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Subject: Crystal Faire -- Session Report rss

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Greg Schloesser
United States
Jefferson City
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Editor’s Note: My full review of Crystal Faire will appear in the next issue of Counter magazine. What follows is an abbreviated version.

Designer Alan Ernstein caught my attention with his outstanding Tahuantinsuyu, a fabulous entry into the crayon rail game genre. It was one of the best games of 2004, and is still my crayon game of choice. His follow-up was Ars Mysteriorum was yet another fine game. Instead of route-building, Ars was more of a resource collection and set-building game. I also discovered one of his earlier releases – Junkyard – which provided an interesting twist on the trick-building concept. I was eager to see what would be at the heart of Alan’s 2006 release, Crystal Faire.

This time around, the central mechanisms are trading and, to a lesser extent, bluffing. Players conduct a series of trades wherein they attempt to gather majorities in various types of gems, and manipulate the prices of those gems in order to reap the greatest rewards. Victory goes to the player amassing the greatest wealth after three rounds of trading, price manipulation and gem shows.

Each round consists of a series of trades, price adjustments and payoffs. After three rounds, the player with the most money is victorious.

My first playing of Crystal Faire left me slightly intrigued. I seemed to be on the cusp of understanding how one could properly manipulate the trading and value adjustments to control their fate. I convinced myself that there was a level of strategy remaining unrevealed just below the surface, and that further playings would bring this to the surface and give me a better understanding and appreciation of the game.

Sadly, I must say that this has not occurred. The game feels way too forced and random. While the offering mechanism is interesting, the fact that the rules force players to make offers usually means that they are constantly forced to trade gems they had hoped to maintain. This can be extremely frustrating, and caused numerous players with whom I played to grow quite agitated. That usually isn’t a good thing to have occur in a game. My enjoyment of the game wasn’t that terrific after my first play, and it plummeted from there.

The designer insists that bluffing is truly at the game’s center, but I just don’t see it. Its only true presence appears in the Payoff round, wherein players can attempt to hold back a bit, conserving some of their gems for future rounds. This may lead opponents to believe that the player may not have as many gems of a particular type as they may have thought. The danger here is that the value of a gem may fall in future rounds, and more disastrously, the game may end prematurely if the gem supply depletes completely. I just don’t see how bluffing is the game’s major mechanism. Rather, it seems obvious that the trading element reigns supreme.

It is with great sadness that I must give Crystal Faire a thumbs-down. I have thoroughly enjoyed the designer’s previous two releases, and had high hopes for this title. Making this assessment even more difficult is that Alan is a wonderfully nice guy whose company I enjoy. Be that as it may, however, the game just isn’t for me. It hasn’t received a good reception with the folks with whom I’ve played, and I don’t see any prospects for that changing. If there is a hidden level of strategy or understanding just below the surface, I simply haven’t grasped it.

Jim, Rhonda, Gail, Alison and I made offer-after-offer, hoping to garner majorities of specific gems and increase their value. Sadly, being forced to constantly trade gems you desired to keep grated on the nerves of several players. Alison – who normally enjoys just about any game and rarely makes an outburst – was quite vocal in her dislike for the game. In spite of her reaction, she played through to the end. Gail proved the most astute gem collector.

Finals: Gail 76, Jim 70, Rhonda 48, Greg 44, Alison 32

Ratings: Gail 5, Jim 5, Rhonda 4, Greg 4, Alison 3

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