystallo, a solo card game about exploring a dungeon and fighting a dragon. Crystallo is a more abstract experience than you'd expect with this theme, and we let you know what it's like.

CrystalloThere was a time when I was just learning what modern board games were that I found delight in discovering ones that could be played by yourself. This was so novel and wasn’t something I had even considered before that time. I had only ever known ones played at the dinner table with family and friends. So I was attracted to what this afforded me, not just a means to play something when others weren’t available, but a way to experience a different aspect of the game. Some games managed this in ways that felt like an extension of the multiplayer experience and others something wholly new. Others also felt tacked on and not great. I started to see some games where the development was focused only on being played independently and at your leisure. Crystallo is one of those games.

Gameplay Overview:

Crystallo is a solo-focused card game, where you are exploring a cave in the hope of finding and defeating a dragon. To do this, you’ll first need to free all the creatures who are magically bound in the cave. Using the game’s unique deck of cards, players will attempt to create sets of colored crystals. When these sets are made, you’ll have discovered one of the three crystal fragments for the matching creature. Each creature’s fragments have to be found before the deck runs out.

After this is done, it’s time to face the dragon. Using cards set aside during setup along with any leftover cards from finding fragments, as well as equipment you found in the cave, you’ll try to make single sets of each color to defeat the dragon. While this first round had players turning over cards and placing them one at a time, here you’ll be able to have all the available cards face up to try and plan your strategy. If you complete both phases of the game, you’ve won! The rulebook includes a chart for players to assess how well they did and give them a benchmark for next time.

Crystallo Gameplay
A closeup of some of the interesting ways you’ll end up laying these cards. For those who like to line things up symmetrical, this is likely going to drive you mad.

Game Experience:

Crystallo has an interesting idea behind its theme. Explore a cave, save magical creatures, find weapons and loot, and fight a dragon with might and magic. I love a good fantasy theme. The cards for the creatures and the dragon provide a visual contribution to this theme. But it’s after this that the theme whisps away. I didn’t get the sense I was exploring a cave as I laid down cards one at a time. It doesn’t feel like you level up when you unlock weapons or free magical creatures. I think it’s ok that the theme isn’t intertwined with the game mechanics. The game feels more akin to a solo abstract puzzle than a dungeon crawler, and that’s fine by me. I think it’s simply worth noting if you planned for a higher-level fantasy experience, you’ll have to play that out in your imagination.

Crystallo Dragon
If a player makes it to round two, they’ll have to face The Black Dragon.

Playing this reminded me in some ways of A Gentle Rain. It’s a competition with yourself, where you’re aiming less for a high score and more towards the best result according to a chart. But unlike A Gentle Rain where it doesn’t really matter whether you “win” or not; with Crystallo, not achieving one goal (unlocking the creatures) means not experiencing part of the game. I think the motivation for repeated plays might lie in your ability to play the whole game and slay the dragon. While doing this in and of itself doesn’t give you the “best score”, I don’t feel particularly motivated to try and do better. To clarify, doing better here means capturing more loot and equipment, some of which help in your final fight and others merely boost your score. Knowing if you’re the type of player who likes to “unlock everything” in a game or just beat it will likely factor in heavily to whether Crystallo is one you’d like to own, or just play if given the opportunity.

Crystallo Gems
If you’re a component fiend, you’ll like how these crystals feel. They’re chonky!

One thing that bothered me was how cards do or don’t line up. This sounds like a strange complaint, but if you can’t stand when a player lays something down in the “wrong” way, hear me out. This complaint has a functional issue as well. When laying out your cave, the rectangular cards have symbols at each corner that you’ll focus on when making sets. There are only two rules: a corner has to be placed next to another crystal per placement rules, and you can’t lay a card over one where it would cover a crystal that’s been earned. What this means is, eventually cards will be laying on top of each other in very asymmetrical ways, ones where you’ll ask yourself, “Am I allowed to lay the card down this way?”.

Crystallo Gameplay
For a solo game and pretty basic components, you can see how Crystallo can start to spread itself out.

As you get deeper, things get messy and a table bump could disrupt how your cave is designed. I’d be curious if square cards or tiles had been considered. I think it could’ve afforded a cleaner design in this respect. I was also struck by how the game can stretch its way across a dinner table. This depends on how you choose to lay out your cave, but if you are like me and start by playing in front of yourself, you’ll soon realize the error of this decision as the edges of the table manage to disrupt any future strategies you were planning.

Final Thoughts:

Crystallo is worth trying out, seeing if it jives with what you prefer from a solo experience. I don’t think it’s a bad game; I just didn’t feel there were enough interesting pieces to come back for more. I enjoyed fighting the dragon the most because this felt more engaging like solving a puzzle than freeing the creatures. That felt almost like a reactionary experience with limited strategies for setting myself up for later cards. I wholly ignored trying to capture some of the loot which only served to improve my end-game score, but getting equipment to help in my fight was more immediately beneficial. I think Crystallo will most appeal to people who enjoy getting every bonus they can from a game. They will be the ones who I imagine will continue to return to it. But if this isn’t you, I’d be curious if you feel compelled to keep coming back.

Final Score: 3 Stars – A simple design that will appeal to some solo gamers

3 StarsHits:
• A different fantasy theme that feels more like an abstract
• Fighting the dragon was an engaging puzzle

• Laying out the cards starts to get messy and hog the table
• Freeing the creatures comes across as random and impulsive
• Ignoring loot cards doesn’t affect gameplay if you’re not interested in a high score

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