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JIM HENSON's acclaimed movie "The DARK CRYSTAL" has finally made it to the games table as a fully-fledged, high-quality board game suitable for fans, families and fantasy-gamers of all ages.

The game, designed by Alessio Cavatore is also known for:  Warmaster with Rick Priestley and Stephan Hess & The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game with Rick Priestley for Games Workshop; Bolt Action with Rick Priestley for Warlord Games; and for the same company as Dark Crystal (River Horse) ; Shuuro  Loka  The Tarot of Loka  Waterloo - Quelle Affaire  Terminator Genisys: The Miniatures Game  &  Jim Henson's Labyrinth: The Board Game.

The Illustrations, which are totally loyal to the original creatures, characters and Jim Henson's 'World' are by Brian Froud (Jim Henson's Workshop and more) & Johnny Fraser-Allen (Artstation). 

The reasoning behind releasing this boardgame in 2017 and ensuring it is still fresh in everyone's minds with reviews (like the one following) is, in my way of thinking, due to the fact that there will soon be a Netflix TV series which is set in the world prior to the tale told in the Dark Crystal 1982 movie. There is also a River Horse game of Jim Henson's 'Labyrinth' (previously mentioned) designed by Alessio Cavatore, the same author as this game, the CEO of River Horse games himself.

Ebay has it listed at around £15.99 while Zatu Games are listing it at £36.83 check out your local games store and see if they have it at a good price. Our view, considering the components is that £16.00 is well cheap whereas around £24.00 is acceptable.

As soon as we had played the game we had to locate and watch the original film again some 36 years after first viewing it. It took me back to the time of the TV show 'Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock' but to be honest the movement and everything about the film, though obviously dated, didn't feel like it was so far away from many of today's animated movies; not as far away as you might expect.

 

I mentioned the components. Sadly I do not have a good enough digital camera or more likely I am not good enough as a photographer to achieve a good likeness of the detail these plastic miniatures possess; they are incredible and anyone who paints figures will enjoy bringing these to life. The miniatures are of Jen, and Kira (with Fizzgig) the Gelfings and the two main Skeksis from the movie: Skeksil the Chamberlain and Skekung the Garthim Master; each of these miniatures has their own character sheet (card) that details the character's abilities.

There are also 4 stand-up cardboard flats for the Garthim, along with 4 plastic slotter bases. There are also three other cardboard stand-ups: Slave Podlings (3 on the piece), Gourmand Skeksis and the Slave-Master Skeksis but for some reason slotter bases are not provided for these; swapping the bases around between cardboard stand-ups is a quick way to damage the pieces so be very careful if you decide to do this. Personally, and agreed upon by all players involved in testing this game for review, we would have preferred that the Garthim and other Stand-Ups were all actually miniatures as well (though it was argued that if they had have been molded figures whether the overall game-play would have been worth the additional cost) or at the very least plastic slotter bases had been provided for all stand-ups.

 

I would have loved to see a miniature of Aughra even though she has little to do in the game itself - the illustration of her on page 8 of the rules just screams 'model figure' (and I don't mean that in a Page 3 sense). At this point I think sculptor Johnny Fraser-Allen of Tabletop Trobadour [sic] should be given the credit he deserves.

None of this makes any difference to the game itself, but aesthetically it would have been more visually splendid - thereagain so would have a pop-up or stand-up (card built slotter pieces) Crystal Castle centrepiece. It is, after all a Family/Gamer's game and looks mean a lot when the game is on display; look at 'Dark Tower' and the more recent 'Yeti' boardgames for examples of appearances helping to make the game more popular.

 

Play begins with the pieces in position as determined by the set up described and visually shown in the rule book. The 'Orerry' begins on '19' but can be moved lower (for a harder chance of winning) or higher for more time to complete your quest. There are other ways to change the difficulty of the game, though of course however you make alterations (if any) you should decide before you start to play.

Designed as a 2-4 player (aged 14+) game it is better as either a 2 player game with each player controlling both characters in one of the sides of the conflict, or a 4 player game with each player taking charge of one of the characters, thus creating two players on each side; 2 x Gelfing and 2 x Skeksis.

 

This is basically a race and survival game with Jen and Kira trying to locate and obtain the Crystal Shard from Aughra's Observatory and taking it to the Crystal Castle to repair and save the dying crystal. The race is not only against the scheming, evil Skeksis who wish to rule the world of Thra, which they will do if the Crystal isn't healed before the three Suns align on the Orerry; this is known as the Great Conjunction and the three Suns are the Dying Sun, Rose Sun and Great Sun - all illustrated on the Orerry wheel and showing through the window as a tiny Purple circle, a larger Orange circle and a much larger Pinkish circle - these are shown aligned when the Orerry number seen through the very small window near its edge is Zero, thus the Gelfings are also racing against time itself.

 

All characters have three Skills; Speed, Wit and Brawn which are used to 'fight' against other characters and more often the minions (mostly Bats and Garthim) of the Skeksis - the fun thing is that Skeksis will fight Skeksis and Garthim will ally with Skeksis depending on whether they began in the same space or arrived with another Skeksis. The Skeksis are not really as evil as they are painted (back again to painting the miniatures, can't get away from it) they are in my viewpoint True Neutral (in D&D™ terminology) as they are driven by self-interest.

 

As a Gelfing player it is better to dodge (by not purposely landing on) the Garthim, as they always fight (Combat of any kind is known as a 'Test') with the 12-sided die using Brawn. The only character that can match them die for die is SkeKung the Garthim Master (he has a D12 in Brawn) Jen has a D4, Kira a D6 and SkekSil a D8 - all dice are colour coded on the Character boards and by the actual die colours. Tests can be against other characters/players, Garthim, Minions or anything described on the World cards.

Players can usually choose to Test by Speed or Wit or Brawn depending on who or what they face as the challenge, with the exception already noted - the Garthim! Garthim always Test using a D12 whereas the other characters; Jen D4, Kira D6, Skeksil D8 and Skekung D12 mostly need assistance or a lucky die roll. Tests require die rolls with the higher result defeating the lower; losing removes a WP from the character, Garthim have only one WP, and losing all WP knocks out the character. Resting is Healing, gaining 1 WP for each Turn rested (not doing anything) though being knocked out; this occurs when you lose all your WP, Gelfings are placed on the Dungeon space of the Crystal Castle. Unconscious Skeksis are removed to the Crystal Castle's Throne Room. If an adversary lands on a resting character either of them can decide to fight or both can decide to rest, a sort of sleeping truce.

A player character taking a Test for any action may, if the Test is failed, spend a WP to roll a D20 and compare that to the die roll/result against them. However if the d20 comes up short then the character will lose 2WP, one for the second die roll and the other for losing the Test.

 

The game is designed to create the atmosphere of Jim Henson's classic movie, and for anyone who has seen that film and/or remembers the story and the characters, then it succeeds well at this. It is also designed and produced to look good, which it does (I have made our thoughts clear on this) and to play quite quickly by keeping everyone as active, involved, and interested as possible. I will state that knowing or having some knowledge of the film gives players a major insight into the story behind the game and brings with it strong mental images of the action, characters, and locations, though it gives no advantage in the actual playing.

Like in the film there is an advantage to the Gelfing players to move around together; Seksis players are not so hospitable towards each other and will always fight each other over being Emporer at any given chance. 

 

This isn't a game of great options or numerous decisions. I might liken it to a 'by the numbers' experience, and can see that core players of today's board games might be expecting too much because of the current style of boardgames. It does have similarities to the 'Move and Do' genre, though the 'special' Moat space (entrance and exit to the Crystal Castle) the race element, and World card actions, expand on that basic premise. Some games based on movies or books hit the nail directly on the head and this is one of them. This is an ideal game for collectors of such game types (those based on previous works on paper or screen), fans of the film, players who have heard of the Dark Crystal, and players who like cooperative family games (or any games) which are light but enthusiastic in gameplay.

The words 'nice' and 'pleasant' have good connotations but are usually taken as one below a slating. DARK CRYSTAL is both a nice and pleasant entertaining game and I use those words here with their true meanings; nice as 'admirable' 'charming' and 'winning' and pleasant as 'delightful' 'engaging' and 'likeable'.

Built from quality materials, designed with an honesty for the original, and produced with much thought for the atmosphere, the DARK CRYSTAL is a class addition to the growing catalogue of games from River Horse.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015