Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done
- Designer: Seth Jaffee
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: about an hour
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Tasty Minstrel Games
Crusaders is a game where players vie to have the most powerful religious Order (think the Knights Templar for instance) by moving your forces around Europe, building buildings, winning battles and increasing the overall influence of your order. The designer is clear to say that this game is not meant to be historically accurate nor a history lesson. I know that religious wars are probably not the “safest” sort of theme in these politically correct times, but I think that Mr. Jaffee makes it clear that this game is not about the actual Crusades but rather the struggle between different Orders.
Each player starts the game with their own player board. One player randomly sets up his action wheel with the 6 starting wedge sides (Travel, Travel, Muster, Influence, Build, Crusade), and then all other players copy this arrangement. Two action tokens start the game on each of these six tiles. Each player takes their four types of buildings and places four of each on the appointed spaces on their board. 5 Troop tokens are placed near the top. Finally, each player is dealt two knight order cards; one of which is chosen for this game. There may be special rules that affect setup – deal with those now.
The board should also be set up now. The player’s knights are placed in reverse player order on the starting spaces. Enemies are distributed to each space with an enemy icon on them (randomly chosen from a pool of Saracens, Prussians and Slavs). Additionally, Building bonus tiles are distributed to the spaces that want them. Finally, a pool of influence tokens is drawn up – the number of points based on the number of players.
On a turn, a player chooses from one of two options: Resolve an action OR Upgrade a wedge. There are actually three choices, but the rules state that this third option is exceedingly rare – you can skip your turn and distribute action tokens from any wedge.
If you choose to upgrade a wedge, you simply choose a basic action wedge, remove the action tokens from it and flip that wedge over. The upgraded side shows two actions on it now. The additional action on the upgraded side can be seen at the bottom of the basic side. Then replace the action tokens on the newly flipped wedge piece. Finally, you MAY choose any one of your wedges and distribute the tokens in the usual clockwise manner – note that this does not have to be the wedge that you just upgraded.
If you choose to resolve an Action, choose one of the wedges on your wheel to activate. Then, count the number of action tokens currently on that wedge – this sets the base value for your action. Also, examine your board to look for any other bonuses that might be granted from buildings or troops that could increase the value of your action. If you have chosen a basic tile, all that value is put towards the one action on it. If you have an upgraded tile, there will be two actions on it. You must assign the points between the actions (and you can assign zero points to one of them) – and then you execute the two actions in the order that pleases you. Then, when the action(s) is complete, you take all of the tokens that were on that space and distribute them clockwise, dropping one token off in each wedge as you go around the wheel. The five actions are:
Travel – it costs two points for a Knight token to leave a hex with an enemy counter in it, it costs one point to leave all other regions
Muster – Flip the lower level face down troop token. The cost is seen at the bottom of that tile. You must have at least that many action points assigned to the Muster action to flip it over. You collect influence points equal to the level of the unit flipped over.
Build – Choose the lowest level building from the four types on your board. The cost to build them is printed on the board. Buildings must go in hexes without enemy tokens in them, and there can only be one building per hex. Buildings must be built in a hex with one of your Knight tokens in it. Collect influence tokens equal to the level of the building. Look at the board to see what ongoing bonuses this building gives you. All building bonuses are cumulative.
Crusade – choose a region that has one of your Knight tokens together with an enemy token. You must have at least as many action points assigned to Crusading as the strength of the opponent (see the track on the board to determine the strength). If you defeat a Prussian or Slav, you get influence equal to their strength. If you defeat a Saracen, you can build a building (or flip a troop) matching the icon on the Saracen token in that space and then gain influence based on what you placed. In either case, keep the enemy token for end game bonuses.
Influence – Collect influence equal to the number of action points you assigned
The game continues until the pile of influence tokens set out at the beginning of the game is exhausted. Players continue playing the current round until all players have had the same number of turns. There are extra Influence tokens in the box, use these to make sure that everyone gets the Influence points that they have earned. Then, bonuses (5pt/2pt) are given to the player with the most and second most number of enemies defeated of each of the three types. Finally, each level 4 building built gives its own bonus. The player with the most Influence points wins.
My thoughts on the game
Crusaders provides the gamer with an interesting melding of a rondel for action selection as well as the mancala mechanism for moving the action tokens around. While everyone starts the game with an identical rondel, the players actions – both general action selection as well as which buildings are built – quickly cause each player to have their own unique setup. Now that I think of it, it’s really more of an engine building feel than anything else because as you play, you are customizing your action wheel to do the things you want to do most.
One of the big decisions in the game is trying to figure out when to upgrade your wedge pieces. If you do it early, you’ll get the most number of chances to take advantage of the upgrade – but there is plenty of opportunity cost in this as the initial building sites have the best discounts and the first enemies to be defeated have the lowest defense values.
One thing that I really liked about this game (as opposed to some others with the Mancala mechanism – Trajan for example) is that Crusaders bases the action on the wedge where you pick up the tokens NOT the final wedge where you deliver tokens. This change makes it much easier to plan what you’re going to do on your turn as you don’t have to count out each wedge to see what it will let you do.
Also, as most of the interaction in the game is indirect – i.e. competition for spaces on the board – whether for enemy tokens or building sites – you can generally plan most of your turn in the downtime between your turns. Sure, someone might move into your hex and snake your building site… or someone might defeat a Slav that you weren’t expecting, and now you have to find one more point of Crusade power to now beat your own Slav opponent; but for the most part, you’re in your little mancala sandbox planning away. I like this sort of indirect interaction, and the game appeals to me because of it.
In general, there appears to be a decent amount of change in the setup – based on the random arrangement of wedge pieces as well as the unique special action of each of the ten Knight Orders – to ensure that most games will play differently. If you really don’t like possibly asymmetric games, you can just leave out the Knight Orders and have each player start with a truly identical setup.
I have yet to play with all of the different Knight Orders personally, but I think I have seen them all in play at least once by an opponent – I did not find that any of them had a particularly advantageous special rule or setup condition. Nor have I tried the variant where each player can randomize their rondel individually at the start of the game, but the rules suggest that this could lead to imbalanced games for sure.
The components are nice, especially the wooden horses. I do wish that the buildings maybe were a bit more distinctive, as newbies often mistake the two similar shaped ones. The rules seem to be laid out OK, but I would have liked them to be a bit more precise in a few places. Things such as whether Knights can move into spaces with other knights, or whether opponent Knights are considered enemies are not specifically clear. Nor are the ways in which the bonus token abilities could be used. Or whether or not you get scoring bonuses when you place a building as opposed to building it (or flipping over a troop tile). Or if you play the Order which gets the extra black Knight – the rules tell you to put it in your starting space, but never overtly tell you that you control it and it acts like any other knights. Sure, many of these things are implied – but a few extra words in the rules would save a lot of heartache.
There are a lot of other things that could have been more clear; at the time of this review, there are a lot of different rules questions threads on BGG – and, TMG/Seth have done a really good job at answering the questions – but man, there’s a lot of errata to the printed rules. In my opinion, it would have been nice for those things to have been caught earlier. Yes, I realize that some/many of the threads are things actually covered in the rules, but there are many rulings/clarifications from the designer made in the forums as well.
The game straddles an interesting middle ground for me – it is perhaps a little too complex for a gateway game – though I have used it fairly well with gaming newbies… – but it is also maybe not chewy enough for my regular game group. However, this has now made it to the table four times this month, so I’m clearly interested in continuing to explore the game. I’m still not sure if it will find a permanent home in the game collection, but the fact that it is still on my “want to play” list points it in that direction.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Alan H
- Neutral. James Nathan, John P
- Not for me…