The Elusive Cryptids of Cryptid

This week, in board game covers that have nothing to do with the enclosed game, episode #2,401!

There’s an utterly wonderful idea nestled at the heart of Cryptid. For far too long cryptozoology has been dismissed and discredited by more “serious” scientists. But you know something is out there. Yeti, Bigfoot, Nessie, the Pope Lick Monster… something. Problem is, all your buddies from the message board are also on the trail. It’s a race, then, every rival cryptozoologist determined to capture more than grainy footage of obvious rubber-masked imposters. Real proof this time.

As a concept, it’s lovely. Too bad the actual cryptids are as absent as any real-life hunt for Mothman.

"BUY ME!" it bellows to the nerd obsessed with colors and geometry.

The beauty of blocks and hexes.

The first thing that pops is Cryptid’s map. It’s pretty, in that hexes-as-landscape sort of way, with vibrant terrain, animal tracks, and the occasional landmark represented by a wooden triangle or cylinder. Everything is distinct, everything has its proper place. Which is a relief, since those details soon absorb everybody’s attention with all the urgency of an oncoming train.

Much like the terrain itself, your quarry’s position is signaled by interlocking clues. The cryptid is within two spaces of cougar territory; somewhere on or near the desert; the creature lives in swamps or perhaps mountains; within a certain radius of an abandoned shack — hints that, when compiled, reveal the single hectare of land that the elusive creature calls home.

Not unsurprisingly, the difficulty is that every player has only a glimpse of the puzzle. On the harder mode, those clues might even be inverted. Not near bears. Not in forests or water. That sort of thing.

A six-headed, er, -sided, mono-colored HEXSQUATCH.

Searching for a… well, not a cryptid.

From there, the whole game becomes a series of queries, each of which is heavy laden with what it reveals both about the asker and the answerer. Most of the time, the question posed to your fellow cryptozoologists is as simple as pointing at a space on the board — or, if you’re following the rules and inflating the game’s duration, placing a pawn on the table. Is the monster here? If the monster could be there, according to that person’s clue — and their clue alone — they mark it with a disc. Otherwise, they mark it with a cube.

This rhythm of call and response is interesting for a few reasons. Foremost, there’s only one space the monster can inhabit. A block from any player will definitely preclude it, while a disc communicates more about that player’s hint than the monster’s actual location. A winning strategy, then, is about gathering information while trying to leave your rivals in the dark — tricky, given that every tidbit of information is public and recorded in player colors for all to see.

Still, there are ways to mislead. If you aren’t certain whether somebody’s clue has to do with cougar tracks or blue landmarks, carefully selecting which spaces you request information about might indicate to somebody else (with their own personal clue and assumptions about the other players’ clues) that you’re trying to suss out whether it’s marshland or mountain you’re interested in, when in fact you already know it can’t be either of those terrains. It’s subtle, and the cubes and discs on the table ensure that everyone is privy to largely the same information, but it allows for the occasional bluff or leap in deduction.

In fact, at times it’s even a game about information leakage. Whenever you ask a question that prompts a rival to place a block, you’re forced to place a block of your own. The same goes for trying to indicate that one particular space is the cryptid’s home: you place a disc on that space first, and then everybody else either places a disc or a block — and then, if a block is placed (which means you haven’t won the game, since the monster can’t be hiding there), you place one of your own. In essence, it’s a guess that forces you to reveal twice as much information as your rivals, loading every stab at victory loaded with the possibility that you’re revealing enough to let somebody else win before the turn comes back around to you.

we are geniuses

Brute force searching!

If this process sounds heady, it certainly is. It isn’t uncommon for someone to take a long turn, mulling over the intersection of information represented in those cubes and blocks, the terrain, the cougar and bear tracks, the landmarks. To the uninitiated, it appears like quite the sprawl, a pattern no more apparent here than in the nighttime sky. Why is so-and-so searching over there? Why did Geoff ask if I knew anything about that space? Why did it seem like abandoned shacks were important, but now it seems like they aren’t? There are answers out there. It’s up to you to piece them together.

For all its cleverness, however, it isn’t long before the search for the Jersey Devil begins to resemble the hunt for the Shunka Warakin, the Thunderbirds, or the Wampus Cat. If anything, the entire setting is a snipe hunt, a misdirection from the fact that every puzzle, despite being chosen at random from an enormous pool, feels uncannily similar.

It isn’t only that you aren’t looking for anything in particular — though a handful of fluff wouldn’t have gone amiss — but that the deductive process always follows the same arc. Every layout feels the same. Every set of clues prompts the same questions. Every search narrows in the same way. Unlike a deduction game that features a human element, such as the opportunity to lie or deceive or prevaricate, Cryptid suffers from a monastic devotion to the truth. Everything you need to know is gradually writ in the open for all to see, in colored blocks and discs, and never offers any deviation or surprise.

Inversely, it'll make you super pissy when you know where the hex is and the moron right in front of you gets it on a wild guess.

It’ll make you feel brilliant when you identify the correct hex.

Cryptid is unfussy in that regard, but also deeply repetitive. The upside is that it only tends to remain that way when played a number of times in close proximity, only to reappear after a time as fresh as ever — like a cryptid, I might joke, except cryptids appear neither in reality nor in this game.

Still, it manages to produce some pleasantly dense deduction, albeit the sort that only lightly incorporates the ability to mislead your fellows or follow clues in new and interesting ways. As an actual cryptozoologist, it would be smart and pretty, but always somehow loop back to the topic of how the Pukwudgie is a total fraud. Fine for the occasional chat, then — but to share an apartment with? No thanks.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign. I once saw a Chupacabra, and I’ll tell you all about it unless you support my board games criticism.)

A complementary copy was provided.

Posted on October 18, 2018, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Alexandre Limoges

    I think that Cryptid is really meant for the occasional chat, though, and in that regards, is much more pleasant, tense and clever – while still remaining short, accessible and easy to teach – than almost every game that I place in this category.

  2. This seems vaguely reminiscent of the central mechanic from Tobago. Have you played that one? If so, how do they compare?

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