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Board Game Review: Cryptid

My favorite board game as a child in the early 1980s was Clue. Put the clues together, use your deduction skills, and solve the mystery before anyone else. Aha, now you’ve got it! Aren’t you the smart one! Board games have come a long way since then, with increasing complexity in structure and mechanics; deduction games are no exception. If you liked Clue as a child, you’ll probably love Cryptid.

Released by Osprey Games, Cryptid is a deduction game designed by Hal Duncan and Ruth Veevers. Players take on the role of cryptozoologists searching for an unidentified cryptid (an animal that people claim exists, but which has yet to be verified) in North America.

The geographic search area in Cryptid is comprised of six modular board tiles, which are arranged in rows of two tiles each stacked to form a 2x3 grid, which looks like this:

Because the boards can be rotated and moved around, this results in around 46,000 different board set-ups. There are five terrain types possible for each hexagonal space: water (blue), mountain (gray), forest (green), swamp (purple), or desert (yellow). These colored spaces are clustered and liberally distributed all over the board. The geography also includes cougar territory (outlined with red) and bear territory (outlined with a dashed black line). Finally, there are structures placed within the territory- standing stones and abandoned shacks - which can be blue, white, green, or black. A deck of cards is provided to guide players in arranging the boards and selecting clues to be used in the game. Each time Cryptid is played, a new card is selected from the deck. One side of the card has a picture depicting how the boards should be arranged and the other side has, based on player count (3, 4, or 5), an assigned clue from the player clue books given the arrangement.

Players can also use the Cryptid app to generate the maps and clue assignments. Using the deck of cards or the app, the game designers have carefully assigned each player only one piece of information from a set of 24 clues, such as “The habitat is within one space of forest” (this is for the normal game; the advanced game allows negative information such as “The habitat is not within one space of forest.”, which pushes the set of clues to 48). These pieces of information, when coupled with the constructed game board, result in only one possible space for the cryptid to be located, out of 108 spaces. The seemingly innumerable variations and possible combinations are truly dizzying. Cryptid is a game that would be difficult to create and implement outside of the modern computing age - I’m certain the designers used an algorithm to generate all the possible combinations.

At the start of the game, each player chooses a space on the board where, according to their clue, the Cryptid could not be located, and places a cube on that space. This action is repeated one more time, so that every player has 2 cubes on the board before the game begins. Over the course of the game, players take turns selecting a space on the map and then either (1) asking another player whether, according to that player’s clue, the Cryptid could be located there, or (2) initiating a search to indicate they think the Cryptid is likely there. If asking another player, the player who is to answer does so by placing a cube in the space (if it can’t be there) or by placing a circle in the space (if it could). If the player answers with a cube, then the asking player must also place a cube somewhere on the map to share information with others. If a search has been initiated, the player places a circle in the space and then the player to the left of the player whose turn it is places either a cube or circle in the space to indicate the possibility of the Cryptid’s presence. If a cube is placed, the searching player must place a cube on the board as when they are asking, and the turn ends. If a circle is placed, the next player in line, going clockwise, places either a cube or circle, and so on. If all players place a circle on the space, the searching player has found the Cryptid and won the game. Otherwise, play continues with the next player’s turn.

The components in Cryptid are well constructed. The modular boards are sturdy cardboard and the wooden pieces (five colors for each of the possible players, and pieces for the standing stones and abandoned shacks in four colors) are high quality. The artwork is functional, and I would have liked to see more detail put into the shacks and stones, but because this game is one-step away from an abstract deduction game, the artwork isn’t the focus. The real focus is on the critical thinking aspect of the game, which is where it really shines. Every single time I played this game over the past six months, I watched my opponents, both on their turns and between their turns, quietly furrowing their brows and cycling between examining the board and examining the set of possible clues, as they frantically tried to deduce which clue belonged to which player, based on the cubes and circles presently laid out on the board. That’s because once you have discerned what each player’s clue is, you just need to find the one spot on the map that satisfies all of them, and you’ve won the game.

A big debate around our gaming table was whether to allow players to take notes during the game. My husband drew a big advantage over others during a game in which we house ruled that notes were ok. That isn’t surprising since he has a PhD in statistics. Once you reduce Cryptid to a math problem on paper, the more adept mathematicians will likely pull into the lead. After that, I came out strongly against note taking and remain in the no notes camp still today. Of course, your experiences and preferences may vary. If you’ve a whole crowd of math gurus, having a “math off” might be fun for you.

Cryptid is subject to a significant amount of analysis paralysis. It never seemed to bother any of the players around our table though, because while the active player is deep in analytical though, so are the rest of the players. It isn’t as though you spend the time between your turns twiddling your thumbs growing impatient. In fact, it’s nice to have the time to work out what your next move is going to be while the other players are taking their turns.

Cryptid is not my favorite board game. My top picks in the category all provide rich theming, a deep narrative, and detailed artwork. That’s just my personal bias toward those types of games. But Cryptid is my favorite abstract game. I can’t think of a single abstract game that outshines Cryptid. It’s worthy of a spot in any serious gamer’s collection.

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Publisher: Osprey Games
Players: 3-5
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): 60 minutes
Game type:  deduction

Rating:

Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me

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