Since its original release as a print-and-play Crystallo has evolved to become something of a hallmark in terms of how to design an abstract solitaire experience, earning the game multiple awards and accolades along the way. Ever since my review I have been dying to have a chat with designer Liberty Kifer about her thought process and how this little gem of a game came to fruition.
Thank you so much for joining me at the table! Let us start off this interview with a somewhat philosophical question: who is Liberty Kifer?
I’m a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom to 4 bright and wonderful girls (ages 4 months to 14 years currently) and wife of 16 years to the best man on the planet. We live in Montana, out in the woods, and are working on becoming homesteaders to some degree. We have some chickens and a couple of big dogs and will be planting a vegetable garden this spring, which will be a whole new experience! I’m very new to game design and have spent my spare time previously working as a professional photographer and doing a lot of art, crafting, and writing on the side.
Let us talk about Crystallo! I am curious to hear your thoughts as to how this little abstract game came to fruition, what was it that sparked the idea for you to sit down and design a board game?
I actually started working on another (family) game with my girls a couple of years ago, and in the process of working on that I became involved with the BGG community. It was the solo print-n-play contest there that sparked my curiosity about solo games and I decided to see if I could create an entry for the contest. The rest, as they say, is history! 🙂
Did you intend for Crystallo to be a solo game right from the outset or was this a decision that organically evolved as part of playtesting?
Oops, accidentally kinda answered this already :p it was created for the contest specifically as a solo-only game.
For me, a large part that makes Crystallo such a charming solo game experience originates from the lovely illustrations of the fabled creatures and also the fiendish Black Dragon. Did you have this fantasy theme in mind when you began the process of designing the game?
Actually, the very first prototype used a throwaway theme of seeds and seedlings and flowers, but I knew it was a temporary one. I toyed with a few ideas but ultimately loved the aesthetic of glowing crystals in a dark cave, and the creature designs flowed from that… I wanted to make something that would catch my eye and appeal to my girls; they actually each picked one of the creatures for me to include. My oldest requested the SeaHorse (technically a Hippocamp but I didn’t love that name, haha…) and the other two girls requested the Unicorn and the Faerie. The dragon and second phase were added pretty early on to give the game a bit more of a story (every good story needs a villain!)
I am really curious to hear whether or not Crystallo went through any major revisions over the course of designing and subsequently playtesting?
Yes, actually, the treasures and current scoring system weren’t added until after the contest was over. It might seem like a small change but actually made a huge impact. Initially it was challenging bordering on difficult for me to beat the game (free the creatures and trap the dragon) but over a few dozen or a hundred plays, it started to feel too easy for me to win. So I added the element of treasure collecting, and that added objective suddenly meant that while after some practice it isn’t terribly difficult to win, it remains very difficult—even for me— to win with a great or perfect score. I think it’s much more replayable in its current form than it was prior to those changes.
Crystallo is all about making connections between crystals based on not only their colour but also shape. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into balancing a game with that many variables.
It’s funny… I know I did a lot of that, but I can hardly remember how I went about it now. I came across a page of scribbled notes from when I was working out the card math and it was pretty entertaining to find almost a year later. To be honest though, it all happened really quickly thanks to the contest deadline and I’m still kind of astonished that it works as well as it does, because I’m sure I made some mistakes.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to people who dream of taking their first step as a board game designer?
I would say that there are probably a hundred people on the internet right at this moment, on BGG forums or in some facebook group, who would love nothing more than to hear/see your game idea, help you develop it and make it a reality. And that’s just in this given moment! So… whatever stage you’re at, don’t be shy or afraid to reach out for advice. I am amazed at how supportive (and smart) the designer community is. They’re good people. Let them help!
Crystallo has been a phenomenal success, both as a print-and-play and subsequently a full-fledged retail release. When you sat down to design the game did you ever dream that it would go on to become such a fan favourite in the solo board game community?
Oh my. No, not at ALL. I have been surprised and delighted over and over again to see so many people enjoying it. I’m really humbled by that and… I selfishly hope Crystallo will be around a long time. I hope it will continue to find new people that enjoy it and I hope they will continue to share pictures and stories so I can see! It’s really the best part of all of this.
Speaking of design, what can we expect from Liberty Kifer in the board gaming year of 2021?
I really don’t know! I’ve got some things I’d like to work on, but also a lot to keep up with at home currently, so I’ll just have to see what I can get accomplished! I’d really like to do some collaboration at some point, so the next big thing I do may be as part of a team. Then again… solo can be pretty fun, too 😉
I want to thank Liberty for taking the time out of her busy schedule to join me for this interview. If you are interested in learning more about this creative designer and artist I highly recommend visiting Liberty’s web site.