What happened in Crystal Palace, stayed in Crystal Palace. (a Mitä Pelataan? review)

You can find this review at BoardGameGeek, if you rather read it from there (Easier to comment and react there!).

Crystal Palace is a game from 2019 by Carsten Lauber, published in English by Feuerland Spiele and Capstone Games. It is for 2-5 players and according to the box plays in 90 to 150 minutes.

In case you need them, the rules for Crystal Palace can be found from Feuerland Spiele’s webpage or by clicking this link.

Let’s do this…

The birds are chirping, sun is gently shining and trees are hastily growing leaves to take all the warmth and carbon dioxide in for betterment of the world. People, in their own way, are trying to make wondrous thingamabobs and inventions for the betterment of the world in another way. They don’t know yet, that the best will be presented at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations destined to take place in two years at the enormous greenhouse in London, still unplanned, undecided and undone –Crystal Palace.

You, the player, represent a nation. Your aim is to stroll around London and recruit the inventors and people of the time best suiting your wishes and needs. You try to patent the most interesting and worthwhile inventions, making them into prototypes later. Your nation is mean though, they’ve given you just a travel money to work with. £40, to last for 5 seasons – £40! Luckily you’re not the only one struggling with the wealth of nations – everyone else are given exactly the same amount of funds! With these funds you have to do research, get stocks, gain energy and gears, wiggle your way into favour at Westminster, gain the best benefits at Black Market, get buzz from the news and advertise your nations’ finest, and eventually pay back the loans you’ve had to take. At the end, there will be a nations who draws the most interest and gains the most from the Great Exhibition – will it be your nation, or your neighbour?

In the beginning of the game the player gets a random nation among ten available. The nation boards are double-sided and thus all combinations are not possible. For example, Great Britain and Italy are on the same board, on opposite sides.  Other combinations are France-USA, West Germany-Spain, Austria-Netherlands, and Switzerland-Japan. Each nation has their own objective, but otherwise the player boards are the same. You also get 4 dice (out of 6), 5 tokens for tracking purposes, 2 buzz tokens for posters and 6 assistants (1 for your objective, 5 for black market) in your own colour and a chest to put the pieces in. You also get your travel money of £40, 1 gear and 1 energy token. You also get 4 income and 5 points to begin the game with. That should be enough to get you through 5 rounds (Spring 1849, Autumn 1849, Spring 1850, Autumn 1850, and Spring 1851) of the game with the best outcome!

There is no game board, but there are 8 numbered locations that are activated in ascending order. These are chosen during setup depending on the player count. There’s also a black market and a board with point, income and buzz tracks. You can basically do the setup of tiles however you wish, but a circle should work well, Zigzagging the boards’ numbers when setting up might be a silly move I assume. The Patent Office (1) will have 4 patents to choose and to make into prototypes later, British Museum (2) has 3 research tiles to choose from to place to your player board, Bank of England (3) provides you with stock, Westminster (4) lets you gain benefits while gaining favour in the track, Reform Club (5) has 4 people waiting to be hired by you (or anybody really), London Times (6) will write news on you, giving you buzz, depending on a round-dependent scale on an evaluation board chosen randomly at the beginning of the game, Port of London (7) lets you get new dice, gears, assistant actions and give a ticket to rid..sail to one of your dice, converting it to points and locking it until end of the game, and finally Waterloo Station (8) gives you energy, income or buzz.

Each of the 5 rounds has 7 phases that are well marked on your player board. The player board (Nation board) is a good source of information during the game otherwise as well as it has the conversion ratios for money and newspapers. Newspapers are tracked on your player board and they are a different type of currency than money and can be traded differently and with more flexibility. Your player board also has 10 slots to place research tiles and loans. Each empty slot is -2 points at the end of the game.

The round begins in the first phase by players choosing the values of their dice. Yes, choosing, not rolling – this is not that kind of a game. You have 4 dice in the beginning of the game, but you can get 2 more during the game up to a maximum of 6. How you choose matters greatly as you have to pay £1 for each pip. Whoever pays the most becomes the first player, whoever pay(s) the least get(s) a newspaper. The playing order is clockwise from the start player. There are posts on Boardgamegeek saying it’s wrong and broken, but I don’t agree with this. What matters the most is how much you pay and what you get with what you pay. The playing order is not always that important, but the order in which you place your dice and into which locations you place them to is way more important than being 4th in order paying 2nd most money. You are welcome to houserule this of course, but you need a way to track the order then which is not worth it in my opinion.

During second phase the players place their dice, one at a time, into an available slot on the 8 location boards. You can choose where you place as long as a) the slot is open, b) the value of your dice is equal or higher than the one shown on the slot, c) if there is a cost on the slot, you pay it. Some slots, generally with a higher required value, show an assistant on top of them. This means you can take an assistant action when placing the die (more on this in a moment). What you need to remember when placing, is that in the next phase the dice are activated in descending order beginning with the die with the highest value. If the value is equal, the die on the left goes first. So, one might tactically save their highest die to see where they can screw the other players the best and get exactly what they want and also blocking low value dice from certain locations. This is of course, if others have lower value dice or are not competing of same locations with high value dice. If you don’t want to place a die, you don’t have to, but you’re out of this phase and cannot place anymore. You might want to do this to avoid paying a cost of placing a die, especially if you wouldn’t get to take the action anyway. In addition, every time you place a die you may move one of your assistant one step down on the Black Market (see next paragraph). If the step where you end up is 2nd or higher, you gain one of the gears available (3 per round).

The Assistant action mentioned earlier means you can either a) advance the assistant on your player board to the next level of your objective if you fulfil it, or b) place or advance an assistant on the Black Market board. When placing an assistant to the Black Market board, you place it to the lowest available slot on the board and pay the cost. When advancing an assistant, you move one of your assistants already on the Black Market board up, to the next available slot and pay the cost. Each step in the Black Market board will give a benefit to the assistant’s owner in phase 6, thus making this board quite important tool for getting certain benefits and items easier and in more ways. If the Black Market board becomes full when you place your assistant there the Police become aware of such activities and clear out all the other assistants except the last one placed, the snitch!

In phase 3 you take the actions on the locations you placed your dice in. As I mentioned earlier, the boards are activated in order from 1 to 8, and dice from highest to lowest, the left one going first in a case of a tie. The location boards have different number of available actions spaces depending on the player count and some provide bonuses and some cost. If the action spaces are full when it’s your turn to place a die, your die is wasted. You do not have to place your die into an action space if it would cost you and you don’t want to pay. Actions are resolved one by one. The actions on boards are:

  1. Choose a patent and put it beside (left) your player board, this does not cost anything.
  2. Choose 1 of the available research tiles and place it on a slot on your player board.
  3. Choose 1 of the available stocks, gain benefits immediately.
  4. Advance your maker one step forward and gain the bonus.
  5. Choose a character and pay their cost. Flip the card and place it beside (right) your player board. Gain points stated on the card depending on the year the game is in. Gain immediate benefits marked with a lightning bolt immediately, other benefits in other phases.
  6. Depending on the round, look below the round marker and evaluate how well you fulfil the goal. Gain the amount of Buzz stated.
  7. Choose one (red background = each can be chosen only once in a round!): Take a new die, pay £2 to take a new die, take 2 gears, take 2 assistant actions (first one free if Black Market), or give your die a ticket and send it away. If you send your die away, slide it down and get the points stated depending on the year the game is in.
  8. Choose one (red background = each can be chosen only once in a round!): Take 2 energy, take 1 energy and execute one effect with a green banner, take 1 energy and 2 buzz, either take 2 buzz or execute one effect with a green banner.

After all locations are done, the play moves to next phase.

In phase 4 you pay the salary of your characters. The Character’s salary is stated at the bottom of the card and is related to your position on the Westminster track. Some characters work for free when you’re far along the track, some require more salary in the same case. Some want the same anyway. It is very, very important to pay attention to the salaries during the previous phases, as if you can’t pay, you have to take a loan. This is probably the place where the mistakes are made and loans have to be taken, so I can explain the loan here. Take £10 and randomly choose one loan tile and place it on your player board where it covers one -2 slot for research tiles. The loan will be -8, -9, or -10 until paid back. When paid back, the tile is flipped and it is -5 (so effectively gives you -3 points in addition to the -2 you covered). Do not, ever, pay loans back until end of the game! This can result in you having to take another loan because of it, just because you had £1 missing for salaries or had only £5 to pay your 6 dice in the beginning of the round (that would be a horrible state!). If you for some reason want to, you can pay a loan back whenever you want. You also activate character banners marked “4” (orange) during this phase.

Phase 5 is where the magi..inventions happen! The patents you have acquired earlier can be converted into prototypes. To do so, pay the cost of the patent and flip the card over and move it to the right side of your player board. Gain the points stated on the card depending on the year the game is in. If you have a connected character in play already (it’s stated on both cards, characters and patents), score 4 points per character. This also works vice versa when hiring characters in phase 3 if you already have the prototype in play. The patent also has an immediate benefit at the bottom of the card that you can choose to either take yourself or give to another player – wait what? Yes, yes, the “benefit” usually has a cost of some kind. If you’re a dic… certain type of a player you can force a player to take a loan right after paying salaries with their last money in the previous phase for example, simply by giving a benefit to them that has a money cost. They have to take it and pay the cost. There are some cards that have only a positive effect, but most have both positive and a negative effect and thus can provide a tool for a mild abuse during the game. You also activate Character banners marked “5” (blue) during this phase.

During phase 6 you gain income, activate all banners marked “6”, and gain bonuses from Buzz track during this phase. You first gain your income depending on where your marker is on the income track (if you’re on red, you lost 1 point). Next you have to pay “special expenses” by dropping your income down 3 steps. If you ‘fall out’ of the track, you have to pay £1 per ‘step’. After that you execute all your green banners from research tiles, black market, characters and possibly the pocket watch (a token gained from certain cards) if you’ve chosen that side. Then you gain bonuses from the Buzz track (when you move along the track, you can choose to leave a marker on two posters when landing on them or passing them, and in every phase 6 you gain the benefit (usually points) from that poster).

Phase 7 is a reset, take your dice back, refill the gears in black market, remove all tiles and cards from locations and place new ones. Cards are not discarded as there is no discard pile, place them under the deck. Move the round tracker forward on the London Times board.

The game ends after 6th phase of round 5 as there is no need to reset. At the end of the game players gain points from all silver stars/medallions (golden were awarded during the game). You get points depending on your relative position on the buzz track, the first one gets 6, second 4, and the third 2. No movement, no points (this is not stated, but I assume). From the Black Market, the first 3 assistants (not players) gain points, 3 for the highest, 2 for the second and 1 for the third, and thus one player can gain points from multiple assistants. From your player board you gain points from the level of the objective you’ve managed to complete during the game, and lastly you sum all the negative points from empty research tile slots and loans (pay them back first, now is the time, here, if not in previous phase!), before doing this however, you can place £10 on a slot to prevent the negative points. Whoever has most points, wins. Unimaginatively, in a case of draw all involved players win – As if that would happen between nations, ever?

That’s the game.

I gave some of my opinions above, but in conclusion the game is a good game. It has a lot to remember during the game and to learn prior to playing. Setup takes a while trying to place the boards in a proper way suiting the table. This is actually a good thing as the play area can be somewhat adjusted according to the shape and size available. There are some rules easily forgotten, like dropping the assistant in the black market, gaining the newspaper for paying the least for your dice, activating the green banner in Black Market when you are allowed to activate a green banner, and adding the £10 to your board at the end of the game as well as possibly some other rules.

The game flows well after getting a hang of it, all the rounds depend on players’ choices during the first phase – who chooses which value dice and what do they want. It is a nice puzzle trying to figure out which spot is the most important to take first and with what die not to lose the choices or action spaces to someone with a higher die. You also need to know a bit the playstyle of others. If there’s a certain type of player I mentioned earlier in the group, make sure you’re prepared. If everyone play nice this game becomes easier and more open. In a highly competitive group of blockers and stabbers it can be a pain not only in a certain place but in many ways.

Now, I generally make decisions on whether or not a game has a space in my collection as my shelves are somewhat full. This game will stay for now. It is not a shelf stable yet, and I am not sure if it will be. It has enough differences to the other games I have and it is in my wheelhouse of games. However, I do not know how replayable it is for me. It has enough variation to grant different experience during every play as all cards do not come into play every time (as I noticed waiting for Mr. Pugin until last round and he did not show up). But does the feel of the game change enough and does it keep me interested? I can’t tell yet. All this is dependent on the group as well as the setup. The possibilities are there, but only time will tell – not even repeated plays, but in this game time. Will this end up on the often and with what frequency? Will it provide something I will seek for in the future?

Is this a game for you? If you read the above and are excited to play, it definitely is for you! If you stopped reading and thought tl;dr, then possibly this game is not for you as it also is long and the explanation of rules, symbols and conditions takes at least as long as it would take to read what I wrote. If you skipped due to the way I write, I’d still take a long thought especially before buying the game – playing it, sure, why not. Just don’t expect the first game to be over in 2 hours with 4 players, or even the 150min the box says. 2 hour playtime is well reachable though I think if players are familiar with the game. As I’ve stated the game flows very well after you get the hang of it, the struggles lie in the decisions and needs of others and coping and reacting to them.

I give this game a solid 8/10 for now, it’ll end up somewhere between 7 and 9, I don’t see it going over or under really.

If you want to look at some pictures from my Instagram, here you go:

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#CrystalPalace by #CarstenLauber / #FeuerlandSpiele & @capstone_games is a game that plays 2-5 players in 90-150 minutes according to the box. . I will add thoughts here a bit later, this is mostly to inform you all that I have made a written #review on the game earlier today! It became a bit long, sorry about it. You can find the review from the latest posts on my blog and from @boardgamegeek ! There's only 2 reviews for this game, mine is the newer. There's a somewhat brand new linktree on my bio you can follow to reach me in various places – check it out! . I'd love some feedback in any way you wish to give it. Thank you, be warned it takes a moment to read the text! 😉. . . #boardgame #boardgames #boardgaming #boardgamer #tabletopgame #tabletopgames #tabletopgaming #tabletop #analoggames #game #games #gamer #boardgamesofinstagram #boardgamegeek #bgg #lautapeli #lautapelit #brettspiel #juegosdemesa #giochidatavolo #보드게임 #ボードゲーム #jeuxdesociete #brädspel #jogosdetabuleiro

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Note: This game was sold to me with a “review discount” by Feuerland Spiele at Spiel19 with no ties attached, besides an honest opinion on the game from my part. Thank you Frank & Inga!

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