Crystals are all we have. They are the only mystery, that keeps our clans alive in a world, where technology and magic dominates. But they are diminishing and our claims are still the same. And so it had to come to this day. Suddenly all clans claim crystal zones for themselves. Though many of us believe, that we should try to solve our problem differently and stones should remain a common possession, our leaders do not think alike. In the eyes of ordinary people, they will rise, if they fight for independence. And just like that.. we go to war.
Now is the real war of crystals in the board game Crystal Clans was prepared for us by trio of designers Andrea Mezzotero, Colby Dauch (Mice and Mystics, Stuffed Fables) and Arthur J. Ellis, along with illustrations of Martin Abel. And as the second author name suggests, game comes with Plaid Hat Games logo and it was released in 2018. It has arrived to Europe thanks to distribution of Esdevium Games.
On the big square box lid, we see representatives of all six races, who have gathered near one of the stones. And they do not look friendly, so we can quickly slip around them and put the lid aside. At the same time, we will find out cause of the box size – board. This is great, and in fact, it only offers a number of card positions (on battlefield and for drawing decks), three crystal mining locations and initiative scale. The whole plan is placed on the table between the players.
Then both opponents have to choose their race and get corresponding deck with their units (identified by illustrations in the upper-left corner), which are also used as action cards during battles. After shuffling his own deck (placed on its position on the board), each of the opponents draws a starting hand of five cards. In addition, he also puts a reference card for given race in the designated place on the plan. Next to the boarsd, a selection of crystals is created by revealing top three cards from the shuffled stone deck. The initiative is set to neutral (zero), from which the numbers increase to both sides.
Players will be doing turns as usual, but this time not in the sense of simple rotation one and then the other. There is another rule in action for turn change here – its the initiative scale. This is currency, that players pay for activation of their cards or for initially placing them on the table. Calling cost is listed as the number next to the diamond on each card. Player must move marker on initiative track exactly that number of fields toward the opponent. If it moves it from the neutral zone to the opponent’s area, his move ends. However, if the token moves only to the neutral zone or even stays on the player’s side, his turn continues with another action.
He simply has to pay the indicated amount of the initiative and player will have the opportunity to call up the new unit from the hand – up to three cards at once. They create a squad as their cards are stacked in the home zone of the map. It only depends on the player himself, in which order he will place them. While their classic statistics of strength, defense, and activation (above) remain always visible, only the upper unit can use its special ability. On the other hand, its also the first one to get wounds.
Another way to spend points of initiative is to activate unit already on the plan. This will give the player a chance not only to rearrange their order in unit, but also to move them around on the battlefield. If they encounter other units, they must be joined to a common platoon.
Main part of this phase is the attack, if there is also a group of opponents in the same zone. At the beginning, both opponents must play a battle card and evaluate its effect. Then both rivals add attacking strength of units in their platoon. Joint strength must then exceed the defensive ability of the top card in the opponent’s group. This is the only way to defeat this unit.
Instead of both these choices, player can use his turn to score. However, in order to do so, he must have two of the three crystal zones under his control. And this action costs an initiative as usual, but the player gets reward in the form of one of three available crystal cards on offer. He can také his prey.
An important role in the game is also player’s powers (cards). If he ever runs out of them, he can shuffle them and continue playing. However, opponent will get one compensation to score and take one crystal card from the offer. Moreover, enemy can be successfully invaded in his home area. If another player attacks him there, he will be forced to discard some cards from his deck.
Not only do the obtained crystals provide their owners with some advantage for further gameplay, but above all they count for the total number needed to win. As soon as one of the two participants gets the fourth crystal card into his possession, he immediately becomes the winner.
Crystal Clans has a really strong competition as a card duel. There are Mage Wars, but also Summoner Wars from the same publisher (actually CC is spoken as an indirect SW sequel) or Blue Moon Legends. Every game is a true legend. What’s the chance to get on their leve? Small one. And unfortunately it is true. No, do not go away, Crystal Clans are a solid and fun fantasy game, it just does not reach the full potential.
And that’s what really works well. The centerpiece of the game is the scale of the initiative with which players must work to their advantage. Play strong cards that do not cost much and choose tactics right for the moment. But the initiative is such a star, that it may overpower everything else. It is not so much to be seen (in terms of playability) on the game itself and that’s a bit of a shame.
Players have cards in their hands, that are played and combined into platoons. Stacking of cards is another tactical strategy for the game, but it does not have such a decisive effect. Not the defeat of one unit, but the whole platoon means trouble. And here everything returns to the position battle and fighting. Success in them is absolutely vital, because players need to dominate certain positions on the map. And everything is paid for with initiative, so we get back to the scales again.
But the units in hand are determined by chance. And we’ll stay on this topic for a while. Happiness also plays a big role in fighting, where both rivals choose one battle card. They are strong and have the potential to change the outcome of the whole struggle. But there is a problem here, because players suddenly do not feel, they can influence their chances of success much.
Matches are of medium length. Since only two opponents are always involved, the individual turns are rather fast despite some repetitions, and exchange of opponents is dynamic. You will not lose that feeling, but you will still miss a better atmosphere. However, one hour is just right, because the rules themselves are simple and virtually anyone can play this game.
Huge weapon of this game will be the variability. Not only will you be able to build your own clan decks, but you’ll get a whole set of races each with new specializations. And because there are noticeable differences in how to play each of them, it is definitely something to look forward to. In addition, learning their strengths and weaknesses is what will make you entertained for a long time. Therefore, in the first matches, you will not regret acquisition of Crystal Clans. On the contrary, you will be pleased to play again and again.
Graphics are very controversial this time. Drawings with distinctive lines and wild colors do not fit everybody, and this can be another stumbling block. The plan is clear, big enough, quality of the cards is good even though you use them often.
Despite all these downfalls, Crystal Clans remain an excellent card duel game. It’s just that it is really tought in its category, so every little problem gets right up to the surface. A lot of players appreciate the positive removal of the dice, but in one breath, they complain of too much coincidence in another place. Still, the match is interesting and variable enough, so you will not be sorry to buy Crystal Clans. Tactical battles will make you entertained, just Crystal Clans are not a material for top charts.