PLAYlist 35: Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done

Feb 26, 2019 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share


Who’s up for a one-hour, highly thematic strategy game with beautiful components and which scales equally well with two, three, or four players? Thought so. Have at you!

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done is inspired by the Crusades, but not based upon them. In a nice preface to the game’s manual, designer Seth Jaffee acknowledges how the Crusades were one of many truly awful periods in human history, and that his game makes no pretense towards historical accuracy. It’s a nice bit of candor in a hobby which regularly uses unconformable historic settings without so much as conceding that, say, building a worker placement game within a colonial setting is incredibly tasteless. Rather than focus on the rampant murder which was carried out in the name of religion on both sides of the Crusades, Jaffee instead explores the rising influence of the Knight Orders, such as the Templar, who at the time spread their economic and militaristic infrastructure across Europe at such a rapid pace that their powers eventually rivaled those of a king.

While Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done may look like a wargame, outside of blocking your opponents from building in a desired spot, there’s very little conflict between players. Instead, you’ll be competing to spread your influence the furthest across the map, primarily by building the most castles, farms, churches, and banks throughout the land. The more of these things you build (or troops you muster to your cause), the more powerful your actions will become.

Actions are taken by using the game’s cool, upgradeable rondel system. This is circular section of your personal player board cut into six wedges. Each wedge represents an action, and these are modular – meaning, they’ll have a somewhat different arrangement around the circle each time you play. They’re also upgradeable, in that you can flip them over to a side which gives you the choice of two actions, increasing your options on any given turn. (Picture a pepperoni pizza cut into six slices; now, imagine flipping one slice upside-down to find out that the other side is a slice of pepperoni and mushroom pizza. How cool would that be?)

Are you familiar with the 1,500-year old game of Mancala? If so, you’ll be ready to slide ride into the captain’s chair for Crusaders. Around the wedges you’ll place a number of action tokens. When you select an action, you’ll remove all of the tokens on it and then move, clock-wise, around the circle, depositing one of those tokens on each wedge until they’re gone. The effectiveness of an action is determined by the number of tokens on the wedge at the start of the turn, meaning that you can plan moves ahead by stockpiling tokens on a particular spot. Because most actions require an increasingly higher number of tokens the more they're used, you’ll want to get adept at manipulating your rondel.

Let’s pause for a minute to indulge in some superficiality. If you haven’t yet noticed from our photos, Crusaders is a beautiful game. The board itself is overwhelmingly red and somewhat muted on its own, but the colors used by the many wooden player pieces and tokens really pop from it. (Kudos to the publisher for opting towards more vibrant greens, purples, orange and blues over the boring primary colors found in most Euros.) Player boards are even more colorful, and the eye-grabbing knight illustrations by Adam P. McIver pull together the whole theme. Even the box for Crusaders – with its bowing knight – sports one of the slickest-looking covers we’ve ever seen in the hobby. In an industry where every physical object inside a game’s box is often detailed and produced to where it’s borderline fetishized, it’s nice to see a production designer putting just as much effort into the game’s outer packaging.  

If we choose to cover a game in our PLAYlist column, it’s because there’s something we truly love about it. There needs to be something truly special-feeling in them that we're compelled to draw potential players’ attention towards. We enjoyed Crusaders from our first play-through, but it wasn't until our second that we flipped head-over-heels for the game. That’s because we’d argue that the true brilliance of Crusaders lies in the variable player setups provided by its ten Knight Order tiles.

At the beginning of each game players are dealt two random Knight Order tiles, choosing and keeping one. Each provides the player with a unique ability and/or method of set-up. Of course, this isn’t a new thing at all. Many games give players unique set-ups from their outset, but in most cases those are only there to nudge players toward a specific strategy. With Crusaders, however, each Knight Order tile completely changes how you have to think about the game. Players will be given more or fewer action tokens to work with, or given upgrade rondel wedges from the start; more significantly, some are granted another way of moving action tokens around their rondel. (Perhaps you can drop more than one token on a tile, or choose to move clockwise or counter-clockwise each turn.) It may not sound like much, but in practice it makes a huge difference. Every Knight Order turns your mode of thinking upside-down in a new way and helps make each time you play feel markedly different from the last.  

In addition to the varying Knight Orders and the positioning of the rondel wedges, enemies and location bonuses are randomly placed at the start of each game. Even without an expansion – which the designer has hinted at being in the works – there’s so much variability out of the box that there’s zero chance you’ll play the same game twice.

Crusaders is a game that’s both easier to learn and quicker to play than you might guess from its outward appearance. A two-player game can be wrapped up in under an hour with only a little more time needed for each additional player. The game also scales very well, with the biggest difference being that smaller player counts compete for a lower number of victory points; the board itself is two-sided, with the flipside offering up a map designed specifically for a two-player game. While most games play best at specific number of players, Crusaders keeps singin' just the same whether you’re playing with two, three, or four. We had similar gameplay experiences at each count.

Once a player has wrapped their head around the rondel, learning the rest of Crusaders’ rules is a breeze. The instructions are only eight heavily-illustrated pages, with examples for everything; the rest of the manual comprises designer notes and a historical briefing on each of the Knight Orders represented, which is pretty cool.

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done is published by Tasty Minstrel Games and has an MSRP of $59.95.

For our latest playlist we’re looking towards an invasion of an entirely different sort. This month marks the 55th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America. For three consecutive Sundays, the Fab Four performed on the Ed Sullivan show and set off a rock ‘n’ roll revolution that forever changed the course of American pop music. Although most accounts of the British Invasion heavily attribute it to the side effects of Beatlemania, the term is a broader descriptor for a period when a much larger roster of British pop groups absolutely dominated the American music charts. For a stretch of the mid-1960s Brits made up the highest-selling pop acts, and by a large margin. In May of 1965, nine of the Top 10 Billboard singles belonged to U.K. musicians – if that’s not an invasion of U.S. airwaves, we don’t know what is.

Our Crusaders / British Invasion playlist does feature does include the Beatles and Stones, of course, but also less celebrated British chart-toppers such as Wayne Fontana, Freddie and the Dreamers, and The Swinging Blue Jeans. Cheers!

***

Previous PLAYlist columns: ReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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