Get Your Crewmembers to Safety Before the Planet Freezes Over in ‘Cryo’

Gaming GeekDad Approved Reviews Tabletop Games

Someone has sabotaged your colony starship! You crash land on a frozen, uncharted planet, your ship breaking apart. At night, anyone left on the surface will freeze to death. Your one hope is to get your crewmembers down into the warm, subterranean caverns before the sun goes down.

What Is Cryo?

Cryo is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 60-90 minutes to play. The gametime is pretty accurate once you know the rules, and the 14+ rating is based on complexity, not content. There is also an unofficial solo mode currently being developed by co-designer Luke Laurie.

Cryo was designed by Tom Jolly and Luke Laurie, and published by Z-Man Games, with illustrations by Bree Lindsoe, Jasmine Radue, and Samuel R. Shimota, and sculpting by Samuel R. Shimota. It retails for $59.99 and can be purchased on Amazon or directly from the Z-Man Games webstore.

What’s in the Cryo box. Image by Paul Benson.

Cryo Components

This is what comes in the box:

  • Game Board
  • 4 Platforms
  • 12 Drones
  • 60 Crew Pods
  • 16 Material Markers
  • 4 Energy Pegs
  • 40 Cards
  • 14 Cavern Tiles
  • 12 Damage Markers
  • 60 Resource Tiles
  • 33 Incident Tokens
  • 8 Reference Cards
  • 1 Scorepad

First off, let me just say kudos to the art design team for Cryo. Stepping away from your generic “space adventure” style artwork, the art for Cryo evokes the great French comic book artist Moebius. When I showed the components off to a friend of mine who isn’t a board gamer, she fell in love with the color choices and the components. This is a game that has great table appeal.

The game board. Image by Paul Benson.

The board is well laid out, with evocative artwork of the ice planet in the background that doesn’t distract from the gameplay layout. The crashed ship has broken into four different pieces, and those are clearly shown at the top of the board. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the board are the subterranean caverns that you can explore and settle. At the very top right of the board is the Incident track, which also acts as a countdown timer for the game.

One of the Platforms. Image by Paul Benson.

Each player receives a Platform. These are dual-layered cardboard in individual player colors which function as the player board. There are spaces to drop in Material Markers, Resource Tiles, Drones, and Crew Pods. There are also three slots at both the top and the bottom to indicate the three cards that you can add to each area. Similarly, there are three dots on the left side of the Platform to indicate that you can play a maximum of three cards there, as well.

Drones and Crew Pods. Image by Paul Benson.

The Drones and Crew Pods are nicely sculpted, and come in colors matching the four Platforms. They fit right into the cut out spaces on the Platforms, and on the clearly marked areas on the Game Board. With these, as with their matching Platforms, the designers have eschewed the bright primary colors traditional to board games and gone for a more pastel feel.

Similarly, they could have just used regular colored cubes for the Material Markers and called it a day. Instead, they chose translucent cubes, and cubes with swirls of color or embedded glitter to enhance the feel of the alien planet.

Material Markers. Image by Paul Benson.

There are various Resource Tiles that can be collected from three of the different areas of the ship. These tiles can be slotted into your Platform, or traded in immediately for the pictured resources. Their borders match the part of the ship where they can be found, and clearly show the resources as indicated next to each of the Material Tracks on the Platforms.

Some of the 60 Resource Tiles from the game. Image by Paul Benson.

Also worth noting is the inclusion of a Scorepad. While players can always use scratch paper, it’s appreciated to have a pad provided. Additionally, it has sections for all the different possible ways to earn victory points, serving as a good reminder when calculating your scores.

The included scorepad. Image by Paul Benson.

Finally there are the cards. There are only 8 different types of cards, that comprise a deck of 40. But each card can be used in 4 different ways. If you play one to the top of your Platform, you gain the special ability Upgrade printed at the top of the card for the rest of the game. Played to the bottom of your Platform, you gain a Vehicle with 2-4 spaces for Crew Pods, which you’ll use to relocate your crew into the caverns. And if you play a card facedown to the left side of your Platform, you will gain victory points at the end of the game depending on what the Mission on the left side of the card states. And finally, you always have the option to scrap the card from your hand, discarding it to gain the resources shown on the card.

The eight different vehicle cards in the game. Image by Paul Benson.

How to Play Cryo

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

Rescue as many of your stranded crew as you can and relocate them to the subterranean caverns before the sun sets.

The setup for a 4-player game. Image by Paul Benson.

Setup

Put the Game Board in the center of the table. Each player chooses a Platform, and places the 3 Drones of the matching color into the 3 leftmost docks on the Platform. Take one of each of the Material Markers and place them in the “1” space of the corresponding tracks, except for the Nanite marker which is placed in the “0” space. Place the yellow Energy Peg into the “1” space of the Energy Track.

The blue player’s Platform setup for the start of the game. Image by Paul Benson.

After randomly determining the first player, the second player will move their Crystals marker up one space, the third player will move their Crystals and Tech markers up one space, and the fourth player will move their Crystals, Tech, and Organics markers up one space.

Gather all the Crew Pods matching the colors of the players in the game. Place 1 of each color in each Stasis Chamber on the board, with 2 of each color in the large Stasis Chambers on the right side of the board.

On each resource space on the board, place a facedown stack of Resource Tiles matching the color of the space, and the of a number equal to the number of players in the game. Flip the top tile of each stack faceup.

A Damage Marker. Image by Paul Benson.

Draw a number of Damage Markers facedown according to the number of players, and place them into the lettered dock space on the Game Board that matches. Shuffle the Cavern Tiles facedown, then place one on each of the cavern spaces on the Game Board. Only place on the “3+” and “4” spaces if you are playing with that many players. Flip the two leftmost Cavern Tiles faceup.

Some of the Early and Late Incident Tokens. Image by Paul Benson.

Separate the Incident Tokens into Early and Late, and shuffle them facedown. Place one faceup Early Incident Token onto each of the 4 Incident spaces on the Game Board. Then, place facedown stacks matching the number of players onto each space on the Incident Track. On the final space, place a stack of Late Incident Tokens on top of the Sunset Token.

The Sunset Token. Image by Paul Benson.

Shuffle all the cards together to create the deck. Each player is dealt 5 cards, and then they choose 3 cards to keep, discarding the other 2 faceup into the discard pile.

Return any unused components to the box, and you’re ready to start the game.

The Game Board, set up for the start of a 4-player game. Image by Paul Benson.

Gameplay

Players take turns in clockwise order. On their turn, players will take one of two actions: Deploy a Drone, or Recall all Drones.

Deploy

Take one of the Drones on your Platform and place it onto an open Dock space on the player board. A Dock is open if there are no other Drones or Damage Tokens on the space. You then take 1 of the actions adjacent to that Dock. The number of dots at the top of an action tells you how many times you can take that particular action on a turn.

Player Drones docked at various ship locations. Image by Paul Benson.

Actions

  • Stasis Control – spend up to 3 Organics to take an equal number of Crew Pods of your color from any Stasis Chambers in that ship section, and place them on open spaces on your platform.
  • Resource Space – Take the top Resource Tile and either return it to the box to immediately gain the resources shown, or place it onto an empty slot on your Platform for taking Recall actions.
  • Reactor – Spend up to 3 Crystals to gain an equal amount of Energy.
  • Fabricator – Spend up to 3 of any Material to gain 3 Nanites.
  • Computer – Spend up to 3 Tech. For each one spent, either draw a card or play a card.
  • Scout – Spend 1 Nanite and 1 Energy to choose 1 facedown Cavern Tile adjacent to any other faceup Cavern Tile and flip that tile faceup. Place 1 Crew Pod from your Platform into that Cavern.
  • Assign to Salvage – Take 1 Crew Pod from your Platform and assign it to an open Salvage space. During the Recall turn you will gain materials shown.
  • Withdraw from Salvage – Take up to 3 of your Crew Pods in Salvage spaces and move them onto your Platform.
The Launch dock connects to the caverns. Image by Paul Benson.
  • Launch – This dock, connected to the caverns, is the only dock that can be shared by any number of Drones. To Launch, choose a Vehicle from your Platform with at least one Crew Pod on it. Determine the faceup Cavern Tile that you’d like to reach, and pay the amount of energy shown along the path you would take to reach that cavern. You would then pay the settlement cost in Materials shown on that tile to place your Crew Pods there. If you pass through more than one Cavern Tile, you can choose to split the Crew Pods on your Vehicle between the caverns, but you must pay the settlement cost for all the caverns in which you place Crew Pods. Finally, discard the Vehicle card.
Returning Drones to the Platform on a Recall turn. Image by Paul Benson.

Recall

When you take a Recall turn, you take the following steps in order:

  1. Recover Salvage – If you have any Crew Pods in Salvage spaces, you gain the resource(s) shown.
  2. Resolve Incident – Choose an Incident Token at one of the four sections of the ship to resolve. If it shows a resource, gain that resource immediately and keep the token next to your Platform. If it shows an explosion, then you would Sabotage the lowest-numbered Stasis Chamber in that section of the ship. Place that Incident Token in the Stasis Chamber, removing any Crew Pods in that chamber from the game. Finally, draw the top Incident Token from the leftmost stack on the Incident Track, and place it faceup in the space where you resolved the token this turn.
  3. Return Drones – One at a time, remove a Drone from the Game Board and place it into any open dock on your Platform. You will gain resources or be able to take actions depending on which Dock spaces you have placed resource tokens. If a token shows two resources with a line in between them, then you choose between the two resources. Many of the actions you can take at your docks have a cost, as indicated  by an arrow between the Resource Token and the action. For example, in the picture above, placing a Drone in the 3rd dock from the left would give you an Energy if you pay 1 Crystal.

Once at any time during your turn, you may also choose a card from your hand or a Resource Token from your Platform and scrap it, discarding it to immediately gain that resource. Note: you may not scrap cards that have been played to your Platform.

Game End

The game ends in one of two ways:

  • A player resolves the Sunset Token. That player finishes their Recall turn, and then the game immediately ends.
  • Any player has placed all of their Crew Pods into caverns(or they’re destroyed). The game immediately ends.

Scoring

Each player scores for the following victory points:

  • 2 VP for each of your Crew Pods in caverns.
  • 1 VP for each Upgrade or Vehicle on your Platform.
  • 1 VP for each Crew Pod on your Platform or Vehicles.
  • VP dependent on the wording of any Mission cards you have played.
  • VP for each cavern in which you have the most or second-most Crew Pods, as indicated on the Cavern Tiles.

GeekDad Approved 2021

Cryo is GeekDad Approved!

Why You Should Play Cryo

In January, I reviewed Whistle Mountain, a game by Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie, and that game earned the GeekDad Approved label. Last month, I reviewed Dwellings of Eldervale, a game solely by Luke Laurie, which was so good that it also received a GeekDad Approved nod. And now we have Cryo, a game designed by Tom Jolly and Luke Laurie, which is another great game deserving of being GeekDad Approved. It seems that a certain designer might be on a roll!

All three of those games are worker placement games, and they all share a bit of common DNA. For example, in both Dwellings of Eldervale and Cryo, you can customize the types of actions that you can take when you recall your workers back to your player board. But they also differ enough that they all scratch different strategic itches.

With Cryo, you have a lot of tactical choices to make. You must choose which Resource Tokens you want to place on your Platform for use during the Recall turn, and grab them before one of your opponents can. You need to decide how to employ the multi-use cards in your hand. You must figure out when to rescue your Crew Pods from the Stasis Chambers, and when to put them on Vehicles and send them to the caverns. Meanwhile, you have the ticking clock of the Incident track, and the very real threat of losing some of your Crew Pods (and the accompanying victory points) when one of your opponents sabotages a Stasis Chamber.

One of the things that makes this puzzle so delicious is that each game will be set up slightly differently. You’ll have different docks out of commission every game thanks to the random distribution of Damage Markers, making some of the other docks even more in demand. Similarly, you don’t know what caverns you’ll find during exploration until you flip over their Cavern Tiles.

The cards you are dealt can also have a major impact. In the first few games I played, I was never dealt a Spider card. That card, if played as an Upgrade, would have helped protect Crew Pods in Stasis Chambers that were sabotaged, which would have been especially handy in one of my matches (I’m looking at you, Dave). On the other hand, in another game I used a Ram to good effect. Its Upgrade ability allowed me to place my Drones on damaged docks, effectively circumventing some other players’ drones that were otherwise blocking actions I wanted to take.

Playing a 4-player game of Cryo on Tabletopia. Image by Paul Benson.

This is a game that demands repeat plays. Not that all of us didn’t have fun during our initial games! Rather, there’s a lot going on choice-wise, so effective strategies don’t always present themselves immediately. This was certainly evident in my very first playthrough, where the scores were quite disparate. However, in the final 3-player match I played before writing this review, the game was extremely tight: 42 to 44 to 45. We all had a much stronger grasp of the mechanics, but still felt that there were unplumbed depths to the game to explore.

Perhaps the best endorsement for Cryo comes not directly from me, but from some of my friends. I first played Cryo with my friend Chris and a couple of others on a Sunday night on the game’s official mod on Tabletopia. Soon after, Chris introduced the game to his brother Dave via the same platform. When I played Cryo with the two brothers on Tabletopia that following Thursday, not only had the two of them gotten a few 2-player games under their belts, but Dave showed off his physical copy of the game, which he had ordered immediately after playing the first time with Chris.

Cryo blends excellent production design with winning game mechanics. The theme is organically woven with the gameplay, and provides a great ticking time clock for the game as you race to get your crewmembers to safety before sunset freezes over the surface of the planet. Most significantly, everyone I’ve played with so far, no matter how well they did, have wanted to play more games of Cryo. After completing a match, you’ll find yourself replaying your strategic choices, already planning for your next game.

For more information on Cryo, head over to the Z-Man Games website.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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