Crystal Code is designed by Grzegorz Rejchtman, the designer of Ubongo. The two games are similar: in both games, players race against time and each other to solve pattern recognition problems for rewards.
What’s most important, both games manage to avoid the most common pitfall of speed games. Often it can be fairly pointless to play these games, as skill dominates over luck and the skill (or natural talent) differences tend to be big — so big that it’s often pointless to play at all. Turbo Taxi is a good example of a game hurt by this.
Fixing the pitfall
Ubongo and Crystal Code do the trick by separating the speed test and the scoring. In Crystal Code, all players who manage to solve the problem (line five pentagons so that matching edges have a total of six symbols of the same kind) win a card and a crystal. The fastest player gets two cards and two crystals. If one player is constantly the fastest, they should win, but basically all players who consistently solve the problems can win.
There’s another bit of uncertainty: the cards and crystals are used to form machines, where power lines must connect to form a closed network. All crystal spots in the machine must be filled with crystals. The largest (most crystals) closed machine wins — so it’s possible that the superb crystal-hoarder fails in the end to close their gigantic machine, and a smaller but closed machine will win.
That’s all good and well, and fairly entertaining as well. However, the game fails at the problems. Their difficulty level (the amount of possible chains to make) varies a lot. Some are very easy (lots of solutions), some are very hard (perhaps just one solution) and some are, unfortunately, impossible. That can be seen as another balancing random factor, but I say it’s too random and in completely wrong place. It’s pretty much a deal-breaker for me.
It’s not the only flaw, though. I found the machine-building kind of neat in theory, but quite bland in practise. The game is promising, but in the end fails to deliver. With the problems fixed (all of them possible to solve, perhaps more balanced difficulty levels), Crystal Code would be a decent game. Not great, but good. Now, there’s no reason to get it, especially as Ubongo outshines it in every way. So, if all this sounds interesting, get Ubongo. Now there’s a good game…