Cryo Review

14 May 2021
It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere…

Honestly, who’d go into space? From Alien to The Expanse, it just seems the kind of place where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Take Tom Jolly and Luke Laurie’s Cryo. There you are, pootling happily along in your interstellar colony ship, when some git messes it all up and you crash into a freezing rock, reduced to desperately ordering drones to move your fellow, cryo-pod-ensconced survivors down into life-sustaining caverns, before the sun sets and everyone freezes to death. 

Thematically, it doesn’t get much grimmer. This isn’t even a cooperative struggle, as you might expect. Instead, it’s every faction for itself, carving out its own little piece of Planet Cryo, and to icy hell with the others. But, while Jolly and Laurie (who previously collaborated on 2016’s The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire) apparently have a dim view of humanity’s future – and who can blame them? – their game is a worker-placing, engine-building joy to play, complete with gorgeous, Moebius-ish visuals from illustrators Bree Lindsoe, Jasmine Radue and Samuel R. Shimota, not to mention some top-drawer components, including its finely sculpted (by Shimota) drone worker pieces. 

The bulk of the game is as you’d expect: players take turns to place workers (or rather, drones) in a limited number of spots on the board, which each yield a small selection of possible actions. Some actions gain you resources (crystals, organics, tech, nanites and energy), others enable you to spend those resources on performing actions, such as freeing crew pods from stasis chambers, drawing and playing cards, launching a crew pod-carrying vehicle into the planet’s relatively cosy depths. But Cryo offers a few pleasing twists to the formula. 

When you return your drones back to your platform (a double-thickness player board with slots for bonus tiles, as well as resource tracks), you firstly trigger an ‘incident’, by which you can either gain a benefit, or sabotage one of the stasis pods. That’s right: you can kill the other players’ colonists (told you it was grim). Secondly, you can return your trio of drones to your choice of six personal platform slots, providing further benefits through a system of your own gradual devising. For example, you might have placed an organics token (gained during a previous turn) in a ‘spend’ slot, and a double crystal token in the ‘gain’ slot beneath it, meaning that when the drone lands there, you can trade one organic for two crystals. This bit of engine-building is secondary to the game’s drone-placement mechanical core, but it makes the recall action, so often a turn-waster in these kinds of games, a valuable and tactical move. 

Then there’s the fun of cave scouting and colonising, which requires vehicles, energy (depending on the distance delved) and crew pods. Vehicles are present on cards, which can each be played in four key ways: as ongoing upgrades, as ‘scrap’ to trade for resources, as secret, bonus-point-scoring missions, and as vehicles, which can store extra crew pods and move those pods to safety – the primary method by which points are earned. The more pods you have in each cavern (with extra points awarded for majority), the more points you earn, easing a bit of area control into proceedings, too. 

It all gels together seamlessly, making this a very worthy entry into the worker-placement category, deservedly rubbing shoulders with the likes of Agricola and Lords of Waterdeep. Just don’t expect it to make you feel good about being a human being… 



A delightfully misanthropic take on interplanetary colonisation, guaranteed to hook fans of the worker-placement genre.


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Cryo not only shares the Stonemaier title’s worker-placement core mechanism, but also its dystopian sci-fi theme. 

Designer: Tom Jolly & Luke Laurie

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Time: 60-90 minutes

Players: 2-4

Ages: 14+

Price: £60

What’s in the box?

  • 1 Game board
  • 4 Platform boards
  • 12 Drones
  • 60 Crew pods
  • 16 Material markers
  • 4 Energy pegs
  • 40 Cards
  • 14 Cavern tiles
  • 60 Resource tiles
  • 12 Damage markers
  • 33 Incident tokens
  • 8 Reference cards
  • 1 Scorepad

This article originally appeared in issue 55 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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