Cryptid ★

Before deciding to write this review I played Cryptid half a dozen times. Yet, I found myself having to go back to it because I couldn’t remember what kind of impact it had on me. It’s a one-dimensional game, devoid of emotion or agency. In it, I didn’t find an exciting hunt for a mythological creature but a cold mathematical exercise.

NARROWING DOWN

Cryptid tasks us with finding a fantasy animal on a map. However, we only know one characteristic of its habitat. For example, we might know it lives in a mountain hex or close to the sea. If all players put together their knowledge, they would know exactly where to find the creature. But since this is a competitive game, the task won’t be so easy.

Each turn we may point to a hex on the map and ask our rivals if the creature could be there. They respond by placing a cube or a disk on it, with the latter being a positive answer. Once we have a good idea of where the creature might be, we may attempt to find it. We place a disk on a space and if everyone does the same, we win.

In other words, Cryptid is a logic puzzle. There’s a certain number of variables and only one answer. Asking questions is how we eliminate possibilities and whatever is left must be the solution. In that sense, it’s not far off from Clue, only without dice rolls and a different setting.

What sets Cryptid apart from most deduction games is that the map is a huge part of the process. Clues are much harder to visualize in a physical space than they are on raw logical terms. We might not notice that a hex is near a wooden cylinder or that another has red lines denoting a different habitat.

It’s this aspect what defines Cryptid in my mind and what I dislike most about it. It’s a layer of obscurity that does not add to the deductive process. More importantly, it fails to address the game’s inherent lack of agency.

AGENCY

Cryptid‘s approach to deduction is very narrow. There are 24 clues, all similar to each other. Like an equation, we eliminate variables until only a few remain and then calculate the rest. There’s no deeper strategy to it. The game focuses exclusively on knocking clues and filling up available information until the answer reveals itself.

I believe calculation can add much to a game, but only when it furthers other goals. The oppressive atmosphere of Tragedy Looper and the communication challenges of Hanabi are good examples of it. These games feature misdirection, trust, risk. Running up the numbers is a tool, not the only feature. In comparison, Cryptid seems dull and lifeless.

Still, I don’t find much of Cryptid conducive to a purely mathematical experience. The logical component is at odds with the difficulty of visualizing clues on the map. At the end of the day, I feel Cryptid doesn’t test our deduction abilities as much as our capacity to keep a bunch of rules in our brain and visualize them.

Most importantly, the difficulty of visualizing clues makes mistakes likely. And if one player does, the whole experience comes crashing down. An erroneous answer can be enough to throw off the whole game. What’s worse, most of my matches have seen all players find the answer at exactly the same time.

After all, there’s no asymmetry to the information. Unless we are targeted over and over by other players, we know as much as everyone else. With this, Cryptid struggles to take advantage of its multiplayer aspect. It offers little tangible benefit to other logic puzzles, which can be played on our own and at our own pace.

WORKMANSHIP

It’s a shame I find Cryptid so dull because I recognize some great workmanship in it. The algorithm that creates the map and clues so there’s only one solution is an interesting piece of design. Osprey, the publisher, has even released an app to quicken the process. Regardless of my opinion on the game, I value the work put into it.

I also value the game’s production, which lacks any of the extravagances that define other releases. It’s an example of how a good color scheme can make simple designs appealing, even when using generic components. And, while clues may be difficult to visualize, the map’s design is not at fault. It’s clean and easy to read.

Still, none of this makes Cryptid any less dull. Even after replaying it for this review and writing about it, it still doesn’t elicit a response in me. It’s just too mundane. Whether I solve the mystery and get the location of the animal right doesn’t matter if I forget about it a couple hours later.

No matter how well-designed, there are so many incredible experiences out there, that I can’t make room for Cryptid. Faced with limited time and a wide range of games to play, running the numbers is no longer good enough.

CRYPTID (2018)
DESIGN Hal Dunkan
Ruth Veevers
ART Kwanchai Moriya
PUBLISHER Osprey LENGTH 30-40 minutes
NUMBER OF PLAYERS 3-5 (Best with 4) SCORE

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