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CRYSTAL FAIRE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Hangman Games, 3-5 players, ages 12 and up, 90-120 minutes; $30)

 

Alan Ernstein has presented us with several well received games over the last few years including Tahuantinsuyu (Summer 2004 GA REPORT) and Ars Mysteriorum (Summer 2005 GA REPORT). This time, Ernstein dips into his bag of tricks to bring out a “sparkling” game combining crystals and deal making in Crystal Faire.

Crystal Faire comes boxed with five sets of “offer cards”, a “Popularity Chart”, five screens, a first player marker, a set of play money (in Florins), 108 crystals in orange, purple, yellow, red, blue and white with a pouch to hold them and two sets of brief rules.

Each player gets a screen and the matching set of offer cards. The Popularity Chart tracks the value (i.e. “popularity”) of each color crystal and one crystal of each color is placed on row 3 of the chart. The remaining crystals are placed in the pouch with each player drawing nine of them as their starting “hand”. These crystals are placed, secretly, behind each player’s screen. Now, in reverse order, each player must move ONE of the crystals on the Popularity chart one space down (increasing its value).cyrstalcover

A game turn consists of four phases and all players do each phase before the next phase begins.

The first phase is Trade. The active player draws five jewels from the bag, deposits them behind his screen, and now makes TWO offers to the rest of the players.

Each offer card set contains three cards of 4, 5 and 6 values. If choosing to make an offer with the 4 card, THREE crystals must be displayed. A five card requires only 2 crystals to be displayed while a 6 needs to have only 1 crystal showing. The active player must use TWO of these cards, in essence, making two possible offers. Now, all other players respond by choosing ONE of their offer cards and making a counter proposal. The active player MUST choose one counter proposal. Players not selected return their shown crystals behind their screens. The player chosen now decides which of the two offers made by the active player he will take, both players “fill in” the necessary amount of crystals needed to fulfill the offer from crystals behind their screen, and the crystals are secretly exchanged. Once all players have a chance to be the active player in this phase, adjustments are made.

The adjustment phase presents an intriguing choice. Three crystals are drawn from the bag. The active player may take one, two, all three, or none of these crystals. For EACH crystal NOT taken, that player may move the value of a crystal on the Popularity Chart ONE space up OR down. If there are less than three crystals on the table after a player goes, additional crystals are drawn so that there are always three available. After all players have had a chance to “adjust”, remaining crystals (if any) are returned to the bag. The further along on the Chart a crystal travels, the more having the most of that crystal is worth (from 1 Florin to 36 Florins). Now comes the payoffs.crystalfaire

Starting with the active player, and going in “color order” (from orange all the way down to white), players may show a number of crystals from behind their screens. Amounts may be tied or raised. When all players have passed, the player (or players) showing the highest number of crystals of that color score and are paid in Florins. (If tied, BOTH score the same.) The catch here is that anyone receiving a payoff must LOSE some of those crystals. The more you score, the more you lose ranging from a loss of only 1 up to a maximum of 6. Lost crystals are, temporarily, placed in front of your screen. Once all crystal colors have had the chance to score, the final phase begins.

The final phase, called “reset”, involves yet another interesting choice. The player with the most crystals in front of his screen gets the First Player marker and ALL players return ONE of the crystals in front of their screen back behind it. Remaining crystals are returned to the bag. Now, one crystal LESS than the number of players are drawn. Added to them is the First Player marker. Starting with the First Player, each player may either take a crystal OR the First Player marker. Once all choices have been made, the player with the First Player marker may choose to keep it OR give it to anyone else! And now we do it all over again.

The game continues until either a player needs to draw a crystal and none remain in the bag (in which case, the game ends immediately) OR ends with the fifth payoff in a three player game, fourth payoff in a four player game or third payoff in the a five player game. The player at that point with the most Florins wins!

Crystal offerings force players to decide how much to reveal in making offers. While there is an element of bluff here in the hope of not revealing too much about what crystals you really want, it soon becomes fairly obvious as to what crystals you are trying to collect. The reset phase offers a challenging dilemma. Being able to choose who goes first makes it possible for you to go last in a turn, thereby having the final (and possibly, crucial) say in setting values for crystals – but at a cost. You give up a crystal pick to do so. But the rough spot in the game lies with the Popularity Chart.

The Popularity Chart keeps track of the relative values of crystals. But the chart doesn’t relate to their relative rarity. Oranges, which are plentiful with 26 in play, can score the same as white which are rare (as only 6 are in the game). Since you lose a portion of your displayed crystals when scoring (as they go back into the general population), gameplay skews as the tendency is to concentrate on more plentiful crystals. And not only are the payoffs identical but the losses of crystals are the same too! If you play it right, even when giving up the more common crystals, you can still have sizeable holdings in that color – and a chance to score again. Lose a handful of the rarities and these losses are much harder to recoup; another reason for the rarities to languish. Fortunately, while this impacts on the game, it doesn’t spoil it and this situation can be easily corrected by adjusting payoffs either through “house rules” or, preferably, by the company issuing a “variant” Popularity Chart either separately or in a second edition.

In Crystal Faire, there is a bit of the abstract hidden in plain sight in its marketplace and display workings. The presence of crystals gives this a magical feel (after all, crystals are often thought of as magical talismans) and, as a result, implies an extension of the magical world introduced in Ars Mysteriorum. But magic doesn’t appear here and, while the game doesn’t have the depth of either Tahuantinsuyu or Ars Mysteriorum, Crystal Faire stands on its own as a shrewd foray into trading laced with calculated risk and tough decision making. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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