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Posted on Dec 19, 2005 in Boardgames

Crusader Rex – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

Siege Engines (Play Mechanics)

In many ways, Crusader Rex plays like a clone to Hammer of the Scots. It is card-driven with some of the cards representing the number of groups (blocks located in the same location) that can move (1, 2 or 3, respectively) and some of the cards representing special events. Six times within each game turn (representing one year of the campaign), players will secretly select a card, and then both players will simultaneously reveal their selections. As in Hammer, an event card has priority over a movement card, so the player who selected the event will perform the actions related to the event first. Unlike Hammer, playing two event cards simultaneously does not automatically end the game turn (year).

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In Hammer, movement was abstracted in that one did not have to follow a road, but only a certain number of blocks could cross certain borders. In Crusader, groups of blocks follow roads from one city/castle to another and only a certain number of blocks can travel on certain roads. Major roads accommodate eight (8) blocks during regular movement and four (4) blocks when attacking. Minor roads allow four (4) blocks on a regular move and two (2) blocks during an attack.

crroads.jpg
ALL ROADS LEAD TO HOMS Actually, Homs is the fortress between Damascus and Hamath. In this case we see the major roads (black arrows) and the minor roads (red arrow) near Antioch.

Unlike Hammer, Crusader provides another option for a move. Instead of moving a large group as one group, the player can designate a city as a muster point. Then, all blocks (units) that could legally get to that city or town in one move can do so. However, lest you think this is a sneaky way of reinforcing battles or getting more blocks into a battle, note that the muster option does not apply for starting new battles or responding to an enemy attack. It is a logistical move, not a combat maneuver.

As in Hammer, the unit strength is designated in Crusader Rex by the number of diamonds across the top of each block. Each diamond represents one die to be rolled in each round of combat. Also analogous to Hammer, each unit in Crusader Rex is given a designation with the letters A, B, or C followed by a number. The letters represent the initiative (A before B and B before C, with defenders firing first when both attacker and defender are equal) of the unit and the subsequent number represents the "to hit" factor. Each die that is equal to or less than the "to hit" factor scores a "hit" on the opposing player. When a unit takes a hit, it is turned so that one less diamond appears on the top.

crbattle.jpg
DIE, INFIDEL! In this example, Saladin (the center green piece) would get four combat dice to roll on the A round (see white oval) and the Turks on his left flank (A2) would get three dice to roll on that round. Since the defending unit (Turcopole with an A2) on the left flank has three diamonds, the defender gets to roll three dice before the attacker rolls Saladin’s four dice and the Turks’ three dice. The Turcopole hits on ones and twos. Saladin hits on ones, twos and threes. The Turks hit on ones and twos. Then, combat moves to the defender’s B round (where Bohemond gets four chances for ones and twos and the templar unit gets three chances for ones, twos, or threes).

Unlike Hammer, Crusader Rex features a defender’s advantage whenever the enemy is besieging a fortress. The defender can place blocks in the castle equal to the number displayed in the castle silhouette on the map. The beauty of this option is that for those blocks, the besieger has to get twice as many hits to take them out. Each hit only counts as half-damage. Better yet, the besieged (defending) unit gets to recover ½ hit after combat is over.

Of course, being besieged isn’t all good news. Starvation, thirst and disease were often the result of being pinned inside one’s castle. As a result, for each game turn that a siege continues (after the first game turn, that is), an attrition roll must be made for each block. There is a 50% chance that each besieged block will lose one step (diamond/die).

Finally, we would be remiss if we failed to discuss the "color" portion of the game. In Hammer, we were delighted with the mechanic that allowed nobles to switch from one faction to another. As this would not have been likely in a campaign such as Crusader Rex that was positioned as a religious duty for Christian and Moslem alike (however nominal their faith may have been), the designers have created a delightful piece of color with the Assassins. With the play of the Assassin event card, either player can hire the Assassins.

When the Assassin event card is played, the black block can be moved from its home in Masyaf to any place on the board. The player who hired the assassins selects any one block to attack and battle is resolved as if there were only two blocks in the battle. If the assassins are killed off, the black block is returned to Masyaf for future use by another player. All damage done by the assassins remains on the defending block.

Strategy Tip: It is wise to use the assassin option to whittle down a strong leader before attacking that leader’s group. If you know that Bohemond, for example, is in Antioch and that he has four dice per round, it may be nice to use the assassins’ A round attack to whittle Bohemond down before he gets his four dice on the B round. Even if you don’t kill Bohemond, you weaken him prior to the siege and create more favorable odds.

Ego Volo ("I will (it)" – Conclusions)

In playing with my regular opponent, neither of us has been able to win as the Europeans. We have had games where the Crusader held six of the seven victory cities at one point, but Saladin’s forces have always managed to come back. We have also had routs where the Moslems won very quickly. Yet, both of us are convinced, even after five games, that we could have won with the Crusaders if we had done one thing or the other differently. So, in spite of the game balance question, it appears that the game is a player. We still want to play it.

Graphically, Crusader Rex has a beautiful map and its green/orange blocks seem more vibrant than those in Hammer of the Scots. The complexity level is only a modicum higher than Hammer’s because the road movement constrains you somewhat and the restrictions on the draw can slow down the maneuverability of the Crusader. Further, the rules for Sieges add an interesting consideration.

There is even an optional rule that simulates an interesting historical possibility. If James of Flanders is eliminated, Philip II is removed from the board because he is presumed to have returned to France in order to gain control of Flanders. This resonates with what one scholar describes as the good fortune which allowed Philip II to be unthreatened by rivals. "During his reign the powerful Count of Flanders [James] was long absent on crusade: Champagne was from 1201 in the hands of a minor in his wardship, and Brittany from 1203 was in those of a woman." [5]

Once again, Jerry Taylor and Tom Dalgleish have captured the essence of a historical period and transferred it to wooden blocks. Crusader Rex is much more interesting as a historical game than Kingdom of Heaven was as a historical movie. In fact, Crusader Rex may well end up transcending Hammer of the Scots as my favorite block game.

Armchair General Score 93%

37/40 — Gameplay
15/15 — Components
17/20 — Rules/Documentation
15/15 — Replay Value
09/10 — General’s Rating

Crusader Rex at Columbia Games

Discuss Crusader Rex on our Boardgaming forum.

Author’s Information

Johnny L. Wilson is the former editorial director of Computer Gaming World and publisher of Dragon, Dungeon, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Insider, TopDeck and Undefeated magazines. He is the author of The Sim City Planning Commission Handbook and co-author of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day. His most recent game-related book is High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, written with Rusel Demaria. Today, he balances his game playing with his work as a freelance novelist and author of multimedia study guides for the books of the Bible. His passion is any game that causes him to study more history. Not the strongest player, he is nonetheless an avid player. Johnny and his wife live on the shore of Castle Lake in Tyrone, Georgia.

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Sample of map (click for larger view)

*Pronounced "day-oh wahl-yoo-eet," this Latin phrase approximates the phrase that the crowd shouted to Pope Urban II in 1095 when he laid out his reasons for the First Crusade. Analogous to the current Muslim phrase "the will of Allah," it means "God wills it." The crowd shouted this in the midst of Urban II’s speech, so the pope adopted it as his battle cry for the First Crusade ("The First Crusade-Pope Urban II’s Plea for a Crusade" in Wallace Adams, Richard Barlow, et al. (eds.), The Western World: Volume I-To 1700 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1968), pp. 320-322. Since Crusader Rex covers the so-called Third Crusade (A.D. 1187-1192), the quotation is an anachronism used to illustrate one rationale for the Crusades in general.

[1] Crane Brinton, John B. Christopher and Robert Lee Wolff, A History of Civilization: Volume One: Prehistory to 1715 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967), p. 346.
[2] Richard Shenkman, Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History (New York: Harper and Row, 1994), pp. 43-44.
[3] D. J. A. Matthew, The Medieval European Community (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977), p. 35.
[4] Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity: Volume 2: The Thousand Years of Uncertainty (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1970 (Original, 1938)), p. 317.
[5] Maurice Keen, A History of Medieval Europe (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1968), pp. 89-90.

 

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1 Comment

  1. I know this article is from 2005 but it needed a comment. I googled Crusader Rex for a review and wound up at an old favorite of mine, Arm Chair General. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish reading the review.

    The history and reasoning behind the crusades is far more nuanced than you portray in the opening of this article. It’s a shame. I would point to one of your statements but its almost as if everything you say about the crusades is wrong or misinformed. Are you basing your statements on the movie Kingdom of Heaven?

    If its books you base your opinions on, what books? Most importantly, were the sources for those books Muslim chronicles almost exclusively? Which Crusader texts did the authors use? Who was the intended audience of the authors of the original Crusader texts? That matters as much as whether they were Christian or Muslim.

    I invite you to visit http://www.realcrusadeshistory.com/. They have an amazing Podcast that will really blow your mind on what the Crusades truly were.

    I’ll leave you with something to think about. In the First Crusade, tens of thousands of everyday people all over Europe dropped what they were doing and walked all the way from their home village to Jerusalem. Thousands of miles of disease, starvation, hardship, and for many, death. People today are too busy/lazy/selfish to make a difference in their local civic associations and churches that are literally right down the street.

    Some were soldiers but most were just farmers, artisans, etc. Men and women. Sure, a few of the nobility and knights were opportunists, but most were in their hearts and deeds ordinary people in an extraordinary time fighting back against Turk/Arab/Muslim aggression (see map of Middle East and Mediterranean 600AD-1300 AD to judge that statement).

    Again please listen to the podcast “real crusades” as this will shed light on why most of the information you have come to take as fact in actually false. And in the future be very careful in making judgements and pronouncement on subjects which you do not have mastery. Just review the game. Thank you.

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