Cryptid is a deduction game from Osprey Games in which players are Cryptozoologists on the trail of a mythical animal. You each have a small bit of information about where the Cryptid likes to live. Combining these clues will leave only one hex on the board. Whoever identifies that hex first is the winner. During the game you’ll be trying to determine your opponents' clues while giving nothing away about yours.
The game set-up is less complicated than it first appears. There are six equal sized board pieces and a Key tells you where to place them. If you’ve played Codenames, it works a lot like the Key in that game. The coloured shapes on the map are Abandoned Shacks and Standing Stones. An advanced mode adds some black structures for more complex set-ups.
Once set-up is complete the reverse of the card tells you which clue each player is using for this game. There are five clue books, represented by Greek letters. Each player looks up the numbered clue in their book and then you’re ready to start. If you have any new players, I’d recommend they take a quick flip through the rulebook. If they ask any questions about their clue, they risk giving too much away. The clues can reference the five terrain types, structures or animal territories.
Playing the Game
During the game players will place cubes and discs of their colour onto the map. At the start of the game all players place two cubes. A cube indicates the Cryptid could not live in that space and a disc means it could live in that space, and if a player ever places a cube on your turn you will have to place a cube of your own. The placement of cubes is how you control how much information you give the other players. You must always be conscious of how many possible clues you’re ruling out. It’s very hard to place a cube without feeling like you're giving too much away.
On your turn you have two options, Questioning or Searching. You will Question much more often but Searching is how you win the game. Questioning means indicating a space and asking; “Could the Cryptid live in this space?” to one player. If the answer is yes, they place a disc. If the answer is no, they place a cube and then you have to place a cube.
Searching is similar but involves all players. You can only search on a space that is valid for your clue. To start a Search place a disc of your colour on a space. Then going clockwise, each other player will place a cube or a disc. As soon as one player places a cube the search is over. As with Questioning, if another player places a cube, you must now also place a cube. If every player places a disc, congratulations you have won the game.
The game is a competitive puzzle. It’s a race to find out the solution, but a race where your opponents' progress is at best translucent. You can sort of tell how much they know about each clue from where and who they’re questioning. You never know what they’ve figured out and a lot of the time it’s that one bit of extra information that can give you an “aha!” moment that lets you solve the whole thing.
This makes you paranoid and makes each player more likely to search before they are ready to. In a four-player game it doesn't take long to imagine the game will be over before you have another go. This makes you want to jump the gun on Searching. A failed Search is a godsend for the other players, as it reveals a lot of information at once. By trying to prevent the game ending before your next turn you will cause the game to end before your next turn.
If you play cautiously, questioning until you’re certain what each clue is, then you’ll also likely lose the game. These competing urges, trying to get perfect information but also trying to win before anyone else. Make each choice feel increasing weight and importance as you play.
Final Thoughts on Cryptid
From the start Cryptid does a lot to impress. I didn’t realise a game box could feel nice, now I want all my boxes to feel like this one. The game has a vibrant and interesting design that allows you to tell the terrain types apart. The pieces are wooden with standard cubes, the discs are nice and chunky. The big misstep is that two of the player colours are too similar and in low light are very hard to tell apart. If you mistake one of these colours for the other, then the game will be unsolvable.
You can't take your eyes off the game when playing. As any player can Question any other player on their turn you must always stay engaged with the game. Not that you will need any encouragement to pay attention, all cubes and discs are important to every player. Only by constantly evaluating the board state will you solve the puzzle and win the game.
This isn't a game for those who want a lot of theme. I'm glad they went for something unusual, but you never feel like Cryptozoologists. This can be excused because that's not why you play a puzzle, no one has attempted to add theme to a Sudoku.
I do have some concerns about replay-ability, not the amount of content in the box. There is plenty in the box and the website provides more game set-ups (and a two-player mode). Rather I’m concerned that at its heart, each game will feel the same. So it comes down to how much you enjoy puzzle solving.
I’ve had a great time playing Cryptid, and it feels very different from anything else in my collection. I love the moment when you realise you know what most of the clues are. Followed by panic that if you’ve realised it, maybe you aren’t the only one.