Star Trek: Cryptic
This is a spoiler-free review.
Star Trek has been capturing the imagination of TV viewers for almost 60 years. It’s inserted itself into pop culture, and even more into nerd culture. The original series was a boundary pushing show in its own right, but the introduction of Star Trek: The Next Generation pushed its influence even further. Since then, TV shows and movies have continued to flesh out this futuristic universe.
Star Trek: Cryptic tells a new story in this well-known setting. An interactive story game designed by Prospero Hall and published by Funko Games, Star Trek: Cryptic is best for 1-3 players ready to sit down for an hour or more.
How to Play
Upon opening the box, you’ll be presented with instructions, reminding you that this isn’t a typical board game.
Instead, Star Trek: Cryptic is an interactive story, filled to the brim with puzzles. The logbook will lead you through three missions, each of which takes 60-90 minutes (or more). Step into the role of a Starfleet officer, following them from an early mission as a cadet on the USS Euclid to their later years as captain of the USS Radiant.
Each of the three missions tells a different story, but all three are related, and need to be played in order.
Cryptic tells its story through a combination of your character’s Officer logs, narrative around the puzzles, and the results of the puzzles themselves. Each puzzle awards some amount of “merit”, represented by cardboard coins.
The most common type of puzzle uses the pathways system hinted at in the subtitle of Star Trek: Cryptic – “A Puzzles and Pathways Adventure”.
Pathway puzzles use a clear plastic “pathway screen” and a specific pathway card. Lay the clear plastic over the card and mark your starting point with the included dry-erase marker. Then, remove the screen and draw a safe path from the start to the goal. You have to do this freehand – no tracing! When you’re satisfied with your path, flip the card over and check how you did.
Non-pathway puzzles come in a wide variety, but all of them require you to come up with a word (or short phrase) to answer the puzzle. Answer words are mixed with hints in the back of the logbook. Using a hint will reduce the merits you get for solving the puzzle, of course.
Nothing is timed in this game; take as long as you want to solve the 13-15 puzzles that make up a mission. When you reach the end of a mission chapter, compare your merits to the key and find out how much you’ve advanced in rank!
If you’re a Trekkie, you’ve no doubt imagined yourself on a starship bridge, exploring boldly where no one has gone before. The story in Star Trek: Cryptic does exactly this – it places you in the Star Trek universe. You’ll interact with familiar tropes and a few recognizable characters.
My Favorite Puzzles
Most of the puzzles do a great job at continuing the theme. Every mission has at least one puzzle that uses the tricorder and one that has you rearrange isolinear chips. It’s a little bit cheesy, but it felt right to be using these iconic Star Trek tools in the pursuit of our goals.
There are more pathways in the game than any other kind of puzzle. While this sometimes felt repetitive, the pathways were used in a variety of ways and could reveal unexpected details in the story.
The plastic used for the pathways (and any other puzzle that required drawing) erased cleanly over and over again. We’ve used and erased it at least 25 times now, and it’s still clear and ready to be used again. It’s a small thing, but it meant we never had to pause our mission to clean it.
Not Always Starfleet Quality
Of course, when a designer tries so many different kinds of puzzles, some will fall flat. Every mission contained at least one physical puzzle that required assembling. The story always gave a reason for these puzzles, but they rarely fit the theme.
A few times, the book threw a bunch of information at us with no real direction. Hints were sometimes helpful, but often felt just as obtuse as the puzzle itself. And it was exceptionally frustrating to lose all our merits when we solved every part of a puzzle except unscrambling a made-up Trekkian word.
Families, Couples, or Solo?
There are three Trek fans in our family – me, Andrew, and our youngest son, Elliot. Due to some family scheduling issues, we decided to play the missions in pairs. Andrew and Elliot played the first, Elliot and I played the second, and only the adults played the third.
This was – mostly – the right choice. Each puzzle in a mission has to be fully answered before you can move on to the next, making this a game that’s best experienced solo or in a very small group. Even at two players, puzzle solving often turned into one player doing and one player watching.
Why wasn’t it always the best choice? Because the third mission references the earlier stories heavily and uses some background knowledge – culminating in a puzzle that requires you to look back at nearly every non-pathway puzzle you completed over the course of the game!
We also found that game sessions ran longer than we expected, 90 minutes or more. Thankfully, it’s easy to pause between puzzles to pick the game up again later. Just throw a bookmark in and keep track of your merits.
Make It So
Despite a few shortcomings, all the Trekkies in our family enjoyed Star Trek: Cryptic. Since none of the puzzles are designed to be destroyed, each of us can even go back and try the mission(s) we missed, or share them with a friend. The story combined with the puzzles really makes me feel like I get to step into Starfleet for an hour or so. It’s a perfect gift for a Trekkie, young or old.
If you’re ready to boldly go on new adventures in the Star Trek universe, pick up Star Trek: Cryptic on Amazon, or ask for it at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Star Trek: Cryptic from Funko Games for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Star Trek: Cryptic
Number of Players: 1+ (we say 1 or 2)
Age Range: 10+
Playtime: 60-90 minutes per mission (maybe more)