Crystallo (solo) review: a gorgeous game that will hit the table from time to time

TL,DR: Crystallo is one of those simple solitaire card games that I didn’t initially really like, but that’s kind of grown on me. It won’t be in my top ten but I’m keeping it, if only for its gorgeous table presence, and the fact that my 7 year old daughter loves to rescue the mystical animals from their gem prisons.

Crystallo is a solo puzzle/abstract card game with a light fantasy theme. Explore the cavern lair of the wicked Black Dragon by placing cards, free six magical creatures by creating crystal sets, and, if you should succeed with that task, trap the dragon in his own cave. Collect treasure along the way, and you may emerge a wealthy champion!

Crystallo is played with a deck of 54 illustrated cards and 18 gems, and runs about 20-30 minutes.

Crystallo Gameplay

Crystallo is a solitaire game (although, like any solo board game, you can technically play with a partner and make decisions together, which is what we do with my daughter) in which you have to free magical creatures.

The creatures’ prisons are made of crystals (symbolized by cute plastic gemlike bits in the game) of different colors. The goal is to remove those crystals from the creature cards, by creating the right combination of symbols on the board, with the cards of the game.

Each turn you draw a card from the deck, and position it on the board, adjacent to or semi-overlapping other cards on the board, with the goal to create a pattern of 3 crystal symbols surrounding a specific “gem prison” symbol.

Patterns of three crystals surrounding a symbol allow you to remove gems from the creatures, and put them on the board. Here, two patterns of three “1 orange crystal” allowed me to get a blue gem and an orange gem. The two patterns share some crystals, which is key in using the cards efficiently.

Each time you create such a pattern, you remove a gem from the matching creature, and put it on the board. Once a creature has no gems remaining on it, it’s been freed.

If/Once all creatures have been freed, you then go for a final round by trying to capture the black dragon. The last round uses a similar concept of creating patterns of crystals, except you have a very limited number of cards to create a total of 6 patterns, and you get to see all cards instead of drawing them one after the other. So, although you have “all information” visible to you in that last round, it is generally more difficult because of the limited amount of cards available to you.

Crystallo – Opinion

Gorgeous

I think the first thing that hit me is how gorgeous I think the game looks on the table. It’s surprising considering there aren’t that many components. But the art on the cards is really cute, the plastic gems really add to the experience, and the creature cards have a glossy finish that really makes the animals pop out. It was a pleasure to take pictures of the game.

There’s also definitely a tactile pleasure in “completing” a pattern, and physically taking a gem to free one of the magical creatures, and put the gem on the board instead. I am usually not a fan of “components for the sake of components”, but in this case it just works so much better than it would have with, e.g. cardboard tokens, or even wooden cubes for example. The gems just fit the them so well, they really enrich the gameplay.

Easy to learn, hard to master

The rules of Crystallo are quite simple, and it’s very easy to get going. My 7 year old only had to be explained the basic rules of the game for 5 minutes, and with a little bit of help she was able to play on our own. It’s one of those games that can be “easy to learn, semi-difficult to master”.

Winning for the first time was pretty satisfying, but I still haven’t found what makes it tick, personally. With that being said, playing with my daughter I could see that she was bringing new ideas to the table, and that made it easier for both of us, to play together.

Too much table space!

Given how lightweight the game is, it’s surprising how much space it can end up taking on the table. As a matter of fact, in most cases, I’ve chose to play it on the floor to make sure I wouldn’t have any space issue during gameplay.

It’s not a “big” problem for a game to occupy a lot of space, but that pushes Crystallo away from my “lightweight game with my morning coffee” list, and means it won’t see as much play as some other lightweight solo games I’ve been enjoying lately such as Aerion or more particularly Voyages.

So fiddly!

Probably my main issue with Crystallo is how fiddly it can quickly become. There’s of course the issue that if you move a card a bit too strongly, it might end up pushing other cards, and you’ll have a whole zone that’s not properly aligned anymore, and becomes confusing.

This can happen to all similar games, but in Crystallo, this is compounded by the fact that cards can be played vertically and horizontally. Now, I’m sure a lot of other games do that, but the problem here is that cards are not a perfect 3×2 rectangle, meaning that there is basically no proper way to align cards if you start having long lines of horizontal VS vertical cards.

It’s a bit difficult to explain, but once you start experiencing it, it can become very frustrating: “is this particular move legal, or are these two patterns technically not aligned?”. The designer has replied that if the alignment of two crystals looks “fishy” due to this vertical/horizontal alignment issue, then the move shouldn’t be considered legal.

This lack of alignment really annoys me for some reason.

At the end of the day, since it’s a solo game, it’s up to the player to decide whether a move is ok or not. But for a game that looks so neat, it’s a bit heartbreaking to have misalignment of patterns happening so often. It just looks “off”, and could probably have been fixed by printing cards in a non standard format.

I’m probably nitpicking here, but at the end of the day that’s what annoys me the most about the game, that I can never be 100% sure if I won fair and square, or bent the rules because my cards were not aligned correctly when I finalized a pattern. Sprawlopolis (to which I’m comparing Crystallo a lot in the section below) avoids this issue by explicitly stating that cards must be played horizontally.

Crystallo Compared to Sprawlopolis

Note: This is a new section I’ve been adding recently to my reviews, in which I try to compare two games I have played personally, in the hope that it could help people decide whether the game is for them or not.

Why am I comparing these two games?

Both Sprawlopolis and Crystallo are solitaire card games that involve drawing a card each turn, overlapping the cards to create patterns, with the decision space increasing as the board grows.

You might like Crystallo if

  • you enjoy the concept of creating patterns with the cards, but are looking for a different theme than Sprawlopolis’s “Sim City” atmosphere, or got too good at Sprawlopolis and are looking for a new way to think about the cards’ geometry.
  • You prefer to have a specific goal (free the creatures and defeat the dragon) rather than scoring points
  • You’re ok with a 30 minute session rather than the 15 minute Sprawlopolis

You might dislike Crystallo if:

  • You really like that Sprawlopolis asks you to position cards horizontally because you know that playing cards are not exactly 3×2 and that having some of them positioned vertically would become fiddly and possibly trigger your OCD
  • You’re tired of Fantasy themes in board games
  • You enjoy how compact and tight your Sprawlopolis city can look on the table

Conclusion

Crystallo is easy to learn, offers a nice challenge, and is surprisingly gorgeous on the table, considering how few components it comes with. However I’m not a huge fan of the gameplay, and its space occupation on the table pushed it off of my so-important “games to play with my morning coffee” list.

Crystallo is ok, and I’ll play it once in a while (my daughter really likes it and its theme), but it probably won’t be my first choice next time I’m playing a solo game. If I want a lightweight, pattern card game, I’d probably go for Sprawlopolis first. If I want a fantasy-themed game, depending on weight, I’d probably get a dungeon crawler, or LOTR LCG. If I want something “cute”, Aerion might be my choice instead…

What I liked about Crystallo

  • Gorgeous art, gorgeous components that enrich the gameplay
  • easy to learn, hard to master

What I didn’t like about Crystallo

  • takes too much space on my table
  • a bit fiddly once a lot of cards are on the board
  • I can’t wrap my mind around the horizontal vs vertical issue

Games mentioned in this article

Aerion
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Lord of the Rings - LCG
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
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