Tierra del Fuego Games takes us back to the year 1851 at the world exhibition in London. This was the first industrial exhibition that took place in Hyde Park on an area of 10,5 hectares (= 105.000 m2) took place. In 1851 28 countries and 17.062 exhibitors took part. Goods and handicrafts of all kinds, machines and production methods and even natural resources and fine arts were presented. Our author Nicole took a look at Crystal Palace and reveals in her board game review why this dice placement title is refreshingly different despite the nostalgia factor.
The game "Crystal Palace" is for two to five players, ages 14 and up. The players take on the roles of representatives of the individual countries. The task of these is to prepare the exhibition and to beat the drum for it, to ally with influential people and to be able to show the most spectacular inventions at the end. Who will end up harvesting the most rum at the exhibition?
Play on an impressive game display
In Crystal Palace we play on eight different maps. There is the Patent Office where we can buy patents, the British Museum where we get the latest research results, the Bank of England where we can buy shares. We can gain influence at Westminster, and we can attract influential people to the Reform Club. The London Times here we can advertise our part of the world exhibition, in the Port of London we receive resources and can recruit workers (cubes) and in Waterloo Station we can get supplies of energy and advertise the rapid dissemination.
Then there are the panels of the Black Market and the administration panel. The Black Market helps the players to get resources (cogwheels), energy, money, newspapers, influence in Westminster or advance on the administration board. On the administration board there is the income track, which determines the round income of the players, the puzzle list, which records your progress in the promotions, and the victory point track is placed on the outside of the administration board.
So we need a large table to accommodate the diverse tableaus. The game material is very valuable and there is immediately a great atmosphere at the game table. You can easily find your way into the scenery.
Interesting game mechanism: tension is guaranteed
The game mechanism with the dice is interesting. These are not thrown to determine the numerical values. Everyone turns the dice on the side they want. This is done hidden behind a small box. When all players have decided, the dice are turned over. Now each player has to pay money equal to the amount of the dice. So if you turn the dice up, you need more money.
In this game, money is a resource that is very scarce and it is often very time-consuming to get new money. It is very exciting every round which dice values the other players decide on. The player with the highest total becomes the starting player. The player with the lowest total gets a newspaper for free. Newspapers can be used to exchange. For example, you get 1 pound note for a newspaper or an additional die for four newspapers. At the beginning of the game you have 4 dice available and you can receive two additional dice during the game.
The first game of Crystal Palace with four players took a long time for us. Even the standard course took up almost an hour. But the effort is worth it. There are many options for action and strategies that one can choose. The game remains exciting all the time and you can even use the waiting times to plan your next move so that you never get bored. Even if you can't always assess what your fellow players are up to next.
If the starting player is determined, he begins to place one of his dice on the tableaus and the other players follow in clockwise order. The spaces per tableau are limited and not every die that is placed can later carry out an action. The player whose die is furthest to the left on a tableau may first choose an action on the tableau and move the die accordingly. The places further to the left therefore require higher numbers.
There is one more important feature on the Black Market. If all the places here are occupied by the assistants, the bobbies come and blow up the Black Market. This means that all players get their assistants back with the exception of the player who used the last assistant. A wonderful opportunity to annoy other players. If you voluntarily pull an assistant down one level on the Black Market, the player concerned receives a gear. However, this only applies to the levels that are displayed in the yellow banner.
There is also an important feature on the administration board. On the right side of the tableau is the income scale. Here, in phase 6, after receiving their income, the players have to move their marker 3 spaces down. So you strive to get back up on this bar throughout the game, otherwise your income will shrink to zero. You even have to give up victory points or pay money on the lower fields of the income track.
Well balanced gameplay
The great thing is that everything works and meshes wonderfully in this game. All mechanisms play well and are balanced. The actions on the tableaus are shown in easy-to-understand graphics, and all costs and functions are clearly shown on the cards. Despite the complexity, you can find your way around quickly and usually don't have to read too much once you have familiarized yourself with the symbols.
The victory points on the patent card also depend on the round in which you build the prototype. This brings excitement into the game - because when you buy the card you often cannot estimate when you will have the resources you need to build the prototype. When purchasing person cards, it is important to ensure that the people have salary requirements for each round that the player must meet. The amount of the salary requirement, in turn, depends on the position of the pawn on the bar in Westminster.
Number of players: 5 players
Age: from 14 years
Playing time: 60-150 minutes
Long-term motivation: good
Author: Carsten Lauber
Illustrator: Andrea Alemano
Year of publication: 2019
Cost: 40 euros
Carsten Lauber's dice placement board game is first of all captivating with its theme. Using the world exhibition as a setting for a game is not new, but it works and attracts with nostalgic charm. Lauber's trick of eliminating the luck dependency in the dice placement system as far as possible is by no means old-fashioned. The highlight: At Crystal Palace, dice are not thrown - instead, players simply choose the numbers. In order to keep the playful equilibrium, the difference in the numbers must be weighed in money; But because resources are always scarce, the decision has to be made wisely. It doesn't feel arbitrary in the episode.
However, there is no frustration due to the scarcity of resources. The reason for this is as simple as it is functional: players at Crystal Palace can refill their cash reserves with loans at any time. This creates debts, but also sufficient options for action. As always with such games, what is rewarded in the short term is penalized in the end. The fight for points is always a game against minus points in the shortage game à la Crystal Palace.
Optimization can and must be done in many areas, and there are also decisions with consequences, because as a player you can never implement everything. It's fun and highly interactive. In any case, interaction is very important at Crystal Palace, which is not a matter of course with a dice placement board game. A number of genre representatives rely on concepts in which players act side by side, occasionally getting in each other's way, but which is hardly relevant. Not so with Carsten Lauber's implementation, which is playfully rounded and visually all of a piece.
There is a lot to consider and take into account in Crystal Palace in order to do everything as good as possible. It is very easy to overlook something that then turns out to be a disadvantage. And the teammates can always thwart your plans. The tension remains constant until the end. A great and complex work by the author Carsten Lauber, who has only published a few games so far.